In The End Part 4: How Their Story Became My Story

Whew. It’s been a process, getting here, to my fourth draft. I doubt this chapter will change much more before I start submitting this manuscript to agents, and that’s a frightening and exciting idea. So far I’ve shown how my first chapter evolved across my drafts, and I’m going to continue to do that, but this will be a bit of a departure from the other posts. Here’s why: my original first chapter dropped readers into a scene that doesn’t come back up until much later in the book. I read (somewhat recently) that authors do that because they don’t trust that the story is interesting enough to hook readers on its own, and that it’s kind-of an amateur move.

Ok, so, when I read that I was a little offended at first. It was a tough pill to swallow. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense (*coughTwilightcough*). And with that in mind, I changed my first chapter completely and moved the scene I originally had as my first chapter back near the end of the story where it belongs.

I feel pretty good about this decision now that I’ve made it, and without further ado, here is the first chapter of my book as it stands right now.

(Warning, there is some slight adult language and content)

Oh, Roscoelist Girl November 2008-January 2009

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Letter I’ll Never Send No. 01

Roscoelist Girl,

I’d love to tell you how annoying and stupid you are, but in reality I found your antics entertaining. I knew the score with Dade while you were around, and didn’t consider things serious between us at all. I could afford to giggle a bit; it was a welcome change from the nagging feeling that there was something he wasn’t telling me. I’d also like to thank you. It’s not often a girl does something so outlandish as to make it so Dade won’t accept them back into his life. Most girls are in and out so often that I have trouble keeping up. I sincerely appreciate you simplifying my life.

I told Dade that he gets a bad rap with girls, and that’s true. But, I’ve come to realize now that I’m more distant from the situation that you get a bad rap with the other members of Dade’s harem, too. Those of us who knew about you, or heard about you after the fact blast you for being crazy. You weren’t really, though, were you? Don’t get me wrong, your behavior was immature and dramatic, but it’s one of the sanest reactions I’ve ever witnessed to the situation with Dade. You were livid, and you took steps to warn your fellow man about a person you felt was a threat to them. Hindsight, I guess. That’s as close as I can get to giving you a compliment, do with it what you will.

-Me

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“I would as soon destroy a stained glass window as an artist like yourself.” –from The Princess Bride, by William Goldman

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She wanted the rest of us to know that she was dating him, that she felt the need to do that should have been her first clue. It was around Thanksgiving when I noticed this girl for the first time. I was lounging in my bedroom in my comfortable pajamas when I saw her comment on his FriendZone Thanksgiving bulletin of a singing turkey. “You’re such a dork,” and she followed her words up with a little html heart, naturally. She was right; Dade was a big dork. But she needn’t have bothered trying to make sure we noticed her, most of us already knew the score. That behavior alone was enough for me to know that she was not going to be able to handle him. I gave her six weeks, tops, before he cut her out of his life without any warning.

It was shortly before that comment that she first appeared in his friends list. All of her status updates were about how enthralled she was. By the time she made the comment on his Thanksgiving nonsense, her profile picture was one of the two of them together. That had been something I knew, without coaching, not to do. If nothing else, he made it clear to each girl that he was not in a relationship with them. I refrained from posting pictures of the two of us in part because I realized he would not want evidence that we were dating put where other girls could see it. But it was also that I had too much respect for myself to post pictures of us which made us look like a couple when he might deny all involvement. This girl even went so far as to list herself as “in a relationship”. Yes, this one would fall far and fast.

For a little while her profile picture was a new one of the two of them each day, including one of her kissing his cheek. Those public displays caused a little twinge each time I saw them since I realized on Halloween that I loved Dade to distraction. I rolled my eyes and looked around my bedroom at my bookshelves each time her posts got to be too much. I just knew the situation was destined to blow up, and I didn’t want his feelings to be hurt when it did. As cocky as he acted, his ego was a fragile house of cards, very much built around his sea of admirers. With each girl who left his world, the entire thing wobbled. I didn’t want to see what would happen if it ever fell, but I knew I never wanted to leave him standing alone while he rebuilt it.

I couldn’t help but look at each new picture, despite the fact that I rather wished them (and the girl posting them) would disappear from my sight. Carrie, as her profile named her, had a brilliant smile and an oval face that it wouldn’t have surprised me to see on a fashion model. Her long, dark hair offset her olive skin; and in the pictures that featured Dade her expressive brown eyes practically had hearts leaping out of them like in the old cartoons. I could see from other public parts of her profile that she had the kind of rotund booty that made Dade drool. I did, too, but it would’ve cheered me up if this obnoxious girl had a flat ass at least.

It had nothing to do with Roscoelist Girl (whose real name Dade even had trouble remembering after they split) when I decided to admit to him at the beginning of December that I loved him. I was almost sure he already read the letter I had saved on my computer, telling him that was the case. He opened it by accident while entertaining himself on my computer one night. I froze, holding my breath as I awaited his reaction. He pretended that he did not read it, so we were both saved dealing with it that night. Assuming he already knew what it said gave me the extra shot of confidence I needed to copy and paste it into a message and send it. Knowing as I did that Dade would not respond in kind, I preferred to communicate my feelings from a distance rather than face-to-face.

From: PirateDuck85 To: WhiteJesus669 Date: Dec 2008

I know this is probably the last thing you need or want right now, But I’m sending this anyway. Sorry.

Remember a few months ago when I told you I loved you as a friend? I think you do, ‘cause you were freaked out a bit and probably didn’t really believe me when I said I only meant as a friend. But, I did. Last month, as I was thinking about and texting you one evening, the weirdest thing happened. I guess it was like…hmm…waves of pleasure all through my body. Almost like an orgasm, though I was not masturbating, or like closing your eyes when drunk, though I had not been drinking. Point being, it was all you.

And I’m pretty sure this indicates that I love you as more than a friend.

I also think it’s possible that in some ways you are more like me than anyone else I’ve ever met. However, if I’m right, one way that we’re alike is in being hard to figure out. So, I could be wrong. But I don’t think I am. And how weird is it that we graduated the same year? I thought as I got older I’d date people farther from my age and here I end up with a fellow twenty-three year old. Where is my rich, old sugar daddy to take care of me? 😉 Also, I really do think you are the sexiest person I know.

I know when I asked before you said we could be friends and fuck, but, to me anyway, that doesn’t seem to be all that different from when we were dating. So, could we still date?

If your answer is no, that’s ok. I still want to be your friend. And I still want to fuck you.

And whether your answer is No or Yes, I will still be understanding about other girls. I don’t Need you. I think that’s part of what makes me easy to relate to. But I do Want you.

Waiting to see what he would say was agonizing, but at least I knew he wasn’t fleeing in terror since he did stay in contact with me. He let me know he would respond when he got the chance. It took him two nerve-wracking days, but finally the response came.

From: WhiteJesus669 To: PirateDuck85 Date: Dec 2008

you know me and how I feel about the word love, It’s a serious thing that I dunno… sometimes I think people throw it around. In your case I doubt you are, so I’m not freaking out or anything. Now on the question of us dating again, I’m ok with that, but I’m not wanting a relationship right now. I just really want to do my thing and try not to get too settled, I’m only looking at one semester left and then I’m heading to Russia to be a journalist I hope. I don’t want to get shit started and then have to up and bounce.

From: PirateDuck85 To: WhiteJesus669 Date: Dec 2008

I hope I wasn’t out of line to mention other girls. I’m truly sorry if I was. It’s just that you, whether by accident or not, advertised what seemed like two other people who if they aren’t dating you, at least have feelings for you. I noticed them because they commented on the bulletin you posted. And maybe less is going on than it seems. It doesn’t matter, in several ways. Dating you is an amazing experience. 😀 And it’s a bit impressive for so many other people to be interested in you. And, knowing how mind-blowing it is to be around you, at least at first, I’m not sure if I could in good conscience begrudge someone else that experience. I’m confident enough to handle it. I would prefer to believe that I get privileges which other people do not, but as I am fairly certain I do in some ways, I will not actually ask you to confirm or deny that. I guess my point is, even if you do have a little harem going, I consider myself lucky to be a part of it. And if you don’t and I assume too much, then you still impress the hell out of Me anyway, so, eh.

From: WhiteJesus669 To: PirateDuck85 Date: Dec 2008

I’m not really sure what you mean about being out of line, but no, to me you weren’t out of line with anything. I don’t have a harem or whatever going, lol. I mean I won’t lie I am talking to someone, but nothing like 70,348,249,382,049,823,409 people, haha. And my reason isn’t because of her, or you. It’s for my own being, I just really want to focus.

I don’t know, but you don’t need to take things so hard. You always fill in blanks for me without knowing what’s going on or anything. You should relax. 😀

Oh god no, he said, I’m not talking to 70 quintillion+ people. What would ever make you think that? I have always wondered, when Dade reduced the number of people he was talking to there, which one he was referring to. Did he mean Faith, the one he met almost as soon as he moved here, therefore throwing Roscoelist Girl under the bus with that statement? Or was he certain I noticed Roscoelist Girl, figured I thought Faith was long since history, and so dismissed her as irrelevant? Either way, his fuzzy logic made me shake my head and grin. He did not want to be tied down to one girl, but somehow keeping an army of them around made it easier to focus?

At the time, and for several years after that, I meant what I said about wanting other girls to experience the wonder of that initial period of having all of Dade’s attention focused on them. It wasn’t an ideal situation for me, but I am good at adapting. It’s rare for me to meet someone that I take an interest in so when I find those special individuals I stick with them. Not two weeks before Dade and I started dating, I told my gay boyfriend, Squall, that I didn’t think I’d ever meet anyone that I could love again after him. I was sure I was right, too. Then along came Dade and even after my hopes of him being my next long-term boyfriend were dashed, I was loath to lose him. I’d lost love, twice, in the year before. At that point I was willing to put up with much just to have someone I cared about to be involved with.

It could have been worse. Part of me really did expect him to run like hell and never speak to me again after I dropped the L word. Somehow knowing he and I were dating again made it harder to swallow Roscoelist Girl’s antics. The morning after receiving his response, I did not want to log in to FriendZone to see her nonsense. Finally I convinced myself to do it anyway, by reminding myself that she could post as many pictures of the two of them together as she wanted. It would not make a damn bit of difference, since Dade never posted pictures of any of the girls on his own page.

I logged in and scrolled through the activity stream. I didn’t expect to see anything of interest, so I felt a familiar thrill in my chest when I saw his screen name in the feed, a rare enough occurrence that all the girls took an interest in whatever it was he posted. I burst out laughing when his new post turned out to be pictures from a concert he and I went to a few weeks before with my friend Stef. Several of the pictures were of me and him together. I knew he would have to belittle this to all the other girls, explaining that we were just friends if they asked, and saying nothing at all if they didn’t. But the truth of the matter was that he didn’t post the pictures of us until right after accepting my love and agreeing to date me again.

I raced to leave comments on a couple of the photos, settling first on a close-up of our faces. In it Dade’s head leaned in so his temple rested on the checkered bandana that held my long hair in place. Faith beat me to it and left a comment on that picture saying how cute it was. Instantly my lingering dislike of Faith over some past issues disappeared. I decided she could talk to him all she wanted. A notification of Roscoelist Girl’s comment after mine came straight to my inbox. “You’re such a player babe.” Let’s not forget the all important html heart. She put one after that statement, too.

I was torn between laughing, crying, and throwing things. Did Dade really buy into this shit and not see what a hateful little upstart she was being? And who exactly did she think he was playing? Me, I was sure. I knew what was going on between the two of them, though. It appeared to be her who was played. It would seem that he chose to ignore all of the drama at the time because if he noticed he would lose one, and all the compliments, free stuff, sex, and nights out along with her. I’m not saying he was shallow, I really do believe he had some genuine interest in each girl, at least at first. But hell, everyone likes free things, especially when they come from attractive people who are really into them.

During Christmas break Faith and Roscoelist Girl, both of whom attended the same school as Dade, used the time apart as an excuse to say a lot of things to him publicly in FriendZone comments. When Dade went on a short cruise to Mexico his status update announced when he left. Not ten minutes later, knowing he would not be able to get to a computer to do damage control for days, Roscoelist Girl commented on his post saying how great it was to meet his family. His family was going on the cruise with him, and thanks to her comment I now knew Roscoelist Girl was with them right before they left. She seemed to think she was special. Did she really believe girls like me and Faith who had been around much longer had not received the same privilege? Though it was naïve for her to think that he put so much stock in her, she wasn’t the only one to blame. He did, after all, want her to think that. The boy has a gift for making girls feel like the center of attention.

After Dade got home from the cruise, he changed his settings so that no one could post to his FriendZone wall anymore. Then in a trademark contradictory move, he proceeded to post a series of bulletins about how bored he was. Not only did that create the possibility of comments, it practically begged for them. He had lost one girl a couple of weeks prior, and two-thirds of his in-state girls were out of state visiting family. His fan club of exes from his home state couldn’t alleviate his boredom from a thousand miles away either. Things must’ve seemed slow to him.

At least Faith and Roscoelist Girl provided me, and no doubt him, with a lot of entertainment by commenting back and forth on one of his “so bored” bulletins. Roscoelist Girl started it, telling him not to worry because she would be home in just ten days (<3). Faith commented next saying she was going to be in Ohio, but that he could text her, and she still missed him. Roscoelist Girl commented again to tell Faith that she missed Dade, too, and that she was spending the holidays in the same state as Faith. I thought that was a cute coincidence. Dade seemed to think so, too. He was forced to comment to keep it from getting more out of hand, saying he should visit Ohio for the holidays. Before he added his comment I was considering putting my own two cents in, telling both girls that we should all start a fan club. Somehow I knew I would be the only one who chuckled at my cleverness, so I left it alone.

I hosted a Harry-Potter-themed party a few days before Christmas. The idea of a more traditional Holiday party bored me, but dressing up as wizards and putting up Halloween decorations I was all for. We did mock duels outside with silly string instead of wands and sampled a lot of butterbeer with extra rum added. It turned out that not everyone loves rum as much as I do, so me, Dade, and Stef made a beer run during the party in full wizard regalia. People stared long and hard as we sailed by them through the aisles of the grocery store in high spirits. My cleavage bounced with each step, spilling as it was out of the top of my corset-style dress. An appreciative guy stopped in mid-step beside his glaring wife to salute me.

“Why don’t you take a picture?” Dade said, seeming proud to be with such a desirable female. I couldn’t care less about the random gawkers, but I loved that Dade was there to see that he was dating such a hot commodity.

When we returned to the party Dade and Stef both grabbed a can of beer. Dade pulled me toward him.

“I want to see something.” He separated my exposed cleavage and slid his beer can in between my tits. The people standing nearby laughed, and someone snapped a picture while Dade did an impression of Vanna White, holding his hands underneath my chest as if displaying it for an audience. When he posted that picture on FriendZone later his caption stated that the “Booby Coaster” could be yours for the low, low price of $1999.99 plus shipping and handling. I laughed when I saw that, happy that he was marking my assets as precious where his other girls could see it. His harem must not have enjoyed that as much as I did, someone flagged the picture as inappropriate and it was removed a few days later. I can’t prove that it was her, but my guess is that Roscoelist Girl was the jealous party. If Dade noticed I was making fun of her when I took of picture of me kissing his cheek during the series of FriendZone angle shots I cornered him for at the party, he didn’t say anything about it. He must have learned his lesson though, because neither of us ever put that picture online. Sometimes I wish I had been catty enough to make it my profile picture like she did, but most days I take pride in the fact that I don’t create drama for its own sake.

After the party I walked Dade and Stef across the apartment complex to their cars. I lost my wizard robe at some point during the shenanigans so I was just wearing fishnet stockings, and a spider-covered mini-dress. In her inebriated state, Stef would not stop talking, and in the chill winter air I could not stop shivering.

“Come here,” Dade said, and pulled me to his side. He put his arm around me and kept rubbing my goose-bump covered shoulder until Stef left.

“Give me love,” Dade said, and inclined his head to kiss me, his long fingers stroked my neck as our lips locked.

I pulled back a few inches after a minute or two. “Are you not giving me a ride to my place?”

“I’m not going to make you walk, I just wanted some kisses.”

I climbed into his passenger seat and Dade put the car in gear.

“I think I had more fun at your party than I did on the cruise.”

I beamed; coming from a guy who was in need of constant stimulation that was high praise.

It was not until the day spring semester started at the beginning of January that things really got out of control. It was late at night, and as was our habit since she worked twelve hour shifts as an EMT, Stef and I were talking on the phone while we both prowled the internet. I was reading personal ads on Roscoelist, something which I did every day since I found one Dade posted during his so bored phase. He posted it under strictly “platonic”, but it advertised for female responders only, undermining the credibility of the word. I did not find any posts by him that day.

At that time nothing stayed in the Rants and Raves section because there was a person flagging all the posts. Thanks to the flag-happy people, there was only one post in that section of the website, and it earned Roscoelist Girl her nickname. The title intrigued me “Don’t Talk to this Man!!” Interested to see who was airing their dirty laundry, I opened it. Lo and behold, it was, in a sense, my dirty laundry. There Dade was in black and white, his eyes smoldering from the picture he texted to me the first day we started flirting at work. Time stood still as he stared back at me from the familiar nude pose on his bed, his hand covering enough to make the photo PG-13 rated rather than X-rated. I think I gasped, and that was when I realized I had missed a cue in my conversation with Stef.

“Holy shit!” I said.

“What?” Her voice croaked a bit, she must’ve been about to nod off.

I read her the one paragraph rant that preceded the photo in the ad. “‘Look out for Dade Perry! Total liar and a cheat. Uses Roscoelist to solicit friendship but really is looking for sex. He is dating multiple girls. Can make you think you’re the only one! He will make you itch.’ Then it lists his e-mail address, instant messenger screen name, and FriendZone URL and at the bottom it says ‘Don’t fall for it! E-mail if you have any dirt on this fucker. P.S. He gained weight since this picture was taken, he doesn’t look like this anymore.”

“Can you say psycho? I hate all of my exes, but I would never do that to them,” Stef said.

“No kidding. I have got to figure out a way to delete this before he sees it. Can I call you tomorrow?”

“Yeah. Good night.”

“’Night,” I said on auto-pilot. My brain had already moved on to solving this problem for Dade.

I could see where Roscoelist Girl was coming from in saying that he could make you feel like the only one, but in her case I feel it was a bit of a stretch. After all, she saw Dade post recent pictures of me and him together. She had a bidding war with Faith in public over who missed him more. In what universe did it seem to her like she was the only person he was dating, no matter what he may have said?

I started reading the Roscoelist terms of service to make sure the post violated them. They agreed with me that it was wrong to include someone’s contact information without their permission, so I clicked the link to flag it for removal. After refreshing the page a few times, the post was still there. I didn’t want Dade to stumble onto it by himself, so I reluctantly opened a dialogue with him.

PirateDuck85: You still up?

WhiteJesus669: Yea. Your text said something about Roscoelist?

PirateDuck85: Yeah. Nevermind, though. I hope they will delete it before anyone sees it

WhiteJesus669: I have no idea what you’re talking about

PirateDuck85: I think it’s better kept that way. But if they don’t delete it soon I will feel obligated to tell you

WhiteJesus669: Wow, could you be any vaguer?

PirateDuck85: I imagine I could be, yeah. Will you do me a favor?

WhiteJesus669: What?

PirateDuck85: I’m scared as soon as I ask you for the favor, you will run do what I ask you not to do. Can you try doing that thing where you agree to something before you know what I’m going to ask?

WhiteJesus669: Lol, wtf do you want woman? Spill it!

PirateDuck85: He has avoided answering the question. Still, what I want is for you to not look around on Roscoelist today. Please?

WhiteJesus669: I’ve been on Roscoelist all day, what’s your point?

PirateDuck85: No point, I guess. Nothing on there pissed you off?

WhiteJesus669: No?

PirateDuck85: You aren’t sure?

WhiteJesus669: God damn, what are you talking about?

WhiteJesus669: Wow, I just found it

PirateDuck85: *sigh* I had a feeling you would go looking for it. Why don’t you ever listen to me? You positive we’re on the same page now?

WhiteJesus669: Yea. Wtf? No one has that picture, except for a few people.

WhiteJesus669: Hahahaha. I’m really curious as to who would be so pissed as to do this

It was times like those when I wondered how I knew more about his relationships than he did. Although I suppose it’s possible that, with some girls anyway, I literally did care more than he did what was happening with them. It was clear to me that the new girl must’ve posted the ad. She just that day deleted him from FriendZone.

PirateDuck85: Well that’s…good. I was worried you would be mad. It kinda made me mad. Not to mention that it’s just a tad craaaaazy

WhiteJesus669: Yea I know. I told them they need help

PirateDuck85: That’s probably an understatement

WhiteJesus669: I think I know who did it, actually.

PirateDuck85: Oh?

WhiteJesus669: Heh. To be honest I don’t know what to say

PirateDuck85: Now who’s being vague?

WhiteJesus669: Ok, here’s the deal

WhiteJesus669: Me and this girl were seeing each other, but it wasn’t really made clear if we were together or whatever

WhiteJesus669: While I was in Mexico she was on vacation too and said it was going to be a free pass time or some shit

WhiteJesus669: I was like ok?

WhiteJesus669: Anyway, the entire time that she was driving back here she was talking to me via text until last night

WhiteJesus669: Hell, she even asked me to come take her to school this morning and I said I couldn’t because I had other shit to do. So I don’t get why she would do this now

PirateDuck85: You can’t argue reason with unreasonable people? You can’t figure out their behavior, either. But, I take it this is new girl? That’s how I differentiate between the two girls who talk to you a lot online, there is old girl and new girl.

WhiteJesus669: Hah

PirateDuck85: Do you want me to leave you alone for the night? I don’t want to annoy you when you’re already pissed

WhiteJesus669: Nah, you’re ok

PirateDuck85: Ok. For the record I don’t think you should worry too much about the things that were said about you. I think they are the result of a big misunderstanding and that you are still every bit as svelte as when I first met you, which was damn near a year ago now. I should go to bed, though. Sweet dreams

I sent a response to the ad from a new e-mail account I created just for that purpose, saying that I dated him too and asking to compare notes. Roscoelist Girl never responded to my message. I guess I ruined my chances of that by caring enough about Dade’s feelings to warn him before I attempted to satisfy my personal curiosity. And that was that. Almost exactly six weeks after she appeared, Roscoelist Girl bought herself a one way ticket out of his harem.

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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.

In the End Part 2: How Their Story Became My Story

Writing this blog post is not on my To Do list today, but there are lots of other things that are. I want to make this post, though, so I apologize if it ends up being a little rushed.

I’m continuing my series showing the evolution of the novel I’m working on now across various drafts.

For the second draft the biggest thing that changed was my theme. I was no longer trying to focus on the contradictions in the main guy’s behavior. Instead, I wanted to highlight the fact that in a situation like that where a guy lies to girls, and strings them along, and dates lots of people, etc…the girls are just as much at fault as the guy. I’ve observed a lot of situations like this and in the end the girls blow up at the guy, but that’s giving him all the power. I want girls to realize that what they allow is what will continue, and that the signs that the situation isn’t what it’s being made out to be were in front of their face all along.

I also switched to past tense rather than present. With the way I’m organizing the story that makes it easier for the narrator to speak to what has already happened and what will happen in future.

In this draft I no longer speak To the main guy, and he has a name, (an unusual name) Dade. One of the biggest things that I’ve gotten flak about from beta readers is that the main girl, the narrator/viewpoint character doesn’t have a name. And that’s one of the few things that I haven’t yet changed even in the 4th draft which I’m working on now. There are two reasons for that…1) I like books/stories that do that and 2) I wanted to make the point that the main character could have been any girl. She Does have a name, and it is revealed, but not until very late in the story. Until the relationship between the main characters evolves that sentiment that anyone could fill her shoes is relevant.

The second draft doesn’t make me cringe as much as the first but now that I’ve studied/practiced more there are lots of things about it that scream amateur and that over complicate the story. Aaaand here it is, the second draft of my first chapter. (WARNING: There is a small amount of adult content in this chapter. If that would offend you or gross you out please don’t read it.)

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. It should have been a standard day of work there in the grocery store deli I had been employed with for nearly all of my college days. My nightly closing routine 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 were both standing on the other side of my salad bar, he noticed me. The roof of the salad bar was nearly at his eye level. He waved to me enthusiastically over the top of it, and announced “She’s here” in a sing song voice, and then said something inaudible to her. She continued fixing her salad while he rushed over to see me. As he made his way across the forty or so feet between the salad bar and the hot food case, I shoved some dishes into my co-workers hands to get rid of him so there wouldn’t be an audience while Dade and I were talking. He saw that exchange as he ambled over and used it to open the conversation without any preliminaries. Considering that he and I met a year before while he was also briefly employed in the deli, I didn’t take that as rude.

“That time of day already?” Dade asked as he cleared the last few feet to stand across the counter in front of me.

“The deli closes at eight now,” I reminded him since until shortly before that it was open until ten.

“Oh, right,” he nodded, then “Let me see it!” he exclaimed suddenly, it being the tattoo I got the night before. I groaned inwardly, and then slowly rolled up my sleeve so he could see my entire armband, trying to avoid rubbing ointment and still flaking ink onto my hunter green polo, or worse, hitting the still tender skin.

His face wrinkled in disgust. “It’s all grody,” he informed me, 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 ink, 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. I responded with one of my own.

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

She chose that moment to wander over holding her salad, so I have no idea how he might have responded. Since she was looking only at him, I allowed myself a lingering once over of Laura. I had never seen her before in my life, but I knew exactly who she was. She appeared in his MySpace 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. Laura disappeared as quickly as she appeared, only there for a few weeks. 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 felt nothing but sardonic amusement when I saw her profile nine months before. I wish that was all I felt gazing at her unexplained presence mere inches away from me. That day she was wearing a baggy sweatshirt which hid her curvy figure, but her dimpled face, dark brown hair swept into a low maintenance pony-tail, and gray eyes were clearly visible. Even though she was not dressed to impress, my mind was drawn to a conversation I had with one of my roommates back when I first found Laura online. My roommate was usually a lesbian, though she would renounce this status briefly each time a relationship with a girlfriend ended badly.

“I’m not gonna lie, she’s pretty hot,” Marie admitted to me.

I thought of my own appearance, my own curves draped in an apron, my long brown hair thrown into a messy bun under my khaki store logo cap, my hazel eyes regarding the two of them warily from beneath my plastic square-framed glasses which I wore out of necessity not vanity. This would not be how I would have chosen to look when meeting one of the Hers, who was surely measuring me and finding me wanting.

“Hotter than me?” I asked Marie, so many months before.

“No one is hotter than you,” she assured me. I disagreed with her assessment, though the fact that she believed that was comforting, and considering how hard she tried upon first meeting me to get into my pants, I did believe that was her honest opinion.

No, I had never seen Laura before in person. That did not stop me from being emotionally aloof and 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 belatedly for what already had. She reacted to the warning in his tone by visibly flinching; the light was gone from her eyes when he finally 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? Add annoyance to my protective aloof stance, and I became borderline confrontational. When in doubt, lash out.

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 that one, 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,” He explained to Laura, since her displeasure was not hard to pick up on. Then he added “It’s in Spanish. What does it mean 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 asked him, not 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 unmentionable.

“Well, yeah,” he replied, his eyes and tone asking for my participation, and handing me all the power. Since I’m not prone to abusing power, I did as he asked. I looked around to make sure no customers were in hearing distance, and then leaned closer to the counter since I didn’t want anyone to overhear. She mimicked my gesture automatically, 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 means, ‘I am fucked and radiant, maybe more the first than the second, and also vice versa.” 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,” he told her, repeating an idea I mentioned to him earlier. I was flattered that he remembered my comment nearly verbatim. He seemingly wanted her to be ok with me, though I still was not sure why. Maybe he also saw the judgment in her eyes because he added “It’s pretty badass, and it’s her first ink.” The entire interaction had now taken on a showing me off quality. Electing to not 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. “She’s the one that I have been helping move. We were finishing up today.” I eyed him critically, taking in his appearance, from gelled brown faux hawk, pleading blue eyes, and stubble free chin, 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,” 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.

“I’m out like a fat kid at dodge ball,” he announced, before they walked toward the front of the store together. I watched their retreating backs, blissfully unaware of what was still to come from this new Her situation. 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 took to not 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.

In the Middle (again, but closer to the End): How Their Story Became My Story

I started writing my novel in 2009, and nearly completed the first draft that year (oh, to have that much free time again). After I decided to write my second draft, the writing process moved much more slowly. By the end of 2012 I still had not completed it. So, at the beginning or 2013 I vowed that I would have my novel completed by the end of the year.

And I wrote, I wrote more than I had in 2012 for sure, but less than I wrote in 2011 or 2010. Life got in the way, summertime found me so busy that I’m not sure I touched the draft at all for three months. As fall began, I was discouraged. It seemed like another year would go by without a complete second draft.

On November 1 the English teacher who has been kind enough to edit my second draft sent me a message. She wanted to know if I had heard of this thing called NaNoWriMo. I had not. I checked it out and it sounded perfect, but also, you know, impossible. November is National Novel Writing Month (that’s what NaNoWriMo is short for) and the idea is to write a 50,000 word novel in one month. That’s an average of 1,667 words per day. I started writing with renewed vigor. I wrote a few hundred words that very night and updated my word count. A graph showed me my progress, and though I was starting out a little behind, the graph motivated me. Is it possible that a graph tracking my progress was all that I needed all along? I wrote vigorously the next day, and learned that my usual amount of words per day was about 1,000 shy of the average I’d need to hit to complete 50,000 words by the end of the month. (By the way, you’re supposed to write a totally new novel during NaNoWriMo, by working on an old manuscript I was being what they called a NaNo Rebel, which is acceptable as long as you write 50,000 brand spankin’ new words by the end of the month.) I wrote a little bit more each day, until eventually I was hitting the 1,667 word average, and sometimes exceeding it. On Thanksgiving, I completed the 50,000 words and became a NaNoWriMo 2013 Winner.

My novel still was not quite finished, but suddenly it didn’t seem so crazy to attempt to finish it by the end of the year, and I was back on track to complete my second draft.

2013-Winner-Facebook-Cover

In the Middle: How Their Story Became My Story

I started writing my second draft with high hopes of finishing it quickly. I wasn’t quite sure what to call the new version of the story at first, it went without a title for a long time. Eventually I was inspired by the form in which I was putting the book together. Since each chapter tells the story of a different girl the main guy was involved with from the main girls point of view I decided to name it “How Their Story Became My Story”. And so I created a title, and it was good. Unfortunately, I couldn’t seem to create much else. The form, my motivation (from proving a point to a guy, to making a story girls could relate to and learn from), everything changed and I felt a little out of my depth.

I was so out of my depth that months would go by without me writing anything at all. I would get bogged down in research, or “not feel inspired” and so much of the time my manuscript sat untouched. Then there would be good periods, months where I’d make steady progress, and still I was nowhere near the end.

Maybe it’s a good thing that I read so much, for once more, the introduction to a book I was reading saved me from giving up. I began re-reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and when I read at the beginning how it took J.R.R. Tolkien thirteen years to finish since life, work, and other obligations kept getting in the way, I felt a sudden invigoration. Yes, of course life gets in the way! Everyone has a life outside of writing novels, why shouldn’t I? And yet, it didn’t have to stop me from finishing in the end. So, three years after I started my second draft (four years after I started writing the story) I made a pact with myself, I would finish the novel by the end of the year.

No, I wasn’t writing an epic fantasy like Tolkien, and I don’t dare compare myself to him, but I did feel a kinship with him, we were both writers in the trenches who kept going no matter what. My story may not be epic, or fantastical, but I do have tentative plans to make it into a trilogy. Each book in the trilogy would tell the story of a different man the main character loved during her life, and the men would each have bit roles in the novels where they weren’t the primary love interest.

If Tolkien could do it, I could do it, and if it were a race I planned to win, it wasn’t going to take me more than a decade to write my stories!