Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sample Sunday: Secrets

Hello my faithful blog friends. Since it is Sample Sunday and all, I figured I would share part of the first chapter of Secrets, which will be released on November 22nd. I hope you like it.

Hypocrisy is the fuel of life. I watched my best friend, Juliet, perfectly execute her plan. She giggled coyly brushing against a group of young men who seemed heartened by her attention. I sat at our table alone, marveling at her ability to con fifteen-dollar drinks out of just about any man with the mere implication of hope. Had it been any other woman in the bar I would have watched with veiled disdain, but being my oldest and dearest friend her actions were excused without much of a thought. The knowledge of this hypocrisy touched the corner of my mouth leaving a trace of a smile. Juliet could do nothing so bad that I couldn’t find an excuse to dismiss it.  
Juliet pointing towards me caught my eye. I shook my head at her slightly, hoping to deter the inevitable. I didn't like being surrounded by men I didn't know, nor did I enjoy being the center of anyone’s attention. I have always been a background sort of a girl, an observer. However, soon she was leading the group of men to our table no regard for what I wanted. Typical. Perhaps not the way I would have chosen to spend my evening, but tonight was about cheering her up, not me.
Juliet and I were opposites from the first day we met. We always had different ways of coping with life’s little speed bumps. When life brought her heartache or disappointment, she sought out immediate gratification, jumping back on that proverbial horse without a moment’s hesitation. I, on the other hand, wanted nothing to do with that horse. When life struck, I preferred to hide within myself until I felt it was safe to come back out—sort of like a turtle. Our current situation was classic Juliet and Olivia. Juliet, blindly running into whatever was in front of her that looked like fun. Me, lingering back braced for what could happen while scrambling for a way to avoid it.   
Juliet slid a drink in front of me smiling, knowing exactly what I was thinking. I shook my head, “Harlot” I said under my breath, laughing.
She cocked an eyebrow at me innocently, but her grin widened. "What would you do without me?"
This was an inside joke passed between the two of us. Juliet was the sister I never had. If I was ying, she was yang, peanut butter and jelly, so on and so forth. We complemented each other perfectly. One filling in where the other lacked. Our dynamic, while not obvious, worked in a way that went beyond understanding to those on the outside. We were the best of friends, each other’s greatest supporters, and often provided the voice of reason when the other went too far. Juliet was the person I told everything.
“Olivia, this is John, Craig, Sean…and Don?”
“Ron” not Don said.
“Right, Ron. This is my friend, Olivia.”
I smiled congenially making the appropriate greetings. None of these men were really to my taste—or to Juliet's taste for that matter—but she was well beyond the point of caring. For the life of me, I could not imagine how I let her drag me here. I was past the point in my life in which meeting men in bars still seemed like a good idea. Juliet didn’t care how she met men so long as she had one waiting for her in the wings at all times. She was a perpetual dater, never going more than two weeks without a boyfriend. I was a perpetual avoider feeling little inclination to trouble myself with the drama only the male race could bring into a girl’s life. Ron settled in next to me.
“So, Olivia, what do you do for a living?”
I couldn’t suppress my laugh at the predictable question, but kept my smile warm and inviting, knowing I was in for a long night. On nights like this, she was in for the long haul, and I had to stick around to make sure she was safe. I glanced over at Jules as she was entertaining all of those around her, talking with her hands and laughing without reservation. She loved to be the center of attention, and she truly shined under the spotlight. Since junior high, she was the star, and I was the sidekick. I really didn’t mind being Tonto. It gave me a secure position in life. I wondered if this poor fellow reduced to speaking with me drew the short straw.
“I’m a photographer. How 'bout you?” I said finally answering his question.
Juliet's laughter rose above the music and noise. We both looked in her direction. It struck me exactly how pretty Juliet really was. I had seen her practically everyday for the last fifteen years, so she was just Juliet to me. It was easy to forget, but seeing the way others looked at her with such awe made it clear. Jules had silky smooth, straight blond hair that seemed to be lit from within. Her clear blue eyes sparkled with mischief, and a sunny smile that radiated from her perfect pink lips. She looked like the girl next door if you happen to live in a postcard for California. My attention drifted back to Ron, and I figured I might as well make the best of this. When my eyes met his, he smiled and put a hand on my knee. I casually removed his hand, "I'm sorry, what did you say you do?"
 “Oh, I’m in investments.” He said too importantly, too casually, and without enough hate for it to be true. I prided myself on being an excellent judge of character, so I rarely questioned my original assessments. Ol' Ron here wasn't fairing too well. He seemed shallow, conceited, and generic in the worst possible way. Cutting to chase and past the smoke screens of someone's persona were sort of my gift—not many people could surprise me.
“Investments… that’s great. Any good stock advice?” I joked with smile.
“Well none that I could give you.” He said with a wink. Oh please what a jackass. Seriously who winks?You’re a photographer. What do you photograph?”
“A little bit of everything. I have a studio and do some freelance for magazines. You can’t beat the freedom or the travel, but sometimes the clients suck. Mostly it's fantastic though. I'm lucky to be able to do something I love every day.”
He gave a hearty, fake, laugh. “Tell me about it. It's difficult having to deal with clients. They never know what they want to do.”
“Some of them know exactly what they want. The trouble is convincing them that what they want isn't always best.”
He laughed again—spare me, “That is exactly right.” Don’t roll your eyes, don’t roll your eyes, I repeated in my head until I was safe from the urge. “Have you always lived in St. Louis?” he continued unaware of the mental beating I was giving him.
“Uh yeah. Born and raised here. You?”
“No, I'm a transplant.” I forced a smile, “I like to think of it as home though.” I got a creepy salesman vibe from him. I knew this man was trying to play me, and I wasn’t biting.
“St. Louis is a great.” I agreed truthfully, “It's one of my favorite places.”
He asked a few more mundane questions, but soon enough I was able to steer the conversation back to him. He rambled on and on leaving me free to let my mind wonder as far away from him as it would take me. I often found maintaining conversations with strangers trying. I never really fit in anywhere in my life. People always liked me, but never remembered to invite me. They recognized me, but couldn’t remember my name. I simply failed at making an impression. My tombstone would probably read “Olivia Martin, that girl you met that one time”.
Perhaps it was because of my tendency to reside on the outskirts, watching interactions rather than engaging. Or perhaps it was my biting wit that scared people away. It could have been that I just wasn’t all that interesting or interested too. Here was the prime example. Ron had been nothing if not nice and attentive to me, and my mind couldn't wait to get as far away from him as possible. In the five minutes I had known him, I had already written him off. There comes a point when you have to realize maybe it isn't them it is you.
The thing is I loved watching people. Finding that moment when their true nature peeked through all the facades we humans feel the need to hide behind was exhilarating. However, when speaking with a complete stranger those moments were like catching a ghost on film. Everyone likes to put their best foot forward, so no one is exactly what they seem upon first meeting them. The first meeting with anyone is little more than one big lie, and I have no patience for liars.
My eyes searched out couple after couple in my own little game of people watching. I discerned their inner turmoil to the point that felt as if I knew them. Ron was still rambling in my ear something about his job, but he kept his hands to himself. I was certain he was attempting to impress me, but the effort was wasted. I wasn't impressed by money or power. For that matter beauty either. I was looking for something else, something I couldn’t quite name. I wanted something life altering, game changing. I wanted something unexpected.
Fifteen minutes before closing time, I caught Juliet’s eye. She seemed to be finally tiring of the tedious company. I made a slight nod towards the door which she returned with an affirmative nod. Our silent conversation went largely unnoticed. I watched for a moment as she tried to politely excuse herself from whichever man she had been talking with most intimately. Ron was beginning to move uncomfortably close so now seemed as good of time as any to extract myself from the situation.
"You're such a good listener." His breath was hot against my ear, making me cringe.
“I get that a lot." I said, leaning as far away from him as possible "I think my friend and I are going to call it a night. It was nice meeting you. Thanks for the drinks. If I never see you again, have a nice life.” I said in a friendly tone extending my hand to him.
“Oh, you’re leaving already. We were just getting to know each other.” He said, ignoring my hand and touching a piece of hair that had fallen over my shoulder. I had to repress the reflex to slap his hand, but I couldn’t keep annoyance from my face.
“I really have to go.” I said sharply, the smile melting away.
“Can I have your phone number?”
“I don’t give out my phone number.” I certainly had no intention of encouraging him further. Listening to him talk for a couple hours was bad enough, a whole date. Ugh.
He mumbled an expletive underneath his breath as he turned away shaking his head as if I was unreasonable. I shot daggers at the back of his head with my eyes as he stalked off. I was just trying to be nice to him. I was sorry if he felt lead on.
Juliet came over her face breaking into amusement when she saw my expression. “What’d he do to get that look?”
“Nothing,” I mumbled. “Boys get so irritable when you don't fall at their feet and thank God you met them.” I shrugged and smiled at her, wasting no more time on thinking about Ron. As quickly as the irritation appeared, I was over it.
“Well, who’s the harlot now?”
“It’s still you. It's always you.”
            She laughed linking her arm through mine. Relief at finally being able to leave washed over me with disappointment quick on its heels as she was stopped by another friend of hers. I tugged on her arm, "I'm going to wait outside."
            "You okay?"
            "Yeah, I just need some air."
            She nodded and turned to her other friend. I headed for the door with a singular focus. I didn't know what had come over me, but I had to get out now. Call it God, Ala, a cosmic force, destiny, whatever it was it felt like I couldn't breathe in there another moment. I needed space. The room was beginning to overwhelm me. I pushed my way out of the door and directly into the person trying to walk in. The person was an immoveable wall. I smashed into the hard body and stumbled backwards slightly.
            "Sorry," I mumbled as I squeezed past him, not at all deterred. The cool night air hit my lungs the same time a hand grabbed my arm. I inhaled deeply letting the strange claustrophobia melt away before I looked back to see who had a hold of me.
            I met intense green eyes that drilled into me as if I was both offensive and intriguing. "I said I was sorry." I grumbled and pulled my arm from his grasp. My eyes however stayed locked to his.
            He shook his head slightly and took half a step towards me. I nearly turned around and ran, but my feet stubbornly held me in place. For as intimidating as he was, there was something that held me here. Maybe it was the disproportional irritation on his face. Maybe it was the flicker of life behind his cold, dead eyes that made me want to stay. One thing was for sure I couldn't predict what this man was going to do. I couldn't even begin to grasp who he was or anything that happened under the surface of his statue-esque demeanor. I was intrigued to say the least


Nancy Kelley said...

And I'm intrigued as well. That's a great place to end the chapter, Liz--I want to know what happens next.

Anonymous said...

You're an excellen writer Liz. My only advice to you would be to develop longer sentences, since I find my lecture to come to a stop more that I'd like. Keep up the good work!

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