What's fair is fair fiction by Greta Stone

What’s Fair Is Fair

Preface

This was my round 2 entry for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction contest where I was given a genre, setting, and item to include in a story of 1000 words maximum. I had 48 hours to complete this and made no edits before posting here. I placed 5th of 30 in my group which earned me 11 points. My total score tied me with 2 other people for the final spot to move on to the next round. The tie breaker rule was not in my favor so this was the end for me. See judges remarks at the end. Enjoy.

{996 words}


Assignment
Genre: romantic comedy
Location: science fair
Item to include: defibrillator

Summary: Olivia’s only goal in the state science fair is to prove anything can be proven.


Rain poured down so heavily Olivia couldn’t see a thing through the back window of her parents’ car. Her father pulled up to the curb outside Quinnipiac University’s Science Fair with twenty minutes to spare for check-in.

“Good luck!” her mom yelled over the pounding rain as her dad checked the rear view for traffic.

Of course they weren’t going to go in with her. She was on her own to convince the people of Connecticut to ban something that was vital to life with nothing more than the truth presented in an official manner. “Thanks,” Olivia said under her breath.

She straightened the garbage bag around her folded presentation, delivering a whiff of plastic to her. Protect herself or protect the project? That was the question. With a sigh, she shoved the car door open and stepped out, propping the project over her head.

Cool rain splashed on hot pavement, filling the air with the smell of baked earth and tar. Olivia made a run for cover, kicking up water as she stomped through puddles. She yanked on the door handle and stepped inside, then stopped quick to shake herself dry.

A body plowed into her from behind, tossing her project to the floor, then her on top of it. A loud crash followed, echoing through the foyer like splintered glass.

She turned to find Luke Reilly, a jock from her school, rush to collect the parts of a broken defibrillator.

“I’m so sorry,” Olivia said, stretching to retrieve a piece of broken plastic.

“It’s fine,” he said shortly, taking the piece from her. His t-shirt, dark with rain across his broad shoulders, clung to him.

She’d spent more than a few afternoons gawking at him from the bleachers with her friends. He was pretty but no way he had the brain for a state science fair. What was he doing here?

“You all right?” he asked, extending a hand.

“It’s coming down in buckets out there,” she said stupidly. She placed her hand in his and the room spun as he swept her to her feet. Didn’t knights in shining armor usually sweep you off your feet?

“Yes, it is.” With a glance at her project on the floor, he said, “Good luck,” and disappeared through the second set of doors.

Speechless, Olivia watched him go. Maybe someone had fainted from nerves and, as a volunteer EMT, he was rushing to resuscitate them. You’re the only one who faints from nerves, Olivia, she reminded herself, and pulled it together.

Three hours later, the gymnasium’s ecosystem mimicked global warming and the volume of chatter had risen at least 20 decibels. Judges had made their rounds. Now parents, family, and friends had filled the room to max capacity.

While a young couple signed Olivia’s petition to ban dihydrogen monoxide, she caught a glimpse of Luke through the crowd. He stood beside a contraption across the aisle a few booths down, pieces of the defibrillator duct taped to it.

She winced. Of course she ruined his project. How else would she win a guy over?

“Good luck with the petition,” the couple said cheerfully, drawing her attention back to her own project and the list of names and email addresses.

Olivia produced a large smile for them, her thoughts drifting to her hand in Luke’s as he lifted her effortlessly to her feet. Too bad his name wasn’t on her list. What any girl wouldn’t give to have a direct line to the phone in his back pocket.

Turning to look for her next victim, she came face to face with Luke a foot away, arms crossed and scowling as he studied her presentation. “I thought your project was supposed to be on human behavior.”

Olivia’s cheeks warmed. The only way he’d know that is if he looked her up in the program. Her heart drummed against her ribs. “It is.”

He narrowed his eyes at her. “It looks like a petition to ban dihydrogen monoxide.”

The scientific words from his lips sounded like chocolate drizzled over strawberries. “It is,” she repeated like an idiot, still gawking. “I’m sorry if I ruined your project.”

“I made it work.” He shrugged one shoulder. “It was meant to be more of a monkey wrench than anything else.”

“Mm hm.” She blinked up at him, finding it hard to stay focused on what he was saying.

“So what’s your beef with dihydrogen monoxide?”

Heat rushed up her neck and face at the shift of attention back to her. Turning away to hide her blazing skin, she grabbed her petition off the table and pulled into character. “It can cause severe burns and that’s just the beginning. It’s responsible for land erosion and can even be fatal if inhaled,” she rambled, ignoring his smirk and the way he kept glancing down at her mouth.

He had to know what dihydrogen monoxide was. She hadn’t expected to persuade her fellow scientists. Only the gullible public who would believe any report that looked half as official as hers. “You know, the latest studies show the Connecticut River is contaminated by it.”

“Is that so?”

Was it just her or had they shared a conspirator’s look? She was convinced he was in on it until a long moment passed without a word.

“I always thought you were just a geek,” he said. “But now I see there might be more to you.”

Her stomach fluttered between the insult and compliment, her mind whirling to latch onto anything intelligent to say. “I always thought you were just a jock, but now I see there might be more to you too.”

A grin spread wide across his face. “Touche. Where do I sign?”

She watched, unbelieving, as he wrote “Luke Reilly, lreilly@gmail.com” then added in the margin “860-563-8374.”

“Thank you,” she said, floating.

“You’re welcome. And be careful on your way out tonight. I hear dihydrogen monoxide is falling from the sky in buckets.”


WHAT THE JUDGES LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY

{Judge #1611} This is an engaging, humorous project with great attention to pacing and well-developed characters. Some excellent details to ground readers in the narrative.
{Judge #1651} I enjoyed the “water” joke as a way to vet potential dates. The ending was fun and well-earned.
{Judge #1589} Nice how you give a sense of smell, as well as sight (“a whiff of plastic.”) Cute ending. This sentence feels off. She’s focused on a science project, gets knocked down by the jock, and then begins fantasizing he is a knight in shining armor? “. Didn’t knights in shining armor usually sweep you off your feet?”

WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK

{Judge #1611} I wasn’t quite sure what Luke’s project was. When he said it was a “money wrench” did he mean something to disrupt the science fair? I wanted a bit more. Also, I think the story warrants a stronger title.
{Judge #1651} It’s unclear why Olivia likes Luke in the beginning (just looks?), especially after he doesn’t try to help her pick up her own project that fell on the floor. You set up Luke as a jock, not a scientist, so why would Olivia expect him to know the dihydrogen monoxide joke? Overall, I’d make it more clear in the end how Olivia feels/reacts once she thinks he doesn’t get the “water” joke, and then again how her feelings change when she realizes that he understands her.
{Judge #1589} Give us a bit more of a set up. Who is in the car? Where are they going? Why? What is Olivia concerned about? What is her goal for the day? The following is a long sentence: “She was on her own to convince the people of Connecticut to ban something that was vital to life with nothing more than the truth presented in an official manner.” Try breaking it up. Let us in on the conspiracy. Is she out deceiving the public to see how many people sign? Tell more.

Your comments and suggestions, as always, are greatly appreciated.

Thank you for reading!

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