In today's story, Fireworks, a meet cute occurs at a suburban block party
Today's prompt was inspired by the Fourth of July holiday, also known as the U.S. Independence Day. Fireworks are a popular part of the July 4th celebration, from sparklers and bottle rockets to commercial firework displays.
As always, the story was written from the prompt, with no planning and very little editing. If you enjoy today's story, please share it with your friends and leave a review for Freely Written. Thank you!
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 93 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 Fireworks.
Our story today is coming out on the Fourth of July. Clearly, that’s an American holiday. It celebrates the ratification of our Declaration of Independence in 1776. Yet, knowing people listen to this podcast from around the world, I started wondering what people in other countries think about our July 4th celebrations.
If you look up the holiday, traditional ways to celebrate include picnics, parades, baseball games, and—of course—fireworks. I suppose those are popular ways to celebrate, though they aren’t for everyone. My only plans this year are to enjoy a day off and maybe grab a drink with some friends. I’m not planning to watch fireworks, though I’m sure to see some from my house.
That’s a long way of saying that today’s prompt is Fourth of July themed.
As a reminder, here’s how my Freely Written process works. I sit down with a prompt and write whatever comes to mind, with no planning and very little editing, and then share that story with you.
I never know where the story will go. Especially today since I have mixed feelings about fireworks.
Let’s see how it turned out:
“A federal holiday on a Tuesday is weird,” Anita decided.
She and Siobhan were touching up their hair and makeup in Anita’s large bathroom mirror. There was a block party going on in the cul-de-sac where neighborhood kids were setting off firecrackers and smoke bombs. Soon, the sun would go down and they’d switch to bottle rockets and roman candles.
“Fireworks on July 5th is even weirder,” Siobhan added.
Anita lived in a suburban community that had an annual Fourth of July fireworks show. This year they’d scheduled it for July 5th.
“Don’t get me started,” Anita frowned. The scheduling was due to an early weather forecast that had now shifted. The storms expected on July 4th had moved south, leaving the whole week with clear skies, but the plans had already been set.
The date didn’t seem to matter all that much anyway. Neighbors had been setting off fireworks all weekend. Siobhan remembered when Anita first moved to the suburbs, and they’d set off fireworks in an empty field. Now that the community was densely packed with homes, she was surprised the neighbors still set off fireworks from their driveways.
They went back out to the party, stopping in the kitchen to pick up a tray of veggie kebabs and another bag of ice to replenish the cooler. Several neighbors had wheeled their grills into their driveways to serve up hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken, and grilled veggies. Tables in the shade of trees offered chips and side dishes, and large coolers held soda, juice boxes, beer, and other adult beverages.
There were lawn chairs grouped all around and barriers set up to keep cars from driving through the kids’ games. Siobhan wasn’t sure the neighbors were allowed to block off the cul-de-sac like that, but no one seemed to care, except the occasional car that had to turn around in someone’s driveway.
It had been a few years since Siobhan came to visit during Anita’s Fourth of July party. Partly because of the pandemic, and partly because she’d been busy with work or her friends in the city. But Anita was her oldest friend and she’d really wanted Siobhan to come this year.
As she poured ice into Anita’s cooler, Siobhan began to suspect why Anita had been so insistent.
“Can I help with that?” A nice-looking man reached for the slippery bag, helping her guide the falling ice in place around the bottles.
“Thanks,” Siobhan said, glancing around to see that Anita was busy at a grill.
The man started to offer his hand after wiping it on his cargo shorts, then seemed to think better of it and pulled away just as Siobhan started to extend her hand. She pulled her hand back as he belatedly reached again, then held up both hands as they laughed together.
“Sorry,” he said. “I never know if people shake or not anymore. Since covid, I mean.”
“Right,” Siobhan laughed. “I usually don’t anymore, but sometimes I do. It’s habit. Or was a habit.”
She wasn’t sure what she was saying, but Gary nodded in total agreement.
“Yeah, it’s a habit I’d like to break. Just for general health reasons. Not that I’m germ phobic or anything. Just you never know who washes their hands or whatever.”
His face scrunched into a grimace as he spoke, realizing the awkwardness of his words. But Siobhan only laughed again, liking the way his nose crinkled.
“People can be gross,” she told him, then made her own awkward face before adding, “present company excluded.”
“Of course!” Gary agreed.
They were quiet then, smiling at each other the way strangers do when they feel comfortable together but can’t think of a thing to say.
“So, the fireworks aren’t until tomorrow,” Gary said at last. “That’s weird.”
“It is weird,” Siobhan agreed. “Anita is all upset about it. Apparently, she was the only one saying it was too soon to trust the weather report while everyone else was… Oh! Uh, I hope you weren’t one of those people.”
“Oh, no,” Gary reassured. “I don’t live out here. My brother lives up the street. Vic Robins? Do you know him?”
“Uh, no,” Siobhan answered, after glancing up the street in the direction Gary had pointed. “I don’t live out here either. I’m visiting my friend Anita, who lives right there.”
It was her turn to point at a house and Gary nodded before saying that he’d met Anita earlier. He didn’t say that Anita had sent him over to talk to her, but that was clear to Siobhan when she saw how Anita was watching them from the grill.
The silence that followed was less comfortable, though Siobhan didn’t want to walk away. She and Gary turned to watch some kids playing in the cul-de-sac. The sky was quickly darkening, and the kids began to clamor for sparklers and smores.
“It’s a nice party,” Siobhan observed. “For the kids.”
“Yeah, they seem to be having fun,” Gary agreed.
Adults began to hand out lit sparklers, warning the kids to be careful as they ran with swooping trails of light.
“I grew up in a suburb like this,” Siobhan shared. “But I don’t think I’d move back. Even if I had kids. I really like the city.”
“I grew up in a city,” Gary told her. They turned slightly and shared a smile.
“I’m Siobhan, by the way,” Siobhan offered, reaching out her hand.
There was a moment of hesitation. Not of trepidation, but a moment of savoring. A slowing down as the crowd around them faded into an indistinct blur of chatter and sparkling light.
“Nice to meet you,” Gary said, his eyes adding depth to his words.
As their hands met, the first firework whistled into the evening sky. A shower of light that exploded to a chorus of oohs and aahs.
Gary and Siobhan scarcely noticed, only seeing the reflected light in each other’s eyes.
Thank you for joining me today. For those who celebrate, Happy Fourth of July!
If you enjoyed today’s story, please share it with friends and leave a review for Freely Written wherever you listen to podcasts. Beyond these short stories, you can learn more about my books on my website: SusanQuilty.com Your support is greatly appreciated!
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]