Friday, March 19, 2010

Chapter two

I am a morning person.
Except when I consume copious amounts of wine and close down the pub. Then I am an early to mid-afternoon person.
This was definitely one of those days. I made it back to my apartment by 2:30 in the morning and fell asleep to dreams of writing a wildly successful novel in Ireland. Around 1:00 that afternoon, an insistent knocking on my door woke me. Damn! I pushed my sleep mask up and opened my eyes. Fortunately I had shut the blinds and pulled the drapes before falling into bed. The room was nice and dark. I settled back into my down pillow and prepared to ignore whoever was at the door. More knocking. Just lifting my head off the pillow was agony. Insistent knocking now. I sat up slowly, swung my feet to the floor, and stood and dragged myself through the bedroom and across the equally darkened living room to the door. I looked out the peephole. Laura. Probably the only person in the universe that could get away with waking me up in the middle of a sleep it off Saturday. Unlocking the deadbolt, I put on my I can’t believe you’re doing this to me face and swung the door open.

“Hi,” I managed to squeak out a greeting.

Laura had on her I can’t believe you’re not up yet face.

“Hello yourself Cherie,” she sailed into the living room, and the delicious smell of coffee from the two huge Starbucks cups she had with her wafted around me. The plain white bag in her other hand meant French pastries from the patisserie near her apartment. “I come bearing gifts,” she said, and set the drink carrier and bag down on the coffee table. “Heavens but you keep it dark in here.”

She marched to the tall windows and, before I could stop her, she pushed the drapes open, pulled the blinds, and cracked open the window. Laura is a firm believer in fresh air. Outside the rain was definitely gone and the sun was out in full force. It streamed merrily in through the windows like a freight train on a collision course with my already aching head, causing it to throb with even greater intensity. I fell back into my wonderfully soft floral armchair, pulled my sleep mask back down over my eyes, and held out my hand. Laura placed one of the coffees in it and I took a cautious sip. Ahhhh. Nice and hot, but drinkable. I took another sip. So maybe I would live. This was just like college - countless times Laura rescued me after a late night and got me up and ready for classes.

I pushed up the right side of the mask and looked at Laura out of one eye. She was disgustingly cheerful looking, beautiful in a simple blue linen dress, bare legs and flats. A light sweater swung from her shoulders and one of her signature scarves was wound artfully around her neck. Her dark hair was loosely coiled at the nape of her neck and even though she wore no makeup, she showed no signs of our late night at all, nor for that matter, a cold.

Catching my glance, she shrugged and said, “Wine is like water to the French,” as if that explained everything.

“I could hate you,” I muttered, lowering the mask. “It’s utterly unfair that you can drink and show no signs of it the next day. Meanwhile, here I am in agony.” Gratefully I took another long sip of coffee. The paper bag rustled and I held out my other hand. Laura placed the napkin wrapped pastry in my hand. I didn’t have to look to know it would be Pan au chocolat, my favorite. Taking a small bite, I said, “And this would be the reason that I don’t hate you.” She laughed delightedly and I smiled a tiny smile. The pastry was fresh and predictably delicious.

“So tell me what happened after Mike and I left last night,” Laura said, settling herself decorously on the arm of the sofa opposite me. “You and Ian seemed to be getting on well.”

Alternating nibbles and sips, I told her about my conversation with Ian and his offer of the house. Of course now, without the wine, candles, and Ian, the idea seemed crazy.
“Of course it’s impossible,” I said, sitting up straighter in the chair and pushing the mask up fully onto my head. I squinted painfully, but the coffee was working and the sun was not quite as offensive as it had been.

“Why impossible,” Laura asked simply.

“Because I’ve got a million things on right now,” I told her. “I’m committed to doing this article on Barcelona, and then I’m off for an Italian cooking tour that I will critique and write about for MAGAZINE NAME. One of my favorite magazines NAME HERE is talking about doing a piece on Indonesia and my name came up; I think that one is just a week or two from being a done deal.”

“So you’re busy,” Laura is maddeningly masterful at understating the obvious. “So you get unbusy.”

“It’s not only that,” I said stubbornly. “I’ve got this apartment, the rent, how would I continue to pay for it if I wasn’t living here. I mean, to do this thing right, I would have to spend 6 months to a year over there.” I was sitting up now, punctuating my speech with jabs of my coffee cup, and I could feel myself getting agitated. “I can’t just walk away from my life for that long Laura.”

“Why are you putting so many obstacles in your own way Jules?” Laura could be stubborn too. “Sublet the apartment. This is a high demand neighborhood and close to the university. You would have no problem finding a student to sublet it. As to supporting yourself, you can write from anywhere, right? You can travel from anywhere. So you work on your novel and occasionally take the time to do some feature pieces about Ireland.” Laura was quiet for a moment, then she said quite seriously, “You have to make room for your dreams Jules. Now. Life is for living, not just existing.” For a moment I thought I detected a note of sadness in her voice, but then it was gone and she said teasingly, “Maybe you will meet the man of your dreams over there.”

I gave something very close to a snort and resettled myself in the chair. The only thing more non-existent at this particular moment than my love life was a padded savings account that would allow me to go off to Ireland and write a novel. I was so busy I didn’t date often and the last two dates I’d been on had been certifiable disasters.

Laura got up and walked over to the open window, her back to me, and wrapping her arms around her waist, she leaned against the window frame. The bright sunlight framed her like a full body halo. It was a beautifully peaceful tableau. Not for the first time I wondered why my beautiful friend remained unattached.

“What about the man of your dreams?” I countered. “Who’s the latest conquest? Are you still seeing that banking fellow…What’s his name?”

Laura lifted her shoulders slightly in an elegant shrug. “Paul. He was transferred to another branch in Eastern Washington. He left two weeks ago.” She glanced at me over her shoulder. “But we parted on good terms. If I ever make it over to Spokane, he told me to be sure to look him up.” She smiled at me.

“Of course he did.” I rolled my eyes and sighed. “You know darling, someday you’re going to have to commit to one of these guys.”

Another casual shrug was the only acknowledgment I received, so I left it at that.

After visiting Juliette, Laura headed downtown to do one of her favorite things. Shop. She was unexpectedly happy, considering her life at this moment. The sun was out and a light breeze swept over and around her like a soft caress. Laura’s was a very old soul, and it weighed on her sometimes. Perhaps that was why she and Juliette had remained such close friends for so long. Juliette was refreshingly down to earth, a younger soul, and as such, far less complicated. Darling Juliette. At times Laura did not know how she’d ever made it through life before meeting her friend. And what a different life it had been.

Nearly anyone you asked would describe Laura as ‘vivacious’. Words like ‘confident’, ‘outgoing’, and ‘sparkling’ were commonly applied to her. But she had a past that she had never shared with anyone, including her best friend.
Laura had been fascinated when Juliette had told her about using her middle name when she started college as a way of starting fresh. Juliette was not alone in choosing college as the perfect place to reinvent herself, and Laura had immediately been drawn to the shy but genuine girl so unlike herself. Through their school years and beyond, Laura came to admire her friend for her single-minded determination to realize her dream. Juliette worked extremely hard and it had paid off for her.

Equally determined to leave her past behind, Laura had applied herself as well. She mastered three languages in college - Spanish, Mandarin, and Russian. Pairing this with law school and a minor in International Business had made her an extremely valuable recruit when it came time to find a job. Several law firms specializing in international business clients had aggressively courted her. The compensation was always very attractive, but it was important for Laura to help people too, not just make money. She sifted through the offers until she finally convinced a downtown Bellevue firm to take her on ¾ time, leaving her one day a week to work with various non-profit organizations. She had a natural head for business, was an extremely capable lawyer, and with her language skills, she quickly became an invaluable part of the firm. Eventually her volunteering turned out to be in their favor too as positive press releases regarding Laura’s volunteer work reached her bosses’ ears. She made a very decent living, while being able to give back to people that really needed her help.

Her history with relationships was slightly less dynamic than her career. While she dated different men off and on over the years, she was careful never to let them get too serious about her. Laura became an expert at the ‘soft let-down’. Nearly every man she eventually broke up with would have sworn the break-up was their idea, which was exactly how she wanted it. She remained friends with all of them, and gained the reputation of a girl that was fun to take out casually, but not someone to get real serious about. Most of her friends assumed she was just too busy to get that serious about a man and they were partly right. Not even Juliette knew the whole truth. With a past like Laura’s, a serious relationship was not an option.

Anyone looking in at her life from the outside would conclude Laura had realized her dreams. Aside from Mike, her younger brother, all of her friends and colleagues saw exactly what she wanted them to see – A successful, happy, dedicated young woman, with a bright, positive future - someone with a variety of interests, a love for good wine and food, and a source of unerringly intuitive advice. Juliette alone knew that there was more to Laura than the picture she presented to the world every day. Still, after initially receiving vague answers to her inquiries about Laura’s life in France before college, Juliette had eventually accepted that Laura couldn’t or wouldn’t share the details of her past.

“It was far from perfect, my dear, and I have put it behind me. That is all you need to know.” Laura told her when they met. “My brother Mike and I are each other’s only family now.’

A small cloud passed in front of the sun and Laura shivered. Just as quickly it cleared and the sun shone brightly once again. Still… that feeling… Her brow knit for a moment and her step slowed. She glanced over her shoulder and then to her left and right.
Silently chiding herself for being so silly, she strode forward purposefully. Turning right at the next corner, she swung open the heavy door and prepared to lose herself for the next couple of hours in the accessories department at Nordstrom. There was nothing like scarf therapy to take your mind off your troubles.


  1. I'm one those people who has short attention spans when it comes to start reading the beginning of a novel but strangely enough I read the whole 2 chapters without interruptions. I suppose I like the start - the rainy day with a woman running in her ridiculously high heel. It sets a mood that she is someone with a busy life. It's probably the mention of her various task of her job that might led me to think she has lived long enough to have a career and sort of settle in her life a bit. I can picture in her mid-thirties, perhaps.

    The details of the characters' features and the settlings are nicely done. I suppose beginnings chapters are harder to judge because you are setting up the scenes and the characters and you want to give as much as details without overwhelming the reader. For me, I thought it was too much details at times but I didn't mind it as much as I would normal do.

    I don't know if this is a autobiography or fiction but it does sounds real and Jules sounds like a real person.

    Laura and Jules seems like they have known each other very long and knew each other's habits and just about everything that a best friend would know. I guess I'm interested in why Laura seem to be less-than-open with Jules. I mean there is a hint of some sort of struggle perhaps? Something she has not told Jules. Sometimes I read too much into things. But I like Laura even if she is a devastatingly beautiful French woman.

    I like the title, "Serendipity" - it has always been one of my favorite word. Now reading the 2nd chapter, I'm thinking this is like a story of two best friends - one that wants to write a novel and the other one wants a mate. That is pretty much the impression I get. I don't suppose you'll be writing a synopsis soon?

    I have to say, I'm not sure I'm the right audience for this book. I trend to read fiction with a bit of fantasy in them.

    I hope what I said above it's not too confusing. I trend to veer from thought to thought, it's a bit of a bit habit. I have no experience in constructive criticism but I did try to be honest. So there's my 2 cents.

  2. Thanks Lissa so much for taking the time to read and comment. The book is still in it's infancy, but I am really enjoying the process, and any help / critiques / or just impressions, is greatly appreciated.