Flash Fiction: Blake & Kara

(Blake & Kara’s story originally appeared as a serial flash fiction on CharlieGsOutfitRatings Instagram from 1/16/21 to 1/22/21 under “Book Vibes.” It has been modified for this blog post.)

Photo credit: Jordan Bauer

Kara knows that searching out her old high crush on social media is probably not the best use of her Saturday, but she couldn’t shake the dream about him Why 

now? So many years later?

She squeaks as she clicks on his profile, then sucks in a sharp breath. The man in front of her is no longer the baby-faced goofball from her youth, but an adventurer with perfectly carved features and a smile that makes her feel a little light headed. She tries to close his profile when her finger slips, and she likes the picture.

Oh no. He wasn’t supposed to know she was lurking. She tries to click it again, but it changes the like to a heart. She closes the app and cringes. Maybe he won’t notice.

*One new message*

Kara stares at the alert, her stomach tightening. Oh god, what if it’s from him?! She shakes her head and laughs. “Whatever, Kara. He’s not just going to message you.” Great, now she’s talking to herself.

Her phone dings with a new message. Oh my god. Her cheeks burn so hot, her glasses nearly melt off. Caught lurking red-handed! She holds her breath and clicks.

*Message from Blake*
“Hey you! Talk about blast from the past. How you’ve been? Saw you posted a pic at The C Chord! Played open mic there last week. You still doing music?”

She flips to his timeline. His new post is a picture of him at a microphone, guitar in hand, on the stage facing the bar she works five night a week, except on open mic night. The stage she hasn’t had the guts to walk on.

Kara stares at the screen. What did she tell the man who taught her how to play guitar on her back porch? That she choked after her EP tanked and she just gave up?

She shakes her hands and groans. “I can do this. It’s just a message. Stop being weird.”

*Message from Kara*
“Hey Stranger! Sorry I missed you on open mic night. Would’ve been great to catch up. I actually work at The C Chord. Maybe see you if you ever pop back in.”

There. Casual and friendly, right? She hits send before she chickens out, then tosses her phone on her bed. “Gah!” She stands and walks over to a collage of her favorite pictures stuffed behind a dusty frame. She runs her finger over the photo of him on the tree swing in her childhood backyard. How many hours had they spent sharing big dreams together under those branches?

Her phone dings with a new message.

***

Blake thinks it’s funny how when he was a teen he couldn’t wait to get out of his childhood town, away from the slower pace and the twenty-four hour liquor store that closed at 9:00pm. But now that he’s on the plane headed home for good, he can’t wait to get there. He had been back last week for a job interview and accepting the position as the local middle/high  school music teacher was the easiest thing he’s ever done.

He misses being able to see the stars at night, living walking distance from his folks, and his old childhood friends. Especially Kara, the girl with the voice of an angel. He should look her up when he gets settled. His folks say she’s still in town. Funny, he always thought she’d be singing to sold out stadiums by now.

His phone vibrates and he glances down where it rests on his tray table. *Kara_G liked a photo*

Kara? HIS Kara? Did he just will her into existence? He’s never been happier that he paid for wifi on a flight before.

He opens his social media app and types a message.

***

*Message from Blake*
“You working tonight?”

Why did she say yes?! So she could stare at the door all night and not pay attention to the customers that lined her counter?

“Yo Kara,” her best work friend, Dan, asks. “You just messed up a Shirley Temple. What’s going on?”

She groans and remakes the simple sprite and grenadine drink. “I’m distracted.”

He snorts. “Yeah, I see that. By who?”

She glare. “Who says it’s a person?”

He raises his eyebrow, silently calling her out. That’s fair. She saw him more than her own family.

She sighs, pulls out her phone, then opens Blake’s timeline. “Old friend’s supposed to swing by tonight.”

Dan takes the phone and whistles low. “Pretty sure this man is my new sexual preference.”

She elbows him and snatches the phone back, despite agreeing with him.

She flips through a few more pictures and  stops on Blake’s senior picture. How did that man look so good as a teenager in a varsity coat? Those hazel eyes burn into hers even though a screen.

A few drops of sweat prick the back of her neck and her stomach tightens. She lifts her head and those same hazel eyes meet hers from over the bar.

“Hey, Kara.”

***

Blake sucks in a sharp breath when Kara’s brown eyes find his. Whoa. She is still the girl he knew, but even more beautiful.

He bites his bottom lip so he doesn’t give away that he sees her phone. Is she looking at pictures of him? Her cheeks flush and he’s got his answer. His smile grows.

The guy standing next to Kara looks at his watch. “Would you look at that, it’s your break time. Bye!” He playfully shoves her shoulder.

They have a silent exchange that ends in eye rolls and she turns back to Blake. “Want to go out back?”

She used to say that to him whenever she wanted to play guitar on her porch. Whenever she needed an escape.

Glad to see some things never changed. “Sounds good.”

She leads the way into a back hallway and out the exit, then turns to face him. “Holy hell it’s great to see you.” Her cheeks flame again but her smile steals his attention.

He opens his arms for a hug and she steps right in, and years between them evaporate. Her hug is like coming home. He presses his chin against the top of her head. “So. When are we getting together to jam? My guitar misses you.”

***

The excitement at seeing Blake again turns to a ball of dread in her stomach. “My guitar misses you” slices through the carefully built wall she’s constructed around her musician past. She drops her arms and steps back.

He watches her, a crease between his brows. She looks at her shoes and tucks a piece of loose hair behind her ear. “Uh, I haven’t played much recently. Been really busy.”

“Ah, I see.”

She looks up and finds him studying her, his smile no longer reaching his eyes. “Listen, I should get back—“

He holds out his hand. “Phone.” She hands him her phone. He types in his number, then calls himself. “You free tomorrow?”

She bites the inside of her cheek, knowing he’s going to ask questions she wasn’t ready to answer, but accepting she wouldn’t say no to this man. “Yeah, until my evening shift.”

He opens the back door for her and she squeezes her hands into fists to keep from hugging him again. Why does he smell so good? How is he already turning her stomach inside-out? “See you tomorrow, Blake.”

“Can’t wait.”

***

Apparently when Blake says “walk,” he means a hike at sunrise. Kara can’t believe she agrees to his ridiculous plan, but the dark roast coffee he brings from her favorite cafe makes up for the fact that she’s only gotten a few hours of sleep.

He’s silent as they make their way out of a wooded area and pause in the clearing, the sun stretching above the horizon.

Blake smiles and lifts his face to the sky, wisps of hair pulling free from his ponytail. Kara takes a picture, trying to capture the perfect moment. Her heart unfurls, pushing against the confines of her rib cage.

“Do you hear it?” he asks.

She tilts her head, but can’t hear anything over her heartbeat thudding in her ears. “Hear what?”

“There’s music in the sunrise.” He looks at her and starts humming softly to some inaudible tune. He frowns and gives her a once over, top to toe. “You used to hear music in everything. What happened?”

Emotion clogs her throat at the concern on his face, and she looks away. “Grew up, I guess.”

He shakes his head. “That’s not it.” He grabs her hand and puts it on his chest, where she can feel his heart beat beneath his soft sweater. “The rhythm is in your heart.” He sways them back and forth.

A bird calls and the corner of his mouth twists up. “There’s your harmony.”

The wind picks up, and a tumble of dried leaves and cicada chirps fill the air. “Your melody.”

Kara’s eye widen as she hears the faintest song in the morning. He smiles and drops her hand. “Come on, we’ve got another few miles to go.”

She stares after him in disbelief, unable to comprehend what just happened.

***

After a week of morning walks and frequent texts, Blake still hasn’t figured out why Kara gave up music. When he asks her directly on Wednesday, she shakes her head and tells him it doesn’t matter. But it does, to him.

He knows whatever happened is the reason she’s not working open mic night tonight, and it takes everything he’s got to not pick up the phone and text her. He’s got to concentrate. Tonight is important. The bar is full of the parents of kids who need music lessons, and music lessons are a much needed supplement to his paycheck.

When it’s his turn, he climbs on stage. “Hey, I’m Blake. I’m the new music teacher and am available for private lessons.”

This of course results in a drunk person yelling something inappropriate about private lessons, but they’re hushed as he starts playing a Taylor Swift melody. Taylor always gets him the most students and everyone wanted to play her.

He pretends he doesn’t see Kara’s friend Dan holding his phone up, pointed at him.

Fifteen minutes after his set, he already has three lessons booked and turns down another very blatant “private lesson” invitation. He isn’t in the mood for a casual fling. Not when he can’t stop thinking about Kara.

He walks over to the bar and nods at Dan.

Dan tops off his rum and coke, then leans against the bar. “You gonna ask?”

***

Blake shakes his head. “If she wanted me to know, she’d tell me.”

“It’s a classic story,” Dan explains. “Girl gets dream, dream goes catastrophically wrong, girl locks dream away in closet and moves on. You know the deal.”

Blake rotates the glass on the bar. “Yeah, I do.” He’s seen LA chew up and spit out more people than he count count.

“She misses the music,” Dan admits. “She just needs to find her motivation to play again.” He taps twice on the bar before walking away to serve another customer.

Blake’s phone vibrates with a text.

Kara: I love that you’re a Swiftie. Walk tomorrow?

He bites down on a smile. “Nope,” he tells Dan. “I’ve got a better idea.”

***

Blake is standing in front of my door with a guitar case in his hand. My stomach twists.

“What’s all this?” I ask, joining him on the porch.

“A walk.”

I glare. “With a guitar?”

He tilts his head. “Let’s go.”

“Blake, I’m not up for it.”

He keeps walking toward the tree line we had spent the last week exploring. “Well, then see you later.”

“Blake!” she calls after him but he ignores her. She shoves on her shoes and sprints after him, annoyed. She should just go back inside and pull the blankets up over her head. Sleep for another two hours. But she can’t seem to stay away from him.

He’s waiting for her just inside the tree line and his smile grows when she catches up.

They walk silently—him gliding, her stomping—into that clearing where she heard the sunrise, and he climbs onto a big rock. He pats the space next to him.

She scoots on. He pulls out a pair of red sunglasses from his pocket and hands them to her.

“Are you prepping for a Beatles reunion tour?”

He ignores her question and takes them back, unfolds them, the slides then onto her face. His fingers slide over her ears, sending a cascade of tingles over her skin. “Just as I thought. Adorable.”

She blinks, her cheeks heating. “Uh…what is going on.”

He grabs the guitar case and opens it up. “We’re having a concert.”

***

Blake is standing in front of her door wearing a sunhat and a raincoat. She laughs at the dichotomy. “What’s happening?”

“Picnic on the beach.”

She frowns. “We are no where near a beach.”

He puts his hands in his pocket and rocks back on his heels. “Okay more like a creek.”

“And the raincoat?” she askes.

He shrugs. “Could rain.”

We both look up at the cloudless sky. “I forgot how weird you are,” she mumbles.

He tilts his head. “Let’s go.”

He walks toward the tree line we had spent the last week exploring.

“Blake!” she calls after him but he ignores her. She shoves on her shoes and sprints after him. She should just go back inside and pull the blankets up over her head. Sleep for another two hours. But she can’t seem to stay away from him.

He’s waiting for her just inside the tree line and his smile grows when she catches up.

They walk silently—him gliding, her shuffling—down a path they hadn’t traversed yet. The sun washes over them as they reach the creek. They sit on the bank next to a pile of shoes and socks, cold water running over their feet.

Blake unzips his coat and pulls it off, then unbuckles whatever he has strapped to his back underneath.

When he produces a ukulele, strumming a few cheery chords, Kara’s stomach drops.

***

Kara jumps up and tries to put space between them. “Nope, I’m not playing.”

Blake tugs at the back of her t-shirt. “You don’t have do anything. Just hang.”

She crosses her arms and shakes her head. “I don’t need saving.”

He takes a step back and blinks. “I’m not trying to save you. I’m trying to reconnect with you and we use to love sharing music. So let me share some music with you, okay?”

She meets his eyes and he smiles, his honestly shining through. “Okay.” She walks back to the bank and sits back down. When he takes his spot next to her, his arm brushes hers.

He pulls out a pair of red sunglasses from his pocket and hands them to her.

She laughs. “Are you prepping for a Beatles reunion tour?”

He ignores her question and takes them back, unfolds them, the slides then onto her face. His fingers slide over her ears, sending a cascade of tingles over her skin. “Just as I thought. Adorable.”

***

Blake doesn’t miss the way Kara’s eyes watch his hands move across the ukulele, or the way her fingers twitch as she sways along to the music. He can’t stop himself from smiling. She still has the music inside her, she just needs to remember how to let it out. 

He knows not to push his luck, and after a few fun summer songs, he sets the instrument aside and grabs the bag he brought with them. “So, picnic?”

“That depends if you’re going to pull out a half eaten apple like yesterday,” she teases.

He pulls out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, vegetables, and fruit salad. “I can actually adult thank you.”  He enjoys the look of the surprise in her eyes. 

They share the meal and he streams music low on this phone. His heart jumps when she hums along, seemingly without noticing. He misses her voice.

His chest fills with hope when the first few words of a chorus fall out of her mouth. He can’t help himself. He stands, pulls her up, and spins her around, as if they are swing dancing.

She throws her head back and laughs, and he bites the inside of his cheeks to keep from leaning down and kissing her.

***

“Who gets a cold in the summer?” Kara moans into the phone at Dan.

“Stay home and rest,” he orders. “Don’t come in here and infect the rest of us. You can cover for me Thursday instead.”

She groans but agrees. She could survive one open mic night, despite all the young kids crooning out bad covers or hopeful originals. Their big dreams are sticky and always get on her shoes.

She’s burrowing into the couch when there’s a knock on her front door before it opens. Blake sticks his head in. “Special delivery!”

She pulls out the two tissues she’s stuck up her nose and pushes herself up. “What are you doing here?”

He walks into her kitchen and sets a pot down. “Mom made you soup.”

I suck in a breath. “Your mom‘s soup is magic.”

He laughs. “Trust me, she knows!” He grabs a big coffee mug and fills it up with the magical broth, then brings it over to her. 

Her hands cradle the warm ceramic and already she feels better. She taste a sip and moans. “Oh my god it’s better than I remember.” When she looks up at him, his gaze is on her lips. Kara takes another sip, trying to soothe the sharp ache in her stomach. “Tell her thanks.”

He walks over the the end of the couch, lifts her feet, sits, and puts her legs across his lap. “What are we watching?”

Kara’s mouth falls open. “You can’t stay! You’ll get sick.”

He gives her a look. “Kara, I’m a teacher. You are the least likely person to get me sick in the world.” He lifts  the hood on his sweatshirt and tugs it tight. “Better?”

She shakes her head. “How’s that gonna help?”

He winks. “Already did.” He picks up the remote. “What are we watching?”

She bites down on her smile. “You pick.”

“As you wish.” He navigates to Disney+ and selects The Princess Bride. 

Kara’s chest warms and she knows she’s falling for this man fast. She sips her soup to keep the words from spilling out. 

***

They are only forty-five minutes into open mic night and Kara is already mentally reviewing her resume in her head. Despite making decent money at the bar, maybe it’s time to work somewhere that makes her less ragey.

“You look like you need a drink,” Blake says, walking up to the bar, guitar case in hand.

She grabs a glass to make him his usual. “I’ve already heard Driver’s License three times tonight and every one of them was wrong.”

He takes the glass, but doesn’t break eye contact. “What do you mean?”

She grabs a towel and starts vigorously wiping the bar in front of him, despite it already being clean. “They’re either all breath or all belt. The reason the song is so emotional is because sounds like she’s holding back a flood of emotions. She never goes full belt…”

Kara couldn’t help herself, she explains her theory on breath levels and dramatic pauses and tension building through the next three customers. She ends with a, “Ya know?!”

Blake just stares at her, blinking rapidly.

She puts her hands on her hips. “What?”

He shakes his head. “What the hell are you doing working here?”

His words are a punch to her stomach. “Because I like it here.”

“But music is a part of you!”

“Music was a hobby that only took and never gave.”

He opens his mouth to respond, but they announce his name at the mic.

***

As Blake walked toward the stage, Kara’s words shred at his composure. How could she think music didn’t give, continuously give? But heartbreak, especially over failed dreams, often disguises itself as hate or indifference. He has to make this next song count and he knows he only has one shot at it.

He starts playing “Unsaid Emily,” a song from one of his niece’s favorite shows, Julie and the Phantoms. He remembers her notes about regulating his breath to convey emotion. He looks up to find her watching him, eyes wide. “If I could take us back/if I could just do that…”

He skillfully transitions into “Driver’s License,” never using a full belt, but focusing on restrained emotion.

When he finishes, the crowd is silent for a full three seconds before they erupt into applause. He looks up to find Kara gone.

***

Kara knows she overreacted. It’s just that he made her cry, then crying gave her a panic attack. She still hasn’t texted him since she canceled their walk two days ago.

Instead, she’s staring at her guitar case. The song he played swirls around in her head and she Googles the lyrics. “Unsaid Emily” by Charlie Gillespie, Julie and the Phantoms soundtrack.

Why did he play a song from a kid’s show? She could ask him of course, but the pit in her stomach stops her. Instead, she grabs her remote, navigates to the show, and presses play.

When she finishes, she’s shaking as she texts Blake. “You better buy me Sunset Curve hoodie for my birthday next week.” Then she turns off her phone and picks up her guitar.

***

Blake hasn’t seen Kara in a week, understanding that her lack of response means she needs space. Tomorrow, he’s going to stop by her place to drop off her birthday gift. Tonight though, he is here to watch one of his new students perform—underage kids are allowed in for the first hour of open mic night with an adult—and then he’ll perform a song himself. It isn’t the same as singing in front of an LA crowd, but it scratches the itch.

Showcasing his student sparks a few more parental conversations, and by the time the adults-only crowd starts, His schedule is filling up. He had been hoping Kara would ask him to help her, and he’d been naively leaving an early afternoon space for her just in case. With his jaw clenched tight, he deletes her name and replaces it with the a new student. He hits his chest with his fist to dislodge the lump in his throat. It was time to accept she had a different life now. One that maybe didn’t have room for him in the way he wants.

Dan comes over to the table and drops off his usual. “You okay if we bump you back a spot tonight? Got a newbie quaking in their boots.”

Blake nods. “I’m flexible.” He nurses his drink and plays Candy Crush on his phone, impatient for the first time. He didn’t really want to be here tonight, searching the bar, even though he knows Kara isn’t working.

He’s about to tap out, tell Dan to skip him tonight, when the opening chords to “Wake Up,” another song from Julie and the Phantoms, cascade through the room. He stills and looks up at the stage.

***

Kara’s hands shake as she fumbles with the chords, trying to  suck in enough breath to sing a song she didn’t known existed last week.

She’s rusty, and she definitely mixes up a few lyrics, but it doesn’t matter. She’s not doing this for anyone but herself. Well, maybe one other person.

Her gaze doesn’t leave her hands but she can feel Blake’s stare. When she plays the last chord and looks over at him, his eyes are glassy. He stands, whistles, and claps louder than anyone else, except maybe Dan who is standing on top of the bar, cheering.

Her cheeks are on fire as she grabs her guitar case and walks to his table. “I’m sorry I disappeared. I needed to work through some stuff.”

He nods. “I’m so proud of you.” He opens his arms.

She sets down her instrument then steps into his embrace.

***

Kara’s missed his hugs, the way they make every part of her feel warm and safe.

Blake pulls back. “Hey, what are we doing for your birthday tomorrow?”

She bites down on a smile and shrugs. “I have the day off, so definitely sleep in.”

He smiles back. “How about I take you to dinner?”

“Like a date?” Her stomach somersaults and heart kicks an extra beat.

He nods and runs his finger along the edge of her jaw. “Yeah, like a date. Haven’t you figured out I’m crazy about you?”

She opens her mouth to respond but all the words collide in her throat. How does talking work and why can’t she remember how to do it?

He smiles at whatever expression she manages, then throws some cash on the table and grabs her guitar. “I have your birthday presents in my truck. You interested?”

She’s relieved he broke the tension, “Ooh present! Yes.” She follows him out of the bar, ignoring Dan’s teasing goodbye.

They stop in front of his truck and he reaches inside, pulling out the hoodie. “I was going to wrap it tonight.” He puts it over her head and she laughs, trying to push her arms into the sleeves.

She looks down and smiles at the Sunset Curve logo. “It’s perfect.” She looks up at him. “You’re perfect.”

He bites his lip and his cheeks turn pink. “Do you want your second present now or tomorrow?”

She scoffs. “Now! Of course.”

He steps close to her and tucks her hair behind her ear. “Well, then, I think a birthday kiss is in order.”

He starts to lean down but she can’t help it; she starts laughing. “Did you just say your kiss is a gift?!”

He smiles and winks. “Totally is.”

She laughs harder and tears prick at the corner of her eyes. “You were always very confident.”

“Well maybe not anymore,” he says, pretending to affronted.

Kara smiles and puts her nose against his. “Guess this will be a gift for both of us, then. I’m basically the best present ever.” Then she pressed her lips to his.

(Fin.)

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