Fragment Friday – Cats and Dogs

Happy Friday Firefans!

In the spirit of a late summer weekend…

Today I decided to share something that I wrote simply because…are you ready? It makes me happy. Yes. Writers can be happy too.

I don’t think this story is epic. I don’t think have any delusions that the writing here is stellar. The plot is light and probably predictable. And I haven’t spent hours obsessing over it or become an existential train wreck because of it or its origins.

I started it as part of a prompt for a short story contest. I ended up missing the deadline, but was so in love with the premise that I decided I’d keep it on file and go back to it someday.  I love the characters and the possible scenarios of what might happen between them. I love the setting and the story and the animals and the slightly askew yet amiable small-town ideals.

This story is something that I often forget writing is supposed to be: FUN. Yes! Did you know, our group has lots and lots and lots of fun? We do! Even though of late, we haven’t shown that side of ourselves here.

And yes, you called it. You know me well. There is, of course, music that goes with this scene. See? More fun!  Unfortunately this artist is so up-and-coming you can’t find the song on YouTube. So you’ll need Spotify to play it. (Emerging writers supporting emerging artists. That’s how we roll here at WTF.)

Anyway, I hope you enjoy it. As always, I welcome your thoughts.

Thanks for reading.

~C

(here’s the song)

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Cats and Dogs ~ Chapter One, Opening Scene

Lizzie sat on the window ledge, pulled back the lace curtain and peered outside. Squinting, she surveyed the contents of the black convertible in the driveway next door: A camera, a map, and several brown boxes filled with books. Nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing that satisfied any suspicions of either normalcy or scandal.

Gracie, with her little orange tail pointed straight up, jumped onto the window ledge and boldly nosed her way through the curtain. Lizzie took the kitten into her lap and pulled back the lace. She didn’t want to be accused of spying. And anyway she wasn’t spying, really. That would be perfectly ridiculous.lace curtains

Mary, the librarian was the first in town to spread the news: Nathan McDaniel, the famous and recently divorced romance novelist was moving to the seaside town of Trinity Cove. Lizzie couldn’t have cared less about it, until she heard Mary casually mention that he was buying the house next door.

She’d had to sell literally hundreds of her murals to save for the down payment on her 1906 Victorian cottage, and in the three years she’d lived there, she’d been working her fingers to the bone to restore and maintain its charm.  She was near certain a celebrity author was not going to appreciate the historic character of the neighborhood. Nor was she sure that she wanted an egotistical, overpaid, overindulged, celebrity romance writer living next door.

She had read a few of Nate McDaniel’s books, or she’d tried anyway, and she couldn’t help finding his writing bland and overly cliché. She’d rolled her eyes at the way his books followed such a formulaic plot, young Caucasians in love and separated or unrequited in mind-numbingly stereotypical ways. She was sure he hadn’t a clue the way people really felt, or talked, or acted when they were smitten over someone. And maybe she was no expert, but she was pretty sure that real people didn’t act like the cardboard cutouts he seemed to use as inspiration for his characters.

moving truckShe straightened her spine and watched cautiously as a slender man with tousled, walnut-colored hair appeared behind the truck with a handcart, wearing a dress shirt rolled to the elbows and loose-fitting jeans. He pulled a few medium-sized boxes down and stacked them on the cart, then put his hands behind his head, stretched and gazed with a warm smile around neighborhood. Lizzie ducked behind the curtain.

That’s Nathan McDaniel?” She said out loud without meaning to. Gracie mewed in response, butting her head against Lizzie’s arm. She stroked the kitten’s soft fur absentmindedly and peeked out again. The man was effortlessly lifting giant boxes down and stacking them in neat rows. Strange. She had pictured him older, heavier, messier, more… bookish: Sweater cardigan, squishy abdomen, double chin, withered cigar hanging over a five-o-clock shadow. Not that she’d spent any time thinking about it, but wasn’t that what middle-aged romance novelists usually looked like? She pulled back the lace again and leaned forward slightly to get a better view.

After a long bout of silent staring, a horrible thud, followed by a clawing, scratching noise brought Lizzie back into focus and painfully aware that she’d been resting her forehead against the glass. Damn. She was caught. The man in the driveway jerked his head in the direction of Lizzie’s front window.

Gracie dug her claws into Lizzie’s thighs and before she had a chance to cry out in pain, a giant, jet-black, slobbery face appeared at the window. The horrible creature barked so loud, Lizzie felt the window vibrate. Gracie clawed her way across Lizzie’s right arm and dashed under the sofa.

“What on earth was that awful thing?” Lizzie whimpered, rubbing the tiny scratches on her thigh.The doorbell chimed.

She froze, thinking briefly of her ripped shorts, paint-splattered shirt, and the dirty-blonde strands of hair falling out of the messy bun on top of her head.  She closed her eyes and hoped that the quiet meant whomever was at the door had gone. But a friendly knock- with a little more-than-the-usual enthusiasm broke into the silence.

Lizzie took a deep breath and made her way to the door, opening it with slow trepidation.

Top Ten Ways to Make a Woman Angry

I don’t know if it’s the end of summer and everyone is at the peak of laziness/apathy, or if there are just several men who are acting a little stupid lately, but I want to post this as a public service announcement. Please take note.

10. Leave your laundry on the bathroom floor – We are not your maid nor your mother. It is laundrynearly as easy to remove your clothes and put them in the hamper as it is to toss them on the bathroom floor. We hate walking into the bathroom and stepping on your clothes, especially your underwear. (You know the reason as well as we do.) We hate hunting for your socks behind the toilet. Just put your clothing in the appropriate receptacle and avoid the problem.

9. Whining – We know that things don’t always go your way. We know that you’re working hard and that you have a lot on your plate. So do we. Whining does not make it better, in fact, it makes the situation nearly unbearable. Please. If you want to complain, at least find a creative way to do it.

8. Anger at stupid things – This might seem hypocritical, but seriously, when you want to kick someone’s ass for cutting you off in traffic, we want to kick your ass.

7. Call watching YOUR children “baby-sitting” – When you spend time with your children without their mother you are NOT baby-sitting. What you are doing is being a father. Fatherhood is frightening, confusing, messy and chaotic. So is motherhood. Mothers do not have all the answers. We’re winging it just like you are. Creating children takes two. So does raising them.

6. Treating us as if we’re irrational…all the time – Look. We know that there are certain times of the month that we may seem a little bit emotional, or out of sorts. But that’s not every day. Sometimes we have a point and if you ask if it’s “that time of the month” we’re going to be upset. Even if it is “that time” why would that make what we say invalid?

5. Minimize her feelings – this one goes along with number six. Even if we might, maybe, could be irrational. The feelings we are having are real and disregarding them doesn’t make them go away. In fact, if we ignore our feelings they just get bottled up and the situation gets worse and worse. If we are feeling angry, sad or anxious, don’t tell us to NOT feel that way. Say that you understand and bring us a cup of tea, some chocolate, and listen. We’ll be happier…and so will you.

action-figures4. Putting too much stock in toys – Okay we understand that you like the X-box. We have things that we like too. We know you might have a passion for firearms, or games, or…I don’t know…action figures. Whatever it is, people are more important than your toys. Your children, your significant other, your parents, visitors, all more important. Keep your priorities straight. If someone breaks a toy, be polite, it’s okay to be upset. It’s not okay to act as if the world is about to end or to make whoever broke it feel as if they are worthless.

3. Laugh at her passion – This blog is primarily for writers, but all women have something that is their passion. Trust me, there is a fire within her for something. If she shares it with you and you treat it as if it is a joke, you’ll not only make her angry, you’ll extinguish some of that fire. Instead of laughing at her, take some time to explore her passion with her. You’ll learn something about her that will fascinate you. You’ll get a glimpse of her that she won’t show you unless she feels safe. We promise, she will come alive and you’ll be amazed at the depth of your love.

2. Ignoring magic – Magic exists. It is all around us, and most of the women I know can see it. There is magic at the turning of the seasons. There is magic in the birth of a child, in new love, in old love, in music, in poetry. Most women can see it, grow with it and enjoy it. If we try to share something magical with you, it’s probably in your best interest to agree that whatever we are speaking of is beautiful. Or at least smile and nod. If we’re trying to share magic with you and you just stare at us and then say, “Hey, did you pay the car payment? It was due yesterday.” We’re going to be really angry.

1. Forgetting to show compassion – The ability to imagine another person’s plight is part of what makes us human. Too often, we forget to try to see a person’s life through their eyes. Lacking compassion makes us judgmental and negative. Without compassion, we’re dooming ourselves to see the world through a single pair of eyes – our own. How boring! And how empty! If you want to keep us happy, practice compassion with everyone you meet. Try to understand your fellow beings on their terms. Not only will it keep us happy, you will live a more fulfilled life. It will allow you to see people as God does, as wonderful, fallible beings full of potential and promise.

compassionate

Guest Post- Jenny Shaw

This is a story about a girl who loves a lost boy, very, very, very much. She knew he was guest-postinglost but loved him anyway. He never returned her affections until one night right before his 28th birthday.

She knew it would never last. And it didn’t. But, these are the words that will remained burned into her heart for the rest of her life.

-Jenny

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On a Wednesday night, the last week in May

 you started saying those words.

 I thought it was absurd, surely I misheard…

 You asked me to come back to you after I had gone away…

 So, come back I did, to reassure your soul.

 As you fell asleep, I went to go.

 Told you that I loved you so…then…you started talking too.

It started with “I love you Jenny”

followed by “Goodnight”

I didn’t believe my ears, I couldn’t have heard right.


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 Two days passed, and then,

 I found myself once again

alone with you in your room

 where you were trapped in your spiral of doom

 trying just to keep yourself afloat…


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 “Don’t leave me”, you pleaded

 my bleeding heart went out to you

I held you in my arms as you cried

“I’m so sorry, Jenny. So very sorry…”

For what, I didn’t know…


“I broke your heart so long ago…”

 That simply wasn’t true, this is what I told you

 I’m tougher than I look & stronger than I seem

 I saw in your eyes then a hopeful gleam

 “I’ve always adored you, I care for you so much

 I was just too afraid to ever let you know.

 I thought I would destroy you, I never wanna hurt you…”

 The sad smile on my face was matched by your own

 when I told you I loved you & I always would…

 But it was time for me to go.

 “No! Please, don’t leave me?

 Don’t leave me; I’m begging you Jenny-Bird.”

 As though your life hung on every word, you pleaded with me to stay…


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couple holding hands

 So, I stayed.


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 But the pleading didn’t stop,

 if anything it got stronger & more desperate.

 “I couldn’t stand it if you left, I think I might die if you leave…”

 Then you started to cry…


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 “Oh, Peter Pan,” I said to you, so worried for my friend.

 “Are you talking about when I’m done with school?”

 I felt so foolish. Why should you care if I leave or I stay?

 I didn’t know what to say…

 “I couldn’t bear if you left,” you said in a rush

 Then with your voice quite hushed, through your tears you whispered

 “I think I would die without you here…”


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 My heart stopped

 Tears filled my eyes

 I tightened my arms’ hold around you

 “No matter where I go, no matter what I do

How far away I am… I will never, ever leave you.

 I’ll always be right here for you, Pan.”

 You didn’t like that answer.

 You shook your head; you growled & said,

 “That’s not the same.

 You’ll be gone, I’ll be here…

 You’re leaving in a year.

 You’ll be with what’s his name who does the stuff.”

 You tried so hard to sound tough…

 I laughed,

 you frowned

 I turned your head around

 Took your face in my hands & I said,

 “Adrian. I think you have been misled.

 There is no what’s his name, not now at least

 and if you wanted to…

 You could come with me.”

 Your eyes, how they lit up,

 your smile brightened the room

 I saw you come out of your spiral of doom… and then…


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love in the shadows

 The kiss.


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 The thing I never knew I would miss

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 exactly as I’d always imagined and better at the same time.

 For those minutes, for that hour… You were mine.

 But I knew it wouldn’t last

 the sun would rise, oh so fast…

 And with its rays your words would fade

 Disappearing in the light of day.


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 You felt my hesitation,

 you asked me why?

 So I addressed the situation…

“I’ve loved you for so long,”

 a tear sliding down my face

 “It was always wrong… Wrong time, wrong place…”

With a deep breath I explained…

 “Tomorrow this will be over.

 You’ll wake up, you won’t remember.

 I know you too well, Peter Pan,

 More than anyone else, I understand.”


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 Another growl then these words,

 “MURDER.

 I’ll do whatever it takes Jenny-Bird,

 to prove to you how much I care

Even if it takes forever, you’ll see just how much you mean to me.

Everything I’m doing now, everything I’ve done was to be the man you deserve to have;

so I could deserve you, too.

 I just can’t get rid of you, Jenny-Bird.”

 “Get rid of me?!” I cried, “If that’s what you want, I’ll leave right now,”

 Only half joking, I pulled away.

 You pulled me harder to your side,

 you kissed me long and hard, you said,

 “This connection that we have, it just won’t go away.

 I don’t want it to; I couldn’t imagine life another way.

 I’ve missed you Jenny, so much,”

 You showed me with your touch, the passion in your heart…


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 As you drifted off to sleep,

 I wouldn’t let my eyes close

 I wanted to remember everything from this night

 So that when the sun rose and you forgot I would know…


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 You told me that you loved me

you said how much you cared

 more than I had ever dared to hope for

 you showed me in one bittersweet night…


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 It hurts but I know I’ll be alright

 now that once more you’ve gone away…

At least, for just a moment

 you found the courage to say what was in your heart.


 And now, just like we knew you would,

 this night has disappeared.

 It didn’t happen if I don’t remember…

 But I will always remember.


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  Though our story may be over,   crush couple silhouette

 I will always be grateful for this one fateful night

when our paths met along with our lips

I’ll consider it our farewell kiss

before we embark into our new lives…


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Goodbye Peter Pan.

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About Jenny Shaw:

JennyI grew up in a rural town in northern Utah. My life wasn’t particularly exciting, no grand adventures or epic love stories. The oldest child of a middle-class American family, homeschooled and the only non-LDS family on the block, I didn’t have many friends growing up. So, I made them up. Writing became my escape, my way into the life and friendships I only dreamed of having. 

I’d been singing since before I can remember and writing for almost as long. Eventually, the two merged into angsty teenaged poetry which then evolved into something almost called real music. At this point in my life, my music and my writing are my ways of expressing myself, reaching into the world outside of me to add to it, make it more beautiful than it was before…and it is much cheaper than therapy. Ha!

Reading the Fire

The importance of reading has been brought to my attention several times over the past week. As Cindy mentioned in her post, it is essential for those of us who write to be among people who read and it is a desirable quality in a spouse. But I believe that it is an important aspect for our culture as well as individuals.

There are two things that have stuck in my mind over the past week that underline the reasons we should read.

First, one of my children has been struggling with reading and just made a break through. It was like it finally all made sense to him, and he came to me one morning excited, “Mom! I read it!” He handed me a book which he has been trying to read on his own for a couple of months. “It’s about a cowboy…” He followed me around the house during morning chores and told me about what he had read, how he had felt, why he liked the cowboy and how excited he was to continue reading.

It was all I could do to keep the tears from flowing down my cheeks. This is how I felt about reading and my son had suddenly discovered the perfect contentment contained in a good book. He can now be taken to faraway lands while lying in his bed. He can discover the meaning of love before he even starts dating. He can be introduced to the beauty of the world through the eyes of authors who are aware of it. He can learn what it means to be a man of value. He can discover compassion within his heart for people who are different through the characters found in books.

This is what reading has done for me, my family, and my fellow group members. I couldn’t be happier and more excited to discuss books with him and hear his perspective.

The next thing happened in our writing class last week, our teacher said, “Illiteracy within a culture means that culture lacks imagination.” I find this to be true in the people around me whether it is actual illiteracy or willful illiteracy, where a person chooses to turn their back on the other worlds that books offer, the outcome is the same. Without imagination, we would not have innovation, invention, creativity, or exploration. Imagination drives our soul, the very thing that makes us human.

And so in the spirit of keeping imagination alive, I’ve started a list of books which have changed my life, changed the way I look at things, scared the h— out of me, given me great pleasure, distilled the beauty of life on my heart, or simply made me laugh.

Please comment! Add your books to the list! Let’s keep imagination alive!

Fiction:

  1. You Are Special by Max Lucado
  2. If Only I Had a Green Nose by Max Lucadomy library
  3. You Are Mine by Max Lucado
  4. Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling
  5. Plain Tales from the Hills by Rudyard Kipling
  6. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
  7. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
  8. The Witches by Roald Dahl
  9. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
  10. Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery
  11. The Lonesome Gods by Louis L’Amour (I’m not a western type of girl, but I love Johannes Verne. “My name is Johannes Verne and I am not afraid.”)
  12. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  13. The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia Wrede
  14. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  15. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
  16. The Railway Children By Edith Nesbit
  17. The Fairy Books by Andrew Lang (Some purists don’t the like the fairy stories in these books but I love them! My favorite two are the Blue Fairy Book and the Yellow Fairy Book.)
  18. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  19. The Giver by Lois Lowry
  20. Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter
  21. Anything by Shel Silverstein especially The Giving Tree (great way to introduce your children to poetry)
  22. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (My favorite is The Last Battle)
  23. The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
  24. The Legend of
  25. Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
  26. Holes by Louis Sachar
  27. The Great Brain by John Dennis Fitzgerald
  28. Little Britches by Ralph Moody
  29. The Seventh Son by Orson Scott Card
  30. Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
  31. Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  32. The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells
  33. The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
  34. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Lewis Stevenson
  35. Sherlock Holmes Stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  36. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
  37. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. TolkienLord of the Rings
  38. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  39. Anything by Jane Austen (My favorites are Mansfield Park, Northanger Abby, and Pride and Prejudice.)
  40. To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee
  41. The Chosen by Chaim Potok (When I read this book in high school it was about friendship, as an adult I think it’s a book about parenting. I love multi-faceted books like that!)
  42. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  43. The Old Man and the Sea by Earnest Hemingway (I don’t like Hemingway, but loved this book and the short story listed below.)
  44. The Writing Class by Jincy Willet (I love the protagonist in this novel! She reminds me of ME in parts.)
  45. The Life of Pi by Yann Martel
  46. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  47. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
  48. The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (You’ll be suspicious of everyone’s intentions for a while.)

My Favorite Shakespeare:

  1. The Merchant of Venice
  2. A Midsummer night’s Dream

Non-Fiction:

  1. The Well-Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer
  2. Backyard Ballistics by William Gurstelle (My husband and son LOVE this book. I mean, who wouldn’t love building a tennis ball mortar out of Pringles cans?)
  3. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
  4. The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout (Will confirm everything you believe after reading Heart of Darkness)
  5. Emotional Vampires by Dr. Albert Bernstein
  6. The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis
  7. The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis
  8. The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis
  9. Girl Meets God by Lauren Winner

Short stories:

  1. The Judges House by Brahms Stoker (Don’t read it in the dark.)
  2. The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell
  3. The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allen Poe
  4. The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe
  5. The Gold Bug by Edgar Allen Poe
  6. Hills Like White Elephants by Earnest Hemingway (I hate The American, but I LOVE that this story can be interpreted many ways.)
  7. The Lottery by Shirley Jackson (Chilling.)

Poetry: (I enjoy poetry, but I’m not well versed in it. There are, however, a few that I adore.)

  1. The Oxford Book of American Light Verse is a good place to start.
  2. A Psalm of Life by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
  3. If by Rudyard Kipling
  4. Casey at the Bat by Ernest Thayer
  5. The Highway Man by Alfred Noyes
  6. Crossing the Bar by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
  7. I love Eugene Field and his poetry for my children.

Upcoming books that I’ll be reading in the next couple of months:

  1. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  2. Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
  3. Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury
  4. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  5. The Color of Water by James McBride

Okay, so there it is. What about you? What books have changed you? What stories do you LOVE?

Fragment Friday- Contradictions

Hey readers!

I am very excited about this post.

Its Music Week, AND Fragment Friday, AND its my turn to share some fiction! 

I decided to write something new, just for this post. I’ve been in a bit of a writing funk lately, and this was just the ticket to bring me out of it.This piece is from my (very distant future) book, The Lyrics. This scene, combined with Ed Sheeran’s Give Me Love is a good example of when I hear a song, and it moves me, speaks to the Muse, and fits my characters so perfectly I decide to actually write the song into the story.

One more thing before you dive in. This piece is a little long (Read; it needs editing.) It’s rough, it rambles a little, and it’s probably not the best representation of my writing style. (Read: I finished it last night at 11:39pm.) But it’s fresh, its pure and raw, and that’s what we’re shooting for here on WTF.

If you have comments, questions, complaints, I’d love to hear it all. Help me make it better. We’re all about the feedback!

Hope you enjoy.  ~Cindy

The Lyrics  Chapter 22 – Contradictions

The droning voices and incessant, cacophonic noise of the Karaoke machine finally ceased, and now a 50’s style song pulsed over the bar with a purposeful beat.

Stacey wasn’t on the stage anymore, and she hadn’t gone back to the crowded table of women—Sam could only assume they were dancers, covered in makeup and casting sparks of light around the room with their sequin-covered breasts. When he’d first caught sight of her, bare-faced and wearing a soft-pink hooded sweatshirt and jeans, he was grateful. Rising fame and palpable heartbreak hadn’t changed her yet. That’s it, keep fighting it, baby.

He wandered through the club, trying not to breathe in the scent of alcohol, trying to shut out the sound of ice clinking in thick glasses. He maneuvered around a crowd of women chatting on the dance floor, averted his eyes away from the bartender and made his way toward the back door, propped open. He somehow knew he’d find her there. He drew in a breath.

He could only see the silhouette of her, and she wasn’t facing him. But there was no doubt it was Stacey. She was leaning against the railing and dangling a half-empty thoughtful silhouettebeer bottle over the edge. He hesitated in the doorway, watching the way the flat lamplight bounced off her hair, casting an amber glow onto her nose and cheeks. It was possible, with every subsequent heartbreak she grew a little sadder, a little less sure of herself, and a little more beautiful. She leaned her head back and took a gulp from the bottle. He half smiled, watching her try not to cringe as she swallowed it.

“Hey,” he said, still inside the open door. She whipped her head around but didn’t move in any other way, so that a length of her brown hair swept under her chin, like a fine silk scarf. He could see her throat muscles move as she swallowed so she could speak.

“Sam?” Her eyes widened. “What are you doing here? I haven’t seen you since…I thought you were still in London.”

“I thought you didn’t drink beer,” he said, ignoring her question.

“I don’t.” She swirled the bottle around, looking through the hole at the liquid inside instead of him. “How long have you been here?”

“Long enough,” he said, When he saw her swallow hard and close her eyes, he wished he’d found another way to say it. She laughed sardonically and shook her head.

“That figures. It’s like I’m always finding new ways to humiliate myself.” He started to shake his head but she went on before he could think of what to say. “Cry about my dipshit ex in front of a famous director, a room full of theater critics. Come to find out it was in front of my best friend too. Typical.” Her words stung at him, and he wasn’t sure if it was because he didn’t like being referred to as her best friend, or because he didn’t feel like he’d been any sort of friend, to her or anyone. Not for the past six months anyway.

“Hey,” he said, placing his hand on her arm. “You didn’t do anything except not sing Karaoke. I’m not saying you’re bad, but that’s no crime.” He grinned, but she didn’t smile back. “Ok…so you watched Jake make an ass of himself on national television.  So what? Anyway, you have to know it isn’t true. All that chatter about his broken heart and making babies. It’s bloody nonsense.”

“You mean he made it up? Why?”

“Come on Stace. You’ve gotta know by now— he isn’t above feeding fiction to the press for publicity. It’s part of the game. We do it all the time.”

You don’t,” she said arguably, swirling the beer bottle around so it made a swishing noise. “I don’t.

“Well that’s because you and I—” he paused, wanting those words to slide easily across his tongue and out of his mouth and into the air again. “You and I…” he hesitated.. She turned and looked at him expectantly. “Well. We have a mutual understanding that any publicity is bad publicity.” Her face warmed, she smiled slightly. She was standing next to him now, her arm touching his.

“Tell me why it matters to me Sam,” she said, still swinging the beer bottle and gazing upward. “I wasted five years of my life waiting for Jake. He obviously wants fame more than he wants me. So what do I care if he’s out there, leading someone else on?” Beer on railing

Damn. He’d hoped that things would be different now, that she wouldn’t want to talk about Jake, that she’d no longer regard him as the middle-man. It was that one hope that gave him the courage to walk through the door of that bar. He wanted to pull her into his arms. Even more than he wanted to go to the bar and order a Scotch, even more than he wanted to find that bastard he used to regard as his only confidante and send him through a wall. More than all of it, he wanted to hold her. But he didn’t. He couldn’t.

“Because,” he said instead, forcing out words. “You gave it your all, and it’s tough to stop that momentum.” He swallowed hard. “Because your heart’s still in it.” He wasn’t saying it: The truth that hovered between them like the smoke in the air. Because you’re still in love with him.

She sighed and tipped her head so it touched his shoulder. He didn’t move. She sniffed a few times. She’s crying, he thought.  Suddenly her arm was moving around his waist. He started to hug her, but she reached into his jacket pocket and thrust a carton of cigarettes into the space between them.

“I thought you quit,” she said, her brown eyes flickering.

“I did,” he said, squinting and scratching behind his ear. She opened the carton. One missing. She eyed him for a few minutes, quiet scrutiny on her brow. He waited for her to ask if he’d been drinking. At least then he could say no, and it would be true, and he could be honest about something. But she didn’t ask. She pushed the cigarettes back into his pocket and gave him a weak smile.

“You and I…” she said, shaking her head and reaching for her beer. “At least we’re mutually ridiculous.” She took another long swallow and balanced the bottle on the railing, then opened her arms to embrace him. He lifted his to let her in, and she tucked her head under his chin. He closed his eyes.

hug “I don’t know why you’re here Sam.” Her voice was muffled by his jacket. “I probably don’t want to know why you’re at a bar, in L.A., at midnight. And this is probably really selfish… but I’m glad. I needed a friendly face.”

He hated the way she’d said it. A friendly face. Those words made it clear that things were not different. Time and distance had not changed anything. Up until now he’d been telling himself he’d changed inside and out since the last time he saw her. And maybe he had. But he was still the man she needed without being the man she wanted.

The smoke and the noise from inside the bar drifted out the back door and into the atmosphere, disappearing into the long, waving fingers of palm fronds. Bouts of laughter from the tables inside rose above the murmurs of flattery and pick-up lines, the publicized beginnings of one-night-stands. The music overhead changed from 50’s-pop into something contemporary; novel, with a softer beat. There was a bit of sorrow in the singer’s voice that rung familiar in Sam’s ears. The voice sounded subtly British, not unlike his own, and the lyrics floated out into the night air.

Give me love like her
Cause lately I’ve been waking up alone
Paint splatted teardrops on my shirt.
I told you I’d let them go…
And that I’ll fight my corner.
Maybe tonight I’ll call you
After my blood turns into alcohol.

A couple came onto the patio holding hands. They kissed. Sam watched them for a long time. They started to dance. Don’t, a voice in his head urged. It’s too much. It’s too soon. 

“You wanta dance?” he said, ignoring it.

“I thought you didn’t dance.” She pulled out of his arms and gave him a weak smile.

“I don’t,” he said. She grinned. The realness, the sweetness of it on her lips made him want to tell her. Everything. That he’d been waiting for her to stop reaching for the unreachable. That all the imperfections Jake saw in her were what made her…so bloody perfect. But he couldn’t find a way to make those words into anything outside his own head. Instead, he managed:

“But it seems to be a night of contradictions.”

She laughed, the breathy, soprano notes of her laughter ringing in his ears, and he tried hard to memorize it. He’d forgotten that laugh, how it made him feel: Unafraid.

“You’re right,” she held out her hand.  “I’d love to.”

**********

Hello, you beautiful reader you. If you made it this far, THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart. If you’re interested, I’ve created a soundtrack for this story on Spotify. Find me there and I’ll share it with you. 🙂