#tbt – The Waiting Game

I’ve been writing the characters from The Waiting Game since 1996, when I first dreamed them up. Fourteen-year-old me wasn’t very good at it, of course, so the story has remained much the same, but every so often I age up the characters and retool the details. So for this #tbt, I’ve got a scene I wrote for the college-aged versions of the characters, when Alex and Kyle first discussed her relationship with Noel, and what that meant for their future.

Kyle dropped his voice. “Alex. Could I talk to you alone for a minute?”

            “Absolutely.” I turned to David. “I’ll be right back.”

“Don’t leave me,” he said, but I was already walking away, following Kyle to his office.

“You seem well,” Kyle said, sitting on the edge of his desk.

“I am well, Kyle.”

“That’s good to hear.”

“Thanks.”

He paused, a slight frown creasing his brow. “I don’t know how to ask this.”

“Then you probably shouldn’t.”

“You’re still seeing that guy?”

“Well, the last time we talked, I wasn’t seeing him, so. Uh, yes, I’m seeing Noel now.”

“How’s that going?”

“Really well, thanks. I like him a lot, and he makes me happy. I’m trying to ignore things like that he’s graduating in May, but we’re working on figuring that out.”

“You seem much better than the last time I saw you.”

“I am.”

“I wasn’t expecting that.”

“It was bound to happen, Kyle.”

“I know.”

“Are you okay?”

“Probably. You’re not my girlfriend. You’re allowed to date whoever you want. You’re allowed to be happy.”

“I am.”

“I’m not saying that I was hoping you’d be sad forever. I’m glad to see you happy.”

“That’s good to know.”

“I had hoped that I’d—”

“We should head back to the party.”

“Saving me from myself?”

“Someone has to.”

“Thanks. How’s David?”

“He is really good as well. You should ask him. I always like seeing you two getting along.”

“I’m sorry we never have.”

“I know.”

“He and Noel get along okay?”

“They get along great, yeah.”

“Neither one is jealous of the other?”

“Well. David and I had a year when neither of us was seeing someone, and we didn’t go out then. I don’t think anyone’s worried that we’re going to go out now that we’re both in relationships.”

“David has a girlfriend?”

“I told you he was really good.”

“Good for him.”

“Everyone’s doing well, which is kind of shocking, I know.”

“Well. Not everyone.”

I cocked my head. “What’s up?”

“Nothing.”

“You had to know that this might happen, Kyle.”

“I’d always let myself believe that things would be okay with us again.”

“Things are okay with us. You mean that you expected to get back together.”

“Something like that, yes.”

“It’s a nice thought. Right now I’m seeing someone else.”

“I’ve heard.”

“You’d like Noel.”

“That’s wishful thinking.”

I shrugged. “Okay, evidence has shown that you don’t tend to like the other men in my life. I guess I should say that Noel would like you.”

“Well, what’s not to like about me?”

“It’s weird for me, talking to you like this, and for the first time that I can remember, I don’t feel like I used to.”

“That must be nice.”

“It was. Then I had to talk to you.”

“Well, at least you feel bad that you don’t love me anymore.”

“It’s for the best, Kyle.”

“I know.”

“Seriously, let’s go to this party. Tell me how work things are going. Ask David about his life.”

“I might just go home.”

“Don’t do that.” I took his hand, pulling him to his feet. “We’ve been friends before. We’re only doing that again.”

“It’s weird.”

“It will be for a little while, yeah.”

“Your boyfriend isn’t here, is he?”

“No, he went home for the holidays.”

“Well, that’s a relief.”

“David’s still here.”

“It’s like you don’t want me to be happy.”

“I want nothing more than for you to be happy, Kyle.”

“Well. Don’t talk to me about your boyfriend anymore.”

“He still exists.”

“Oh, believe me, I know.”

“You did this, Kyle.”

“I know I did, thanks.”

“As long as we’re clear.”

“Crystal.”

“Are you angry at me?”

“No.”

“Then what is this, Kyle?”

“I didn’t do what I did because I loved you any less.”

“We aren’t having this conversation. You and I are done, Kyle.”

I turned my back on him and returned to the party. I’d been doing so well, and he had to ruin everything, as usual. I was okay with getting along with him. I was okay with interacting with him. I was not okay with having a discussion about the time he cheated on me. We weren’t going to have that conversation now, and probably not ever. I wasn’t going to allow myself to hear his excuses.

I wasn’t going to forgive him. Just because I wasn’t in love with him anymore didn’t mean that I was ready to forgive what he’d done.

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On Comparison

A friend of mine from my old writer’s group has her second book coming out next week, and she’s been posting small bits from the novel. And it’s amazing, and I am so, so excited for her.

But it’s also hard to read those bits and not get a little…jealous? She’s a great writer. And I find myself comparing my writing to hers, and it’s not as good. I tell myself that part of it is that we write very different books (she’s a romance writer, and she’s very good at it, and I am not good at romance). Part of it is that this is a book that is being published next week. It’s polished and clean, and has had extra sets of eyes on it.

And then I come across a handful of lines that I’ve written, and I fall in love with them, and I realize that it doesn’t matter. It’s possible that I will never be (traditionally) published. It’s possible that I’m not as good a writer as she is.

But that doesn’t matter. Because I did this:

“Why not? Why would I let you suffer needlessly?”

“I would think you’d be a big fan of letting me suffer.”

Him,” I replied. “I love watching him suffer.”

“That’s beautiful, Kyle.”

“Fuck you, he deserves to suffer.”

“Well, I assure you, he’s suffering greatly.”

“Good. I hope it was worth what you guys did to me.” She set her jaw, a now-familiar move. “You were about to say that it was.”

“I’m doing my best not to provoke you, so no, I wasn’t.”

“Sure.”

And I love that. I love the way they’re fighting, the way Alex and Kyle know exactly how to push each other’s buttons, and how even though they’re saying angry, awful things to each other, they love each other so much, and in the greater framework of this scene, it’s there, the love, in between the hate. And I know that eventually I’m going to finish writing their stories, and I’m going to miss them.

The Waiting Game

I’ve been hard at work on my November NaNoWriMo piece, trying to finish a novel that didn’t want to be finished. Finally, at just over 90K words, I wrapped it up this week. So I figured it would be a good time to toss an excerpt up.

The party continued around me, and I couldn’t shake the certainty that this was a terrible idea, and I wasn’t entirely sure why I’d let Laina talk me into it. I didn’t need to be at a party right now. I needed to be in bed with some ice cream and a bottle of wine. At least I had my vodka tonic to keep me company, and soothe my lingering depression.

“What are you doing in here all alone?”

The voice came from behind me, and I turned, startled. It was the guest of honor. I stared into his shockingly pale blue eyes, not sure how to answer him.

“I’m not much for parties,” I answered finally.

He looked around the room pointedly. “Then why are you at one?”

“Laina thought it would be good for me to get out of the house.”

“And it’s not?”

“It’s not.”

“Why?”

I gestured to the empty spot next to me on the couch. Noel sat, and I turned to face him, putting my back against the arm of the couch, and tucking my legs underneath me.

“I’m going through a bad breakup,” I said.

“How bad?”

“I came home early from vacation and caught my fiancé in bed with some brunette.”

“That sucks.”

“It did, yeah. I had to move out, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to speak to him again. It’s been a rough couple of weeks.”

“I’m sorry.”

I waved the apology away. “Never mind about that. I hear you just moved. What brought you to D.C.?”

He laughed. “You won’t believe me.”

“Try me.”

Noel leaned closer to me, dropping his voice conspiratorially. “I caught my fiancée in bed with someone else.”

I laughed, assuming he was joking. He smirked in response, settling back into the couch, and I realized that perhaps he was serious.

“You’re not kidding,” I said.

“I’m not.”

“Oh, my God, I’m so sorry that I laughed.”

“I told you that you wouldn’t believe me.”

I felt my face heat up. “I’m so embarrassed.”

“Seriously, you don’t have to be. I mean, it’s not funny that Nancy cheated on me, but it’s hilarious that you and I are both at this party right now because we went through the same horrible thing.”

“I’m not sure that’s funny either.”

“It’s a little bit funny. Amusing at least.”

“Okay, I’ll give you that.”

“It’ll be a great story to tell our grandkids.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Oh, will it?”

“Sure. ‘How did you meet, Grandpa?’” Noel said, pitching his voice a little higher. “‘Well, kids,’” he continued, dropping the pitch of his voice now, “‘Nancy had cheated on me again.’”

“Ouch,” I interjected.

He nodded, and continued in his old man voice. “‘And we were all surprised to find out that–’” He paused. “What’s his name?”

“Who? Oh, Kyle.”

“‘–to find out that Kyle was a complete asshole.’”

I burst into laughter. Yeah, a totally appropriate story for the hypothetical grandkids.

“Aren’t you glad you came out to the party?” Noel asked.

“I kind of am, yeah.”

Kind of? I’m going to have to work a bit harder then, I guess.”

“Yeah, you should get on that.”

“You’re cute, you know that?”

My face went hot again. “Oh, please. I didn’t even shower for this party.”

“I don’t think you know appropriate party etiquette.”

“I agree.”

“It’s okay, we don’t have to go to another party ever again.”

“I like the way you keep saying ‘we.’”

“I’m not completely scaring you off?”

“No.”

It was sexy the way he was taking charge, the way he was making assumptions, even jokingly, about our future. And we’d only known each other for fifteen minutes. I began to contemplate perhaps going home with him once this party was over. One night stands were practically invented for getting over breakups, right?

“How do you know Laina?” Noel asked, snapping me out of my reverie.

“Oh! Uh, we went to college together.”

“You’re the one that lured her away from home.”

“Well, I encouraged her to stay here after school, yeah. ‘Cause I’m from here, and I was going to stay, and I had already talked our friend David into it, so I figured I’d try to get Laina to stay too. How do you know that?”

“You think Laina and I met a few days ago when I moved in, and she wanted to throw me a party?”

“Yes?” I cringed. “It’s not that unusual for Laina to do something like that.”

“Okay, I have to give you that. But no, Laina and I grew up together. She talked me into moving out here. After, you know, her sister cheated on me.”

“Again,” I added, remembering his story from earlier. “Holy shit, tell me you’re not serious. You were not dating her sister.”

“I was. It was ill-advised.”

“Yeah, even I know that, and I haven’t even met her sister. Laina’s told me so many stories about her sister doing guys wrong.”

“It’s generally been just the one guy,” Noel replied, jerking his thumb toward his chest.

My jaw dropped in horror and amazement. “Oh, my God. You’re kidding.”

“Right now you’re adding up all the stories about Nancy cheating on the guy she was seeing, and then you’re wondering to yourself why exactly I would have proposed to her.”

I paused. “I might be.”

“Judge away.”

“What were you thinking?”

Noel chuckled deep in his throat, and it was all I could do not to leap on top of him. Holy shit, that was a gorgeous sound, half growl, half laugh.

“I’m not entirely sure what I was thinking,” he said. “Possibly that marriage would settle her down a little.”

“I don’t think it would have,” I replied, unable to keep myself from leaning closer to him.

“Oh, no, it would have been a terrible mistake. We’d have divorced within a year. Things have worked out for the best.”

“Tell me you at least got the ring back.”

“As if I’d want a reminder? No, she kept it. And it wasn’t a very nice ring.”

“I’m starting to think that you don’t really like her.”

“I do, and I don’t. Sometimes I can’t quite remember why I fell in love with her.”

“Are you aware of what marriage means?”

He laughed. “I am. Mistakes were made. And I realize that I don’t know your name.”

“Alex.”

“Noel. But you knew that, because Laina would have told you.”

“She did.”

He cut his eyes toward Laina, and I couldn’t help but follow his gaze. She turned away from us as soon as our eyes lit on her. Oh, of course.

“This is a set up,” Noel said.

“Shit. Of course it is.”

“You sound distressed,” he said, a note of hurt in his voice. “And here I thought we were enjoying each other.”

Turning back to Noel, I opened my mouth to reply, then closed it again. How to put this without possibly hurting his feelings?

“This is fun,” I said after a moment.

“Talking to me?”

“Yes. It’s fun. I’m enjoying myself far more than I thought possible.”

“But.”

“Bad breakup,” I said, and Noel nodded.

“Okay, I see your point there. But we’re going to have to go on a date sometime, if only to appease Laina.”

“Do you really care about appeasing her?”

“I care a lot about seeing you again.”

“God, you know just what to say, don’t you?”

“I do.”

“It’s not a good idea for me right now. To get involved with someone.”

“Who said we had to get involved?”

“Noel.”

“You should come see my place.”

No,” I said with a laugh. “Bad idea.”

“It’s right down the hall.”

“I know it is.”

“We could sneak out now and no one would notice.”

“Laina would.”

“Another time then.”

“In, like, a year, Noel.”

He sighed. “You can’t be serious.”

“I’m taking a year off from dating so that I can, you know, figure out who I am and what I want outside of a relationship. So that hopefully I don’t end up walking in on my next fiancé screwing some bimbo.”

“You don’t have to worry about that. I don’t screw bimbos.”

“You continue to be presumptuous.”

“And you continue to love it.”

“I do.”

“Seriously, right down the hall. You don’t even have to call me again.”

I laughed. “It’s a tempting offer. But I’d want to call you again. And I can’t do this right now, Noel.”

“Can we go back to flirting with each other?”

“Anytime you want.”

“But you’ll think about this date thing?”

“Of course I’ll think about it. We’re not going on a date though.”

“For a year.”

“Right.”

“If those are the terms, I’ll agree to them.”

“You’ll agree to sit around for a year and wait for me to be ready to go out with you?”

“Yeah.”

“You’ll turn down every other offer you get between now and then.”

“Yes.”

“You’ll take a vow of celibacy for a year, on the off chance that a year from now you and I still want to go out.”

“Yes.”

“We met less than an hour ago. You’re insane.”

“You’re beautiful. And funny. And I’ve really enjoyed myself tonight. I can wait a year.”

“You hope.”

Noel shrugged. “Worst case scenario, in a year, I’ve found someone I like even more than I like you. It still works out for me.”

“Fair enough.”

“You’re kind of screwed in that scenario.”

“I am.”

“But it’s your one year waiting period.”

“That’s assuming that in a year, I feel like being in a relationship again. And that I still know how to find you.”

“I won’t let you lose me.”

“That’s convenient.”

“You think I’m kidding.”

“I think you’re crazy.”

“But you like it.”

“I do.”

“So you also moved recently?”

“Uh, sort of. I mean, my stuff is no longer in the home I shared with my fiancé. But I’m temporarily crashing in a friend’s guest room.”

“Please tell me that friend is Laina.”

I laughed. “She doesn’t have a guest room.”

“I have a guest room.”

“Lucky for your guests.”

“I’m not going to stop trying to talk you into my apartment.”

“I’m not going to stop refusing.”

“That’s okay, this is still fun.”

“Yes it is.”

“I really want to kiss you right now.”

I could barely breathe with the anticipation of it. Oh, God, yes, please kiss me. And yet I pulled back.

“I can’t.”

He nodded, resigned. “All right. Another time.”

“Yes.”

“I’m going to hold you to that.”

“Please do.”

“I can think of a few other things I’d like to hold you to.”

I leaned toward him, dropping my voice. “Tell me all about it.”

Noel laughed, that sexy throaty chuckle from before, and he leaned closer. “Are we talking dirty to each other?”

“It’s the best I can do right now.”

“This party is about to get much more interesting.”

“Yes, it is.”

He leaned closer to me, his face right next to mine, his breath hot against my ear. He began to murmur into my ear, telling me what might happen if we were alone in the room. The things he was describing finally managed to put a new imagine in my head, shoving out the scene of Kyle and his girl. This was much better. And it was going to make it incredibly difficult to send Noel back to his place alone at the end of the night.

Playing favorites

A couple years ago during NaNoWriMo, I wrote what is probably my favorite scene ever. My main character has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and her current husband, who is the first person narrator here, and her ex-husband have a pleasant little chat about it.

 

        I couldn’t think of a way to start this conversation that wouldn’t piss him off, so I figured I’d just jump in.

“I’m sorry.”

Kyle snorted. “Seriously, fuck you.”

“Okay.”

“You think you can apologize for what you did? Are you kidding me?”

“Of course I don’t think that. I was told to apologize, first of all.”

“Fuck Alex too at this point.”

“By all means, go ahead and say that to her. Just once, treat her the way you’re treating me.”

“You can’t tell me how to handle any of this, Noel. You ruined my life. I’m going to be angry, and you’re not going to talk your way out of that. Neither is she.”

“I’m not trying to talk you out of being angry at me. I’m hoping that I can talk you into being civil for the next couple of months. After that, you can hate me all you want. It’s not like we’re ever going to see each other again.”

“You’re right about that.”

“It hasn’t been easy for us either, you know.”

“I’m sure it’s been really rough.”

“It was months before she and I interacted as if we were a couple. Before we went on dates. Before we could even talk about what happened with you and her.”

“Oh my God. Seriously, I don’t care. I don’t care if your life has been a living hell for the past seven years. I don’t care if she’s fucking twenty other guys behind your back. I don’t care if it’s been hard for you. All I know is that it’s been impossible for me. I lost my wife, Noel. I lost my best friend. My children lost their mother. Do you have any idea what that must have been like for us? And you want me to feel bad because you and Alex didn’t sleep together until the divorce was final? Are you kidding?”

“We aren’t proud of what we did.”

“You shouldn’t be.”

“Alex has been hurting a lot since she left. In case you think it made her happy or something.”

“It made her happy eventually.”

“Well, not exactly. I mean, she certainly isn’t happy now.”

“She doesn’t deserve to be, Noel. Neither do you. You guys are truly horrible people. I don’t know what you did to her, because she wasn’t like that when I knew her. The woman I knew for thirty years vanished when you showed up. And you’re welcome to this one, because she sucks.”

“You don’t mean that.”

“Of course I do.”

“Then why are you so angry with me? With her? If you really hated her that much, it wouldn’t matter that she left.”

“I don’t want your Alex back. I want my Alex back. She’s gone, and there’s nothing anyone can do about that.”

“If it makes you feel better, I won’t have my Alex much longer.”

“Good.”

“You’re angrier than she thinks.”

“Probably, yeah.”

“Why don’t you say any of this to her?”

“She has fucking cancer, Noel.”

“Seriously? I hadn’t heard.”

His body twitched, and I realized that he was possibly about to spring across the room and strangle me for that one. Alright, now I knew where the line was.

“I shouldn’t have said that, I’m sorry.”

Kyle shook his head. “You’re not sorry. Alex isn’t sorry. If you were sorry, she could come home with me and forget all of this, the way she did with us.”

“Are you going to hate us forever?”

“Probably. I mean, I’m going to hate Alex until she dies. Because I’m not a couple months away from forgiving her. And I don’t really see a way for me to forgive you. So, yeah, I’m probably going to hate you forever.”

“Neither of us likes what we did.”

“Fine. I don’t like it either.”

“There was a long stretch of time when we regretted it.”

“Sadly, it wasn’t the four days she spent thinking about leaving me.”

Nor was it the thirty seconds I spent thinking about asking her to leave him. Then and now I told myself that I wasn’t asking her to leave him, I was asking her to let me go. I couldn’t watch her be married to him. I thought she’d send me away. She should have, really.

“Are you done?” Kyle asked. “I’d really like to get back to pretending that you don’t exist.”

“I told her I’d tell you that I’m sorry, I did that. So, yeah, I guess I’m done here.”

I don’t know exactly what it is about this conversation that I enjoy so much, other than that Kyle is very much out of character. He’s a staid, boring, old money type, and seeing him let down his carefully constructed façade is fun. Even the most straight-laced person would lose their mind if their spouse left them, so while it’s a bit unusual for him, it’s spot on for how a normal person would normally react.

In any case, a lot of fun to write.