Prologue - Say Something

PROLOGUE

Adventures in Wonderland. How appropriate, Della sighs, considering the theme of this years Met Gala. Wonderland…a world of make believe where chaos, superficiality and disorder reign. There are no rules here, no sense of right and wrong. Standing in the center of the museum gallery, she surveys the assembly of well-known personalities from the worlds of art, fashion, film, music and the crème de la crème of New York’s high society, a feeling of dread washing over her.

Thank God she didn’t have to walk the red carpet this evening! In a gesture of compromise, Owen snuck them into the gala through a service entrance with the waitstaff and caterers. The very thought of posing for an army of cameras, stacked like a house of cards behind the red velvet rope and fielding the inevitable questions about Jake Wheeler, was enough to make her want to crawl into bed and never get out. There’s nothing wonderful about Wonderland.

Why am I here? she asks herself for the hundredth time in the space of twenty minutes. Della vowed she’d never attend one of these media circuses again. From the corner of her eye, she catches sight of bright lights flashing non-stop across the spacious room and is transported to another time and place. Stumbling down the crowded steps of City Hall, being pushed and shoved by dozens of paparazzi clamoring for pictures, the flashing lights blinding her. Her heart begins to race at the memory and she recognizes the first signs of an anxiety attack threatening to overwhelm her…tingling limbs, a vice slowly closing around her throat.

Breathe, Della! Count backwards and take deep breaths. Ninety-nine…ninety-eight…ninety-seven… She closes her eyes and continues counting, wishing she had a cigarette or a Valium to soothe her nerves.

Growing up in small town America Della couldn’t possibly comprehend how unsettling and limiting fame can be. Flipping through the pages of glossy magazines, the lives of stars appeared so glamorous and full of adventure. World travel. Beautiful clothes. Wealth. Parties. Recognition. She wanted what they had. Until it was hers. What seems like unlimited opportunity and freedom is a prison of its own. Celebrities are just people with a different set of problems, and having experienced fame up close and personal…it’s not worth it.

While senior editor at one of the nations largest women’s magazines, she lived on the periphery of Wonderland, a comfortable distance from the unpleasant side of fame, but close enough to enjoy the perks. Her virtual rolodex was filled with private cell numbers of the rich and famous and glitzy events like this gala were a significant part of her life.

Dealing with celebrities, their egos and entourages became the norm, and she enjoyed her work, until she suffered through a very painful, public breakup of her own. Della’s done with being photographed and having her life pried into by relentless, cold-blooded journalists. There are enough intrusive pictures and videos of her posted on the internet to last a lifetime. Standing vulnerable and exposed in the spotlight, Della got a taste of her own medicine and it was a bitter pill to swallow. After over ten years in the business, she grew to loathe the media in all its forms. A decision had to be made and she knows without a doubt she made the right choice.

Tonight, her goal is to blend into the scenery and remain anonymous. Wearing a long sheath of heavy black satin, she decided against jewelry and swept her long, dark hair up into a simple, unadorned twist. Looking down at her dress, she wonders if perhaps she made a mistake. Maybe the absence of dazzling jewels and extravagant evening wear has made her more conspicuous? A bullseye in a sea of ostentation. Well, it’s too late now! All she can do is plaster a smile on her face and pray no one recognizes her.

Gripping Owen’s hand tightly, Della takes another deep breath and reminds herself, I’m here for him. Sometimes, you have to stand in the scorching hot sun and water the garden when you’d rather lie in the comfortable air-conditioned bedroom and read a book. Being here tonight, Della’s watering the garden. And she’s feeling the heat.

Owen wraps his arm around her waist and she smiles up at him. He’s a good man, kind and patient. He knows how difficult it is for her to be here tonight and has been protective. After her last relationship fiasco, it’s refreshing to be with someone dependable and considerate. I don’t deserve him. In the year they’ve been together, she’s held him at arm’s length, mentally unable to get too close. And now Owen wants to take their relationship to the next level. But how can she make that commitment when big chunks of her heart are spoken for? She’ll never get those pieces back, but she can try harder to be worthy of the love Owen showers upon her daily. She can open up what’s left of her mangled heart to him.

Owen looks especially handsome this evening in a classically tailored tuxedo, his thick, wavy sun-kissed hair brushed into submission. His glasses have slid down his aquiline nose and in a familiar, endearing gesture, he pushes them back into place and continues discussing his plans for the museum with a major patron. Della holds her head up, having regained her composure, and attempts to follow their discourse, but finds her mind wandering back to the unsettling conversation she had with Jake Wheeler yesterday.

When she found out Jake had accepted his invitation to tonight’s gala, Della was forced to pick up the phone and call him for the first time in ages. She’s fought hard to take back control of her life since their parting, to make it her own again. But his very public plea for forgiveness a few days earlier stirred the pot and the media has been sniffing around her like a dog in heat.

She won’t let Jake strip away her privacy again. She could not let him ruin this important evening for Owen, who was recently promoted to the museum’s Director of Exhibits. He’s required to attend the gala and mingle with its donors. It’s important to his career. This event means nothing to Jake.

After the interview, Della tried to convince Owen it would be better if she didn’t accompany him tonight, but he wouldn’t hear of it.

“Sweetheart, I want you by my side,” he pleaded. “Please?”

Owen asks nothing of her, and after Jake’s revelation on television the other day, she couldn’t refuse him this one thing. Della’s hand was shaking as she dialed his number and prayed she’d get his assistant or an answering service. But no, Jake answered the phone on the first ring, catching her off guard. Hearing his voice, she held her breath for a moment and almost hung up…but Jake knew it was her. It was as if he’d been expecting her call.

“Hi Del,” he said softly.
She played it as cool as she could, under the circumstances.
“Hello, Jacob. Umm…so…I don’t want you to go to the Met Gala tomorrow night.”
“How are you, Della?” he asked, ignoring her request.
“I’m fine, Jake. And you?” she replied, formally.
“Della…” he sighed. “We need to talk.”
“It would mean a lot to me if you stayed away from the gala,” she whispered, feeling tears sting the back of her eyes.

An uncomfortable silence saturated the air around her, but it was preferable to the alternative. There are so many words left unsaid between them…words she would prefer remain unspoken. You broke my heart. I miss you. Why wasn’t I enough? Her heart sank realizing how strong a hold he still had on her heart, how much hurt remains, how low her resistance to him after all of these years.

“I won’t go on one condition,” he finally relented.
“No conditions,” she breathed. “Just don’t go. For me, Jake. You say you care about me? Do this one thing for me.”
“Just meet me for a cup of coffee, Della. That’s all I ask. One hour of your time.”
“That’s a bad idea…” her voice trailed off.
Another long silence followed before Jake responded, “Then I’ll see you at the gala tomorrow night.”
“That’s not fair, Jacob,” she snapped.
“None of this is fair, Del,” he murmured. “Meet me at the coffee shop in an hour.”
“I won’t meet you in the city,” she hesitated, chewing nervously on her bottom lip. If they’re going to meet, it’s going to be on her terms. “Upstate. The Garden Café. Friday at noon.”
“How do I know you’ll be there?”
“You don’t,” she replied.

When she hung up, she stared at her phone, a million memories and regrets washing over her. I don’t have to go, she realized. Jake can’t make her do anything. But it’s inevitable they will see each other. She can’t put it off forever. One way or another, Jake will force the issue. If that’s the case, she needs a controlled environment; someplace private and safe, not this very public arena. Not tonight at the gala! The sight of them in the same room would have caused a media tsunami. Upstate, no one will bother them. Her upside-down days in the nonsensical world of Wonderland are over.

“Owen,” she whispers in his ear. “I’ll be right back.”
“Are you okay?” he lowers his voice, his eyes filled with concern.
“Absolutely,” she forces a smile. “Just be a minute.”

Della weaves through the crowd, avoiding eye contact with the other attendees. She hasn’t told anyone what she promised Jake in return for his absence this evening. Owen would be devastated. Her close friends would tie her to a chair! They’ve witnessed her suffering at Jake’s hand and wouldn’t let her go without a fight.

Christ! I want a Valium! It’s been a while since she needed the aid of medication to calm her nerves. When she was with Jake, she popped them like candy, but not lately. Life has been smooth with Owen, no crazy highs or debilitating lows. He’s a boat floating peacefully on a placid lake in the sunshine; Jake’s a dingy lost at sea during a hurricane.

She digs through her clutch again, hoping to find an old pillbox but comes up empty. Tonight, alcohol will have to do. While she waits impatiently at the crowded bar for a glass of champagne, a woman dripping in diamonds and dressed in a ruby red, floor length Calvin Klein gown embroidered with white crystal hearts approaches Della. She can’t help but admire the woman’s regal bearing, the confidence she exudes, declaring without a sound, I belong here.

Della studies the dress, and her fan made of playing cards, and smiles. The Queen of Hearts, indeed. Vicious, vapid, vain. She recognizes her as Bitsy Allerton, a high society dame, the most frightening of all women in her experience. Ladies in Bitsy’s social sphere eat people for sport. Croquet anyone?

Standing beside Bitsy is her eighteen-year-old daughter, Keira, a paparazzi favorite. Is she supposed to be the White Rabbit? Her long white gown is decorated with what looks like miniature bunny tails. Della bites her lip to stop from laughing and inadvertently catches Keira’s eye. The girl tilts her head in contemplation, then raises an eyebrow with the dawn of recognition.

Oh, shit! She’s kept her head down most of the evening for this very reason! Della sighs with resignation, bracing herself for either the onslaught of questions or the common and mildly hostile refrain…How could you leave Jake Wheeler? This question is always followed up with a baffled stare, which quickly turns into an anger-tinged glare. What they have to be angry about, she has no clue. Because they believe she broke Jake’s heart? Or is it jealousy? They want what Della had…and she walked away?

These women have no idea what it’s been like for her, the hell she’s been through because of Jake. They only know what his handlers allow the public to see, and this image bears little resemblance to reality.

“Don’t I know you?” Keira asks, her back against the bar.
“I don’t think so,” Della replies and turns away, searching for Owen or anyone familiar to save her from yet another inquisition.
“Aren’t you Della Stone?” she persists, tapping her shoulder.

Taking a deep breath in, Della peers into the girl’s pale blue eyes and shakes her head slightly, then grabs her champagne flute and attempts to squeeze through the throngs of people crowding the bar. Enough already! This is not how she wants to live her life! Dodging questions, evading the press, steering clear of Jake’s fans. Is it too much to ask to live her life in peace? She never wanted any of this.

Until Jake gave that interview that other day, her life was beginning to feel normal. Her work, her boyfriend, everything! Della created a stable environment after the chaos of their tumultuous relationship. She could walk down the city streets in blissful anonymity once again. Then Jake flipped her world upside down in the space of thirty minutes with his appearance on The Beth Larkin Show.

The interview! That god damned interview! Why did he share so many personal details about their relationship? Why? It’s nobody’s business! Owen was very upset by Jake’s revelations and she can’t blame him. She should have told him certain things a long time ago. But that’s a chapter of her life she thought was over. Della believed she was finally free.

How naïve! I won’t ever be free of Jacob, will I? Della’s a fly caught in the web of their shared past. She’s furious with him for thrusting her back into the spotlight. And sad, she has to admit. If only he had come to these realizations years ago, if he hadn’t fallen victim to the illusory world of fame, their lives would be so different. There would have been hope for them. She would have stayed. God, I loved that man like a fool!

“You are Della Stone!” Keira declares, grabbing her arm rather forcefully.

Startled, Della yanks her arm away from the young socialite and shoots her a withering glare, one that would send her underlings scurrying at work, but has absolutely no impact on the girl standing before her. Jaw clenched, Della turns to leave and finds she’s surrounded by several of Keira’s friends, with no escape in sight. She’s Alice, swimming to shore after treading water in a sea of her own tears, only to find herself surrounded by annoying little woodland creatures. She closes her eyes and sighs. And so it begins. Again.

“Oh my god! Are you insane?”
“He is the most beautiful man. What’s wrong with you?”
“How could you do that to him?”
“You cold bitch.”

The last remark gets her blood boiling. I’m a bitch? She feels the heat rushing to her face, her hands involuntarily clenching into fists.

“Darling!” Oskar’s voice beckons, and her body sags with relief. Her dearest friend clasps her shoulders, turns her body toward him and kisses her on each cheek. “Flee, little people!” he orders, and the crowd of socialites disburse. “Are you okay, my sweet?” he asks, steering her into a relatively quiet alcove off the cavernous lobby. Della wraps her arms around him and cries. “There, there, darling. You’ll ruin your makeup and my beautiful clothes!”

She clings to her knight in shining armor, or in this case, a velvet suit from his own collection. Oskar Dario is a well known fashion designer, and the first real friend Della made when she moved to New York City. They were both in school at the time, Della earning her master’s degree in creative writing at The New School, Oscar studying design at the Fashion Institute of Technology. They met waiting tables at a bistro in Greenwich Village and have been inseparable since.

“Here,” he says, handing her a handkerchief. “Aren’t I gallant? Now, clean up. There’s nothing more hideous than a woman with mascara running down her cheeks.”
“I can’t take this anymore, Oskar,” she whispers, wiping away her tears.
“Shame on Jake,” he mutters. “Declaring his undying love for you to the world.”

She frowns and he raises an eyebrow, a corner of his mouth turning up, and for the first time in days, Della smiles.

“Shut up,” she giggles, throwing the used handkerchief at him. “Who are you supposed to be, anyways?” she asks taking in his crazy calico outfit.
“Why, the Cheshire Cat, of course,” he grins and turns to reveal his tail. Of course he’s the wise cat! No one understands the inner workings of Wonderland better than Oskar. Together, they sit on a bench and he wraps an arm around her shoulders. “Darling, I think it’s time for you to take a vacation,” he says. “In a few weeks this will have blown over and the next big story will usurp the headlines. You’ll be yesterday’s news.”

She thinks about the huge billboard of Jake in Times Square, the bus shelters lined with posters of him, the multiple magazine covers he’s gracing at every city news stand, not to mention the tabloids with old photos of them together. She can’t go anywhere without being reminded of him anymore. Jacob shoved her back down the rabbit hole and the only way out is to escape. But I promised him…Della remembers, her heart sinking. She’s supposed to meet Jake in Woodstock in fifteen hours. Well…tough shit! She doesn’t owe him anything. Not one damned thing.

Oskar is right. It’s time to take a break. In a few weeks this will have blown over and she can get back to living her life. Jacob Wheeler free.

Prologue - As it Seems

Libby leans back against the heated leather seat, listening to the low hum of the radio while she sits in the warm cocoon of her car. Should I stay or should I go? The frigid November rain has been falling relentlessly since the previous morning and the heavy sheet obscures her surroundings. Littleton, Nantucket, Providence, Bayside, Boston? Squinting her eyes, she scans the parking lot for familiar signs but the buildings and cars are blurred, the colors running together. It’s beautiful, as surreal as an Impressionist painting. She could be anywhere; a different time, another place.

Lifting her digital camera from its case, she removes the lens cap and adjusts the focus to capture the watercolor created by the fat droplets of rain on her windshield. Click, click, click. She takes a dozen photographs and smiles to herself as she reviews them. These are good. I may be able to use these. There’s a new series here…

She returns the camera to it’s case and pulls her wool-lined raincoat close to her body, taking deep breaths in and out, deliberating whether to get out of the car. She’s not afraid of braving the storm outside; it’s the one raging in her head stopping her. I’m safe here, she thinks, leaning her head against the steering wheel. Nothing can hurt me if I stay. She arrived thirty minutes early and has been sitting in the parking lot for over ten. This is her opportunity to escape without being seen. He’ll be here soon and the choice will be much more difficult to make once she sees him.

What am I doing? The past few times they got together were agonizing, both of them pretending to be fine, trying to pick up where they left off before that fateful day. It’s impossible! If there’s one thing she’s learned over the past couple of years…you can’t go back. There is no rewind button. One split second decision is all it takes to change the course of someone’s life.

Everything is different now, their lives unrecognizable from the ones they were living just a few months ago. She’s changed. He’s changed. Holding onto the past can only cause her pain, and that, she does not need! She’s created a good life for herself out of the wreckage. The kids are happy; her career is satisfying. Why would she deliberately put herself in emotional harms way?

Because I love him. But too much has happened. It’s too late.

Knock! Knock! Knock! Libby jumps in her seat, her heart stopping in her chest. Someone is fiddling with the handle on the front passenger side door and she takes a moment before rolling down the window a crack, then breathes a giant sigh of relief when Ginger’s face comes into view.

“Jesus, Libby! Let me in!” Ginger cries, her face wet from the rain, hair sticking to her face.

Libby unlocks the door, quickly clearing the camera case and random papers from the seat to make room for her friend.

“Oh my God!” Ginger says, climbing in. “It’s crazy out there!”

She slams the door shut and Libby hands her the few napkins she finds in the console to dry her face.

“Well?” Ginger asks after a minute. “Are you coming in?”

Libby bites her lip and turns her face away, then shakes her head.

“No,” she whispers.

“C’mon, Lib,” Ginger pleads, resting her hand on Libby’s. “Just one cup of coffee.”

“I can’t do this, Ging. I just can’t…” her voice trails off.

Ginger leans her head back against the seat, her eyes closed.

“I can’t force you, Lib,” she murmurs. “I just wish things were different.”

So do I, Ginger. So do I.

“I’ll call you later,” Ginger sighs and kisses Libby on the cheek. “Love you.”

“Love you, too,” Libby replies, relief flooding her body.

Ginger climbs out of the car, then races across the parking lot and into the coffee shop. Libby turns the wipers on to watch her go and a minute later, shifts the car into drive. Before she pulls away, she notices a man standing a few feet in front of her, the only person not running for shelter. He’s wearing a raincoat, the hood pulled up covering his hair and most of his face, but it’s unmistakably him.

He raises his hand in greeting and she hesitates, then shakes her head slightly, and lifts hers in farewell. Their eyes lock for a long moment, then he nods and walks away.

 

Copyright © 2016 Jayne Conway
Plain Jayne Ink
All rights reserved.

Introducing...Ms. Bojangled Nerves

Sitting here on the eve of the Kindle release of As it Seems, an absolute jangled mess of nerves, I ask myself one question: Why do I write? Why publish my thoughts for everyone to read? (Okay, that's two!) The simple answer is: I have something to say and this is how I express myself. But it's not easy, especially for someone who takes criticism to heart. I dread the moment I bump into someone I know has read my book...and they say nothing. Ouch! It stings. I'd rather they said, "nice try" than nothing! 

I can't help but wonder how this novel will be received by readers of my first book. Will they love it or hate it? Will they be disappointed with my sophomore effort? I don't know. I want to say 'and I don't care!' but that would be a lie. In my last blog post, I said 'I wrote this book for me and if my readers like it, that's the icing on the cake.' Well, I want a big ass cake made only with icing, inside and out!

Believe me when I say it's not pleasant to read a nasty review about something I put my heart and soul into. My books are my babies; the characters, my family. Imagine someone criticizing your child in a very public way? Doesn't feel good. Publishing a book is like dropping your little ones off at school for the first time ever, praying the other kids won't pick on them, that they are accepted for who they are. But...we know deep down not everyone will love them as we do. Our hope is the good outweighs the bad. The same goes for my baby, As it Seems. Not everyone will love it. All I can do is set it free and hope for the best.

My new book comes with a few disclaimers: 

One, the setting is primarily in Rhode Island but I created two fictitious towns. Why? Because Rhode Island is a small state and I believe the social underpinnings explored in this book could be Anytown, USA. I'm not pointing fingers, though if you know RI well enough you may have some idea where I got my inspiration. For my New England friends who love to read about home, not all locations are fictitious. A lot happens in Providence, Boston and Nantucket, with a few mentions of Bristol and Newport. 

Two, this book tackles difficult topics such as adultery and depression. An unfortunate fact of life is most people have experienced adultery in one form or another, or know someone who has. The same goes for depression, whether mild and fleeting or severe and lasting. It's been called 'a page turner with plenty of action', but 'could trigger some painful emotions or memories'. You've been warned!

Three, there are intimate scenes in this book. No big surprise to anyone who read my first novel! That said, you will never find gratuitous sex in any of my books. If I include this type of scene, there's a purpose. It's meant to capture an emotion that drives the story forward, whether it's love or hate, desire or despair. According to readers, the scenes depicted in my first book were 'full of love.' In my second book, the emotions are more complex and the reasons for these scenes more complicated as a result. Some are heartwarming, others are not. 

Four, because of the subjects addressed, I don't recommend this book to anyone under 17. Not because the intimate scenes are more graphic than my first novel, but because I don't think teenagers can understand or appreciate the stage of life I've depicted here. This is written from the perspective of people in their forties, not their twenties as in What if I Fly? This isn't about the first flush of love. As it Seems is about what happens once that flush fades and how love grows and changes. 

Disclaimers aside, this story is not doom and gloom, I promise. By the time you reach the last page, you will have a smile on your face, and a warm fuzzy feeling in your heart. 
 

Icing on the Cake

cake.jpg

About 18 months ago I was sitting at my desk in a dead end marketing job. The company had just been sold and I knew I was on the chopping block. Before the sale I was bored out of my skull; after the sale I was a zombie, counting the minutes before I could go home each night. A girl can only stare into space for so long. I had to do something so I decided to write a story to pass the time. Before I knew it I had 100 pages and sent them to a friend for her opinion. She finished reading it in record time and asked, "What happens next?" Next? I didn't know. I hadn't written it yet! But I was hooked and in eight weeks I had a 400 page book with a beginning, middle and end! My friend loved the story and encouraged me to "do something with it." So I did. I self-published my very first novel, What if I Fly? in June 2015. 

I honestly didn't think anyone but (maybe) my friends would read it. In my head I had a very specific demographic; women my age from Bristol, Rhode Island who read romance novels. How many could there possibly be? But I had paid an editor and wanted to recoup my expenses, so with a great deal of trepidation, I announced the news to my 350 Facebook friends and posted the link to Amazon (you know...just in case someone wanted to actually buy it). I held my breath and watched in wonder over the following weeks as people purchased my novel. Not just friends and family, but perfect strangers from near and far; men and women, young and old. For some reason, my book appealed to a much broader audience than I ever imaged. 

Despite spending the previous ten years in marketing selling products and services, I had NO CLUE how to sell myself. Fortunately, I didn't have to do much in the beginning. Other than build a website and create a Facebook author page, I let word of mouth do the work for me. I was interviewed by the local paper, my book was a 'featured beach read' on The Rhode Show, I've had readings at libraries and bookstores. The reviews on Amazon and Goodreads are largely positive. The local stores kept selling out and the college kid who works at Barrington Books said, "I've never seen anything like it! People keep coming in asking for your book!" Fabulous! 

The boon lasted about three months and while my first book is still selling, it's at a much...much slower rate. Word of mouth only goes so far! It's time to build my 'author platform' and I'm learning as I go. 

I wrote my second novel over the summer and after two rounds of revisions, it's being released in February. What a different experience this has been! When I wrote my first book, I didn't worry whether people would like it. I wrote it solely for me. Starting my second book, I worried how it would compare to my first, wanting the readers who loved What if I Fly? to love As it Seems. Pressure! I realized rather quickly I had to write this book for myself as well. It taps into some pretty raw experiences and emotions, but I loved writing it as much as the first, and if my readers love it too...well, that's the icing on the cake.