[Flash Fiction Friday] Amberly Smith with “Subtle Criteria”

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Hello, Internet! Amberly Smith returns for Flash Fiction Friday with “Subtle Criteria.” In this piece, we meet Abigail, the odd woman out on an island business retreat. When she meets Mila, she might have found the one to appreciate her quirkyness and her love of The L Word.


Subtle Criteria

by Amberly Smith


Abigail would rather code blindfolded, while naked, than deal with conflict. But the whole point of the Business Leadership Retreat was to learn about healthy and constructive conflict. How constructive cooperation could turn conflict into a positive. You could dress it up with all the buzz words you wanted, it still made Abigail ill.

“Screw those guys. If you trust me, you’ll never get voted off the island,” Mila said. Abigail turned to look at the woman standing next to her on the wooden platform two hundred feet in the air. The lake was two hundred yards to their north so the island reference didn’t make since.

Besides, the Silo Project wasn’t an island but a reclaimed weapons silo and now a highly successful resort. The owners had taken this odd, concrete bunker, dropped in the middle of this beautiful forest, and turned the abandoned place into a safe haven. A misfit with a new purpose. Abigail liked the truth in that.

She thought Mila was aiming for funny but she didn’t get the association. She smiled to soften the question, “Are we voting on something?”

Mila nudged her and took a swig from her bottle of water.

Abigail realized that Mila might think she was joking. “Seriously, not good at pop culture references. Is that from the I.T. Office? The guys keep telling me I need to watch it. That it’s sacrilegious that a programmer wouldn’t have seen it.”

The guys in question were at the front of the queue to be fit with safety equipment to do the 1000 foot zip line. Abigail didn’t think their boss had thought through bringing reclusive, analytical geeks into the wilderness to participate in team building skills. Have them write code together or rig a LAN party each Friday, great. But this? Two days in and Abigail was just grateful she had hot water to wash the sweat off later.

Mila cleared her throat. “What do you watch?”

She was about Abigail’s age and as the newest member of the team, got the shit sequences and cast-off coding. She was always good natured about the workload and teasing.

“I read a lot,” Abigail said.

Mila laughed and shook her head. Jeff and Samuel went screaming down the zip line. As the two women stepped up to be fitted with their own harnesses, Abigail realized that Mila might not know that Abigail was gay. She preferred to avoid discussion of partners and kids or really anything too personal. If she had something important to say, she’d say it. But in her experience women expected small talk more than men and definitely more than computers ever did. “Uhm, I just finished watching The L Word on Netflix. It’s about lesbians and–”

“I know. Awesome show. I totally ship Shalena.”

Abigail mouthed the word ship. She stepped into the harness and secured it quickly around her hips. She’d been watching the others as their guide gave them the same spiel about safety. Abigail reached across and untwisted one of Mila’s straps. They both nodded their understanding to the guide as he finished his directions.

“Forget what I said about the guys. Screw me and I’ll get you off.”

Abigail looked up into Mila’s eyes.

“The island,” Mila added, this rather pretty smile on her face, her eyes bright but not with laughter. Perhaps that was desire Abigail was finally paying enough attention to see. Abigail blinked and smiled, liking how the other woman’s eyes darkened. Mila licked her lips and stared hard at Abigail’s mouth.

Mila was beautiful. She had pert breasts and long slender limbs. Abigail had thought so immediately upon meeting her but had tucked it away with thoughts about watering the yard and needing to go to the grocery store. There was code to write and programs to test. She tended to think about girlfriends and love when she was home alone, her feet cold, her calendar empty. Was it any wonder she’d been so oblivious?

Mila held out her hand. Thank god Mila had caught the error in Abigail’s logic. She grasped Mila’s hand. Together they stepped off the platform completely trusting the zip line to hold them. Their laughter rang through the forest as the wind threaded through their hair and clothes. How did Mila feel about sharing a hot shower? Abigail decided to ask her once the world stopped rushing by below them.


Find more of Amberly Smith’s works at Dreamspinner Press.

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