EWTF preview series, chapter 1.1: a fraction of a sliver of a moment
I’m happy to announce the start of the EWTF Preview Series leading up to next week’s release of my debut novel, Exactly Where They’d Fall!
(No, you guys, in my head it’s more like: Wheeee!!!!!11!!!! OMG, OMG, OMG! *bites fingernails* lol!)
In the next ten-or-so days, I’m going to be sharing the first five chapters of the novel as a teaser, and along with that, some notes on its progress and creation, inspirations, and other such goodies. I know long excerpts like this are hard to read on a blog page, so if you manage to slug through this anyway, thank you! ðŸ˜€
- 1.1: A FRACTION OF A SLIVER OF A MOMENT
Jodie hated adorable things: happy couples, children, puppies, hugs. Jodie hated favors, she hated generosity, she hated having to say “thank you.” But Jodie couldn’t hate Drew, with those kind, dark eyes, rich as coffee. He was positively adorable. Sweet, even. She didn’t even ask him to help, but there he was in her apartment with his laptop, going through his Facebook friends (all five hundred of them) trying to find her a new roommate.
“You really don’t need to bother.” She glanced over his shoulder as he scanned through the names, face after face of beaming smiles. Smilebook, they should have called it. Fakebook. Jodie hated social media. She hated social anything. She was certain he wouldn’t find anyone for her in there. He finally landed on his profile page, his status reading: That is not what I meant at all; that is not it, at all – updated 14 hours ago. Other mysterious notifications Jodie didn’t understand: Drew kicked a sheep at Amelia, Amelia poked Drew. A virtual gift he’d received, a pixel pig holding a heart. Jodie scowled. “Why the hell did you kick a sheep?”
“Heh,” he chuckled, clicking away from the page. “It’s a game, Jodie. Get yourself a profile, and I’ll kick a sheep at you too.”
The whole idea of it just sounded half vulgar and half like animal abuse. “No, really, that’s just wrong.”
“Or there’s Scrabbler.”
“That’s not fair, you were an English major. What’s wrong with you people?” By people, she meant English majors. “You can’t get a job with your degree, so you vow to spend the rest of your life beating people at Scrabble?”
He laughed absently, still clicking away at his laptop. “Go log into your email,” he said. “You need to confirm something.”
“I made you a page. Password’s your name, for now. You can change it.”
“A Facebook page? Why? No! I don’t want one.” She backed away from his laptop with her hands held up, fingers spread, as if the internet might jump from his laptop and attack her. “Why did you do that?”
“Really, it’ll help you meet people.” There was such genuine concern in his voice, she couldn’t stand it. She went to the other side of the room and sat in front of her desktop computer. She refreshed her email. There was a confirmation link to click, and she clicked it. A Facebook page with her name on it, and he’d already requested four friends on her behalf: himself (already accepted), and three others still pending, Amelia, Piper, and Tom.
“Refresh your page,” he said.
She did. Drew kicked a sheep at Jodie. She turned back to gape at him; he leaned back in his chair, arms folded over his chest and a beautiful, accomplished smile on his face. She never liked the color blue, but he wore it so often, and in so many shades – ocean, navy, steel – all of which seemed to highlight the bronze he’d accumulated over the summer on his cheekbones and forearms, and all of which only brightened that generous smile. “I feel so violated,” she said.
She was mostly kidding, and he seemed to know that. She was quite sure that would be the first and only time anyone had ever been violated by Drew Weston in any capacity. He grinned, so friendly she thought he might wink, so precious she thought she might sigh, so corny she felt inclined to laugh. But instead she only coughed a stifled “heh,” and she didn’t know if she was laughing at him or herself.
“But this is easier,” he said, turning back to his laptop. “Now I can send you links to these girls.”
Somehow it disappointed her that it had all still been about the list.
Jodie wanted him to give up, but she didn’t say so. Truth was, she hadn’t had any luck finding a new roommate for herself. Piper was getting married in a few months, and now Jodie would have to find someone clean, tolerable, smart, responsible, not too old, not too young, not male, no dogs, no fish (no animals period would be a good rule of thumb), not too sweet, not too boring, not too pretty-pretty. Ugly was okay. Jodie didn’t care if she was ugly.
Piper wasn’t ugly though. She was perfect. Irreplaceable. And now Jodie had to try to replace her.
Jodie took an empty water glass to the kitchen, the clacking sound of Drew’s keyboard carrying on behind her. A flurry of words, all those profiles, one after another after another. How could anyone manage to know so many people? Did he remember how he met each of them? Would he be able to tell two of them apart if they happened to be standing next to each other? Had he ever met them in person at all? They could be ax-murderers or something.
Jodie washed her hands, scrubbing the backs, the cracks in between, scraping her fingernails against her own sudsy palms as if she were scrubbing in for a delivery, though she was only making some sandwiches for lunch. By the time she turned to see what Drew wanted in his sandwich, he already had Amelia on the phone. Of course. Jodie always knew it the second those two connected – he would go positively starry-eyed. “Come on over,” he said into the phone, leaning against Jodie’s kitchen table as if in a dream. He turned to her then. “You don’t mind if Melie comes over.”
It wasn’t a question in any form, but Jodie answered anyway. “Of course not. I don’t mind. Why would I mind?”
Amelia. She was his girlfriend, but it was so much more complicated than that. Longtime friends who happened to be sleeping with each other, nothing alike yet strangely complementary, always side by side. Like salt and pepper.
The kitchen alcove of Jodie’s apartment was small. Piper didn’t cook, and Jodie was too busy to cook, so they had no use for anything bigger. Piper made salads, and Jodie could do sandwiches, but beyond that, the two of them were hopeless, and just stocked their freezer with frozen pizzas and Lean Cuisines. Back before the boyfriends and the real jobs and the grown up lives – it was Amelia who always cooked for them. Amelia hosted their parties. She was the one who made the cocktail snacks, the savory tarts, vegetable trays, and cheeseballs with gourmet herb crackers. She decorated for Halloween, Christmas, the Fourth of July, and even Veterans Day. But it seemed like forever since they had those parties together – now Amelia hosted most of them at her own place, which was roomier than Jodie’s tiny apartment, and had a large spacious kitchen for Amelia to work in. Amelia’s kitchen was something straight out of Better Homes & Gardens.
Drew’s phone beeped softly as he hung up. Stepping beside Jodie in the kitchen, he announced his presence by taking a lock of her hair around his finger and flipping it. The hair flopped back down, thick and heavy, the shoulder-length tips brushing across her neck as they landed. She froze. He continued talking about Amelia, roommates, lists, lunch, while Jodie could still feel the tingle he’d left on the back of her neck. He probably couldn’t have known how infrequently anyone ever touched her.
When she began moving again, she asked him, “Is ham okay?”
“Yeah, sure. Thanks,” he said.
Jodie found it ridiculous how many people were getting married. It was just an ordinary September, but if this was normal, it was something Jodie had never noticed before. What was it about being almost thirty that made everyone want to pair up and breed like the world was coming to an end? At least Piper wasn’t getting married until the spring. “Everyone’s getting married,” she mused out loud.
“Yeah? Amelia’s dragging me to her cousin’s wedding this weekend.”
“See!” Jodie shrieked. “And next week, my brother’s getting married.”
Jodie’s brother, Amelia’s ex. Drew looked up, seeming both surprised and relieved. Then, like an afterthought, he shrugged it off – not even Drew was that selfless. “Oh? Good for him.”
Jodie laughed. “Don’t worry, you’ve got her all to yourself. You guys will probably be next.”
He shook his head. “I already asked. She said no.”
“I don’t think she thought you were serious.”
“She knows I’m serious,” he said. “She doesn’t even want a live-in boyfriend. I’ll go ahead and guess that means she doesn’t want a husband either.”
“I don’t blame her, actually.” Jodie twisted her lips into a smirk. If he took offense, he didn’t show it.
Jodie finished three sandwiches, and by the time she’d placed them on the table, there was Amelia’s knock at the door. Drew let her in. The two of them kissed at the doorstep, smiling at each other for just a moment, and then Amelia turned to Jodie. “Hi Jodie.” Amelia took in the scene from the doorway and then offered up a guarded smile. Amelia was all legs and freckles. She wasn’t that pretty; more graceful than she was glamorous. She walked like a large bird, slow and poised. She made Jodie feel ordinary – or maybe it was the way Drew looked at her that made Jodie feel ordinary.
“I have three more girls for you to look at,” Amelia said, pulling her notes from a paper folder under her arm, placing them on the table. Her list was in black ink on a yellow lined legal pad, each name numbered and broken into several fields of data – age, occupation, hair color, favorite food, hobbies, habits – as if she were collecting specimens for a scientific study. She took the seat next to Drew at the table and began to narrate the women out loud: “Amy, divorced but with grown children.”
“No,” Jodie said. “Grown children means grandchildren visiting. No thanks.”
“Molly, employed, she’s a DJ?”
“No, I hate music. I can’t live with a DJ.”
“Emmy, single, she’s an actress.”
“That just means she doesn’t work,” Jodie said.
Amelia shook a finger at her. “She does work. I promise you she does.”
“Is she pretty?”
“Sure,” Amelia said. “What does it matter if she’s pretty? Piper’s pretty.”
“Right, but she’s Piper. That’s different.”
“Jodie,” Amelia chided. “You should lighten up a bit, or you’re going to end up alone.” She paused. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I like living alone.” Amelia held her head high when she said it, but Drew took notice, looking up from his ham sandwich, not chewing. Jodie tried to swallow the snark on her tongue, but it was hard. Amelia did not like living alone – evidence the fact that she’d quickly moved in with every boyfriend she ever had since she was old enough to leave home. Another reason Jodie was so surprised Amelia and Drew hadn’t already shacked up together.
When they were finished, Drew reached out to touch Amelia’s hand. “Are you heading back soon?”
“Actually,” Amelia said, tilting her head to him as if anticipating his disappointment. “I can’t. I have an errand to run out here.” They made frown faces at each other, pouting like sad fish. Jodie leaned her cheek to her hand, waiting for them to finish.
“No problem,” he said to Amelia. “Call me later then.” He gathered his things. When he bent over the table to kiss Amelia goodbye, Jodie became flushed with a wide-eyed and terrible shock. It wasn’t a very long kiss, and it certainly wasn’t pornographic, but Jodie couldn’t bear to watch it. She felt herself melt into a mound of jelly, staring ahead at a blank wall, the two of them coming apart slowly in her peripheral vision. It was just a simple kiss goodbye, yet impossibly deep without even the hint of open lips or tongues. She didn’t even know what part she was jealous of; whatever it was, its absence overwhelmed her.
“See ya, Jodie,” Drew said, already en route to the door.
Amelia started talking again, and it took Jodie a few seconds to snap out of the shock. Amelia’s tense and structured chatter – something about her mother, the bank, phone calls and needing stamps – the tension in her eyebrows reflecting the priority of the task as she counted them off on her fingers.
They were never meant to be friends. Amelia dated Jodie’s brother for three years; the friendship was meant to be temporary. It was meant to be one of those tangent friendships, strung together with loose ties so that it could untie again when the time was right. Instead, when her brother broke up with Amelia, they didn’t untie. Their little group only became more intertwined and complex, and here were the two of them left over, stuck. It was hard to remember all the previous lives they shared, where they started and where they stopped – Jodie hadn’t thought not to mention her brother when Amelia mentioned a wedding she had to attend. “I know, my brother’s getting married next week too.”
“Eric,” Amelia said, her fingers coming to a stop. The tension between her eyebrows went slack, weighted with nostalgia and some sort of accepted sadness.
“I mean,” Jodie added, softer then. “I have no idea who to take to the wedding.”
“That came up fast,” Amelia said.
Jodie nodded, though it hadn’t been that fast. Not terribly fast. It had been two years since he and Amelia broke up. Jodie had known Amelia for a long time. Seven years now, since the day her brother first introduced them. She’d known Amelia longer than Piper, and longer than Drew. She knew Amelia back when they were just girls – twenty-two, undergrads and clueless, grasping at the world and trying to create brand new lives from it. She tried to remember before Drew came into the picture. Did she and Amelia always have this quiet tension between them that bordered on resentment?
Jodie began laughing out loud at the joke she had in her head. “So, you mind if I borrow Drew for this wedding? You know how he likes them.”
Amelia raised one eyebrow, her lips twisting into something that looked less like a smile than just confused and conflicted – over which part, Jodie didn’t know. There was such a careful consideration in Amelia’s eyes, Jodie had to glance away. Amelia finally sighed and offered up a strained smile. “No, Drew likes the open bar at weddings, there’s a difference. Why don’t you take Berges? Don’t you like Berges?”
Passionate hate was a better description of what Jodie felt for Berges. “Can you ask a divorced person to a wedding? Isn’t that bad luck or something?”
Amelia didn’t answer that. While the tension in her face melted, she seemed to drift into a thought. A deep one. Jodie wasn’t sure she’d buried her secrets deeply enough.
Sometimes you know of a person for years, sharing outings as friends of a mutual friend, bumping into each other at parties but never speaking, never exchanging more than a nod, or a hello, or a goodnight. Jodie could still remember the first whole conversation she had with Drew. He and Amelia were already tied up with each other in that momentous but stunted way, but there was a moment – and Jodie wasn’t even sure if it was real – where she thought Drew might have actually been interested. She felt honestly ridiculous to think such a thing, to even consider it in the private cavities of her own head. Interested in her? No, it was unlikely. It must have been all in her mind, that moment when Amelia was still an impossibility to him, before she was dating him, or sleeping with him. That inescapable night Amelia had dragged them all along to their cocktail bar, and left them there with smoke on their clothes and neon lights in their eyes. One fraction of a sliver of a moment when Jodie thought Drew might have considered her an option.
Jodie’s martini glass glinted pink light over her blunt-cut fingernails. Drew took the bar stool next to her, bringing in a breath of crisp fall air from outside, almost overpowering the smell of cigarette smoke in the room. He exhaled heavily as he sat. “Why do you think she won’t date me?”
Jodie looked him up and down. “Because you look like you’re twelve?” The venom spewed from her mouth like a reflex. She didn’t know why. She didn’t find him unpleasant, and she didn’t know him well enough to hate him. He hadn’t even said anything to annoy her in the two hours they’d been out that night. In fact, truthfully, he didn’t even look like a twelve year-old at all, but maybe eighteen, twenty on a good day, clean-shaven and gentle-faced as he was. He seemed so untouched by the world.
“I’m twenty-six, thanks,” he said.
“Maybe grow some chin hair then?”
His hand moved to rub his chin. “Believe me, I can grow plenty of chin hair if I wanted to.” He had to lean toward her, scooting his bar stool a bit closer to avoid shouting over the noise, couples out on dates, a group of girls shrieking with laughter around one boy wearing white sequins.
“Let me guess,” she said. “You want to get married?”
He shrugged. “Sure.”
“Did you tell her that?”
“Probably. But in a general way. I didn’t pop the question or anything.”
Jodie shook her head. “What’s wrong with you freaks?”
He just stared at her. “What’s wrong with you?”
She huffed. “Wrong? Nothing’s wrong with me.”
“You’re so angry.”
“I’m not angry.” She folded her arms over her chest. “Tell you what – I just tell people the truth. People don’t like to hear the truth.”
He pointed at her, his finger wagging slightly. “You’re so bitter, jaded. You’re statuesque almost, a strange approximation of a woman. Like you’re stiffened by your own spite.”
She laughed out loud. “Who talks like that?”
“I’m going to write a poem about you.” He smiled then, which was both inquisitive and genuine. The unimaginable grace it must have taken not to hold the hostility against her. How could he stand it? It crossed her mind then to ask him why he thought nobody wanted to date her.
Didn’t she know the answer already?
He bought her a drink – martini, dry, with an extra olive. He drank an imported beer. They stayed for a while, and wherever Amelia had gone that night, why he’d stayed and Amelia hadn’t, Jodie didn’t know. It was some drinks, some conversation, a night of company. She was quite sure he hadn’t meant it as a date. They were friends, or at least, they would begin to be from that point.
But still, there was a future that might have existed, spawned from that night, those drinks at the bar, with music thumping in their chests and neon lights in their eyes, and those few perfect hours that followed. A man like him – sensitive and tender – he would want a wedding, as much as he liked them, and maybe even a family. Children, in the plural. None of it – the man, the wedding, the children – was anything Jodie had ever wanted, but for that one moment, she allowed the possibility to enter into existence. Maybe she also scowled at it, but it had existed there just the same.
And would anything have ever come of it? Nobody would ever know because just days later, Amelia finally kissed him. She changed her mind, took him in, swept him into her arms, into her bed, into her heart, which was everything he’d always wanted. Just like that, whatever possibility might have existed with Jodie was wiped clean away with that kiss.
But Jodie had no plight to argue. She couldn’t say she liked him first. She couldn’t say she liked him better, or even that she liked him more. As much as she loathed to admit it, she just liked him. To a ridiculous degree. That was all she knew.
The apartment was big and empty without Piper. She was a tiny, bubbly woman with hair cut sharp and dyed bright. Like candy, she caused toothaches. She was fully grown but the size of a teenager – an explosion of energy in all forms, including the mess she left around when she was there. Jodie would miss it, in a way, her pillows and pink furry blankets, slippers shaped like purple elephants, her syrupy soda in the fridge and the sticky rings it left on the countertops, a sort of fingerprint she left behind. Piper wouldn’t be married for seven more months, but lately, the only time Jodie saw her was when she stopped by to grab some clothes or a DVD, and ran back out to her fiancé’s place. The idea being that she should wait until the wedding night to move in with him – the wholesome little Catholic girl that her grandmother thought she was – but that was more a formality than anything. She already had most of her things packed.
Jodie was reading on the couch when Piper burst into the apartment that night, bringing the wind with her, the scent of dried leaves and the crispness of fall. Tom followed behind, tall and nervous. Jodie made men nervous. It was always a wonder to her – and a little amusing – that she could make such a burly, giant of a man nervous.
Piper ran up the stairs, leaving Tom in the center of the room. He nodded and Jodie nodded back, the mutual acknowledgment of each other’s presence. This was the part she hated. Was she supposed to stop reading? Was she supposed to entertain him? Make jokes? Her roommate’s fiancé – it was an odd, forced kind of friendship. The walls of the apartment were paper thin; she’d even heard them having sex before. Once you’d heard someone having sex, you could never really get it out of your mind when you saw them again. It was never as appealing or amusing as one might imagine. People always sounded stupid having sex, and looked even more stupid, with their faces all contorted and expressive. On the occasion Jodie actually got into bed with a man, she had to close her eyes to keep from being distracted by the faces, the odd look of so much pleasure it was painful. Jodie hadn’t had actual sex in a really long time.
Tom shifted his weight, cleared his throat. “You mind if I steal your girl for the night?”
Jodie shrugged. Did she mind? Didn’t she mind? Didn’t he already have her? “Sure, have at her,” Jodie said. She didn’t try to make jokes with Tom like she would Drew – he wasn’t the joking type. But he was a good enough guy, and Piper adored him. Jodie was going to be maid of honor in their wedding, next to Amelia and Piper’s dozen-or-something sisters. Piper was making the dresses herself – both her own and for the wedding party, clouds of tulle in yellow and purple. They’d all look like Easter eggs.
Piper came downstairs then, a pink tote slung over her shoulder with her pajamas stuffed into it, one pant leg trailing from the back. She dropped the bag on the floor and plopped onto the couch, wrapped her little arms around Jodie’s neck, her warm cheek pressed to Jodie’s cheek, the overpowering smell of florals and candy lip gloss. Jodie stiffened first, but Piper never made it a choice. She hugged – you didn’t get to decline them. She hugged until Jodie relaxed the little bit that she would.
“See you tomorrow, babe.”
Jodie hated being called “babe”, but Piper never gave her a choice in that either.
And then Piper and Tom were gone with the same quick gust they blew in on. The apartment was far too quiet without her. It was almost worth having him sleep over, at the risk of hearing their animated and eager sex, just to have the presence of human life in the apartment for a night. But even so, how long could it last? They were getting married, starting a family and a life of their own. Jodie had an email from Drew with names and links to Facebook profiles, and on the kitchen table was Amelia’s yellow notepad with lines of women and their painfully detailed descriptions. Dozens of faceless strangers sat there demanding a response, a decision, and Jodie didn’t want to live with any of them.
Jodie put the news on for background noise, to block the sound of voices echoing through the thin apartment walls. She picked up a magazine, pushed back cushions to fall into – Piper’s big, fluffy cushions. Jodie imagined she would probably take them with her eventually.
She flipped open her magazine – celebrity divorces, how to wear leggings, what to eat for four-hundred calories. Wasn’t she happy enough alone? She certainly wasn’t lonely enough to need just anybody here. And she took that as a good sign. Alone, but not lonely. It was quiet, sure, but it could be nice. Not having to share the shower in the morning. Not having to debate what they’d watch on TV.
She worried though, if she didn’t find a new roommate soon enough, would she start talking to herself? Would she run dialogues of conversations out loud to no one? Maybe she would get a pet. A goldfish? No, something sentient, so she could pretend she wasn’t really talking to herself. Maybe a cat.
A cat? Seriously? When did she start liking cats?
And then, as she sat in her own empty living room with CNN rattling on in the background, her magazine flopped open on her lap, and a whole conversation in her head, she saw it stretched out ahead of her. Every town had that weird old cat lady, the angry woman sitting on her front porch swing, wearing a nightgown and socks, waving a rolled up newspaper at random children to get off of her lawn. No friends, no family, and way too many cats.
Was this how it started?
Stay tuned for more excerpts and extras, and Exactly Where They’d Fall releases in ebook next week!
Thank you for reading! ðŸ˜€