The First Line: Quitting Time

There is no Chuck Wendig challenge this week, so I am going to post my latest First Line submission instead. The First Line is a journal that publishes four times a year and, each quarter, provides a prompt in the form of a sentence that is to be used as the first line in your story. There are no restrictions on genre or form, but every story in each issue opens with the same first line.

I have been submitting to TFL for several years now and have never succeeded in being published. This is my submission for the current issue, which was due on February 1. They didn’t accept it, so I can publish it here for you to read. The first line for the quarter was, “Leo massaged the back of his neck, thankful the meeting was finally over.” Please to enjoy, and let me know what you think in the comments. Thanks for stopping by.


Leo massaged the back of his neck, thankful the meeting was finally over. He was still sitting at the table in the conference room. The other attendees were starting to trickle out of the room. Shonna had ended the WebEx and turned the projector off and was gathering her things. He sighed and slumped in the chair. He didn’t want to get up just yet.

Someone sat down in the chair beside him. He glanced over and saw that it was Jordan. She gave him a sympathetic smile and it lit up the room. Inspired, he gave her a wan smile in return. “That’s two hours of my life I’ll never get back,” he said. Shonna heard him and gave him a glare as she walked out of the room, arms full of laptop and papers. He didn’t notice. He was too busy looking at Jordan,

Jordan nodded. “God yes,” she said, looking over to make sure Shonna was out of earshot. “About an hour ago I started thinking that was probably the worst meeting I’ve ever been in and it just. Kept. Going.” She sighed. “It was the meeting that would never end. Is it 4:30 yet?”

Leo looked down at his phone and brightened. “Actually, it is, and thank you very much for bringing it to my attention.” Suddenly full of energy he pushed back his chair and got to his feet. “Let’s go shut down our desks and then we can join the mass exodus and head for happy hour if you still want to.” He hated giving her an out, but he didn’t want to assume. It had been a long meeting, and an even longer week.

“Are you sure you’re still up for it?” she asked. “Long meetings really take it out of me, and I’m sure you’re no different. I wouldn’t blame you if you just wanted to go take a nap somewhere.”

“It’s tempting,” he said, “but no way. After that meeting I need a drink worse than ever.” Besides, he thought, I’ve been trying to get you to come out to happy hour with me for weeks. I’m not missing this shot just because Shonna couldn’t get her shit together.

“I’ll be waiting for you by the elevator, then” Jordan said. She smirked. “I shut down my desk when I headed off to the meeting. I had a feeling it was going to go long.” She held up her purse. “I even brought my bag to the meeting. Shonna probably thought I was rude as hell.”

Leo snorted. “High achiever,” he said with a mock sneer. Jordan laughed as Leo walked out of the conference room and headed for his desk. She headed for the lobby and the benches by the elevator.

Leo walked down the hall, around a corner, and shot through the break room to cut the other corner, then emerged into the cubicle jungle. He maneuvered through the maze until he found himself in his own little corporate hidey-hole. My home away from home, he thought.

He stood looking at it for a moment. Two nineteen-inch LCD displays, laptop plugged into its docking station, cordless mouse and keyboard, pens, pencils, books, papers, and some toys—a Slinky, three small stuffed animals, and a tiny wooden top that he spun on the desk when the stress got to be too much for him.

He sighed. Four years of college, two years of grad school, three years of cold-calling clients and two more years of providing the best service he knew how, and this was all he had to show for it? He picked up the top and gave it an angry spin. It buzzed across the desktop and tipped over when it crashed into the base of one of the monitors. Suddenly he needed that drink more than ever.

He reached out to shut down his system, moving the mouse to drag the cursor across to the shutdown icon. A split second before he clicked on it, though, another icon in the upper right corner of the desktop caught his eye. He frowned. He had never seen this particular icon before. He hesitated. It’s quitting time, he thought. I don’t need to get caught up in anything now, especially if it turns out to be some weird application that IT installed without telling me. He moved the mouse toward shutdown again, but the mysterious icon kept dragging his gaze back to the desktop.

It was sitting by itself in the upper right corner of the desktop. It was a blue circle, filled with white with a black dot in the center. He thought it looked like an eye staring out of the screen at him. He didn’t know what it was for. Leo wanted to shut down his system and go meet Jordan. He didn’t want to keep her waiting too long. He’d worked so hard to get her to at least come to happy hour. He didn’t want to lose whatever chance he might have for anything else with her,


Without conscious thought he moved the mouse pointer over and hovered over the eyeball icon. A yellow text bar appeared over it. The text said, I SEE YOU, LEO. Leo frowned. What the hell is this, he thought. Now intensely curious, he gave in and clicked.

Ten minutes later Jordan, irritated but trying not to show it, came back to Leo’s desk to find him. He wasn’t there. She noticed that his computer was still on. Now she was irritated. He said he was coming to shut down his desk! Then again, maybe he was in the bathroom. Maybe someone had stopped him for conversation. Her irritation faded, but she was still irked. She had been looking forward to spending time with him outside of work and now he’d wandered off somewhere.

She bent over and took the top Post-It note off the pad on his desk. Sorry we missed each other, she wrote. We’ll try again another time. She stuck it to his screen and walked away. She felt guilty for bailing on him, but not too guilty. Her time was limited and she had other things to do tonight.

Behind her, unnoticed, Leo’s screen still showed the eyeball icon in the upper right corner. However, it was now red. Just before the screensaver activated the eye slowly, lazily, closed.

The icon vanished.

The screensaver came on.

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