This is the first in a monthly series of writing installments (like Dickens, y'all!) as I transition from my job as a teacher to my (maybe, if everything goes well) job as a ghost writer. (and if you are here for the usual house-related shenanigans, they will be back, probably on Wednesday. Sorry for the break in the action, but folks in the writing world need some feedback on how I handle different genres.)
Because I need the practice and feedback, I need you seven regular readers to read and respond. (You know seven is a magic number in stories, right? That means y'all are special!) So here's the first few pages of a romance novel:
It all started the morning I used a flip-flop to beat a guy who was trying to steal my purse.
That’s when I found the arm.
My college roommate, “Just Walk Away” Renee, used to say my life was like a movie. And when I was 20, it was. But in the dozen years since then, things had settled down considerably. I finished an undergraduate degree in Communications, worked in public relations for Colonial Williamsburg, married an ambitious young lawyer then divorced him. In the five years since the divorce, he had married his young paralegal and was the father of twin boys, whom he saw when they were sleeping—and then only if his schedule allowed.
Meanwhile, I had moved on to a more prestigious job with the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, putting together special events and working closely with the Virginia Tourism Corporation. I rented a darling house within walking distance of The College of William and Mary and enjoyed the company of a number of good friends and colleagues. I exercised daily, paid my bills on time, and visited my parents religiously. My life was, in a word, predictable. Maybe even boring. And then, well…the whole arm incident.
I should have known better than to walk through the nearly deserted streets of Williamsburg before sunrise. I hadn’t planned on my seven year old car refusing to start, and my phone was in my other bag—the one I had inadvertently left at work the day before. It was only five blocks to my office, the morning was mild, and I figured that the walk would alleviate the need to exercise after work, leaving time for a second glass of wine. Neglecting to complete a project the previous day (it wasn’t really my fault; Renee had popped in to show off her daughter’s first tooth), I knew I had to be at the office at least an hour ahead of time to get all my work done. I didn’t count on being attacked by an idiot.
He snuck up behind me so quietly I didn’t even realize what was happening until I felt the tug. I spun around so quickly one of my sandals slipped off, which caused me to lurch to one side in an effort to regain my balance. The idiot, a teenager who stood a full four inches shorter than I, might have weighed a hundred pounds. As I stumbled, he fell to the pavement, still holding onto my bag. I bent down, picked up my flip-flop, and proceeded to smack him on the head. Instinctively, he let go of my bag and covered his head with his arms.
“Ow, lady…knock it off!” he yelled as I continued to pummel him.
First I had been startled. Now I was pissed. I tried to smack him harder, but it’s pretty difficult with a flip-flop.
He rolled to his stomach and started to crawl away into a nearby hedge. I followed him.
My attacker saw it first, like a piece of grayish plastic, long and smooth. On further inspection (which the kid took care of by actually putting his elbow on it as he tried to propel himself forward through the hedge) it was definitely not plastic. It was human. And it had fingers.
“Holy shit!” I heard the kid exclaim. “Get me the hell out of here!”
I continued to halfheartedly swat at him as he crawled away but hearing him shout, I stopped.
“No shit, lady! Pull me out of here!” The kid’s butt was a foot in the air as he tried to wiggle backwards.
“Fine!” I yelled back. “That way I can beat you some more.” I grabbed him by a thigh and started pulling.
“Ow, lady! That hurts!”
If any attacker on the planet deserved smacking, it was this kid. “You have a decision to make, kid,” I said as I dropped his leg. “Either I pull you out of there, or I don’t. It’s up to you.”
“Shit! Pull me out, then!”
I grabbed his leg again and gave an almighty tug. He slid out about a foot, enough for him to free himself. He was pale and shaking and basically incoherent. He was pointing towards the hedge. “Under there, ummm, there’s…” With that, the kid collapsed.
Well, hell, I thought. My arm was swelling from where the kid had been tugging at my bag, my formerly bare foot was filthy (I had slipped my shoe back on when the kid first slithered into the bushes), and at my feet there was a teenage boy in a dead faint. What else could go wrong? I cautiously looked under the hedge, expecting to see an animal or reptile of some sort. A snake, maybe.
The kid had maneuvered the arm so that I had to look twice to see the delineation of the fingers. But they were definitely fingers. I didn’t need to touch it to be sure. Shocked, I jumped back. Now the kid’s faint made sense. I tried to think clearly. I needed to involve the police.
Not having a cell phone was a problem. Knowing that screams would wake the entire neighborhood, I ran to the nearest intersection, hoping to flag down a car. As luck would have it, a police cruiser was at the stop sign across the corner. I waved my arms frantically, hoping to catch his attention. It worked.
The car pulled up to the curb next to me and a young officer got out. “Can I help you?” he asked.
I realized I was shaking and my teeth were chattering. Raising my arm in the direction of the hedge, I said, “There’s something over there.”
The officer walked briskly down toward the spot. Once he saw the kid, he broke into a jog, his police accoutrements jangling as he ran. When he reached the kid, he knelt down and took his radio out of his belt. He looked up at me. “Did you see what happened, ma’am?”
Ma’am. That never fails to tick me off. My mother is a ma’am. I am only 32, for crying out loud. This officer, who is probably all of twelve and a half, calls me ma’am. Sheesh. If I wasn’t so upset about the arm, I’d be indignant. “He fainted, I think.”
The young officer peered closely at the boy. “He doesn’t look injured in any way,” the officer stated. “Did you see him faint? Did he just collapse? Was there someone else here?”
For a moment, I debated whether or not I should tell the whole story. I decided it would be prudent just to get to the point. “It was the arm,” I said. “Under there.” I motioned toward the hedge.
It took a second for the officer to grasp the idea that I wanted him to look under the bushes. I wasn’t being too clear, as the arm had thrown me for a loop. But he did look, and came back out from under the hedge with his face as white as a sheet. I was afraid I’d have another fainter on my hands.
“Okay, ma’am,” he sighed. “I see what the problem is.” With that, he sprinted back to the police car. I assumed he was calling for back-up.
I nodded, glancing over at the kid still on the ground. He had started to stir. I bent down over him. “Kid?” I asked. “Are you okay?”
The boy opened his eyes and lifted his head a few inches off the ground. “D-d-did you see it?” he stammered.
“Yeah,” I answered. “There’s a policeman here now. He saw it, too.”
A panicked look swept across the kid’s face. He struggled to sit. “Did you tell him?” He managed to roll over in an attempt to get to his feet. He wasn’t successful, falling back to the ground.
It took me a moment to figure out what he was talking about. “Oh,” I said, “I’d forgotten about that, to be honest.” And I realized that I had entirely forgotten about the attempted purse-snatching. Probably because of the whole arm thing.
The kid looked at me. “Are you gonna tell him? ‘Cause I don’t think I can get up right now. There’s no way I can get out of here right now.”
“It’s cool, kid. I’m not going to say anything. You just need to quit trying crap like stealing purses.” I gave the kid my evil eye. The evil eye is my secret weapon.
“I know. I was stupid.” The kid turned his face toward the ground. “People been telling me that my whole life.” I heard him mutter under his breath.
I was sorely tempted to feel sorry for the kid, but restrained. “Okay,” I began. “What’s your name? This cop is going to be over here any minute to ask questions. You’d better be prepared to answer them.” I glanced over toward the policeman. He was again talking into his radio. “I mean it, kid. I will bust you wide open if you don’t tell the truth.”