In today's story, Where Do I Begin?, an office conversation gets a little out of hand
Today's story prompt came from an earworm. Yes, I had the theme from Love Story stuck in my head and its lyrics start with the phrase, Where do I begin... Which is, of course, a great place to start a story.
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 71 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 Where Do I Begin?
As you may or may not know, I play the piano as a hobby. Actually, that intro music you just heard is me improvising a little 12-bar blues. One of the songs I like to play is the theme song to the movie Love Story. Why am I telling you this? Well, that song is what led to today’s prompt.
See, the movie version of the song is instrumental, but there are also lyrics for it, and they start with the line “Where do I begin…” The song was stuck in my head, and it struck me that the opening line is something people say when they’re about to tell a story… making it a fitting prompt for this podcast.
Because, as a reminder, I write these Freely Written stories from a prompt with no planning and very little editing. Then, I record and share them with you. When I sit down to write, I don’t know where the story will go, I just choose a place to begin and see what happens.
And here’s where that led me this week:
Where Do I Begin
When Jack arrived at the office, he was surprised to find the lights on and coffee brewing at the courtesy bar in the small waiting room. The reception desk was empty. He could see that the conference room was dark but had to walk down a short hallway to check the offices.
The window beside his own door was dark, while light spilled from his partner’s half-open door. When he knocked lightly, the door swung open to reveal Melissa staring at her computer screen and hugging a coffee mug in both hands.
“Oh, hi!” she called cheerily, though Jack saw the lack of sleep in her eyes and rumpled hair.
“You’re back early?” It came out as a question, though Melissa clearly was back from her trip.
“Yeah, I slept so much on the plane, I bolted awake at 4:30. Been up ever since.” She chuckled and took a long sip of coffee. “Sam will be shocked to see me here before him!”
“Right, but…? I mean, you came back early. Doesn’t the conference run through Friday?”
Melissa waved off the question and leaned back in her swivel chair.
“Oh, yeah, it’s still going.”
“Okay…?” Jack waited for her to say more. When she didn’t, he asked, “So why aren’t you there?”
“Oh, well… Where do I begin?” Melissa shook her head and set her coffee mug on her desk. She tugged the sleeves of her chunky knit cardigan over her hands and wrapped its sides tighter around her midsection.
“It all started out okay, until I saw Trevor Donaldson was there. And you know that was going to be awful.”
Jack narrowed his eyes and scanned his memory.
“Uh, no. Why would that be awful?”
“You know. After that thing with the Marshall house. Which was not my fault!”
Jack crossed to a chair and sat down heavily.
“What was not your fault?”
“That whole fiasco at the open house. So, anyway, I run into Trevor at the conference—”
Jack held up a hand. “Wait! Back up. What happened at the open house?”
Melissa sighed and reached for her coffee cup before remembering that it was empty.
“Let’s not rehash that. I need more coffee.”
“Rehash that?” Jack followed her down the hall to the courtesy bar. She refilled her mug and shook two sugar packets against her open palm.
“It’s not rehashing it if I don’t know anything about it… that’s just hashing it.”
Melissa smirked and poured the sugar into her mug.
“What happened at our open house?” Jack repeated.
“Not at our open house,” Melissa corrected. “At Trevor’s open house.”
“Trevor’s open house? But the Marshall house is our listing…” Jack closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose between his first two fingers.
“Melissa,” he began in a tight voice. “Did you poach the Marshalls from Trevor?”
“Of course not!” Melissa slammed her cup on the counter indignantly, sloshing coffee over her hand.
Passing her some napkins, Jack quickly apologized.
“It wasn’t our Marshall house; it was his Marshall house. The one last summer. Before we ever met our Marshalls.”
“Our Marshalls?” Jack hesitated, putting the pieces together. “There are two clients named Marshall? Our and his?”
“Obviously. Marshall is a common name, Jack.”
After silently counting to ten, Jack agreed that Marshall is a common name.
“All right,” he continued in a strained tone. “What happened at Trevor’s open house for his clients named Marshall?”
“Well, that was more of the last straw really.” Melissa stirred her coffee, then yawned, covering her mouth with the back of one hand. “It doesn’t sound that bad by itself…”
“Okay, then. Forget the open house.” Jack looked at the clock. It was 7:45 and Sam would be in any minute. Jack could wait to get the story from him, but he felt compelled to try again.
“Let’s start over. Go back to the beginning but sum it up for me. What’s the problem with Trevor Donaldson?”
“Oh, he’s just a jerk.” Melissa drank deeply, revived by the caffeine and sugar. “I can’t stand the guy.”
“You left the conference early because you don’t like one of the Realtors there?”
Jack pressed his lips together, closed his eyes, and rapidly counted to twenty. When he opened his eyes, Melissa was watching him with a deep scowl.
“No,” she said coldly. “I did not leave the conference because I don’t like Trevor Donaldson. Despite what you think, I am a professional.”
“Okay, fine. I don’t even know what we’re talking about anymore,” Jack muttered. “All I wanted to know is why you came home two days early.”
“I was trying to tell you…”
“No, you said you had a problem with Trevor Donaldson, then you brought up all this stuff from last summer, or earlier? And I still don’t know what that has to do with why you left early. Why can’t you just start a story from the beginning and keep it simple?”
The office door opened, and Sam smiled at them both.
“Well, hello, early birds! Did Missy tell you her big news? Is it too soon for champagne?”
Melissa beamed at him. Jack frowned.
“Yes!” Sam confirmed. “Our girl here has a bidding war on the Pearson house. The 4.5-million-dollar Pearson house.”
“Four-point-seven-fifty,” Melissa corrected with a smile. “If they take the highest bid.”
“Wait, but…” Jack sputtered, looking between them. “It’s been up over a month with no offers…”
“When it rains it pours!” Sam laughed, before turning on the computer behind the reception desk.
“They want to go over the bids in person,” Melissa shrugged. “I took the red-eye so we could meet at nine.”
“Wow, that’s… great.” Jack blinked rapidly. “But what does that have to do with Trevor Donaldson?”
“Uh, nothing.” Melissa wiped up a splash of coffee. “I was just setting the tone…”
“Setting the tone?”
“Yeah, you know, how I thought the conference was going to be awful, then I got this great news.”
Jack stared at her. Melissa finished cleaning the counter, ignoring him.
“I—You—” Jack stumbled to a halt. With great control, he walked over to Sam and said, “Don’t ever start a business with your sister!”
“Oh, I’d have a great time with my sister,” Sam told him. “It’s my brother who drives me crazy!”
“Really?” Melissa shot Jack an arch smile. “Why? What does he do?”
“Girl, where do I begin?”
Melissa laughed and Jack threw up his hands.
“That’s it!” he told them, pointing at one, then the other. “I’m calling mom and telling on you both!”
Thanks for listening. If you’re enjoying these stories, please rate and review Freely Written wherever you listen to podcasts. You can also tell any friends who might like a short story break! The unplanned nature of this podcast can lead to a weird mix of stories, so feel free to skip around and see which stories you like best.
Beyond this podcast, you can learn about my novels on my website: SusanQuilty.com. You can also support me and get some bonus content through Patreon.com/SusanQuilty. Links are 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]