So, writing about myself has always been hard since I’ve never been one to want to toot my own horn. I’m more of a “Here, read my stuff and think I’m amazing so I don’t have to tell you anything about me” kind of person. (Here, read my short stories to see what I mean. Go ahead. I'll wait.) But, for #pitchwars, I’m going to take a swing and #pimpmybio. Check this out if you want more info as an author who wants to pitch to a group of mentors who might help you add the final gloss on your polished manuscript: http://www.lanapattinson.com/pitchwars-2016-pimpmybio/
I began my journey of writing as an author and illustrator for a short period of time at the age of four writing Dick and Jane style stories. See Rick. See Rick eat the meat. (My dad’s name was Rick and it was a perfect fit - ask my mom, it’s true!) Shortly thereafter, I became an avid reader, a complete you-always-have-your-nose-in-a-book junkie that drove my father insane (WHY?!) until I hit my 40s. I interspersed those novel-devouring years with occasional journal entries and some writing for national non-fiction magazines. An avid reader, I joined a book club and hosted discussions for some of my all-time favorite books to share my love of them with others. Oh look, here they are!
While I’m not real picky about what I read, my favorite stories have the theme of survival at the base of them, specifically survival in the face of doom. I love apocalyptic tales that delve into science, with Dog Stars by Peter Heller and World War Z by Max Brooks being two of my all-time favorites. (I’m also the first one to the couch when The Walking Dead comes on!) My first experience with the genre was when I read Eco-Fiction as a young teen. It’s a collection of short stories put together by John Stadler, and it introduced me to Isaac Asimov and John Steinbeck. Later, I discovered Frank Herbert, reading The White Plague before latching onto the Dune series.
After science-y apocalyptic stuff, I lean toward fantasy. My uncle gave me The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant series by Stephen Donaldson and I think I read all seven books in four weeks. When I finally got my hooks on Game of Thrones, I read those five books in two weeks. I couldn’t. stop. reading. In either case. And oh my God, I could just keep on talking about all the amazing books I’ve read, so I’m going to pull the reins and get back to telling you about me. See how I distracted myself away from that?
I mentioned some of my favorites being series, but my first novel, a contemporary YA adventure called ARGENT GLASS, is not intended to be anything other than a stand-alone. No matter how I ended it. (Clue: Have you read Soylent Green? I absolutely LOVED how that ended and worked to finish my novel with the same dramatic flair.) I am self-edited, and though I am a self-proscribed perfectionist, nobody should edit their own book completely. Too much of it is in our heads and nobody else can see that stuff. Editors help us get it out of our heads and down on the paper!
What I think I've put into my story, which has the dreaded multiple POV (I was warned not to do this several times and still couldn't help myself - my next novel is plotted out and has only one POV. Maybe that will appease the masses of naysayers.)
As a skeptic, I never believe anyone when they tell me something I’ve written is “great.” I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop and crave honest feedback on a story not because the person likes me (I think I’m pretty likeable!), but because he/she thinks the story could be better. I know I’m not a genius and my feelings are not easily hurt (I grew up with brothers, the biggest critics IN. THE. WORLD.). I look forward to finding that special someone who will read with an eye on making my story even better (though I think it’s currently a pretty darn good read).
You want more about me? Really? You’re still here? So weird. Okay, here goes.
I’m married to a man who lets me be me. He will let me make my own mistakes and discover my own solutions, only intervening when I ask him to. This may not sound like much, but this is huge for a girl who grew up believing life wasn’t fair for girls and who became a fierce feminist unafraid to try to make her way in a “man’s world.” He feeds my brain with new ideas on the daily, patiently listens to my rants, and is a great father to our sons. I adore him for all of it.
I love watching my four boys play their sports. They swim and dive, and play soccer and baseball. We are constantly on the run and though I complain that I need more time to write, I wouldn’t change a thing with regards to being their chauffeur and biggest fan. I have a special affinity for each one of them in our own unique way. My oldest is the most like me, though he may not like my saying that. He’s fiercely independent and a terrible communicator – just because we don’t talk to you doesn’t mean we don’t think about you every day. The next is my kindest, but also ferociously competitive. He wants to see everyone succeed, but he wants to be at the top of the achievement pile. The next one is my artist. He captures my heart with his hand-made comic books and gorgeous art. I expect to find his books on a bookshelf near mine one day. And finally, the baby of the family. He’s this funny little mash-up of everything I love about his brothers. It’s like he watched me admiring them and picked off the traits he thought I liked best and adopted them as his own, which of course makes him near-perfect.
Two amazing dogs complete our happy home. They are recently misbehaving because the Alpha female has started vying for more attention. She tore open Big Boy’s ear in a snarling match over treats that the neighbor brought for them the other day. Poor neighbor was mortified! Little Girl is a Catahoula Leopard from Louisiana (a rescue shipped all the way to Michigan!) and Big Boy is a Black Lab/Boxer mix (also a rescue). They are gorgeous, happy dogs that bring joy the minute I walk in the door via intensive nasal investigations and sloppy kisses.
Besides writing and being a busy mom, I work in IT. I’m an expert at Word – seriously, ask me anything! I love researching stuff on the Internet and learning. “Learning what?” you ask. Learning everything! I’d be a full-time college student for the rest of my life if it paid better.
And there you have it. Clearly, I could write a book about myself. Hmmm…
Out for Publication... but here's the beginning of the story...
I drifted up from sleep unsure what woke me, but comfortable in that self-satisfied way when you wake up after dozing off in the shade of a big tree on a gently swaying hammock. You wake up forgetting who you were for a moment, a brief respite from your lack of money, your loss of elasticity, your age, and every other thing that worried you before you fell into the ephemeral coma.
Lifting my head enough to look over the edges that cradled me set the hammock to rocking. Cormac still lay curled into a ball beside my glass of lemonade. Beads of sweat had collected on the bottom half of the glass and a leaf clung to its lip by its stem while three of its five lobes dipped into the pale liquid. I squinted at it and noted the leaf as evidence.
I closed my eyes and listened to the wind making the leaves shiver on the branches of the trees. I waited for a clue…maybe a repeat noise, or vibration. Maybe a heavy sigh from Cormac. Further down the block I could hear the hum of a leaf blower, and even further than that, the low monotone of wheels on the train tracks that ran through town. Maybe the train had whistled further out. It was one of the sounds that became lost to daily life, filtered from consciousness like the buzz of bees and the twitter of birds until you let go of your worries and re-focus. But I didn’t hear anything unusual and the train was just reaching the main crossing beside the post office where it blasted its whistle in three long calls.
Watch for the rest of this story on Amazon.com.
Out for Publication... but here's the beginning of the story...
The alley was dirty, squalid even, except for the last small corner near the end tucked out of the way where one vacant and ruined building abutted another. In that corner, an elderly woman in thread-bare clothes slowly swept away the dust and debris of the night before. Spidery blue veins crawled across her hands and over her wrists then disappeared into the sleeves of a brightly colored blouse that layered a faded brown skirt which fell to her ankles. A once-white apron, long gone to gray and severely frayed at the edges, wrapped around her hips to tie in the back. The slow swish-swish of her broom scratched the cracked concrete and raised miniature clouds of dust that swirled and filled the air around her. The sun rose and stretched a pinkish finger down the center of the alley banishing the shadows back to their corners.
With a gnarled hand, the woman tucked the broom between the sliver of space between the buildings and a cacophony of twitters, cheeps, and chirps filled the air. Two small cages built of sticks and scrap wood cobbled together with pieces of ribbons and rags were stacked in a doorway. She slowly made her way to sit upon the stoop beside them. A bird pulled at one of the ribbons and she poked a crooked finger with a jagged nail into the cage to shoo it away then curled over to peer closer and retie the knot.
The birds in the cage flittered back and forth to hang first on one stick then another. The woman lifted the top cage free and slowly spun it around to examine its occupants then set it to the side and repeated the process with the other. She clucked her tongue and shook her head. The sun had almost made its way to the stoop when the building sliced it into a sharp angle at her feet.
The clink of coins rattled when she dipped her hand into a hidden pocket of her skirt. She held them aloft and pushed the change around. With a sad little sigh, she pocketed the money and reached into a pocket on her apron, turning it sideways to shake the contents into her palm. Small bits of birdseed and breadcrumbs were split between the cages and the soft flurry of wings settled into light scratches of tiny claws on wood.
The woman reached down and rubbed her ankles but stopped when a single small seed rolled from a cage. She licked her index finger and pressed it to the run-away. A bird clinging to the stick nearby snapped the morsel from her, no more than a quick light peck that she could barely feel. With one more heavy sigh, she struggled to her feet, lifted one cage in each hand, and set off down the alleyway.
Watch for this story on Amazon.com.
Out for Publication... but here's the beginning of the story...
“It’s a mutt.”
“I know.” I had found a pup earlier in the day. She was a speckled thing, probably dropped off and not a run-away. When I brought her home, mom just sighed and shook her head. We had been through this routine too many times to count, but she found a tiny collar and help me hold the pup still to put it on.
Animals were often dropped off out here in the country. I don’t know what people thought, but animals that get dropped off in the country either get shot right away, or grow up feral and then get shot. Since I found the pup before my dad did, it wasn’t shot. Yet.
“Give it to me.”
“No. I want to keep it.”
My dad’s eyes grew hard and got small. I had only told him no a handful of times and I had paid for it. I was ready to pay for it again for the wriggling bundle in my arms.
“You won’t take care of it.”
“I will. I promise.”
He stood staring at us and I could feel him wavering for the first time over me having a pet. It had been a long, hard fight for me. Years of watching kittens, puppies, and even a couple raccoon kits drowned, clubbed, strangled, and shot before my eyes. I hadn’t even named this one yet.
“How’re you going to feed it?”
“I’ll do chores and work.” My heart beat with hope.
Hope. Hope. Hope.
I squeezed the pup and it squirmed in my hands. Finding it couldn’t escape, it started licking my face. It’s tail swept back and forth a mile a minute batting me on the side.
“We don’t pay you to do chores around here. That’s just part of being a family.”
“I’ll help the neighbors.”
“One chance. No mistakes. You feed it. You water it. You lock it up when you’re working ‘cause if it gets one of the chickens, it’s gone.”
I waited. He wasn’t much of a joker, but it still seemed too good to be true and when he walked away, I just sat there still squeezing Hope. That’s what I named her, right there, right then, right in that moment.
Watch for this story on Amazon.com.
Have you read part 2 yet?
I nodded and looked closer at Jay. His hair was still wet. Wetter than it should have been this long after coming in from the rain. And he was wearing different clothes. He had on a pair of casual slacks and a white tee. And he smelled good. I could smell sandalwood and pine.
“I took a quick shower too.” He pointed to the television. Basic Instinct was frozen on the opening scene. “Movie’s ready.”
Only the kitchen light was on over the stove. It left the room moody and dark, alive with the illumination of lightning and rumble of thunder. I pulled the robe tighter and spun around on my tiptoes to return to the bathroom with my wet clothes. “I think I’ll just put these back on.”
“Still wet, aren’t they? I can throw them in the dryer for you.”
I stopped and wiped the little smile from my face as I turned back to him. “A little. Are you okay with–” I let my hand flutter at the robe.
“If you’re okay with it. Or I can get you a tee shirt and…”
“These won’t take long to dry.” I surrendered the wet clothing and he walked to a pair of doors that opened to a small pantry with a washer and dryer. “Handy.”
Outside the storm was really kicking up. Lightning was flashing with more frequency and even some hail was pinging off the windows. Rolling thunder shook the floor under my feet. I sat down on the couch. The open floor plan meant I could watch him if he went behind the counter into the kitchen where I could see he had already put out ingredients and utensils for cooking. Two steaks sat on a plate, marbled red and white and ready to throw on the grill.
“Have a seat. They’ll only take a sec. Music?”
“Tablet on the table there. Just click on the input button until XM comes up on-screen, then arrow down to what you like.”
I picked up the tablet and found an easy-listening station with popular songs I recognized. When I set it back down on the table, the pistol in my pocket bumped the table. I caught the robe into my hand and sat down on the middle of the couch relaxing against the back of the couch and taking a couple of long, slow breaths. My heart should have been pounding but I had been trained for this moment. Trained extensively. I was probably too relaxed considering.
“I would have thought celebrities ordered in all the time,” I said. I twisted around on the couch to face him. He was flipping a steak and had his back to me. A nice back. A broad, muscular back. I could see the muscles ripple under his shirt each time he moved.
“Not if I can help it. I need to stay in shape. Never know when I’ll get a call. That means eating right, not just working out. Would you like a glass of wine with your steak?”
“Is wine part of the health regimen?”
“A glass doesn’t hurt.”
“Actually, water is fine. Can I help?”
“No. Just sit, I’ve got it.” He reached into the cupboard a grabbed a couple of glasses and popped the lids off a large bottle of Perrier. “Ice?”
He dropped ice in and poured the water then quickly flipped the steaks once more and laid them on two plates. From the oven he took two baked potatoes. He’d been a busy boy while I was speeding through my shower. How can you even bake two potatoes in less than twenty minutes?
He juggled the plates, silverware and glasses and joined me at the couch. I shifted around so the gun was easier to access but not exposed.
We was a man of little words and we ate in silence glancing at each other every once in a while and following the cautious looks with reassuring smiles, mine to hopefully convey that, mmm, this is good. His? Who knew. I imagine he was happy to have someone to spend the evening with, even if he did consider me one of the parasites. As I took my last bite, he took my plate and set it on the end table. No offer for seconds, but I was full anyway.
Thunder crashed another bolt of lightning lit up the room. I jumped and leaned into Jay like I was startled. He put his arm around me and leaned forward at the same time to touch the tablet and put the movie back on. As he leaned back it sounded like something snagged behind me. Too late.
I felt the prick of a needle in the back of my neck and before I could blink my whole body felt numb.
“Shhh…” He leaned into me, his face turning to water and growing dimmer before me. The last thing I remember was his lips gently pressed to mine.
When I came to, Levi was standing over me. He gently pulled back one of the lids of my eyes and flashed a light all the way into the back of my brain. It hurt. A lot.
“Who was he?” I asked. I already knew, but I wanted him to say it. I wanted to not feel stupid, though that wasn’t likely.
“So you two did know each other.”
He shrugged and folded his arms across his chest. He was mad. I could see it in his eyes. They stared hard at me, unwavering and unblinking, until I looked away. “What went wrong?”
I didn’t want to answer. I knew what went wrong. I knew it the minute I committed to it. “The shower.”
“The shower? No, the research. You need to do research. An internet search would have confirmed he wasn’t a celebrity.”
“Do we really need to do this?”
“No.” He took my hand and pulled me up. “You have another job.”
“A real job? Or another lesson?”
“Don’t be sore. You got a free meal. Steak dinner. I hear his steak dinners are to die for.”
“You get my point.”
“Yes, I get your point. Where’s the next job?”
“As in D.C.?”
“No. The state of.”
“Who’s the target?”
“Alamine San Lethuise.” He handed me my clothes. They had been washed and dried. Nothing like a courteous trainer. I stood up and slipped my pants on under the robe. Nothing Levi hadn’t seen before. No, I’m not sleeping with him. He took a bullet out of my ass once though. Story for another day. Or maybe not at all since that was another dumb mistake I made.
“Quite a name. Who is he?”
“She. She is a terrorist. She came over the border from Canada. She deals in small arms. Sends them out through Vancouver.”
“How does she get them over the border?”
Levi rubbed his fingers together. “Grift.”
“Am I going to see him again?”
“Jay? Not likely. We were lucky to get him. He’s not normally in the states. Can you walk yet?”
I nodded. I was disappointed. I’d like the opportunity of paying him back. His steak dinner for my chicken cacciatore. And maybe a chance to put him to sleep. Though I wouldn’t use a needle full of ketamine.
I would have asked Levi about his real name, but none of us have real names anymore. We each have a nom de guerre. Or several actually. For every job we get a new name, a new identity. On cue, Levi handed me a wallet. I flipped it open as we stepped onto the porch.
“Ruby? My name is Ruby?”
“Yes. Ruby Red Rose.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” I stopped to stare out at the dark water. A boat was sitting in the void, a single light giving away its location. It was cooler out after the rain, but the same clean smell filled the air.
“You need to color your hair.”
“Let me guess. Red?”
“Purple purple or like burgundy?”
“Any other surprises?”
“You need to walk with a limp.”
“A limp. Like this?” I dragged my foot down the sidewalk.
“That is not a limp.”
I tried again.
“Better. We’ll work on it.”
So, you remember where we left off yesterday in part 1? Tina and Jay got rained on. Poor Jay. He never saw Tina coming.
“Want to come in?” We were both soaked. My tee shirt clung to me. From experience, I knew it was in all the right places.
“No. Thanks. I’m just going to–” I waved vacantly at the house next door knowing he would invite me again and wiped the rain from my eyes. I needed to play the good girl and be a tough sell.
“Oh, okay.” He bounded up his steps and shook his head so the water flew from his hair just like a dog. “Maybe we can run again tomorrow?”
The disappointment! This was not how the scene was supposed to play out. I tried to keep a straight face. I had to play the hand I called. “Sure! Sounds like a plan.”
I noted that I said plan, not date, as I turned toward my porch. That may have been a miscalculation.
“I have a couple steaks in the fridge…”
Ah. Game on. I spun on one foot and cocked my head to imitate his. A lightning bolt lit up the sky the thunder rolling down the block and echoing between our houses. Play hard to get, I reminded myself. “I don’t know. Just had a hotdog.”
“We can put a movie on while this storms blows over? Eat after?”
The air conditioning was on full blast and I got goosebumps everywhere. I glanced down. Ugh! I crossed my arms and rubbed them vigorously to warm up. Jay kept sneaking peaks but I pretended not to notice. I looked around the room. A couple of boxes sat by the door. I could see a picture in one of them. Dogs. Not the cute kind playing cards. To dogs in a fierce fight, their eyes angry, their jaws snapping and lips dawn back in a fierce growl. Blood was on both muzzles and between their teeth. I shuddered. Jay caught me staring at the picture and flipped the lid shut. He pushed the box out of the way of the living room and waved at the couch.
“I think I will get going. I could use a shower and I don’t want to wake your Eskimos.”
“My Eskimos?” He was frowning at me. His head-tipping was a thing, not an imitation of me like I thought earlier.
“Sub-zero temp in here gave it away.”
He flinched. “Oh! Sorry! I work out a lot.” He picked up a tablet by the couch and swiped and tapped and ignored my comment about needing a shower. “Should warm up in a few minutes. What do you like to watch?”
I shrugged. “Psychological thrillers?”
“Like…” He tapped on the tablet again. “Basic Instinct?”
“Never seen it,” I lied. “Is it good?”
“You’ve never seen it?”
“Huh-uh. Don’t think so.” I had seen in a million times. I had studied it. Memorized whole scenes.
The picture over the fireplace mantel turned on. I hadn’t realized it was a television. Fancy. I shivered again. Wasn’t the cold this time.
“How about this. You can take a shower here. Get warmed up on the inside. I’ll start a fire in the fireplace so it will be nice and cozy in here when you get out.”
“I don’t know…” Hard to get.
“You can trust me.” No kidding?
“Um…It does sound nice.” Slow. Easy.
“Right in here.” He led me down the hall. I could see the kitchen at the end but he swung a door open to a white room. Everything was white. Bedspread, writing desk, dresser, curtains. Everything but a single picture on the wall that the bed faced. The picture was a swirl of blues; aqua, sapphire, navy, azure, cornflower. I loved it. I wanted it. “The bathroom is right through the door there.”
“Thanks.” I stood awkwardly on one foot waiting for him to leave. I pulled the door shut behind him and I stood wondering if he hovered just on the other side. The floors didn’t creak in his house so it was hard to guess. After a count of ten, I moved quickly and to the dresser and silently slid it away from the wall. Lightning lit the room and three beats later thunder shook the house. The storm was closing in. I needed to hurry.
Taped to the back of the dresser was a Maxim 9. I peeled the tape away from the gun and admired it. It looked like something from Bladerunner with its wide flat barrel and flat black finish. The built in suppressor gave the 9 mm a distinct look. I dropped the magazine out of it. Fifteen rounds. I’d only need one.
I sprinted to the bathroom and cranked the shower on. Everything in this room was white too, including a fuzzy robe on the back of the door. I lifted it from the hook and dropped the pistol into a pocket. Ten minutes later I was walking out of the guest bedroom wrapped in the robe. It was a shame really.
Read part 3.
The following is unfinished work. I got stuck and couldn't figure out where to go next or how to finish it out. Let me know if you have any thoughts. Maybe I will craft Part II on your imagination instead of mine. After all, I'm just trying to get in my 1000/day word count.
Despite the ebullient sunshine in an innocent blue sky, four foot waves hurtled themselves against the shoreline like a storm was rolling in. Even the air had taken on a cleaner, colder freshness than the usual hot tang of lakeside decay. Within the next hour dark clouds would roll up and the beachcombers would start running for their cars. Storm days were the best and I looked forward to the violent flashes of lightning and accompanying thumping and booming of thunder.
It was the perfect time for a jog and I knew if I picked it up a little from my normal pace, I could make it to my favorite beach vendor and home again before the rains pelted me. I know better than to eat hotdogs, but they really are the best on the beach and Levi is the sweetest guy I know.
I scrambled to throw on my tennis shoes and shoved a couple dollars into my zippered armband with my phone. The earbuds were getting worn and sometimes the left one shorted out while I jogged, but when I pressed them into my ears, John Mellencamp was coming through in stereo.
“Outside the club a cherry bomb. Our friends were in it for fun, say yeah yeah,” I sang softly as I locked the door behind me.
“Hey, neighbor!” I jumped. My new neighbor was standing at his porch leaning toward me and must have thought my radio was up louder than it was because he hollered it like our houses were a mile away from each other somewhere in the country.
I pulled an earbud from one ear and gave a wave. “All moved in?”
“Not quite. Beautiful day, huh?”
I was trying to figure out if he needed something or was maybe flirting with me. I got that a lot. The flirting. I was pretty but not too pretty. I had that classic California girl look with long wavy blond hair and blue eyes but my face was too round. Nothing special really, and generally overlooked living here at the beach, but every once in a while, I got more attention than I wanted.
“Gorgeous. Storm’s rolling in though.” I pointed out to the horizon where the blue sky met the darker blue water filled with white caps.
He looked at the lake. “Really? How can you tell?”
“The air’s colder. Smells cleaner.” I watched him digest that and inhale deeply.
“Must be a local thing.”
“I can’t tell the difference.” He tilted his head and I realized he was mimicking me. I just didn’t know if it was unintentional or just something he did. “Cooler air I guess but it smells the same.”
“I guess so.” I put my earbud back in my ear and started down my porch. He said something more and I pulled it back out.
“Going for a run?”
I looked out at the sky again. No clouds yet. I nodded at him and noticed as he came down his steps to join me that he had on running shoes. Nice ones. High end, brand name ones. But not new. The toes were scuffed.
“Mind if I join you?” He sensed my hesitation and held up his hands like he was surrendering. “It’s okay. I’ll go this way. You go that way. No worries.”
“No, it’s fine. I just wanted to make it down a couple miles and back before the storm.”
He laughed. “So you’re worried I’ll slow you down.”
He started down the sidewalk without me and as I caught up beside him he said, “Tell you what. If I fall behind, you just keep on going without me. I’ll catch you on the way back through or see you back at the porch.”
We ran in silence. It was nice to have a running partner again, one who set his pace to match mine, someone who wasn’t intent on having a conversation and just enjoyed being in the moment. And he didn’t have any problem keeping up with me the four miles it took to reach the hotdog vendor.
I slowed to a walk about twenty yards from the cart and debated whether it would be too gauche to order a hotdog after running. I was chewing the inside of my lip and worrying way too much about what my new neighbor would think when he turned to finally introduce himself.
“Jay.” He was holding his hand out.
“Tina.” I shook it and remembered to not hold it too long. I wasn’t yet past the stage of wanting to cling to every touch like it was a life preserver tossed to me where I was drowning in the middle of the ocean. Sometimes I still held on too long.
“Nice to meet you.” He tipped his head at the cart and it took me a moment to process his next question because I thought he was addressing the vendor. “Hotdog?”
I actually stumbled. And he actually laughed. “I suppose I could eat one. I don’t usually–”
Jay laughed again. “Oh, don’t you? We’ll take two, Levi.”
“Sure you will!” said Levi in his charming way. He winked at me over the glass wall where he prepared the food. “And how are you, my tantalizing Tina?”
I blushed. Bright pink. So pink I knew my tan wouldn’t even hide it because I could feel the heat of it in my ears.
Jay tilted his head at me and raised an eyebrow. He mouthed the words. “Tantalizing Tina?”
I ignored him. “I’m great, Levi. You’re killing me here.”
“Ohhh…new beau?” He was nodding conspiratorially at me and winked again.
“What?! No! New neighbor.” The blush would stain my cheeks for weeks. I was sure of it. Levi handed me a dog with a palsied hand and I gratefully took it so I could turn away to the condiments and get my color under control.
“She’s cute when she blushes, isn’t she, Levi?” I really was dying. This was never going to end.
“She sure is, Jay.”
“You two know each other?”
“Just met him last week,” said Levi. “He stopped by to ask about you.”
Jay turned pink. “Well, I–”
“You asked about me?” I was confused. He had just moved in a week ago. He asked about me?
“I…How far do you usually run?”
“I followed you one day.”
“Okay, wait. Stop.” He held up a hand. “I was going to ask to run with you last week and I couldn’t keep up. I bailed by Levi. He gave me a water and we talked awhile. Well, actually we were still talking when you ran back by. And he told me your name. Tina. Not the tantalizing part.”
I took a bite of my hotdog and looked at Levi. Mustard oozed between my teeth.
Blah blah blah… romance blah blah stuff. You know they’re going to get rained on, right? Let’s just let you imagine that scene while I skip to the murder scene. Because that’s where this story is going and clearly I write romance really really poorly.
“It’s hard,” Jay said. (Now, stop. I don’t do porn any better than I do romance. Worse, in fact. Jay is explaining to me about what it’s like to be a celebrity. Let’s try not to go off on some wild tangent.)
“What’s hard about it? The money? All the women that you get to pick from?” I was having a difficult time feeling sorry for him. And his house on the beach. And his Mercedes convertible. And before you start condemning me for the house on the beach that I’m living in, I’m just house sitting. It’s not mine.
“No, the money is nice. The women aren’t what you would think. They’re like a pestilence. You get rid of one and ten more are right there at your door, banging it down, invading your space.”
“Ouch. Did you just call me a pestilence?”
Read part 2
Out for Publication... but here's the beginning of the story...
I shivered despite the sunlight that filtered through the canopy of the trees. I was stretched out on a limb as wide as my waist, my feet crossed at the ankles as if I sat on a chaise instead of in the crook of a tree fifteen feet above a trampled path running through the wood. I had sat in this spot so many times in the last two years that the bark was smooth both under me and behind my back. A book filled with Shakespeare’s sonnets lay open on my lap but I wasn’t really reading. I had memorized most of the lyrical text some time ago and instead, I was enjoying the sound of the breeze as it shook the limbs around me and created a swishing symphony in the shadows of the leaves that shushed against each other.
Up here, I could swear the songs of the birds were crisper, their calls louder and lasting longer, perhaps amplified by the hardness of the branches instead of swallowed up by foliage, but it was probably just my imagination at work. My imagination often got me into trouble though at this height, there were few tribulations that concerned me. Falling asleep and plummeting to the ground below was about the worst that could happen and sleeping at this time was the furthest thought from my mind.
I checked my watch. Two minutes. Timeliness was next to godliness in my book. Not the book in my lap, but the book of my life, and I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. The hum of a motorcycle at least a full mile away reached my ears and I smiled. Right on time.
I could picture each turn and hillock through the woods by the drop and whine of the engine and I could smell the sweet scent of gasoline as it roared to a stop below my tree. The driver, dressed in padded clothing and a shiny black helmet, switched off the motor and it immediately started to cool off and tick.
He leaned back against the tree and reached into his shirt, extracting a book. I couldn’t read what it was but I knew it wouldn’t matter. He always read aloud and he always explained why he was going to read whatever he had on his agenda. Today was no exception.
“Hi, Lee-Lee. How was your day?”
I wished for the millionth time that my name was Leah. I wished he was asking me. I would have bared my soul to him. I would have told him how I thought about him all day, how I lost patience watching the hands on the clock at school, how I ran through the woods so that I would be here in time to watch him shake his hair out when he took his helmet off as he was doing right now.
“I’m fine, Matthew.” I whispered so softly not even the wind would hear.
Watch for this story on Amazon.com.
Yesterday I went to a baseball game after work and so I didn't get any writing done. (Aces didn't win, but they put up a good fight!) Today I made up my word count from what I lost yesterday. So here are roughly 2000 words, rough and unedited, just as I promised all these posts would be this month.
The birds were mid-chorus when I opened the door unaware that this was the day I would kiss a girl. They had already caught the early worm hours ago and by the time I walked down the hill, the sun was streaming across the pond and had burned off most of the mist that clung to the long grasses. Beads of sparkling dew that cast miniature rainbows in their wake peeked out from the tips of the undersides of leaves and decorated spider webs like tiny jewels. The moisture that normally clung to the cattails coloring their soft heads a hazy brown at this hour was nearly gone.
I pulled a willow branch off the big tree by the shoreline as I walked by and skinned the bark away. I had read in a book that people made tea from willow bark and I peeled back a long piece to sniff at the pale core. It smelled a little like watermelon and I put a piece into my mouth to chew on. Wrinkling my nose at the bitter flavor, I spat it out and scraped my tongue across my teeth to get the stringy bits out.
I hummed while I walked and as I neared the swimming hole, I saw my best friend dragging her rubber raft down from her garden. Her mother had created a sanctuary on the other side of the fence filled with flowers that I found exotic having never seen their types before, and statues of women nude from the hips up. A small deck overlooked a path that ran through the middle of the shrubbery to a small bench that sat under an arbor covered with large clumps of fragrant wisteria where I loved to sit with my eyes closed daydreaming about places I had only ever read about in books.
“Hey, Dreamer.” It was the only name she ever used, a name her mother had nicknamed me and one her whole family adopted exactly one second later. Sometimes she called me Dreams for short and I called her Ally Cat or mostly just Cat.
“Takes one to know one,” I replied with my standard repartee.
I grabbed the handle on the backside of the boat and lifted it free of the ground. We never really had a lot of words between us. I guess because we never had a lot to say and we didn’t really have that much in common. Her mother was as exotic to me as her garden, someone who seemed too wealthy for our one bar town. Her father was even wealthier, but the family was broken in the same way as my own, fractured by divorce and jealousies. I’d spend time away with my father and she would spend time away with her father and we never talked about those moments when we were separated. Being a reader, I would retell the stories I devoured each evening once it was too dark to be outside, and being a pragmatist and a reflector who didn’t read, she would listen patiently as I babbled on waiting until I was done to start a discussion on the finer details about the plot or the story’s theme. She opened my eyes to a new type of reading that I never saw coming and only came to appreciate once I was much older.
“What did you read last night?”
“I finished The Outsiders.”
Together we flipped the boat upside down and onto its sides in the water so it was more of a raft than a boat and then stretched out on top to float around with our hands dragging in the water. I don’t think either of us wore shoes all summer long and most of the time we roamed around in bikinis since we never really went anywhere other than the pond and the parks around it. By mid-July we had dark even tans and white blond hair, hers a little thicker and darker than mine and mine overshadowing a zillion freckles across the bridge of my nose and down my shoulders.
“Remember Bob?” She nodded and I said, “Johnny killed him because he was trying to drown Ponyboy. Dallas gave them some money and told them to go hide in this church so they got this hair dye and dyed their hair blond.”
A minnow was nibbling at my fingers and the sun was so warm on my back that even though I had woken less than an hour ago I could have fallen back to sleep in a heartbeat, secure in the knowledge that everything was right in the world. She nudged me with her elbow and I told her the rest about the abandoned church catching fire and Johnny getting burned and about how Dallas was gunned down for robbing a bank and all the rest of it.
We talked a lot about the characters of the book that day. I was half in love with Dallas and half in love with Darry, each for their opposite characteristics. Dallas because he was a bad boy who did what he wanted when he wanted but who had the biggest heart in the end as far as I could tell, and Darry because he was the sensible one. He took care of Pony and Johnny and everyone else in the gang with love and affection, strength and responsibility. They both wanted to break out of their lives and find something more, but neither was equipped to do it and I thought maybe Darry might figure it out if he were given enough time.
Eventually we rolled off the boat into the water to cool off and swim around with the minnows and the sunfish. I look back on those days and think it was a wonder the police were never called because it wasn’t unusual for us to pop up under the raft on the inside where the sunlight glowed through the plastic and hang out there for long minutes at a time treading water or clinging to the handles. I bet they watched in fearful wonder waiting for the raft’s occupants to reappear. If they had known how many discussions we had about suicide packs and becoming blood brothers back in those days, they might have had a heart attack lingering with their hand on the phone poised to dial 9-1-1.
The day I told her about the Soc’s and the Greasers was the day Cat kissed me under the boat and probably why I remember the book so well all these years later. I had told her about Cherry and how much I thought Ponyboy wanted to kiss her and before I could finish talking about it, Cat rolled off the raft with a splash. I rolled off the other way and we came up under the boat at the same time.
“Have you ever kissed a boy?” she asked me.
I laughed. “On the same day even.”
“I am not!”
I had been kissed by two boys who were cousins and I told her all about how my younger brothers had egged me on to play spin the bottle at the home of one my mother’s friends. Being the only girl in the room, and never having kissed a boy before, I didn’t put up much of a struggle in saying no. The kids who wanted to play were a teenaged boy a couple years older than me and his cousin who was a couple years younger. My brothers were automatically eliminated because we were related and they hovered behind me eagerly waiting to see what would transpire.
Before the first spin, the older of the two laid down the rules. He wasn’t going to kiss his cousin if the bottle pointed to him. And he wasn’t going to let his cousin kiss him either. I seemed pretty clear how the game was meant to play out and I was filled with such a nervous anticipation that my whole body felt like it was vibrating.
On the first spin, the younger boy drew his cousin and on his cousin’s spin, the bottle didn’t pick me either. Even on my spin, the bottle didn’t behave and ended up pointing at me as I giggled to relieve the anxiety. My face was becoming warmer with each spin and when the younger of the two took his second spin, the bottle pointed my way.
The older cousin pointed to the closet.
“In the closet?” I squeaked. “That wasn’t part of the rules!”
“Yes, it was! You just didn’t listen.”
I turned to the older of my two brothers standing behind me. “Was that in the rules?”
Both of them were shaking their heads.
“Fine. The rule starts on the next spin.” He was fidgeting with bottle, spinning it and stopping it, spinning it and stopping it. The younger one snatched the bottle and pointed it at me. “He still gets to kiss you though.”
My brothers were practically bouncing around like monkeys in a zoo. One of them was chanting, “Frenchie. Frenchie” and for some crazy reason, this was the most exciting thing they had ever experienced in their lives. Their sister was about to be kissed by a boy and before I was even ready, whatever that even means, the boy had planted one on my cheek.
I was so relieved I could have cried. It wasn’t that he wasn’t a good kisser or a cute boy, but he was younger than me and a couple of years when you’re eleven is a lot younger. Significantly younger. And I didn’t want my brothers telling anyone that a little kid kissed me and I like it. And they were bouncing around so much, one of them didn’t even see it. He was still singing, “Kiss her! Kiss her! You gotta kiss a girl!”
Gathered around the bottle, I held my breath while the older cousin spun it. It swung around three times and slowed on the fourth until it stopped and was pointed directly at me.
My ears were so warm now they felt like they had been sunburned. The younger cousin opened the closet door but I couldn’t move. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t even think. My mind was racing a mile a minute spinning its wheels trying to come up with some way to get out of the predicament and coming up completely empty-handed. I wanted to kiss that boy so bad, but in equal measure I didn’t want to kiss that boy at all. I was terror and delight and apprehension and guilt and exultation bottled up so tight I was going to explode.
My brothers were pulling me into the closet where the older cousin waited and when the younger cousin shut the door, the darkness closed in with such finality that the breath I had been holding came out in a hiccup. Clothes I hadn’t seen because I was so focused on the boy reached out and enveloped me, the feathers from a boa hanging on the back of the door stuck to the sweat on my forehead. It seemed to have a mind of its own, entangling me as I tried to brush it away.
“Stop moving.” I jumped. The voice was in my ear and I realized the shirt I felt beside me had a living body inside that was reaching for me and seeking out my arm and then my hand and then it was moving up my arm again, to my shoulder, then my neck and to my cheek.
I closed my eyes blotting out even the last bit of light showing under the door and then jumped again when the younger cousin knocked loudly on the door and demanded, “Are you done in there or what?”
I froze and waited. And waited. What was he wait for?
“Are you ready?” His voice was deeper than the boys my age at school but I heard a waver in it and wondered if I was going to be the first girl he kissed.
I nodded and the boy’s other hand joined the first to cup my face. Ever so gently, his lips met mine and paused for a fraction of a second. I flew out the door, ran past my brothers and sailed down the steps with a full heart, albeit a guilty one, to the kitchen where my mother and her friend were sitting over cups of coffee.
“And what did you tell them?” asked Cat under the boat.
“Nothing. I asked for a drink of water. My mom’s friend asked what we were doing up there because I was all sweaty and I told her we were dancing. It was the first thing that came to my mind.”
“And they bought it?” She looked at me like I was crazy and I shrugged and nodded. “What did it feel like?”
“A kiss on the lips, you mean.”
“Yeah, a kiss on the lips. I don’t know. Soft. Like fingers?”
“Yeah, kiss your fingers.” I put two fingers together and kissed them lightly to show her. I had done it a million times trying to recapture the feeling of that boy’s lips on mine.
“Fingers are nothing like lips,” she scoffed.
I frowned and thought about it. “I guess not.”
“Show you what?”
“Kiss me. Show me what it felt like.”
I stared at her treading water and clinging with one hand to the handle on the boat.
“Show me,” she repeated and she closed her eyes and waited. She peeked open an eye and said it again. “Show me.”
I still stared. This was what the boy was feeling, I thought. Wanting to but not wanting to. Wondering what it would mean to kiss someone.
Cat moved closer to me and I put my hands on her shoulders. I was suddenly aware of the stuffiness under the plastic boat, the colder water down by my feet, the muddy smell of the water, the muffled buzzing of a cicada. And I kissed her. As gently as the boy kissed me, lingering a fraction longer, and watching her face.
With a splash, she was gone. Like a mermaid, she disappeared. In wonder, I brushed my lips with my fingers. I had felt that feeling again. That delicious thrill of doing something that felt just a little bit wrong and I wondered, now that I had kissed a boy, and a girl, if I would ever feel it again.
Out for Publication... but here's the beginning of the story...
“Hand me that hammer.”
My father’s outstretched hand waited patiently for me to hunt around under scraps of wood and bits of paper. I liked the weight of the hammer. Solid. Heavy. A force to be reckoned with. Just like my father.
I turned it around and held it by the claw. In one smooth motion, my father grabbed the handle, tapped the nail once to set it, then drove it home with a single swing. I watched with awe as he repeated the process over and over again until the subfloor was laid. Sweat flew from his brow the last couple of swings and when the last nail went in, he paused long enough for a long drink of his beer.
“Get me another one.” I jumped, surprised by the growl in his voice, and ran to the kitchen.
“Whatcha doing, Bug?” Ma turned from the counter when I opened the fridge and stared at me. Her face was flushed and flour covered her apron. She had been making pies all day for the festival the next day and the kitchen was stifling because we didn’t have air conditioning.
“Getting a beer.”
She frowned. “Take him a glass of water.”
“You sure?” I asked. She looked in the fridge. There was one beer left in the case.
“Tell him it’s all gone.”
I didn’t want to tell him the beer was all gone and I stood there staring at the beer so long it started to bead up with condensation. She reached around me and took it.
“Shut that door. Everything’s going to spoil.”
I shut the door and almost cried when she twisted the cap off.
“Ma,” I whispered, “Just let me take it to him. Don’t dump it out.”
A bitter smile found the corner of her lips. There was no more arguing with Ma than there was arguing with Pa. Where he was swift in doling out justice, she was resolute in taking punishment. She didn’t have any fear of him. The beads of sweat ran together as she upended it, a sour yeasty odor filling the air already heavy with the sticky sweet smell of berries.
“Take him a glass of water.”
Watch for this story on Amazon.com.