I needed to get him out of my head.
I took a cold shower. Or, at least, I took one second of a cold shower, during which I screamed the f-word and almost broke my ankle lunging away from the stream of water. How the hell were people in books always taking cold showers? I turned the water back to hot and fumed as I washed my hair.
I wasn’t mad at him. I couldn’t be. I was furious with myself for wandering down this path. I knew better. Gus wasn’t Jacques. Guys like Jacques wanted snowball fights and kisses at the top of the Eiffel Tower and sunrise strolls on the Brooklyn Bridge. Guys like Gus wanted snarky banter and casual sex on top of their unfolded laundry.
In the back of your deeply uncool car at a family establishment.
Although I couldn’t be sure that hadn’t been my idea.
It was conceivable that I’d thrown myself at him. It wouldn’t be the first time I was seeing through rose-colored glasses, assigning meaning where there was none.
I was being stupid. After everything with my dad, I should have known better. I’d just barely started to heal, and I’d run right out and gotten a crush on the one person who was guaranteed to prove right every single fear I had about relationships.
I needed to let this go.
Writing, I decided, would be my solace. It was slow going at first, every word a decision not to think about Gus disappearing, but after a while I found a rhythm, almost as strong as yesterday’s.
The family circus wound up back in Oklahoma, close to where Eleanor’s father’s secret second family lived. A week, I decided. The bulk of this book was going to take place over the week the circus was parked in Town TBD (Tulsa?), Oklahoma. Writing in a different era presented a completely new challenge. I was leaving a lot of notes to myself like Find out what drinks were popular then or Insert historically accurate insult.
What mattered, though, was that I had a vision.
All the secrets were going to come to the surface, almost win out, and then they’d be packed back down neatly. That was how an Augustus Everett novel would go, wouldn’t it? He would say it had a nice cyclical quality when I told him.
(If I got the chance to tell him.)
I wanted the readers to be cheering, begging for Eleanor’s found family to tell the truth by the end, while watching through their fingers, afraid of how the situation would implode. Someone needed a gun, I realized, and a reason to have a hair-trigger reaction. Fear, of course. I needed to pressure-cook the situation.
Build and build, only to tamp it back down in time for the characters to move along to their next destination.
Eleanor’s father would owe money to dangerous men back in his hometown—ostensibly the reason he’d left in the first place, why he’d abandoned his family.
Eleanor’s mother would have the gun. It seemed only fair to give her something to fight with. But with it, she’d have to shoulder the weight of some PTSD, remnants of an old employer who liked to get violent with the girls who worked for him. She needed to be wound tight, ready to snap, like I’d been feeling this past year.
Like I wanted Mom to be after the full extent of Dad’s lies came to light.
Eleanor, for her part, was going to fall in love with a local. Or at least fancy herself having done so, the night of their first performance in Tulsa. She would spend the week moving closer to escaping the life she’d grown up in, only to have a horrible last-minute revelation that no matter how she might sometimes despise this world, it was the only one in which she belonged.
Or maybe she would realize the world she’d lusted after, the one she’d watched from behind circus tents and atop tightropes, that filtered past while she was hard at work, was as much an illusion as the one she knew.
The boy would fall in love with someone else, just as quickly as he had with her.
Or the boy would leave for college, the military.
Or his parents would find out about Eleanor and persuade him of his recklessness.
It would be an anti-romance. And I was entirely capable of writing it.
“AND THERE’S THE author herself!” Pete called when I stepped into the coffee shop. “A pink eye for you, hon?”
Probably she meant red-eye. Either way, I shook my head. “What else do you recommend?”
“Green tea’s good for you,” Pete mused.
“Well, sign me up.” My body could use some antioxidants. Or whatever was in green tea that made it “good for you.” Mom had told me, but the point had been pleasing her, not cleansing myself, so I didn’t totally remember.
Pete handed me the plastic cup, and this time she let me pay. I ignored the sinking in my stomach. How much money did I have left in my bank account? How long until I had to crawl back to my now-ruined childhood home with my tail between my knees?
I reminded myself that FAMILY_SECRETS.docx was rapidly growing into a book-like thing. Even one I’d be curious to read. Sandy Lowe might not end up wanting it, but surely, someone would.
Okay, not surely. But hopefully.
Pete took off the apron as she led the way into the bookstore.
“Maybe you should get a Clark Kent trench coat,” I said. “Seems like less hassle than bows and knots.”
“Yes, and who doesn’t want to buy their coffee from a gal in a trench coat,” Pete said.
“So here we go.” Pete stopped at The Revelatories display, which was now only halfway a pyramid of Revelatories. The other half was comprised of bubblegum pink, bright yellow, and sky blue books. Pete beamed. “Thought it would be kinda neat to do this local-authors display. Showcase the whole spectrum of what we’ve got goin’ on here in North Bear. What do ya think? Grab a stack, by the way.” Pete was already carrying an armload over to the counter, where a roll of AUTOGRAPHED stickers and a couple of Sharpies awaited.
“It’s great,” I said, following her with another stack.
“And Everett?” she said.
“Great,” I answered, accepting the uncapped Sharpie she was pushing into my hand. She started flipping to title pages and sliding books across for me to sign, one at a time.
“Sounds like you two’ve been spending a lot of time together.”
I balked. “Sounds like?”
Pete threw her back into her guffaw. “You know, as private as that boy is, I have to pull a lot from context out of our conversations. But yes, I’ve gathered the clues that you two have formed a friendship.”
I tried to hide my surprise. “You talk often?”
“He probably answers about a third or so of my calls. Sure, I drive him batty calling as much as I do, but I worry. We’re the only family each other’s got here.”
“Family?” I looked up at her, no longer hiding my confusion.
Her own features seemed to snap upward on her face, surprised. She scratched the back of her head. “I thought you knew. I never can tell what he thinks is private and what isn’t. So much of it shows up in his books you’d think he’d be comfortable peeling off his skin and parading through Times Square. ’Course, that might just be me projecting. I know how you artist types are. He insists it’s fiction, so I should read it as such.”
I was barely tracking. Apparently my face revealed that, because Pete explained, “I’m his aunt. His mother was my sister.”