If you’re just arriving, you may want to start with the first chapter. Here is a table of contents:
I drove up the winding road to my little rustic bungalow in Juniper Woods. The windows were aglow with a warm, amber light. A shadow crossed behind the sheer curtain. Someone else was in the house.
Stewart. In all of this, I’d not given poor Stewart a second thought. I parked and got out of the car slowly, locking the doors with an audible beep halfway to the front porch. The porch light was already on; Stewart hadn’t left that to the motion sensor. Turning the key in the lock, I felt the knob turn harder from the other side and let the door slide open. Stewart smiled and took me in his arms. “Hi.”
The aroma of rosemary chicken reminded me that I hadn’t eaten lunch. It also gave me a little pang of guilt, another reminder of my thoughtlessness in failing to call Stewart, this afternoon, to say that I might be late. “Mmm. You smell good.”
“I smell like Scarborough Fair, and you look hungry.”
I inhaled. “Yep. Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme?” Stewart nodded happily. His hobby was cooking, and one of his favorite pastimes was to reinvent recipes he heard in lyrics, plays, and poems. He often had to fill in the blanks or guess at quantities, but he was a master chef and I loved coming home to a hot meal after a long day. “At the risk of sounding like some cliché heroine out of a bad novel, I’m famished. Thank you.”
How did I forget to think of Stewart, even once – fleetingly – during this bizarre day?
It was simple. Our romance had shifted, by imperceptible degrees, from tepid, gangly, awkward lovemaking to passionate friend-zone. It was comfortable, secure, and sexless. I realized, in that moment, just how much I’d come to rely on Stewart, even though I neither needed nor loved him in the way a man wants to be loved.
Why didn’t he seem to mind, more?
“I’ll just go wash up,” I said, setting a stack of student blue books on the hall table to be graded later.
Dinner was delicious. Stewart’s “Scarborough Fair Chicken” was beautifully complemented with fresh green beans from our little garden and homemade stuffing and gravy. Paired with a lovely Castello di Borghese sauvignon blanc, it was perfection after a day of work and dealing with lawyers and odd bequests. I began to think maybe I should just take the money and run.
“Janie…” Stewart spoke softly, seriously.
“Stewart, I’m sorry I didn’t call–“
“Oh, don’t worry about that,” he said, waving a hand and making me feel generally worse, not better, for his instant forgiveness – almost as if there had never been anything to forgive. “We do need to talk, though.”
“Sure.” I reached for the wine bottle and gave myself a generous pour. I held it up, one eyebrow cocked. Silently asking if he wanted me to do the same for him. He shook his head, no.
“I’ve found someone,” he said softly.
I wracked my brain, trying to remember who he’d lost. “Oh,” I said, stupidly, taking a large gulp of wine. “Who? I mean, when–how?”
Stewart looked down at his plate. Wow. That sounded insulting; the minute it left my lips, I wished I’d managed a more articulate way of saying, Oh, good God, it’s about time you found yourself a more attentive, loving, and possibly needy girlfriend. I’m not good at this, and this is what our relationship had been for a solid year or more. I wasn’t upset that he’d found someone. I was relieved.
Stewart choked back a gutteral sound. His shoulders quivered. “I’m sorry!” I blurted. “I didn’t mean that the way it sounded, Stewart. I meant ‘how did I not realize’ and ‘who is the lucky woman’?” I reached out to touch his face, but he looked up, eyes twinkling, and laughed out loud. Jesus, had I just been punked? “Janie, you are the most self-absorbed human being I have ever met, and I love you for it.”
I poured myself the last of the bottle. I didn’t bother trying to deny it, and that made Stewart chuckle even more.
“Well, I’m all ears, now,” I said, smiling back.
“HIS name is Devon.”
What the ever-loving bloody hell? “You’re leaving me for someone named Devon?” I stammered, as if the name was the thing–the straw that broke the camel’s back–never mind that Devon was a dude. I mean, Steve, John, Patrick, George – that would’ve been fine and dandy, right? But Devon? My jaw dropped as the initial shock wore off. Just how unobservant and self-absorbed does a woman have to be, for her boyfriend to leave her for a man and she’s surprised? I started to laugh. It began as a single, stifled giggle and burst forth as a snort before going full-blown guffaw. “I’m sorry, it’s just–you’re leaving me for a guy?”
“I’m not doing this to hurt you. I hope we can still be friends,” said Stewart, turned all serious again. Looking genuinely concerned for my feelings.
“I’ve been friend-zoned!” I cried. “Oh my God!” I laughed out loud, then, and so did he. This had to be the easiest, most ridiculous break-up in the history of break-ups. “You’re leaving me. For a guy. Named Devon. Have you always been–“
“I was going to say ‘prone to surprises,’ but sure. Gay.” It would explain a lot about our mutual contentment with being little more than besties and roommates over the past year.
“I think I should be insulted that you’re surprised,” Stewart said.
“Fair enough.” That was soberingly honest. I looked across the table at the man I considered to be my best friend, and asked, “Are you? Insulted, I mean.”
“Not really,” he admitted. “I’m kind of relieved. I didn’t want to have to replace your good China. After you threw it at me. Looks expensive.”
At that, I buried my face in my palms. He’d used the good China. The special occasion, only-trotted-out-at-Thanksgiving-and-Christmas China. And I hadn’t noticed. “It’s a hand-me-down,” I said with a shrug. Family heirloom just seemed too predictably snotty to throw out there at a time like this. I was striving for “magnanimous.” And to make amends for my self-absorbed thoughtlessness. I really did love Stewart, even if it wasn’t in the ways that he needed and longed to be loved. I loved him like a brother; despite my taking him for granted half the time, he really was the best friend I had in the world.
Stewart smirked. He knew me too well. The China had belonged to my Grandmother. I’d dropped a cup, not long ago – right after receiving the news that she’d been lost at sea – and I bawled like a baby. If I’d thrown a dinner plate at him, I’d have had to be livid. And if I’d lobbed a silver fork at him, I would not have missed his face at such close range. I was pretty sure, considering the bombshell he’d just dropped in my lap, that I would miss his face. I was already beginning to, a little. Living at Farnsworth Manor for a year might work out perfectly, after all.
“Stewart?” I said. “I have something to tell you, too.”
Photo credit: Jules
Live-blogging a novel is sort of the equivalent of karaoke for writers. Only the courageous, drunk, or daring ever try it. I’m not drunk.
I’m off to a late start on NaNoWriMo, but I have a renewed determination to catch up. Turns out, the pain is just a flare-up of the usual ridiculous radiculopathy. Adding oral steroids to the usual short-term cocktail of Celebrex and Flexeril seems to be doing the trick already. (Of course I only mention the drugs, here, to increase the search traffic and bump up the blog rank!)
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