ABOUT MY NOVEL

I’ve been working on this book since my early twenties, in stops and starts. I’ve drawn bits of inspiration from my experiences, and mixed it all up into a  book with three rotating narrators, whose lives go a bit haywire when they realize you can never really know the people you’re close to. Here’s a bit from near the beginning that I workshopped at a recent writer’s group.


LAUREL

I clearly made the wrong choice about my hair. The water still clinging to my curls, tightly pinned back as they are, is making my head feel like I’m wearing a hat made of frozen peas. I curse my laziness, and my decision to jump onto my laptop instead of drying my hair like a rational person.

Paul and I manage to find parking downtown a block away from the restaurant where he’s made a reservation, and even the short walk from his Lexus to the door leaves me breathless. Not as breathless, however, as I am when he opens the door for me and I enter the restaurant.

This place is swanky. A bar lit in blue runs along the left side, a trendy-looking dining room to the right. Blond wood tables and white leather booths, Lucite light fixtures throughout. Modern but understated, peopled by the glamorous and the hip, all far more stylishly dressed than I am. I sheepishly look down at my jeans and feel goofy and childish.

“Paul,” I whisper, “I’m not sure I’m wearing the right thing to be in a place like this.”

“You look beautiful,” he answers, looking me directly in the eye.

He approaches the hostess stand, announcing, “Masters, reservation for two.”

The hostess smiles and nods and leads us to one of the booths. It’s shaped like a semi-circle instead of a rectangle, so we’re sitting next to each other instead of across from one another. Immediately after the hostess leaves us with menus and a wine list, I look around for our server. This place is making me anxious, and I have to get a drink in me, STAT.

Paul reaches to hold my hand. “How do you like it?”

I take another look around. The couple at the next table appears to be eating insane salads that are piled vertically instead of laying on a plate the way sane salads should. So this is going to be one of those places at which presentation is part of the art form of the culinary magic. I am so out of my element.

He’s waiting for an answer. “It’s kind of like a dream, you know?” I say.

Paul seems pleased by that. I’m certain he misunderstands me. He surely thinks I meant it in the ‘dream-come-true’ way, when I meant it in the ‘bizarre,-naked-at-school’ way.

The waiter approaches, and Paul orders a water. I ask for vodka and pineapple juice. We both consult the menus.

Again, I’m overwhelmed. Why must everything be encrusted and glazed and drizzled and reduced? Can’t it just be grilled versus fried? I feel a little helpless and look up at my boyfriend for guidance. “What—what do you think you’ll get?”

“The salmon sounds good,” he muses.

Ah, yes, simple.  Salmon. “Same here.  I think I’ll get that.”

Paul closes his menu and looks at me lovingly. “You really do look beautiful.”

I smile back at him. How did I get so lucky to snag this guy? In fact, I find myself voicing that thought out loud. “How did I get so lucky?”

“You had good taste in scarves,” he quips. I laugh. He takes a breath, then begins to speak again. “Laurel, can we talk about something?”

A sinking feeling sets in, starting in my throat and easing toward my belly. What good has ever come from an introduction like that? I wonder with a tinge of madness if I’m about to have an Elle Woods moment: dumped mid-dinner at a fancy restaurant, in the hopes that I won’t make a scene because it’s in public.

Finally, I respond, “Sure, let’s talk.”

Just then, the waiter returns with our drinks, and asks cheerily, “Have we decided what sounds good for dinner this evening…?”

Paul gestures for me to order first. I have already forgotten what I wanted, so distracting were Paul’s words. So I point to something random on the menu that, for all I know, could be boiled goat elbows. I’m not concerned about what I’ll be consuming, as long as it’s paired with liquor. Speaking of which, I take a big gulp of my drink as Paul orders the salmon.

As the waiter retreats, Paul returns his attention to me. “Yes, so as I was saying, I wanted to talk about something.”

I stab the ice cubes in my glass with my straw. “Okay.”

“You know I love you, right?”

Here it comes.“Of course.” The sinking feeling has progressed downward. To my bladder. Really? I have to pee now? Of all possible times?

He continues, “And you know how fun you make my life.”

“Well, I guess,” I mumble.

“And you know everyone thinks we’re the perfect couple.”

“Except Jonah.” It slips out before I can stop myself.

He grins wryly. “Except Jonah, true.” He takes in a breath. “So, I was just thinking—“

“Wait,” I interrupt. I take another swig of my drink, emptying it. Disappointed by this tragic turn of vodka events, I tell him, “Okay, go on.”

“So, I was thinking,” he repeats, “that it would make sense for the two of us… to live together.”

I hiccup. “What?”

“Have you thought about it?” Paul wants to know. “I’ve been thinking about it for a while now.”

The feeling that was sinking is now rising, through my belly, up my neck, across my face. Relief floods my body as I realize I’m not about to be hung out to dry by my perfect boyfriend in this perfect restaurant like the imperfect person I am.

At the same time, I realize he’s waiting for an answer, which I don’t have, since, no, I haven’t thought about it. “Wow,” I say stupidly. “That’s—quite a thing.”

“Quite—what?” He chuckles a little at my loss of coherence.

“I mean, you know, a big thing. Like, wow.” Oh, Jesus, I’ve forgotten how to construct sentences. My mind is whirling. Move in together? Share space? Brush our teeth next to each other? Wash each other’s dishes?

“Yes, Laurel, it’s a big step, and it’s one I want to take with you.” Paul extends his hand to hold mine, but instead of meeting him halfway, I glance up to see our waiter has returned with our pre-dinner salads, piled sky-high like the Eiffel Tower. What universe am I in? In what world do I eat foot-tall salads and get asked by my modelesque boyfriend to live together? This is not my beautiful house, the Talking Heads taunt in my mind. This is not my beautiful wife.

I want to laugh at the absurd stack of greens, but I also want the whole mass of it to instantly be in my mouth so I won’t have to talk. I have no idea why. I should be climbing the walls and yelling, “Yes, Paul, yes!” But this is not my instinct, and I cannot pinpoint why.

So I pick a radish, carved into the shape of a rose, off the apex of the mound and systematically pick it into bits, putting each bit into my mouth one by one. I remark, “Most people don’t like radishes.  I like radishes.  Do you like radishes? May I have your radishes?”

“Are you being paid by the number of times you say the word ‘radishes’?” Paul seems agitated, but not to the extent that I am. He drops his napkin into his lap and picks up his fork, which he uses to scoop up his radish and place it on the edge of my plate. “So, like I was saying, I’ve been thinking for a while now, and it just makes sense for us to live together.”

All I can think to do is stall. “How so?”

He brightens, as though he’s been waiting for me to ask this. “It’s only logical. Aside from the fact that we get along so well romantically, of course, should we decide to move in together, it would be cost-effective. You wouldn’t have to pay rent anymore. Plus, you wouldn’t have to take the DART—“ (Dallas Area Rapid Transit, the train I take to work every day) “—because you’d be closer to Basket. You could walk, if the weather’s nice. We’d also both save gas, not driving across town to one another’s places.”

“That sounded like a business proposal,” I joke.

He reddens, as though there’s some truth to my humor. “Maybe it does. But having you with me wouldn’t be business-like, I can guarantee you that.”

It strikes me now that he’s proposing me moving in with him, not both of us getting a new place together. I won’t have any rent, I’ll be closer to work (his place is about two blocks from the store). Does that make a difference? I’m not sure.

My mental constipation is getting the better of me again as I struggle to string together thoughts. “Well, there’s… that.”

“What do you mean?” Paul sets down his fork again and leans forward, possibly hopeful the cork in my brain is about to pop out and something meaningful will spring forth.

“Another drink, madam?” asks the waiter.  I hadn’t noticed his arrival.

“Please. Thank you,” I say, and Paul shakes his head that, no, he’s fine with his water.

As the waiter leaves, Paul frowns a bit. “Another one before we eat?”

“It’s mostly juice,” I say quickly. “And it’s really tasty.” It isn’t mostly juice. This place is pouring them strong. But the second part of my defense is true; the combination of the pineapple and vodka tastes like magic.

Oh.

I sigh. This small exchange has just made me realize what’s causing my hesitation.  Not the toothbrushes. Not the dishes. Not even Paul’s presumption that I’ll leave behind my place for his.

It’s the idea of losing my isolated time to drink.

Paul prompts me, “Laurel?”

I chew my bottom lip. “Do I have to decide right now?”

“Of course not,” he answers. “Take all the time you need. I’ll be ready when you are.” He picks up his fork again and begins to munch happily on his tower-o-salad, while I scan the place, wondering where the hell my drink is