This is the entry I am posting for The Next Big Author contest. It will be rated over and over by other writers for the month of June. The top five winners will be announced at the end of June. They win a critique from a top publishing house. Please comment if you see anything that could or should be changed. I am able to make edits and changes all through the month of June.)
I can’t explain why it matters so much to me.
Aside from her glass-shattering scream this morning at approximately 4:30 that keeps replaying in my mind, I have no reason to give her a second thought. She is nothing to me.
Stepping silently through the patio doors I steal a chance to absorb the sunrise before she notices me. Her fire red hair sectioned into two neat braids is more vibrant then the sky.
“Can we talk, Clare?” I ask.
Her head shakes no, refusing to look my way.
“Okay.” I swallow my pride. “How about I talk and you listen, then?”
She shrugs as she exhales a loud breath.
“Hmm, I was hoping for a little more commitment than that.”
Suddenly her full attention is on me, as her eyes plough through me. “Really? Tell me if this manner of commitment suits you, Mr Fancy Editor? I will allow you two sentences to attract my interest. If your manner is agreeable I will consider staying for the remainder of the conversation.”
“Oh. Okay.” I chuckle to myself at the irony. At least she was listening last night when I gave my ‘I make no promises’ speech.
Taking a moment to mull over my options, I attempt to choose my words with care. Clare motions towards her vacant wrist.
“Don’t rush me. I’m deciding what to say first. I need to get it right.”
Her face speaks volumes.
“Okay, okay”, I stumble ahead. “My first sentence is ... I’m dreadfully, dreadfully sorry you found me in your bed this morning.”
With a huff she bolts towards the open patio door on my left.
“Oh come on, Clare. I only said one sentence.”
“I am already certain this is not a conversation I would be interested in.” She says straining for politeness. She marches through the patio doors, pausing at the last moment. “Besides, that was not my bed.”
As the patio door rattles shut, I mumble to myself. “That was my second sentence.”
The coffee tastes bitter in my mouth. My morning is tarnished by a Chick and the warm morning sun is bringing no solace. A smog hovers over the city line allowing a single ray of the sun to filter through. Ah, the proverbial sign of hope.
Instead of moping, I needed to choose. I could stay out here where the warmth of the sun might envelope me and eventually bring me comfort. Or I could return indoors to the cool air, courtesy of Miss Clare Smithers.
My first night in the mansion turned to a disaster, thanks to Phil. Speaking of him, it’s time to shed the blame for this mix-up. I open the patio doors. Mmm, pancakes. I am in love, I consider as I cross the stone-tiled floor. Whoever is the creator of the delicious scent is my new best friend.
“Hey Prince. Sleep well?”
Phil’s voice catches me off guard. He shuffles his way into the dining room lugging a giant coffee. Looking at his droopy eyes reminds me of the fun we had last night.
“Speaking of sleeping ...” I throw a punch at his shoulder.
He stumbles, recovering with only a few coffee spills. “Hey!”
“That is for your stupid trick.”
“What trick? Do you remember telling me I could crash in your room last night? With you.”
His eyes close with concentration. “Yup.”
“Good, maybe then you remember where you spent the night?”
A smile creeps across his face that could shame a child in a candy store. “Oh man. I had the most –“
“Whoa. I don’t need a play-by-play. What I do need is someone to vouch for me.”
“You know I got your back.” Phil offers me a creepy wink. “What’s the damage, Nate the Great?”
Movement catches my eye. Turning to my right, I see Clare walk briskly by with an old apron around her petite waist. It reads ‘Kiss the Cook’ in large red letters across the middle with a giant pink lip-smack over her heart. The pancake aroma trailing behind her mixes with the same scent I found on my pillow this morning. It consumes me. My attention lingers. Too long obviously, as Phil nudges me with his elbow.
“You and Raggedy-Annie?”
“Raggedy-Annie. You know ... the red-headed doll.”
My face warps. I can’t believe he would name her that.
“The doll has red braids and Clare has red braids.” Phil’s one handed attempt at connecting his thoughts is comical.
“I get it.” I shrug. “Only, I would have picked Pippi Longstocking instead.”
As Phil walks away he says over his shoulder. “No way. Pippi’s fun.”
Soon the breakfast aroma draws all the participants to the dining area. With one sharp whistle I command their attention.
“Can everyone take a seat, please?”
Once the commotion of chairs scuffing on the tile and the haphazard conversations die down I stand at the head of the long table.
“Good morning, my ever-anxious writers. I trust you all remember who I am but if not, I am the answer to your biggest dreams.”
A few people clap and cheer except Clare. She rolls her eyes. That’s a new experience for me. I clear my throat and step into the role of fearless leader.
“Three days into your reality journey I am changing the rules a little. I, Nate Wheeler, editor-extraordinaire will be staying at the mansion with you. For the remainder of your stay here, I will be orchestrating this adventure. Someone needs to make sure you’re playing nicely together.”
Vicky, the resident flirt, rockets her hand up in the air. “Yes, Vicky. Do you have a question?” I ask.
“Good morning Nate. I'm curious if all the mystery guests will be staying after they arrive? Oh, And ... which room will be yours? We already have our roommates assigned.”
“No, I will be the only mystery guest to overstay their welcome. As for the room assignments, that will all be sorted out later today. Either way, you can be assured yours will not change.” Vicky’s look of disappointment did not deter me. Discouraging her enthusiastic attraction was already a full time day job yesterday. No need to complicate my nights. Besides, she is Clare’s roommate and I am sure Clare will not be moving out of her room. Not after the fiasco this morning.
As I sit in my chair I notice Phil’s goo-goo eyes cast in Victoria’s direction. That sheds new light on the bedroom mix-up. If Phil and Vicky connected last night, then it makes sense that Clare took Phil’s room for some privacy. That explains why Clare was in Phil’s bed instead of him.
“Last thing before we digest this delicious smelling meal. Every other morning I will give you a short writing assignment. It will highlight a certain writing skill that will be expounded upon by our Mystery Guests. You will have a day to work on it before you surrender your masterpieces to me at the evening meal. I will critique each one and return them at the next breakfast.”
There were several grumbles coming my way. Stuart, a dedicated, no-nonsense writer speaks first. “I thought our days could be used for our own writing?”
“You will have a lot of time for that still. The writing assignments will only be one scene in length. Feel free to coordinate them within your own plots. For example, today’s assignment is an action scene.
"I want to read magnificent scenes spilling over with explosions, gunfire or car chases. Feel free to include natural disasters, terrorism and all things-Armageddon. Whatever you want to write is fine, as long as it is amplified to full notch. Understand?”
After the head nods, I motion for everyone to eat. The table becomes active with dishes clanking and food travelling from hand to hand. The constant chatter among our group fills the room with discussions covering a wide range of topics.
Stuart, sitting at the far end of the table, begins listing his recent writing accomplishments to anyone nearby. It’s hard to ignore him considering his proper manner and imposing height. However, his neighbour and roommate, Jack is trying. Jack is a quiet and reserved young man. I think he is only nineteen years old – our youngest participant. He’s won many awards for his writing and I predict he’ll see his work in print soon.
Across the table is Fahim, a strapping man. His published work is a non-fiction piece on travelling in Iran. He is excited for his first crack at writing science fiction. His ever-present smile radiates as he recites many action films he enjoyed as a teenager. Irene, intent on his natter, is sitting across from him. Her wide brown eyes and soft features absorb every word. Irene is our encyclopaedia. She is a collector of knowledge and facts with little writing or life experience.
Next to Irene sits a beautiful blonde with an engaging personality to match. Katherine is eager for her first published piece. Her time here should boost her skills and open new doors for her. Kat’s animated conversation about her trip to California and her chance meeting of Keanu Reeves is consuming Phil and Vicky.
Then across the table from Kat is Clare eating her pancakes as though she is the only person sitting at the large oak table. Her green eyes sparkle with simplicity. Why does she capture my attention? It’s not that she is unattractive. Her look would fall into the simple and plain category. I’m more of a high-class kind of guy. My women like to look good.
She is unlike any woman I have ever met before. Maybe that is what drives my curiosity? If only I could find out more about her?
After breakfast most of the group continue to chat over coffee but Clare springs to life. She clears the dishes and then disappears into the kitchen. No one seems to care. Or even notice. Vicky is attempting to keep my interest with her monologue on current movie stars and their dates. I manage to excuse myself and head straight to the kitchen.
“Did you pull the short straw?” I ask.
“The short straw?” Clare pauses her scrapping long enough to give me a baffled look.
“Yeah, everyone gets a straw but the shortest one has to do the work. Haven’t you ever played that before?”
The same baffled look and a slight shake of her head.
She resumes cleaning at the sink as though I wasn’t standing beside her. So, I grab a towel and join her.
“What are you doing?” She asks.
Clare’s eyes darken. “No, Mr. Wheeler, what are you doing?”
I shrug, feeling chastised under her glare. “I’m helping with the dishes; that’s all.”
She doesn’t answer back. We stand in silence, washing and drying until all the dishes are clean. I feel in uncharted territory with her. I can’t think of a time I was ever alone with a woman that ignored me. Except my mother, I guess.
My attempt at another conversation after she finishes fussing over the counters is again met with silence. She merely walks out of the room.
“That is most definitely a first.” I say to myself, realizing I have been rejected. By a woman.
Walking out of the kitchen, Vicky bumps right into me.
“Oh, hi Nate. There is someone at the front door for you.”
The front door? Since the filming started we blocked all entrances onto the property. I can’t imagine who could get through all that without me knowing. I walk to the front entrance between the dining room and sitting lounge. Everyone is watching, likely as curious as I am.
Standing on the front stoop is James, my assistant. His face is white while his hand massages his temples.
“Hey Jimmy. What brings you here?”
He cringes. He hates when I call him Jimmy. He sends me a painful stare. “Why aren’t you answering your phone? You promised me you would answer your phone.”
I chuckle at his dramatic show. “It’s too distracting, so I left it in the study. I will check my messages every night.” My hand displays the ‘scouts honor’, “I promise.”
“You need to call the boss.” The tremor in his voice is now evident as he holds out a shaky hand with a cell phone in it.
I shake my head.
“Call him now! He is tormenting me because he can’t reach you.”
“Tell him I-“
“I’m done covering for you, Nate! I won’t lie anymore.” As James rants on about his high blood pressure I am reminded of all the eyes on me. Even Clare is standing and watching how this unfolds.
“Jimmy, you don’t have to lie. Just tell him-"
He shoves the phone into my gut. “Just call him and tell him yourself. He is my Boss too. He told me I’m fired if I don’t track you down immediately. Not everyone gets special treatment like you.”
Just then the cell phone in his hand rings and we both jump. James panics and tries to hand off the phone to me, even grabbing for my hand. I pull away hard. “I’m not answering it.” I yell at him.
James puts the cell phone at my feet and backs away from the door. “He calls me every five minutes. Just talk to him and get this over with.” He mouths ‘please’.
I mumble the word ‘chicken’ as I bend down to pick up the phone. Opening the cell phone, I turn to count the interested faces watching me embarrass myself. “Good morning Sir.”
The Boss hollers into the phone. “Where in the blazes are you?” I am sure everyone in the room can hear as I hold the phone off my eardrum.
“Filming at the mansion, Sir.”
“Well, get your tanned little fanny back to the office. I pay you good money to sit in a chair and that is exactly where you better be in the next 30 minutes or else!”
I swallow hard. “No can do, Sir. I told you I would be here until the filming is done. However I give you my solemn oath that my butt will be in your fancy chair in two weeks.”
“This is not a holiday Nate!”
“I am not taking a holiday Sir. I told you about my plans to film this reality TV show and that is what I am doing.”
“I don’t pay you to film. I pay you to edit. Besides when you told me about this little project of yours I thought it sounded like an interesting hobby. Meaning on your own time – not mine. Now get back to work!”
Before I release my next words I need to breathe. I am not afraid of him like James is, however I have no idea when his idle threats will become truth. “I am sorry Sir. I will not be at my office desk today or tomorrow or all next week. In fact you will not see me until Monday the 23rd. Good day Sir.” I click the cell phone closed before anyone breathes in the room.
I hand the cell phone back to James. “If my Father calls again I give you permission to destroy the phone.”
James' frightened chuckle erupts. “I’m so fired.”
“Don’t worry Jimmy. Be in my office on the 23rd and I will rehire you.” Then I left, walking by the gaping mouths.
Hiding in the study is not what I planned for my first day here. But once again I’m embarrassed in public by my old man. He has no idea what I like to do. I have some great ideas if he would just listen to them. I could take his company to a new level but he doesn’t care. He never has. After moping and fuming I decide to be useful and productive in spite of him. There is a house full of wanna-be authors that I can make a difference for.