Most writing prompts require some contemplation before I can begin. When I let the ideas simmer for a while -- like while I'm sitting on the exercise bike in physical therapy as I was yesterday -- usually something bubbles to the surface. And this story actually fits both prompts.
1. Describe a time when the content of your character was tested.
2. Write about a chance meeting that has stayed with you ever since.
He was the husband of a work colleague, a woman I knew reasonably well and liked for her down-to-earth practicality and sense of ironic humor. I didn't know Hal very well, but in a small town you see the same people at parties and gatherings, and we'd exchanged greetings now and then. But he was older than I by at least 10 years, sandy-haired and burly, and very 'macho man.'
It was summer and hot, and I -- a long-legged, slightly gawky 20-something -- had just come out of one of the downtown shops, heading for the drug store and a cool, fresh limeade. He was walking along the sidewalk and said hello.
I smiled back. "How are you doing today, Hal?"
He came closer, just slightly inside my personal comfort space, and met my eyes as we exchanged comments about the weather. He was my height -- I'm tall -- and I noticed how blue his eyes were in his craggy, tanned face. He smiled warmly.
After a few minutes of inconsequential, friendly chat, I made a move to continue my quest for a limeade, and he put his hand on my arm.
"You know," he said, looking at me intently, "you are a very attractive woman. If you'd ever consider it, I'd really like to have an affair with you."
Surely that wasn't what he just said, I thought, fireworks going off in my stunned brain.
"If you'd want to, that is," he continued, his hand still firmly on my arm, slightly caressing my skin. "I hope you'll consider it."
"Hal, uh, I'm happily married," I managed to stammer out. "But, um, thank you for the offer. If I ever decide...." Decide to what? Decide to sleep with you? What about Noreen, your wife? My husband?
Head reeling and a little shaky, I smiled at him again, adrenaline streaming through my limbs, mumbling something about nice to see you, and crossed the street, realizing that yes indeed, I'd just been propositioned by a man I hardly knew, in broad daylight, in the middle of town, both of us stone cold sober. (I was anyway, and I don't remember smelling liquor emanating from him.)
I told my closest friend about the encounter -- she also worked with Noreen -- and we laughed about it and wondered if Hal was in the habit of cheating on his wife (we suspected yes). But I did not tell my husband, and never mentioned it to Noreen, of course. After that, I only glimpsed Hal occasionally, and he never repeated his offer -- but then I always found someone else to talk to, avoiding an encounter.
It was the first time that I understood that I was a striking, attractive woman, that I was desirable to someone besides my husband. (I'd dated some, but was never the belle of the ball, sought after and lusted over like the cute, perky coeds in my high school and college classes.) It took decades longer to really believe that I was, and to finally embrace and like who I am. Hal was the first person who actually told me, and while I could not have accepted his proposal (betray the trust of my husband and his wife? No.), I was flattered.