In today's story, Second Summer, Hillary overthinks her way to a coffee date
Today's prompt was based on the weather. October is my favorite time of year, yet fall is often interrupted by second summer, a time when hot sunny days return for one last gasp before the chill of fall fully sets in.
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 99 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 Second Summer.
As you may have guessed, the prompt for today’s story was inspired by the weather. We’ve finally made it to October—which is my favorite time of the year—and I have been thrilled to have some recent days in jeans and sweaters. Then, a shift in the weather brought back some 80-degree days.
I know my summer-loving friends are thrilled when October is interrupted with hot, sunny days, but I could do without them. By the time we officially hit fall, I want to need a sweater or light jacket. I want to switch from iced coffee to hot and enjoy a crisp morning breeze.
If you haven’t heard the term second summer, it’s just what I was describing. A return to warm weather after fall has begun. Some people love it, others—like me—not so much.
Following my usual Freely Written process, I sat down with this prompt so I could write whatever might come to mind, with no planning and very little editing. Then I recorded the story to share it with you.
Here’s how that turned out:
Hillary pulled her sweater over her head, wrapped its sleeves around her waist, and gently tied them in place. She was sweaty and disheveled from the effort, which did not improve her increasingly bad mood. Her calves and feet were hot in her knee-high boots, but at least she had chosen to wear a skirt instead of jeans.
Smoothing her hair, Hillary looked around the park, hoping no one had watched her wrestle her way out of her cable-knit sweater. Everywhere she looked, she saw short sleeves. Several people wore shorts and sandals, too, which felt like an affront to the magic of October.
Though this October day was not behaving the way an October day should. It was sunny and hot. Not quite as humid as July but far too sticky for fall.
Hillary had heard they were heading into a week of second summer, that time when the sun made a last-ditch effort to broil the earth before giving way to the crisp air of fall. Yet, she hadn’t checked the forecast when getting dressed, willing the rumors to be wrong.
Now, she stomped along the path with self-conscious wrath. How dare everyone else be dressed for the warm weather? Didn’t they know it was supposed to be October?
She imagined people judgmentally eyeing her knee-high boots and sweater-wrapped waist. As if she were doing something wrong by dressing for the calendar instead of the actual temperature. Which was not a very good idea, she relented uneasily.
But I wore layers, she reminded herself, glad for the tee-shirt she had put on under her sweater. So, I’m not entirely incompetent.
She caught her self-judgment and frowned. Who cared what anyone else thought about her choice of clothing?
I do, she admitted silently, after glancing at two teenage girls in tank tops and shorts. Tank tops! Now that was a bit much!
It’s like with windshield wipers, she thought uncomfortably. Any time it rained, she would fuss over the windshield wiper settings. Fast enough to clear her vision, but not so fast that it looked like she was overreacting to the rain.
Why do I care? she wondered glumly. It wasn’t the first time she’d asked herself that question, and she’d never come up with a good answer. She didn’t think she was the kind of person who based her self-worth on the opinions of others, but here she was, walking through the park and feeling embarrassed about her choice of clothing.
Hillary shook off her discomfort as she headed out of the park and into the town center where she was meeting her friends for coffee. She’d been looking forward to seeing them, but not like this. She had hoped to find seats around the community firepit. A place to sip hot coffee and swap stories with her cozy sweater protecting her from a brisk breeze.
Instead, she would need an iced coffee and a shaded table if she was going to survive this get together. Her thin wool socks felt damp against her hot feet, and she wondered if she could get away with taking off her leather boots once they got to their table.
Definitely not, she quickly decided. That would look terrible. Plus, it would be an admission of her mistake. It would be much better to play it off as if she wasn’t hot at all. Think cool thoughts, she told herself, imagining the iced coffee that would soon be in her hands.
Without the shade of the trees in the park, the day felt even hotter. Hillary’s sweater dragged at her waist, its floppy sleeves gradually loosening with each step. She had to keep adjusting the knot, trying not to pull it tight without stretching out the weave.
She imagined turning around and leaving her sweater in the park. Hiding it behind a bush somewhere until she could retrieve it on her walk home. But she couldn’t do that. It was her favorite sweater. Her October sweater. The one she longed to wear all through those last brutal days of August heat.
Opening the door to the coffee shop, Hillary’s eyes struggled to adjust from the bright sun to the shaded interior. She walked forward, taking several steps in the refreshing chill of air-conditioning before seeing Mae and Natalie waving from a table far from the front windows. They already had drinks, so Hillary gestured that she would put in her order before joining them.
Am I late? she worried, but a glance at her watch showed she was five minutes early. How long have they been here? Did they plan to meet early first? Have some private talk without me? Or about me?
Hillary took a deep breath and cut off her flow of silent questions. Her friends had driven here, not living close enough to walk, and they’d probably just had less traffic than they expected.
What is wrong with me today? The sleeves of her sweater slipped again, and Hillary gave them an impatient tug. The man ahead of her had taken forever to place his order and now he was having a problem with swiping his card.
Turning back to Mae and Natalie, Hillary prepared to flash them a look to show that this guy was holding her up. It wasn’t her fault that she kept them waiting. But they weren’t waiting. They were deep in conversation, laughing over something without so much as a glance her way.
Hillary’s gaze quickly shifted away from them, as if she’d been caught spying on strangers instead of checking in on her friends. A moment later, she looked back. Casually. As if bored by the line and simply drifting her eyes around the shop.
She noticed that Natalie was wearing shorts but had a hoodie over her tee shirt. Mae had on a sleeveless shirt and the table blocked her legs. Shifting to the right, Hillary bent to needlessly adjust the top of her boot. It looked like Mae had on jeans, but she couldn’t quite tell. If she could just shift a little lower…
“Next!” The barista’s voice rang out like an alarm in Hillary’s nervous system. She jumped, straightened her skirt, and hurried up to the counter. Then her mind went blank. She had been so preoccupied by her friends’ clothes, she hadn’t decided what to order.
“Iced Americano,” she said quickly. “No wait!”
Meg and Natalie had a table inside. Maybe they planned to stay inside, where the air conditioning made hot coffee tolerable. Or maybe they were just waiting for her before moving outside, where she would definitely need an iced coffee.
With a desperate look at her friends, Hillary saw that Meg’s drink was iced and Natalie’s was hot. No help there.
She faced the barista with an embarrassed laugh, felt the chill of the air conditioning on her arms and the residual heat in her boots, and repeated her order for an iced Americano.
“You got it!” the barista tapped in the order and Hillary swiped her card to pay.
“I had wanted a hot coffee,” she said nervously, while choosing a tip from the screen. “Since it is October, but it’s so hot out there today. Second summer and all that.”
“Uh huh,” the barista was already looking at the customer behind her, waiting for Hilary to step aside.
“Okay, thanks,” Hillary added brightly. See, I’m just being friendly, she said to herself. Light and breezy, not weird at all.
She took a deep breath.
There was a smile on her face by the time she approached her friends’ table. Inside or out? she wanted to ask but held off until they went through the round of hellos. Inside or out? she nearly asked again but didn’t want to seem like it mattered to her one way or the other.
But it did matter.
Hillary hesitated on the edge of another decision. Should she sit to wait for her coffee or stand until it was ready? Did sitting assume they were staying inside, despite their original plan to sit by the firepit? Did standing seem weird when they were both sitting?
Hillary fussed with the knotted sleeves of her sweater to buy time. Her mind raced and she just wanted to get to the part where she had her coffee and their table was settled, so she could relax into their conversation.
“Ugh, it’s so hot out there!” Natalie complained with a shake of her head.
“Mind if we stay inside?” Mae asked. “I’m so done with summer.”
“Yeah, sure.” Hillary untied her sweater, draped it over the empty chair, and nodded toward it, saying, “Wishful thinking.”
They laughed, agreeing that this was not October weather, and Hillary settled into her seat.
She smiled, proud of her lighthearted joke.
See, it’s no big deal, she reassured herself. No one cares what you’re wearing.
“I’m so mad that we’re missing out on sweater weather!” Natalie exclaimed.
“It will be cold soon enough,” Hillary said lightly.
“You’re right,” Mae said with a shake of her head.
“I wish I could be as laid back as you!” Natalie added.
Hillary smiled gently, then shifted part of her focus towards listening for her name to be called. Don’t make the barista call you twice, she warned herself. How would that look?
“I choose not to worry,” she said smoothly. “No need to sweat the small stuff.”
Then she basked in her friends’ praise of her cool, calm nature.
Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed this story, please share it with your friends. You can also leave a review for Freely Written wherever you listen to podcasts and connect with me on social media or through my website: SusanQuilty.com 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]