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She looked at the mass of rumpled sheets beside her and frowned; something was wrong. She tried to quiet her breathing, but the panic caused a pounding in her ears.
She expected this, so why was she so surprised?
Scrambling to stand up, she wrapped herself up in the thick duvet and ran into the main room of the cabin. The fire had died down but the remnants were still crackling in the hearth. She flushed with memories of the desire that had licked through her veins the night before in front of that very fire. Shaking her head in order to clear her mind, she looked to the door and saw that his boots were missing and his coat was gone.
Quickly, she ran to the door and flung it upon, unconcerned with the biting cold that snapped its teeth at her exposed flesh.
“So, when you invite someone to have coffee with you, do you normally sit there and write the whole time?”
I look up with wide eyes. To be honest, I forgot he was sitting there.
“I’ll just be a minute, and you’re early,” I point out.
She couldn’t stay out in the cold for very long, but needed at least another minute. He wouldn’t leave like that; not without saying goodbye.
“Well, not to rush your artistic breakthrough here, but I have to be back at work in fifteen minutes,” Travis breaks into my thoughts again.
It’s just so typical. I’ve had writer’s block for days now− I literally couldn’t write a coherent sentence− then about a minute before Travis walks through the door it’s like the sea parted and Moses was on the other side looking relieved and waving at me.
It’s pretty depressing when your mental metaphors are better than the crap you managed to put on paper that week.
They say when you have writer’s block you should clear your mind and the ‘inspiration’ will just come. But my mind doesn’t go blank, and I’ve spent the last three hours staring at the wall and wondering if you want French toast in France, do you ask for French toast, or just toast?
And now, because I’ve thought about it so much, I actually care what the answer is. Obviously not one of my better days.
And now Travis is here for our meeting, sitting across from me at the small bistro table, constantly checking his watch.
You know, I bet Julie Garwood doesn’t have these problems. People understand that when her pen touches paper an invisible ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign is hung on her forehead.
The only thing on my forehead is bangs that were clearly a mistake.
Mainly because I thought I could cut them myself.
Travis is staring at me, idly bouncing his leg, and I’m torn between closing my notebook and being polite, or pretending I didn’t hear him.
I’ve known Travis… well I can’t remember a time I didn’t know him, so we’ll just call it a long time. He grew up in the subsidized apartment building a few blocks from our typical suburban house. He was a little… rough… growing up. My brother, Scott, brought him home one day, almost like you would a stray cat, and from that day forward it was like my mother had three children instead of two. Except Travis never lived with us; he went home every night to an apartment with a mother who just didn’t care about her own son. I used to think that maybe if my parents hadn’t looked after Travis growing up, his own mother would have stepped up, but I think they just saved him from the inevitable.
“You haven’t even got a drink yet,” I volunteer a solution. “And I wouldn’t mind a refill.”
His eyes take me in, probably assessing my stubbornness, which has always been a vital part of my personality, before he sighs and stands up.
Momentarily distracted from my creative breakthrough, I watch Travis as he goes to order his coffee; my writer’s eye assesses him in an instant, turning him into a character from one of my books for a moment. It’s a habit I don’t ever seem to be able to turn off. It’s actually a bit annoying really− especially when I’ve been trying to write my actual leading hero for the last few days, and all I’ve come up with is he has long hair.
Something tells me I’m going to need to give a few more details in the character description.
Travis is still wearing his winter hat but I can see the mop of black hair curling out from beneath it. His eyes are brown− just plain old brown. He’s smiling at the barista, the dimple on the one side of his cheek ever present. He obviously has been spending time outside, as I can see the snowflakes have left their mark on his down filled vest, a flimsy plaid shirt underneath. Travis is the only person I know who wears only a vest in the middle of a Toronto winter. He always complains he is too hot. I don’t leave the house without my fur lined boots and a Parka.
I would make him the best friend, I decide. I mean, I know that he’s always been my brother’s best friend, so I am slightly biased here, but he’s just not how I picture my leading man. Though God knows enough girls seem to fall all over themselves to get to him. It’s kind of tragic, really. And he has the physique for the ‘leading man’ for sure; his upper body is built from all his visits to the gym. But he’s just too genuine. Not enough mystique there to be a smouldering hero.
Scanning the distant mountains her eyes freeze on the Northern hills. On the shadowed mountain range, way off in the distance, she could see the sight that her eyes had been searching for.
There, on top of the highest peak, he sat on his horse. The beautiful animal turned, its head pointing to the rising sun, supporting its rider. Although it seemed too far, she felt his penetrating gaze as it pierced right to her soul.
My pen stops and I bite the side of my cheek. And then what? She sees him, he sees her…
I look around and see Travis is still talking to the woman making his coffee. She’s blushing and hanging on his every word. I could use this.
She’s obviously goggling over him, prolonging the coffee making process so that he will keep talking to her. Everyone seems to be a sucker for that dimple. If he suddenly left and walked away, what would she feel? What would she do?
She’d probably wonder if she should keep making the coffee.
No− that’s only because I’ve known him my whole life and don’t get the fascination women have with him. To me, he’s Travis, the boy who always pulls my hair and fidgets when I talk about sex.
But to this woman he could look like Mr. Darcy; he’s got the hair for it.
From that giggle and blank look in her eyes, however, she’s definitely not capable of pulling off Elizabeth Bennet.
Maybe Bella and Edward. She doesn’t know anything about him and she’s already smitten. Also, she keeps dropping everything. She’d be perfect as Bella.
She raised her hand, just to feel the connection, to feel that it was all real. But he was too far. The connection was slowly slipping out of her grasp – the wind carrying it to someplace beyond.
I puff out my cheeks and tap my pen to my lips. Think… Think…
Okay, he’s on the hill. She can’t get near him. He’s leaving forever…
She watched as he reared his horse before turning and disappearing into the horizon. Lowering her hand she lifted her chin; watching, waiting, even though she knew the efforts were futile.
The table suddenly lurches from underneath me and my pen slides off the page. I look up to Travis, who has his hands raised in defence.
“Sorry, my foot kicked the table leg,” he looks apologetic.
I look back down at my notebook and write the final words.
Into the howling wind she sighed and whispered the words that she hoped would find their way home. “Come back to me.”
“Okay, let’s do this thing,” Travis says as I finally put down my pen.
“Okay, so I have all the food organized,” I say, meeting his eyes again. “And you did the guest list, right?”
“Pretty much. I just did it on Facebook,” he shrugs. “And your parents are okay with it being at their house?”
“I had to talk them into it, but I told them that thirty year olds don’t make a mess like eighteen year olds do,” I say, taking a sip of the drink Travis bought me.
He winces. “Yeah, I guess Scott and I got a little out of control that night. Man, it took us forever to save up the money to fix the broken windows.”
I swallow my drink and frown at him. “Did you get me hot chocolate?”
“It’s your favourite,” he says, smiling.
“It was when I was five. Now I prefer coffee like the rest of the adult world.”
“What happened to little Etty Lawrence? You remember: girl with the little blond curly pigtails, always trying to keep up with her big brother and his sexy best friend?”
“You’re only three years older than me! You saw me go to prom, you saw me graduate university. And plus, it would be creepy for a thirty year old man to be taking a little girl out for drinks on a regular basis.”
“You still order Shirley Temples, so I’m not sure you’re helping your argument there.”
Damn it, that’s true. But I’m a sucker for those little swords with the cherries and orange slices.
“Scott doesn’t suspect anything, right?” I ask.
“Are you kidding? He knows pretty much everything,” Travis says as if there was ever a doubt.
“What? Did you tell him?” I accuse.
“Etty, he’s turning thirty. He’d have to be a moron to not know there is going to be a party. You always order food from the same place, and we both live in a shoe box, so your parents’ house is the only place that could fit more than five people. It didn’t take Einstein.”
I chew on my bottom lip.
“We will have to do something spontaneous,” I say, nodding my head.
“Slow down,” he says, holding up his hands. “Don’t go crazy. The party we planned is fine.”
Why does everyone always say that to me? Like they think I go overboard on everything.
Which is so untrue. Everything I plan is with love, and I am in complete control the whole time. It’s the plans that have a mind of their own. I mean, did I ask the magician to put my mom in that box for his ‘Disappearing Trick’ even though my mother’s claustrophobic? No. And after I calmed her down and she drank a bottle of wine I think even she appreciated that it was a pretty cool trick. And my dad fumbling with the keys to get her unlocked and punching out the magician− it was so romantic.
Sadly, I did lose my security deposit on that one.
“I know what you’re thinking, but you don’t need to do anything more than you’ve already planned. He’s turning thirty, not going to space or something. Drinks, food and music is all anyone expects.”
“Exactly, that’s what they expect. We can’t just have a boring old party or no one will remember it!” I argue. “How many times is my only brother going to turn thirty?”
“You used that argument to go to Montreal on your eighteenth. And when your dad turned fifty and we all went to Vegas. And when you hired reindeer for Lily’s first Christmas. It’s kind of been done now.”
Honestly, a couple of reindeer get lost in the suburbs and you would think the world was coming to an end the way people freaked out. But my brother wasn’t taking his daughter’s first Christmas seriously. Is it too much for me to want her to have a firm grasp of Santa Claus? I don’t want her turning out like Susan Walker from Miracle on 34th Street.
“Just leave it to me,” I say, closing my notebook. “I have everything under control. He’s going to have the best time ever.”
“Should I have the fire department on standby?” he asks, smiling.
I offer him a fake laugh. “Ha, Ha. Very funny.”
“So you have a signing tomorrow?” he asks, sipping his coffee.
“Yeah, not that there is much point. Two people at the last one. It was pathetic,” I say, shaking my head.
I don’t mention the two people were my parents.
“I’ll try and stop by,” he offers.
“You don’t need to,” I shrug. “I know it’s not your kind of thing.”
“If you’re there, then it’s my kind of thing. You know you’re my favourite author,” he says, offering me a lopsided grin that I know makes all the Bellas of the world swoon.
“I’m your only author,” I counter. “You have one bookshelf which has like six books on it, and they’re all mine.”
“Seven after tomorrow,” he winks. “I like to have a backup copy.”
“I got another rejection yesterday,” I say, sighing. “I’m up to one hundred and eight. Do you know what one hundred and eight rejections does to a person’s self-esteem?”
“Maybe they don’t know what they are talking about? Didn’t that Harry Potter lady get rejected a bunch of times?” he offers.
“She got rejected twelve times. I still had hope after fifty,” I argue. “They said they’re looking for fresh, new ideas, yet every shelf of a bookstore nowadays has a sparkly vampire face staring back at you.”
He nods in sympathy, though I can tell he has no idea what I’m talking about.
“I just don’t get it. I get good reviews; everyone says my writing is great. I have the key components in my books: super-hot guy, strong woman. This next book even has a horse! Who doesn’t love horses?”
“I don’t really like horses,” Travis says, but I shake my head at him.
“Maybe I just need to start fresh. A new angle. Completely change trains.”
I look at him frowning. “Change trains. It’s a saying. You know, get off one train and go in the opposite direction for the next…”
His blank gaze makes me frown.
“Okay, just forget it. You know, you’re not much help,” I say, putting my notebook into my purse.
“They say you should write about things you know. You’ve never been near a horse,” he says.
“I was at summer camp once. I broke my arm, remember?”
“Oh yeah, I forgot about that.”
“Besides, I write historical romances. Unless you have a time travelling machine I don’t know about, it’s not like I can get any front line perspective.”
“No travelling machine, unfortunately. Though you’d have to get in line for that one. First thing I would do is go back and warn my younger self to steer clear of Heather Morrison,” he says and gives a fake shudder.
“Who knew the lawn of your apartment building could be that flammable? You should have just taken her to prom.”
“She set the lawn on fire and we never even really went out. Could you imagine what she would do during a breakup?”
I laugh. “You have a point there. See, this is the problem. You have all these great stories, and I’ve got none. Maybe that’s why my books suck. My imagination is letting me down.”
“First of all, your books don’t suck. They’re good− I read one,” he offers.
I raise my eyebrows in his direction. “Which one?”
“The one without a horse,” he says, smiling. “And secondly, you have some good stories. Remember ‘I love you Todd’?”
I can’t help the blush of shame that comes to my face. “That’s not worth repeating, let alone putting in print.”
Travis is already laughing. This always happens. “It’s the best story, though! He said ‘I love you’ to his dog and you thought he was talking to you.”
I narrow my eyes as he tries to keep it together. I’m never telling him anything ever again.
“You’re not helping my self-esteem right now,” I argue.
“All I’m saying is people would probably like reading about that better than some girl mooning over a guy on a horse. Why don’t you write about something that is popular right now? Figure out what people are into.”
“Are you trying to say people aren’t into historical romances?” I ask. “Because I’ll have you know it is an extremely popular genre.”
“I’m just suggesting that perhaps you should try to go for something new and exciting,” he suggests. “Maybe write about something you know, something that has happened to you personally.”
Alright, that is decent advice. Except the highlight of my love life has been Todd, and when you lose out to a Pomeranian it’s not really something you want to share with the world.
“Listen, I’ve got to get back to work, but I’ll see you tomorrow?” he asks.
“Hmm,” I nod, non-committedly.
“Are you working at the comic book store this week?” he asks, tucking his chair under the table.
I work at the world’s smallest comic book store in the Bloor West village. It’s the only job that was even remotely close to a career in publishing, and they offer dental benefits. Well, kind of. The owner, Mr. Sharp, has a son who is a dentist, so I get a free toothbrush and toothpaste once a month. It sounds stupid but I look forward to that new toothbrush more than I should.
“All day, every day,” I nod. “I have to pay for that shoe box apartment somehow.”
“I’ll stop by with a hot chocolate; I’m working just down the street from there,” he says.
“Add a cookie to that order and I will consider opening the door,” I smile.
“And don’t go too crazy with the party, okay? Your mom will never forgive me if any of her new windows get broken.”
Travis kisses the top of my head and makes his way out of the coffee shop.
Write what I know, eh?
Well, I could do a short story on magicians.