Throughout the day, most of the writers came to me for help or inspiration. Some need a lot of my attention. Perhaps ‘demand’ would be a better word. However Clare is not one of them. She keeps to herself, hiding in her room I assume.
It is lunch before I see her again. The same scene from the breakfast table replays itself in perfect harmony. Clare cooks. Clare cleans up. Clare disappears again. My mind works overtime convincing me not to care.
When the supper hour finally arrives I pull myself away from Stuart’s analytical debate on the publishing world to find Clare slaving over the stove.
“You aren’t the hired help, you know.” I say, leaning over the island behind her.
She jumps at my voice and turns around to glare at me. “I am not aware of a procession of folks attempting to take my place.”
Clare’s attention is now focused on a slab of roast beef that she is carving - or butchering. Stepping around the island, I move to offer my help. Her back tenses.
“May I?” I offer my hand.
She looks from me to her massacred meat and surrenders. “I have never had the opportunity to do this type of slicing before.” She says as she backs away from the counter.
She doesn’t reply. Either she is unaware of my sarcastic attempt at humour or unmoved by it. After a moment of awkward silence I try a conversation again. “Did you get much writing done this afternoon?”
There is no answer. I turn to find I’m alone in the kitchen.
The dinner meal is much like the ones before it. Delicious food. Lively conversation. A silent and unresponsive Clare.
The persistent chatter at the table seems to be focused on the deadline for our first assignment. Most of the writers are anxious to share their scenes.
When Clare stands and begins clearing the plates I intervene. “Wait Clare.” I cover her hand to still it. Her whole body tenses under my touch. It secretly thrills me but I pretend not to notice.
“It’s time for someone else to do a little of the work. Who will volunteer for these dishes?”
No one speaks and no one moves.
“Great. Thanks Fahim and Jack for volunteering.” I guess I never thought through this part of the project. I assumed a group of adults would be willing to share the workload. I guess I was wrong.
“Now for my action scenes.” I rub my hands together. “Please hand your copies into me and I will have a critique page for each of you by tomorrow breakfast. Have a good evening.”
After collect the papers I retreat to the study to begin reading. I love this part of my job; discovering the unique ways that writers choose to communicate. There are always some surprises amidst a sea of recurring themes. This stack is no exception.
One of the scenes is exceptional. The writer has crafted a scene of a terrorist taking over an amusement park. There are families trapped inside roller coasters cars and theme rides. The action is intense and keeps me riveted line after line. I’m thankful I asked the writers to place their names on the back of the last page in pencil. Instead of being influenced by who wrote a scene, I can try to guess who it was. In my head I know this one must be from one of the men. I feel a tug from my heart, as though it wants to wager in somehow. I flipped over the sheet and see the name Stuart. Hmm.
The next one is probably from one of the women due to the strong hero trying to save a damsel trapped in an elevator shaft. Seen it. I turn over the paper hoping not to see her name. Irene. Phew.
After the third and fourth scenes disappointingly came up belonging to Fahim and Kat I know something needs to change. I walk and talk to myself. Buddy, what is your problem. You are more focused on who wrote then on what they wrote. Get your head in the game!
Why is she so captivating to me? If I could list her attributes they would be boring and predictable. I don’t do boring and predictable. Yet somehow her accent, her innocence and her mysterious confidence draws me in. And those braids – I just want to run my fingers through them and see her ruby hair fall down her shoulders. Whoa! Too far.
I sit down and resume the reading, this time not turning the pages over at all. That is until I read the seventh one. I am blown away, but not in a good way. How could one of the writers be this bad?
The story scene lacks in so many ways. The writer has chosen a croquet tournament where a rival player decides to tackle his opponent. The writing is respectable but the story disappoints. There is no draw, no action. While making a multitude of comments I continually coach myself not to look at the name. Only I can’t resist. I turn the page over and freeze. Clare.
My heart sinks for a moment until I instruct myself to be professional. I struggle to keep my shock at bay. All the participants had to submit a piece of writing to be considered for the show. A colleague checked those, I never saw them. This lack-lustre piece I hold could be considered adequate writing I suppose, if it weren’t for the boredom factor.
All night I toss and turn in my bed. What is wrong with me? She is not my type. I like women with a sense of adventure, gorgeous long legs and plenty of adoration spilling over for me. Clare is boring, short and I don’t think anyone has seen her legs. Her idea of fun is cooking and cleaning. More importantly, she is unmoved by me. Other than her reaction at dinner when I held her hand still, it is obvious she does not adore my very presence. No, that award goes to Vicky.
Problem solved. I should stay awake thinking about Vicky. She is tall with amazing shapely legs. Her adoration factor is through the roof. She is attractive, fun and based on some of the hints Phil has been offering, she is adventurous. Perfect. Starting tomorrow I will put “Raggedy-Ann” out of my mind and replace her with vivacious Vicky.
Aromas awoke me the next morning and I realize I have overslept. Scrambling together my senses I dress without showering and make my way to the head of the table. Clare is serving a meal of eggs, bacon, sausages, fresh fruit – it looks and smells amazing. I guess a woman who can cook is not so boring after all.
Wrong focus. Think Vicky.
With Vicky sitting beside me it should be easy distracting myself. I try with all my might to find Vicky’s fashion dilemmas interesting as she rambles on. Phil seems intrigued. My focus wanders to Clare sitting on Vicky’s left. She doesn’t appear to have much fashion. Her clothes are simple but not cheap. Most of the time I’ve seen her dressed in a pair of black dress pants with various single coloured, tailored blouses. With the weather as nice as it is she should have on a light and bouncy sundress. Nope. I guess that would be a little too Pippi for her.
Suddenly I am pulled out of my forbidden thoughts by Vicky’s question.
“Have you heard of the California Cravers Diet?”
“Uh ... no, can’t say as if I have.”
“Well,” she continued on.
I drown her out again. This time by choice. Discussing a woman’s weight loss regime is more than any guy would bargain for. Yet, Phil remains eager to listen. Either he really is, which I doubt, or he is trying to score some ‘paying attention’ points.
I like it when I take a woman out and she eats healthy foods. A lot of the girls I date order a big plate of salad with a glass of water. That shows me she cares about her figure. I like that – or at least I did until Vicky went on her rant. I did not need to be privy to the ins and outs of the starving dieter.
After eating more than I should, I pull out the writing assignments. “I must say I thoroughly enjoyed your submissions last night. Some of you put in some great action sequences. A few of you need to work on your description. It is important to show the action through all the senses of the main characters. It isn’t enough to tell me the car crashed into a tree. If you are not sure what I mean by that, make sure you talk to someone who does. This is one of the most valuable skills for authors.
“Each of you has a critique page attached to the back. Read it over and feel free to come and talk to me about my comments. There is no grade given for these, they are simply an exercise. But, I will not argue with you about my comments. I will simply explain them if you are unsure.”
Walking around the table, I handed each person their work. “Don’t forget that tonight we have a special guest arriving for supper. It is a mystery who, but I am certain many, if not all of you, have read his work. He has been producing best-selling fiction for over twenty-two years. His specialty is action scenes that will leave you begging for more. Don’t miss it.”
“Oh, I almost forgot. I need to speak with Fahim and Clare before you scatter.”
Immediately Fahim’s chair slides back and he approaches me. Clare turns the opposite direction towards the kitchen.
I chat with Fahim briefly and then weasel my way out of Vicky’s attempts to snag me in conversation. Clare is hunched over the sink, scrubbing a skillet.
“Dishes rank higher than talking to me?” I say in jest.
“You were predisposed with Fahim.”
“Well, I’m done with Fahim. Now it’s your turn.” I jump to sit on the counter near her. “Someone else can do these. Let’s go talk.”
She stops scrubbing. “We are not at liberty to discuss it in here?”
Her word choices amuse me. “I thought it would be better in private.”
She dries her hands on her apron and stares me down. “Am I to conclude that you spoke with Fahim in private?”
A chuckle tickles my throat, but I hold it in. Her formal speech has me feeling we're in a period movie. “No, but all I had to tell Fahim was my printer ran out of ink last night and I emailed him the remainder of his critique.”
“Yet, you need prudence with my conversation?”
“Alright Jane Austen, let’s go for a walk.” I hold out my arm for her to link on to, hoping my impression of a gentleman might appeal to her. I guess not, as I follow her out of the kitchen.
I motion towards the hallway leading to the study. She walks most of the way down the corridor before abruptly turning her back to the wall to face me.
“I am afraid I cannot enter the study in only your company.”
“Try something for me. Say ‘I can’t enter’.”
Her head cocks slightly to the side as if she no longer knows what species I am.
“Never mind. We can talk out here then.” I lean my hand on the wall above her forcing her to scoot away from me to the other side of the hallway.
“I want to talk to you about your scene.”
“Was it deplorable?” She asks.
“Not deplorable. I thought your writing was good but your scene lacked ... action.”
She huffed in protest. “Lacking in action? The croquet player strikes his opponent. Did you manage to read over that section? That is plenty intense, I think.”
Where to begin with this one? “Clare, first off, croquet is not an action sport. Why not change it to a playoff Hockey game? Or a tennis match at Wimbledon?”
She doesn’t say anything but it appears she is thinking about it.
“Also, one player punching another player actually happens all the time in sports. Why not try one of the players pulling a gun on the other. Yeah. Yeah. You could have one of the women’s tennis players whip a small hand pistol out of her tiny skirt.” I say, losing myself momentarily in the new story world I created.
Clare looks shell-shocked. Her eyes, tearing up and her face going white.
“You... don’t have to pick that one. I-it was only an example.” I stammer.
“I am honoured for the time you have taken assessing my work. I accept your criticism yet I decline the offer to change my scene.”
“Clare, I didn’t mean to offend you. I am only suggesting that readers today want bigger, bolder action. Think ‘Jean Claude Van Damme’ or ‘Arnold Swarchenegger’. Or my personal favourite Bruce Willis.” I could name a dozen more but the look on her face is tell-tale. She has no idea what I’m talking about.
“Haven’t you ever seen an action flick?” I ask.
Her eyes skitter about. “I am not familiar with the term ‘flick’.”
It’s all becoming clear why her writing is top-notch but her scene isn’t. She has nothing to draw from. Somehow she has managed to live all her life without watching a movie where everything gets blown to bits.
“I have an idea, Clare.”
Just then Jack rounds the corner of the hallway towards us.
“Sorry to interrupt.” He says.
“No problem Jack, what can I do for you?” I step back. Clare’s obvious discomfort with being seen with me is cute.
Jack stutters through, “I wanted to talk to you about my critique.”
Clare pushes away from the wall. “We are through. Thank you.” In a quick movement, she lowers herself slightly and then dashes down the hallway.
Jack offers me a confused look as she disappears around the corner. “Did she just curtsey?”
The entire interaction with Clare is confounding, and I think Jack might be right. “It looked that way, didn’t it?” I say as I indicate for Jack to enter the study.