Welcome back to Panel 350, our experiment in flash fiction. Each story is 350 words (this one’s 347!)
Last time Jim was home, CharKay was a little morose. This time she was full-on mad.
She held a gray hair between her thumb and forefinger. “When we met, I was two years younger than you. Now, I don’t know.”
“You hit me with this right when I get in?” Jim asked, trying to calm the situation. “I’ve been in the vacuum all week.”
“It was a week for you,” she said. Jim was a long-haul trucker, working the run between Earth and Alpha Centauri. Thanks to relativity, a weeklong hitch to AC at .7 c was a week for him – but it was three months for her back on Earth.
“I really need to know where this is going,” she said. “I might want kids someday.”
They’d been dating nearly three years (Earth time), and this was the first he’d heard of kids. He froze for a moment, searching his options.
“Look, I’m just … frustrated,” she said. “You’re out running through space, I’m stuck behind a counter …”
“Trust me, it’s no picnic out there,” he said. “You could go on the run with me …”
“Pretty sure the Circle K won’t let me go for three months.”
“Let me at least put my grip down,” he said. He put an arm around her. She shook him off, then leaned against him with her arms folded. She was listening.
“Look, it’s only temporary,” he continued. “I get paid for the full year, even though to me I’m only working five weeks. I’m socking away tons of money. I’m just going to do this for another year or so, then it’s back to dry land.”
He kissed her. They made up.
He spent his next run thinking about losing her. On AC, he bought a big ruby (they’re plentiful there) and planned a whole romantic thing for when he got home.
But by the time he got home, she’d been thinking about it for three months, and she’d long since made up her mind. She’d left him a breakup note and blocked him on facebook.
(This story was partially inspired by The Forever War, a book about a soldier who spends three years in the space army over the course of 1,200 years.)