The countdown has begun for the release of my second novel, “Popstars, Friends & Lovers: a dreamer’s tale. It’s the second book in the Burnouts series (with a third looking very likely). Popstars works as a stand alone, so you don’t have to read book 1, but it helps make the story richer.
So, for anyone who may have been thinking about reading Burnouts book one but hasn’t started yet, I’m putting the first chapter here, on my blog, today. I will post chapter two next week and chapter three the week after that. This will give you a sample of my writing and hopefully help you decide that you want to read my work.
*Note* My writing is for ages 17 and older. There is cursing and sexual content (but no violence. I don’t do violence.) It isn’t erotica, the story is not based on sex, it’s a love story that contains a sexual element. So, without further ado, may I present chapter 1 from Burnouts, Geeks & Jesus Freaks: a love story.
Carrie twisted the knife in her hand and took another swipe at it. Maybe if she used a lighter touch with her swirly strokes she could bury the crumbs that had pulled off the cake and worked their way to the surface. She looked again at the photo of the Yellow Butter Cake with Chocolate Frosting and her heart sank more. Martha Stewart’s cake was tall, and straight, and perfect. The stunning guests at her perfect party would love it. Carrie’s cake was lopsided, had crumbs, and there was really no one to eat it.
Her bottom lip started to tremble again. She swallowed down the lump in her throat and breathed deep ‘til she could will back the sting of tears wanting to form. She was not going to let her win this time. This was her god-damned 16th birthday, and her mother was not going to take this one from her too. She leaned over the counter and put her head on the cold granite and worked to steady her breathing, listening hard for sounds from her parents’ bedroom. None. She had no idea what her mother did when she locked herself in there. Maybe wait for someone to break down the door so she could continue her show. Well, good luck with that, lady. No one here but you and me, and I’m not playing your game. She listened for sounds from her brother’s room. None. Christopher must still be napping.
Carrie pushed the plate holding the slightly-lopsided yellow butter cake with crumbly-chocolate frosting to the center of the kitchen island and rested her head on her stacked fists to study it. Why had she made it? Did she really hold out hope that this would be the year that her Dad remembered her birthday, and he would come home to have cake with her? She huffed and shook her head at that ridiculous idea. So, why take almost four hours to make a whole cake from scratch for just her, her mom and two-year old Christopher? ‘Cause someone had to do it. Just because she lived in the house of crazy didn’t mean she didn’t get a birthday. If her parents couldn’t get it together to have one for her, she’d just do it herself.
As she stared at the cake, thinking how much she didn’t want to eat it after all that batter-bowl licking and icing tasting, she noticed a steady pop, pop, pop, swish sound from outside. Usually Ben shooting hoops in his driveway drove her nuts, but tonight the steady cadence was soothing. Always three dribbles, pop, pop, pop, then he would shoot, swoosh. Never four dribbles, never two, always three. Sooo Ben. Carrie rolled her eyes, but listened again, sure enough, pop, pop, pop, swoosh. Predictable Ben, boring Ben, irritating Ben … but, usually hungry Ben. Last summer, while he was away at camp, Ben had grown really tall. He was a total bean-pole, over 6-feet tall, and all gangly arms and legs. Now he looked like a cross between Dennis the Menace and the Jolly Green Giant, but he could eat a lot of cake.
Carrie silently opened the door to her brother’s room. Christopher was still sound asleep, sprawled sideways across his big-boy bed, held in place by the safety railing. He had been sleeping almost two hours. That was a long afternoon nap for him. Probably a growth spurt going on there too. Maybe he and Ben could make a dent in the cake together.
Pop, pop, pop, swoosh. Ben didn’t stop shooting when he noticed her. She scanned her memory for the last time she talked to him. Had she pissed him off? It had been so long, she couldn’t remember. They went to the same school, were in the same grade, and usually sat by each other when they had class together because their last names were close in the alphabet, but their high school lives were worlds apart.
He was wearing one of the ugly ‘Class of ‘99’ tee shirts they had been selling at school. Carrie made a mental note to talk to him about how un-masculine the purple tie dye looked.
She stood on the edge of the driveway waiting to be noticed, careful not to get in his way. Pop, pop, pop, swoosh. He was definitely ignoring her. Shit. She wished she could remember what he could be mad about. The problem was that it was so easy to make him mad. They had so many fights and make-ups over the years, it was just one big blur to her now.
She finally called out to him, “hey.” Pop, pop, pop, swoosh. She considered just going back to her house, but years of experience had taught her that one apology would put her back in Ben’s good graces. As soon as she was the one to admit fault, they were good again.
“Sorry.” She wasn’t sure what for.
Ben stopped between rounds and finally looked at her, “what for?”
Did he actually expect her to remember? She was sure he remembered. You would think he could use his Mensa brain for something other than remembering every little thing she did wrong.
“I’m sorry I made you mad.” That should cover a lot of territory.
Ben started his dribble pattern again and turned away from her but not before she saw his smile. He wasn’t really mad, he was just giving her a hard time. OK, that was kind of funny. She needed that today.
“Want some cake?”
“Sure,” He paused to consider the offer, “why?”
“’Cause I made a whole cake, and there is no one to eat it but Two-fer and me.” Ben had started calling Christopher ‘Chris-two-fer’ on his last birthday, which was now shortened to just Two-fer.
“You made a cake for no reason?”
She wasn’t about to tell him about her birthday. She didn’t need a pity party. “Yeah, I saw it in a magazine, and I just felt like making it.”
Ben set his basketball in the grass on the side of the driveway where it couldn’t roll away. He took care of his stuff like that. Carrie was sure it was the same basketball she had given him for his birthday when he turned 8. Back then they were always invited to each other’s parties.
Ben sat on one of the tall stools at the kitchen island, near the cake. “Yellow cake?”
“My favorite.” Ben pulled the whole cake in front of him and perched a fork over it.
Carrie pulled it back to her, “my favorite.” She cut a large slice for Ben and tried to lift it on to a plate. The icing-heavy top tumbled on the counter, and the soft cake broke apart over the side of the plate. Her mother’s voice in her head admonished her; wrong knife. Why didn’t you use a cake knife? Oh my God, Carrie, what a huge mess. Ben won’t want that piece of cake. It’s ruined. She was staring at the mess, drifting into morose, when a large hand with long fingers scooped the cake off the counter and onto the plate. Ben was standing behind her, using his fingers to scrape the rest of the icing off the counter. He returned to his stool while licking the icing from his fingers.
Carrie noticed his warmth leave her back. It had felt nice. She wanted it back. She took a breath and shook her head. She must be really strung out from her shitty day. This was Ben. Sure he was taller than her for the first time in their lives, but he was still Ben. He was her geeky neighbor who always talked too much about the Army and had to dribble the basketball three times before he could shoot it. She cautiously looked up, hoping her weakened brain would only see Ben the geek. Sure enough, he had put a blob of chocolate icing on his nose to make her laugh. Carrie rolled her eyes but felt better seeing the Ben she knew, her sort-of, sometimes friend. Ben saw she was staring and crossed his eyes to see the icing on his nose. Dorky or not, he was funny; Carrie smiled, but only briefly.
“So what’s up with you? Why are you so …” You could see Ben’s quick thought process in his eyes as he found his answer even before he finished the question. “Oh,” he said quietly as he looked down at the cake. He figured it out. “It’s your birthday.”
Ouch. It felt like a punch to her gut. It was one thing to know it, another to hear it out loud, from someone else. Carrie looked down at the icing still stuck to the counter and started picking at it with her finger.
“Where’s your mom?” He knew better than to ask where her dad was.
Carrie looked over at the closed door to her parent’s room. Ben’s eyes followed hers and he asked, “Is she OK?”
There was no need to try to pretend with Ben. He had already seen her mom go all bat-shit crazy over little stuff through the years. She could only keep up the façade for so long, and Ben had been around too long. “She’s pissed at me.”
“On your birthday? What did you do?”
“I made a cake.” Carrie laughed softly at the absurdity of the statement. “She came home from the store with a cake mix, and I was already making this cake. She threw the cake mix at me and said I hate her and I hate her cakes and I’m ungrateful and, I don’t know … stuff like that.”
Ben looked over at the bedroom door again like he was assessing the odds of her coming out. “Did you know she was planning to make a cake?”
Carrie sat down on a stool and continued picking at the icing. “I never know what she is going to do.”
Carrie and Ben both jumped a little when they heard door hinges squeak in the hallway near the bedrooms. Christopher was standing in his doorway, still dazed from his long nap. He stared at Ben, then lit up and smiled like Santa Claus had come. Ben scooped his little buddy up then planted him on his lap in front of the glob of cake and icing he had been eating. Christopher settled his drowsy head onto Ben’s chest as his short arm stretched to reach Ben’s shoulder. He said, “cate,” and Carrie was glad that at least he recognized what was on the plate.
Carrie made a sippy cup of milk while Ben fed Two-fer bites of cake and icing from his fork. When she put the cup down on the counter Ben held the fork away from Christopher’s mouth, “what do you say to your sister?”
Sometimes Ben was such an old man. Not only did he always follow rules, he made others follow them too. The lost look on Christopher’s face assured her that Ben had not passed on this geeky trait to Christopher yet. Ben leaned down and prompted, “thank you.” Christopher mimicked, “taint tu,” and smiled up at Carrie for her approval. Geeky or not, it was cute.
Carrie sat down with a fork and dug into the rest of the cake. She looked up into Ben’s disapproving eyes. “Wha?” she said through her mouthful, “it’s not like anyone else is going to eat it.” She shoved another forkful in to spite him, then chewed with a smile on her face, her cheeks full.
“So where is MG?” Ben was referring to her best friend who was grounded, at least for today.
Carrie thought about answering him and letting the cake fall out of her mouth, but she was enjoying his company and didn’t want to razz him too much. She held up a finger till she swallowed then said, “grounded.”
“She got caught going out with a 22-year old guy.” Ben didn’t need that information, but it was always fun to shock him a little. Carrie’s own sometimes boyfriend, Chuck, was 21; another fact that Ben would, no doubt, not approve of. But Ben didn’t seem fazed, or really interested. Why did she always feel the need to press his buttons? Because you are a mean girl, her mother’s voice in her head chimed in.
Carrie put down her fork as she felt the storm clouds of guilt rain on her little birthday parade. Focus on the other person, don’t always talk about you, said the mom-tape running in her head. “So, are you still going out with Joelle?” Carrie knew he was. Ben and Joelle always walked around school holding hands. Joelle proudly displaying her purity ring between their clenched fingers. People in Carrie’s group, the druggies, would gag and make retching noises when they walked by.
His answer was a strangely weak, “yeah.”
“Nothing.” Ben filled his mouth with cake so he wouldn’t have to talk then focused on giving Christopher another bite. Carrie kept watching him, looking for more details than his lukewarm answer. Finally after swallowing Ben said, “You don’t like her much, do you?”
Carrie wondered if her feelings about Joelle showed on her face. She hoped they didn’t because she was going to lie to be nice to Ben, “She’s alright,” she said with a shrug. Ben wasn’t buying it. “OK, no, I don’t like her much, but I think the feeling is mutual.”
That seemed to get his attention, “What are you talking about?” You could hear his shock that Joelle Welker, purity ring-wearing President of the Right to Life club and outspoken Christian would have anything bad to say about anyone. Carrie knew better.
“She talks about us, about me, and MG.”Carrie paused to read his reaction, so far neutral. “More than once I overheard her and her friends calling us whores. She calls my friends drug-addicts.”
Ben raised his eyebrows, “Aren’t they?”
Now it was Carrie’s turn to get defensive. “Some of them do drugs, but not all. Most just dress different, ‘cause they’re creative. So people judge them, people like Joelle.”
Ben carried Christopher into the living room and dropped him on the couch. Two-fer giggled. Ben picked up the remote and turned the TV to cartoons, distracting him from their conversation. “Is that why you hang around with them?” he asked as he walked back into the kitchen, “because you’re creative?”
“Yeah, I guess so, and they’re nice. They don’t judge.” She raised her eyebrows, challenging him.
“You’re kidding, right?” Carrie knew he was referring to them gagging when Ben and Joelle walked by.
“They only give it back to those who dish it out.”
Silence. Damn it. They were getting along ‘til she had to bring up this mine-field of a topic.
“Do you want some more cake?” Christopher popped up and looked over the back of the couch, “cate?” They both laughed.
“Not you Two-fer. I asked Ben if he wanted more because some little monster ate all his cake.” Christopher laughed and said, “meee.” Then he turned and plopped back down to watch TV. The uncomfortable tension between Ben and Carrie was still there.
Ben picked up his plate and fork, took them to the sink and rinsed them off. Carrie was surprised he didn’t load them in the dishwasher. “Thanks for the cake. It was really good.” He walked over and stood directly in front of her, crowding her space. “I’m sorry I forgot your birthday,” he almost whispered.
Carrie backed up into the counter. She didn’t want him to be nice, it was too real, too honest, too much. Joking and teasing she could take, distance was good too. “Why would you remember my birthday?” she smirked. She was too raw for this today.
“Because I went to every one of your parties since we were 6,” he said as if he was pointing out the obvious. Ben was looking down at her, studying her.
“What?” she said, exasperated and irritated by his scrutiny. There was pity in his eyes, and it was rattling her cage.
“Was this your only party? For your sweet 16?”
Oh, a swift kick to the heart. She couldn’t let him see how much it all hurt. “Yeah, well, I’m not so sweet.” She tried to diffuse the tension.
Ben was standing over her, trying to look into her eyes, like he had something important to tell her, something he wanted to make sure she heard. “You deserve better than this.”
Shit he was direct. That last hit was her undoing. A tear she fought all afternoon while she made her cake ran down her cheek. She looked away from him and tried to turn away in the small space between two stools, the counter, and Ben.
But he didn’t move. He stayed in her space, blocking her in, witnessing her humiliation. Carrie worked to shut down her pain and turn it into anger. She was about to shove Ben out of the way or say something rude when he crushed her thin defense. He reached out and hugged her.
“I’m sorry.” He spoke quietly into her hair. “I just say stuff. I think just because it’s true, I should say it.”
Carrie’s body tensed. Her brain spun trying to make sense, trying to process, trying to find a reference for his comfort. She felt a small warm spot in the pit of her stomach, and it felt amazingly good and god-awful strange at the same time. She tentatively bent her arms and touched his waist.
“I’m sorry I made you cry.” He said over the top of her head.
Carrie tried to respond but couldn’t talk past the ball of emotion caught in her throat. She was about to tease him about wanting to hug her because that’s all he and Joelle did, but she fought the urge to make him angry. It felt too good. He was tall, and warm; there was so much Ben surrounding her. And his jacket smelled like fresh air and laundry detergent and fabric softener. She felt the lump in her throat melt and the breath it had been blocking all day eased out of her.
“Ben?” her mother’s voice was raspy from crying and registered shock at him being there or them hugging, she wasn’t sure which.
Carrie jumped and pulled quickly away from Ben, but he did not back away. Still standing too close he said, “Mrs. Gould,” acknowledging her in a strangely confrontational tone from over Carrie’s head.
Lana Gould ignored the hug and Ben’s tone and went into hostess auto-pilot. Spotting Carrie’s cake on the table she started opening drawers and cabinets, gathering the proper serving supplies. “Did Carrie offer you any cake?” Ben was about to answer when he and Carrie turned toward her to see her look of disgust. “Carrie, did you eat off the cake?” she questioned with controlled anger. The tension in the room spiked.
Without answering Carrie took her fork off the counter and pushed past Ben to rinse it off. Lana spun in a slow circle, following Carrie’s path, berating her as much as she dared with Ben present. “That is disgusting, Carrie. Why would you do such a thing?” She turned her attention back to the cake and didn’t wait for Carrie to answer. “Well, we’ll just have to pitch the whole thing now. What a waste.” She picked up the cake and dramatically dropped it in the trash can. Her last sentence was punctuated by the metal clank of the trash can lid closing.
Carrie spun around, dropping her fork in the sink. Her shock at seeing the blank space on the counter only registered for a moment, her anger for a flash after that. She sucked in a calming breath, shot Ben a look of apology and walked toward the stairs to her room, her face defiantly blank.
Lana watched her leave, then turned to face Ben. “I’m sorry, Ben, she’s rude like that now.” She turned to the sink to finish rinsing off Carrie’s fork. “I think her friends are a bad influence on her.” She placed Carrie’s fork in the dishwasher along with Ben’s plate and fork, clearly not needing Ben’s input in the conversation. Lana noticed the knife still on the counter, as she reached for it she acknowledged Ben again. “You know MG, don’t you?” she turned to rinse the knife. “What do you think of her?”
Ben hesitated while he tried to decide if he was going to be given time to answer. “I, uh, I really don’t know her very well.”
Not acknowledging his answer she continued talking as she sprayed cleanser and wiped the counter, “Have you seen the way she dresses? And her mother?” Lana rolled her eyes. “She’s divorced, you know.”
Not wanting to get sucked into the conversation, Ben bent over the back of the couch and picked up a very quiet Christopher who turned and buried his head in Ben’s neck. “Gotta go, bud,” Ben said into his hair. Two-fer clung tighter, “wat wif me,” he pleaded.
“Can’t watch TV today. We’ll play basketball tomorrow, OK?” Two-fer nodded then slid down Ben’s chest and landed on the sofa with a bounce.
Lana resumed their conversation, following Ben through the kitchen to the back door. “I haven’t seen your mother at the Ladies Sodality in a while.”
Ben debated his reply. Surely Lana remembered that his parents were divorced now. It was gossips like Lana who made his mom avoid the meetings. “She’s just really busy, I guess,” he blurted out as he reached for the door handle. But before he escaped home he couldn’t resist one parting shot, “thank you for the cake, ma’am. It was fantastic.” Then he shut the door behind him before she had a chance to respond.