In today's story, What Did You Hear?, Alice has a talk with her teenage daughter
Today's prompt simply came from a question I heard on a random TV show. Sometimes a phrase jumps out as a good prompt and I run with it. This was one of those times.
More about Susan Quilty
Susan Quilty mainly writes novels, including two standalone novels and her current YA series: The Psychic Traveler Society. Susan's short stories for Freely Written are created during quick writing breaks and shared as a way to practice her narration skills before she dives into recording audio versions of her novels.
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Below is the transcript for Season 1, Episode 59 of Freely Written, a podcast by author Susan Quilty:
Welcome to Freely Written where a simple prompt leads to a little unplanned fiction.
[Light piano music]
Hi, friends! I’m Susan Quilty and today’s prompt is What Did You Hear?
If you’re new to this podcast, it has a very simple process: I write a bit of fiction from a simple prompt, with no planning and very little editing, and then I share that story with you.
Writing prompts come to me in a lot of different ways—and I’m always happy to get suggestions from listeners! Sometimes a phrase just catches my attention. That’s what happened with today’s prompt.
“What did you hear?” is a question that could have different meanings. Maybe it’s not just about the actual words you heard, but whatever message you think you heard in-between the words.
That seemed like an interesting prompt for a story. Now, let’s see where it led:
What Did You Hear?
Alice had no intention of taking a seminar on communicating with teenagers. In fact, if she’d seen a flyer for it, she’d have scoffed and said it wasn’t for her, thank you very much. But she was at the library, and the lecture was right there... Besides, she had time to kill since her teenage daughter wanted nothing to do with her.
“Don’t be so dramatic!” Alice’s daughter had wailed while they were still in the library parking lot. She’d rolled her eyes for effect, too. Beth was big on eye-rolling.
“I’m not being dramatic,” Alice had responded softly, feeling a quiet disappointment which, to her, seemed to be the opposite of drama. “I just thought…”
“Mom, come on, don’t make me feel bad!” Beth had crossed her arms over her chest and looked embarrassed, as if anyone passing by cared about their conversation.
“It’s a workshop for teen writers,” she went on pointedly. “Did you really think you were coming in with me?”
Alice had pulled back then, ashamed by her unspoken daydreams of a mother/daughter outing.
Of course, Bethy didn’t want her mom tagging along, she told herself. Then quickly corrected her own thought: Beth, not Bethy. Beth.
At fourteen, her daughter no longer wanted to be called Bethy.
“I didn’t think you’d care if I went into the library to wait.” Alice had mustered a prim voice that made Beth’s frown deepen.
“I didn’t say you couldn’t come into the library! I just don’t need my mommy to come with me to a writing workshop.”
Beth had spun on her heel then, heading toward the library entrance.
“And I don’t need to drive all the way home only to come get you two hours later,” Alice had shot back, catching up to her quick-footed teen.
Inside the library, Beth had followed the sign to the teen workshop with a terse, “See ya,” and Alice had stood in the lobby wondering how to fill the next two hours.
Until she saw the sign for the lecture happening in a room down the hall.
A lecture on communicating with teenagers held at the same time as a teen writer workshop. That can’t be a coincidence, Alice had thought, as she’d hurried to see if there was still space for her to join.
The seminar was held by an older woman with silver streaks in her blond hair and reading glasses attached to a beaded chain around her neck. She was a local therapist who worked with teenagers and had written a book on family dynamics.
As Alice took her seat, she eyed the stack of books on a table by the door and wondered if she’d be able to leave without buying one. Probably not, she thought with a sigh. Then felt guilty for the thought. This woman was freely giving her time to help parents communicate with their teenagers. The least she could do was buy her book.
Of course, that thought reminded Alice of the stack of books gathering dust on her nightstand, prompting a wave of anger. Anger at herself for not reading as much as she thought she should? Or anger at this poor woman who just wanted to sell her books? Alice didn’t know which, but both added to her guilt.
Stop it, Alice told herself, wishing she’d found a good book and a cozy spot to read instead of coming into this meeting room. A room that was sparsely filled, to put it politely.
She slid her purse strap over her shoulder, ready to sneak out of the room, when the blond woman put down her notecards and welcomed them to her talk.
The woman’s warm smile washed over Alice, settling her back into her folding chair, and she resigned herself to an hour of listening. At least she’d still have an hour free to read once this was done, she told herself.
But she didn’t.
The blond woman, Dr. Sheila Rose, gave a stirring lecture to the fourteen parents in attendance. She used simple language and relatable examples, but, most of all, she presented her advice without a trace of judgment.
“We aren’t taught to communicate effectively,” she told them, including herself in the problem. “But we can learn.”
Alice found herself nodding along, wishing she’d brought a notebook and pen.
By the end of the lecture, she was more than ready to buy a book by Dr. Sheila Rose. She also joined the three parents who lingered after the seminar, asking questions, and sharing their own parenting frustrations.
“Mom?” Alice startled at the sound of her daughter’s voice.
“Bethy!” She slipped on the name again, but Beth didn’t correct her. “Is your workshop over already?”
“Um, yeah.” Beth pressed her lips together and eyed the other adults uncertainly. “I was looking for you.”
“Oh, I’m sorry!” Alice stood quickly, adding. “I got caught up talking…”
As she turned to thank Sheila and say her goodbyes, another mom handed her a slip of paper torn from her notebook. They clasped hands before parting.
“What was that?” Beth asked as they made their way out of the library.
“Oh, I met some new people,” Alice told her.
“That’s… nice…” Beth responded uncertainly.
They were quiet as they climbed into the car and drove home.
“How was your writing workshop?”
Alice wanted to ask more, and she wanted to tell Beth about her own afternoon, too. But Beth’s stony silence filled the car.
As they were pulling into their parking space, Alice asked Beth what she was planning to do the rest of the day.
“I have homework,” Beth told her shortly.
Alice frowned. Still wishing for some quality time together, she’d hoped they could order a pizza and watch a movie. Maybe make milkshakes like they did before the big move.
“You have to do it tonight?” Alice asked, preparing to make her pitch for a night of mother/daughter fun.
“Ugh. No, I don’t have to do it tonight,” Beth snapped as she unbuckled her seatbelt. “But I might as well. It’s not like I have anything else to do!”
Alice sat back, retreating from her daughter’s anger. She was ready to drop the subject and spend the evening in separate rooms until she remembered some of Sheila’s advice.
“What did you hear?” She spoke calmly, focusing on curiosity over anger or judgment.
“What?” Beth looked at her sharply.
“What did you hear me ask you, just now?” Alice clarified. “You seem really upset by my question, and I’m not sure why.”
Beth rolled her eyes, again, flopping back against her seat, but she answered.
“You asked if I had anything better to do on a Saturday night than do my homework. Which I obviously don’t because we’ve been in this stupid town for over a month, and no one at school even knows my name, and no one wants to be my friend. And no one I knew was at that stupid writing thing, even though some of the girls in English class talked about going.
“So, no, I don’t have anything better to do than do my stupid homework.”
There were tears in her eyes as Beth clenched her jaw and looked at the car ceiling.
Alice remembered what Sheila had said about making a connection without trying to fix everything.
“I haven’t made any friends yet either.”
She kept her eyes forward, watching a bird hop along their stair railing. “I met a nice woman in that lecture just now—another single mom—and she gave me her number to get coffee… But I don’t know if we’d really get along or anything.”
There was a quivering in Alice’s chest as she waited for her daughter to make a snide comment and storm out of the car. Instead, they sat in silence.
After a solid minute, Beth sighed and said, “You should call her.”
Alice nodded, wondering if she should suggest Beth call some of her classmates, too. Instead, she asked, “Milkshakes, tonight?”
She chanced a glance at Beth and saw a smile spread over her face.
“And pizza?” Alice added, hoping she wasn’t pressing her luck.
“And a movie,” Beth agreed, turning to meet her mom’s hopeful eyes.
“Sounds great to me!” Alice beamed and Beth blinked away her lingering tears.
“Better than homework,” she conceded, and they laughed together.
Thanks for joining me today. As a reminder, you can now read some of these stories in my new book, Freely Written Vol. 1. You can also connect with me on social media, visit my website, SusanQuilty.com, or support my writing through Patreon.com/SusanQuilty. (Links in the show notes.)
Until next time, try a little free writing of your own. Let go of any planning and see where your imagination takes you.
[Light piano music]