This week's story, Parking Lot Friends, explores a modern friendship based on post-class parking lot chats and social media connections
Suggestions for writing prompts are always welcome! Today's prompt came from my friend Gretchen Schutte who teaches yoga and meditation through her Peace in the Pause virtual studio and knows all about the joys of parking lot friends!
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.
Below is the transcript for Season 1, Episode 32 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 Parking Lot Friends
If this is your first time listening, here’s how this podcast works: I use a word or phrase as a prompt to write a story—with no planning and very little editing—and then share that story with you.
Today’s prompt came from my friend Gretchen Schutte, who, as I’ve mentioned before, teaches yoga and meditation through her Peace in the Pause studio. When Gretchen texted with this prompt suggestion, I knew she was thinking of all the years we’ve spent chatting in parking lots after yoga classes, shinrin-yoku nature walks, and other events.
I have made many friends during post-class parking lot chats, and—even with social media to stay in touch—I’ve missed seeing them all during this pandemic. So, this story is dedicated to all my post-class parking lot friends!
Let’s see what I can come up with from this prompt:
Parking Lot Friends
On Mondays, class let out at 8 am. By 8:15, Tara, Lisa, and Beth were standing in the parking lot—somewhere between their three cars—with their yoga mats slung over their shoulders and their water bottles in hand.
“It’s from that new place across from Trader Joe’s,” Beth answered in response to a compliment on the linen tunic she’d thrown over her yoga clothes. “In that plaza they just put up.”
“That’s open?” Tara asked, shaking her head at another new shopping plaza in their rapidly developing community.
“Yeah, not a lot of shops yet, but this is a cute shop next to the new sushi place.”
“Oh, my sister and I got sushi there!” Lisa chimed in brightly. “It was their soft opening, so they were short-staffed, but the sushi was great.”
“How is your sister?” Beth asked earnestly, while Tara’s face mirrored her concern.
“Still on crutches, but getting better,” Lisa told them, leading into a longer catch-up on her sister’s recovery from a recent car accident.
As she wrapped up, Beth shared that her mom would need physical therapy after her upcoming knee surgery, and—after Tara and Lisa both gave her recommendations—the conversation shifted to how Tara and Lisa’s kids were settling into a new school year.
By the time they moved on to weekend travel plans, it was nearly 9 am and the parking lot in front of the studio was mostly empty. Their yoga teacher, Melinda, came out of the building and flashed them a friendly smile as she headed to her car.
“Have a great day, ladies!”
As they called over goodbyes and thanks for the class, Beth looked at her watch in mock horror.
“I have a conference call at 9:30, and I still have to shower!”
Realizing the time, they scrambled toward their cars, calling last thoughts as they walked apart. As Beth drove off, Lisa called out a question about Back-to-School night, and Tara walked back to answer. Twenty minutes later, they each drove home.
On Wednesdays, they switched to Pilates, which ended at 8:30. By 8:40, they were in another parking lot, again clustered near their cars with mats slung over their shoulders and water bottles in hand.
“I don’t know about that new teacher,” Beth said archly, after nodding goodbye to some passing students.
“She skipped the saw,” Lisa frowned, though Tara said she was okay with that omission.
“Her playlist was kind of…” Tara trailed off and the others jumped in, agreeing that it wasn’t their kind of music, though maybe they’d get used to it.
“Oh!” Lisa exclaimed. “Did I tell you I’m going to a concert next weekend?” Their talk turned to upcoming events, including the axe throwing party Lisa was nervous about attending.
At 9:10, Tara was the one to jump at the time, saying, “I have a ton of emails to return before my staff meeting.” And the group reluctantly parted to get on with their day.
On Fridays, they were back to yoga, but this Friday, Beth didn’t show up to class. Tara and Lisa had looked for her before class and shrugged when she never appeared. As they left the building, Tara asked when Beth’s mom was having knee surgery.
“Not until next week,” Lisa confirmed. “Have you heard from her since Pilates?”
“She hasn’t been on Facebook,” Tara responded thoughtfully. “Or on Insta… I don’t think.”
They pulled out their phones and scrolled through a few accounts. “Not on Twitter,” Lisa confirmed. “Does she use TikTok?”
“I don’t think so… do you?”
“Not really,” Lisa answered vaguely before shrugging and tucking her phone away. “She’s probably just busy.”
“Yeah,” Tara agreed. “Getting ready for the beach. She is going this weekend, right?”
“That’s what she said,” Lisa answered with a quick nod. “A quick trip before she’d be taking care of her mom next week.”
“That’s right.” Tara nodded uneasily, adding, “I’m sure we’ll see her Monday. Or was she taking Monday off for the trip?”
“Oh,” Lisa frowned. “I don’t remember. But she’ll definitely post pictures from the beach.”
“True,” Tara smiled, feeling reassured enough to change the subject, and they talked until nearly 9:30 without bringing up Beth again.
But when Monday came around, Beth was not in class again, and she hadn’t posted any pictures from her weekend at the beach. She hadn’t posted anything at all.
“Should we check on her?” Tara asked as they walked out of the yoga studio and down the stairs to the parking lot.
“I messaged her this morning,” Lisa sighed. “No response.”
“Oh,” Tara frowned. She was about to suggest that she send a message, too, but didn’t want it to seem like Beth was more likely to respond to her than to Lisa.
“She read it though,” Lisa continued. “At least, the app says the message was read by somebody.”
“Well, then, she’s probably just busy,” Tara said quickly. Then, thinking about it more, she asked, “What did you say?”
“Just asked if she was coming to class,” Lisa shrugged. “I didn’t want to make a big deal.”
“Right,” Tara nodded quietly.
They’d known each other for years, chatting after classes three times a week with very few unexplained absences, though occasionally things came up and one of them didn’t make it in for a while. It wasn’t like they owed each other an explanation… and a gap in attendance didn’t necessarily mean something was wrong…
“She’ll be at Pilates,” Lisa reassured, but Tara quickly shook her head.
“I think her mom has surgery that morning.”
They were quiet, considering their options.
“You know where she lives, right?” Tara asked suddenly.
“Yeah, not far from me. I gave her rides that time her car was in the shop.”
“So, let’s check in on her,” Tara suggested.
“Today?” Lisa asked in surprise. “Now?”
“It’s only 8:20,” Tara replied, checking her watch. “We usually talk later than this.”
“I guess…” Lisa hesitated, wondering how Beth might feel about them just showing up at her house.
“We’ll grab some flowers and a card,” Tara rushed on, gesturing to the grocery store two doors down from the yoga studio. “As a ‘hope your mom’s surgery goes well’ gift. And if she doesn’t answer, we’ll just leave them at her door.”
“Huh,” Lisa considered, then nodded slowly. They’d gotten coffee together a few times over the years, but that had been the extent of their socializing outside of post-workout parking lot chats. “Okay,” she brightened. “Why not?”
Tara followed Lisa on the short drive to Beth’s house. They all lived within 5 miles of the studio; Lisa and Beth in one direction and Tara in the other. Though Tara didn’t mind driving out of her way to make their delivery together.
Beth’s home was a blue townhouse with pink flowers growing in a planter beside the front door. Her car was parked in the driveway, though there was no one in sight.
After parking alongside the curb, Tara and Lisa walked up to the door together. Tara carried a potted orchid and Lisa held the card they’d both signed on the hood of her car. Lisa rang the doorbell and they waited, glancing around the quiet street, and nodding to a pair of women who passed by on the sidewalk.
A minute later, the door opened, and Beth gaped at them in disbelief. She wore a baggy t-shirt and shorts with her hair pulled up in a messy bun. Her feet were bare, and she wore glasses instead of her usual contact lenses.
“What are you—?” She stopped herself, catching sight of the orchid and card. “You brought me an orchid?”
“Uh, yeah,” Tara thrust the plant toward her with straight arms.
“For you and your mom,” Lisa added, holding up the card. “For good luck on the surgery.”
“Oh,” Beth sighed, staring at them a moment before finally reaching for the orchid. “That’s so sweet of you!”
“We were worried,” Tara said abruptly, feeling the emptiness in her hands as Beth received the plant.
“You weren’t in class,” Lisa continued, “and you haven’t been posting…”
“Oh, I was busy,” Beth responded, seeming a little flustered. “I mean with the beach trip, and now getting ready for mom’s stay… Oh, do you want to come in? I have coffee.”
Lisa and Tara exchanged a quick look. Tara’s first meeting wasn’t until 10 and Lisa set her own work hours. They smiled and stepped inside, kicking off their shoes and asking what they could do to help.
“Just a chat would be great,” Beth grinned, stepping aside to let her friends into her home.
Maybe you can relate to this idea of parking lot friends, or maybe for you it’s more like the friends you only see at work. Over the years, some of my post-class parking lot friendships have expanded into fuller relationships, but even the ones that have stayed mostly in classes and parking lots—and on social media—have meant a lot to me. I hope to someday get back to a post-pandemic class schedule where we can socialize more regularly!
Thanks for listening today. As always, you can learn more about me and my books on my website, SusanQuilty.com. You can also catch up with me on social media or support me through my Patreon page.
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]