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So my own writing lags behind, because I only write when I have little or no editing work to do. How I managed to have my name on five books and three anthologies, goodness knows!
To counteract the negative effects my work life has on my writing, I’ve done the unthinkable: I’ve joined NaNoWriMo for the first time ever. Has it gone smoothly? Um… can I NOT answer that?
Let’s just say that we’re a third of the way through and I haven’t written a third of the words yet. On the plus side, I’ve had an amazing couple of days yesterday and today, and – though this is only first draft – I’m comfortable enough with what I’ve written so far to let you have a peek.
The genre is comedy romance (yes, another new genre – I like making life easy for myself).
The title is To Catch A Guy.
The subtitle – A Careful Girl’s Guide To Getting A Hot Christmas Date.
(Laura, Sherry, this is for you two! Share nicely.)
– A Careful Girl’s Guide to Getting A Hot Christmas Date –
© Ella Medler 2013
Toni curled up tighter in the back corner sofa, squeezed her eyes shut and turned the volume on her iPod to maximum. Nothing changed; the drum beats were just as loud.
She didn’t want to be here. She so didn’t want to be here. Damn Kimberly to the darkest pits of Hell for dragging her over to such a sordid, vile gathering. In fact, she could think of something even better than cursing Kimberly: leaving.
Toni shot to her feet before her brain had the chance to catch up with her intentions and lift her eyelids fully. The top of her head connected with something soft, yet unyielding and inertia yanked her ungracefully back to the sofa.
A girl with an unnaturally large chest bent over, insinuating far too much of her barely covered body into Toni’s personal space. She bobbed in time with the music, her assets threatening to spill out of her tight top and cause Toni her second headache of the evening. Then she turned and dropped on the sofa so close to Toni, the cushions heaved, the groundswell causing her to grab onto the nearest thing – the girl’s sweaty naked leg.
Gross! Toni took her hands back as fast as she could, rubbed them on her jeans and stuck them safely between her thighs. The girl put her arm around Toni’s shoulder to get her attention. It worked; Toni turned, petrified, and watched plump lips painted sparkly red articulate words, but she couldn’t make sense of what had been said. Could head-butting boobs give you hearing failure?
Hands with talons the same shade as the lipstick approached her head, either side. Just as she was getting ready to scream, Toni felt the earplugs pop out of her ears and a moment later the gravelly smoker’s voice got through.
“You need something?”
Oh, appearances really could be deceiving. This girl was actually being helpful. Grateful, Toni smiled at the stranger. “Have you seen Kimberly? My friend? She owns the blue Toyota out back. I just want to go home.”
The red lips stretched into a non-descript smile. “Over there, third door on the left.”
Toni followed the general direction indicated by the perfectly manicured red talon, bumping into fewer people than she’d feared on her way out of the room. The crazy boogie of disco lights was more subdued in the hallway, and that helped her get her bearings. Third door. Left or right? Damn! She’d let herself be so intimidated by the stranger in bright lipstick that she’d forgotten to pay attention.
“Left. She said left,” Toni mumbled to herself. Yeah, that sounded right.
She jiggled the handle, but the door didn’t open. Toni frowned, turned her back to the door and leaned against it. Her eyes roamed over the wall opposite. Two doors, and then a corridor. So it couldn’t be right. Left. She must have got it right. The girl had said left.
Just as she arrived at that conclusion, her perch disappeared and she tumbled into the darkness beyond. The thin sliver of light from the hallway fizzled into strands of grey as the door shut again, and Toni felt around blindly, trying to determine which way was up. A pair of strong hands clasped her around the waist and lifted her off the floor.
“Kimberly?” she asked.
“Shh,” several voices, none of which she recognised, came from different directions.
The hands that had picked her up placed her on a lap. Toni’s head snapped up in alarm, but her plan to get away from the hands, the darkness, the party, vanished when her eyes alighted on Kimberly. The other side of a one-way mirror. In a bed. In a bed which had three other people in it, naked.
Toni’s scream reverberated throughout the house, drowning the insistent drum beats for a whole minute.
“Hey, shut up, will you? I’m missing the show.”
“Let me out!”
“Hey, who’s that chick?” came another voice.
“Let me out this very instant, you hear me?”
“Or what?” the owner of the lap asked, laughter in his voice.
“Or I’ll continue to scream and spoil your fun.” She let out another blood-curdling scream to reinforce her threat.
“Oh, for God’s sake! Chuck her out.”
More than one pair of hands shoved her towards the exit, and for once Toni didn’t offer any resistance.
By the time Kimberly made it to the car, Toni had given in to her most primal instincts to preserve her sanity. She was curled up on the brick-weave driveway, hugging her knees to her chest and rocking back and forth against the front wheel of the Toyota.
“Ah, there you are. Someone said you left the party. You might have told me.”
“I might have… what? Told you? Kimberly, I screamed. But something tells me a whole artillery battalion could have let rip and you wouldn’t have noticed.”
Kimberly averted her eyes. “No need to take that tone with me. I was busy.”
“You and a few others,” Toni said, her voice icy.
Kimberly got into the driver’s seat and pushed the passenger door open from the inside.
“Did you know what sort of party you were bringing me to from the beginning?” Toni demanded.
“Are you getting in? I thought you couldn’t wait to leave.”
Toni climbed in and slammed the door shut. “Did you? Answer me, Kimberly Garcia, or I swear I’ll never talk to you ever again. Did you know?”
Kimberly sighed and started the engine. “Why does it even matter?”
“All right, all right. Yes. Yes, I knew, and yes, I wanted to have some fun. What’s wrong with that? It’s not like I signed up to be a nun.”
“You wanted to have some fun. To hell with Toni, then! You know I don’t like crowds. I don’t like parties. It’s uncomfortable and awkward. And loud. My ears are still ringing.”
“You finished moaning yet?”
Toni opened her mouth to retort, but nothing appropriate came to mind. She closed it again and turned away from Kimberly, determined to do nothing more than stare blankly out of the window all the way home.
Her expectation that Kimberly would eventually fill the silence with mind-numbing chatter was wrong. The whole way home, her friend didn’t utter a single word.
Kimberly fought the urge to talk until they’d closed the front door to their shared flat, but that was all she could take.
“How much did you see?” she blurted out.
Toni fixed her gaze on a spot over Kimberly’s shoulder and frowned at it. “Just enough to know you were one of the four.”
“It bothers you?”
Toni’s temper finally flared. “What exactly are you referring to, Kim? The fact that you had sex with three complete strangers, or the room full of people in front of whom you performed?”
Kimberly let out a dramatic sigh. “It’s not as bad as you make it sound.”
“I had fun.”
“Did you know those guys?”
“Of course I knew them.”
“What were their names?”
“You said you knew them. What were their names, Kimberly?”
“Er… Jim… Tim… and…”
“Yeah, Him. No! Not Him! Um…”
“Oh, give it up, Kim. You’re a pathetic liar.”
Silence snuck between them and chilled the atmosphere. As usual, Kimberly was the first to crack.
“I’m sorry. I won’t do it again, Toni, I promise.”
“I’m sure you won’t. I’m never going anywhere with you again.”
“Oh, come on. That’s a bit harsh, don’t you think? We’re best buddies.”
“No! Not were. Are. You’re my best friend. Don’t do that to me! Please let me make it up to you.” Kimberly shuffled closer to Toni and put her arm around her shoulders. “Name anything and I’ll make it happen. Anything. Auntie Kimmy will take out her magic wand and grant you three wishes tonight.”
Her smile was infectious and Toni couldn’t help but smile back, though she kept her eyes averted, to tease her friend.
“Only three?” Toni asked.
“Four. Ten, if you like. A hundred!”
Toni shook her head, smiling. “I appreciate the sentiment, Kim, but I don’t know what I want, and besides… you’re no fairy.”
“Are you saying I’m ugly? ‘Coz I take offence at that!” Toni giggled. “And how come you don’t know what you want at your age? You’re no spring chicken anymore, hun. Let’s sit down a minute and talk this through. There’s more to that crease on your forehead than you’re letting on. I can tell. It’s the gypsy blood in me.”
Toni sat next to Kimberly, her smile gone, frown back in place.
Kimberly took an imaginary pen from behind her right ear, dipped the tip of it on her tongue and poised it over the imaginary notepad in her left hand. “Wish number one. I’m all ears.”
Toni’s lips turned up at the corners, but dropped back right away. “Well… I guess I need a change of scenery. I’ve done nothing but work since the day I graduated and all I’ve got to show for it is this flat.”
“Which you so graciously let me share. I am eternally grateful, by the way.”
“I need you here, to keep me sane. Plus, you’re like my personal chauffeur.”
“You’ll have to learn to drive one day.”
“And you to pick up your clothes.”
“Anyway…” Kimberly cleared her throat. “Back to our fairy business. Change of scenery. Noted. Wish two.”
“I’d love to find a job that actually interests me. Something to utilise my skills, something I couldn’t wait to wake up to each day.”
“I thought you wanted to study law.”
“My parents want me to study law. I quite like web design, as you well know. But apparently that’s not a proper job, not by their standards. I’d work from home, for a start. To my parents, work is something you do in an office; the more prestigious, the better.”
“Ok. New job. Got it. Wish three?”
Toni’s frown intensified.
“Oh, I see. No need to tell me. I know this one,” Kimberly said.
“What do you mean?”
“It’s written all over that pretty face of yours. You need a man.”
“I don’t need a man.”
“You do. Stop contradicting your fairy. She knows best.”
“Like she knew what party to take me to?”
“Oh, for God’s sake, will you stop bringing that up? It was a mistake. I said I’m sorry. I’ll make it up to you, you’ll see.”
“That’s what worries me.”
“What are you afraid of, Toni? Love? It’s the most beautiful feeling in the world. What’s the worst that can happen?”
“With you for a fairy?” Toni joked.
“Hey!” Kimberly grabbed a cushion and threw it playfully at Toni. Toni retaliated, and soon the fairy, the list of wishes and the failed party were forgotten in a flurry of flying cushions.
Jackson Carter poked his head into his little brother’s room.
“He’s asleep,” his mother’s voice came from behind him.
He closed the door gently and turned to give her a hug. “How has he been today?”
“Better than yesterday. He’ll pull through; he always does.” She smiled, but he could see the worry clouding the sparkle in her eyes. “Come down, son. I saved you some steak.”
Jackson kept up a barrage of questions throughout dinner, trying to determine whether the stress of his brother’s illness was too much for their mother to bear, but she seemed to have everything under control.
For such a small woman, she’d coped well. She always did. Even when, pregnant with her second son, she’d had to keep the family business going following her husband’s accident. James Carter had pulled through, but fallen ill shortly after – a hospital-acquired infection had eaten him from the inside out and, like any devoted father, he’d neglected his own health when it became clear his baby required specialist medical care. All efforts had gone into looking after Luke.
While James had invested every ounce of energy into wringing every dollar out of the business, to pay for it all, it was Barbara who’d sorted out hospital visits and medical bills, and trips to specialists and experts all over the country. And when James had finally died, it fell down to her to plug the temporary gap in the sawmill’s management, which she did on top of everything else, aware that the family business was her only chance to keep her son alive.
Jackson had stepped up to the task soon after. He had a good head on his shoulders, which enabled him to find new avenues for the business’ expansion, despite being barely old enough. Years passed, Luke wasn’t getting any better, and the bills weren’t shrinking any, either.
“I spoke to Mandy,” Barbara said, watching him wipe barbecue sauce off his plate with a chunk of bread. “You know Mandy… Susan Hugh’s nurse, the one with contacts at the UPMC…” Jackson nodded, encouraging her to continue with an eager look. “She said there’s a team of specialists expected to visit next month, so I was wondering whether we should make another approach… I know it’s expensive…”
“Mom, of course we should. Call Mandy and tell her to go ahead and ask if they can help Luke.”
“Pittsburgh is not exactly close… The airfares alone –”
“Mom! Don’t even think about it. Go ahead and book them, and send me the bill.”
“Are you sure?”
Her eyes were full of worry and guilt. Jackson knew she blamed herself for having a child so late in life, for not being more careful, for everything bad that had ever happened to them. He stretched his arm and stroked her cheek with his hand. She leaned into his palm and covered his hand with hers.
“Of course, Mom. Anything. The business can take it. Book the trip, and stop worrying. There is hope. Maybe this time…” He left the words unspoken. Hope was a beautiful thing, he thought, as he watched a weak smile stretch her lips. He smiled back, putting as much warmth and reassurance in his gaze as he was capable of.
It took an hour longer than he’d planned, and he’d had to promise he’d be there before bed-time the next day so he could do the voices in his brother’s favourite story book, but finally Jackson closed and locked the hotel door behind him. He set up the laptop and high definition camera, checked there were no incriminating details in shot, then logged in.
Two messages blipped as soon as the screen lit up. Damn, the boss had checked up on him, and he’d been late starting. Again.
Jackson tore his shirt off and clicked on the first awaiting connection. A woman. He made sure the camera view showed as much as possible of his torso, then talked to her – verbal caresses and pretend love-whispers – making sure he showed his pecs and six pack in the best light possible. Judging by the sounds she made, she was enjoying the display.
Two more women followed, and a man. The display had been quiet for twenty minutes when he decided that was going to be it for the night. He was about to switch the laptop off when he saw another message.
“We need to talk,” it said simply.
“Crap.” That did not look like a promotion. Full of foreboding, Jackson picked up his phone and dialled the second number on his speed-dial.
He lay in bed, watching the sunrise through the threadbare hotel curtains. The conversation hadn’t been long, but it would possibly rank as one of the most uncomfortable he’d ever had. It rankled. Hell, he was a man. What man liked being told he just wasn’t good enough? It was hardly rocket science – talking sweet nothings while showing off a well-toned body. Still, he’d been told he was on his last chance. His latest assessment by an anonymous critic had been biting: wooden and out-of-touch.
He had twelve hours to decide whether he wanted to retrain or quit.
Shit, he needed this job, especially now, with the takeover looming over him like a black storm cloud. The extra money would come in handy.
Nothing to do, but confront his dilemma head-on. If he allowed his pride to get the better of him and quit, he’d soon pay the price. Evening jobs were few and far between, and none paid better than this one while requiring so little personal involvement. If he re-trained… he could keep doing what he was doing now, and do it better. It was a no-brainer. The only worry was leaving his mother to cope alone for a week while he flew half-way across the world.
Jackson stared at the growing daylight, wondering whether all this struggle was going to be worth it, in the end. Then his brother’s face floated to the forefront of his mind, and he made up his mind in a second. If the kid could struggle on with a smile on his face through all he’d had to cope with, then it certainly was worth it.
He kicked himself for having doubts at all. Only a coward could ever consider the easy option: backing out. This was a job like any other. All he had to do was go back to school for a week. A week. That was all. How hard could that be?
~ Now the first major turning point in the novel is in sight, I feel much more relaxed about it. I’m enjoying writing, and I’ve got a smile on my face ~