Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Blink, and it's over

My badge for completing NaNoWriMo.
That's kind of how I feel about November.  Where did it go?

I had a crazy busy month. Between my "little sister's" wedding in Baltimore, my living room concert, Thanksgiving, NaNoWriMo and lots of other fun, it was an awesome month. But I also feel like I barely had time to breathe.  I suppose that's OK.  Winter should give me some time to slow down.

Speaking of NaNoWriMo, did I mention I finished?  Early?  Yes.  In spite of taking seven days off while I was out east for the wedding, I reached the 50K word mark on Sunday night.  Well, it was more like early Monday.  I made a ton of progress over Thanksgiving weekend, capped with a huge 9K word surge on Sunday.  I just couldn't stop writing.  This story is still a bit of a mystery to me. I don't know where it came from.  I just started writing it on Nov. 1, and it's taken on a life of its own.  I figured I'd have to really struggle to make it long enough to fulfill NaNoWriMo requirements (50K words), but once I got going, it hasn't been difficult at all.

Only three people have had the privilege (or punishment?) of reading it.  They say it's good, but it might just be that they really like me and want to be nice.  I'm not convinced it's a good enough story to publish.  It's not done anyway.  Even at 50K words and seven chapters long, the two main characters still haven't resolved the tension between them.  That's my favorite part of books, by the way, the constant back and forth between the hero and heroine.  The close calls.  The almosts.  It's pretty fun.

Oh, the story also doesn't have a title yet. I've never gotten this far without coming up with a title at some point.  I'm hoping one of my readers will toss out a suggestion or two (hint, hint).

This is the first year I've completed NaNoWriMo.  I decided it might be a good way to get my creative juices going again and help me finish that baseball romance novel I started writing three years ago.  That one's only about 50 pages long.  Oops.  Maybe once I finish this untitled project, I'll get back to that one. In the meantime, here's a snippet of my current project.  Enjoy!

Cori shaded her eyes against the morning sky and looked around. Trees rose tall on either side of the road, their leaves varying shades of green. She imagined what the trees would look like in another month – red, orange and gold – once the temperatures cooled off.  It would look like a postcard or a painting, particularly at sunset with no signs of civilization nearby. In another situation, she might have admired the serene beauty of the setting, but right now, she didn’t have that in her. She silently pleaded for a rest stop, a car … any potential source of help.
The quiet but clear curse word pulled her attention away from the empty horizon.  Luke’s dark brown hair was disheveled and his face was twisted into a grimace as he knelt beside the vehicle, turning the crank on the tire jack.  He completed a couple more turns before the crank part came out of the body of the jack.  He swore again.  It had taken him ten minutes just to figure out how the jack worked, and so far, he’d spent another fifteen trying to raise the car to change the rear passenger tire.
            “Do you always swear this much?” she asked him.
            His head shot up and Cori took a step back when she saw the look on his face. His brown eyes seemed darker than she’d remembered when he’d introduced himself that morning, and his chin jutted out in an expression of anger and frustration.
            “Do you want to do this?” he asked, his tone cutting through her.
            “No …” she said, folding her arms across her body.
            “Then don’t complain about the way I’m doing it,” Luke said. He lowered his head and got back to work on raising the car.
            Cori took a few steps away from the car and looked around them again. They were only two hours into their drive.  A few cars had driven by, but so far no one had stopped to help them.
            They’d been making good time on the road until she’d heard the unmistakable “thump thump.”  It had been loud enough to wake Sam and Whitney, who had fallen asleep in the backseat almost immediately once the drive started.  The two were now sitting on the ground a few yards away, his arms around her from behind as she leaned against him. Cori rolled her eyes at the blissful smiles on their faces. If it wasn’t for Sam and Whitney, they wouldn’t be on the side of the road right now, and they were acting like it was the most wonderful moment ever.  

Two weeks earlier, Cori had just learned about Whitney’s new man.  There were a lot of those. Whitney went through guys almost as rapidly as she went through hair colors. In April, she’d had dark brown hair and Will. In July, Whitney had gone red and started seeing Josh. Now, it was September, and Whitney’s locks were a dark blonde as she cuddled up to Sam. Cori thought the shade suited her friend, but she wasn’t so sure about Sam yet. She really didn’t know much about him. She’d barely said “hi” to him before Whitney suggested this road trip.
“Sam scored free tickets to the Austin City Limits Music Festival,” Whitney had said excitedly.
“That’s in Texas, right?” Cori said, looking up from the computer screen.
The girls both worked in the finance industry. It was good money and decent work, but sometimes Cori found it a bit mundane. She couldn’t afford to shift gears though; her college loan statements never seemed to get lighter and the job market was so unstable she was fortunate to be employed. A look at the empty desks surrounding her every day reminded her of this fact.
“Duh. Austin is in Texas,” Whitney said, giving Cori an annoyed look.  “It’s only a fifteen-hour drive. With four drivers, we’ll only have to drive a few hours each.”
“Four drivers? We?” Cori asked.
“Yeah. Sam, me, you and Luke,” Whitney responded.
Cori shook her head. “No. No way I’m getting in a car with two guys I don’t even know to drive to a music festival. That’s crazy. Besides, there’s no way Jim will let us both have vacation at the same time.”
Whitney grinned mischievously and looked around to make sure no one else was listening.
“You’ll ask for vacation, because you’re honest like that,” she said. “I’ll call in sick because I don’t give a shit. We have put in so much overtime since the layoffs. We deserve this. We need this.”
Cori still wasn’t sold, and she turned her attention back to the computer screen. She should have known better than to expect her friend to drop the subject. Whitney badgered her for the rest of the day – subtly and overtly.  When she wasn’t asking Cori outright if she had changed her mind, she was sending her e-mail links to the facebook pages for bands that would be playing at the festival.
By the end of the day, Cori was wavering. Only part of the credit for that could go to Whitney. Sure, Cori got excited at the idea of seeing Fitz & the Tantrums, Sara Bareilles, Cee-Lo Green and Stevie Wonder. The greater appeal of the road trip, however, was a much-needed break from work. As Whitney had said earlier, they had worked a lot of long days and weeks in the previous months. When the company had to cut jobs, that didn’t mean there was less work to do; it only meant there were less people to do the work. Cori worked more ten-hour days than eight and more Saturdays than not. She could use a break. Whitney was proposing thirty hours in a car and at least that many hours of live music. It was starting to sound really good, if for no other reason than simply to escape her desk.
A few beers over a late dinner loosened Cori’s hesitation a little more. The next day, they got slammed at work, and that was enough to push her over the edge.
“I’m in,” she said to Whitney after hanging up with a particularly difficult client.
Whitney gave her a puzzled look.
“The festival. The road trip. I’m in.”
Her friend grinned. “Good, because I already told Sam it was on.”
Cori rolled her eyes, but she laughed too.  She put in her vacation request that same day. It was extremely short notice, but to her surprise, her supervisor approved it almost immediately.

Here they were, a little over a week later, on the side of the interstate in northern Missouri.  They’d left Des Moines at dawn and were still roughly thirteen hours from their destination, and they’d have to make the rest of the drive on a donut.  That would undoubtedly slow them down.
Luke had successfully raised the car and was working to remove the flattened tire.  His face still showed signs of annoyance though. She wondered how he had gotten roped into this road trip. Moreover, she wondered how Sam had talked Luke into using his car. She was willing to bet he was regretting it now that one of the tires was flat. 
Cori walked over to where Sam and Whitney were sitting and looked down at them.
“Guys, I think we should all chip in and help Luke buy a new tire,” she said. “When we get to the next city, we should find a tire center and get it done. Otherwise, it’s going to take us longer to get to Austin.”
“Why should we have to pay?” Sam asked. “It’s his tire. It probably would have gone bad anyway.”
“But it went bad while he was driving us to this festival,” Cori said. “He didn’t have to offer up his car.”
“But he did, so it’s his problem,” Sam said.
Cori looked at Whitney, imploring her friend to back her up. The bottle blonde stayed quiet, and Cori sighed and shook her head.  She turned away and walked back to Luke.
“When we get to the next town, we should stop at a tire center and get you a new tire,” Cori said.
“Don’t you think I didn’t think of that?” he snapped.
Cori did her best to stay calm. “Of course, but I meant I’ll help you pay for it,” she said. “I think Sam and Whitney should too, but I doubt they will.”
Luke snorted.  “Figures,” he said. “Sam is so cheap. I’ll be lucky to get gas money out of him. He even made Whitney pay for the hotel.”
That was news to Cori, although it didn’t surprise her. In addition to rotating men on a regular basis, she also got lost in every guy she dated. She did whatever it took to keep them and she hadn’t yet figured out that her methods weren’t working. Then again, Cori didn’t have any room to offer her friend advice.
“Why are you friends with him?” Cori asked.
Luke shrugged. “We’ve been friends for a long time,” he said. “He’s not a bad guy; he’s just not very motivated.”
 Cori glanced back at Sam and Whitney. They were now full-on making out, which only added to Cori’s annoyance. She wasn’t a fan of PDAs in general, but she was even less inclined to like them when they were stranded on the side of the road.
“He’s motivated about some things,” Cori muttered.
Luke didn’t hear her though.  He was concentrating on pulling the deflated tire off the car.  He carried it to the trunk and put it in there, but not before inspecting the treads with a perplexed expression. With a shrug and a sigh, he returned to the side of the car with the donut. He got to work, and Cori watched cars continue to pass by them. 
Putting the replacement on seemed to go smoother, and after he lowered the car to the ground again, Cori helped him put their bags back in the trunk. Sam and Whitney finally disentangled themselves and climbed into the backseat.  Luke slid behind the wheel, and Cori resumed her post in the front passenger seat.
“Good work, man,” Sam offered from the back as Luke pulled back onto the road.
“Yeah, no help from you,” Luke said.
“I wouldn’t know what to do, so I wouldn’t be any help anyway. It was best for me to just stay out of the way.”
“You don’t know how to change a tire? What’s wrong with you?”
“It’s not that big of a deal.”
They were both quiet then, but Cori could feel the tension between them. She didn’t know what to say, so she just looked out the window at the passing landscape. It wasn’t terribly interesting, but she pretended it was. If Whitney noticed the tension, she had a much different approach to dealing with it.
“Put in one of the CDs I made, Cori,” she said, passing a CD binder up to the front seat.
Cori glanced at Luke as she accepted the hand off. She didn’t have much choice; Whitney pretty much dumped it into her lap.  Luke just stared straight ahead and continued driving.  Taking that as an OK, Cori pulled a CD out of a plastic sleeve and put it in the radio. Pretty soon, the sound of electric guitars and the voice of Chris Martin filled the car.
“I’m so excited to see Coldplay,” Whitney said, giggling. “Sam is too, aren’t you baby?”
“Sure,” Sam said in a voice that didn’t convince Cori he was at all excited about this festival that had been his idea.
“Who are you excited to see, Luke?” Whitney asked, undeterred by her boyfriend’s ambivalence.
Luke was quiet for awhile. So long that Cori didn’t think he was going to answer Whitney’s question.  When he finally did speak, it kind of surprised all of them.
“Kanye will be kind of cool, but Ray LaMontagne is pretty good too.”
“Never heard of him,” Whitney said.
“Yes you have,” Cori said, appalled by her friend’s statement.  She described Ray and even sang a few lines of one of his better-known songs. Whitney responded with a shrug and leaned back against Sam, who was already dozing off.
Cori shook her head, frowning.  “She’s out of her mind if she thinks she’s never heard of Ray LaMontagne,” she said to Luke. “I know she’s listened to his album with me.”
“Her loss,” Luke said.  “You have a nice voice, by the way.”
She was caught off-guard by his compliment and by the way it made her blush.
“Thanks,” she said.
He seemed flustered by it too.  They were both quiet for the next several miles, letting Coldplay fill the silence in the car. And drown out the snoring coming from the backseat.
Cori had never really cared for Coldplay. Their radio tunes were OK, she supposed, but nothing in their repertoire had really grabbed her so far. As she listened now, her opinion held. They were talented musicians, but it didn’t do much for her. She needed something more.  She couldn’t explain what it was she liked or disliked in musicians; she only knew what she liked when she heard it.
She glanced over at Luke, who was relaxed but focused on the road. She’d only just met him that morning as they were loading the cars. He was still a bit of a mystery to her. Their conversation since the flat tire was the most words they’d exchanged in the entire drive.
“So what do you do, Luke?”
“What do you mean?”
“For work? What do you do?”
“I’m a manager at a movie theater.”
“Oh,” Cori said.  She was surprised.
“Nothing fancy, I know,” Luke said, reading her lack of words.
“No, I’m sure it’s a good job,” she said.
“It’s alright. I get to see a lot of free movies, and it pays the bills.”
“As long as you like it, that’s what matters.”
They were both silent for a few moments.
“You work with Whitney, but that’s as much as I know,” Luke said finally. “Sam didn’t seem to know what she did, something in an office.”
Cori laughed a little. “I’m a financial advisor at Principal, so he’s on the right track.”
Luke nodded. “That sounds ...”
“Boring? Yeah, it can be, but it’s good money and I’m good at it.”
“Did you go to school for that?”
“Yeah, I have a master’s in finance,” she said.
“Wow,” he said, clearly impressed. “Good for you. I’m feeling a little dumb now.”
She shrugged.
“You don’t like it?”
“Not really.”
“You spent all that time and money and you don’t like your job?”
“Crazy, right? Maybe I’m the dumb one in the car.”
“No, that would be Sam, but ... for real. Why would you get a degree in something you hate?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “I was always good at math, so I figured it was a good fit. I didn’t realize I would be bored until it was too late.”
Luke laughed. “You make it sound like your job is a punishment you just have to endure.”
Cori tilted her head to the side, neither confirming nor denying his statement.
“It’s not too late, you know,” he said.  “You’re still plenty young. You could find another calling.”
“How do I do that?” she asked.
“You’re asking the wrong person,” Luke said. “I still haven’t found mine.”
“Hmm. I guess we’re both kind of lost then, huh?”
“I guess so.”

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