Tag Archives: romance

Careful: A Love Story for the Middle-Aged

We were getting old.

It struck me rather abruptly one day late in autumn when Michael called to tell me he wouldn’t be coming by as he usually did after work on Fridays because he’d thrown his back out.

“I can come out to your place if you want,” I’d volunteered bravely. It was nearly a two-hour train ride out to his house in the suburbs.

“Thanks, but that’s okay, Kate,” he’d assured me, a trace of his customary good humor shining through his sullenness. “I can’t really do much anyway. Just lie around all day…” he grumbled, in a tone that suggested that he found his infirmity personally insulting.

I knew how he felt. Every year, it seemed, some new aspect of my body threatened to fail. Often I found myself longing for the days when the only effects of aging that I fretted over were my graying hair and wrinkling skin. You don’t worry so much about little things like your appearance when you’re hobbling because some vital body part has stopped working again.

It was unfortunate I’d found him so late, I reflected the following week as I tidied up the tiny studio in which I lived and worked, crammed tight with a queen-sized bed and a king-sized desk and not much else. The apartment of a person who didn’t often entertain visitors; who until recently had expected to spend her middle age alone. A woman who, at forty-five, nonetheless caught herself giggling like a schoolgirl knowing that he would soon be there. Who, anticipating his pending presence, for a multitude of marvelous moments, still felt young.

I smiled. The frenzied desperation of our lovemaking rivaled that of any teenager. We always hurried into it, as if aware that our youth was failing, that soon we might lose either the desire or the ability to make it happen. As if it were the most important thing in the world to get done before we were incapable of doing it anymore.

A rough thumping noise leaked in from the hallway and I leapt clumsily across the room, landing precariously at my doorstep on one trembling foot like an uncoordinated kid on a hopscotch board. Breathlessly I yanked at the door and threw it open as wide as the arms with which I intended to greet him. He entered cautiously, holding his body stiffly upright. I’d been prepared to spring as soon as he knocked, but seeing him still hunched painfully over, I caught myself; patted him gently on the shoulder instead.

“Hmph!” he grunted irritably. “You don’t have to treat me like an old man!”

“Then you should stop acting like one!” I joked, kissing him wetly on the cheek.

“Says Miss, ehhhh! My knee! And ehhhh! My hip!” he retorted pointedly.

That was the noise I made when my joints hurt. I was making it pretty often these days. On bad days I wondered how old people ever even did it. Sometimes walking seemed like too much effort, let alone all the aerobicized contortionism that went with sex.

“Yeah, yeah,” I said sarcastically. “I’ll still never be as old as you, so there!” He had me beat by six months, a fact I delightedly refused to ever let him forget. Playfully I stuck my tongue out at him. He stuck his out back, so I licked it and we both laughed.

“Can I get you a beer?” I offered.

“Oh, god, yes.”

I went into the kitchenette, fetched a bottle from the fridge, and divided it between two glasses, humming some stupid romantic ditty softly to myself and grinning at my own cheerful idiocy. Broken or not, I was happy to see him.

He had sat down on the edge of the bed. I handed him his beer and he took it, downing half of it in one draught. He still seemed to be in pain. I fondled the back of his neck sympathetically, my fingers tingling over the swath of razor-trimmed bristles lining the base of his skull.

“When did you buy the sofa?” he inquired abruptly, taking in the contents of my small apartment with half a glance. I had by undaunted effort and ruthless rearrangement carved out space for a loveseat off in one corner of the main room.

“Someone who was moving out left it behind, so I grabbed it,” I responded, perhaps a little too quickly. It was only partially a lie. I had only paid fifty dollars for it, and the man who was vacating had helped me angle it awkwardly up the stairs.

“And the new bed? Did someone leave that behind, too?” he queried suspiciously, his brow creasing into a multi-layered frown as he sampled the cushiness of our new sleeping arrangement with his one free hand.

“No, I bought that,” I confessed, blanching slightly under his piercing gaze.

“How come?” he demanded, shooting the question at me as if I were a suspect under police interrogation and causing me to glance guiltily away.

“Oh, I just thought it was time we lived like grownups,” I answered vaguely. “The futon was so low to the ground, you know? Made it hard to sit and get dressed.” I’d noticed him having trouble with shoes sometimes. I wasn’t sure if it was due to stiffness in his spine, the effort required to bend around his growing gut, or the combination of both.

“What you mean to say,” he pronounced with an aura of mature dignity, “Is that you thought that after my back’s been out, I might not be able to get up and down off a short bed anymore, isn’t that right?”

“Huh,” I said, extremely impressed by his perceptiveness. I didn’t see any way I was going to win this argument. But I had to think for a second before rejoindering excitedly, “Wait until you see how I fixed the toilet!”

He looked horrified; began struggling to get up. “Kidding! Kidding!” I said, forcing him back down onto the bed with all of the strength it would have required to subdue a newborn kitten.

“You should be nicer to your elders,” he said, wincing.

“I am nice.” I took his glass from his hand and set it on the nightstand, then pushed him gently on the chest while supporting him by the shoulders until he was prone on his back on the bed. I lay down beside him and fondled his arm. It seemed the safest place to touch him.

“Listen, Kate,” he said. “All joking aside, I’m not really sure I’m up to – stuff – today.”

“Then why did you come over?” I kidded.

“Because it’s Friday, of course,” he answered smoothly.

“Just part of the routine, eh?”

“That’s right.” But his eyes twinkled when he said it, and I twinkled to see it.

“You’d better watch it, sweetie,” I teased, poking him playfully in the ribs. “I might start to think you actually like me.”

“I do like you.”

“Well, in case you’re interested, I like you, too,” I answered, nodding my head in affirmation.

“That’s good.”

“I think so.”

“Well, all right then.”

We smiled shyly at each other. I got up to get us another beer. When I returned he was still lying in the same position, as wretched as a sickly old dog and twice as pitiful.

I set our beers down and snuggled up beside him on the bed, placing my hand softly on his chest.

“It’s getting late… Would you like to just go to sleep now?” I said kindly, realizing with a start that this would be the first time we’d gone to bed together without having sex and that I wasn’t really all that bothered by it.

“I’m sorry… I guess I’m not very good company tonight.”

“I’m glad you’re here,” I reassured him. “Want me to help you undress?”

“I can do it!” he responded, seeming a little disgruntled.

“I know, but it’s all romantic and junk if I do it.”

So he let me help him out of his shoes and shirt and pants, and then I wiggled myself into the lacy pink chemise that delicately covered up my sagging this and drooping that while he scooted awkwardly up into the bed and under the covers. I ducked under the blankets, too, climbed astride him, and drew the comforter over us both. I gazed down at him fondly, this man who was aging as fast as I was and with no greater grace. But there was something appealing about him, too, this new, old, fragile Michael. Perhaps all ages have their own special beauty.

His pelvis was directly underneath mine, and I guess I must have made a telling motion because he said again, “I really don’t think I can . . .”

“I’ll be very gentle,” I promised. “I’ll do all the work. Just tell me if it hurts.”

And so I slid him into me, oh, so very slowly and gently, with no sudden or rapid movements, and then, with just the slightest of motions, I gradually let him out, and at length brought him back in again. This went on for a very long time. At long last, I finally felt him tense up, and finish, without hurting anything, and that pleased me immensely. And as we were lying down to sleep, I said to myself, This is how old people do it. Carefully. And I smiled.

***

“Careful” is an excerpt from my forthcoming novel My Life with Michael: A Story of Sex and Beer for the Middle-Aged. The piece has been heavily modified to make it self-contained, but the theme is essentially the same as that of my book: how aging changes our view of sex and romance and the people with whom we want to share them.

It’s a cute story, I think; one of my sweeter pieces. This is my favorite line:

“So he let me help him out of his shoes and shirt and pants, and then I wiggled myself into the lacy pink chemise that delicately covered up my sagging this and drooping that while he scooted awkwardly up into the bed and under the covers.”

Paints quite the romantic picture, doesn’t it?

“Careful” was originally published in e-Romance in May 2013.

Copyright © 2013 by Lori Schafer

You can download more FREE excerpts from My Life with Michael from your favorite eBook retailer; please visit the book’s webpage for more information.

My Life with Michael eBook

My Writing Process: The Roof is the Place to Work!

Greetings, and welcome to the writing process blog hop! I was introduced to this blog hop by Author S. Evan Townsend:

S. Evan Townsend has been called “America’s Unique Speculative Fiction Voice.” After spending four years in the U.S. Army in the Military Intelligence branch, he returned to civilian life and college to earn a B.S. in Forest Resources from the University of Washington. In his spare time he enjoys reading, driving (sometimes on a racetrack), meeting people, and talking with friends. He is in a 12-step program for Starbucks addiction. Evan lives in central Washington State with his wife and has three grown sons. He enjoys science fiction, fantasy, history, politics, cars, and travel. He currently has five published fantasy and science fiction novels.

http://blog.sevantownsend.com

Like the other participants in this blog hop, I’ve answered four assigned questions about my writing and how my writing process works. Please also take a moment to visit authors Jayne Denker, Briane Pagel, and Elise Abram, whose bios and links are at the end of this post. They will be answering the same questions next week.

1. What am I working on?

What am I not working on? ;)

But seriously, I have a variety of projects in the hopper. I’m putting the finishing touches on my memoir On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened: A Daughter’s Memoir of Mental Illness, which is being published in October. I’m 40,000 words into a new romance, a sequel to Just the Three of Us, which I’m hopeful will be just as sweet and funny as the original, and 120,000 words into my mega-monster of a novel Shipwreck Island: How One Woman Spent Twenty Years on an Island with Sixteen Sailors and Lived to Tell the Tale, which, frankly, is probably only about half done.

Although I’m not able to spend as much time on short work as I would like, I’ve also got twenty or so shorter pieces out on submission, and I’m preparing several e-book compilations of short stories and essays in a variety of genres, which I hope to release independently before I go out of town later this summer. In August and September, I’m planning a lengthy road trip across the United States and Canada, during which time I will be beginning my second memoir, The Long Road Home, the idea for which was inspired by this trip.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Easy – it doesn’t fit neatly into any genre. My novels have too much sex to be women’s fiction, too much humor to be erotica, and too few alpha males to be romances. But they’re entertaining nonetheless, and I like to think that rather than forcing my work to conform to a specific genre, maybe I can instead gently nudge the accepted conventions in new directions.

Now that I think of it, though, my memoir also suffers from some genre confusion, as segments of it are written as if they’re fiction. There are good reasons why I wrote it that way, as I explain in my book, but I suppose it also doesn’t read like typical nonfiction.

3. Why do I write what I do?

I don’t think about that very much – I just write what comes to me. My novels became novels because they were such big, long ideas, involving in-depth characterization and fairly complex plots. When I have shorter ideas, they become flash fiction or short stories. Of course, I’m sure it’s no coincidence that my longest works revolve around relationships and sex – which seems to be mostly what I’m into right now – but I can easily see that changing as time passes and I become interested in other things.

My memoir actually began quite unintentionally. I had composed a number of short pieces – fiction and essays – depicting certain events in life with my mother, who became violently mentally ill when I was sixteen. At some point it occurred to me that it might be interesting to tie them together somehow – with a frame story, if you will. I’ll admit I was fairly stunned when it came together the way it did – it wasn’t something I had expected to write.

4. How does your writing process work?

It’s constantly in flux. I believe quite firmly that forcing myself to work on something when I’m not in the mood for it is not the pathway to greater productivity. You will never catch me committing to a certain number of words or hours per day, and I will likely never participate in NaNoWriMo or similar events. If I feel like writing, I write; if I feel like editing, I edit; if I feel like working on my latest novel, I do; if I feel like writing a blog post, I do that instead. There are always so many things I’m working on – and so few strict deadlines – that I rarely feel obligated to go against my mood, which I believe is one of the reasons I’ve been able to generate so much work in the past two years. Every so often I have to force myself to forego writing in order to complete “administrative” tasks, and that’s the one time my natural sense of discipline and New England work ethic have to kick in and make me do things even when I don’t want to. But I do enjoy the satisfaction of metaphorically crossing those types of tasks off my list, and I’m always happier afterwards to go back to writing.

In terms of how I write, I’m all over the place. A short piece I will generally compose from beginning to end, with at least half a dozen revisions before I’m happy with it. My books I’ve mostly started in the middle, writing individual scenes when I feel inspired to do them, and simply positioning them in the text in the order I plan for them to appear, so that I can tie them together later. When I get to about a hundred pages, I go back to the beginning and start revising, editing and adding new material as I go along, the end result being that I never really complete a “rough draft.” After I finish another hundred pages or so, I’ll go back and do the same thing, from start to finish, which means that different sections of my manuscript will often be at different stages of polish. Some chapters I will intentionally not complete because I haven’t yet decided exactly how they’re going to go, while others might be virtually in their final form very early on in the process. And then of course when the whole thing has been written from start to finish, I go through it several more times, picking out awkward sentences and those that could be funnier, more clever, or more meaningful or poignant, and re-working them accordingly.

This is where I usually work:

Writing Process I

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Last year I bought this stand-alone greenhouse that’s bolted down to a small deck on the one flat part of the roof. As long as the sun’s out, it stays comfortably warm in there, even in winter. This is wonderful for me because I do prefer to work outdoors, and besides that, it gives me a natural schedule – mornings and evenings are for desk work, afternoons are for writing. There’s a power outlet right by the window where I can plug in my laptop, and that chair is pretty comfortable – although I do end up spending quite a sum on sunscreen! So, if you’re ever flying over the Bay Area and you spot a strange green contraption perched on a rooftop for no apparent reason, give me a wave! You’ll know that I’m hunkered down inside, generating my next – well, whatever it’s going to be! :)

Please take this opportunity to check out these three authors, who will be blogging about their writing processes next week!

Jayne Denker:

Jayne Denker divides her time between working hard to bring the funny in her romantic comedies (By Design; Unscripted; Down on Love, A Marsden Novel #1; and the upcoming Picture This, A Marsden Novel #2, publishing July 17) and raising a young son who’s way too clever for his own good. She lives in a small village in western New York that is in no way, shape, or form related to the small village in her Marsden novels. When she’s not hard at work writing another book, the social media addict can usually be found frittering away startling amounts of time on Facebook (Jayne Denker Author), Twitter (@JDenkerAuthor), and her blog, JayneDenker.com.

Blog: http://JayneDenker.com

Briane Pagel:

Briane Pagel is currently writing this biography for this blog. In fact, he’s typing this sentence right now. Now this one. Now he’s thinking this biography isn’t the most compelling one, and that perhaps he should make some stuff up to jazz it up a bit like say he went skydiving one time, only that’s actually true. He did go skydiving this one time, back in 1994, when he made a list of 25 things to do before he turned 26. He completed the list, too. It included skydiving, and the Polar Bear Jump where he had to go into Lake Michigan on New Year’s Day… great, now he’s starting to ramble. You can read more about him on “Thinking The Lions,” http://www.thinkingthelions.com“, and he publishes “lit, a place for stories,” which is an online literary magazine at http://www.nonsportsman.com.

Elise Abram, B.A. B.Ed., M.Ed:

Teacher of English and Computer Studies by day, wife and mother by night and author whenever she can steal some time, Elise is the proud author of Phase Shift, The Mummy Wore Combat Boots, and Throwaway Child, available on Amazon and KoboBooks. She pens a blog about literature, popular culture and the human condition whenever the muse moves her.

Elise’s fourth book, a young adult paranormal thriller entitled The Revenant will be released in eBook and in print on July 10, 2014 by Black Rose Writing.

Connect with Elise at http://www.eliseabram.com

Novel Excerpt: Just the Three of Us

      “Wow, you’re fast!” he said with admiration, gawking at me with wide eyes through a plastic face-shield thick with fog. 

      I turned to look behind me but I was the last player on the bench; this unfamiliar young man with the friendly face appeared to be talking to me.

      “Uh, thank you,” I said, returning my eyes to the ice and uncomfortably shifting my grip on my stick.

      “I mean it,” he assured me. “You are very fast, especially for, you know, a – Hey!”

      The exclamation caught my attention more than the unfinished remark. I turned again and saw another young man sitting beside this one, elbow out as if he’d just used it to nudge his friend into silence.

      “For a what?” I said shrewdly, watching in amusement as my neighbor struggled to solicit a polite response out of an apparently unresponsive brain. “For a woman? Or perhaps you meant for an older woman?” I concluded, putting extra emphasis on the “older.” At thirty-seven I was hardly ancient, but there was no doubt in my mind that these fellows were a good ten years my junior, a fact that gave me the indisputable right to tease them mercilessly.

      His face, already beet-red from the exertion, flushed scarlet. “I wouldn’t say older!” he fibbed unconvincingly. “You’re what, like twenty-eight, twenty-nine?”

      “Don’t mind my friend,” the other fellow said, leaning across him towards me and grinning. “He’s really a nice guy. Sometimes just a bit of a dumbass.”

      “It was a compliment!” the nearer man stuttered before being abruptly rescued from his consternation by the return of the other left wing. He stumbled over the boards and onto the ice and his buddy slid over next to me.

      “I’m Jim,” he said, extending his arm in my direction. “And that’s Sam.”

      “Kathy,” I replied, bumping my glove against his by way of a handshake.

       “I haven’t seen you here before,” he said. But before I could answer, I saw the one of the defensemen hurtling towards the boards and sprang to my feet to take his place. Jim followed hard on my heels to replace the other wing, who had just lurched, panting, over to the bench.

      I hadn’t even noticed them before – possibly because I’d been too busy trying not to embarrass myself my first time on the ice in my latest new town. But now I couldn’t stop watching them skating around in front of me; two of my nameless, faceless teammates had turned into people. Of course, meeting people wasn’t always as great as it sounded, as I’d discovered in the course of my many travels. You don’t worry so much about making a good impression when you’re an unknown member of an anonymous crowd. I pondered that as I forced my legs to an inhuman effort in chasing down the next breakaway when it came. I didn’t want to lose my newly established reputation for speed, after all.

      “Nice job,” Sam said when I flung my body back over the boards a minute later, fresh sweat trickling coolly down my spine.

      “Thanks,” I gasped, plunking my butt down on the bench and taking a deep swig of my water. My partner for the day was still nowhere in sight and I wished he’d hurry up and finish dressing; it was exhausting playing with only three D.

      The guy named Jim leaned over again. “So are you new here?” he said, picking up our conversation right where we’d left off. It’s customary for hockey players to chat in fragmented one-minute intervals.

      “Just moved to town,” I nodded, starting to catch my breath. “I was in a women’s league the last place I lived, but there isn’t one in town here. Thought I’d give this group a try, if it’s not too tough.”

      “You’re tough enough!” Sam exclaimed. “I’ve seen the way you skate.”

      “Trust me, I have no skills,” I countered, pleased in spite of myself. I wasn’t being modest; I was a poor puck-handler and had no shot to speak of, and it had already become apparent that my rather abundant apportionment of feminine muscle wasn’t quite as useful among these men, most of whom were younger and a lot bigger than me. And apart from my speed, I had few real skills as a skater, and already I was struggling a lot harder to keep up than I had in my last league. Ever heard the expression “tripping-over-your-tongue-tired?” That was me.

      “Pshaw!” he answered, dismissing my critical assessment with a wave of his glove. I turned to look more closely at my new acquaintance. Along with that broad, boyish face and welcoming eye went the kind of personality that could use an expression that went out with the previous century without an iota of shame.

       “Pshaw?” Jim echoed, making a motion as if scratching his helmet with his padded glove.

      “Pshaw!” Sam repeated, unabashed.

      “Okay,” Jim said, clearing his throat audibly and leaning towards me again. “So where are you from?”

      “Um, well… New England, originally. Most recently, California,” I answered. “Up north, near San Francisco.”

      Sam laughed. “So what the hell are you doing here? Sick of the beautiful weather?”

      “Something like that,” I chuckled back. I wasn’t about to try to tell my life story to two strangers in the ten seconds before I had to be on the ice again.

      “Well, welcome to Minnesota, eh?” Jim replied in a heavy and decidedly phony accent. I looked askance at him. He had the agreeable look of a young man who hasn’t quite reached his prime; I guessed he would be downright handsome about five years down the line. Slimmer, more serious-looking than Sam, with dark hair and deep brown eyes and a neatly trimmed beard that ran the length of his chin.

      “Yeah, you’re welcome, eh?” Sam agreed.

      “We don’t actually talk like that,” Jim assured me. “It’s just an affectation put on for outsiders, so they’ll think they’re in Canada or something.”

      “You’d better start working on yours, too,” Sam said seriously. “Here, I’ll teach you,” he began, but fortunately I was rescued from a lesson in Northern American linguistics by the return of the entire forward line, which sent my new acquaintances scurrying for their positions.

       My defensive partner finally arrived, plopping his enormous body down next to mine and effectively cutting me off from further conversational efforts with Sam and Jim. I couldn’t decide whether or not I should be sorry about that. But as the game continued, I watched them weaving in tandem along the ice, passing the puck to one another seemingly without effort, to all appearances like two balls on the ends of the same chain. They must have been teammates for a long time, I thought; they made such a good wing pair. I wouldn’t have said that they were great athletes; I mean, they were both obviously competent, but not spectacular in any way. But there was something in the way they played together that made them better, much better than their skill levels alone would have suggested. Almost as if they knew each other so well that one was an extension of the other; two minds and bodies separated only by twenty feet of ice.

      Following the closing handshakes, I was surprised to find them both skating beside me back to the bench.

      “Okay, so we know you’re not a native, but do you drink beer?” Sam inquired, as if it were a beverage endemic only to Milwaukee and cities of similar latitude.

      “Of course!” I answered. I was actually very fond of beer, although I’d found, as I often did, that the styles that were popular in Minnesota weren’t the same as those that dominated other markets.

      “Good,” Jim replied. “We usually go out for a beer after the game, and we think you should come.”

     I was taken aback. They seemed like nice enough fellows and all, but I really saw no point in going overboard with the acquaintance. Sure, I was a little lonely. It’s never easy being the new kid in town, no matter how old you are, and I hadn’t exactly been a ball of social fire in any of the many places I’d lived in the wandering course of my adult life. But really, what besides hockey could I, a relatively mature woman, possibly have in common with two twenty-something-year-olds? Boys, practically, to my mind.

       I guess my lack of enthusiasm showed, because while I hesitated in answering I heard Sam saying, “I don’t think she likes us, Jim.”

      “Well, you shouldn’t have made that comment about her skating like a, ‘you know,’ ” Jim replied, shaking his head dolefully.

      “Please just come have a beer with us!” Sam pleaded. “Otherwise Jim will never let me hear the end of it.”

      “Unless you really don’t like us,” Jim said, narrowing his dark brows at me. I wasn’t short, especially with my skates on, but standing up he still towered a good six inches over me, and I might have been intimidated had he not had such an indisputably gentle face.

      “We wouldn’t blame you much,” Sam chimed in. “We are kind of obnoxious.”

      I looked from one to the other. There was something refreshingly youthful in their earnestness and a part of me was touched. It was sweet, really, the way they’d taken pity on me. After all, I probably seemed as old to them as they seemed young to me.

      “It’s not that,” I answered finally, weighing my words carefully. “I was just surprised that you’re old enough to drink.”

      “Oh-ho, she got you back, Sam!” Jim said with a laugh.

      “Says you!” he shot back. “Jim’s just jealous because I’m more mature.”

      “You’re only six months older than me!” Jim said. “And older does not mean more mature!”

      That was certainly the truth. Here I was in my late thirties, with no husband or children and no particular desire for either yet. In a new city with a new job that I wasn’t even sure I was going to like because I still hadn’t decided what I wanted to be when I grew up. Plus I was living in a one-room apartment with cardboard-box furniture and a mattress on the floor. What did I know about mature? Maybe my mistake all along had been in trying to meet people my own age: settled, adult, grown-up people. I’d be right at home with these guys.

       “Twenty-six is mature!” Sam retorted. “Isn’t it, Kathy?”

      “Hmm, sorry, I can’t remember back that far,” I joked. “It’s been a long decade.”

      We retreated to the locker room to undress. As usual I kept my head down so I could pretend not to notice those few bold fellows who stripped down to their bare asses before changing into clean clothes. Me, I never bothered. I was always way too sweaty after a game to even think about forcing fresh pants on over my sticky thighs. I did wonder, though, how the other players would react if one day I, too, decided to strip down naked and wander around the locker room with all my goods hanging out like it was no big deal.

       That was one way to make an impression, I thought. I’d never been what you’d call beautiful, even when I was younger, but I wasn’t bad to look at, either, especially since hockey had sculpted my once-flabby form into a passably pleasing shape. I hoped that having a decent figure helped to distract the interested observer from my other physical flaws, which weren’t too tough to overlook if you didn’t look too closely. I had very plain brown hair that I wore cut to the shoulders, and kind of a square face that was rescued from dullness by deep dimples, rosy cheeks, and big green eyes that I simply adored. Most days I didn’t mind not being gorgeous. It was much easier to blend into the background when you were average-looking, and I’d spent most of my adulthood trying not to be noticed. And I could still clean up pretty cute when I wanted to, although I knew those days were rapidly drawing to an end. Hmm, I thought as I glanced around the room full of strangers and contemplated the cold and lonely bed waiting for me at my apartment. Maybe I should flaunt it while I still had it.

      I hauled my gear out to my car and then, with some trepidation, headed upstairs to the sports pub. Sam and Jim were waiting for me in the doorway and that relieved me somewhat; I always felt hopelessly awkward walking into a place alone. I nonchalantly looked them over. Unlike me, who was twice my normal size with gear on, they didn’t look that different without it. Sam, I saw now, had golden blond hair that he wore in a buzz-cut all over his rather round head; it added to the general impression of constant cheerfulness that he radiated like sunbeams off of every edge of his person. He had a solid, stocky build and was several inches shorter than Jim. With his fair skin and bright smile, I’d describe him as cute more than handsome; he seemed to ooze a boyish sort of charm that made him appear pleasant and harmless. Jim, by contrast, had a darker, almost olive complexion, and seemed the quieter of the two; something in the set of his jaw suggested a level of reserve his friend seemed to lack. He had a narrow face that went well with his lean form, and seeing him in his street-clothes, I would have sworn he didn’t have an ounce of fat on him; only lithe, long muscles that ran like thick wires over his elongated limbs.

        “Shall we?” Sam said, extending an arm as if to offer it to me with old-fashioned courtesy. When I hesitated, he seemed to think better of the idea and hurriedly retracted it. I pretended not to notice.

      I followed them inside. A few of the other guys from the team were up there and nodded to Sam and Jim. Then I caught them looking bemusedly at me and I blushed. Self-consciously I raised my hands to my head and felt my hair all utterly disheveled into sweaty locks, as it always was after hockey. I’d never gotten in the habit of showering after a game, either. I figured since I was always going straight home afterwards, what was the point in enduring the fungus-ridden locker room shower?

      This is why you don’t have a boyfriend, I thought as I plunked myself down at the small, circular table Sam selected while Jim went up to the bar to buy us a pitcher.

      “So why did you move here, Kathy? Was it for work?” Sam asked as Jim poured our beers and I slipped him a five for my share. He pushed it back across the table with a pleading little wave of his hand. I shoved it back towards him with a bigger, more insistent wave. His eye caught mine and I watched it crinkle in amusement. Then he nodded and, conceding defeat, tucked the bill into his pocket. It was very rare that I lost the battle over going dutch with men. I hadn’t been independent all these years for nothing, after all.

      “Was it for work?” Sam was repeating.

      “Oh! Well, sort of,” I answered, jerking my attention back to the conversation at hand. “Not really.”

      I took a sip of my beer while he stared at me as if expecting me to continue talking. Jim was peering at me keenly through narrow-rimmed glasses he had not been wearing during the game. I liked them. They did something for the shape of his face.

      “No shutting her up, is there?” Sam said at last into the silence.

      “So are you naturally not very talkative, or do you just have a lot to hide?” Jim inquired.

      I chuckled. “A little from Column A…”

      “Well, what do you do? For work, I mean?” Jim said.

       “Oh,” I hedged. “This and that.”

      They looked at one another.

       “Wait right here,” Sam said. “I left my good dental extractor in the car and I think we’re gonna need the big one if we want to get any information out of this girl.” His voice was husky, and a little edgy, as if he spent a lot of time joking around; it rather pleasantly complemented Jim’s deep, gravelly rumble.

      I laughed. “Really, there’s not much to tell. I have a Bachelor’s in Film Studies, which, as you might imagine, is pretty close to worthless.”

      “Film Studies?” Jim interrupted. “That sounds interesting!”

      “It was!” I answered enthusiastically. “Oh, I really enjoyed it. It’s not what people think, criticism and all that, it’s more like a sociological study, looking at the culture behind movies and so on. You do a lot of reading on the history of the time and write a lot of papers – it was really fun. Kind of useless in the real world, though. There wasn’t much I could do with it except get a doctorate and then teach, and I don’t really have the personality for that. It looks good on my resume, though; proves I was smart enough to finish college.”

       “Why’d you choose it, then, if you didn’t want to make a career out of it?” Sam inquired.

      “I dunno,” I answered vaguely. “There wasn’t really anything else I wanted to do, I guess.”

      “Huh,” Jim replied, resting his head on his hand as if seriously considering the meaning of what I had said.

       I gave up attempting to describe what was obviously a foreign concept and hurried on with my speech. “Anyway,” I said, “I haven’t got what you’d call a career. I’ve done all kinds of work: office jobs, waitressing, copyediting… I was even an online retailer of out-of-print videos for a while. Right now I’m working as a bank teller.”

      “Well, that’s cool!” Sam said without much enthusiasm.

      I shrugged. “I like math,” I said. “It’s one of the better jobs I’ve had. I actually did it once before, back in New Jersey, but then I got promoted to New Accounts and I didn’t like it as much. Dealing with people… It can be really irritating, you know. And when I moved to North Carolina, I decided to try something else so I never advanced any further in banking.”

      “Why did you move to North Carolina?” Jim inquired, his eyebrows raised as if he thought it a strange destination.

      I shrugged again and let out an awkward laugh. “No real reason, I guess. Just felt like a change.”

      “How many places have you lived exactly?” Sam asked, furrowing his brow. It forced his forehead into shallow, barely perceptible wrinkles that made mine look like the walls of the Grand Canyon but without all the pretty colors.

      I smoothed my wet hair down over my forehead uneasily. “Oh, I don’t know,” I said. “I guess on average I move every couple of years.”

      “Every couple of years?” Sam replied, astonished, drawing back to peek underneath the table at my lower half. “No moss grows beneath your feet, I see.”

       “I guess we shouldn’t get too attached, eh, Sam?” Jim said.

      “Why so often?” Sam asked me.

      “I can’t stand cleaning,” I said seriously. “It’s easier just to move when the apartment gets dirty.”

***

These are the first ten pages of my latest novel. Comments are welcome!

 

“Missed Connection” on The Pittsburgh Flash Fiction Gazette

My erotic flash fiction piece “Missed Connection” has been published in The Pittsburgh Flash Fiction Gazette:

http://pittsburghflashfictiongazette.net/fiction-missed-connection-lori-schafer/ (Adult Content)

A couple of months ago, I wrote a post about my short-short “Delayed Connection,” which was then the home-page story on Romance Flash. In it I describe how the original idea for that very sweet, very romantic story came to me from this one, “Missed Connection,” which is a much more sexual and also strangely sadder piece.

The original premise was actually not, as you might think, the chance meeting at the airport. Rather it was about the confession with which the story begins. Because I think we can all relate to that, to the regrets we have over the “one that got away,” over never making a move when we had the chance. How afraid we were to share our feelings, for fear of being rejected, yet how simultaneously eager we were to admit them, on the unlikely chance that our emotional and/or physical affection would be returned. The narrator here has taken the bold and incredibly foolish step of actually making the confession – in writing, no less – not in the middle of the acquaintance, but after it’s too late for anything to happen between her and her object of desire.

What could possibly motivate a character to do something like that? There’s nothing in it for her, obviously, nothing to be gained but an increase in her pain and humiliation, so why would she do it? The answer is simply that she wanted him to know. At the very last, she wanted him to know how attractive he was to her, and what kind of fantasies he inspired, even if it meant exposing her deepest secrets to someone who had already left her behind. It’s a remarkably unselfish act. Stupid, surely, but unselfish.

I’d like to say that she’s rewarded for making this unusual parting gift, and perhaps, in a way, she is. In the end, she still doesn’t get what she wanted. But maybe she feels a little better about not getting it. And if you find yourself grieving over a lost love, you would be a fool to hope for more than that.

***

You can also read “Missed Connection” in my recently released collection of erotic short short stories To All the Penises I’ve Ever Known: Erotic Shorts by Lori Schafer, only $0.99 in digital formats on Amazon (Universal Link), Barnes and NobleSmashwords, ITunes, and Lulu. Large print paperback is only $5.99!

white underwear on a string against cloudy blue sky

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Romance Flash Publication and Author Commentary: Delayed Connection

My flash fiction romance “Delayed Connection” has been published in Romance Flash:

http://romanceflash.com/stories/81-delayed-connection

Kind of a funny story behind this piece. It started out as a story I was writing for The Pittsburgh Flash Fiction Gazette, to which I am a somewhat regular contributor. The original version, which will appear in the Gazette in March, is called “Missed Connection,” and, like much of my erotic flash fiction, it deals with the subject of lost love and is correspondingly dark in tone. Well, when that was done, I liked the idea behind it so much that I wrote another piece with the same premise – a chance meeting at an airport – but in an entirely different style, and with a bona fide happy ending to boot. Similar story, but in two versions: one “dirty,” and one “nice.” I confess I was somewhat surprised at how sweet the “nice” version turned out. Hmm, maybe there’s a romantic in me after all!

I loved the scenario of running into a former love interest at the airport, with one person about to get on a plane, and the other just getting off one. We’ve all been there, right? We’ve all had that fantasy of bumping into someone we once cared about in an unexpected place, and having all the things we always hoped would happen finally happen. It rarely works out that way in real life, of course. You never run into Mr. or Ms. Lost Love ever again, or if you do, it turns out there were solid reasons why you never hooked up in the first place. Still a pleasant fantasy, though. And like Billy Joel says, sometimes a fantasy is all you need.

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Anything Can Happen: A Novel Excerpt

What was it with brewers anyway? I wondered, squinting through my peephole at my good friend Dave and the burgeoning mass of bristles that had been protruding haphazardly from his chin ever since he’d taken that assistant’s job. They all seemed to be walking around with piles of crazy facial hair, a fact which, if you attended as many beer festivals as we did, became perturbingly apparent. Of course, I’d never seen one as ridiculous as Michael’s; a foot-long, narrowly-pointed monstrosity that ought to have repelled me like a flea collar. If I were the flea, instead of the one with the itch.

Michael, I snorted irritably to myself, leaving Dave waiting cold and snow-flaked in my foyer while I bundled up in a bulky sweater and one of those loathsome turtlenecks that keep out the cold but then keep themselves amused all day attempting to strangle you. Turning my back on the mean mirror that kept refusing to lie about my age, I plastered my long-johns on underneath my fat jeans and prodded my feet into some rancid rubber galoshes, perfecting the picture of my hideousness. I told myself it didn’t matter. I wasn’t trying to seduce him, right? I sighed internally. I was strong enough to be practical enough not to wear some cute skimpy outfit and be miserable the whole day, but not enough not to be depressed about it. I am woman, hear me roar. Rrrr.

I tried not to look for him. Much. I drank my beer and chatted with Dave and his equally-bearded brewer buddies and periodically scanned the festival crowd in what I hoped was a nonchalant manner. It was late in the day when I finally caught the dreaded glimpse – it was hard to miss that bright red hair and chest-length beard. It was even harder to miss the attractive young blonde he was hugging when I saw him. Unfortunately for me, Dave spotted him at almost the same moment.

“Look, there’s Michael,” he said, failing to see me wince at the mention of the name. “Let’s go say hi?”

Dave didn’t know, of course, about me and Michael. I’d been too mortified to admit that after months of impatient waiting I’d shamelessly tackled him just days after his divorce was final. Or that I wanted to punch something every time I recollected his early-morning speech about not wanting to get involved.

“It looks like he’s with someone,” I answered, compromising and kicking the floor instead. “Maybe we should leave him alone.”

“She looks familiar,” Dave responded, oblivious to the damage I was inflicting on the hardwood. “I think she works at the brewery.”

Even worse, I thought. She has access to him eight hours a day; probably after-hours, too. I only get to see him once every few months, and I’m already forty and getting older by the minute. How can I possibly compete? I felt a jealous rage swelling within me, and impulsively I wanted to smack the alleged little tramp out of my way. Fortunately, the logical part of my brain kicked back in and I caught myself. I breathed deeply. It was not a competition. For what it was worth, I’d already had Michael. I had no right to expect him not to move on to someone else. It wasn’t her fault, and it wasn’t his either. I could be a grownup about this, couldn’t I?

“I suppose it would be rude not to say hello,” I grudgingly conceded. Dave meandered over to where they stood, not thirty feet away, and I trudged along behind him, feeling enormous, ugly, and ancient. The blonde scrutinized me with pity. It’ll happen to you! I wanted to yell, but she was already walking away, leaving Dave and me alone with Michael. Dave shook Michael’s hand but I merely nodded and averted my eyes, my brief dream of behaving rationally fading quickly in his suddenly very tangible presence. They talked on about beer while I seethed silently, excoriated myself for even caring, then seethed silently some more. I couldn’t tell if Michael was even aware of that, because I wouldn’t look at him. He doesn’t care, I reminded myself viciously. He never did. He was just using you to – to get his feet wet, I thought, among other things. Remember how he blew you off? Wanted someone younger and prettier, no doubt. He was probably picking up all kinds of women now. Who knew what number blondie even was? I was well shut of him. I had refilled my taster while the boys were chatting, and I was so consumed with brooding that I didn’t even notice when Dave stepped away to fill his, leaving Michael and I alone.

“How’ve you been, Kate?” he was saying, casually reaching out to touch my arm. I started, then realized who was talking to me and pulled out my best contemptuous sneer.

“Fine, thank you, and yourself?” I answered coldly, jerking away from his touch.

“Wow!” he exclaimed. “What did I do?”

His ignorance of his wrongdoing infuriated me even more.

“Who’s the blonde?” I spat it out like a curse.

“Excuse me?” he said with affected innocence.

“You heard me. How long have you been seeing her?”

“You mean – you mean the blonde I was talking to a little while ago?”

“You seeing some other blondes, too?”

“She works at the brewery,” he answered calmly.

“You’re dating someone you work with?” I snapped scathingly. “That sounds smart.”

“I’m not dating her,” he reiterated. “She works at the brewery; that’s how I know her.”

“Oh.” I was still too mad to be embarrassed, but I could sense that that was about to change. I figured I’d better backtrack fast before he started thinking I liked him or something. But it’s hard to backpedal when you’ve got your foot in your mouth.

“It’s really none of my business,” I said coolly. “I just don’t want to see you – ruin your reputation.” Really? I confronted my addled brain. That was the best you could come up with? I thought you were supposed to be smart. But it was out and I would have to stick to it now.

He didn’t buy it anyway. “I haven’t been seeing anyone. In case you were wondering.”

I knew it might be a line but it sure didn’t sound like one, and his expression was sincere and his eyes were maybe even a little sad, and I was suddenly aware that he was standing very close to me and it was almost like old times, before that night, only more so because I could do a much better job of picturing him naked now. And had I not known that it was finished between him and me, I might even have believed that the anticipation was starting all over again, the wonderful wondering of what just maybe could possibly happen if the planets were somehow aligned perfectly right, a feeling I had sorely missed those last few months. Because when we exchanged our farewells and his eyes met mine, I knew that in spite of what he’d said, in spite of how he’d hurt me, I still liked him as much as I ever had. And what was more, I thought that maybe, just maybe, he felt the same way.

© Lori Schafer 2013

Originally published in e-Romance, April 2013.

“Anything Can Happen” is an excerpt from my novel My Life with Michael: A Story of Sex and Beer for the Middle-Aged that has been modified to make it self-contained. It made for a good short story, I thought – chock full of frustration and foiled desire. It’s strange, though; I seem to have a penchant for main characters who perpetually make asses of themselves when it comes to love. I am absolutely certain that there is nothing in the least bit autobiographical about that.

My Life with Michael is scheduled for release in paperback, eBook, and audiobook on February 6th, 2015. It will be available for Kindle pre-order on November 7th, 2014. For more information, please visit the book’s webpage or subscribe to my newsletter.

“Anything Can Happen” is also available as a FREE eBook; you can find more short story excerpts from My Life with Michael at your favorite eBook retailer.

         

Romance Flash Publication and Author Commentary: The Sublet

My flash fiction romance “The Sublet” has been published in Romance Flash:

http://romanceflash.com/stories/75-the-sublet

This story is actually a modified excerpt from my forthcoming novel My Life with Michael: A Story of Sex and Beer for the Middle-Aged. They say that publishing excerpts from your novels is good strategy, and maybe it is. But don’t kid yourself into thinking it saves time because you’re recycling something you’ve already written. If anything, it takes longer than writing a story from scratch. First, you have to build a frame story around a segment that was intended to be a much longer work. Second, you have to make it self-contained, which means adding and getting rid of stuff that no longer fits in the revised version. And finally, you have to adjust the length to make it work for the market for which you’re shooting, and in the case of flash fiction, this can be daunting indeed.

I like the frame story I chose here, which is completely unrelated to the plot of my book. The idea that people are no longer forced to stay in a particular place for work and are thus free to move around as much as they like intrigued me. Perhaps I get that from my days as a professional eBay seller, when I routinely traveled several months of the year and worked on the road. In the modern world the scenario is perfectly plausible, and for people without roots or strings tying them down to one location, the thought of simply packing your suitcase and moving on whenever you felt like it might have some appeal. On the other hand, it would definitely interfere with your love life. Suddenly, instead of just hanging out to see what happens with your new relationship, you have to consciously decide – do you stay or move on when your time’s supposed to be up?

Fortunately, this particular section of my book didn’t require a tremendous effort in order to make it self-contained, which is one of the reasons I chose it. Except for at the beginning, there weren’t a lot of references to events that happened earlier, and those were fairly simple to excise. Trying to get the word count down to under a thousand was awful, though. I started out with seventeen hundred, and after I’d whittled it down as much as I thought I possibly could, I still had twelve hundred words. After I took out the final two hundred, I was afraid the story didn’t make sense as a story anymore, so I set it aside for a while so I could read it with fresh eyes. I guess it must have worked, though, because the good people at Romance Flash decided to publish it. I only hope the readers like it, too!

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You can download more FREE excerpts from My Life with Michael from your favorite eBook retailer. Please visit the book’s webpage for more information.

My Life with Michael eBook