[This is the story I wrote for Heat Two, Round One of the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction contest. It got me 7th place in my group, which added to my earlier 2nd place, and I got through to the next round for the first time. My prompts: it had to be a romantic comedy that took place in an orchestra pit and involved a spider.]
Mateo was being lowered to me. The orchestra pit was dark. My violin made the only sound.
Our opening move, with him lifting my limp body out of the pit, seemingly with one arm, was my favorite. The way his bicep hardened as if he really were holding me by his own power was delicious.
As I reached the adagio section, I looked up, right into two dinner-plate-sized bulbous black eyes flanked by four soup-bowl-deep eyes that flashed iridescent green and blue. I was as mesmerized as the script called for me to be.
The giant spider glided down, its fangs pointed right at me.
My bow skittered across the strings and out of my hand. Still, I didn’t move until the beast tilted and I could distinguish the man underneath the costume.
“Leila?” He sounded both concerned and amused.
“Eight years with Cirque and I never dropped my bow.” I picked it up and pointed it at him. “Never.” I yelled, “Francesca, you’re a cruel genius.”
There was a “whoop” from the auditorium before the director’s voice came over the P.A. “From the top. Just mark it.”
Take two wasn’t much better. I managed to hold onto my bow and get into position for him to hook the harness around me. Every time the spider legs bounced against me, it took every ounce of discipline I had not to curl up in a ball.
Even after I transferred onto the silks, I remained stiff and wary. There was no playfulness, no seduction between us, and what came out of my violin was noise, not music.
The cable guys lowered Mateo, and I slid down my silk.
The director met us on stage. “What is the name of your scene?”
I sighed. “The Spider and the Fly.”
“And you’ve known this the entire time?”
“Look at him.”
Even the quickest flick of a glance made my breath catch. And not in a fun way.
“There’s no time to find another aerial violinist.” He checked his phone. “You have two hours to get back the chemistry that was steaming things up this morning.”
Mateo spoke up. “I have an idea, but I’d have to wear the costume outside. If she can get used to it—”
I snorted. That wasn’t possible. It was too big, too hairy, too—
“Come out with me.” Mateo pushed up his mask and I focused on his beautiful face. “We’ll hit a deli, get picnic stuff and—”
“Draw way too much attention. It’ll never—”
“Not so fast,” the director said. “Just the spider costume. Go to Starlight. Wait twenty minutes so I can get some media types to happen by and we can create some buzz for the show.”
“Very funny,” I said, as deadpan as I could. “Buzz. For the fly.”
But the director was already on his phone. He mouthed, “Go change.”
What was my problem? I’d performed in dozens of countries crazy with giant, hairy spiders. I didn’t have a problem with them. But expand them to man-sized…. I shuddered.
The spider was waiting for me in the lobby. I mean, Mateo. Mateo was waiting for me.
“Can’t you keep your mask up?” My most pitiful voice worked and soon I could see his mischievous smile. “You look way too pleased with yourself.”
Instead of answering, he headed for the doors. “Will you help me get through? Francesca threatened my manhood if any of the legs get crushed.”
Even after I opened both doors wide and put down the stoppers, I still had to guide the top two legs through. Which meant I had to touch them. The hair felt like a hipster beard: springy and surprisingly soft. The bottom two legs dragged on the ground, so Mateo slipped his arms out of the second pair of appendages and held up the bottom ones, swinging them like a lady in a hoop skirt.
I smiled. But still, I stayed well wide of the outer reaches of the costume.
“Did you read Harry Potter?” he asked.
“You remember Lupin—”
“Remembering Lupin makes me teary.”
“There’s the scene with the boggart, where they have to make it seem silly in order to defeat it.”
“Riddikulus.” I put the emphasis properly on the ku. “That’s what this is about?”
He whistled a tuneless tune. Like someone trying to hide something. I waited.
“I may have been wanting to ask you out,” he said.
Heat spread upwards from my chest, but I didn’t look at him; I didn’t want the costume to ruin my bliss. “Here’s the Starlight.”
We stood on the sidewalk, staring into the deli. There was no way he could fit in there. I looked at our reflection. The spider didn’t look terrifying in the window. Not quite silly, but it was an improvement.
I took his order and went in. When I reached the front of the line, there was heavy banging: Mateo was spread eagled against the window. The counter guys looked up and screamed like little girls. I managed to hide my laughter until I finished ordering. The media was there when I got out, so we talked with them and posed for photos with our sandwiches.
Mateo held out his hand and I took it. Suppleness returned to my wrists and to my fingers at his touch.
We might as well have floated back to the theatre and into the deserted orchestra pit.
When he put his arms around me, the spider legs brushed me, so I extended my arms to hold them away. He tightened his right arm around my lower back and held me tightly to him, just like in our opening move, except now we were kissing. Delicious.
“You two ready?” The director peered into the pit.
We jumped apart like naughty teenagers.
Mateo looked down. “Give me a minute.”
That was one snug leotard. I grinned. “The spider appears to have nine legs.”