In the End Part 3: How Their Story Became My Story

I am pretty pleased with this draft, that being, the third draft. I didn’t really know what I was doing when I started this whole “I’m gonna write a book” project. That became apparent the closer I got to finishing it. So, I did some research before I edited this draft. I read Self-Editing For Fiction Writers by Renni Brown and Dave King (a great resource for anyone who is writing fiction, I highly recommend it). I took an online class called The Keys to Editing (http://www.ed2go.com/online-courses/the-keys-to-effective-editing?tab=detail I didn’t find it As helpful as the book since this class is about editing in general as opposed to just for fiction, but it was useful in some ways). Only when I had consumed both of those resources, and lots of other smaller articles and such about editing did I dive into editing this draft. I feel like my research made a difference. I hope it did anyway. I thought this was going to be my last draft. I really did.

But, you know, the best laid plans… I’m now editing the Fourth draft of my novel. I am restructuring a large portion of the book. But I’ll save that for my next post. 🙂

The differences in this draft largely came from tips and tricks I picked up from the book, and the class, and from suggestions from my beta readers. I removed almost all -ly words, stopped using dialogue tags other than said, attempted to remove most repetition, tried to show things, and strike a balance between narrative summary and detailed action, etc. The one thing I was most concerned about, that my class and book mentioned, but also said isn’t something one can teach, was my voice. A lot of my beta readers made favorable comments about my voice, so it seems like the thing I was most worried about was one of the things that came somewhat naturally to me (though I’m sure I’ll continue to develop it as I gain more experience). The other thing I was worried about was pacing, I’ve tried as I edit to make it so I’m not boring the reader to death and making my pace drag.

Whew. And so, here it is, my not quite final draft of my first chapter.

Meeting Laura February 2009

“I know you think I’m just a stranger, someone he’d wave to on his way to meet you, but I know him, too. Better than a ‘How you been?’ oh, better than I wish I did, I know you think you know him better, wait a little longer, I know him too. I guess no one told you nobody can hold him, I guess his whispers still sound true, and his secrets they’re still the same as the ones I knew. Tonight no one can tell you, the way your eyes shine, soon they’ll be like mine, ‘cause I know him, too.” –Tift Merritt, “I Know Him Too”

                                                                                                                                                                                         

Concentrating on my mindless job was hard enough without my love wandering in with another woman in his wake. What started as a typical day of work there in the grocery store deli I had been employed with for nearly all of my college days was about to be interrupted in the most dismal way possible. I was stream-lining the hot food case, tossing out the most dried out foods and removing the pans to be washed. That meant I had a clear line of sight through the glass of the sushi prep station all the way to the salad bar, which I now saw Dade approaching. I was thrilled to see him, until I saw her trailing along behind him.

When Dade and his mystery woman arrived at the other side of my salad bar, he noticed me. He waved to me over the top of the salad bar. Then he announced “She’s here” in a sing song voice, before saying something to her that I couldn’t hear. She continued fixing her salad while he rushed over to see me. As he made his way between the salad bar and the hot food case, I shoved some dishes into my co-workers hands so there wouldn’t be an audience while Dade and I were talking

“That time of day already?” Dade said. Considering he and I met a year before when he was also employed in the deli for a couple of months, I didn’t take his lack of greeting as rude.

“Yeah, the deli closes earlier now than when you worked here.”

“Oh, right.” He nodded. “Let me see it!”

“It” was the tattoo I got the night before. I stifled a groan, and then rolled up my sleeve so he could see my entire armband, trying to avoid rubbing ointment and still flaking ink onto my khaki-colored polo, or worse, hitting the still tender skin.

His face wrinkled. “It’s all grody,” he said, as if maybe it somehow escaped my notice that my arm was still a healing flesh wound. I thought of all the ink stains on my pillow when I woke up that morning. Then I thought of all of his tattoos, from top to bottom. Chinese symbol for loyalty on the back of his neck, half sleeve of demented zombies on his right upper arm, last name arched across his stomach, and last but most esteemed, an intricate dream-catcher on the back of each calf. His words were a reproach, but he should have understood.

“It’s less than twenty-four hours old,” I said.

She chose that moment to wander over holding her salad, so I have no idea how he might have responded if we had not been interrupted. Since she was looking only at him, I allowed myself a lingering once-over of her. I had never seen this girl before in my life, but I knew exactly who she was. She appeared in his FriendZone social network friends list the summer before, shortly after my little sister taught me a trick to let me view his friends and comments, even though Dade had the html hidden on his profile. She disappeared a few weeks after she appeared; but that was long enough for me to see the pictures she had up of the two of them, with captions about how much she liked him. It also gave me time to see that he was in the number one spot in her friends list, and a comment he posted noting the KY Jelly in the background of one of her pictures as if he were very familiar with its placement in real life. Her display name, Laura, matched one that he volunteered to me in conversation a month or so before I ‘Net stalked the shit out of her.

“Are you asking these relationship questions because I’m going to the beach with Laura? ‘Cause we are just friends, honestly.” Her profile called his assertion into question, but all it could tell me for certain was that she was infatuated with him, that they were fucking, and that she was taking it more seriously than him, just like the rest of us. All of that was a cakewalk compared to what I learned from his comments the week I finally saw them. I actually chuckled at what I saw on her profile all those months before, mocking Laura for not realizing what I already had. I wasn’t laughing anymore as I gazed at her unexplained presence mere inches away from me. That day she was wearing a baggy sweatshirt which hid her curvy figure, but her round, sandy blonde hair swept into a low maintenance pony-tail, and her blue eyes were clearly visible. Even though she was not dressed to impress, my eyes lingered on Laura’s attractive cheekbones and her luscious lips.

I thought of my own appearance, my curves draped in an apron, my long reddish-brown hair thrown into a messy bun under my khaki store logo cap, my brown eyes regarding the two of them with some suspicion. My own lips, while certainly not thin, came to rounded points. It gave my mouth a sort of heart-shape. I was jealous of Laura’s lips which in their natural state could’ve been used as an enticing advertisement for collagen injections. This was not how I would have chosen to look when meeting one of the Hers, who was surely measuring me and finding me wanting.

No, I had never seen Laura before in person. That did not stop me from being completely unsurprised when he uttered her name aloud. “…Laura…” He caressed it, his breath slithering up and down it, softening the blow, apologizing to her in advance for what was to come and too late for what already had. She reacted to the warning in his tone by flinching; the light was gone from her eyes when he added “This is her.” There it was. I had become that dirty word, “Her”, which to him was simply a handy pronoun saving several syllables which were unnecessary thanks to the name tag on my chest. To she and I the word represented a threat to something we each held dear, a threat which seemed more dangerous now that we were facing off with it. I found her reaction more than unfair. There she was on my turf, with his endorsement, without my permission, without even a warning, and she was the one feeling slighted? My attempt to remain aloof was becoming more difficult.

My mind was spinning. Since he dropped her name into that conversation so long ago, he had said nothing of her. I did not even know that they were seeing each other again, which made me pretty sure that what she knew of me had details missing. Take the Wednesday before, for example. Did she know he and I went shopping for snacks together? Doubtful. That we watched a movie together? Possibly, but not definitely. That we cuddled during it? Highly unlikely. That he later fucked me silly, tit fucked me until he came on my chest, then fell asleep holding me? Not a chance. I could not bring myself to feel threatened by that mousy girl to whom he had to make amends for knowing me. I offered her a grim smile in response to his semi-introduction. She said and did nothing.

“She was just showing me her tattoo.” Dade probably felt the need to defend me since her utter silence made her displeasure pretty clear. “It’s from a Bukowski poem. What does it say again? It’s something like…oh, I don’t remember.” He looked to me for help. Somehow I didn’t feel much like helping him at that moment.

“Did you want me to tell her what it means?” I wasn’t sure if he wanted me to prompt him until he did remember, or just spit out the answer for him. At that point, despite my discomfort, I didn’t know enough about their relationship for the word her in my statement to sound like an insult.

“Well, yeah.”His eyes and tone asked for my participation, and handed me all the power. I looked around to make sure no customers were in hearing distance, and then leaned closer to the counter. She mimicked my gesture, and soon our faces were separated by just half a foot of marble counter top. I spoke in a low, conspiratorial tone, as if letting her in on a secret.

“It says, ‘When God created you lying in bed he came all over his Blessed Universe’.” I shrugged my shoulders after my recitation, and her eyes flashed shock and judgment as she leaned away from me again.

“It looks all girly until you find out what it means,” Dade said. I almost thanked him aloud for remembering a similar comment I made to him about my tattoo, but I wanted Laura to think Dade felt that way without my help. He seemed to want her to be ok with me, though I still was not sure why. Maybe he also saw the disapproval in her eyes.“It’s pretty badass, and it’s her first ink.” Electing not to answer, she wandered away to look at sushi instead.

He leaned in toward me, both of us warming our hands on opposite sides of the glass case. I was glad to see Dade. Hearing him compliment my tattoo made my night. Though I could’ve done without Laura’s presence, the fact that Dade trusted me enough to not make a scene when meeting another girl made me feel like maybe our relationship was finally progressing into something real in which we could both thrive.

“She’s the one that I have been helping move. We were finishing up today.”

I arched my well-maintained eyebrows, taking in his appearance, from spiked brown hair, to pleading green eyes, and neatly trimmed beard, further down to his black button down shirt with tattoo inspired designs over fashionably faded Lucky brand jeans. He told me he was hanging out with his family all weekend. Clearly not. That was not the appearance of a man who just spent the day moving things, either. How many weekends worth of furniture could one college sophomore have, anyway? I didn’t buy his story. I boiled my doubts down to one observation.

“That’s my favorite one of your shirts, by the way.” It was an accusation, in the guise of a compliment, which I truly did mean in both a positive and negative way. Dade looked down at his clothes, probably realizing he chose the wrong cover story. Small matter, since he was saved from answering when Laura got bored with sushi and came back.

“Well, I’m out like a fat kid at dodge ball.” Dade and Laura walked toward the front of the store together. I watched their retreating backs, frowning. I was unaware of what was still to come from this new Her situation. They say ignorance is bliss, but I was feeling something more akin to consternation than euphoria. It would not have mattered, even if I had known. I would drive my friends crazy analyzing this five minute scenario for weeks. There was no easy answer, so I stopped mentioning it aloud. Overall, I really did feel that the whole thing showed more positive regard for me than for her, an idea that would soon seem laughable, even to me.

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