As promised to my email list subscribers, here is a sneak peek at Chapter One of my newest work-in-progress, called “Definitely, Maybe”. Please keep in mind I have not settled on all of the character names just yet, therefore you will see John Doe listed. Also, this is a very rough draft and has not yet been edited for spelling, punctuation or grammatical error. As always, I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments, or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Enjoy!
Doesn’t anyone believe in casual sex anymore?
John rubbed the stubble along his jaw as he pondered this thought, his fingers pausing at his chin as he stared out the office window across the gray Portland skyline. The mid-November rain covered the city almost non-stop now, and the dreary day only added to his foul mood.
Where were all the women he dated in college, women that wanted the same thing he did: sex with a stranger, no strings attached. What had changed over the last eight years?
What had changed, he told himself, was that many of those women had husbands now; some even had families.
John turned from the window and sat down at his desk with an exasperated sigh. Reclining against the supple black leather chair, he pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes and tried to block out the look on Melanie’s face as he’d helped her into a cab this morning.
She’d wanted to linger in bed. He could tell she wanted to cuddle or snuggle — the words alone made his skin crawl — or, God forbid, she would bring food and coffee in and laze around, spilling crumbs all over his 600-thread count sheets. No, it was better this way. No strings. No encumbrances. No problems. The last thing he needed, or even wanted, was some lovesick woman looking for anything more than a one, or two-night stand. He liked things simple and straightforward. Just two, healthy, consenting adults enjoying a Saturday evening dinner, a few glasses of outstanding Syrah, and a night of passionate sex. What was so difficult about that?
John removed his hands from his face and blinked. That part he would miss. Melanie was fantastic in bed.
He inhaled deeply and sat up straight, leaning forward toward his laptop. He logged in to the inter-office network and sent a note to his secretary, Jessica, giving her instructions to send the standard bouquet of English roses, and short note to Melanie. He double checked her name and address in his contacts and copied it into the email, clicking send without any further explanation. He wondered at times what Jessica thought of his recurring flower deliveries, but he knew she was too professional to ask, and was astute enough to know he’d fire her on the spot if she ever tried. He liked Jessica. She never asked personal questions, she was prompt, efficient, and most importantly, unattractive. She was the perfect secretary, and he hoped she’d never leave. Lord knows he paid her well enough to stay.
John closed the network and glanced at the neatly stacked pile of mail next to his laptop. See? This is exactly what he meant: here it was Saturday morning and Jessica had made arrangements for his weekend mail to be delivered to his office and placed neatly on his desk; letters and catalogs all arranged in a perfect, rectangular stack, with his monogrammed, sterling sliver letter opener lying exactly perpendicular to the mail. This small act of organization made the corner of John’s mouth lift. He appreciated a sense of order and respected like-minded people, especially employees.
As he reached for the stack, he considered the idea of giving Jessica a larger-than-expected Christmas bonus. The holiday was only a month away, after all, and she had definitely earned it. He picked up the pile and tossed the extra-thick Christmas catalogs into the bin, sorted through the junk mail — a flyer advertising a furniture sale at a store he’d never heard of, and an offer for higher-speed internet service — and dealt with the client payment envelopes. As he held the diminishing pile in his hands, a thick, ivory envelope slowly slid out and dropped onto the desk. John held the textured piece in his fingertips and stared at the return address: Mr. and Mrs. Hugh Smith. It was obviously a wedding invitation, and the familiar, unusual last name made John’s stomach turn to water.
It had be Amber’s family. Amber was getting married.
He sat back against his chair, holding the envelope and swiveled to glance out at the traffic crossing the Freemont Bridge. Although the sky was cloudy and dark, the skyscrapers and the bridges still looked attractive, if not somewhat mysterious, to John, and he admired the architecture and the environment. Portland, Oregon: The City of Bridges. The City of Roses. The Pacific Northwest. Known by so many different monikers, John knew it would be difficult to leave this busy, strange city for cold, damp London. But, as he shook his head and glanced back at the envelope in his hands, he knew he was ready to move on. He was wired for business and making money, not settling down and making himself a husband.
He let the envelope fall to his lap as his thoughts drifted back to the time he first met Amber.
John and his roommate Robert had graduated nearly eight years ago from University of Portland. Robert’s parents had flown in from Idaho to see their son matriculate, and John remembered, with a twinge of jealousy, how much work they’d gone to to make the trip, and how immensely proud they were of Robert.
He smiled as he thought of the late nights with Robert, stumbling out of dark bars and into taxis just as the sun warmed the skyline behind Mt. Hood. The two young men climbing the wide front porch steps to their shared Victorian home off of Burnside, only to catch a few hours’ sleep before groggily waking up for classes.
That life seemed like someone else’s now.
They had few cares back then, and even fewer responsibilities. Life consisted of waking up late, biking to class, putting in a few hours at their respective shitty jobs, and then hitting the clubs to prowl for women. It wasn’t a rare occurrence that John would wake in the middle of the night to the sound of rapturous moaning in the room across the hall, or pad out into the kitchen for a late night beer, only to find Robert; a woman in his arms and his tongue in her mouth, sprawled across the living room sofa.
He was no monk himself, and although he tried to be a little more discreet than Robert, he’d had his fair share of loud bed springs and demands to keep it down hollered across the hallway, as well.
John shook his head and chuckled as he thought about how carefree life was back then. How very little either of them had to really worry about, and how much life changed when Amber arrived in his life.
The first time John and Robert saw Amber, she was sitting in the bar of a swanky restaurant, thirty floors above the city. The men were there to partake in the city’s best happy hour menu, and John noticed her immediately. Amber was sitting against a red velour sofa next to an overweight, slightly balding man in a suit that looked to be two sizes too small. At first glance, John assumed she was only conversing with the man while waiting for someone else, but as they neared the bar, John realized she was actually with him, watching in surprise as the man casually reached over and laid his hand on her knee.
As John placed his martini order, he watched the fat man began to rub his thumb in small circles on Amber’s leg, inching his fingers higher, and he immediately assumed she was a prostitute, albeit the best looking hooker he’d ever seen. His interest piqued, he continued to observe the interaction intently. John realized there was something about the way her eyes didn’t quite meet the man’s, or maybe it was the way her smile stopped short, that made him think all was not alright.
She looked uncomfortable, and this made John stop and pay attention.
“Hey! Did you hear me, man?” Robert interrupted. “Are you even listening?”
John snapped out of his trance and turned his attention, momentarily, to his friend.
“Sorry, what did you say?” John said. But a moment later he’d returned his gaze to the woman.
At that moment, Amber suddenly grabbed her cocktail glass, took a slow, seductive sip of the alcohol, and then abruptly threw the contents (nearly half a glass, John would remember later), into the face and upper chest of her date.
“Holy shit! Did you see that?” John exclaimed.
“What I’m seeing is a beautiful scene right in front of me. Look at them!” Robert said, swatting John’s bicep with the back of his hand. “I think these two are giving us the go-ahead.”
Confused, John followed Robert’s gaze to two women across the bar. A blonde and a brunette sat on tall bar stools, both swirling their striped straws around the inside of their cocktail glasses. When she made eye contact, John swallowed hard as the brunette slid her tongue out of her mouth and licked the rim of her glass, never breaking eye contact with him.
Robert could barely contain himself and elbowed John hard.
“Sweet Jesus! Did you see that?” Robert asked, his voice rising several octaves.
But John wasn’t nearly as interested in the brunette as he was the woman in the red dress, who was now standing up and walking away from her obese date. He watched as Amber strode across the bar, her long blonde curls sliding across the tops of her shoulders as she wove in between chairs and tables.
John was speechless.
But her date was not. And a moment later the bar noise came to a sudden stop as the fat man bellowed obscenities at her from across the room. Amber stopped mid-step and froze. She slowly looked around the room at each customer and smirked, before turning on her heel and gliding back to her date. By this time the man had gathered himself up from his seat on the couch, crossed his arms as well as possible across his enormous chest, and nodded his head at her.
“Yeah, that’s right. You heard me,” he sneered.
John watched as Amber lengthened her stride, and reached the man in four steps. Just as he opened his mouth to speak again, she drew her hand back and slapped him succinctly across the face. The loud thwack seemed to reverberate through the bar as the rest of the patrons mumbled and gasped.
“Call security,” an employee shouted from the back of the room.
“No need,” Amber replied, her voice as smooth as silk. “I’m finished here.” And she turned and headed toward the corridor of elevators.
He couldn’t help himself. John threw a few bills on the bar and hurried toward the elevators, following Amber into the first one available. By the 15th floor he had her name. When they reached the ground floor, he had her number, and within 24 hours he was walking next to her as they strolled the colorful hallways of the Portland Art Museum — a perfect Saturday afternoon first date. Afterward, they took a cab for ice cream and then stayed up all night making out in his room. She tasted of caramel and peaches and a sweet saltiness that caused his blood pressure to rise. She drove him crazy with her mouth and it was all he could do to not rip her clothes off right then and there.
By the end of the week she was in his bed, and by the end of the month he was in love. Hard love. Love like he had never experienced before. Love that scared him.
Love that blinded him.
Three months after they started dating, Amber stopped returning his calls. A normally calm, cool and collected John found himself at her apartment, disheveled and irrational, pounding on her door begging her to let him in and explain to him what went wrong. Neighbors finally threatened to call the police if he didn’t leave.
He slept in his car in her parking lot, waiting for her to come home. He stopped shaving, stopped caring about his classes, and missed a week straight of work. His boss threatened to fire him and his advisor warned he wouldn’t graduate unless he pulled his act together.
It was Robert who finally sat down with him one night and told him the hard truth: she was gone, and she wasn’t coming back. And there really wasn’t anything John could do about it, except get his life back together, buckle down in school, and start living like a human again.
From that moment on, John developed the thick skin that helped drive him to the top. He kept women at arm’s length and focused solely on his classes and building the business that would make him independently wealthy by age 29. He dated again, of course. But only for sex. He developed his own dating rules: no matter how great she was in bed, after a weekend together, she was history. Period. Don’t get attached and don’t be fooled. After all, a cold heart was better than a broken one.
And he’d done a pretty good job of living according to those stipulations so far. He’d graduated at the top of his class from University of Portland with undergrad in Business Administration, and continued on to earn his MBA with a focus in Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management. It was an impressive resume that he never needed to flash. He had job offers from firms in Portland, Spokane, and Seattle before he even accepted his diploma, and had made enough money in his first two years out of school that he was now debt-free. After all, John single-handedly built his company from the ground up. He was wealthy, intelligent, and admired. And he knew it.
He enjoyed his life. He enjoyed his business and the freedom his money gave him. And most of all, he enjoyed the massive brick wall he had built around himself. He didn’t try and deny it. He embraced the wall, and the wall embraced him.
Life was exactly the way he wanted it.
So it came as a tremendous shock when he slid his letter opener under the oversize flap of the envelope, withdrew the elaborate wedding invitation and read the sleek embossed words:
Mr. and Mrs. Hugh Smith
are pleased to announce the marriage
of their daughter
Amber Lynn Smith
Mr. Robert Richard Keller
Saturday, December 16, 2018
Silcox Hut – Historic Timberline Lodge
Government Camp, Oregon 97701
Reception to follow
John lurched forward in his chair and studied the invitation again. He could feel his eyebrows pulling together as he turned it over in his hand, examining the backside as if there might be evidence of a cruel joke written there.
“What the hell?” he said, quietly. A small tremor of panic rose in his chest and he inhaled sharply.
He read the words again, this time slower, and his eyes lingered on their names.
Amber and Robert.
His college roommate and the woman that broke his heart.
He whispered their names and swallowed hard, his mouth suddenly dry.
“What in the fucking hell!” he yelled, his voice echoing off the floor-to-ceiling windows in his spacious office.
A moment later his door burst open.
“Mr. Doe?” Jessica said, a look of bewilderment across her face.
She hadn’t planned on coming in on Saturday, and was now wondering why her normally quiet, and collected employer, was sweeping the entire top of his desk onto the floor. Pewter picture frames crashed to the ground as the glass shattered and splintered from the impact. His laptop bounced across the carpet as the screen folded backwards at such an angle that Jessica knew it was irreparable.
Holding her hand over her mouth, Jessica’s widened eyes noticed movement in the space above John’s reddened and furious face. As she looked closer, she realized what it was: tiny pieces of ivory paper twisted, spun, and spiraled down, down, down before finally coming to rest like a miniature snow storm across the pattered wool carpet in the plush office of John Doe.
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