Friday Flash Fiction: The Bookstall

God help me, I’ve joined a Facebook group. It’s called Friday Flash Fics and presents a photo as a writing prompt, with responses to the photo posted every Friday.

You know, because I haven’t obligated myself to enough things already. But seriously, it’s good exercise for me. I’m not great at flash fiction, so these will probably be more like vignettes or scenes than fully fleshed out stories, but I’ll do my best.

So, here’s the image prompt for this week:

London riverside with Big Ben in background

This made me think of Detours. It’s been six years since my first novel came out. (Time flies, doesn’t it? Sure, it’s been six years, but you can still add it to your Goodreads shelf.) Readers may recall that it starts with the narrator, Joel, coming home from a stellar vacation… in London. Where he met a guy. That meeting happened offstage, as it were. But maybe it went something like this:

The Bookstall

Joel’s hand lingered over the Woolf, an old edition, the slipcover scuffed with a tear in it. If he lifted it to his nose, he expected it would smell musty.

He looked up, staring across the river and trying to calculate how much room he had in his suitcase and whether he should be buying books at all. In the aisle across from him, another man looked up.

It was one of those awkward moments where two people catch each other’s eye—not staring, but obvious that each has seen the other. There’s always two choices: look quickly away and pretend it didn’t happen, or…

“So, what’s caught your interest?” the man asked. It took Joel a moment to realize he meant the book. Joel held it up.

Mrs. Dalloway? Never read it. Wasn’t that a movie?”

English accent, a bonus for Joel on top of the dark hair, the stubble along the square jaw.

“The book’s better,” Joel said. “The book’s always better.”

The man looked surprised. “You’re American.”

“Guilty as charged. What are you getting?”

The man held up a Dan Brown, and Joel’s optimism fell a little. “Wasn’t that a movie?”

The man nodded. “Somehow I doubt that the book is better, but…” He glanced down at the stalls in front of him. “I imagine it’s more gripping than The Joy of Soufflé.”

Joel recognized an opportunity. “Hey, don’t knock soufflés.” He moved to the end of his aisle and circled around to stand next to the man. He picked up the cookbook and started leafing through it. “I make a pretty mean souffle.”

He was only half looking at the cookbook. Glancing sideways, Joel slid his gaze along the man’s torso, taking in the wisp of black hair at the neck of his t-shirt, plain white, on his way down the v of his half-zipped track jacket.

“You’re a cook?” the man asked. Joel shook his head.

“Only to keep from starving. I work in marketing. Do you cook?” I bet we could cook was what he was thinking.

“The best thing I make is reservations.” The man set down the Dan Brown and extended his hand. “Philip.”

“Joel.” The handshake lingered for maybe half a second longer than appropriate, and Joel wondered where the British reserve was that he’d heard so much about. Somewhere other than here, he figured. Thankfully.

“Do you have plans this evening?” Philip asked.

If he had, Joel fully intended to cancel them. “No, why?”

“Would you like to go to dinner? There’s a wonderful Italian place in my neighbourhood.”

In his neighbourhood possibly meant close enough to home that they didn’t have to have dessert out. “I love Italian.”

Philip scribbled his name and number and the address of the restaurant on a receipt he pulled from his wallet. Another handshake, a charmingly crooked grin and Philip was off. Joel watched him walk away, admiring the view, and hoped his vacation might end on a high note after all.