Guess what today is? I’ll tell you, because I know you’d never guess: It’s the day we announce the winner of the General Fiction category in Novel Rocket’s LAUNCH PAD Contest: Boosting You Out of the Slush Pile.
We had a number of high quality entries in this category. In one sense, that’s a good thing; the judges like reading good stories. Problem is, it makes it tough to choose a winner. It’s a shame we can only reward one of these talented writers.
But, after a certain amount of agony, we’ve come to a decision.
The winning entry is smooth and polished. One judge said: “Kept captivated me from the first sentence. Well-drawn characters and an intriguing plot drew me in and delivered on the promise of an interesting story.” The other judge agreed, adding, “Its Christian message is natural and unforced.” (Note: whether the story is intended for a Christian or secular audience is not a factor in the judging, as is evidenced by the number of secular stories that have been winners. However, when the Entry Form indicates it’s Christian fiction, we love it when the spiritual element is well done.)
The fact is, this story is well done in every respect. Kudos to Sally Bradley of Louisburg, Kansas, for her winning entry, Kept. She’s now eligible to move into the final round.
You’ll see what the judges were talking about when you read the entry:
I Corinthians 6:11—“And such were some of you…”
Mark was leaving—again.
Miska Tomlinson let the gauzy curtain fall across her window, obscuring the view of
Chicago’s lakefront eighteen stories below. If she’d known a year ago that their relationship would stall like this, she might have thought twice about accepting his drink. That would have saved her this roller coaster of pleasure and pain.
The pain was worth it though. Wasn’t it? The two of them hiding out in her condo three or four days at a time. No one hassling them, no one knowing…
She fingered a curl. Why was he packing his bag a good two hours before he had to be at the ballpark?
“Miska. Baby.” Mark’s voice drifted from the bedroom into the living room. “Have you seen my wallet?”
“Didn’t you put it on the nightstand?”
Something thumped in her room. “Oh, yeah. Found it.”
Right. She smiled at his words. He’d found it. Next he’d be searching for his phone, his keys, his shoes. Maybe even his toothbrush.
He wandered into view, stopping at the end of her bed where his duffel sat, and tucked his shaving kit and toothbrush into it.
All pleasure from the last three days vanished.
She returned to the window. She couldn’t obsess. He probably had a good reason for leaving early. If she just waited…
Miska scanned the view that had convinced her to risk her inheritance and live house poor. Grant Park, Chicago’s version of Central Park, spread below her, treetops finally decked out in vibrant spring green. The washed-out blue of the sky contrasted with Lake Michigan’s cerulean waters, and a handful of white boats dotted Monroe Harbor.
But her favorite part, the jewel of the park, was Buckingham Fountain. The massive fountain of granite and pink marble held court in the park’s center. Any second now the fountain would begin the ten o’clock water show, the first of the year. The center jet would soar a hundred fifty feet into the air, and dozens of other jets would try to catch it.
Someday, maybe, she’d take Mark down there and share it with him, his hand in hers as the music played and the water danced. Someday, when he finally belonged to her.
Mark’s bag zipped shut. His footsteps crossed to the kitchen island behind her, his bag thumping to the floor, then turned her way. “What’re you looking at?”
“Buckingham Fountain. Isn’t it beautiful?”
He wrapped his arms around her and pressed himself to her back. “Mmm. Very.”
The fountain’s center jet leaped high into the air. Smiling, she relaxed against him as the rest of the jets sprayed high then low, splashing to a song she couldn’t hear.
He said nothing while the fountain played, just held her. When the hundred-plus jets fell back to their usual height, she turned in his arms and slid her palms across his defined chest. Her gaze trailed over his full mouth and his square jaw, all so tempting.
But she couldn’t bring herself to meet his eyes. “Your bag’s packed?”
“Yep.” He cleared his throat, then ran a hand through his thick blond hair until it stood on end. “It’s too beautiful to stay inside. We should go out for breakfast—or brunch. For something.”
Out? In public? She held still. “You want to go somewhere? Together?”
“If you’re not comfortable with it, we don’t have to.”
“No, I’d love that.” Of course she was comfortable with it. Her smile morphed into a grin. He matched it, and she stood on tiptoe and kissed his cheek, just a peck so he didn’t get any new ideas. “Where should we go?”
“There’s a great diner a few blocks from here. Best hash browns and French toast anywhere.”
“Sounds perfect, except I’ll have to run twice today.”
He followed her to the kitchen island where her Kate Spade bag—the last purse Mom had bought—lay beside his keys, phone, and baseball cap. He picked up the worn hat. “Wish I could run with you.”
He could, if he really wanted to. “Next time you’re in town.”
A thud sounded in the hallway outside her condo. Then another, followed by deep muffled voices. She ignored it as she slipped her purse strap onto her shoulder, but Mark, filling his pockets, glanced toward her front door. “What’s going on out there?”
“The condo next door sold. Someone’s moving in.”
He tugged the hat’s curved brim low. Bag over his shoulder, he followed her to her front door where he held up a hand and listened.
Miska opened the door and stepped into the empty hallway. Mark locked the deadbolt with his key. “Ready?” he asked with that aw-shucks grin that had won her over.
So ready. This changed everything. She grabbed his hand and tugged him forward, flashing him a flirtatious look. “Let’s go.”
His fingers tightened around hers, pulling her to a stop just steps from her door. That longing smile hinted around his mouth. What would he do? They were in public, after all, even if the hallway was empty.
Mark didn’t do public.
He stepped up against her and slipped an arm around her waist. His head lowered, and she closed her eyes with him, already warm from a barely-begun kiss in a silent hallway where anyone could walk out—
A doorknob clicked. Miska opened her eyes. A tall, dark-haired man burst out of the door beside Mark and plowed into him. Mark’s weight fell against her, and she backpedaled into the wall, the back of her head smacking it. Mark crashed beside her.