A peek at ‘Caroline Hearts Toby’

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I remembered the first night we spoke, at a party, a week after I turned fourteen.  It was a humid Saturday night and an ex had decided to start a fight with me.  I turned into a full fledged drama queen, and ran crying to the solace of a wooden gazebo on the edge of the woods behind the party house.  The tip of his long shadow touched the steps of my fortress before Toby did, “Are you OK?”  he asked.
“Yeah,”  I said between racking sobs.
“You want to talk?”
“Yeah.”  I went on for what felt like years but was actually a few hours without taking a breath.  “…he’s just such an asshole you know, I could do so much better than him.”
“You could do a lot better, like me.”
For the first time that night, I burst out laughing.
The side of his mouth turned up in a half smile.  “What’s funny about being my girlfriend?”
“You don’t want to date me, I’m like, totally crazy.”
“Maybe,” his light eyes enveloped me. “But you’re laugh is the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard.”
Before I could decide if he was serious or not a group of boys with baggy jeans, flannel shirts, and backwards baseball caps called out, “Hey!  We’re leaving, man.  You coming?”
He stood up.  The eaves of the rotted wood sighed beneath his tall frame.  “I gotta go, see you around.”
“See you around.”

That Monday, Margo and I strolled up to the side entrance of the two story brick prison called high school, and there he was.  His azure eyes were half closed as he sat on the steps playing an acoustic guitar the color of wheat.  The scene was more fantastic than an e.e. cummings poem.  My heart stopped beating in my chest as I followed the trajectory of his skinny left arm and the fingers of his right hand caressing the neck.  Even though he was fully clothed, a hundred feet away from me, and so into the song he didn’t know I was staring at him, it was the most erotic event of my life up until that point.
Margo, my best friend since forever, nudged me.  “Gawk much?”
I took a breath, not realizing I’d been holding it the entire time, and shook my head.  “No way.  Total waste of time.  It’s not as if he likes me, or whatever.”
“He totally likes you, Caroline.”
“How do you know?  Are you psychic?”
“I have eyes.”  A smirk stretched over Margo’s tan skin.  “Every time you speak, he looks over at you and smiles like a little kid.  I’m afraid he’s gonna pull on one of your pigtails during recess, or something.”
My pulse sped up.  “Really?”
“Watch him for yourself if you’re so interested.”

I did.  Our eyes met for the briefest of moments and it made me feel as if I’d been shot out of a cannon.  I turned back to my notebook and started to write, secretly wishing my Mom would give in and buy me a cell phone.  Since I was fourteen, the best idea for expressing my undying love to him was to pass him a note after class, and that’s exactly what I did.  The rest of the day proved supremely agonizing.  As I walked out the front door to my bus, he stopped me, and handed me a note of his own.

I wrote him a note every day for the next two years.

Blake Morgan’s First Kiss

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I threw myself onto my bed and rolled over.  My glasses were askew, and when I straightened them I saw glossy dark leaves reflecting the Moon outside the large bay window.  They swayed in the wind and reminded me of my first kiss, five years ago.
It was the Fourth of July and my parents had a crab broil for the block.  David insisted we invite Chris, which filled me with relief, because then I didn’t have to admit that my best friend was his sister, Sophie.
The younger kids ran up and down the street with sparklers while Sophie climbed halfway up the White Oak in my front yard.  “C’mon Blake, you can see the fireworks better from up here.”
“I’m good down here.”  I was never a big fan of heights.  If humans were meant to fly, we’d have evolved wings by now.
“Why?  Too cool to climb trees anymore?”
I sighed and pulled myself up to the same limb she sat on.  From my new vantage point I could see David making out with someone who wasn’t his girlfriend on the side of the garage.  “Jesus Christ.”
“What?”
“You didn’t tell me there’s a perfect view of my brother and Jordan down there.”
“Where?”  She giggled and turned her head side to side.
“Right there.”  I pointed.
“Uh!  I hate being so short.”  She pulled up on my shoulder, until her face was parallel with mine. Her long red braid tickled my arm.  “Whoa, I bet he knows what she had for lunch.”  She sat on her knees so her eyes leveled with my throat, although she directed them to the night sky.  “I can’t wait until someone kisses me like that.”
I shook my head.  “Girls are so weird.”
She turned back to me.  “Why?”
“Boys don’t think about stuff like that.”  I knew it was a lie once the words left my mouth because I thought about it too.  All the time.
“Yeah, right.”
“I don’t.”
“Oh, I forgot, I’m talking to the Casanova of Annapolis.  So, what do boys think about?”
“I don’t know, stuff?”
She giggled then lowered her voice, “Like hunting, bowling, and beer?”
I laughed.  “Yeah.”
She raised her eyebrows.  “But, you don’t think about any of that.”
I shrugged.
She exhaled the words.  “Well, you must be right, because no one has ever thought of kissing me.”
“What makes you think that?”
“Because no guy has ever kissed me.  I always thought I’d have my first kiss before I started high school.”  She gazed at me with her big green eyes.
I don’t know what came over me since every action I took had always been carefully thought out.  Maybe it was because I wanted to have my first kiss as well, or that I knew she wouldn’t laugh at me, or that her fair skin shimmered in the moonlight.  My mind went blank when I craned my neck and pressed my lips to hers.  She tasted like strawberries, sunsets, and honeysuckle.  My first kiss lasted just long enough to wonder if Sophie’s mouth was made of flower petals.
For a while there was only the laughing of children running in the yard, the adults banter that grew in volume throughout the night, and the hooting of a distant owl, until I said.
“Now you don’t have to worry about it anymore.”
She opened her mouth and began to respond when an explosion of fireworks erupted.  Red, white, and blue lit up the sky blocking out the stars and planets I loved so much.  Neither of us ever mentioned the kiss.
But, we did hold hands until the display of perchlorate, copper, and sulfur diffused into the atmosphere.

A scene from my thriller ‘Clear’ from the pov of Samantha Locke

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Nothing like a frat party to forget about her childhood, those years with her nose stuck in a book too terrified to experience life, Julio, and all the men she killed.  Drugs, alcohol, and anonymous sex with a hot college guy were the quickest cure to her unending sadness.  They never called, or wanted you to stay the night, and were always ready.  That had been a caveat of living in D.C., access to educated and uninhibited men.  Samantha had never gone to college but she could still pass for an undergrad and leave all her worries behind.  Until she hooked up with philosophy major Tyson.
Thank God he doesn’t know my real name or he’d never shut the fuck up, she thought.
Samantha could not be within a hundred yards of American University without him finding her, and she fell for it every time.  That Friday night was no different as he made a bee line for her in the middle of the mosh pit in the backyard behind the frat house.
“Maggie, I missed you,”  he yelled above the dance music as he grabbed her face and kissed her.  It was deep and passionate, as if he’d been dreaming of her for months.
She pushed him away.  “I told you! I can’t do this anymore!”
He stood in the middle of the dancing crowd, ignored them all, and stared at her with his dark eyes.  Tyson had on his preppy college boy uniform: bright blue sweatshirt with three greek letters printed on it, khaki pants, and keys to the Mustang his parents just bought him still in his hand.
“Why?”  His gaze tried to get past the wall she had built, but no one had ever made it through her fortress.
“Cause you like me too much.  I told you I’m not girlfriend material.”  She shook her head and continued deeper into the moving mass eyeing a tall ebony skinned frat brother with braids, but Tyson followed her.
“Who said I wanted a girlfriend?”
She rolled her eyes.  “The last time we fucked you said you wanted me to meet your mom.”
He twirled her around and pulled her hips to his.  Strong hands moved down to her ass as she gazed at his chocolate skin, bright smile, and long eyelashes.  A million girls would kill to be asked to meet his mom, but Samantha was an original.  Still, she had needs too.
She melted when he breathed the words to her.  “I don’t care about that anymore.  I just want you, Maggie.”
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you, Tyson.”
“I got you a present.”  He placed two pills with a sky blue peace sign stamped on them in her palm.  She swallowed them, knowing it was safe to take whatever he might give her, because she had researched him thoroughly before they hooked up a second time.  Tyson didn’t know that his father had an affair with their babysitter when he was nine, but Samantha did.
“You already rolling?”  Her hand brushed over his bald fade as she pulled him closer.
“I was waiting for you.” He swallowed in turn.

Upstairs, in his bedroom, he ran his finger along the side of her neck and it made her heart explode.  Tyson’s room matched every other in the large house: powder blue walls, flannel bed sheets, and a few posters of half naked models. With the ecstasy it didn’t matter where they where or what he did.  She wanted more.  Tyson pulled off her neon pink thermal shirt, tossed it on the floor next to her skirt, and asked for the millionth time.
“What’s your tattoo say?”  The letters floated in the air.  She could almost reach them as they passed by her head.
“If you keep asking questions I’m gonna leave, and fuck one of your brothers.”  She walked backwards, toward his bed, slowly taking off her bra.
The threat worked and he turned into the quiet yet attentive lover that she enjoyed.  She didn’t care about what he thought about anything, just that he always got her off.  He pulled off her leggings.  Samantha yanked his belt off, his pants fell to the floor, and he got on top of her.  Tyson was always gentle, as if she were made of glass, afraid to break her.  It was refreshing to be thought of as delicate, fragile even.
He ran his tongue along her ear.  “I want you all night, Maggie.”
Their lips met, and all her demons vanished.  She could forget about her father, Erebus eventually killing her, and Matthew.
The S.E.A.L. was so straight laced that she wanted to offer him drugs just so he would relax.  But, she couldn’t get him out of her head.  When she riffled through his house she had to stop herself from shoving her face into one of his shirts to smell his cologne.
Why am I even thinking about that uptight prick when I’m rolling?
Running her hands through his dark red hair, kissing his scarred mouth, the tenor of his voice saying her real name.  He wouldn’t be slow and deliberate, Matthew was the type to fuck in an elevator because he needed it, like her.  Imaging him shoving her against a wall, ripping off her clothes, his broad swimmers body against hers, pulling her hair, nails along his back.  With him she would stay until morning.  Maybe.
Matthew got Samantha there, while Tyson whispered sweet nothings to Maggie.

My favorite scene from ‘Everything That Counts’

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<At this moment in time, this is (in my eyes), the best scene I’ve written.>

Homeroom was the place where the last vestige of freedom a teenager held was stripped away.  Even the nurse was unavailable to me if I fell to the floor and had a seizure, unless I also had written authorization from a teacher to visit her.  But, I followed the rules, because that’s how I would get a scholarship.  Then I would appease my parents by attending GW, get my graduate degree from Berkley, and become an astrophysicist so I begin to grapple this word we call existence.
The stranger breezed into our class.  A waterfall of hair the color of spun gold hung over one shoulder, she had dark outlined eyes, jeans, and an orange sweater that, thankfully, looked as if it had been shrunk in the dryer.  Before she even spoke, I thought she was the most interesting girl at our high school once I saw the silver loop through her belly button.
Her voice was light as a hummingbird, “Hey, I’m Zoe Malone, is this the right home room?”
“Yes,” Mrs. Tanner straightened up in her dark pantsuit and took a slip of paper from the vixen’s hand.  “Where are you from Zoe?”
“Denver.”
“Welcome to Cape Saint Claire High School,”  The teacher’s eyes moved across the page.  “It looks like you have a few classes and lunch period with Blake Morgan.  You can sit next to him, and he can give you the grand tour throughout the day.”
My heart stopped.
Zoe turned to the class, “Umm, which one is he?”
“The one in the back, with the glasses.”  Mrs. Tanner pointed at me.
The new girl’s hips swayed as she walked to the back of the class.  The closer she got, the more my face burned.  I slouched in the chair as if preparing for impact.  The rest of our peers continued to talk, but the only matter in my universe was her.
“Hey,” The goddess sat down.
I tried to speak but instead started coughing, loudly.
“Are you ok?”  Her dark eyes wide.
“Yeah,”  I pounded on my chest, “All good.”
“I’m Zoe,” she giggled.  “But, I guess you already know that.”
I wanted to say that, I was indeed the infamous Blake Morgan, and it would be my pleasure to attend to her every need until the next Ice Age.  All that came out was, “Blake.”
“I like your hair.”
“You what?”
“Your hair, just makes me want to…”
And that’s when it happened.  Day became night, the sun went out, and black holes were no longer a mystery when she ran her hand through my hair.  Up until that point I was unaware that girls like Zoe would ever contemplate touching a loser like me, much less do it.  My confusion and excitement must have shown on my face when she pulled it away.
“Oh, sorry.  I’m just a hands-on kinda girl.”  She shrugged as if that made it OK to run your hands through a stranger’s hair.
Which it totally did.
“So what do you guys do for fun around here Blake?”  She twirled a lock of hair around her finger.
“You mean like, me and my friends?”
“Yeah.”
The truthful answer was: quiz each other for Academic Decathlon, play video games, watch horror movies, or simply study in the same room.  “We go to D.C. sometimes.”
“And do what?”
“Just you know, hang out.”  At the Smithsonian, I should have added.
“Isn’t the Naval Academy nearby?”
“Yeah.”  I almost dared to ask if she was aware that Annapolis was also the capital of Maryland.  But, she was beautiful, therefore I thought better of it.
“So, there’s like a bunch of hot guys there, right?”
“I don’t generally check out the Midshipmen, but my friend Sophie likes to go at the end of school for plebes-no-more.”
“For what?”
I pushed my glasses up my nose.  “The freshman, they call them plebes, and at the end of the year they have to traverse this pillar that’s over twenty feet high and pull a uniform dress hat off the top.”
“What’s so hard about that?”
“They grease it up, and tape down the hat with like, duct tape.”
Her eyes widened.  “What’s the point?”
I shrug.  “To not be called an underclassman.”
“And why does your friend Sophie like this?”
“You’d have to ask her, but she drags me there every year.”
“Will you take me this year?”
Her words did not make sense to me.  “What?”
“Would you take me to check out the Naval Academy?  You seem really nice and since we’ll see so much of each other I thought it would be fun.  I mean if later you think I’m a freak you can totally back out and I won’t hold it against you.  Or, whatever.”  She shrugged.
I don’t know if I said it because I wanted a change or, because I was completely enamored by this person.  “Yeah, sure, sounds great.”
The bell rang and I ushered her to the photography lab.

Pearls of Wisdom

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<A middle school teacher asked me to come up with something that would let her students know that a first draft is not a final draft.>

Writing is easy, right?  Wrong.

To prove my point think of the bestseller ‘The Fault In Our Stars’, it should be easy to write a teenage love story that connects with people of all ages, right?  Wrong.
John Green spent four hours every day writing, it took him three years to ‘complete’ it until he sent it into his publishing house.  Once they got a hold of it John Green spent another four years re-writing and approving edits before the tome was put on bookshelves and became an international sensation.
I began writing my first published short story ‘Blood On The Potomac’ when I was 28 (and that’s about how old you should be before you read it).  I spent at least an hour each day for two months writing, before I showed it to other writers, then I spent another month re-writing.  And it’s only seven pages long.  It wasn’t published until I was 29, because my editor had to review all the stories in the collection.

I must be a terrible writer, right?  Wrong.

I understand that my first draft is purely a stream of consciousness that no other human should read, because it’s not good enough, and I can do better.  I re-work every sentence before I show it to my writing buddies, they give me feedback, and I use a machete to cut out about half so I can start over.

But, only writers would spend so long on one manuscript, right?  Wrong.

Think of your favorite musician.  Do you think they only practiced each song once before they recorded it?  Does your favorite sports team only run a play once before the big game?  Do the actors in your favorite movie only do the scene once before it’s put into the film?  Would you trust your doctor if they’d only stitched up one person before they start on you?

No, you wouldn’t.
They review their work again, and again, and again, until their sick of whatever it is.  Then they do it again.

I have a friend who’s been a professional stand up comedian for over 20 years.  Granted he is hilarious off the cuff, but when he’s on stage, he’s told those jokes at least a hundred times in a hundred different places.  I don’t need to ask him why he seems so at ease because I know that he practices every day to protect his craft.
Even this took me three hours to write.  I started by just typing everything I thought, then I read over it and re-wrote it.  I took a break to get some perspective then looked over it again, because I have pride in what I do.

And if you don’t take any pride in your writing then at least take pride in your education.  You can’t get anywhere in life without it, and the knowledge that you have is something no one can ever take away from you so, hold it dear.

-Melissa Algood  2014