Novel Excerpt – Insignificant Others

Joseph “Joey” Karlson

47 minutes

-childhood dreams: playing second base for the Red Sox, retiring to host a show on ESPN, and finally using the exposure to segue into politics (because that would have been easier and more realistic than his chances of making it through law school)

-interesting fact: would buy any CD with a parental advisory label jut to pit his parents against one another

-began “dating”: during the first chorus of Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”

-relationship ended: before the final chorus of the Goo-Goo Dolls’ “Iris” began

We’d known each other since we still wet the bed. Our mothers had us in the same play-groups when we were toddlers. We lived down the street from each other. I don’t know if anybody really saw it coming, but of course friends of ours on both sides claimed afterwards that they had always knows that it would happen and that it wouldn’t last. Frankly, it doesn’t matter and I don’t care. Everyone has to start somewhere and I started with Joey Karlson.

I didn’t really like him all that much but most of my friends did. He was one of the popular boys in class, which at the age of twelve requires only a moderate athletic talent and the ability to replicate the sounds of disgusting bodily functions.

Does it count as giving in to peer pressure? It wasn’t because I wanted their approval. In fact, my little move turned half of the girls in my class against me for years, longer than they would remember why they didn’t like me in the first place. A piece of why I went ahead with it was the fact that Joey was the one they all wanted, that it would make them jealous. What can I say? I was a brat.

The real reason I did it doesn’t make sense to anyone but me, so I won’t even bother going into it now. What I am going to do is tell you the sequence of events.

Let me set the scene for you a little:

Silver and white balloons hover in the air above our heads. Curling ribbon that no one took the time to curl keeps them tethered to the chairs along the walls. The tables have been folded up and pushed into the hallway where one of the chaperones stands guard to prevent kids from climbing, opening, or devising any other activity with the tables that would put themselves at risk for injury and the school at risk for a law suit. Meanwhile, the chaperone’s line of sight doesn’t include the corner where a few kids are experimenting with a helium-filled balloon.

The lights are dim but a few of the color-shifting stage lights have been moved in and turned on. Someone even managed to find an old disco-style mirrored ball in the prop room, dusted it off, and hung it from the center of the ceiling (well, as close to the center as they could reach on a small step-ladder).

My best friend at the time, Jenna Perry, had helped me put make-up on in the bathroom when we first got there. Bright purple eye shadow coated my lids. I thought the color complimented my fuchsia nail polish and blue dress nicely. I let her borrow my glittery chap-stick that actually dried our lips more than it moisturized them.

It was about twenty minutes into the two hour dance and most of the decorations had been pulled down from the walls. Streamers trailed from shoes like colorful toilet paper. I was hoping someone would start a little drama so I could go rushing back and forth between the upset parties making things right again. There may even have been a moment or two when I considered instigating something so that there would be something to do (like I said earlier, I was in a bit of a brat phase).

That was when the flutter of gossiping girls appeared. Whispering in each others’ ears, they slowly inched their way closer. They were close enough to witness first-hand but not close enough to be mistaken for being friends of mine. Their darting eyes told me where to turn my attention.

Joey Karlson was coming over with a few members of his posse hanging back a little. He had on a clean but wrinkled pair of khaki shorts and a short sleeve dress shirt. They clashed with the sneakers he was wearing, the same sorry pair he’d worn for a year and a half. His mom wouldn’t buy him new ones until after he went through his growth spurt.

It was only when it became clear he was coming towards e that I heard the difference in the music. Instead of the rock that had been pounding in my ears and shaking everything in the room as it charged its way out of the speakers, something softer had started. A slow song. Which meant one thing: he was going to ask me to dance.

“Hi Roxy,” he said when there was only one square-foot blue linoleum tile between us.

“Hi Joey.” From the corner of my eye, I could tell that even Jenna had backed away from my side to turn herself into a bystander.

“Would you like to dance with me?”

“Okay.”

His posse parted just enough to let us through. We didn’t actually touch until we were alone on the dance floor (alone with twenty or thirty pairs of eyes watching every muscle twitch, every subtle shift of weight, every blink).

Joey kind of just stood there, not knowing what to do. Shaking my head with a sigh, I reached out and took Joey’s right hand and put it on one side of my waist, then did the same with his other hand. I backed up a little so we wouldn’t be standing too close to each other and finally, placed my extended hands on his shoulders.

It was a relief when Joey started that wobble, the shifting from one foot to the other that qualifies as dancing to socially stiff sixth graders.

We teetered back and forth with only a few other “couples” in the middle of the cafeteria floor. Neither of us talked or even looked at the other. My eyes kept finding Jenna who smiled her encouragement from the sidelines amid a crowd of our scowling peers. If they had things their way, a crate of banana peels would fall from the ceiling to trip me up. One or two may have been allowed to watch Carrie and were likely envisioning pigs’ blood rather than bananas.

I could feel sweat from his palms making my dress clammy. Though they never moved, his hands alternated between nervously clutching my waist and becoming embarrassingly aware of his grip, he would loosen it so that he was barely touching me. I smiled as I fought the urge to laugh. When he caught the eye of one of his buddies, a cocky smirk would settle into Joey’s features but the moment I had his attention, a petrified smile took over.

Only when the song began winding down did we finally speak.

“This was nice,” I said for the sake of breaking the silence.

“Yeah,” he agreed. His hands remained frozen in place on my hips even though our feet had stopped moving. Looking at my shoes and speaking barely loud enough to hear him at all, he asked, “Roxy, um… do you… would you be my girlfriend?”

Just like dancing with him, it wasn’t really about wanting to be his girlfriend. It was about having that status and having it before anyone else.

I leaned in and gave Joey a kiss on the cheek and a smile. Then I promptly abandoned him for Jenna and a crowded girls’ bathroom. She helped me touch-up my make-up while we both giggled. Questions flew through the air from the other girls but I ignored them and Jenna sympathetically rolled her eyes. The cloud of gossipy girls trailed after us when we resumed our post along the cafeteria wall, like mosquitoes in the late summer twilight.

It seemed hours before another slow song was making its way down from the speakers but it turned out it was only about forty-five minutes. I started scanning the floor for Joey. His friends were clustered together, blocking my view, but it was safe to assume he was with them. I gave Jenna a quick smile and headed off to retrieve him. Since he was my boyfriend, I didn’t have to wait for him to ask me to dance. It was expected.

As I got closer, one of Joey’s friends spotted me and a ripple of shoulder tapping traveled inwards toward him. They parted just enough to let me see but not enough to let me through. Joey had his hands on Gina Greenwood’s waist until he noticed my glaring eyes. Then his hands dropped and he protectively stood a little in front of Gina.

The music carried on, but all adolescent eyes were straining to the scene we were about to make. Somehow I could feel that they were all waiting for me to be the first to speak.

“Joey,” I said, making the first move reluctantly.

He waited a few beats of the song before going on the defensive.

“Roxy. Is there something you need? I’m kind of busy here.” He nodded his head to Gina who was waiting patiently with one hand gripping the elbow of her other arm.

“I guess not. I don’t know why I’d think that you might dance with me. You’re only my boyfriend.” I tried to say it with the right attitude but I didn’t really care so it came out flat. I added a disgruntled crossing of my arms to keep up appearances since most of our audience couldn’t hear what I was saying anyway.

“I didn’t think I was your boyfriend since you never said anything when I asked.” He stuck his jaw out, though I don’t know if it was a concession to those watching or sincere.

“What did you think that kiss on the cheek meant? Did you really need me to spell it out?”

He hesitated, his eyes darted between Gina slightly behind him on his right and me standing about three floor tiles in front of him.

“I… uh. Well… you didn’t say anything. What? Am I supposed to be some kind of mind reader?”

“I thought it was implied but if you really are that dumb, I’m glad I won’t be wasting my time anymore.” I turned to go but looked back over my shoulder to see him standing there, unsure what to do. I shooed him a little with my hand. “Go ahead. Gina’s waiting. Be sure to ask her to spell it out for you so you don’t run into the same confusion again.”

All it took was a glance at Jenna and she joined me as I made my beeline for the girls’ room. The others followed at a distance and many hesitated at the bathroom door, lacking the guts to go in. Jenna and I did our best to muffle our giggling.

“I can’t believe him. I’m not gonna waste my time. Jenna, you be my witness and hold me to this: I’m not going to even try having a boyfriend again until at least high school. Swear to me that if I so much as say anything about wanting to date a boy who’s asked me out, you’ll smack me.”

“Can I pinch you instead?”

“Fine,” I conceded. “Promise you’ll pinch me.”

“I promise. Or do you want me to pinky swear too?”

“No, a simple promise is just fine.”

And so Joey became the first of my insignificant others.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Romeo and Juliet died young, but it wasn’t because of warring families. It was because of a drunk driver. I was only ten when they died and wound up in my grandparents’ custody. My dad’s parents, not my mom’s. They didn’t have the time or stability. They traveled too much, but more on them later.

Grampa Bill and Gramma Georgia picked up and moved into our house so my life wouldn’t be disrupted too much. The whole idea was completely ridiculous. My parents were dead. How could a move to a new school be more traumatizing than that? The kids I’d been in school with for years became strangers for a while. Or maybe I was the one who had become a stranger. Either way, dealing with actual strangers at that time wouldn’t have made much of a difference to me.

I love my grandparents and I’m grateful to them for everything they have done for me, but they are crazy. Not that they need to be institutionalized or medicated or anything like that. Odd is probably a better word for them. Better yet, alternative. That’s it. They’re alternative.

For example, you probably thought that I was joking when I called my parents Romeo and Juliet or that I was using it as a metaphor for their pure love that was cut short by tragedy. Nope. I know that my parents didn’t magically and romantically agree on everything. I knew better than anyone how to set them off against each other for my own ends.

I referred to them as Romeo and Juliet because those were their names. My father was Romeo Duncan and, before they got married, my mother’s name was Juliet Spencer.

But I was talking about my grandparents. Grampa Bill and Gramma Georgia love drama and the theatrical. They loved turning everything, even story telling, into a production.

“It was quite the scandal to both of our families,” Gramma Georgia would begin. She had a routine to perform before she would get to the heart of any lengthy tale. First she would turn off the television and place the remote control on the mantle next to a scented candle that she ceremonially lit.

Then she would pick up her yarn bag from its place in the corner and carry it to her overstuffed chair. It reminded me of the rocking chair from the opening credits of the Beverly Hillbillies, a show I was intimately acquainted with because Grampa Bill seemed to have taped every last episode so he could watch them on Saturday mornings, effectively ending my cartoon time. Gramma Georgia had insisted on bringing the chair with them when they moved in after Mum and Dad died. It had a matching footstool and anytime we went back to their unkempt house for even a few days, like over my winter break or April vacation, Grampa Bill would load the chair in the back of the pickup so Gramma Georgia wouldn’t have to do without it in the evenings.

Once her feet were up on the footstool and her hands were busy counting stitches or rolling the colorful skeins into neat little balls, Grampa Bill would come in with her drink. It used to be a gin and tonic for each of them, but after Uncle Pet scolded them and Uncle Orlie pointed out how insensitive it was to me and my parents’ memory, they switched to some godawful milkshake concoction that was supposed to have all the necessary vitamins and nutrients.

After a few sips she would continue where she’d left off. “Quite the scandal. My parents threatened to disown me or worse, send me to a different school. So I told them I had switched classes and let them believe I had broken it off.”

“We did have them beat for a while there, didn’t we,” Grampa would say, pulling out a pen for his crossword puzzle book. “We stopped meeting during the day but that didn’t stop us from meeting at rehearsals. I still don’t know how they could have missed that.”

“It was a student troupe,” Gramma would chime in. “They didn’t know you were the faculty advisor. Or if they did, they didn’t know how involved a faculty advisor was for student organizations.”

The only time I ever asked, “Why didn’t your family want you and Grampa Bill to be together?” was the first time they told me the story. I didn’t have to ask again because I had learned the answer, but rather because every time they told it after that, they incorporated the reason into the story. I learned quickly not to ask questions when they were telling their stories. They only got longer and more difficult to sit through when I did.

“They didn’t really care about who I was seeing so long as it was a respectable match. If it weren’t for how we met, I doubt they would have reacted so strongly against it,” she would say.

“My parents only worried that it might cost me my job if anyone found out. Even if it had,” and he always looked up from the puzzle book for his next line. Gazing into Gramma Georgia’s eyes he’d deliver, “You were worth it.”

“I hated that I had to switch out of your class. None of the others taught British literature the way you did. Especially Shakespeare. They didn’t have the voice for it, or the pace.”

This was the only part that changed regularly. Grampa Bill would dive into a sonnet or monologue. Sometimes Gramma Georgia would take another part and they would go back and forth. Once, they made it through an entire act of Macbeth changing their voices for the different characters. I mercifully fell asleep before they resumed their original story (though I’m pretty sure they went on with it even as I slept).

“You were made to play Shakespeare’s ladies on the stage,” Grampa Bill would say when they were ready to get back on track.

“And you made sure I got the chance to play them all.”

“You know Roxy,” he would say as he put his puzzle book down after filling in only one or two answers. “After your grandma and I got married – we waited until after she graduated, of course,” and Gramma Georgia would pipe up again.

“We still had to elope. Even after four years and with the threat of scandal at a minimum, my parents were still against the idea. They didn’t like that I had gone around them, that I had so blatantly disobeyed them.”

“Well, after we were married we moved away from them anyway. We made sure we found an area with a good community theater program. Couldn’t abandon our dear friend Mr. Shakespeare after all he had done for us, could we?”

“Of course not, dear,” Gramma Georgia would say, getting the final word in as she always did.

The Bard had no need to fear abandonment at their hands, though I doubt he would have cared much one way or the other. Grampa Bill and Gramma Georgia worked Shakespeare into as many aspects of their lives as possible (and drove everyone around them nuts in the process). When Gramma Georgia took a painting class, she aspired to capture the most enigmatic scenes from his plays on her canvas. When Grampa and Gramma had Halloween parties to go to, they always went as Antony and Cleopatra, or Othello and Desdemona, Oberon and Titania. And, as you have probably guessed by now, they named their children after their favorite characters.

First was my uncle, Petruchio, though he got away with having people call him Patrick or Pet. Then was my father, Romeo. He wasn’t happy but he managed to bear his name well. Gramma Georgia always said he could pull it off because he was such a “charmer.” Uncle Pet told me it was because he was able to hold his own when people gave him grief.

My next uncle, Orlando, had a tougher time of it. He got into a lot of fistfights and bears a few scars from them to this day. His nose is permanently crooked from having broken it two or three times. He can’t remember which so I’m pretty sure it was three.

And last but not least came my poor aunt, Ophelia. As if the name weren’t odd on its own or enough of a mouthful for a small child, when they finally read Hamlet in school she came storming home to let her parents have it once and for all. She had been familiar with the play for years and often thought about telling them what she thought of the cruel naming joke they had played on her, but she said it was when her classmates figured out the story behind it that she reached her breaking point.

“Orlie helped out a lot. Most of the boys who would have made fun of me didn’t dare because they didn’t want to face off with Orlando Duncan behind the bleachers after school,” she chuckled a little at the memory. “I could see it on their faces though. Their desire to say something and then the frustration when they saw Orlie watching them and chickened out. But the girls were the worst. Half of them thought the idea was really cool but wondered why they had picked such a sad and pathetic character. The other half of them found the whole thing as ridiculous as I did.”

Aunt Ophelia was braiding my hair or giving me make-up tips as she told me this. I must have been about fifteen at the time.

“I told Ma that afternoon after school how miserable I was and that it was all her fault. She said something to the effect of, ‘Everybody has a miserable adolescence, dear. But better it be miserable and memorable than forgettable.’ I wanted to hit her. I told her if they were going to be weird about the whole naming thing, why couldn’t they have picked a more normal name. What was wrong with calling me Rosalind, or Bianca, even Beatrice would have been better than Ophelia. Then I stomped off to my room.”

She sighed and undid whatever it was she had been working on to start again.

“That was when your father came in and told me I should be thankful for the name I had. I was about to yell at him too but he carefully pointed out that it could have been worse. They could have named me Goneril. Then he rattled off a bunch of STD jokes to make me laugh. He had a way of doing that. Finding a way to make things seem less frustrating than they were. That’s what I miss the most.”

I don’t remember what my original complaint had been that sparked that little bonding session with my aunt but it made me feel better. Especially when she added, “You do that too, you know. You come out with things sometimes and I swear it’s like having Romeo in the room again.”

Novel Excerpt – The Truth is Worth a Thousand Lies (working title)

Part One

Amy Shaw

January 26, 2007

The four of us, Erik, Judy, John, and I, met in college and were the best of friends in every way. There was one night we went to dinner shortly before graduation where we made a toast and vowed that we would always remain that way, closer than anyone had ever been before, what we thought would be the key to our friendships’ success. We were naïve and self-centered. As if no one had ever made that vow before. As if we were in some way original. As if saying something would make it true. Who would have thought that such a toast would lead to us knowing too much about one another? Who would have thought that only twenty years later, my best friend would be dying and my daughter would be asking why my husband and I had split up when she was just ten years old?

Different parts of me want to tell her different things. One part says to just tell her the truth already, she deserves to know. Another says that she’s just not ready, wait a little longer. Another says that even if she was ready to hear the truth, I promised I would never tell her (and even if I was willing to break the promise to myself, I could never break the promise I made to him). The part of me that’s in pain, already mourning the loss of my friend though she is still here physically, that part just wants to scream at my daughter that now is not the time for her to be thinking about herself and the past; she should be there for Carrie, who is losing her mother, and that she’ll regret it later if she isn’t there for Carrie now. That’s what you do for your best friend when she’s hurting. You put your own problems aside and focus on someone else’s. It’s also the best way I know to make it feel as if you don’t have any problems yourself, a form of emotional procrastination.

But good luck telling that to a teenager. Then there’s that last part of me. The part that knows that the real reason I won’t tell my daughter the truth is because I’m afraid of what might happen as a result. It’s a domino affect. Once I tell her this truth, who knows how many other secrets will come out. I used to imagine what would happen if I told it, just who would be affected and in what ways. But then I began losing track of my calculations and the enormity of it all combined with the fear to keep it locked away somewhere in the back of my throat. Right now, all the hurt is trapped in the past. Telling the truth will only bring it to the present and let it loose into the future.

“Mom?” I came out of my daze. Samantha was waiting impatiently. “I’m sick of being given the run around every time I ask about this. Every time I ask Dad he gets all red and mad and says, ‘Ask your mother why don’t you?’ When I ask you, you just ignore me all together, like I’m going to just forget about it.” She pauses to catch her breath and hesitates before going on again. “If it had anything to do with me… Just tell me, okay.”

I immediately go into Mom-mode. “Of course it had nothing to do with you.” She doesn’t seem very reassured. I wouldn’t be if I was in her situation. I wish that I was in her situation. As bad as not knowing can be, the torture of possibility isn’t nearly as bad as not being able to do anything about a painful truth. I want so much to spare her from the pain, shame, humiliation, I don’t even know what. I won’t do it to her, and that’s that. I won’t be responsible for hurting her. I’ve already done enough. “Dad left because of me.” I say it in the same cold tone I know I always use when I talk about Erik. The emotions I used to hold in connection with him vanished a long time ago.

She doesn’t realize that I’m trying to protect her. She seems to think I won’t tell her because I’m embarrassed about not being able to hold my family together, that I fear the truth behind my failure. That’s the way that her teenage mind works. She doesn’t know that I gave up on success a long time ago. I’ve learned that with time the shame that comes with failure dulls. But then, she still doesn’t know what I’ve known and lived with for more than just the six years since Erik divorced me.

“Come on, Mum. It had to be about more than just that. I mean, why did he leave us? You were the one who put up with him and his outrageous hours for years.” I’ve got to admit, she knows how to word it to try to get me to open up. Fake sympathy and understanding, classic. Her use of “us” could break my heart if I let it. “If anyone had reason to leave it was you. So why didn’t you? You didn’t want your marriage to break up or you would have done it yourself, so why didn’t you fight for him when he left? If it wasn’t important enough to fight for, why not leave him first?” Now she’d turned the marriage into a competition, and according to her rulebook, I’d lost.

I can’t tell her that I’d resigned myself to the reality of my miserable marriage long before my husband left me, because it had helped to assuage the guilt; that I’d let my husband leave me because it was the easiest release.

Instead I tell her something that isn’t technically a lie but is most definitely not the truth. “He and I had a difference of opinion and found out we wanted different things from life at that time.” It’s bullshit and she knows it so I try to shoot her a look ordering her to drop the subject, but she can’t help pushing it a little bit further. She thinks that she’s wearing me down.

“What does that mean?” she asks. “You guys had one blow-out fight and decided to throw in the towel?” Now she was letting her anger show.

I look my daughter in the eyes with a look that, hopefully, demands that this be the end of the conversation. “Your father wanted to have more children. We tried but found out that we couldn’t.”

She doesn’t say anything else, just rolls her eyes and walks out of the room. But before she turns the corner she shoots me a look of her own, one that says that we may be done talking about it for the moment, but that the subject is by no means closed. She learned that look from Erik, I’m certain of it. I’ve seen it too many times to doubt it. What she doesn’t know is that she’ll have to figure most of it out on her own, just like he did. I’ve always been exceptionally good at keeping my mouth shut and it will take more than just her stubbornness and juvenile determination to get it out of me.

Judy Young

September 27, 1985

I pushed her into this night and she knows that I owe her for it. She’s a little on edge. I’m nervous about tonight too but not in the same way that she is. She hasn’t even met John yet so I guess I understand why isn’t sure about our setting her up with his best friend. I’m nervous in that giddy way I always seem to have when I have a date with John but tonight is the real test.

Even though we’ve been dating for a few weeks now, I’ve put off introducing him to Amy. Part of it is the simple fact that I don’t want to share him with anyone. I mean, of course I’ve told her about him (I’ve told her every little thing to the point where she bought ear plugs to shut me out, but I only gushed louder at her). But now that she is about to meet him, I’m afraid of what she’ll think of him. I can put any criticisms she may have about him to the side while she hasn’t officially met him. Once they talk though, all the doubts I have will start to eat at me as I await her reaction. She has always been nice enough and veiled when we discussed the ones she’d met, but what she doesn’t say is always sitting there between us and I can just tell what she’s thinking. Like the guy I dated who did the spitting thing. She didn’t say anything about it and it hadn’t bothered me before she met him, but her not saying anything about it spoke volumes.

It used to drive me crazy trying to talk to Amy about serious things. She is so content to just sit back and listen but rarely says anything back, and certainly not what she’s really thinking. It’s always made me feel awkward and like I’m talking to myself. Now though, I appreciate it and understand her need to keep things to herself (well, I understand that she does it, but I’m still not certain as to why she does it). She doesn’t seem to have many friends other than myself. I guess it’s because there are few people who are up to the challenge of figuring her out or trying to get to know her. I know I was surprised at how much time and effort it took when we were freshman roommates, but I also got to be around her when she was apt to let her defenses down (which, let me just say, isn’t all that often).

Tonight, her senses are on high alert and I feel guilty about putting her into this situation. If things go badly I know I’ll never forgive myself. John has been asking to meet my friends for a week or two now and I had no problem introducing him to a handful of members from my usual group of friends, but I didn’t want as much pressure to be put on his meeting Amy (if that makes any sense at all). Meeting the best friend is just one step before a guy meeting my parents in my book. That’s why I began pushing the idea of a double date of sorts. John had told me about his best friend and frat-mate Erik so I suggested the two of us setting our two best friends up. The more I think about it now in the minutes leading up to the boys coming to pick us up, the more I’m realizing that it’s a stupid plan that’s probably going to backfire in my face.

But as Amy turns around before me in a navy dress with short wispy sleeves and that ends just below her tanned knees, I smile as though I have no doubts about anything. Her face is calm and serene the way that it always is and always will be, but I know that she has a great desire to stab me with whatever implement is at hand the moment something goes awry this evening (it’s probably good we’re going to an Italian restaurant and not a steak-house).

“Hold on,” I tell her and turn to my jewelry box. I pull out a sapphire pendant on a silver chain and help her put it on. It goes perfectly with the v-neck cut of her dress and makes her grey eyes seem bluer. She refused to let me tease her hair up. Instead she has let it out of its braid and it lays in golden waves over her shoulders and down her back. I gave up trying to convince her to get it cut shorter and style it in a more… popular way last week, but maybe will try again next week.

“Amy, it’s too much,” she protests and makes a move to take it off but she catches her reflection in the mirror and her fingers stroke the fine chain.

“It’s not too much, it’s the only piece of jewelry you’re wearing. You won’t get your ears pierced so you’ve got to have something to keep his eyes up towards your head.” Though the necklace actually brings the eye down… but she won’t understand what I’m saying. Anything just so long as she doesn’t look underdressed. I don’t want her to make me look like an idiot for suggesting this. “Now move over so I can check myself. You sure you don’t want to borrow my eye shadow? I’ve got a nice blue that’ll go with your outfit.” I rub my front teeth with my finger to make sure there’s no lipstick stuck on them. Amy’s still focused on the necklace.

“No, but maybe I’ll borrow some of your lipstick after all.” I pull the lipstick out and go to put it on her myself but she manages to wrestle it out of my hands and applies it herself, just enough to hint at some color.

“Now come on. You can’t even tell that you put any on.”

“That’s the way that I like it,” she said simply and tossed the tube into the pile with my other supplies. I grind my teeth a little, hoping nothing broke.

I spray on some more hair spray to keep a few stray pieces in place and adjust my skirt so it shows more leg. There’s a knock from down the hall and I know that the boys are here. I step into my spike heels, nearly twisting my ankle as I hurry to answer the door. Amy wears sensible heels, which remind me of something a librarian would wear but I know I’ll be asking to trade with her later when my feet start killing me.

I open the door where John is waiting in a wrinkled shirt, holding out a handful of cheap grocery store flowers. The man I assume to be Erik is hanging back a little and I wait for John to introduce us. I take the flowers and invite them in. Groping for a vase in a cabinet but have to settle for a washed out spaghetti sauce jar to house the flowers. I lead them further into the apartment. Amy is nowhere to be found so I have to call out to her.

Amy Spencer

September 27, 1985

I can hear Judy let them into the apartment and I freeze. I can’t believe that I let her talk me into this blind date, double date, whatever the appropriate name for this disaster-in-waiting is. Judy has a way of wearing a person down. I know that I could have lasted longer in my refusal if I really wanted to but this gives me the leverage with her that I’ll need in the future when I want to have my younger sisters stay with us. Judy has little patience with the girls and I have already promised my parents they could stay while they go on their trip to Washington for Dad’s business conference in November. At least I think that I’m prepared for the worst.

Judy has finally called me in as backup. I walk down the hall and turn the corner where the three of them are waiting for me. I wish there was some way for me to simply slip in unnoticed, but my own hesitation has made that impossible. I try not to look at the men too much and seek out Judy’s familiar face. I find myself looking at one of my potential dates for this evening. He’s got a friendly face and doesn’t seem as aware of his slightly disheveled appearance as I know Judy is. I can see her pulling at the wrinkles in his shirt as if this will beat them into submission. It’s clear that this is the infamous John, Judy’s boyfriend. He looks at me but can’t seem to introduce himself or even the friend standing behind him though he’s cleared his throat a few times trying to get someone to say something.

I turn to my date and look him over. He’s a little more put together in his neatly ironed shirt and he even has a matching tie on. It must be a set that came already matched. His hair has been combed and he carries a single purple tulip. I finally find Judy who is struggling to stuff a small, limp bouquet into a tall drinking glass she found.

I suck it up and take a few steps forward and hold out my hand to the one I have concluded is John. “I’m Amy. You must be John. Judy’s told me so much about you.” It sounds fake and mechanical but it’s the only thing I can think to say. At least I’m saying something instead of perpetuating the silence. He takes my hand, nodding that I’ve said the right thing.

“Yes, I’m John, John Clark. And this is my friend, Erik Shaw,” he motions to the wrong side of him but Erik steps forward and offers the flower. I reach for it with my left hand not really noticing that I haven’t let go of John’s hand. Judy starts to laugh and jumps in introducing herself to Erik. The four of us are quickly becoming a tangled mess but it’s put us more at ease.

Judy plops the improvised vase of flowers on a shelf of the bookcase by the entryway. As a group we’re moving out the door fast; the guys made reservations and don’t want to be late. I don’t know what to do with my lonely tulip so as Erik herds us out the door I stab the tulip in next the glass with Judy’s wilting white chrysanthemums.

Dinner is quiet and not nearly as painful as I’d imagined it would be. The conversation flows easily, thanks in large part to Judy’s ability to talk to no end about just about anything. Erik talks for a while about his plans for going on to medical school and pharmaceutical studies. “Why pharmaceuticals?” I can’t help but ask. “I mean, it sounds like some of the same work for becoming a physician. Why not go that way?” I know my question probably sounds rude, especially considering I’ll probably end up working in a library or teaching. Who am I to judge?

“Pharmaceuticals has less pressure. I don’t have to deal with patients directly, so I don’t have to worry about getting attached and seeing things not work out. I don’t know.” He chuckled and began playing with the napkin, adjusting it in his lap so he could look down and avoid my eyes. “I’ve just never been good with seeing people in pain. I want to be able to help them, but being around them too much, I get anxious and make mistakes. Doctors need to be good under pressure and I just crumble.” He flushes and I feel guilty for having cornered him into admitting something he clearly sees as one of his biggest weaknesses.

Judy breaks the subtle tension by telling stories about her grandmother’s foolproof remedies for various ailments. John didn’t say much until Judy prods him into divulging his future plans.

“Business,” he says simply.

“Oh, come on Johnny.” I don’t think he likes the nickname but Judy probably thinks he’s just embarrassed by her display of intimacy in public. “Tell Amy more about what you’re going to do.”

“I’m actually looking to start my own accounting firm when I graduate. I’ll probably start out at an established place until I pay off my debts and while I save for my own. It’s not much really. Pretty boring actually.” He looks down at his Sprite and plays with the ice in it.

Erik backs him up. “Anytime I have a question about my bank statement I just turn it over and ignore whatever he says until it’s fixed.” Erik is sitting between John and myself and struggled to reach an arm around John’s shoulders. “I’ll always be your number one client. And you know, if I ever decide to ditch pharmaceuticals and go for a ‘real doctor,’ as my father puts it, you’ll be the first one I go to when I open my own practice.”

John nods his head but isn’t as enthusiastic as Erik. Erik doesn’t notice. He’s had half a beer and has become more self-centered, even with only that small bit of alcohol. I sip my Pepsi and watch Judy working on her Long Island ice tea.

John wants the attention off of him and asks me about my own plans. His eyes plead for me to take the spotlight away. “I’m an English major, actually. Which will translate to teaching, most likely. I’d like to write, I think. I’m not completely sure what I plan to do, so for now I’m here, treading water until I make up my mind to swim back to shore or go for it in deeper waters.” John smiles and Judy starts to laugh. She knows that I’m being clever or funny and is trying to determine which it is and how much she should be laughing.

“Teaching is a noble profession,” Erik puts forth, not really knowing what to say. It’s clear he doesn’t think much of my likely choice. “It’s great that you want to help children like that.”

“Yes,” I begin. “Well, children are the future and I believe that the earlier you can get to them and manipulate them into following what you believe, the more likely you’re going to be one of the happier ones later in life, safely in the ruling majority.”

Judy is horrified by what I’ve said, but Erik bursts out laughing. He laughs so hard that there are tears in his eyes. I can’t help cracking a smile myself. John even chuckles a little. Only now does Judy realize I’m being sarcastic and giggles in an effort to look like she got it from the beginning. John rolls his eyes at her a little and looks down when he sees that I caught him doing it. As much as I dislike being the center of attention, I like that these two men seem to find me to be good company and I’m surprised that I’m having such a good time. I even like my blind date.

Erik Shaw

September 27, 1985

This evening began awkwardly enough. John insisted that I come if only to take a break from my studies. He was determined to do what he could to please this new girlfriend of his. She’s pleasant enough even if she doesn’t seem to be the brightest girl. It can be painful to watch, but she tries so hard.

Not like my date. Amy hasn’t said much this evening but she has shown a great sense of humor and a deal of wit with the few words she has spoken (it’s a little odd at first but I think I like it). From the beginning I felt she was odd but now I know that she is and that simple knowledge has put me more at ease around her and I’m finding I like her better now than when the night began. At first I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I was uneasy sitting next to her but now I know it’s just the way she has of staring me down. Hers is a stare in which I feel exposed but simultaneously, reassured. With one look her eyes tell me that those thoughts and secrets I keep to my self, well, she knows what they are but that I don’t need to worry because I can count on her silence if nothing else.

I now feel embarrassed for having talked so much about myself in order to fill, what I thought were awkward silences. She’s clearly seen through it and I only hope she doesn’t hold it against me. Her silence is peaceful, calming, not awkward.

I have been nodding my head along with the conversation (maybe she’ll notice my attempts to let someone else talk, to exhibit my own ability to shut my trap and pay attention) but I don’t know what’s been said until the two girls get up to use the rest room. John’s date looks overdone when she stands next to Amy. I’d thought Amy had dressed too simply but now I realize it suits her and she looks more beautiful for it, though I can’t quite figure out what the “it” is that she has.

After the girls have walked away, I lean to John and give him a nudge. “Wow. Isn’t Amy something?”

“She’s not what I expected,” John concedes. “Certainly not as vivacious or outgoing as Judy. I mean… Judy said she was quiet but I don’t know that I’ve ever met anyone so shy.”

I don’t know what he’s talking about. Amy is hardly shy. Reserved, yes. A little self-conscious, sure. But shy? No, not that.

“Now, I’ve got nothing against Judy, John, but I think Amy’s… There’s just something about her. You know, I’m really glad you talked me into this,” I confess. I know that when the night ends I’ll ask Amy for her number and will try to arrange for another date, a private one this time. Maybe a less formal dinner and a movie. I smile in Amy’s direction when she and Judy come back and stand to pull her chair out for her. Girls like that sort of thing. Sure enough, Amy returns my smile. I glance over at John but he’s facing Judy with a dorky half grin of his own.

In love with what I learned in the second grade

“All of us learn to write in the second grade. Most of us go on to greater things.” – Bobby Knight

Why is it that the best ideas always strike in the most inconvenient places at the most inconvenient times? I’ve gotten in the habit of keeping a notepad by my bed for when ideas strike at bedtime, but I have yet to solve the problem of jotting things down in the shower.

Even with all the projects I’m already working on, inspiration struck last night for a serial story that I feel would be perfect for this venue. Honestly, it’s the kind of thing I’d like for a television series, but I want to do it as a daily (or as close to daily) posting here. My goal is to post somewhere between 100 and 500 words a day. I’ll still be posting short stories and novel excerpts as well as thoughts about books and what I’m reading.

Here’s the last of what I have from Rosewood Manor.

Rosewood Manor – Chapter 5 and Rosewood Manor – Chapter 6 (partial).

Excerpt from Rosewood Manor – Chapter 5.

The miscarriage kept Elizabeth in bed for a few days. The doctor did his best to assuage the fears of her husband and his parents.

“She lost a bit of blood. Keep her in bed. Absolutely no moving from the room for at least three days, but encourage her to rest longer. If she starts to bleed again, send for me, although I don’t know that there would be much I could do in such a case.”

Jane was standing closest to the doctor, her arms crossed over her chest. “Do you think she knew of her condition?” She couldn’t form any other thoughts, however hard she tried.

The doctor paused for a moment but went ahead when he saw Charles’ worried face. “I’m not sure she knew. She may have only suspected but you would need to ask her for a definitive answer. What I’m instructing you to do is keep her off of her feet for a few days. Watch her and send for me if you see any changes in her condition. I’ll call again in a few days’ time to reexamine her.” He picked up his things and left the house.

More of my twaddle

“Looking back, I imagine I was always writing. Twaddle it was too. But better far write twaddle or anything, anything, than nothing at all.” – Katherine Mansfield

There’s a photo somewhere of me sitting on a booster seat and our old gray desktop Mac, typing away. I was a little shaky on the rules of plagiarism at the time, being only about four years old at the time. I wanted to write a book so I found my favorite copy of Cinderella and began typing it myself. After my parents explained that doing it that way didn’t count and was against the rules, I started stealing paper from the printer, folding it in half, and stapling it into a book of my own. I would write until I started running out of paper and hastily wrapped it up and started a new one.

I was about seven years old when I started my first story that could really be called a story. It was going to be a supernatural murder mystery. I still have the first few pages in a trunk with my school things from elementary school. It’s right on top of the orange and blue house made out of a milk carton where a petrified gingerbread man resides.

Next week I plan on playing with my old laptop until I can get a readable copy of the novel I wrote when I was fourteen. Until then, there are still two main chunks of the incomplete Rosewood Manor that I’ll be posting as well as some of the short stories I included as part of my thesis project. Here is Rosewood Manor – Chapter 4.

Excerpt from Rosewood Manor – Chapter 4

Elizabeth used the information Mrs. King had given her the day before to begin the tiresome search for her mother and sister. Rather than cause a scene and draw unwanted attention to herself, Elizabeth ventured out on foot. It was a pleasant walk to town, though the distance seemed longer on foot than from the comfort of a carriage. The rain of the previous afternoon had ceased during the night and the morning sun had worked at clearing the puddles. Through a series of disastrous misjudgments, Elizabeth quickly learned to keep t the center of the road when possible, away from the carriage-wheel induced ruts along the edge.

Once she arrived at the outskirts of the small town, Elizabeth found herself lost. In the few months she’d lived with Amelia and Anne at Mrs. King’s boarding house, she’d only ventured out unassisted a handful of times, and even on those occasions she rarely met with success. In an attempt to find the butcher, whose shop was on the road perpendicular to their own lodgings, Elizabeth had wandered into the Worthington store where she’d first met Charles. He had escorted her through the rest of her errands that day and returned her safely to the boarding house. When he would come to call they often went for drives in his carriage but she had paid little attention to her surroundings beyond the carriage’s interior.

I’m going to need some windex and papertowels

“Good writing is like a windowpane.” – George Orwell

I go back and forth about my writing process. A part of me loves writing my stories out by hand. There’s something intensely satisfying about the way the pages feel when they’ve been filled with words. The texture the pen creates, the color of the ink, the vague uniformity of the handwritten lines, and the sporadic, occasionally violent instances where the pen executes misguided words. Handwriting them  also means that there’s a hard copy that transcends changes in technology (there are some files I can no longer get to because they were put on floppy disks; yeah remember those?). Retyping has also become a helpful step in my editing process. I have all the changes made on record that way.

It would be a very good system… if I could make myself stick to it. Unfortunately, what ends up happening is I want someone to read the beginning of something to get an opinion or see if a passage makes sense and I have to type it up so I can give them a copy that isn’t the only hard copy I possess. Once a piece is typed, I have a hard time making myself go back to the notebook or journal where I started, leaving the original incomplete. And it bothers  me to start something new on the next page because the one before it isn’t finished, at least, not there. This is the reason I have an entire  desk full of notebooks and journals with projects started and a folder on my computer where they’re completed.

Here’s Rosewood Manor – Chapter 3. Soon I’ll be done retyping this incomplete work and I’ll be able to put the notebook back in the desk.

Excerpt from Rosewood Manor – Chapter 3:

The next month came and Charles prepared to visit Rosewood and Elizabeth readied the house for a few days without her, as she was to accompany him. Charles asked Robert to go as well but Robert refused. Robert had withdrawn into himself more and more over the past few months. Charles often wondered where Robert disappeared to each day. He hadn’t mentioned it to his father, but Robert would leave the store for hours at a time without a word to anyone.

Youtrytypingwithoutaspacebar

“It isn’t writing at all – it’s typing.” – Truman Capote

As most of my friends know, a six-month-old attacked my keyboard and left my computer without one vital key — the space bar. I tried watching several videos on YouTube detailing how to reattach it but none of them helped. Simply leaving the plastic piece hovering above the little nub worked poorly for a little while before the plastic split down the middle. It turns out that the plastic piece isn’t as necessary as I’d originally thought. If any rogue infants or pets detach your space bar key and you have trouble putting it back together, I recommend pitching it.

Anyway here’s Rosewood Manor – Chapter 2. The transcription of more old works is coming along slower than planned. This is only partially due to the missing button. It’s more the result of not being able to make up my mind about what to do next. Finishing something, whether it be a piece of writing or reading a book, always leaves me ready to start the next thing. But it isn’t ever one thing. It seems that for every project I finish, I start five more. That’s my problem right now. Too many ideas bombarding me at once and fighting for top priority (and they’re all losing because of it).

Excerpt from Rosewood Manor – Chapter 2:

Charles and Elizabeth settled in London as planned. The store was stocked and the house filled with all the little necessities before they sent for Robert to join them. He packed his belongings quickly and was eager to leave Rosewood. After Charles’ departure their father had taken him into the store to start his instruction. Robert was absolutely certain that he despised being a merchant and was determined to find some way out of the life his parents were planning for him. He and his father had nearly come to blows the night before he left when he discovered the truth behind the store, the tricks Samuel Worthington’s family had used in the past to keep food on their table and money in their pockets and store.

Please, hurl away

“This novel is not to be tossed lightly aside, but to be hurled with great force.” – Dorothy Parker

I was going through some of my old writing notebooks from high school and found a few stories and even a novel started but not completed. I’ve been working on typing up what I’ve found. This is only the first of five chapters that I managed to complete of a novel I planned to title Rosewood Manor. I still remember the intended arc but haven’t worked on it in about five or six years. I’ll be posting the chapters I have completed and if there’s enough interest, maybe I’ll work on completing it.

Rereading it to type it up has only confirmed: 1) it was very silly and melodramatic and 2) I knew nothing about the research that would be necessary for writing a historic fiction novel (and as it turns out, some of the history classes I’ve taken in college have provided decent research for finishing it).

I’m also in the process of trying to get a copy of the novel that I wrote when I was fourteen (to go even further back) but right now the files aren’t readable by my current laptop. When I do get a copy, I’ll post it one chapter at a time.

Excerpt from Rosewood Manor – Chapter 1:

“You look beautiful, dear.” A steady and practiced hand adjusted the lavish lace on Elizabeth’s dress.

“Mother, please,” Elizabeth quietly pleaded. Even in her scolding she was unable to stop smiling. Her younger sister clung to their mother’s side. Though she was thirteen, Anne was shy and quiet, clinging to those she found familiar. When two shadows approached, Anne shrank back even further.

“Mother, I don’t believe you’ve met Robert. He’s Charles’ younger brother. Robert will be living with us in London and learning the business with Charles. One day they may even be partners,” Elizabeth explained politely, eager to settle into her new role as a wife.