Countdown to Timeless: One Week Left
Friends, we only have one week until you can have my new release, Timeless, in your hands! If you order from the Bold Strokes Books website, it will ship on or before April 1st. I know I’m biased, but I think you’ll want to read this one early. I’m going to be discussing the big surprises in this one a lot at various events over the next few months, and you won’t want any spoilers in your way, right?
So with that in mind I’m giving you a little bit of a head start on the novel by slowly releasing the first chapter in the weeks leading up to the official launch of Timeless. I’ve already shared the first scene here, and the second scene here, but since the next scene is a short one, I am giving you two scenes today. TWO SCENES in one week. See how generous I am? No, really, I just love these characters and want to share them with you. I hope along the way you start to fall a little bit in love with them too.
Scene Three and Four
Rory knocked on the door of my bedroom at five o’clock sharp. I felt weird staying at her farmhouse on the edge of town. We’d never been friends in high school. She was older and infinitely cooler. I’d known Beth a little better, but while she was friendly with the whole town, we’d never actually been friends. Maybe I should’ve opted to stay in a hotel, but there wasn’t really one in town, just a motel, and maybe even that term was too generous for the set of rooms for rent in a concrete building by the railroad tracks. Rory and Beth’s home clearly offered the better option, even if the setup meant more social contact than I would’ve preferred.
“Hey, we need to get going soon, but I wanted to make sure you have everything you need.”
Beth had left out two extra blankets, two extra pillows, three towels, two washcloths, and enough magazines to fill a dentist’s waiting room. I held up one of the bottles of water I’d found on the bedside table. “I’m sure I could survive the zombie apocalypse in here.”
Rory laughed, shaking a wisp of chestnut-colored hair from her forehead. “Beth is nothing if not a diligent hostess.”
“She’s great and so are you. Thanks for putting me up. I hope I’m not too much of a bother.”
“Don’t be silly. You’ve been here over two hours and we haven’t even heard you yet. The cat has made more noise than you have.”
I’d hidden in my room with the dual purpose of passing the time calmly and staying out of Rory and Beth’s way, but maybe I’d been unintentionally rude. I should’ve napped. I tried, but everything felt too surreal, so I settled for some quiet time staring out the window at a vast, vacant cornfield. Should I have stayed downstairs and chatted with my hosts? I already feared my ability to make small talk during dinner tonight, and breakfast tomorrow, and at the awards assembly. I hadn’t planned on downtime too.
“Are you nervous about tonight?” Rory asked casually, but I clearly read the concern in her expressive eyes. Her worry amplified my own.
“Um, no, I mean maybe a little, but I—”
“It’s okay, you don’t have to explain. My first week back in town I didn’t leave my room once. I wouldn’t even go to the grocery store until Beth dragged me there.”
“Well, you don’t have to worry. I’ll go to dinner of my own free will. I’ve got nothing against Darlington. It’s just fine by me. Not the place for me to live, but who am I to judge, right?”
“Good for you. It took me months to leave the past in the past and start to move forward,” Rory said. “You’re a much stronger woman than I.”
“Not at all.” If I’d been strong in the face of my publicist I wouldn’t even be here now. “You had a lot more to overcome. I’ve never had a hard time letting go of the past because it never mattered in the first place. I guess I’ve just been lucky that way.”
Rory’s expression turned introspective, causing her dimples to fade.
“Oh, I don’t know. My past was certainly complicated, but even the bad parts helped make me who I am. Without facing those struggles I wouldn’t have learned the things I learned about myself, about the people I love. I wouldn’t trade any of it.”
Damn, I admired her. We’d been raised in the same town, gone to the same schools, chosen similar career paths, and we were both gay. How had she turned out so strong, so reflective, so self-assured? Then again she’d always been that way. A born leader. I, on the other hand, had wallflower written all over my DNA. “We’re really different people.”
Rory slung one arm around my shoulder and said, “Maybe, but we’ve both ended up in the same place tonight, and who knows where we’ll go from here.”
“Rory! Stevie!” Edmond burst into the restaurant, and his presence in Darlington accosted my senses like the stiff February wind blowing through the still-open door. Rory immediately jumped into his embrace while I took an involuntary step back. Reaching out with one arm, he caught me by the shoulder and pulled me into an awkward group hug. “Look at this, both my little Midwest lezzies together in the spot where it all began. I’m so proud.”
He released me just far enough to hold me at arm’s length, the bright paisley pattern of his shirt dizzying me into submission. “How are you holding up, cupcake?”
“I’m fine,” I said, mortified, then in an attempt to preempt any more embarrassing questions added, “Everything’s great.”
“Damn right. This is a Kodak moment.” He pulled a camera out of the pocket of his skinny jeans but gave me little time to wonder how he’d squeezed himself into pants that tight, much less added a camera before he handed it to an attractive man just stepping in from the cold. “Get a picture of us all together, babe?”
I had no time to protest before he’d rearranged himself between Rory and me so we all faced the camera. I summoned my photo smile automatically, and the flashbulb temporarily blinded me. Everything happened so fast. I barely had time to consider what this blur of activity would look like to the other restaurant patrons, but as Edmond turned his attention to Beth, simultaneously hugging her and complimenting her hair, I took the chance to glance around.
The Highlands was the nicest restaurant in Darlington, which was about like saying it was the biggest shrimp in a salad. The carpet, a small step above the indoor/outdoor variety, reminded me of a patio or putting green. The tablecloths shone a shade off from white under the fluorescent light, and the walls held paintings of woodsy scenes or placid lakes. The dinner crowd leaned toward the older side of fifty, and while some glanced our way, most of them seemed perfectly content to focus on the huge slabs of meat or piles of carbs on their plates. Best of all, I didn’t see anyone who appeared to recognize me. The longer I lasted without having to chat with some casual acquaintance of my parents, the better.
“Apparently if I wait for my darling boyfriend to make introductions, I’ll be standing here all night.” The man who’d taken our picture extended his hand. “So, hi. I’m Miles.”
Very handsome and only slightly less polished than Edmond, he wore a less garish blue oxford shirt and standard gray slacks, but both were fashionable and fit like they were made for him. “I’m Stevie.”
“It’s a pleasure to finally meet you. Edmond talks about you all the time.”
I glanced over at Edmond in time to see Rory give him a playful shove and felt a stab of envy at their easy camaraderie. “I’m sorry. He’s probably exasperated with me on a regular basis.”
“Not at all. He admires you, and yes, sometimes he wishes you’d cooperate more, but only because he’s so proud of you and wants to show you off.”
I didn’t know what to say, or if I should even try to say anything around the little catch of emotion in my throat. Miles had no reason to lie. Then again, maybe he simply loved Edmond and wanted to play the role of supportive business spouse. Still, I appreciated his attempt to include me, and his kind brown eyes soothed my insecurities. “Thank you.”
A young hostess led us to a large table in the back corner of the restaurant. While still in the main dining room, the position shielded us a little from the other patrons, and I dared to hope I could pass the evening without drawing any attention to myself. I’d have to make plenty of small talk at the awards ceremony, but why deal with today what I could put off until tomorrow? At least at dinner I knew everyone and how they related to each other. I allowed myself to relax a little in my seat next to Miles and across from Beth while Rory and Edmond chatted easily about news from Chicago. Perhaps this evening out in Darlington could be like any other night out with a group of friends. After all, we were in the Midwest, where people weren’t prone to scenes or drama. Though pettiness and gossip always flowed in the undercurrents of small towns, stoicism reigned here, and unlike in New York City, politeness generally overruled curiosity.
The waitress brought menus and water, conversations went on amicably around me, and I contented myself to wonder if the subtle highlights in Miles’s hair were natural or if he had a truly gifted stylist.
Then, from across the room, a woman drew my attention. To the casual observer she would’ve merely been another patron entering a busy restaurant on a weeknight. There was nothing unusual about the way she smoothed her hair, so blond it was almost white, as she untangled the delicate strands from the scarf she slowly unwrapped from her neck. No one would likely note anything out of the ordinary in the way her long camel coat hung open down the front, revealing a green V-neck sweater and khaki dress slacks. And nothing stood out about the pink flush that tinged her pale skin either from the cold or excitement. No one else in the room even seemed to notice her arrival or the fact that I seemed to have captivated her attention in the same consuming way she had mine.
She appeared to realize she’d been caught staring the same moment I did, and we both looked away, then immediately back at one another before grinning sheepishly. As she threaded a path between tables and waitresses carrying trays laden with food, I rose to greet her. Stepping forward to initiate a social interaction for the first time all day, I extended my hand while she was still several steps away. “Hi, I’m not sure if you recognize me, but—”
“Stevie. Of course I recognize you. Even if your pictures weren’t on the back of your books, I’d still know you anywhere. Welcome home.”
I tried not to grimace. I didn’t consider Darlington home, though I didn’t think of New York that way either. The concept of home eluded me, but then again at the moment everything eluded me. Everything but the dazzling blue of her eyes.
My eyes are blue, but not at all like hers, not so engaging or so complicated a mix of shades and hues, and not with the pure lightness that shone through them. My writer’s brain searched fruitlessly for a natural comparison—the Colorado sky? a sun-soaked sea? a robin’s egg? They all fell short, and I was staring again.
“It’s very nice to see you, Miss Hadland,” I finally managed to say. Then I just couldn’t help myself from asking, “It’s still Miss Hadland, right?”
She smiled a sweet but knowing smile. “Only to my students. Please call me Jody.”
“Classroom habits die hard.”
“Really? It’s been over ten years. Surely you don’t still think of all your teachers as perpetually in a position of authority?”
“No, honestly I don’t think of most of my teachers at all, much less as having authority in my life, but you never had any heavy authority to begin with. Student teachers rank below substitutes in the high-school food chain.”
She raised her eyebrows. “I’m glad to know I left such a strong impression.”
“No, I didn’t mean that.” It was hard to make myself clear with my foot in my mouth and my head full of clouds. “I meant to say I’ll always think of you as a teacher because you were such a good one.”
Jody’s smile grew from one of politeness to genuine pleasure. “Nice recovery.”
“I mean it. Your theater class my senior year is still my favorite of all the classes I’ve ever taken, even in college.”
“Really? Why have I never seen you on a stage then?”
“Oh, me? Never.” I hoped my nausea didn’t show. “Exposing myself on paper is nerve-racking enough. I could never lay myself bare in front of an audience. But I pulled heavily from your teachings while writing my play.”
“You’ve written a play?”
“I have…I mean it’s still unproduced. It’s not much really, just a first attempt.”
“Damn it, Stevie, stop doing that,” Edmond called loudly from the other end of the table. Both Jody and I turned toward him. I’d forgotten he was there, which is exceedingly hard to do with Edmond. “Her play is amazing. It’s very Wendy Wasserstein mixed with…I don’t know…some other smart, independent woman. And even if it wasn’t, we’re trying to sell the rights, Stevie, so telling people it’s ‘not much’ isn’t helpful.”
“Right. I’m not good at publicity,” I said, embarrassed both to be caught entranced by Jody and to be called out publicly. “This is Edmond, by the way, my booking agent, publicist, and the all-around boss of me.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Jody,” Edmond said graciously. “Now sit down and tell me lots of embarrassing high-school stories about Stevie so I have something to blackmail her with the next time she won’t listen to me.”
Jody looked at me expectantly, clearly deferring her decision to my wishes. I wanted her to sit by me more than I’d wanted anything in a long time, but I wouldn’t overrule the loudest person at the table. Suddenly I wasn’t grateful to him for keeping the conversation going. I wanted him to stay out of it altogether, but I couldn’t say that. I couldn’t just stand there either. Everyone stared at me now. “Yeah, go ahead. I’m sure you two have a lot in common. You should get to know each other.”
Jody’s smile faded back into one of courtesy, and I watched in disappointment as she acquiesced and took the seat next to him. It was for the best. They probably did have a lot in common, and he’d have no trouble holding up his end of the conversation.
As I returned to my place and tried to steady my buzzing nerves, I caught a look of understanding, perhaps tinged with amusement, pass between Beth and Rory. Had I been too obvious in my favorable appraisal of Jody? I wasn’t surprised my admiration showed through. I’d meant everything I’d said about her influences on my work. She’d introduced me to theater, helped foster a love of literature, and taught me the true power of language. She deserved praise, but she didn’t deserve to be ogled by a grown woman as if I were a cross between a love-struck schoolboy and a salivating animal. So much for going unnoticed. Of all the ways I’d considered embarrassing myself, revealing a crush on a former teacher hadn’t been one of them.
I was leaving in less than thirty hours and couldn’t imagine returning to Darlington in the foreseeable future, but for some reason that fact seemed less comforting than it had in the past. At least my embarrassment would be short-lived, but I also felt a subtle pang of regret that I likely wouldn’t get another chance to talk with Jody.