On working to write during a lazy summer.

YO. When it’s this hot (with temperatures soaring past 90 degrees for consecutive days), I don’t want to do anything. I’ve been painting my living room, but the project has been extended because of the excessive heat. I break a sweat just lifting the remote to change the channel, which means I am in complete and total summer mode.

I should mention I do not have central air, but my father did help me install two window units. One is downstairs in my living room where I am painting and where the only television is (thank God!), and the other is in my bedroom so I can sleep. But I still have trouble sleeping, no matter how cold it is. UGH.

Anyhow, amidst all this complaining, I do want to pat my own back for working to revise my novel for (what I hope) is the final time. The plot is really coming to me and I’m excited to write, which is a good sign. I’m particularly proud of chapter six, which I am going to share with you below. Please, please, PLEASE let me know what you think if you read the entire chapter. I’ll be asking for beta readers as soon as I’m done revising. I plan to send it out to publishers, but if nothing comes of it, then I plan on releasing on Amazon. My friend recently did this, and through my Scribbler subscription, I learned of another woman who did the same and found major success. Her work was even submitted for awards and I think she’s able to write full-time, and really, that’s the ultimate goal.

So kick back, relax, and pour yourself something strong. Enjoy chapter six from Moody Blue by yours truly, Mandi Bean xoxo

The next morning when Melanie awoke and walked out to her car to drive to the coffee shop for her scheduled shift, she stopped dead in her tracks. The four tires of her beloved Jeep were slashed, every single one.

Melanie couldn’t believe it.

She walked around her car twice, dropping to her knees to closely inspect each tire. She ran her finger along one of the narrow slashes, not really knowing what she was doing or why, but knowing she had to do something. She sat on the rough concrete of the driveway and dug through her purse for her cell phone. She called Chris to let him know she wouldn’t be in. He offered to come over and sit with her until the cops came, but Melanie told him it was fine and that she would be fine. She promised to call him later and give him an update, and then she called the cops.

Some twenty minutes later, a patrol car slowly rolled to a stop perpendicular to the driveway. Melanie climbed to her feet and was greeted by a familiar face. “Well, hey there, Melanie,” Bobby said, grinning.

Melanie offered a nervous smile and said, “Hey, Bobby.” She told herself not to think about the bruises on Adam’s arms. 

“Office Bobby Gillis at your service,” he added, extending his hand.

Melanie took it, but was having trouble meeting Bobby’s gaze. “Thanks for coming out.”

Bobby shrugged it off. “It’s my job. You don’t have to thank me.” He leaned over to gaze past Melanie at her car. “So what seems to be the problem?”

“Someone slashed my tires,” Melanie groaned, leading the way over to her car. She felt vindicated when Bobby squatted down to inspect the tires the same way she had. “They were fine when I got home yesterday. I got up to go to work and found my car like this.”

“What time did you get home yesterday?”

“Around ten o’clock. Adam drove me back to the coffee shop after 9:30.”

Bobby slowed his movements and looked up at Melanie. “How was Adam when he left you?”

Melanie paled. “What do you mean? Is he okay?”

Bobby stood. “He’s fine, just fine. Just getting as much information as I can.”

Melanie shifted her weight from one foot to the other and crossed her arms over her chest. “Oh. He was great. We kissed goodnight, he told me he’d call me today, and that was it.”

Bobby paused to consider what Melanie said. “Is there anyone you can think of who would do this?” he asked.

Melanie shook her head slowly. “No, no way. I’ve never ever had anything like this happen to me.” Suddenly, her eyes opened wide and she reached out to touch Bobby’s arm. “The blue Hyundai!”

“What?” Bobby was alarmed and confused.

“Remember yesterday? When Adam and I first got to your house, Adam told you I thought a blue Hyundai was following me. Maybe the two are connected?” Melanie was breathless by the time she finished talking, rushing to get the information out.

Bobby didn’t move and he didn’t say anything. He just stared at Melanie. She started chewing on the inside of her bottom lip and dropped her gaze. Finally, he spoke. “Alright. I’m going to get an incident report for you to fill out from my car. While I do that, take pictures of all the damage from a couple of different angles on your phone so you can send those to me.”

Melanie nodded and set about following Bobby’s directions, taking pictures of the tires from the left and the right, zooming in to clearly show the sizes of the slashes. When Bobby walked back over, he asked a few more questions but had forgotten the report. “Isn’t there something you need me to fill out?”

Bobby shook his head. “I think this can be handled easily. But Melanie, I think it might be best if you don’t mention this to Adam.”

Melanie’s brow furrowed. “Why not?”

Bobby exhaled a deep breath as he rubbed the back of his neck and looked down at his shoes. “It’ll just upset him. There’s no reason to get him all worked up.”

“Oh.” Melanie inhaled sharply, thinking of the massive, purple bruises along Adam’s arms and his explanation, Bobby has to calm me down sometimes. “He’s alright, isn’t he?”

Without looking up, Bobby said, “Yeah. He’s fine.”

There were several beats of silence. Then Bobby finally looked up. “Alright then. I’ll call you when I get something, and you just go ahead and give me a call if you need something else,” Bobby said.

Melanie nodded. Bobby raised his hand in a quick wave, and Melanie watched Bobby take another walk and look around her Jeep before climbing back into his patrol car and driving off.

Melanie walked back inside her house, making a beeline for the kitchen. She gracelessly poured herself a large cup of coffee, still steaming, and added a generous helping of Bailey’s. Before she sat at the kitchen table, she rummaged through the junk drawer in the kitchen for an emergency pack of cigarettes she kept in the back of it. The pack was smashed and the cigarettes inside were likely stale, but Melanie lit one just the same and took a deep drag. One hand was curled around the mug and the other was curled around her iPhone, scrolling through the contacts. She’d scroll to Adam’s name and then past it, and then back again. The coffee in the mug grew cold and she smoked three cigarettes down to the filter. 

Melanie finally ended up using the cell phone to call Kim to confirm the catering job that night. She also had to ask for a ride. She missed a day at the coffee shop and needed to pay for four new tires somehow. Kim confirmed the job and consented to pick Melanie up, and she did so that afternoon with iced lattes in hand. Melanie’s latte even had a double shot of mocha in hers, and Melanie was incredibly grateful. Later, they were both behind the bar. The wedding guests were all seated for dinner and only a sporadic few were coming to the bar for a drink to go with dinner. Kim shoved two lime wedges into two bottles of Corona and sent the guests on their way. “That bad, huh?” Kim asked, turning to Melanie.

“What?”

“I’ve been with you for hours and you haven’t mentioned Adam once.”

Melanie’s face fell, smoothing the lines of initial, momentary confusion into a blank expression. “Oh,” was all she said.

“Well?”

Melanie turned away from Kim and wrapped her arms around herself. She chewed on an already gnawed thumbnail for a moment or two before she said, “It’s good.” Kim’s interested look faded into something like disappointment, so Melanie took a breath and started again. “It’s better than good, it’s great. Really, it’s been amazing. I’m just… I’m worried I’m going to mess it up.”

“Why?” Kim asked. “If you think like that, you will mess it up.”

“You’re right. I guess everything with Ben really killed my confidence.” The embarrassment and regret seemed so tangible that Melanie turned even further away so she had to speak to Kim from over her shoulder. “I should just relax and enjoy being happy.”

“Easier said than done,” Kim said. She moved closer and gently touched Melanie’s shoulder. “Don’t be too hard on yourself either.”

Melanie nodded. Kim let her hand fall. “I know it’s been tough for you since Ben. You haven’t heard from him, have you?”

“Not really, but since the universe sucks, I’ve bumped into him twice recently even though we do our best to avoid each other. And both times, Adam was with me, so of course he just had to see me get all weird.” Melanie pulled her hair back and let it fall with a heavy sigh.

“I’m sure it wasn’t as bad as you’re remembering. You’re always too hard on yourself,” Kim said. “And no one should be worrying about Ben. That guy was trouble. What a complete waste of your time.” Kim clapped Melanie on the shoulder, a subtle incentive to get her ass in gear as the after-dinner rush started to swarm the bar.

Melanie tried calling out at the coffee shop the next day, but Chris heard her reluctant tone and was kind enough to offer to give Melanie a ride to work. She wasn’t entirely surprised by the offer since she figured it was more advantageous for Chris to bring her in than to get through another day without her. The other employees were young and apathetic, whereas Melanie was dependable and reliable, and gave someone Christ could talk to. Chris had told her this multiple times, and while Melanie loved a compliment as much as the next person, she worried that slinging coffee was the only thing she was good at. She’d crashed and burned with Ben, she hadn’t been great with Adam so far, she hadn’t written anything worth reading in months, and she had no friends that she could call up and catch a movie with or kill a happy hour with. When Chris’s car rolled to a smooth stop behind the Dreaming Tree Café, Melanie stayed put.

“Melanie?” Chris called. “Everything okay?”

She looked to him, blinking back tears and swallowing the lump in her throat. “I’m just having a shit week, boss.” She released a shaky breath through pursed lips.

Chris climbed back inside the car. “What’s going on?” he asked.

Melanie talked in a rush, hurrying her words out in between deep, shuddery breaths to keep from crying. “Why would someone slash my tires? What did I ever do to anybody?” And -” For a moment, Melanie considered telling Chris everything, that Adam had a dead fiancee whom he firmly believed was murdered and that Adam was being abused by his sister’s boyfriend who was a cop, the same cop who refused to investigate Adam’s fiancee’s death as anything other than a suicide. But those details weren’t really hers to share, so she wrapped her arms around herself and said, “And I catered last night, so maybe I’m just tired.”

Chris gently squeezed her shoulder. “I’m sorry, Mel.” He shifted his eyes guiltily. “I shouldn’t have made you come in.”

“No, no, that’s okay,” Melanie insisted, twisting to face Chris. “I demanded to work while puking, remember?” Melanie laughed, wiping away the tears with her thumbs, being careful not to smudge her eyeliner or her mascara. “Besides, what was I gonna do, just sit around by myself and brood? And how else am I going to pay for new tires?”

“If there’s anything I can do,” Chris said, giving her shoulder another gentle squeeze.

Suddenly, Melanie threw her arms around him. “Thank you,” she said. It took a second for Chris to return the embrace, but once he did, Melanie said, “Just keep being nice to me, please.”

Chris laughed softly in her hair and pulled back to say something, but as he looked beyond Melanie through the car window, his lips thinned. All the joy and easy comfort fled in a rush. Concerned, Melanie asked, “What is it?”

“Blue Hyundai,” Chris said. His wide eyes flicked to Melanie. “It’s parked in the same spot.”

“Oh my God, where?” Melanie asked. She went to whip herself around in the seat and stare out the window, but Chris held her still.

“Wait, wait, calm down,” he said. “Don’t let them know we’ve seen them. Smile and nod, and then get out of the car and go inside. I’ll act like I have to get something out of the trunk and circle around the building. I’ll surprise them and find out what the hell is going on.”

Melanie nodded and, without thinking too much about it, gave Chris a quick kiss on the cheek. “This could be some nut, so be careful,” she said. Then she opened the door and tried to be as nonchalant as possible as she strolled into the coffee shop. Brooke was behind the counter.

“Melly Belly,” she cooed, “is everything alright?”

“Yeah, car trouble,” she said. Melanie slid into the far corner of the large picture window in the front of the shop. She tried to minimize her movements and only stretched her neck to peer from the edge of the window.

“What are you doing, you weirdo?” Brooke laughed.

“Chris is confronting the blue Hyundai,” she said from the side of her mouth.

“The one that’s been parked across the street and down a little?” Brooke asked.

Melanie nodded.

“Oh,” Brooke said, sounding confused. The change in tone forced Melanie to turn to Brooke. “I thought that was your car,” Brooke said. Her face flushed.

“What? Why?” Melanie asked.

“It’s only ever here when you are,” Brooke said.

Melanie’s mouth dropped open. She moved farther into the corner in response to a sudden urge to disappear.

“Are you okay? You look really freaked out,” Brooke said.

“Fine,” Melanie said. “Just need to get ready for my shift.” She bolted to the employee break room, maneuvering behind the counter and around Brooke. As she passed her, Melanie asked Brooke to let her know when Chris came back but she didn’t wait for an answer. She also didn’t feel like explaining anything to Brooke, who already knew more than Melanie wanted her to. As a matter of fact, Brooke had known more than Melanie. Melanie slid her apron and her name tag from her cubby and shoved her purse in. She pinned her name tag to the upper left side of her shirt, and tied her apron on, focusing on the minutiae of it all to keep her hands and mind busy. She didn’t want to overthink or spend any time at all envisioning worst case scenarios. She twisted her hair in a fast, sloppy bun and was trying to smooth some flyaway strands near her forehead when Brooke called her name.

Melanie scrambled to the counter just in time to catch Chris striding toward his office. “No one was there,” he said. “I waited a few minutes but still no one came. I’m calling the cops.”

“Why?” Melanie asked.

Chris raised an eyebrow. “Seriously?”

Melanie shook her head slowly. “I mean, what are you going to say?”

Chris thought for a moment with his hand on the handle of the door to his office. “That a suspicious car had been parked outside for the last few days and it’s starting to freak my employees out.”

“But is there really anything illegal going on?” Melanie asked.

“Maybe not, but at least a cop can come and check it out and make us all feel better.” He smiled at Melanie and entered his office, ending the discussion. Melanie’s stomach flipped over. She’d never called the cops in her life and now here she was, calling them two times in two days. Getting the cops involved made the whole debacle real, and that made it hard to ignore or argue against. She smoothed the front of her apron to stop her hands from shaking, and then she turned to Brooke who had been staring at Melanie, burning holes into the back of her and willing her to make eye contact.

“Well, now I’m freaked out,” she groaned.

Chris came out of his office a couple of minutes later to tell them the cops were on their way, and then a few more minutes after that, the cops were walking through the entrance of The Dreaming Tree Cafe. Bobby led the way, followed by an older, heavier officer. Melanie groaned and collapsed against the counter, watching Brooke smooth her lipstick with her pinky finger. “Hello officers,” she said, trying to employ a husky whisper in the style of Kathleen Turner. Melanie rolled her eyes.

“Ladies,” the older, portlier officer greeted, touching the top of a cap that wasn’t there. “Which of you called in the suspicious vehicle?”

“That’d be me,” Chris said as he emerged from his office. 

The officer seemed slightly crestfallen but nodded in a friendly enough way. He asked Chris to show him where the car was, and the pair walked out the door. Bobby came closer to the counter. “Melanie, I’d say we’ve got to start meeting under better circumstances,” he said.

Melanie offered a curt nod. “It’s the blue Hyundai Adam mentioned at dinner,” she said.

Bobby leaned back, turning left and right to scan his surroundings. “Adam’s not here, is he? Have you heard from him today?”

“No,” Melanie said. “Is he okay?”

Bobby’s easy, charming smile suddenly reappeared. “Oh yeah, he’s fine. But this is gonna shake him up. Do you think you could file it away with the slashed tires?”

“I don’t know if I’m comfortable with that, Bobby,” Melanie said. Beside her, Brooke was pretending to wipe down the counter. Melanie knew she was listening and didn’t want to say anything Brooke could spread around the coffee shop.

Bobby had the same intuition and after suspiciously eyeing Brooke, he asked, “Can we step into your manager’s office to talk about this?”

Nodding, Melanie began weaving her way through the back of the shop and told Bobby over her shoulder she’d let him in. Brooke cleared her throat and when Melanie stole a glance, Brooke shot her a pleading and disappointed look. Melanie ignored it and hurried to let Bobby inside the office. He closed the door behind him. “It’s awful crowded in here,” he said.

“It’s small,” Melanie admitted, “but Chris is mostly a slob.” She shuffled some papers on the desk and then sat in the clean space she’d created. “So why can’t I tell Adam about any of this?”

Bobby sighed and it was like his whole body was collapsing in on itself. It almost made Melanie jump back onto her feet and go running for a doctor. Bobby fell into the chair and rubbed his jaw. “I am so tired,” he said. Melanie didn’t know how to respond, or if she even should respond, so she waited for Bobby to continue. Eventually, he said, “Adam wanted to surprise you. He was gonna pick you up from work and take you to that book fair in Princeton.”

“Really?” Melanie asked. The skepticism in her tone made Bobby sit up straighter. “He wants to take me somewhere thoughtful and romantic even though I haven’t talked to him in two days?”

“I didn’t say you couldn’t talk to him,” Bobby said. I just didn’t want you to say anything about the tires. Don’t act like this is my fault.”

“It is -”

“Listen!” Bobby interrupted, getting to his feet. “Adam thinks you haven’t talked to him because of the dinner at our house. He’s all torn up about it and wants to make it up to you. Let him do it, okay? Let him make you happy because that will make him happy.”

“What do you care if Adam’s happy?” Melanie asked.

Bobby’s lips curled into a rueful, unpleasant grin. It made him ugly. Fiddling with his belt, he said, “I don’t know what Adam’s told you, but I love his sister and I love that little family. And even though Adam makes it hard as hell sometimes, I love him too.” When he looked at Melanie, she was shocked to see he was about to cry. “Help me help them. Please.”

Melanie covered her mouth with her hand, considering everything Bobby had said, and then she let it fall away. “Okay, Bobby.”

Bobby’s usual charming and effortless smile materialized out of nowhere. Melanie marveled at the way his entire body language shifted. He reached out to her but stopped before touching her arm. “When he calls later, act like you don’t know anything, okay?”

“Yeah, yeah, sure,” Melanie agreed. Bobby’s enthusiasm and relief was contagious.

“Great,” Bobby said, clapping his hands together. “Let me go see if your manager and Ken found anything.” When they left the office, Ken and Chris had returned.

“The car was gone,” Chris said. “I made a full report, though.” He shrugged. “I’m sorry, Mel.”

“Oh, it’s okay,” she said, smiling brightly like she hadn’t been crying and terrified just a little while before. It was no wonder Chris was looking at her strangely. “We did everything we could, right?” Chris and Brooke were staring.

“Well, we’ll be on our way,” Bobby said, nodding in the general direction of Chris and his employees. “Just call again if something comes up, and we’ll do the same on our end.” He winked at Melanie, and then he was gone.

Brooke groaned. “That Officer Bobby Gillis is something else.” She spun around and threw a towel at Melanie. “I am so jealous you got alone time with him in Chris’s office,” she winked.

“What?” Chris roared.

Melanie blushed. “Oh my God, it wasn’t like that.” Melanie glared at Brooke and whipped the towel back at her. “He talked to me about my car,” Melanie widened her eyes to try to send Chris a signal without Brooke noticing, “and he’s dating the sister of the guy I’m dating, so we kind of know each other.”

Chris nodded. Then he marched into his office without a word. The door shut hard behind him.

Brooke snorted. “What’s his problem?”

“Give him a break,” Melanie said. “It’s been a stressful morning.”

Later, on her 15-minute break, Melanie was seated on the stone steps to the back entrance of the coffee shop. She was mindlessly sipping on an iced coffee and idly scrolling through her social media accounts. When the phone started ringing, Melanie nearly dropped it. She swallowed a scream and gasped a breathless, “Hello?”

“Melanie, are you okay?” Adam asked with a sense of urgency.

“I just almost dropped my phone,” she laughed lamely. A knowing smile spread across her lips and his voice raised an octave seemingly of its own accord. “What are you up to?”

“Nothing,” Adam said. It was a clipped response; not the kind of response Melanie had been expecting.

“Oh,” she sighed. “Well, do you want to do something later?”

“Sure,” Adam said. It was a quick response, but it was also another clipped response.

“Is everything okay?” she asked, venturing hesitantly into a conversation she might not like.

“Everything’s fine,” Adam said. “I’ll call later. Want me to pick you up?”

Melanie said, “That’d be great.” She pressed her hand against her forehead and closed her eyes.

“From your place or work?”

“My place,” she answered. “I’ll wanna get changed.”

“Ok, goodbye,” Adam said and hung up. It seemed more likely that Adam was going to break up with her then “surprise” her with a spontaneous, romantic evening for the two of them. She rubbed the back of her neck and winced against the sharp pains of an oncoming headache. She slid her phone into her back pocket and finished her iced coffee before heading inside to finish her shift.

Chris offered to drive her home again, but Melanie didn’t feel comfortable abusing his kindness. She ordered an Uber, and she was home and showered before Adam called her.

Adam circled the cluttered and stylish streets of Princeton for nearly ten minutes to find a decent parking spot. None were to be had, so he parked several blocks away, explaining to Melanie with false optimism that “It’ll be easier to leave.” The streetlights glowed a warm yellow, but did next to nothing to illuminate the darkened, abandoned street where there was plenty of parking. At the far end, and in the direction they were headed, was a dive bar. The neon lights buzzed audibly in the quiet. Instinctively, Adam and Melanie slid their arms around each other and headed for the better lit, literary, and stylish main street in town where the book fair was being held. They approached a large, white tent and purchased tickets for the event. They were pleased to learn that the book fair included a chocolate walk. A bunch of the local businesses that lined the main street, where the book fair had been set up, had been “adopted” by a bakery or candy shop or legitimate chocolatier.

Long tables with cheap, plastic tablecloths were set up on the sidewalks and spilled into the streets, and they were piled with books. Some featured local authors were signing copies. Kids ran, screaming laughter, with glow sticks and sparklers while harried parents chased after them. Couples slipped their arms around one another while they sipped coffee or mulled wine from styrofoam cups. Business owners beamed proudly over the scene, crossing their arms with satisfied sighs and pleasant smiles. Melanie nuzzled closer to Adam and they began wandering aimlessly, eager to see and taste all that they could. A band was playing in the center of the street and small crowds kept forming and dispersing in regular intervals. The music was light, simple, and easy to listen to.

“I’m so glad we’re here,” Melanie said.

Adam kissed the top of her head. “It was a brilliant idea,” he said.

Melanie laughed. “Yeah, yeah, I know. Good call.”

“Nice modesty,” Adam replied. The use of sarcasm made Melanie stop and face him properly. 

“I was saying you made a good call,” Melanie said. “I was being sincere.”

“Which is sweet,” Adam admitted, “but coming here was your idea.”

“No, it wasn’t,” Melanie said. “You wanted to surprise me and take me here.”

“What?” Adam asked, letting loose a sharp bark of surprised laughter.

“Bobby told me when he came to my job today. He said -”

“Why was he at your job?” Adam interrupted.

“I’m so confused,” Melanie said. She needed to slow the conversation down to get her bearings and to keep herself from telling Adam what Bobby had told her not to. “You didn’t want to come here? You didn’t want to pick me up from work and surprise me?”

Blushing, Adam shoved his hands in his pockets. He said, “Not exactly, no. After that awful dinner at my house, I thought you’d never want to see me again. You weren’t texting or calling, and it made me really upset. But Bobby told me you wanted to see me and he told me that you were dying to come here. He said if I invited you, and you agreed, that everything would be fine.” Adam looked at Melanie. “He said you mentioned it a lot at dinner the other night. I didn’t remember, but sometimes,” Adam sighed, “sometimes I don’t remember everything. Or I don’t remember everything the way it happened.” He turned away from Melanie and she could almost hear him mumbling, but it was hard to tell over the murmuring crowd. She did see his hands ball into fists and he banged them against his thighs before shoving them into his pockets. When he turned back to Melanie, she nearly gasped. His shoulders sagged and he seemed to curl about himself, like he was on the verge of collapse. She grabbed his shoulders and tried to lift him up.

“It’s all okay, Adam,” Melanie said. Her smile was stretched to the point of snapping, and she was speaking in a high-pitched tone nearly unrecognizable to herself. “It’s weird that Bobby would lie, but we’re here now, and everything is fine.”

“You never mentioned anything to him?” he asked, his voice cracking.

Melanie shook her head. “I didn’t even know this was a thing,” she laughed, trying so hard to ease the building tension.

Suddenly, Adam turned and kicked a metal drum being used as a garbage can. The metallic clang echoed and a few people turned to stare. Melanie’s face burned red and she moved close to Adam. “He’s so fucking manipulative,” he yelled. “He wants me to think I’m crazy!”

Melanie grabbed his arms and pulled him along, shushing him. “Adam, calm down,” she said.

He broke free of her grip. “You sound like him. Are you two in this together?”

“What? No!” Melanie shouted, exasperated. “You don’t trust me?”

“I don’t trust Bobby,” he growled. “And you shouldn’t either.”

“Okay, okay,” Melanie said. She moved closer to him and held his shoulders again. Bobby may be untrustworthy, but Melanie thought he had been absolutely right about one thing: telling Adam about the blue Hyundai, especially now, would send him spiraling. She took a deep breath. “I really, really like you, Adam. And I’m really, really happy we’re here. Do you want to make the most of it?”

In response, Adam reached for Melanie’s hand. “I’m sorry. It’s just been so hard since -” Adam cut himself off. He shook his head. “You’re right. Since we’re here, let’s have a good time. Bobby’s bullshit can wait.”

Now that the pair of them had stopped shouting, people were going about their business and the scene was going back to its literary and stylish self. Melanie raised Adam’s hand to her mouth and kissed it. “Chocolate or books first?” she asked.

“How about a drink?” Adam suggested. He kissed Melanie’s laughing mouth and they fell back in step with one another. They strolled past the crowded shops, happy to peer in through the windows as there were too many jostling customers to comfortably browse. It was an adorably quaint main street with plenty of shopping options. There were two jewelers, clothing for men, clothing for women, a few bakeries, a restaurant every other storefront, specialty shops galore, and surprisingly, an art gallery combined with a tattoo parlor. Melanie wondered how drunk she and Adam could manage to get at an open air book fair and chocolate walk, and if it could ever be enough to get matching tattoos.

“Bingo,” Adam said and raised their joined hands to point at a white tent boasting beer and wine.

“And would you look at that,” Melanie said, changing the direction of their joined hands to point across the street. “There just so happens to be a bookstore right there.”

Adam eyed the crowd. “I’ll need a drink to deal with all that physical proximity.” He looked at Melanie with a soft smile. “Why don’t you run in when I get us drinks? We’ll probably have to wait the same amount of time.”

“Really? You don’t mind?” 

“Not at all,” Adam said, kissing her forehead. “Just tell me what you want.”

Melanie kissed Adam’s lips again and again. “Could you please get me a glass of  white wine?”

“Afraid to be seen sipping on a light beer at such a prestigious literary event?” he asked, teasing. Melanie kissed him again and reluctantly released his hand. She looked at him, looking so handsome and perfect in the violet light of early evening, until it was too dangerous to do so. She couldn’t be distracted and successfully squirm her way through the crowd gathered around the entrance of the bookstore. She slid through, with many mumbled apologies and finally, she was in the cutest little bookstore she had ever seen. 

It was small and cluttered, but it was cozy and charming. The hardwood floors were accented with expensive-looking rugs and all the lighting came from table lamps, all looking antique and distinguished. It felt more like the living room of a delightfully eccentric – and handsomely wealthy – literary professor. She pushed through the swirling crowd to the bargain paperback books in a far corner. She was letting her fingertips glide along the spines that were facing up, her eyes hungrily searching for familiar authors or interesting titles. Her mind was a million miles away, lost in the possibility of a great reading adventure. Her eyes were bright and flashing. When her fingers touched other fingers, it took her a second or two to notice. She gasped, startled, and drew her hand back. She was about to mumble an apology when her eyes met Ben Fields’s eyes.

“Melanie,” Ben said, sounding only slightly surprised. Ben never ever wanted to be out of control, so he always maintained a masterful level of control over his appearance, his physicality, over everything he possibly could control. Melanie suspected that was the main reason why everything between them had fallen apart so spectacularly. One of her greatest anxieties was losing control, so there was no real way she could ever relinquish it to Ben the way he needed her to.

“Hey Ben,” she said. For her part, Melanie did her best to keep her voice smooth and even. She’d hate for Ben to know he still knocked her on her ass whenever she saw him. He probably suspected as much, anyway. Ironically enough, Ben loved the way he sent Melanie spinning out of control, evident by his concentrated gaze and expectan grin. “Find anything good?” she inquired, shrugging. She was trying to maintain a casual friendliness.

“Actually,” he said as he reached behind him, “I just found this.” He showed her a battered copy of Jane Eyre and any hope Melanie had of conveying nonchalance vanished. She couldn’t help the wide, authentic smile or the dull, pulsing heat that started at her cheeks and seemed to radiate throughout the rest of her body; she could feel it moving within her, filling her the way water does a bucket, all sloppy splashing. They had read that novel together, usually between Ben’s silk sheets and clad only in underwear. In the one attempt Ben had made to win her back in the week that followed the break-up, he had penned a gorgeous letter to Melanie, complete with quotes from the novel embedded in with his romantic yearnings. The letter was folded up small and tucked away in her sock drawer. “How have you been?” Ben asked, pulling Melanie to the present. His eyes were shining in the lamplight and his voice was softer than she remembered.

“Good, really good,” Melanie said. “I’m just waiting for Adam to grab us some drinks.” It was an unnecessary detail, but Melanie couldn’t help being petty. It was her ugliest trait. “How are you?”

“I’m doing very well, actually,” Ben said. He pushed his glasses farther up on his nose. “The university awarded me with a sizable raise for an impressive paper I wrote.” He cleared his throat. “I moved into a larger place and there’s a respectable library.”

Joyfully, Melanie clapped her hands together with authentic happiness for Ben, forgetting herself for a moment. “Ben, that’s awesome! You’ve always wanted a place like that.” If she had forgotten herself for just a moment longer, she would have thrown her arms around him. The way Ben watched her, expectant and satisfied, helped remind her to be petty. “I should go, though. I don’t want to keep Adam waiting. Bye Ben,” she said, raising her hand and wiggling her fingers in a muted wave.

“The guy from the coffee shop?” Ben asked, surprising Melanie. “The guy you brought to the workshop you promptly left once you saw me?”

If Melanie didn’t know any better, she would have thought Ben was actually hurt. His face hand changed, and the proud happiness that illuminated his features just a moment ago was gone. “Yes, that guy,” she said through gritted teeth. She turned back to fully face him once more. “His name is Adam, and you know that, because I’ve used it twice just now.”

“Yes, to make sure I knew it,” Ben said.

Melanie sighed. “You know, Ben, every single fucking interaction we have doesn’t have to end with one of us storming off.” She jerked her head back and towards the exit. “Come and have a drink with us.”

“Do you honestly think that’s wise?” Ben asked. There was hesitation in his tone, and there was hesitation inherent in the question, but he stepped closer to Melanie all the same.

“I’m willing to try,” she said. “If you’re not, that’s fine. No hard feelings.” And she turned to leave. She was only a few steps from the exit, squeezing through the ever present crowd, when Ben spoke from beside her.

“I appreciate the invitation,” Ben said. “I won’t join you for a drink, but I do think it would be polite to say hello.”

“Baby steps,” Melanie smirked. And maybe her and Ben could really be friends now that she felt she was on steadier, even footing with Adam at her side. When they walked out of the bookstore, they met Adam in the middle of the street with drinks in hand, hyper-concentrated on not spilling a drop.

“Do I have timing or what?” Adam asked, proud of his performance as he handed Melanie her glass. His smile faded when he saw Ben and Melanie held her breath. “Who’s this?” he asked.

“This is Ben, my -” Melanie faltered, unsure of how to introduce Ben. No matter how accurate it was, “ex-boyfriend” just didn’t sound right.

“Former professor,” Ben said. He extended his hand and for just a moment, Melanie thought she might kiss him with gratitude.

“And ex-boyfriend,” Adam said. He shook Ben’s hand, but there was nothing friendly about it.

“Yes,” Ben said slowly, stretching out the vowel sound. “We just bumped into each other in the bookstore, and I thought I’d come and say hello,” Ben said. His eyes flicked from Adam to Melanie, but his mouth was set. “And now that I’ve done that, I’ll leave. Have a pleasant evening.” Ben gave a little bow and slipped away into the crowd.

“Wow,” Adam breathed. He turned to Melanie, deeply concerned. “Are you okay?”

Melanie laughed, assuming Adam was being dramatic in a sarcastic kind of way to break the tension following the awkward encounter. “Oh, come on. It wasn’t that bad,” she said.

Adam shook his head slowly, his concern proved genuine by its prolonged presence on his handsomely serious face. “When you’re ready, you’ll have to tell me all about the hell he put you through.” He ran his thumb along her cheek and thoughtfully drank his beer.

“What are you talking about?”

“It’s obvious some serious shit went down between the two of you,” Adam said. He licked his lips. “When you walked out to meet me with him, you looked like someone I didn’t know. Everything about you was different.” Melanie opened her mouth to protest, but Adam kept talking. “And the way he made you parade him out here to meet me, like you need his approval or something.” Adam’s eyes darkened. “Or like he wanted to make sure I know he’s still got his hooks in you.”

Melanie’s attempt to respond to Adam sputtered and stalled. She wanted to assure him that Ben had no hooks in her whatsoever and that Ben’s intentions weren’t so malicious, but the certainty with which Adam spoke made her unsure. Her silence must have convinced Adam he was right about everything because he tenderly kissed her lips and pulled her close. “We don’t have to talk about it until you’re ready.”

Again, Melanie wanted to argue and convince Adam that she was fine; more than fine really, because he was with her. But she didn’t want to ruin the evening and she became distracted once Adam dragged her into a boutique jewelry shop. There was plenty to look at: lots of interesting handmade pieces, like necklaces of chunky quartz wrapped in thin strings of dark, malleable metal in intricate designs and patterns, and rings of all difference colors and bands, and gaudy bracelets and loud, dangling earrings that were all big and eye catching. Melanie slowly moved from one display case to the next, only sometimes remembering to close her gaping mouth. Thus occupied, she didn’t see Adam sneak to the register to purchase a stunning oblong turquoise ring set in a sterling silver band. She only knew he did it once they were outside and he slipped it on the middle finger of her right hand. It didn’t exactly fit – it was a little too snug – as Adam had only guessed at the size to pull off the surprise. Melanie didn’t care; it really was the thought that counted and she’d wear it on a string around her neck if she had to. She kissed him more than a couple of times on the crowded street, laughing and completely filled with happiness.

They had a few more drinks and when they came across another acoustic band just gearing up for its set, Melanie couldn’t refuse when Adam set their drinks down and led her to the makeshift dance floor, which was really just an empty space in the middle of the street. Beneath the twinkling stars, swaying amongst perfect strangers, neatly buzzed and grinning from ear to ear, Melanie and Adam danced together until the music stopped and there was nothing left to do but go home.

Melanie was so in love with the evening that she totally forgot to check the rearview mirror for a blue Hyundai.

When they finally got to her house, Melanie wanted to invite Adam inside, but she didn’t want him to think she was only doing that because she’d had a little too much to drink or because she had seen Ben. And the more she thought about it, she started to think that Adam was right, that Ben had been a real asshole and that she needed to keep a greater distance because he was a manipulative prick who just wanted to hurt her and Adam. Adam had totally been right, and Melanie couldn’t believe she’d seen the situation any other way,  

writer's block

Happy Writers’ Wednesday!

Personal side note: I need to get a handle on my weight. Last weekend, I went to my local ShopRite to buy some groceries. Really all I needed was capers (I was making chicken piccata), but I couldn’t help myself and also purchased French fries, ketchup, chocolate donuts, Oreos, and Spicy Nacho Doritos. I had ice cream in my basket, but put it back (like it would have made any difference). And to be fair, I thought I was going to be snowed in and wanted to devour my snacks while being all warm and cozy with nowhere to go. When I got to the checkout lane, I recognized the cashier. She was more friendly than she was awkward, but she was definitely awkward. As she’s ringing me up, we’re chatting, and she mentions how she wants to go to this certain restaurant for her upcoming birthday, and how she wants to order a bottle of wine but her mom won’t drink it and won’t let her – whatever, it’s small talk. I do okay with small talk.

But she asks, “Want me to drink for you?” I smile and say “of course,” or something like that. We talk about drinking in the shower (an escalation, to be sure, and so awkward but whatever, I’m trying to be nice) and she asks me again. “Want me to drink for you?” She asks me that same question at least two more times before I leave the store. It definitely gave me pause, so I’m replaying the encounter in my head as I’m walking out to my car, occasionally looking down at the bagged groceries dangling from my hands.

I bought pickles, too. And that’s when it hits me: she must have thought I was pregnant! Because aren’t pickles universally craved by pregnant woman? Coupled with the cookies and donuts and fries, what other conclusion could she have come to? I was mortified! Ashamed! Embarrassed!

To be clear: I’m so NOT pregnant and I’ve never ever needed someone to drink for me. Ever.

Since I’ve completely stopped eating (joke!), I’ve had plenty time to revise my second completed manuscript, MOODY BLUE. If I don’t get a publisher this summer, I’m abandoning the manuscript and moving on. This is my third – or fourth? – revision. I’m stuck on chapter three … so I’m asking YOU, faithful, dear reader, to provide me with some FEEDBACK. Please, please, please read the following excerpt and tell me what you think. Would you keep reading? Is it boring? Do you want to know more?

As always, I am forever indebted.

Three days after bumping into Adam at her favorite wedding venue, Melanie’s Jeep was parked outside his house. They had been flirtatiously texting in the time between, and Melanie marveled at the way Adam always left her wanting more. The messages never seemed like enough, and Melanie was never satisfied. She’d re-read the messages in bed, smiling like a fool but also battling a nagging suspicion that Adam didn’t really like her. It seemed an impossibility to Melanie that someone so handsome, someone so smart, and someone so perfect could be interested in someone as dopey and messy and needy as her. She must have tried to talk herself out of meeting Adam a million times, pacing in her living room with the television on for company, enumerating to herself all the ways she’d likely be humiliated because Adam was so beyond her reach, so out of her league. But here she was, outside his house, and she was viciously chewing on her bottom lip and drumming the pads of her fingers against the steering wheel. All of her nails had already been bitten down to the quick, so her lip became a sacrificial victim to her mounting anxiety.

Melanie was trying to convince herself to go and knock on the front door, reminding herself that Adam was sweet, and that his texts had been clever and engaging. The truth of the matter was that on more than one occasion, Melanie had thrown her head back in laughter at something Adam had sent. Her days had begun to revolve around Adam’s messages; her mood was determined by whether or not Adam reached out. Luckily for Melanie and those she interacted with on a daily basis, the contact had been consistent.

Until today, the very day they were meant to see each other again.

Adam had been unusually uncommunicative that morning. His responses were all clipped and finite. Melanie had to do real work to keep the conversation alive. Even then, the quality of the conversation was so poor that Melanie wondered why she was even trying. And now, Melanie wondered why she was parked outside his house, placing and removing her hand from the keys dangling in the ignition.

Melanie sat up straighter to start the engine, but then she saw Adam’s front door open. Melanie was surprised to see that it was a woman and not Adam who ventured out onto the front porch, the same woman who waved when Melanie had dropped Adam off before. This time, the woman had traded in the scrubs for an unremarkable pair of jeans and a plain tee shirt, but the purple highlights were unmistakable. Melanie realized the woman was yelling at her. With nervous, fumbling fingers, Melanie opened the car door. “Sorry?” Melanie called. “What were you saying?”

The woman smiled bright and beautiful. “You’re Melanie, right? Adam’s friend?”

Melanie gulped. “Yeah, that’s me.” She gulped again. “Hi.”

“Hi,” the woman laughed. “I’m Melissa, Adam’s sister. Turn the car off and come in for a minute.”

Before Melanie could respond, Melissa was already on her way back inside the house. Melanie figured she didn’t really have an option. Exhaling in a great rush of breath, she climbed out of the Jeep. She entered the house and found herself on the outermost edge of a living room. The walls were just one shade of beige lighter than the plush carpet that flattened beneath her black boots. Against the wall to her left was a large couch, also beige, and seated upon it was a gorgeous, muscular man. He had dark hair and his dark eyes had been focused on the television mounted above the gas fireplace in the adjacent wall. Now, he turned towards Melanie and got to his feet, revealing that he was tall, dark and handsome. When the man moved closer and extended his hand, Melanie had to fight like hell to keep from blushing.

Adam sat on the love seat opposite the couch beside his sister. He hadn’t made eye contact with Melanie, but she could feel his eyes burning into her skin as she shook the hand of Tall, Dark and Handsome. “Hey there, Melanie,” he said. “My name’s Bobby and I’m Melissa’s boyfriend.”

“Oh,” Melanie said. She ended the handshake and shoved her hands into the pockets of her coat. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“He’s a cop,” Adam blurted.

The silence that followed was painful.

“If I pull you over, you don’t have to cry to get out of the ticket now,” Bobby said, winking. “You can just go, ‘Hey. Remember me?’” He proceeded to laugh harder than was necessary, but it broke the tension. He invited Melanie to sit beside him but before she did so, Melanie walked over to shake Melissa’s hand. Melissa didn’t stand but she smiled warmly. Melanie seated herself beside Bobby.

“Thanks for coming in. I know it wasn’t planned, but I wanted to meet you,” Melissa said. “You’re the woman who drove him home from the bus stop, right?”

“Well, from the coffee shop, yeah,” Melanie answered. She caught Adam’s eye, but he looked away just as quickly. Melanie noted how he sat on the very edge of the cushion with his arms wrapped around himself. He looked miserable.

“Thanks for getting Adam home safe. Sometimes-”

“He’s a free spirit, so he doesn’t always check in,” Bobby interrupted. Melissa’s smile became strained and it was all Melanie could do to keep from bolting for the door. She ran her finger along the silver hoop pierced through her nostril. She was trying to think of something to say. The silence was suffocating, unbearable. Melanie shifted in her seat and cleared her throat, just to have something to do. Bobby jumped to his feet beside her. “Can I get you something to drink? Soda? Water?”

“I’ll have some water, please.” Melanie smiled politely. If her mouth was full, she wouldn’t have to speak. She could guiltlessly ignore the building pressure of uncomfortable silence and shove the conversation responsibilities at someone else.

“Adam tells me you work for your aunt’s catering company?”

Melanie nodded at Melissa. “Yes, and I’m a barista.” She pressed her hands together hard. “But what I really want to be is a writer.”

Melissa blinked with a blank smile. Bobby had yet to return and when Melanie looked to Adam, he was staring at his feet. Her offered no sign of support or direction. She wet her lips and said, “Adam and I met properly last weekend when I was catering an event, and I got to see some of his handiwork with the landscaping there.” There was no reaction. “The venue was beautiful because of Adam’s great work.”

Adam whipped his head towards Melanie. She wasn’t sure what that meant, if she was doing well or if he wanted her to shut up. Luckily, Bobby returned with a tall glass of cold water. Melanie took it eagerly, rushing through her “thank you.”

“Adam’s only recently started landscaping,” Bobby said. He sat back down next to Melanie. “I’m glad to hear he’s taken to it so quickly.”

“He used to be an English teacher,” Melissa said.

Melanie nodded. “Yeah, I think he mentioned that. And I just read an article all about how teachers are leaving the classroom in droves. Underpaid, overworked, -”

“That’s not why Adam left,” Melissa said, interrupting. Adam flinched and lowered his gaze again.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Melanie said. “I didn’t mean to imply or insinuate anything. I’m just trying to make conversation.” She gulped down water.

“Of course,” Bobby said kindly. “I just think Melissa and I are sad Adam left teaching.” He shot his girlfriend a pointed look. “He was great with the kids and he loves to read and write.”

“Bobby,” Melissa and Adam groaned in eerie unison. Melanie didn’t understand what the big deal was and clung to the conversational lifeline Bobby had flung out to her.

“Actually, Adam and I talked a little bit about that, too. We’re going to a writer’s workshop today.”

“And we don’t want to be late,” Adam said, getting to his feet. Melanie set the glass down on the coffee table and stood, following Adam’s lead. “I’ll be home late.” He grabbed Melanie’s hand and pulled her to the door.

“Call and let us know where you are,” Melissa said.

“And have fun,” Bobby said with an easy smile. Thank God for Bobby, Melanie though as she returned the smile.

“It was a pleasure meeting you.”

“You too,” Bobby said. Melissa stayed silent. “We’ll have to do this again soon.”

Before Melanie could say anything else, Adam had pulled her onto the front porch. “You can relax now,” Adam said. He was pulling his pack of cigarettes from his back pocket.

“Oh shit, was it that obvious?”

Adam nodded, walking towards Melanie’s Jeep. “Let’s not rehash that painful encounter here. Melissa’s probably at the door listening.”

“Seriously?” Melanie asked in a whisper. She was following Adam.

“She’s ….” Adam’s voice trailed off and he sighed. “She doesn’t like anyone that I do.”

“Aw, that’s cute,” Melanie said. “No one’s good enough for her baby brother.”

“More like I’m not good enough for anyone.”

Melanie halted. “Adam, that can’t be -”

He stopped outside the front passenger door to light his cigarette and take a drag. “Bobby seemed to like you, though.”

“He was nice.”

“He’s a piece of shit, is what he is.”

Melanie gasped. “What? He seemed -”

“Yeah, I know. He’s got Melissa all convinced he’s the Second Coming, too. But trust me – he’s manipulative and conniving and self-serving. I knew him before Melissa did in a different context and he’s awful.” Adam climbed inside the Jeep and shut his door.

Melanie scrambled to the driver’s side and climbed in. “How did you meet Bobby?”

“Look, I don’t want to talk about Bobby. Or my sister. I don’t want to talk to what you were just subjected to in there. Let’s just go.”

“Oh. O-okay,” Melanie said. None of this was going like she imagined it would. She knew she had to salvage the day but she didn’t know how. They drove in silence to the local library to attend the writers’ workshop Melanie had mentioned to Adam. The workshop was held in one of the smaller conference rooms on the second floor. Melanie and Adam remained standing on the opposite side of the heavy, wooden entrance door because the sign displayed there had given Adam pause. Melanie hadn’t told Adam the entire title of the writers’ workshop was “a therapeutic writers’ workshop for survivors of traumatic experiences.” She also did not tell him that the workshop was led by Ben Fields, the man who had at one time been the love of her life. Adam hadn’t wanted to start out with tension and lies, but Melanie didn’t mind the duplicity. Sometimes, it was easier and safer to not tell the truth.

Adam hadn’t said much after reading the sign, but he hadn’t moved either. Melanie thought it was a good thing, that Adam had obviously survived traumatic experiences and was in desperate need of a therapeutic outlet. But to be fair, Melanie was not confident in the benefits of the writing workshop as she only started attending the workshop because she’d been fucking Fields at the time.

Melanie didn’t want to dwell on Ben and what happened or what might have been. She turned to Adam. His face was a blank canvas; he could have been thinking anything, making a million and one decisions without Melanie even being aware, and that worried her because Melanie did not want this first outing with Adam to go more awry than it already had. Something at the house with his sister must have set him off, made him moody and distant, which was really unfortunate timing for a first date. Melanie feared that if this all ended so quickly and with such disappointment, she’d find herself without anything to do other than drink wine, watch a beloved movie she’d already seen a thousand and one times, eat food terrible for her figure, and fall asleep on the couch with the majority of the lights on. It was a lame and pathetic existence and she didn’t want to live it anymore. Meeting Adam had been the start of something special, Melanie was sure of it. She said, “Let’s go in, huh? It’ll be fine.” Adam was still immovable, so she added, “If it sucks, we’ll bail. I promise.”

Adam finally looked at her. “Promise?”

Melanie stuck out her pinky. “Promise.”

Adam wrapped his pinky around Melanie’s and together they walked through the door.

Every single head turned towards the pair. The group never had more than a handful of participants, so the arrival of Melanie and Adam brought the gathering to record-breaking capacity. The surprised stares turned into friendly smiles, with the exception of Fields. Fields looked more confused than anything else. Fields cleared his throat. “Melanie?” he called.

Melanie grabbed Adam’s hand almost painfully. Her face paled, but she tried to look confident as she led Adam over to the older man standing behind a table at the front of the room. “Hi Ben,” she called and even though it sounded friendly enough, Melanie was sure that both men knew she was full of shit.

“Uh, hi,” Ben sputtered. He dropped his voice and asked outright, “What are you doing here?”

“Well, this is my friend Adam and he wants to be a writer.” Adam extended his hand on cue, like he and Melanie had planned this all out, and though Fields hesitated just long enough to make things uncomfortable, he did shake Adam’s hand. “He’s my friend you almost met at the café, remember? Well, we thought we could both use some writing inspiration and the price of this workshop is right.” She laughed alone, and then added, “Besides, you told me you’d love to meet him. Remember?”

“Right,” Fields said. After a moment, he added, “Why don’t you and Adam have a seat and we’ll get started.”

Melanie nodded and turned Adam around. She spotted an empty table in the back, as far away from Fields as possible. Adam asked in a whisper, “That was your ex?”

Melanie nodded.

“You didn’t tell me it was his workshop,” Adam hissed. “Are you sure we should be here?”
“It’s fine, totally fine.”

“Well, he didn’t seem very friendly.”

“Yeah, well, it’s complicated,” Melanie said as she threw herself down into one of the two chairs arranged behind the low table. “But he didn’t smash a wine bottle over my head or burn my apartment down, so there’s that.”

Adam turned to Melanie with a strange look on his face. He obviously wanted to say something, but Fields spoke first. “Alright,” Fields said, getting the attention of the room. “Let’s get started, shall we?  I see a few new faces tonight, so welcome, welcome.” He looked pointedly at Melanie and Adam. “Tonight, we will begin with an impromptu poetry prompt. I’m asking you to write at least fifteen lines of verse about whatever it is you’re feeling right now, right in this moment, in this very room.” He offered a smile to everyone, most of whom returned the smile genuinely, even eagerly. Part of what had been so attractive about Fields for Melanie, and other young coeds even though Melanie had never asked for confirmation on that point as she wasn’t a true masochist, was his ability to captivate an audience. Fields could command a room like no one Melanie had ever known, and he looked comfortable in any conversation. He was a quiet, powerful leader. Melanie released a shaky breath and tried to regain focus. Fields asked if there were any questions. There were none, so pens and pencils began to scratch against paper and both Melanie and Adam lost themselves amongst the soft silence.

Thirty minutes later, Fields extended an open invitation for the attendees to share their poems. It was all crickets and tumbleweeds; no one was feeling brave or feeling enough like a genius to raise his or her hand and stand. Melanie kept her eyes locked on the table in front of her lest Fields mistake eye contact for volunteering and exact revenge for Adam’s presence.

Adam stood and raised his hand.

Melanie gasped. Fields looked shocked. He took a moment to regain his composure and said as smoothly as he could, “Ah, yes, the newcomer; Adam, right?”

Adam nodded.

“The floor is yours,” Fields said, and then seated himself.

Adam cleared his throat, and read his poem aloud:

Love spread out in crimson rivers
I didn’t know how to say it

Exposed spaces split open and made vulnerable
I didn’t know how to close them

Splatters and tattered skin

I never knew how to begin

Expanding, filling and then deflating

I never knew how quickly it would end

Beating, beating, beating

Inside and out until it stops

Bleeding, breathing, leaving

It was over

I didn’t know how to stop it

I didn’t know how to save you

I didn’t know

I didn’t know

Adam sat when he finished, and there was a short stutter of applause. Eyes met and looked away, throats were cleared, but no one spoke. No one knew how to react. For her part, Melanie appreciated the bravery and she took Adam’s hand in hers beneath the table and gave it a gentle squeeze. Adam returned the soft pressure but did not release Melanie’s hand. They held hands, hidden beneath the table, for the rest of the workshop.

Another thirty minutes later, after discussion filled with constructive criticism, Fields said, “So we’ll meet two Tuesdays from now in this same place at the same time; any objections?”  Fields’ plan of action was met with consent so with nothing else to discuss, he began to pile and consequently file his papers away in a shiny briefcase.

Melanie leaned over and in a husky whisper, she asked, “Do you feel like going home?” Adam just shook his head. Melanie took a chance and suggested, “Well, there’s a cozy kind of dive bar, believe it or not, less than a mile from here. Hell, we could leave the car and walk.”

Melanie’s suggestion was met with a silence that was devastating. She had been sure, so sure, Adam was waiting for her to take the lead again, to make a decision. He was still holding her hand and he hadn’t started packing up. Melanie had assumed those were universal signs of wanting more. Crestfallen, she moved to slip her hand from Adam’s and begin packing up, but Adam strengthened his grip. She turned towards him and found Adam wearing a strange expression, some sad mixture of longing and resignation. Whatever it was, he did not seem excited, but he said, “That sounds great.”

Melanie nodded, and Adam released her hand. They both began gathering their bags and books and pens and in a matter of quiet moments, the pair had moved from the smaller conference room on the second floor of the local library to the sidewalks and pavement below. The silence was pregnant with tension. Melanie eased into conversation for some relief.

“You know,” she began, falling into step beside him, “it’s been a really intense day.”

He nodded.

Melanie sucked her teeth, an honestly unattractive quality but a habit she couldn’t seem to break ever since she was freed from her braces a little over a year ago. She watched Adam walk beside her. His eyes were dark, but they were thinner and colder than they had been before, stonier than before. The eyes made his handsome face sad so that whatever joy he could express had to come from his precious, perfect mouth. Without thinking, engaging in another peculiar habit, Melanie ran the pointer finger of her right hand along the silver hoop pierced through her right nostril. She did so whenever she was trying to figure out how best to proceed in social situations. This social situation was proving difficult because Adam was impossible to read, and that simultaneously enthralled and exhausted her, which was not altogether an unpleasant mixture of emotions. “That poem was good, real good. But it seemed sad, too.”

Adam stayed quiet.

“Unless you don’t want to talk about it, which is totally cool, totally fine.” Melanie said, hoping her tone was comforting.

Adam said, “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Oh,” Melanie offered lamely.

“What did you write about?” Adam asked.

Melanie hadn’t been ready for the question, and she nearly tripped. Adam caught her and helped her stand straight. They were inches away from each other, and Melanie was thinking of the best way to continue. “I didn’t write anything good. I mean, I didn’t write anything of substance. It rhymed and it was corny,” she admitted.

“There’s nothing wrong with just being happy and corny,” Adam said.

“I’m happy now,” Melanie grinned and fell against him as they walked the last couple of yards to the bar, crossing a busy intersection. The bar was mostly wooden, lamely and predictably modeled after a pirate ship, which Melanie attributed to its less than impressive proximity to the Jersey Shore (another ten miles or so to the east). The pool tables, dim lighting and abundance of locals attributed to the atmosphere. Melanie led the way towards a high-top table in the back, located down a ramp and next to a pair of what was sure to be wildly popular Skee-Ball machines. On the other side of the table was a flat-screened television airing sports highlights, and then more high-top tables, each surrounded by four worn and decidedly less than comfortable stools that were poorly made and rocked side to side on even the most level of floors. Melanie claimed a stool by draping her light jacket over the seat, and then ventured to the bar to purchase a pitcher of light beer.

Not too long ago, Melanie had ventured to this bar with Fields. She remembered walking up to the main bar, maneuvering around three billiard tables and another row of high-top tables, which she did expertly, placing a gentle, lingering hand on the backs of the good-looking gentlemen. Melanie was polite and always said “excuse me” while flashing a dazzling smile and she was usually rewarded with more than a few free drinks before last call, even with Fields sitting and waiting. She’d look back to him and smile, and she suddenly felt gross. She paid for the pitcher without her normal charm and ease, and hurried back to the table, but Adam wasn’t there. Melanie poured herself a glass and waited for Adam to return. When he did, he held two shots of jaeger in his hands. “Shots?” she asked. “Seriously?”

“I’m going to need one to be charming, and you’ll need one to think I’m charming too.” Melanie thought he looked nauseous as he spoke. “Listen, I’m what they call ‘socially awkward,’ even though I wasn’t always that way,” Adam said. He raised a glass and patiently waited for Melanie to do the same. Melanie raised her glass, gently knocked it against its twin in Adam’s hand, and then drained it. “You were right when you said the poem was intense. The poem was incredibly personal and I just think-” Adam sat beside her and he had been speaking to her without looking at her. When his speech abruptly broke off, Melanie assumed he was lost in thought. She touched his forearm gently, and then Adam turned to her. “Sorry.”

Melanie shook her head. “I’m glad you shared your poem,” Melanie said. “I firmly believe we always say exactly what we mean.  Anyone who says differently is only using doubletalk.”

Adam asked, “So you don’t believe in taking anything back?”

Melanie said, “Nope, never.”

Adam ran his thumb along the edge of his cheap, plastic cup that Melanie had filled with beer and handed to him. “That’s interesting. You’re the first woman I’ve met to deal in absolutes.”

Melanie shrugged. “Well, I’ve been told it is an extremely negative thing, so you’re … uh, interest is appreciated; thanks.” She took a deep breath. “Does Melissa not deal in absolutes?” She paused. “Is that why things are so fucked up at home with your sister?” Adam drank his beer, and Melanie knew better than to try another question. “We don’t have to talk about it.” She again gripped his forearm leaning on the table. “But I hope you know that you can talk to me.”

Adam drained his beer and set about pouring another cup, so Melanie had to release his arm. He hesitated before bringing the cup to his lips, and he must have thought better of it, because he placed it back on the table. “I’m afraid to tell you some things.”

“Why?”

“Because I really like being around you. I like the way you look at me. I don’t want that to change.”

“And you think the truth about you and your sister will make me change the way I look at you?” Melanie asked, confused.

“Well, there’s more to it than that,” Adam said. He studied Melanie for a moment. “But let’s not do this now, not here. Let’s have a good time, okay? Let’s play pool.” Adam abruptly got to his feet and turned to Melanie with expectant, pleading eyes. Melanie thought about protesting further, about forcing Adam to have this incredibly difficult conversation with her while sitting on rickety stools under the low lights of a dive bar. It seemed like a lot to ask, so Melanie shut up and followed Adam to the pool tables.

Later, when the date ended, Melanie and Adam’s drunken giggling shattered the silence of the deserted library parking lot. It was just beginning to subside as Melanie stood beside the driver’s door. She was digging in her purse for her keys when hot breath caressed the back of her neck. She became very still, even stopped breathing. “I’m not supposed to feel this way,” Adam breathed. Melanie turned to face Adam, but before she could offer any response, Adam planted his mouth firmly against hers. His hands gripped her waist, kept her close. “I’m sorry.”

Melanie gently placed her palms on Adam’s chest, her purse sliding from her wrist to dangle from her elbow. She kept her mouth close to his, speaking against it. “I don’t know why you’re sorry. You don’t have to be.”

Adam kissed Melanie again, pulling her hips hard against his. He parted her lips with his tongue and sucked on her bottom lip. “I don’t want to be alone,” he gasped, snatching breaths between every kiss. “I don’t want to be crazy.”

Melanie dropped her purse and slid her arms around Adam’s neck. “You’re not alone,” she said and slid her legs between Adam’s legs and held him tight, pulled him close. They kissed and grabbed and laughed, and Melanie completely forgot the other thing Adam said. It only occurred to her later, after she dropped him off. Adam had said, “I don’t want to be crazy.” Melanie didn’t know what Adam meant by that, but it seemed like an odd thing to say.

Please comment with your thoughts and constructive criticism!

feedback

On life-changing events.

I know it’s been a while since the last time I wrote, which is a phrase I use much too often to begin these posts. I promised myself I would make writing a priority and I haven’t. To paraphrase William Wordsworth, the world is too much with me. I let work and friends and television and social media and solitaire and invented melodramas take up much too much of my time, but that is all changing, slowly but surely. After all, they say you need to acknowledge and admit to having a problem before you can even begin to solve it.

It is a REAL tragedy writing hasn’t moved more into the forefront of my thoughts and ambitions and desires because that conference/workshop was truly life changing. It was a whirlwind of emotions, but I left feeling validated and prepared and motivated and determined. I mustn’t lose sight of that, or it will all be for nothing.

So today, I kicked my own ass running along the Barnegat Bay (good for body and soul) and am sitting down to properly update you all on that amazing, life-changing, soul-affirming trip to St. Augustine. The trip to Florida was relatively unremarkable; I left my parents house at about midnight (after only shutting my eyes for three hours before the 15-hour drive; I was too anxious, too excited, too eager) and essentially took I-95 all the way down. I passed A LOT of accidents, which I worried might be a bad omen, but I also drove by the Capitol Building, the Washington Monument, and the Pentagon, which I don’t think I’ve ever done despite my many years traveling up and down the Eastern seaboard. Once I arrived in St. Augustine and made it to the hotel, all of my fears were assuaged. I made it, and I had never felt so blessed in my life. It was stunning – absolutely breathtaking – gorgeous! There were so many boats out on the water – the weather was pretty much perfect the entire time I was in St. Augustine – and I could see the boats in the bay from the balcony outside my hotel room. It was impossible (well, almost) to tell the residents from the tourists because everyone was walking along the water in the sunshine. Handsome men were running shirtless, couples were taking leisurely strolls with cool beverages in hand. Such clichéd phrases don’t even do it justice, but they’re all I seem able to muster. I was – and still am – SO grateful, SO thrilled for the opportunity. It was AMAZING and I was continuously in AWE.

How did I ever come back to Jersey?

People in St. Augustine seemed – to me, anyway – to have MONEY – like Gatsby money, and I didn’t bring a laptop to a flipping writers’ workshop/conference (because I didn’t have one; couldn’t afford one). I momentarily felt like an utter moron, but I was okay. And the first thing I purchased with my tax return money was a laptop so I feel like EVEN MORE of a writer now.

Anyway, the first night in St. Augustine was marked by an informal, get-to-know-everyone-dinner. It was … interesting, tp say the VERY least. I went down to the hotel lobby around 7pm and sat outside and waited. Naturally, the others had gathered inside so when I awkwardly meandered in after creeping about the greenery, I met everyone.

Greg is a retired firefighter from the Midwest. Joanna published two novels twenty years ago, and has a house in Palm Beach and a house in the Hamptons. Paula was in medical communications but now she lives in Houston and I think she’s writing full time. Add me to the crew and we were the writers all staying at the hotel.

I instinctively liked Michael Neff, the editor. I hoped I made a good impression and toyed the line between desperate and casual, if such a line even exists. During dinner, I sat between Joanna and Noreene, who just flew in from the Grand Cayman Islands; completely chic and fabulous. I sat across from Doug from Cincinnati; he was hard to read at first, but shortly became one of my favorite people from the whole experience (he used to be a stand-up comedian and the last few days in St. Augustine, he made me laugh so hard, I cried and on top of that, he really is a phenomenal writer, so whatever. Maybe I’m mostly jealous; favorite might be too positive a word. But I’m just kidding. Maybe). Greg was across from me as was Literary Agent Paula (who I’m only referring to as such to differentiate her from Paula from Houston; don’t worry, I didn’t call her that or anything).

I LOVED Literary Agent Paula and on the first night, she gave me GREAT advice. I’ve subscribed to Publisher’s Marketplace, have decided to really focus on finding an agent, am endeavoring to attend more “pitch” conferences, and have decided to break away from Martin Sisters Publishing (the separation ended up being mutual … more on that later). But from listening to everyone talk about the conferences they’d been to and the important people they knew, I felt overwhelmed and realized I was greener than I thought. I was the youngest person there by decades. I knew I had the talent and the passion, but quickly began to understand that I needed the wisdom.

Cris is an author from California and Lunka is an aspiring writer with a full-time job (so we had a somewhat instant connection) from Denver; so cool.

So the next day (February 25th) marked the first REAL day of the conference/workshop. I was SCARED; I worked on my pitch for the novel I was currently working on (the title was stupid, so I’ll just call it The Duke Story [even though that’s also stupid]) the night before but still felt mostly nauseous. We met at a beautiful house right on the beach, and it was like something out of a movie or, even better, out of a dream. We sat in a circle and everyone read their pitches. It was so cool and interesting to see how everyone’s pitch matched their personality. I was really impressed with a couple of the stories, and everyone had something awesome to share … except me. At least that’s what it felt like, because my mood went from nauseated to dead when both Literary Agent Paula and Michael told me The Duke Story wasn’t marketable and encouraged me to work on “Don’t Drink the Water” (but that title is different now, too).

I felt deflated and was too wrapped up in my own shit to enjoy lunch at The Reef, but I did get to know Cris. When we returned to the house to wrap up the day’s session, Literary Agent Paula advised me to ask Hallie Ephron (ARE YOU KIDDING ME?) about the possibility of working on Her Beautiful Monster; Michael loved the title and wanted me to re-work it, but Literary Agent Paula was nervous because it had been published, has an ISBN number, and can easily be looked up … even though the publisher is so small it’s obscure. I felt lost and was happy to return to the hotel. Joanna drove Greg, Paula and me back to the hotel, but we stopped at Publix and the liquor store first. Paula and I needed some grocery items and we all needed booze after the first day. I happily joined them for the free happy hour at the hotel, and got to know Paula better. We sat on the porch swing outside of her room and talked a little bit about everything in our lives. Then I got to work on our assigned homework (identify five things that make our protagonist sympathetic, interesting, unique, etc. by showing, not telling). I used Charlotte from “Don’t Drink the Water” and did okay.

The second day (February 26th) was MUCH better for my ego, my soul, my passion. When I pitched “Don’t Drink the Water,” both Michael and Literary Agent Paula liked it. Then I went on to meet Robert Olen Butler and HE CHANGED MY LIFE. Throughout the course of our conversation, he validated my dream. He understood The Duke Story and my intention; he took the words right out of my mouth, the words I wished I had when I first pitched the story in front of everyone, and he told me he believed I could do it. I cried and hugged him. He is an amazing man and I will forever be indebted to him, no matter what comes of my so-called writing career.

After the conversation, I reworked my pitch and befriended Lunka. We had a spiritual connection as we were both really moved by our conversations with Robert and we exchanged numbers. I have a new writer friend 🙂 After the day’s schedule, Greg and I got dinner in downtown St. Augustine, and I drank and bonded with Joanna at the hotel’s happy hour. While we were there, we met HALLIE EPHRON. I tried to play it cool, but I was sweaty and I’m almost certain I mumbled and drooled instead of actually forming words. She couldn’t have been nicer. Michael brought her there to check her in and he stopped to say hello and encouraged me to do his online course after the workshop/conference. Spoiler alert: I definitely am.

The third day (February 27th) was INTENSE. The morning was actually low-key; we re-worked our pitches and shared our character traits of our protagonists. We all broke for lunch after, and I ate Chinese with Joanna, Paula and Greg. We shared a bottle of wine to calm ourselves because the second half of the day, we pitched our stories to Executive Editor Lyssa Keusch of HarperCollins Publishers (WHAT?! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!), Brendan Deneen of Macmillan Entertainment (IS THIS REAL LIFE?!), and Hallie Ephron, the New York Times Best Selling Author (SERIOUSLY?!?!). It was a whirlwind and while I didn’t feel 100% about the experience, it was SO informational and beneficial.

To commemorate our last full day together in St. Augustine, we had dinner together and it was AMAZING, GREAT, WONDERFUL! Joanna and I became as thick as thieves, Doug made me laugh, and Noreene was as sweet as she was fabulous. Joanna and Greg and I drank together back at the hotel and Joanna convinced Lyssa to join us. SO EPIC. SO AWESOME.

All that was scheduled for our very last day (February 28th) were individual consults with Michael Neff. After each consult, the writer left amidst heartfelt goodbyes. My consult was GREAT; Michael was so helpful and encouraging. I left the conference/workshop with a definite purpose and direction and really, what more can a writer ask for? I am in the middle of research, of signing up for the novel development online course, and am beginning writing very soon.

So when I returned to Jersey all fired up, I emailed Martin Sisters Publishing to inquire about my second novel, MOODY BLUE. I had signed a contract and sent it back, but that was back in the final month of 2016 and had heard nothing back. As it turns out, they had no intention of publishing my novel (said they “…couldn’t give it the attention it deserves”) and offered to send it to an even smaller online publisher.

I told them not to bother, but thanked them for everything. I emailed Literary Agent Paula, Michael, and have begun to query agents once again.

Here we go.

Below are links to Joanna’s website and Doug’s website.
JoannaElm.com
DougSpakWrites.com

And I’m sharing some pictures below.

Prompts start again next week … I promise!

On dead bodies in trunks.

Despite the incredibly morbid and possibly pessimistic title of this post, I’m doing okay. Personal gains and disappointments amidst family drama and social networking have kept me from posting sooner, but here I am, better late than never, which is quickly becoming the best phrase to describe how I operate on this spinning globe.

I am happy to report that my Go Fund Me reached its goal and I am on my way to St. Augustine, Florida at the end of February! Not only is my trip paid for by generous and supportive friends and family and colleagues and former students, but I’ve been granted the time off from work. It feels like something might finally be coming together for me in a big way. I’ll be sure to keep you all updated, posting video blogs from my hotel room.

For now, enjoy the following writing prompt, which inspired the macabre title of the post.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #2.2017: A young woman discovers a dead body in the trunk of her car. The body in question appears to be the president of the United States.

Laura hated running late and despite her best efforts, it seemed as if she was always just five minutes behind schedule, always just a little delayed. It was so frustrating to be so close to punctuality and yet so far. How could she make up just 300 seconds? What part of her morning routine could be eliminated so the she didn’t find herself breathless, sprinting across a filled parking lot and praying no supervisor would see her in such a state?

This morning, Laura was running later than usual, much later. She woke up with a dull, consistent throb at the base of her skull. Her normally wide eyes squinted against the pain in a futile effort to combat it, and as she lay against her pillows with the impatient buzzing of her alarm clock doing nothing to help her aching head, she rubbed her temples slowly, willing it all to just go away. Laura must have stayed in that position for longer than she realized, longer than she wanted, because when she slowly and reluctantly rolled over to face the angry-looking, red numbers of the alarm clock, she had wasted nearly half-an-hour.

Panicked now, she threw the blanket and sheet far from her, cursing constantly. She stripped as quickly as she could and hurried into the shower. She was cranky, angry she couldn’t just stand beneath the nearly scalding water cascading from the showerhead to try and soothe her aching head. Laura almost felt hungover, but that was impossible; she hadn’t had any alcohol since last Friday, which was a good three days ago. As a matter of fact, the last liquid she remembered swallowing was from a sealed water bottle her supervisor had tossed to her as she was leaving for the day yesterday. Laura had considered it a peace offering from the strong, intimidating man with the dark features and serious face. She had been called into his office earlier that day to be reprimanded for simply asking too many questions; that’s how Laura interpreted it, anyway.

On more than one occasion, she had asked about the whereabouts of President Holster, had asked to see him. She worked in DC as some sort of distant assistant to the White House press secretary, but had been fortunate enough to come to know and admire President Holster on a personal level. One night, they had talked at length about everything and anything from immigration reform to their favorite teams in the NFL to their extended relatives. President Holster had made his beliefs and opinions clear, and Laura’s eyes had shone with admiration when he confidently stated he didn’t care that those opinions and beliefs were unpopular among his colleagues, his cabinet, and congress. He had been elected by the good people of a great nation, and everyone would simply have to get on board or get out. It was a daring ultimatum, but one that spoke of bravery and even though Laura had not agreed with all of President Holster’s ideas for the nation, she had faith in his hoped and dreams and aspirations. She truly believed he wanted to make the nation a better place, a much better place.

After the conversation, President Holster had altogether disappeared from the White House. When he finally resurfaced, it was a televised interview from an undisclosed location, during which he went against everything he had told Laura and the good people of the great nation. He spoke of new policies and executive orders and scheduling meetings that pleased the majority of the politicians working in DC, but everything he said directly contradicted everything he had said just a week before. Such a reversal was troubling, and Laura wanted to ask President Holster about it.

So she started to ask for a meeting. Laura was stonewalled; she was told time and time again that he was busy and unavailable even though there was nothing on the Presidential agenda. Confused, Laura changed tactics and just asked where the president currently was, scheming to engineer a casual, surprise encounter. But no one could answer the question to her satisfaction. Things were decidedly weird, and she continued to ask her questions and began to vocalize her concerns. President Holster continued to make televised appearances from more undisclosed locations, but something was wrong. Laura found it harder and harder to believe that she was the only one who noticed the oddities stacking up. She asked colleagues, brought it up at happy hour, but everyone just turned away, stone-faced and quiet.

Her supervisor caught wind of her inquiry and roared her down, screaming with an alarming amount of intensity and rage that her job was to support the president and not question or challenge him. He told her she needed to fall in line or seriously think about the future of her career in politics because if he chose to, he could ruin her. It was threatening and scary, and she had been ashamed of the way she had wilted and scurried back to her desk with her tail between her legs. When she collapsed into her desk chair, the leather cracked and worn, she noticed she had a message. The tiny red light on her answering machine was blinking. She hit play and to her astonishment, President Holster came on the line.

“I hear you’ve been trying to get in touch with me, Laura,” the president began in his slow, Southern drawl. “I’m sorry I haven’t been able to talk to you. I’ve been mighty busy running a country,” he said lamely with a forced laugh. “I just wanted to assuage your fears and concerns. I am fine and doing everything I possibly can to make this great nation of ours even greater. I appreciate the concern and support, and hope you have a wonderful day.” That was it; that was the entire message. It was bizarre and controlled and suddenly, Laura felt like crying.

She hadn’t been able to focus on much for the rest of the work day, was decidedly useless, and she felt woefully defeated. Her shoulders felt heavy as she shut down her computer, turned off her desk lamp, and slipped her messenger bag over her head so that the strap rested across her body. She was walking – though it felt more like limping – to the elevator when her supervisor had called to her. She turned back with wide, scared eyes.

He apologized for being so aggressive, tried to call it being passionate, and claimed he understood Laura to be passionate too. He told her that was a good thing, a great thing even, but that she needed to channel her passion into being supportive rather than divisive. Laura nodded like she understood, but she didn’t really, and just wanted him and the whole day to go away. He tossed her a water bottle and told her to drive safe, and then he turned away. Laura slinked to the elevator, drove home, had dinner and went to bed.

Now here she was, scrambling out of the shower to get dressed and down some breakfast in fifteen minutes. It seemed a Herculean task and she wasn’t sure she was up for it. Her head still throbbed and the memory of yesterday’s events made her feel nauseous and anxious and just plain awful. The nausea coupled with the lump in her throat from the mounting anxiety reduced breakfast to buttered toast and coffee, and she only felt worse when she finally climbed behind the wheel of her jeep; the digital clock in the dashboard read 9:15am. She was going to be over an hour late. Nearly screaming and feeling like crying, Laura pulled out of her driveway and rode through residential streets behind impossibly slow drivers that seemed to conspire to make her as late as possible before making it to the highway.

After the on ramp, Laura was checking her side view mirror, eager to slide into the fast lane and gun it for as far she could, speed limit be damned, but a truly atrocious odor had filled her car. It was sickeningly sweet but unlike anything Laura had ever smelled before, what she imagined a piece of rotting meat doused in cheap perfume must smell like. Her already tumultuous stomach took a dangerous turn and she just didn’t think she could handle puking on herself, so Laura allowed her car to drift into the soft dirt beyond the shoulder. She parked and exited the car, gratefully taking in lungful after lungful of air.

What was that godawful smell? And where was it coming from? Laura walked around the outside of the car, sniffing cautiously for traces of the rank and pungent odor. Her nostrils flared in disgust near her trunk and Laura stopped there. Had she accidentally left a bag of groceries back there or something? Did she forget to remove and clean the cooler she had used when visiting her friends at the beach a couple of weeks ago? Laura could swear the cooler was sitting clean and empty in her garage. She decided the only way to figure things out was to open the trunk, and so she did.

And she screamed, and screamed, and screamed.

Gracelessly shoved into the trunk of Laura’s car was the dead and decaying body of President Holster. Laura collapsed to her knees.

spookywhitehouse

 

On new optimism.

“The future’s just a fucking concept meant to keep us from being alive today.”
– “Six Feet Under”

“New Year’s is so weird, the way it makes you think about time. I think that’s why people put so much pressure on themselves to have fun.”
– “Modern Family”

Two posts in the same week from me? It’s been a while; my apologies. I know multiple new posts from me are unheard of (despite my many resolutions); something great must be happening.

And I can assure you that it is.

But let’s be real and start from the very beginning of this year.

Suffice it to say that on December 31, 2016, I let myself hit rock bottom (which is somewhat appropriate, bottoming out on the very last day of the year). I was the fattest I’d ever been and was utterly alone aside from the cat, which does little if anything to make the situation better. It was the first New Year’s Eve I remember ever being alone, and as a result, I went to bed well before midnight and completely missed the dawn of the new year. I mean, I was struggling to keep my eyes open at 9 pm.

Which is completely unlike me; hence, it was – and still is – time for a change. I made a list of everything I hope to accomplish in 2017 (lose 40 pounds, market my new book, learn how to paint, learn how to play piano, learn how to ride a motorcycle, update this blog every Wednesday [while getting back on schedule this upcoming Wednesday … some habits are REALLY hard to break], attend writing conferences to jump start my creative career, create a book trailer for my upcoming release) and so far, I have followed my schedule accordingly.

But to what end?

My newly optimistic (like the throwback to the title of the post? I’m clever in 2017!) foundation was rocked severely when a tragedy struck my workplace just as we all welcomed the new year; a sixteen-year-old revolutionary, a young woman who was as brave and confident and smart as anyone I have ever had the privilege of meeting, passed away suddenly, unexpectedly. The death of someone so young is tragic for so many reasons; it feels like the death of hope, and it’s a stark reminder that the future’s never promised or guaranteed. And this young lady in particular is a most grievous loss because she personified promise and potential. She was never hesitant to give her opinion, which was most definitely a good thing, because she was fucking smart. She had purple hair, she was enrolled in the AP Language course as a junior, she participated in Drama Club in such a delightful, enthralling way, and she just really lived – she gave life a run for its money in her brief time on this spinning globe in a way most of us never will.

Now, the old me (sorry for the seemingly cheesy and inauthentic avalanche of bullshit you may be anticipating now that I’ve used that phrase; but PLEASE stay with me because I’ve never been more REAL in my ENTIRE life) would have eaten my feelings and grotesquely used personal tragedy as an excuse to stuff my face and not move. I would have stayed as I am because it’s easy to simplistically label the world a cruel place and want nothing more to do with anything of it. It’s a defense mechanism to disengage and not try, and my juvenile and unhealthy tendency to revert to dramatics when shocked or rattled has always enabled me to return to this defensive mindset.

Sure, shitty things happen; that’s life. But that’s not all there is, so I embraced the future. I reminded myself that life isn’t as simple as good or bad. A life can’t truly be measured until it’s over, so I planned on continuing to try new things and make changes because my life isn’t over.

So I applied to the St. Augustine Mentor-Author Workshop. It’s pretty exclusive; you have to apply before you can register, and it’s a small-group atmosphere with the specific intention of helping accepted authors get published by a commercial publishing houses. The cost to attend and participate is nearly $3,000 (which I certainly don’t have) but I thought I’d apply anyway so I could say I tried and, obviously, I didn’t think I’d be accepted.

But then I was; I fucking was!

The ONLY problem is the cost, so I became really ballsy and started a GoFundMe campaign. Now, I hate asking ANYONE for ANYTHING (especially money; people get weird about money) but I had WONDERFUL SUPPORT from so many friends, and I currently have 3,649 people who have “Liked” my Author page on Facebook – if each individual gave just $1.00, I’d more than make my goal. And I need to say I tried; if I fail, fine – but I have to try. So I made the GoFundMe page on January 5th, around 5 pm. Making the campaign was surprisingly quick and easy. I also e-mailed Michael Neff from the St. Augustine Author-Mentor Workshop to ask about the last day to register so I could develop a calendar, a timeline (the actual event is at the very end of February). I’m still waiting for a response, but I am ENTHRALLED to announce that my campaign TOOK OFF! Before I went to bed that night – THE FIRST NIGHT – I was nearly one-third of the way to my goal! Friends, family, former students, people I’ve lost touch with have ALL donated in amounts from $5.00 to $300.00! I am COMPLETELY OVERWHELMED by the generosity. love and support from so many different people. The love is UNREAL. I feel like George Bailey from “It’s A Wonderful Life.”

I’m really starting to believe this could be the beginning of something NEW and AMAZING and BETTER. I NEVER thought the GoFundMe idea would work as well as it has so far. At the time of this post, I currently have $1,870.00 of $3,000.00. And it’s all because I took a risk and asked the universe. And I’m thinking it’s also because of Mollie Belasco, the young lady who passed, and her inspiring, wondrous, and all too brief life.

So here’s the link to donate: https://www.gofundme.com/expanding-my-writing-career

And here’s a writing prompt for you sit back and enjoy – the first of the new year!

 WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #1.2017: A company representative returns from a sales trip claiming to have met the devil.

 Frank Turner was already loosening his tie as he slowly trudged back to his desk after having been out of the office for five days on a business trip. He’d been out of the state as well, far out on the Western coast. He threw his briefcase thoughtlessly, almost recklessly, onto his desk, not giving a good shit about the papers or mug or the entire cornucopia of supplies that made up office living; no, office survival. Assorted supplies and a picture frame went tumbling to the carpeted floor, making enough of a commotion that most of the co-workers within ear shot turned and looked with shocked, anxious expressions.

“What’s the deal, Frank?” hissed Nicole through gritted teeth. She raised her eyebrows for emphasis, to impress upon Frank that a cool, calm and collected demeanor was highly valued in the work environment and currently, he was none of those things. She was going to continue scolding, but one look at Frank’s pale, contorted face was enough to shut her up.

“I’m sick,” Frank moaned. “I’m real sick. I think I might die.” His last words came out as a half-strangled sob. His emotions and all of the thoughts raging inside him overcame him, and Frank slumped into his chair and let his head fall to the desk cradled only by his thin, trembling arms. He was sobbing unabashedly, weeping like a woman.

Nicole was horrified.

“What do you mean, ‘dying’? Frank, what’s going on?”

He offered no reply, but cried and cried, big heaving sobs. The shocked, anxious faces of their coworkers were creeping closer now, crowding in around them like morbid looky loos at a car accident. Nicole felt the uncomfortable pressure of their presence and immediately resented it. She sprang into action and collected the garbage pail beside her desk before quickly moving to Frank’s side and dropping to one knee. She rubbed his lower back and said, “Frank, please, you’ve got to talk to me. Calm down and let me help you, if I can.”

“I’m beyond help. I’m a dead man,” Frank choked.

“What do you mean? What are you talking about?” Nicole was panicked by Frank’s desperation.

“I’m gonna be sick,” Frank bellowed. Abruptly, he fled from his chair and left it spinning as he hurried to the men’s room. Nicole rose to a standing position slowly, using most of her energy for thinking. With Frank’s physical presence removed, the uproar began to die down and the small space was soon filled with keyboard clicks, murmured conversations and ringing telephones. Nicole had been waiting for just such a return to normalcy and once it arrived, she discreetly strolled to the men’s room. She looked to her left and right to see if anyone was watching – no one was – and then ducked inside.

Frank’s ravaging sobs echoed loudly against the tiled walls and tiled floor. Nicole turned to lock the heavy pneumatic door to make sure no one intruded and then hesitantly called out, “Frank?”

There was a moment of stunned violence. Then Frank’s heavy, subdued voice said, “This is the men’s room, Nicole. You can’t be in here.”

Nicole smiled weakly but Frank didn’t see; he was locked in the farthest stall opposite the farthest urinal. She took two steps forward, emboldened by his rationality. “Frank, it’s okay. I’m just here to talk to you and check on you. What is going on, man? You’re acting…,” she paused, searching for the right word while trying to be delicate, but all she came up with was, “crazy. You’re acting crazy.”

“Maybe I am crazy,” Frank sighed. He offered no elaboration, and Nicole was growing impatient.

With a little bit of an edge, she said, “You have to let me know what’s going on, Frank. You can’t just barge into the office all hysterical and expect me not to want to know why, or expect to not try to help you.” Nicole took a breath and softened. “I’ve been sitting across from you for six years, Frank. You can talk to me.”

There was only silence and Nicole was afraid all was lost. She slapped her open palm on the wall of the stall nearest her and turned, ready to walk out and leave the little shit to figure out whatever was ailing him on his own. She stopped and turned back when she heard the click of shoes on tile. Rounding the corner of the line of stalls, Nicole saw Frank emerge from the last stall. He was sweaty and pale and entirely disheveled. He looked like he was in agony, in absolute misery, and Nicole’s heart hurt at the pitiful sight. His eyes were red-rimmed and his eyebrows were furrowed. The lines of his face were hard and sharp; whatever it was plaguing Frank Turner, he was in it. He looked to Nicole. “You’ll think I’m crazy.”

Nicole smiled in a small way, this time so Frank could see. She hoped it would diffuse some of the tension. “Try me,” she encouraged.

“I met the Devil.”

Nicole was shocked into laughter. Not wanting to be insensitive, she quickly recovered and covered her mouth. She leveled her gaze at Frank with a very serious expression. “You’re going to have to explain.”

Frank’s immediate response was to turn and retreat into the bathroom stall he had so recently exited. Nicole thought he was crazy, Nicole had laughed him, and so would everyone else. He had never felt more alone, and therefore more terrified, in his entire life. He collapsed onto the porcelain throne without an ounce of royalty about him, and then allowed his body to fall to the left, resting against the stall wall. He started crying again; what else was there to do?

Nicole knew she had fucked up, so she walked slowly but with purpose towards Frank’s stall. She paused just before the open door and only poked her head into the stall. “I’m sorry, Frank. Your response wasn’t anything I was expecting, that’s all. I didn’t know what else to do, so I laughed. I’m an asshole, I know.” Frank stared at her in complete agony and misery, and Nicole’s brain became fixated on the phrase “man on fire.” Frank looked like he was burning alive and in a grim way she would never admit aloud, Nicole thought that might be fitting given what he had just confessed to her. Frank only stared, he said nothing, so Nicole took a few more steps into the stall. She kneeled before Frank. “Please tell me what happened.”

Frank swallowed hard and then gasped for air. Was he burning or drowning? Did it matter? So long as there was pain, did the intensity of that pain validate or nullify its own existence? Frank didn’t want to think, so he decided to talk and to occupy himself with the explanation, the wondrous, fantastical explanation that was simultaneously horrifying and terrifying so that Nicole wouldn’t even believe him. But what else was there to do? Just cry? Frank closed his eyes, stayed slumped against the stall’s wall and said, “The first night there, after some bullshit ice-breaker workshop, they served a really nice dinner. I’m talking lobster and baked potatoes and hors d’oeuvres I can’t pronounce. I was looking to chow down, but I wasn’t really looking to make friends, so I claimed a table in a far corner and was perfectly content to be alone. It was an open bar, too. I was gonna stuff my face, drink until I was dizzy, and then stumble back to the room and call it a successful first night. I had a plan,” Frank insisted as his voice shook. He used his sleeve to wipe his eyes and nose. He sniffed loudly before continuing his story.

“But this guy, this fucking guy, comes and sits right next to me. I mean, goddam, he was practically on my lap. And he’s all smiley and greasy in a three-piece suit that was more than my monthly mortgage payment, and he was so good-looking. I know it’s weird that I noticed that, but think about how physically perfect this guy had to be for me to notice and to fucking be impressed.” He sobbed loudly. “I admit it, I was impressed. As creeped out as I was by his obvious lack of concern for personal space, I was so impressed. His teeth were white and straight, and his hair was elegantly and fashionably disheveled, like he used a fucking ruler to determine what strand fell where. Looking back, I realize how precise and calculated it all was, how awfully manipulative, but in the moment, it was all effortless and … and,” he struggled momentarily for just the right word but finally decided on “cool. He was just cool.”

Suddenly, Frank rocketed forward and let his forearms rest on his thighs. His posture was still all tight and jerky, and his expression was grotesque in its suffering. “I wanted to be him, you know? When he started talking, I wanted to just nod politely and blow him off, not encourage him in anyway. But within five minutes, I was fucking captivated, man. I was laughing and he was laughing, and then he was slapping me on the back and we just kept drinking and laughing and drinking and laughing.” He covered his face with his hands and cried. Nicole was wide-eyed and confused. Was Frank about to come out to her? He had a wife and kids, and Nicole wasn’t sure if she was worthy or responsible enough for the burden of such a weighty secret. She was about to just walk out and let fate take its course, whatever course that may be, but Frank inhaled sharply and kept talking.

“So the place is emptying out, like really clearing out, but him and I are still there, still yucking it up. I think I was even wiping my goddam eyes from crying from laughing so hard when he turns to me, serious as a heart attack, and asks, ‘What is it that you want from life, Frank?’

“I laughed and told him I was too drunk for introspection, but he persisted, he was insistent. So I told him I’d love to make a million bucks. I’d pay off the house and credit card bills, set Dennis and Jenny up for college at least a little bit, and take Michele somewhere really nice that she’d never been before, like Paris or Rome or something. He asked to see pictures of my family and like a goddam fool I handed them over without a second thought. He looked at them, and this was the first time I noticed something was off because he didn’t just look at them, but he really fucking studied them. He brought the pictures up real close to his face and tried to bore into their souls. I kind of snatched the picture back and was all determined to bid adieu when he tells me he can make it happen. He told me he could give me a million dollars, no questions asked.”

Nicole squinted her eyes skeptically. “You believed him?” She was starting to believe that Frank was in some real financial trouble now, maybe he got robbed blind in some kind of scheme, and she was in no position to help. She’d had Ramen noodles for dinner the past month.

“I was drunk!” Frank roared defensively. “I didn’t know what to think, so I entertained the idea and I kept talking. He said there was only one catch, that I only had to do one thing once I had the money.”

“What was that?” Nicole asked.

Frank swallowed hard again and finally met Nicole’s gaze. He was white as a ghost with a green tinge around his edges, like he could spew vomit any moment. “I’d have to kill someone I loved,” Frank said. His voice was cold and without tone or rhythm; it was mechanic and robotic, like he was saying something he’d rehearsed. “And if I didn’t, he would. He said he would kill someone I loved. Then he started laughing like a fucking lunatic and promised I could keep the money either way. All I had to do was shake his hand.” Frank broke down again and Nicole moved to rub his back. She tried to hush him, tried to soothe him, but it seemed futile. His wracking sobs caused his body to heave and Nicole thought he might just pass out from the effort.

“Frank, did you shake his hand?” Nicole asked tentatively, thinking some confession might help Frank, might be cathartic in some way.

“Yes!” Frank exploded. “Isn’t it fucking obvious that I did?” He screamed in desperation, in fear, just a guttural, animal noise. “When I looked into his eyes to see if he was for real, something happened to me, Nicole. So I tried to look somewhere else, and I did, but only for a second. There was this odd birthmark on his wrist that caught my attention. It was all red and lumpy but kind of small. It was circular but had lines inside it. It might have made sense and been decipherable but I felt like I had to look in his eyes. I looked back up and … I can’t explain it and you wouldn’t believe me even if I could explain it, but something happened to me. It was my body that shook his hand, but it wasn’t me. Does that make sense? How could I agree to something like that? It wasn’t me.” Frank was pleading his case, desperate for Nicole to believe him. He needed some kind of validation.

But Nicole was becomingly increasingly suspicious and terrified. Had Frank killed someone? Was that where the extreme emotional display was coming from, some sort of unimaginable guilt? The only thing keeping her in the stall was the very plausible possibility that Frank was confused or wrong. What in the hell kind of a story was he telling, anyway? She leaned away from him, but she asked, “So what happened next, Frank?”

He had collapsed his chest onto his thighs. “I shook his hand and he laughed but it was scary. I knew I had to leave so I high-tailed it back to my room and just collapsed into bed. I slept in my suit and everything.” He looked up at Nicole. “The next morning, when I was sober, I showered and dressed and drank about a gallon of strong coffee, and I found the guy responsible for registration. He had a whole list of names of everyone who was there from every firm. I told him the guy propositioned me to kill someone for him, that the guy was dangerous. He asked me the guy’s name, and I told him, and he checked his list. He checked his list over and over with me standing right there and there was no Lou Sever on the list. He even let me check. When I couldn’t find anything, he said it was probably someone just fucking around and went about his business like nothing was wrong.”

“Did you call the cops or anything?” Nicole asked, striving to be rational and logical.

“I couldn’t, Nicole; I wasn’t even sure if the guy existed,” Frank said with disgust. He was unsure at the moment if he was disgusted with himself or Nicole. He supposed it could have been both. “So I went to the workshops that day, every single one even if I wasn’t technically signed up, and I looked for this guy. I searched high and low, talked to people and asked questions. I hung around the hotel bar like some pathetic loser, just waiting and watching for him to reappear. But he never did, Nicole. I never saw him again.”

“Isn’t that a good thing?” she asked slowly, cautiously.

Frank laughed but without humor. “You would think so, especially when there was over a million dollars in my checking account. There were no recent transactions listed in my account summary and when I went to the bank, they all acted like I was insane, like the money had always been there. Michele called me and she was ecstatic. I tried to explain to her what kind of money this was, dangerous money with no sort of trail, but she was already on the way to spending it. And the worst part, the absolute worst part, is that she kept thanking me, like I had worked hard, or done something noble and righteous for this sudden windfall, but I didn’t, Nicole. I didn’t do anything good for that money.” His head fell into his hands.

“You didn’t do anything at all, Frank,” Nicole said. “You just shook some sick fuck’s hand while you were drunk. You tried to give the money back, or at least investigated, but everything was working in your favor.” Nicole grinned. “Maybe it’s a reward.”

“Not from a guy like that,” Frank protested with a deep pout pulling his lips down. “There’s no reward. For a few days, I thought like you, like maybe it was all gonna come up roses or something, I don’t know. I was almost happy flying home, and I let myself think about the future and how easy life would be. It was gonna be so nice,” Frank sobbed. He wiped at his eyes furiously. “But when I got home, Nicole, nothing was easy or nice. It was all completely fucked.”

“What’s wrong, Frank?”

“Michele took Dennis to the hospital because he was real sick. It was sudden and devastating and they’re saying he won’t make it. And he has a new fucking birthmark on his wrist,” Frank said, looking to Nicole with dead, empty eyes. “He has it, Jenny has it, Michele has it, I have it. We’re all going to die.”

Nicole jumped to her feet. She started to slowly back out of the stall. “Frank, I-“

Frank slowly stood. “I only came to work today to do the one thing to stop all of this. I have to kill someone I love.”

“Frank, be serious,” Nicole pleaded. Her voice quivered in its weakness and she kept backing up until her back slammed against the cool, tiled wall of the men’s room. “You just … we need-“

“I love you, Nicole,” Frank said and it was at that moment Nicole saw the blade in his hand as it just so happened to wink in the harsh fluorescent lights.

devil

On collisions.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #31: Ben Jackson, husband and father of three, is killed on a car accident. Write about this event and how it affects the lives of the following characters:

  • Ben’s wife
  • Ben’s business partner
  • a police officer who was at the scene of the accident
  • Ben’s youngest child

 

By all accounts, Ben Jackson was a good man. He loved his family very much, and he showed up to work with a smile everyday. Ben never complained; he had nothing to complain about, really, and he knew it was all wasted breath. Ben Jackson had never intended to waste any breath as he fully understood how precious such breaths were. So when Ben breathed his last, when his breaths were brutally cut short, it was certainly not of his own volition.

He never even saw the other car coming.

But why would he? No one ever really looks for the car speeding through a red light; the car just comes, as careless and reckless as any harbinger of death would be. That might be melodramatic – it was no sullen, hooded figure gliding just above the pavement  with a sickle clutched in a bony hand. It had been a kid; a simple, pimply kid who was too busy sending text messages in the group chat and making plans for a Friday night he was certain would come to look up. So confident in his immortality as only the young are, he assumed the car in front of him had disappeared from his stolen glances at the road because the traffic light had changed color from red to green. In reality, the car had made a legal right on red, but the teen driver wasn’t really paying attention. He accelerated forward the way young, inexperienced drivers are apt to do – in sudden, scary bursts – and in just a moment more, he slammed into the side of Ben Jackson’s car, right into the driver’s door.

Ben’s affordable Kia Rio folded like a cheap suit and a jagged piece of metal from the poorly constructed door (later, no one would mention the recall at the service because to do so would be impertinent) severed his femoral artery. He bled out in just four minutes, just before the paramedics arrived.

Officer Bobby Gillis, responding to the scene, was unnerved by the lack of carnage for a crash with a fatality. The teen’s car had managed to travel unscathed to the far side of the relatively busy intersection before he collided with the deceased, a Mr. Ben Jackson. Officer Bobby Gillis was slightly bent at the waist, looking in through an open window at Ben Jackson’s face. The face was peaceful, like the man could be sleeping instead of being dead. Office Bobby Gillis released a deep breath and straightened up, looking across the way for his partner. Once he showed up, the pair would travel to the deceased’s home and notify the next of kin. Officer Bobby Gillis swallowed hard and ran a trembling hand across the back of his neck a few times. He needed to get his mind right, to focus on the task at hand, which in essence was to break someone’s heart, some undeserving stranger who as of yet had no idea a loved one was gone, dead and gone. His face felt tingly and he knew he must be pale, and he shut his eyes tight against the vision of the peaceful dead man that would haunt him at night for months to come.

Imagine if Officer Bobby Gillis knew what a great guy Ben Jackson was. How harder would the tragedy have landed on the officer if he knew Ben Jackson was on the road during the workday to pick up lunch for his colleagues, his treat? No good deed goes unpunished, and for a generous lunch, Ben Jackson had paid with his life. What a sick joke.

But neither Officer Bobby Gillis nor his partner knew the intimate details of Ben Jackson’s life and as such, both were better composed as they climbed wooden, creaking steps to a front door of a home that looked like every other home in the neighborhood. There was nothing remarkable about it, nothing to alert anyone to the fact that someone inside had been marked for death. Officer Bobby Gillis continued to grapple with his existential crisis until he noticed the toys in the yard and the small bikes in the driveway. His stomach flipped over and for a moment, just a moment, he debated running back to the cruiser and locking the doors. He’d rather avoid the whole, ugly mess.

But his partner had already knocked.

When the door opened, a gorgeous blonde with legs for miles answered the door. She was smiling, but it didn’t quite meet her big, baby doll eyes. Officer Bobby Gillis chalked it up to being uncomfortable and confused, which was how most pedestrians felt when the law came knocking on their door. Officer Bobby Gillis’ partner asked if the children were home.

“Just my youngest,” said the beautiful woman. “Jimmy and Josie are at school.” Her face paled considerably but somehow remained radiant. Officer Bobby Gillis credited contoured makeup. “Is everything okay? Did something happen to my children?”

The partner answered that no, nothing happened to the children and that they were safe. Then he asked if they could come in. Though the woman gave no response, she opened the front door wider and stepped back, which was as good an invitation as any. The officers crossed the threshold, softly shutting the door behind them, and followed the beautiful woman into the kitchen. She shakily sat in a chair, watching with impossibly wide eyes as the officers seated themselves opposite her.

Officer Bobby Gillis let his partner do all the talking.

And as the partner explained the tragedy, the beautiful woman didn’t make a sound. She blinked those big, baby doll eyes a lot, blinked them until a few tears rolled down her cheeks. Officer Bobby Gillis credited shock for the muted reaction, and considered that quite possibly, this woman was doing her best to keep it together for the little one that was somewhere inside the home. Officer Bobby Gillis and his partner offered expected but genuine condolences and then excused themselves. Once outside, Officer Bobby Gillis said, “Well, that sucked.” His partner agreed and Officer Bobby Gillis said, “That’s the absolute worst part of this job, man.”

Inside, the beautiful woman was still sitting at the table. Her name was Lisa and she had been married to Ben Jackson for ten years. They had known each other in high school, but waited a few years after they graduated college to get serious. It was a safe bet for Lisa, a sure thing; he was making money as a financial adviser and Lisa had never been any good at anything, not skilled enough to have a career. She also was never any good with money, so she had been content to be taken care of (financially, at the very least). That is, she had been content.

Phil Evans, Ben’s business partner, came walking out of the bedroom from down the hallway, tucking his expensive button-down shirt into his equally expensive pants. “Who was that?” he asked.

“The police,” Lisa said. Her voice was flat. “Ben’s dead. There was a car accident.” She blinked. “He didn’t make it. He’s dead.” She blinked again. In a moment more, those big, baby doll eyes landed on Phil.

Phil collapsed into the chair recently vacated by Officer Bobby Gillis. His eyebrows were scrunched up, like he was confused and trying to solve some exceedingly frustrating problem. “What?” he asked, even though he had heard Lisa perfectly. He didn’t know what else to say – what was there to say? – and he was buying time, time to think and figure it out.

“Ben’s dead,” Lisa repeated. Her voice cracked and tears came easier now. “Ben’s dead.”

Phil covered his face with his hands. “Shit,” he breathed. His breath was tremulous, speeding up and slowing down in a jerky kind of pattern that typically signaled tears. He didn’t want to cry in front of Lisa, didn’t feel he had the right to mourn Ben’s passing in Ben’s house. Phil’s recent sense of decency was odd and ill-timed, as he had just slept with Ben’s wife and had been doing so for months. “Lisa, I-”

Down the hall, Jeremy was softly crying. He was just waking up from his afternoon nap and rather than sit across from Phil and face the physical manifestation of everything that was wrong with her, Lisa hurried down the hall.

In her absence, Phil found himself able to cry.

death_in_the_hood

On making things better … or worse.

About three weeks ago, I went on a date with some guy I met online. We met on the boardwalk, which I liked. He looked only a little bit like his picture, but I’m sure the same could be said for me – I’ve definitely gained weight since the pictures I posted were taken. None of the mattered, really, because he was INCREDIBLY smart – knew more than a little bit about nearly everything. The conversation was great – enthralling, interesting. We talked for four hours, until the restaurants closed. At one point, he was explaining the scientific reasoning behind why men tend to react with violence while women are more emotional and tend to react with malicious manipulation. He posed a hypothetical question, asking me what I would do if a woman I hated, like really hated, keyed my car. I told him I’d go to the police, and he had to alter the scenario and tell me that wasn’t an option. I think he wanted to prove that eventually I would become violent (although in retrospect, I don’t see how that helps his argument at all, so maybe I misunderstood because he was SO much smarter than me). That inspired the short story below.

But some more about the date: he said “you see” a lot and removed his glasses to pinch and massage the bridge of his nose and pushed air through his nose awkwardly, almost like snorting but not exactly. In hindsight, it seems pretentious and textbook intellectual, but in the moment, it wasn’t so bad. There were even a few moments where I nearly convinced myself he was handsome, sitting on a bench overlooking the beach, calmly explaining the cosmos to the young woman beside him as a chilly wind whipped the finer strands of hair about his face.

But I think it was just the moonlight and me endeavoring to force a fairy tale where there wasn’t one. I haven’t heard from him.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #30: “Let’s just agree that we both hate her, okay?”

“Let’s just agree that we both hate her, okay?” Ashley pleaded. She was sitting in her Chrysler Sebring convertible with her best friend. The engine was running to keep the heat going; it was unseasonably cold, and tiny tremors assaulted Ashley’s body. The cloth top did little to keep the icy wind from seeping in and making the interior cold and uncomfortable. She watched her breath escape her lips in tiny, white puffs, disappearing as soon as they appeared. Despite the heat blasting from the vents, Ashley was shivering. For a moment, but only a moment, Ashley wondered how her best friend was faring, if she was as cold. But Ashley’s concern was fleeting. She wasn’t looking at Danielle, but stayed focus on the lone break in the curbing that served as both the entrance and exit of the parking lot. Neon lights and halogen bulbs lit up the night sky around them, and Ashley used the glare of the harsh and unflattering lights to peer into windshields and survey the colors of incoming cars. Oncoming headlights would blind her momentarily, but she would shut her eyes tight against them for a just a few seconds, all she could spare, and then she’d stare hard and long to make out the figures in the cars, to determine the exact shade of the paint of the exteriors of the cars. Ashley’s eyes shifted restlessly from side to side, scanning and searching for one driver in particular, one woman that was scheduled to meet a man in the diver bar that owned the parking lot. The man in question happened to be the love of Ashley’s life (at the very least, Ashley had convinced herself that was the case), and the woman in question was the current topic of conversation.

“I’m not going to do that,” Danielle refused. She crossed her arms over her chest and stared through the windshield. She forced her breath out of her lungs in short bursts, emphasizing her displeasure. Not unlike Ashley, Danielle wasn’t so eager to make eye contact. Everything had gone too far, much too far, and Danielle was having trouble comprehending that the woman gripping the steering wheel in tight, pulsating waves was the same woman she’d known for years and years, and had claimed as her best friend. Ashley was unrecognizable to Danielle. Sure, she looked the same, but the jealousy and ager that consumed Ashley and simmered somewhere just beneath the surface of her skin had caused her to mutate into something ugly, something horrible.

“Then why are you even here?” Ashley asked. She finally turned to face Danielle. Her tone was sharp so that the question was more of a piercing challenge. In her juvenile rage, Ashley wanted Danielle to leave so that Ashley could feel abandoned and awful, and thereby rationalize her unnerving desire to cause destruction and excuse her cowardly and dastardly behavior.

“To talk sense, Ashley; I need to convince you that this is really dumb, not to mention illegal. We need to leave before you do something stupid.”

There was a beat of silence. It was the calm before the storm; after just a moment more, Ashley slammed her palms against the dashboard and growled. It was a subdued scream that turned animalistic and cold and hard. Danielle felt uneasy but turned toward Ashley, willing to make eye contact and survey if Ashley was even present in the conversation, if she was even listening. “Go to hell,” Ashley sneered. “You don’t know what this feels like, okay? Save your self-righteous bullshit for your students.”

“If you weren’t acting like a child, I wouldn’t have to treat you like one, or talk to you like one,” Danielle retorted. “What is keying her car going to do, honestly?”

Ashley thought for a moment. “It’ll make me feel better.”

Danielle rolled her eyes. “Yeah, maybe, but then what? Will it make Russ suddenly realize he’s been a douche? How will it prove you were the right choice?”

Silence settled upon the pair. The truth was that Ashley couldn’t answer Danielle’s questions because Danielle was right. It was stupid, completely asinine, but for the moment, Ashley didn’t care. She wanted to feel satisfied and to feel justified – she wanted to feel better about the whole messed up situation between her and Russ and their feelings (or lack thereof). “Why can’t you just let me have this?” Ashley demanded of her best friend. Her voice cracked and allowed the tears to finally spring up.

“What kind of friend would I be if I let you be a stupid, awful, petty bitch?” Danielle asked. She extended her arm to rub Ashley’s back as she sat behind the wheel and cried. “You’re better than all of this, and you deserve better than Russ.” Danielle spoke in softened tone, doing her best to soothe Ashley and her broken heart. “Let’s get out of here, okay? We’ll get milkshakes and fries and talk shit.” Danielle laughed to show Ashley that she honestly believed there was a light at the end of the long, dark tunnel. Danielle needed Ashley to know that eventually, things did get better.

“Fine,” Ashley growled. She wanted to hold onto her anger because she wanted to be in control of something. She couldn’t change how Russ felt and she couldn’t deny Danielle’s logic, but she could decide how she felt, dammit, and she was going to be angry, downright furious. Without giving it much thought, Ashley abruptly changed gears and had every intention of peeling out of the parking lot and leaving the whole aborted revenge plot behind her – in more ways than one – and Ashley would have done just that.

Unfortunately, a young, beautiful woman with bouncy hair, tits that were a cause of envy, and a smile that belonged in toothpaste commercials, came walking up between Ashley’s car and the car beside it. The young, beautiful woman was not paying attention to anything other than her phone, busily composing a text message to let a popular man named Russ that she was walking into the bar, and that she had just parked. Her green Hyundai had pulled in just as Ashley had started crying, and were it not for the tears in her contemptuous eyes, Ashley might have seen the vehicle, recognized it, and done something else, anything else. As fate would have it, neither Ashley nor Danielle saw the young, beautiful woman’s car enter the parking lot, and so neither woman knew she was even there, where she was supposed to be, where they had anticipated and expected her to be. The young, beautiful woman walking between Ashley’s car and another was busy envisioning the entrance she would make and entertaining the endless romantic possibilities her rendezvous offered. She didn’t see Ashley’s car turning and accelerating fast enough to make the tires squeal, so hell bent was Ashley on making an exit the same way the young, beautiful woman was intent on making an entrance that would impress the entire bar. The young, beautiful woman never saw the impact coming.

The left headlight rammed against the young, beautiful woman’s shin, hard enough to break it and hard enough to knock her to the ground. The collision happened just outside of Danielle’s window, just outside of the front passenger door. She thought she saw bouncy hair pass by her field of vision on its way to the pavement, but she couldn’t be sure. It was dark and her attention was elsewhere. But Danielle and Ashley heard flesh and bone smash sickeningly against metal and plastic and rubber. They knew they’d hit something, but the enormity of the tragedy had not landed home yet. The front tires ran up and over the young woman’s body before Ashley could slam on the brakes and screech to a halt. “What the hell was that?” Ashley asked.

Danielle had a sinking, awful, terrible suspicion, but how could she say it aloud? How could she tell Ashley that in trying to avoid a misdemeanor, they had committed a felony? How could she explain that in trying to do the right thing, they had made everything worse, much worse? Pale and trembling, Danielle could only state the obvious. “You hit something,” she said.

“Yeah, but what?” Ashley asked. Danielle shrugged, was too shocked and too stupid to articulate anything meaningful or useful. Ashley threw the car in reverse, unknowingly rolling her tires over the young, beautiful woman a second time. The car jostled its occupants from side to side as it traversed speedily over the body. Ashley thought returning to the parking spot and surveying the scene from that vantage point was the best way to assess the damage and understand what had happened. It wasn’t until the sickening thud of the tires rolling over something soft and alive reached her ears a second time that Ashley understood that it was bad and wrong, all bad and all wrong. She put the car in park and battling nausea, Ashley threw her door open and climbed out of the car and onto legs that were wobbly and weak, and didn’t quite support her weight. Hobbling as if she were the victim instead of the perpetrator, Ashley stumbled to the front of the car, using the vehicle to support her weight. She crossed the front of the vehicle, placing palm over palm as she desperately tried to steady herself and walk, and when the body came into view, she promptly vomited.

pedestrian-accident

On hearing and personal normalcy.

Round of applause, please; I’m actually posting weekly! Granted this is the first time it has happened, but it’s all about the baby steps, right? It’s all about doing the work.

So without further self-aggrandizing glory, or further do, here’s this week’s writing prompt. I’d like to thank Cristina Hartmann who wrote a beautiful, poignant article on her deaf experience. Her willingness to be so honest and so personal helped me through writer’s block and taught me to be open-minded through validating the idea that there is a common human experience no matter the extenuating circumstances.

Enjoy.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #29: A deaf woman undergoes a surgical procedure that enables her to hear for the first time.

The surgery had been an absolute success, one worthy of being documented in some elite medical journal that was never actually read but given a prestigious place on a bookshelf of some pretentious professional. But Monica had no idea that she was a medical marvel; not yet, anyway. She was still floating somewhere in the dark ether of anesthesia, blissfully unaware of the momentous, tragic changes in her life that had occurred while she was sleeping peacefully.

Monica had been born deaf, an innocent victim of her mother’s sins. Monica’s mom had been a pretty heavy drug user in the very beginning of her pregnancy and though her daughter had been the reason she finally got clean, it was too little too late. The damage was done and in her youngest years, Monica was constantly shushed so that the toddler wouldn’t make noise at inappropriate times. How was Monica to know she was even making sounds, let alone when she was being shushed? The kid couldn’t hear, couldn’t hear a damn thing, and so Monica struggled to learn American Sign Language. Doing so allowed Monica to meet many, many different people and in her important, formative years, she signed with adults, and that early exposure to maturity and a cynic sort of wisdom only vaguely hidden behind smiles that didn’t quite meet the eyes (because she was still a child after all) indelibly shaped Monica’s personality. She had always been an old soul – polite, conservative and comfortable even in the strange solitude that came with being unable to hear.

Being comfortable wasn’t always synonymous with being complacent, so when Monica had been referred to the Cochlear Implant Center, she continued on that journey to meet with an audiologist, and when her medical history had been sufficiently reviewed and all the necessary medical tests had been conducted, Monica willingly moved on to the last phase, which involved a psychiatric evaluation. In the end, all had been golden and she was approved for cochlear implant surgery.

Monica remembered her hands twitching nervously as the surgeon explained the procedure. She thought it was nice he wanted her to be informed, but Monica was letting most of it simply fall away. She was too nervous to concern herself with the details of the surgery because it wasn’t the impending incision that troubled her; it was the aftermath. She had been relieved to discover that she would still be unable to hear like a hearing person, and that the implant could be turned off so that Monica could effectively be deaf again. The thing Monica hated most about being deaf was that it was not her choice; taking a wide view of the thing, Monica supposed you could say it had been her mother’s choice, but unwittingly so. Either way, Monica liked the idea that being able to hear was her choice, very much her choice. If she longed for the familiar soothing and peaceful silence she had lived in for so long, Monica could go there any time she liked. That thought had calmed her enough to go ahead with the procedure.

Surprisingly, the surgery was no big deal; Monica learned that the majority of patients go home the same day, and that the surgery only lasted between two to three hours. After minimal hair shaving and a small incision (the aerated bone behind her ear had to be removed so the device could be implanted), she’d go home and remove the dressings the next day, standing in front of her bathroom mirror, breathing deeply and listening hard for anything, anything at all.

What a change it would be; good or bad, it would certainly be different.

So as far as anyone was concerned, Monica should have been on her way home. But her shit luck reared its ugly head once more, and there had been a minor complication. The procedure had caused facial nerve stimulation, and they wanted to keep Monica longer (overnight) for observation, to make sure the damage wasn’t permanent. The surgeon would tell her, with an overly enthusiastic smile and tone to let her know her optimism should not in any way shape or form be deterred, when she woke from the anesthesia but even that was taking longer than it should. A surgeon couldn’t be expected to wait around all day, could he? Certainly not; time to wait around was not a luxury in the business of saving lives.

Monica was therefore all alone when she began to stir. Well, all alone if one discounted her roommate, which it seemed most people did. He was a young man essentially being kept comfortable until he inevitably kicked the bucket. The car accident had ravaged his insides; so much vital stuff had been bruised and was bleeding and it was just a God awful mess. The next of kin had been alerted, but there wasn’t enough time (was there ever) and that poor young man was going to die alone and he was going to do so in a matter of moments.

“I’m so scared,” he breathed. It took a lot, to make noise, to push enough air through his throat to vibrate his vocal chords. It was a lot of work, a lot of effort, but it had to be done. Everyone deserves to have a final say, and he was going to have him, goddammit.

Monica’s eyes shot open. She heard it; she heard it. It startled her awake, the husky voice wracked with pain and despair, but it was the only voice she had ever heard. She was hearing. She was smiling and tears were freely pouring. She hadn’t processed what the voice said exactly, but for now, it was enough that it had been audible.

“It’s not fair,” the voice croaked. “I didn’t do anything wrong, man. I was wearing my seatbelt. I was sober.” There was a deep, shuddering breath. “How can there be nothing that they can do? How can this be it?” The voice broke near the end, cracked into a million desperate shards that had nowhere to land, nothing to shatter against.

The voice asked questions Monica was unable to answer, not only because she didn’t know how to intellectually, but because she didn’t know how to physically. She had years of speech therapy to go before she’d be able to effectively communicate without using her hands. Any sound she attempted now would be unsettling at best, impossible for the man suffering beside her to discern. Her smile had faded, had done so quickly, and something akin to indescribable sorrow had contorted her features to something decidedly less than beautiful.

“It’s karma,” the man said. He waited a moment, for an absolution perhaps. Maybe he was waiting for a kind soul to argue otherwise, but there was nothing. “It has to be karma,” he continued. “I knew she was drunk but she was smiling and laughing and I never heard no.” There was sharp intake of breath. “I swear to God, she never told me no. She never asked me to stop. I was young and…” his voice trailed off. Monica didn’t think he would speak again, and she was okay with that. She didn’t like playing priest in this warped confessional. How could the first voice she ever heard belong to a dying man, a dying man that felt the need to confess the worst thing he’d ever done? If he wanted to talk about what was unfair, Monica was game.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” he sobbed. “I don’t want to die.”

Monica shut her eyes tight, letting the tears roll freely. What else could she do?

 

deafness

On films and blood and TV and Twitter.

I know I’ve said this so many times that it’s actually starting to lose meaning, but I promise that my focus is going to be on my writing career from this moment on. You won’t believe me, but that’s okay. I mean it this time, I swear.

And I have evidence to prove it … sort of. There’s an actor named Eric Balfour (see image below.)

He was in TV shows like “24,” “Six Feet Under,” and most recently, “Haven” (which I really freaking loved and highly recommend. It’s currently on Netflix, so you’re welcome). I binge watched “Haven” over the summer – because I was a teacher on summer vacation who was broke – and fell in love with his character and with his physicality as an actor; he’s like really tall and his movements should be awkward seeing as how he’s mostly composed of limbs, but his movements are deliberate and graceful. It’s almost fascinating to watch him do anything, especially interact with other actors.

If you haven’t noticed, when I like something, I really, really like something. I go all in, man. So now that I liked this actor named Eric Balfour, I started following him on Twitter. When I watched the series finale of “Haven,” I directed a Tweet to him about how I thought his character got a raw deal (no spoilers, I promise). He liked my tweet. He read my tweet, and then he liked it.

So when he asked for book recommendations that would make great television series that hadn’t been optioned yet, I tweeted the title of my book (Her Beautiful Monster). He liked that tweet, too. He read that tweet too, and then he liked it. He liked another tweet. This was insanity. I took it as a sign from the universe that this was a chance, one of those crazy moments that could be the opportunity of a lifetime, the beginning of a fairytale. It could also be nothing, but hey – you have to be in to win it, right?

Being so emboldened or empowered or what have you, I sent him a direct message through Twitter, telling this actor a little bit more about my book. He read the message. He read the message and he wrote back.

HE READ THE MESSAGE AND HE WROTE BACK.

This Hollywood actor who owes me absolutely nothing, who has no idea as to who I am or what my intentions are or anything like that, took the time to respond to my self-indulgent message to tell me he would look at my book and wished me luck in my career.

That’s something. Even if all this comes to nothing, it’s something. And I am forever grateful.

In other writing news, Martin Sisters Publishing is interested in publishing my second novel, Moody Blue. I’m just waiting on the contract and once that happens, prepare for a marketing blitz.

Because this is my focus now; writing. So, here’s a weekly writing prompt. Enjoy, and pleasepleasePLEASE let me know what you think.

WRITING PROMPT #28: “He makes films. I didn’t ask what kind.”

 

Amy spit blood onto the cold, concrete floor beneath her bare feet. She still had that tell-tale coppery taste in her mouth, so she knew that she was still bleeding even without the help of a mirror. Amy thought it made sense that she was still bleeding because she was still sore as hell. Her head was pounding at the very base of her skull – she assumed that had happened when he had shoved her in the van. As  a matter of fact, despite the ache in her skull that slowed her thinking, Amy was sure she’d slammed her head twice, slammed her head against the metal door after the brutal, hard shove inside the van, and then her skull crashed against the metal floor when she lost her footing completely and fell flat on her back. Megan had been tossed in next and had landed on Amy. The air rushed from Amy and it felt like insult had been added to injury. Amy turned to survey Megan now.

Megan was still out cold. She hadn’t been able to stop screaming. The hysteria and desperation seemed to be keeping her mouth open, her throat raw and lungs filled because Megan just kept screaming until the butt of the 9mm made contact with the right side of her face. Blood dripped from Megan’s wound like water from a tricky faucet, splashing on the floor in a rhythm so reliable it was almost comforting. Amy eyed Megan’s slumped position in the metal folding chair and knew there was no way she was comfortable. When Megan woke up, she’d be stiff, sore and essentially useless should the opportunity to escape present itself. Amy knew such thinking was a pipe dream as her eyes acknowledged the itchy rope used to tie Megan’s legs to the legs of the chair and to tie Megan’s wrists together behind her back. Amy was similarly secured, but still she twitched her shoulder and wrists with foolish optimism, like maybe the ropes would suddenly be loose. But Amy had no such luck – never did, really and never would seeing as how she’d likely die in the barren room with the concrete floor.

But Amy didn’t want to die alone. Amy wanted to have a fighting chance, and she wanted one for Megan, too.

“Megan,” Amy called in a harsh whisper. Megan didn’t move. “Megan,” Amy tried again, this time a little louder. Amy had to be careful – she wanted to be loud enough to wake Megan but quiet enough to keep from getting the attention of the sick fuck who abducted them. After calling Megan’s name a second time, Amy listened hard for running footsteps or creaky doors or any sure sign that someone was coming. Amy listened so hard she didn’t allow herself to breathe. When the only discernable sound was the steady drip of Megan’s blood, Amy started calling out to Megan again and again, louder each time until finally Megan’s eyes fluttered open and she groaned in discomfort.

“Fuck,” was all Megan had to offer.

“You’re telling me,” Amy said as she snorted humorless laughter through her nose.

There was a beat of silence. And then another. Then there were soft sniffles. Amy raised her splitting, throbbing head to eye Megan. She was crying quietly. “I’m sorry,” she said between gasps of air.

Amy swallowed hard. “It’s not your fault.”

“Yes it is!” Megan suddenly roared. Amy flinched, but stayed quiet. “It’s my fault because I know this guy.” She was openly sobbing now, being loud and sloppily confessing to an unknown betrayal. “He said he needed actresses at this house party we were both at, and I was drunk so I signed us up.”

“Actresses for what?” Amy asked. She was confused and her battered brain was refusing to cooperate, to make heads or tails of any of it.

“He makes films. I didn’t ask what kind,” Megan said, breaking and sobbing some more. Her cries were pitiful and awful and terrible and worse than the silence. For a grotesque moment, Amy wished the sick fuck would rush in and punch Megan right in the mouth so Amy would at least be spared the howls of desperation of her best friend as they inched closer to death. Was there ever a worse soundtrack for a death scene?

“Maybe you should have,” Amy said. She locked eyes with her best friend. Megan stopped crying, shocked into silence by Amy’s attitude. How could she be sarcastic at a time like this? How could Amy be anything but terrified? Anger was bubbling up to Megan’s surface until Amy offered her a smile. It was queasy and horrible, stained with blood and pain, but it was just so fucking Amy. Megan smiled in spite of herself, eternally glad that if the end was nigh, she’d face it with her best friend, with the realest girl she knew.

On fountains.

It’s sweltering in my house. I was dripping sweat earlier. I went outside earlier, to try and benefit from the meager breeze coming from the bay, and my outdoor furniture was wet from a storm that had passed by earlier but I didn’t even care. That’s how hot it is.

I’m not telling you this for sympathy. I think I’m building character.

My life is quiet and small and plain. Again, I’m not telling you this for sympathy or vague reassurance that my life is not the way I perceive it (that just makes someone feel crazy, doesn’t it?). I’m telling you this to illuminate my character, because this realization makes me restless. I always feel like I’m wasting my time and my youth, that I should be doing more, more, more. So I’m taking baby steps to do just that.

On Wednesday, I went to Princeton with one of my best friends. We strolled the campus like we belonged there, despite me being clad in clothes purchased from Old Navy and not J. Crew or Ann Taylor or anywhere else equally as impressive and expensive. Not only that, but an intrusive coffee stain that was too large to be ignored assaulted the lower-half of my shirt in a way that simply screamed I didn’t belong, that I was totally and completely faking it. But I didn’t let my general sloppiness ruin the trip – I’m not that dramatic.

I dragged my patient and impossibly too kind friend to the university to peruse the F. Scott Fitzgerald archives. I anticipated manuscripts and pictures kept under class in a far and quiet corner of the library. I assumed the public had free and easy access to the most personal belongings of a literary genius, but I was so wrong. We had to register, received photo identification cards to enter a restricted part of the library, wash our hands, lock away our belongings, and specifically select which aspects of Fitzgerald’s life we wanted to access. We did this without complaint (which is saying something considering the heat of the day was blistering and my dear, dear friend never intended to spend 150 minutes looking at the personal affects of some dead author), and were shown into a reading room. There, I made plans to visit Great Neck, Long Island for a long weekend (the setting that inspired The Great Gatsby) and to travel to Hackensack, New Jersey (specifically to see the Newman School, which Fitzgerald attended). My friend and I both flipped through a sort of combined scrapbook of Scott and Zelda, compiled by Matthew J. Bruccoli (the only Fitzgerald biographer that matters) and Scottie, Scott and Zelda’s daughter.

Scott’s drama teacher wrote, “Good God, save the soul of the man with the spark!” in reference to Fitzgerald. What a tragedy; what a shame.

We were presented with a facsimile of the manuscript of The Great Gatsby, complete with edits and revisions in Fitzgerald’s own handwriting, not to mention the entire manuscript was handwritten. I nearly cried.

We read letters from Zelda to Scott, which chronicled the beginnings of their relationship, as well as the more tumultuous aspects of the courtship and marriage. I compiled a list of Zelda’s best quotes.

  • … it’s so easy, and believing is much more intelligent
  • And still I’m so mighty happy — It’s just sort of a “thankful” feeling — that I’m alive and that people are glad I am
  • There’s nothing to say — you know everything about me, and that’s mostly what I think about. I seem always curiously interested in myself, and it’s so much fun to stand off and look at me …
  • … something always makes things the way they ought to be …
  • I love you sad tenderness — when I’ve hurt you — That’s one of the reasons I could never be sorry for our quarrels — and they bothered you so — Those dear, dear little fusses, when I always tried so hard to make you kiss and forget
  • … It seems as if there’s no new wisdom — and surely people haven’t stopped thinking — I guess morality has relinquished its claim on the intellect — and the thinkers think dollars and wars and politics — I don’t know whether it’s evolution or degeneration
  • To be afraid, a person has either to be a coward or very great and big
  • … free to sit in the sun and choose the things I like about people and not have to take the whole person
  • It is odd that the heart is one of the organs that does repair itself

I loved the eccentric, charming and dangerous and alarming details I learned about their love, like how Zelda consulted a Ouija board, and how she blamed Scott for her mental illness but firmly believed he could cure her.

We read Scott’s letters with a painstaking clarity, as we knew of the end he didn’t see coming. It was heartbreaking, really.

I decided the goal is to  write the last chapter of my next book in the Nassau Inn, to truly channel the passion and vibrancy and tragedy of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

I found some places I’d like to visit in France, places Fitzgerald went to and found some kind of inspiration, whether for writing or living large.

We wandered around campus for a while longer, sneaking into classrooms, disrupting tour groups, and feeling – even if for just a little while – that grand things were still possible for us.

We ventured into the cathedral on campus and a Starbucks and a book store to beat the heat.

We traveled to Asbury Park for some live music and great company. It was a great day, the kind summers are made of. I intend to have more like them.

I was inspired to write the following short story. Enjoy!

FOUNTAINS
by Mandi Bean

Carlos knew that the equator separated the globe into northern and southern hemispheres, and Carlos also knew that the farther south a person traveled, the hotter the weather became. However, Carlos could testify to the fact, and possibly even prove, that the farther west a person traveled, the same phenomenon occurred. He had lived on the eastern shore of New Jersey his entire life and could say without hesitation, could say with near absolute certainty, that the middle of the state was a burning, boiling wasteland in July – the most uncomfortable Summer month to begin with – and that it served no real purpose. Carlos had traveled west at the request of his fashionable, trendy girlfriend and now regretted it something fierce.

They were traipsing about the campus of Princeton University so that his girlfriend could admire the rich history and breathtaking architecture and blah, blah, blah. It was ninety-three degrees and Carlos was miserable. He felt damp and disgusting in places he didn’t even know could sweat. Still, he took it all in stride, trying to keep his girlfriend happy and blissfully unaware of his discomfort. He said nothing as they walked innumerable staircases to gawk at old buildings and open fields that meant something to someone somewhere, sure, but that person was not Carlos. His mood dangled precariously between “thoughtfully quiet” and “crankily homicidal,” and he offered his girlfriend only interested smiles as she prattled on and on about tradition and excellence and whatever.

Carlos only perked up as they neared the center of the sprawling campus. There was a pool, six inches deep at the most, with a fountain at its center, an impressive, enigmatic modern sort of structure spouting water. Carlos took his girlfriend’s hand and rushed towards it, the way someone might rush towards a miraculous pool while stranded in a desert. But this pool and fountain was no mirage; children splashed here and there, supervised by patient adults who smiled and nodded with a calculated, weary sort of encouragement. Carlos reached the pool’s edge, where wide, flat stone steps led down to the water. He was smiling wide, with a youthful exuberance, and he turned to his girlfriend. “I’m going in,” he stated and sat down to remove his shoes and socks.

His girlfriend offered a sweet smile, totally enchanted by Carlos’ juvenile need to cool and comfortable, by his childish ambitions. He was a beautiful young man with dark features that made him appear to be super intellectual, but in reality, he was nothing of the sort. But his girlfriend, equally as beautiful, was not disturbed by Carlos’ lack of desire for education and all things brainy. It kept her in check, kept a balance in the relationship. “Go right ahead,” she smiled. “I’ll wait here.”

Carlos paused and looked up at her. “You’re not coming in? This heat is brutal.”

She shook her head and seated herself beside Carlos. “It’s hot, but I’m okay. You go in, though. I can’t tell you’re dying to.” She leaned against him for a moment to kiss his cheek. That was all the permission Carlos needed, and he took off, splashing with reckless abandon to reach the fountain at the center. That spewing, falling water was the most efficient way to get cool. He passed the laughing, shrieking children and paused at the base of the fountain. The water fell on him in the most refreshing way and he was content to simply exist, it simply be in a world where water was free to fall where it may. What a time to be alive, what with fountains and pools to keep the intense summer heat at bay. He closed his eyes and attempted to wash away the sweat and sourness of the July sun.

After a few moments, he opened his eyes and leveled his gaze. He was surprised to find another adult, another wanderer about campus, engaging in the same activity. She was gorgeous, and Carlos also noted the way the woman had been equally as daring, had strode in the same way Carlos had, not caring for the onlookers or any kind of judgments. There was only the oppressive heat, and the refreshing relief of the water, roaring down from the fountain and tinkling as it reached the pool surface. They both appreciated the opportunity, had seized it, and now stood breathless, together in their choices and ideology, but separate in their strangeness to the other.

Carlos breathed a simple “hey.”

The woman nodded, and kicked water up at Carlos. That was her greeting; that was it. Aside from the playful smile, she had offered nothing, not even her name. But Carlos was game. He returned the splash. In a matter of moments, Carlos and the woman were doing their best to drown each other. Their raucous laughter and innocent challenges drowned out that of the children and even the most dutiful of supervising parent stole a glance at the two grown adults making complete asses of themselves in the fountain on the campus of Princeton University.

But, as do all things in life, the splashing lost its appeal and became old and tired. Carlos looked back to his girlfriend and found her reading (there was always a book in her over sized bag). He waved goodbye to the gorgeous, wild and free woman he had spent the last ten minutes with. Without really thinking about it, Carlos returned to the studious, safe and responsible woman waiting for him out of the water. He supposed that was the way it was supposed to be, that for every soul willing to get lost at sea, there had to be another anxiously waiting on shore.

As he came nearer, dripping wet and breathless and smiling, Carlos’ girlfriend looked up and barked a laugh. “Am I glad you drove,” she teased, “because you would never ever get into my car like that.”

Carlos bent to swiftly kiss her before she could protest or squirm away.

fountains