This story was written for the Reedsy contest "This Magic Moment".
More specifically in the context of the prompt: "Write a story that includes characters who are aware they are a work of fiction."
Dean looks at his watch. Laura had promised to meet him for coffee at three, but it’s already a quarter past the hour.
Some things never change, he thinks; you can always count on Laura being late. He sips his coffee and grimaces. It has gone cold.
“Do you want me to replace your cold coffee with a warm cup, love?” a motherly voice asks.
Dean wakes up from his daydream and looks right into the eyes of a waitress.
She winks at him: “I’m sure the girl you’re waiting for will be here any moment.”
“Yes, thank you,” Dean answers. “She’s probably...”
He wants to say “stuck in traffic,” but that wouldn’t be a credible excuse. Laura doesn’t even own a car. She lives only a couple of blocks away.
“She’s just that way,” he finally says. “Always losing track of time.”
“Ah, don’t you worry about that,” the waitress says. “In a distant past, I too was young and carefree. Trust me: a girl grows out of that eventually —faster than one likes to admit.”
Once more, she winks at Dean. He wonders if it’s a nervous tic.
He turns to his phone to check if Laura hasn’t sent him any messages. She hasn’t.
“She’ll be here when she’ll be here,” he convinces himself. “That’s how she is. I can live with that.”
Laura makes her appearance at the exact moment the waitress serves Dean his third coffee.
“Well, there you are, honey, and what a sight for sore eyes you are!” the mother figure says. “This young man has been waiting for you for almost half an hour. Treat him well, honey. A patient friend is hard to find these days!”
“Is that true?” Laura asks as she sits down. “How long have you been waiting for me?”
“I arrived at ten to three,” Dean replies.
“I remembered that we were to meet today,” Laura says, “but I wasn’t sure how late. Anyway, we’re in-between books. It’s not as if we’re pressed for time, is it?”
“It isn’t,” Dean says. “And by the way: we agreed to meet at three-ish.”
Laura takes a glance at her watch: “It’s twenty past three. That’s still three-ish. I’m well on time for once, aren’t I?”
“Not exactly, but close enough,” the waitress interjects. “What would you like to drink, honey?”
“She’ll have a cappuccino,” Dean says. He knows how Laura likes her coffee.
“Yes, a cappuccino please,” Laura repeats.
“What was that all about?” she asks when the waitress is out of sight.
“Forget about it,” Dean says. “You should ignore her. She’s been treating me as if I were her ideal son-in-law. If she had a daughter, she’d probably be planning our marriage as we speak.”
“You? Married?” Laura laughs. “Now that would be really something.”
“What do you mean by that?” Dean asks. Laura doesn’t notice the hint of frustration in his voice.
“I’ve never seen you as the marrying type. You’re always entangled in some hard-boiled adventure, solving one mystery after another.”
“That doesn’t mean I can’t fall in love, does it?”
Laura doesn’t even bother to give it a thought: “Let’s face it: you’re just not written that way, Dean.”
Dean doesn’t agree with Laura’s point of view. It’s true that he doesn’t lead an ordinary life. He doesn’t work normal hours. He gets into dangerous situations all the time, but even the writer who conceived him has grown tired of that kind of existence. After twelve successful episodes of a series that is named after him, it’s time for Dean to try something new. Unfortunately, the author isn’t quite open to Dean’s suggestions as to what that “something new” should be. To summarize their long discussions: Dean explained that he was ready to settle, but the writer feared this would be the end of both their careers. As a result, there isn't even an inkling of a plot for episode thirteen yet. The author’s drawing board is blank, and the publisher is starting to worry.
Dean shakes his head to chase away his concerns and preoccupations. He decides to change the subject: “Have you thought about what you’re going to ask the writer for your birthday this year?”
“I'm glad you ask," Laura says. "In his next story, I’d like to travel the world. I want to discover other places.”
“You? Travel? But you were born and bred in New York! As far as I know, you've lived in the same apartment for your whole life and you've never left the Big Apply, except for an occasional trip to your aunt in New Jersey.”
“I know. For twelve books long, I’ve felt like a cardboard figure. In the next book, I want to be part of some action. Maybe I could be kidnapped and abducted to some made-up kingdom where I’m rescued by a handsome prince.”
Dean frowns: “Normally, I’m the one doing the rescuing.”
Laura smiles: “My kidnapping would merely be a subplot, just like always. You’d be too busy saving the world to worry about me.”
“But I do worry about you —always.”
“You shouldn’t! The world is far more important than I am.”
“That might be true in real life, but we’re fiction. We can afford forgetting about the world for a couple of hundreds of pages. That’s why people love to read our adventures; to escape from whatever is making them scared and unhappy.”
“That’s exactly why I like to read about you, love!”
There's the waitress with the cappuccino. Dean suddenly understands what all the winking was about. Somehow, the waitress has guessed his identity and recognized the great Dean Digger, private investigator, and hero of millions of readers worldwide.
“Could we have some privacy, please?” Dean insists. “We’re having a personal conversation.”
“I’m sorry, love, I didn't want to startle you,” the waitress says. “If I could only have your autograph on a napkin, you’d make me the happiest waitress in the world.”
Reluctantly, Dean takes a pen from his pocket.
“Is this napkin OK?” he asks. He wants to get it over with.
“Most certainly,” the waitress nods.
“He used it, so it has some of his DNA on it,” Laura jokes. “With some time and the right technology, you could create your own Dean clone.”
Dean throws an angry look at her. He’s not in the mood for jokes. An awkward silence falls between them.
“So that’s what you’re going to ask for your birthday,” Dean concludes after a while.
“Yes, I’ve heard the plot for episode thirteen is still pretty much open. I hope my birthday wish will inspire the writer.”
“In that case, I wish you luck. He didn’t grant me my birthday wish, maybe he’ll grant yours.”
“O my poor Dean, I forgot all about your birthday. It was last week, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, it was, but I’m not the type of man who celebrates his birthday.”
“Maybe that’s why you wish wasn’t granted,” Laura tries to comfort him. “What did you ask?”
“Nothing much,” Dean answers. “I only asked him to make you fall in love with me.”
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