Sunday, December 12, 2010

Excerpt Sunday: Something More from the NaNo Novel

Here's a something a little fresh for you - from the rough draft of my still-untitled NaNo novel, in which Libby, a single mother up for tenure at her university, must deal with her growing affections for Seth, an ex-cop mature student who won't take no for an answer. Enjoy!
“Mom, what makes them different colours?”

“Hmm?” Libby asked Charlie distractedly as she looked for a bag of bean sprouts that looked fresh enough to survive the ride home, at least. Grocery shopping was not exactly her favourite activity, but she had to admit it was a lot more fun with an adequate bank account and a car to ferry it all home in. She took the job of food finding seriously in a way that only people who had once been destitute do.

“These,” Charlie said, holding up the bag of bell peppers from the cart. “What makes them different colours?”

“Well…” Libby smiled; she loved how Charlie asked about everything. But, just as she was about to answer, she spotted an unwelcome disruption to her brain waves – there was Seth, in all his all-too-handsome glory, picking out bread. Resisting the urge to duck behind the cart in some sort of ridiculous Meg Ryan-esque move of romantic comedy slapstick, she instead spun her back to the man and pretended to concentrate a little too much on the jugs of organic apple juice.

“Don’t you know?” Charlie asked, puzzled by her odd behaviour.

“What?” Libby asked, absently, trying to slow her heart rate, and feeling like a silly ninth grader. “Um, yeah… They are different colours, because they are different varieties of peppers. They are all bell peppers, but some come from red pepper seeds, and some from yellow, and so on.”

“Ahhh,” Charlie said. “Like cats?”

Libby chuckled at the interesting paths her son’s mind took. “Yes, sort of.”

“Like, white mommy cats have white baby cats, right?”

“I guess,” she said, suddenly a little alarmed at the new direction of the conversation into procreation. She had slowly eased Charlie into the biology of reproduction, but she wasn’t sure the FoodMAX vegetable aisle was the place to continue the chat.

“But what if the mommy is white, but the daddy cat was black – doesn’t he have a say in it?” Charlie’s little brow puckered.

“Then you get Dalmatian cats, maybe,” a deep voice from behind her answered.

Charlie laughed, “No – Dalmatians are dogs, silly.”

Libby almost corrected Charlie’s too-familiar reply to a strange adult, but Seth stepped in easily, “Yeah, you’re right, I think. I was never good at the breed types,” he admitted. “We only ever had mutts.”

“Like me!” Charlie smiled, pleased that he understood what Seth was saying. “I’m part Irish, part Scottish, part English, part Italian and part “mutt.” That’s what grandma says her daddy was.”

“That’s the best way to be,” Seth said, smiling down at the boy. “Mutts live longer, I’m told.”

“Grandma also said I was a bastard,” Charlie said confidentially, “when she thought I wasn’t listening… Is that a good thing, too?”

Libby gasped in horror, but Seth seemed to be struggling to keep a straight face at the surprizing revelation.

“Charlie,” Libby intervened, “grandma should not have said that. It’s not a nice word.”

Charlie looked up, concerned. “Why would grandma call me something that isn’t nice?”

Realizing she had stepped into a topic that was actually much worse than the birds and the bees, she put a hand on Charlie’s thin shoulder and crouched in front of him. “It doesn’t mean you’re bad, or that grandma doesn’t think you’re not nice, so don’t worry. It’s just an old fashioned word for someone whose parents weren’t married. But some people don’t like the word, so it’s likely not good to use in mixed company, so you don’t hurt anyone’s feelings.”

“Ah!” Charlie said, letting the meaning sink in. “Like, when I said that man was a hobo, and you said that wasn’t a nice word for someone who didn’t have a house to live in?”

“Exactly, Charlie,” Libby said, pleased she had averted disaster. “You didn’t mean anything bad towards that man, did you?” At Charlie’s emphatic shake of his head, she mentally blessed his sweet little heart. “Of course not – you just used a word that some people might not like, but you didn’t mean any harm. That’s what grandma did when you overheard her.”

When Charlie nodded and seemed to be at peace with the topic, Libby stood and let out a breath of relief. Seth caught her eye and winked, and they shared a silent “man, parenting is tough some times” moment of sympathy between them.

“What’s next on the list?” Charlie asked.

“We need a big bag of oranges,” Libby said, spotting a huge display of them not too far away. “Can you find those?”

“I sure can!” Charlie, who was always eager to help, shot off to carefully select his bag of oranges.

“Wow,” Seth said. “You’re good.”

Libby laughed. “Not always, but, luckily, he’s pretty easy-going. Too smart for me sometimes, though.”

They chuckled together for a moment, and then went silent.

“So,” he said quietly, “I take it your mom doesn’t approve of some things, huh?”

“Well, she’s…” Libby thought of a way to phrase what she was about to say. “Let’s just say she’s not always the most understanding person.” Libby tossed her bag of sprouts into the cart. “I could spit nails that Charlie heard her talk that way, though.”

Seth bumped her shoulder with his in sympathy and watched Charlie peeking into the mesh bags of oranges. “He seems like a great kid.”

“He really is,” Libby agreed, fondly.

“You’ve done a good job, Libby,” Seth said, looking at her face fondly. “You amaze me.”

Clearing her throat at his compliment, Libby bowed her head to check her list.

“Man, when I became a single parent to Kelsey,” he said, “I was flat out exhausted all the time and anxious about everything… And she was eight! I can’t imagine doing it alone from infancy.”

“Well,” Libby shrugged, “I also wasn’t running after crooks all day.”

“True,” Seth laughed. “That does tend to wear a person out.”

“So, how is Kelsey doing?” Libby asked.

“She’s good,” Seth said, but waggled his head in a “so-so” motion. “You know – she’s fourteen.”

“Oh yes,” Libby said. “I know how that can go. Girls are not always at their best at that age, I admit.”

“Is anyone?” Seth laughed in agreement. “She’s dead set on moving in with her mom, but…”

“You’re just not sure?”

“Not at all,” Seth slumped his shoulders. “I wish I could be, so I wouldn’t be the bad guy, but… I just don’t trust this new guy Jami’s with at the moment. Some of my pals back in Cincy were iffy on his record – mostly DUIs and some pot stuff. Not enough to flat out refuse, I guess, but not really a pillar of society.”

“But no domestic stuff or sex crimes,” Libby offered, trying to soften the decision for him.

“No, thank God, none of that – though, in a way, that would make no a lot easier,” he shoved frustrated fingers through his short hair and continued to watch Charlie without really focusing on him.

“Hey!” he said, suddenly. “Do you guys want to come by for lunch?”

“When…?” Libby asked, cautiously.

“Well, today, after groceries,” he said. “If you’ve got anything that needs the freezer, you can just park them in our fridge until you’re ready to go. You can just follow me back to my place…” He started to sense her hesitation, and added, “Unless you’ve got plans or something…”

“Well,” she started to waffle. “The committee still hasn’t made its tenure decision,” she reminded him.

“Yeah, but we’re hardly up to anything naughty with the kids and my nosey mom around,” he countered.

“Very, very true,” Libby laughed. “I just don’t know if it’s a good idea to bring men around Charlie…” she confessed. Seth looked a little stung, and she hastened to add,

“Not because I worry about him being safe around you or anything… Just… He’s really into daddies these days, and I don’t want him jumping to any conclusions and getting his feelings hurt. I hope you understand…”

Seth nodded slowly. “I do…” he said reasonably. “It’s likely smart of you.” After a moment, he added, “Has that come up often for you?”

“No,” she answered quickly. “No, this is the first time I’ve had to consider the problem.”

“So, maybe we could ease in and see how lunch went, and if you see anything that concerns you, we won’t repeat it,” Seth suggested. “It’s just lunch with friends, right? Just because I am a guy…”

“Oh dear,” Libby exclaimed. “Are you playing the gender discrimination card?”

“I’m not above that, no,” Seth laughed, his even white teeth and dimple adding an aura of mirth to his face that she loved to see. “So, what do you say, mom?”

“Well, at least you asked me in private,” she started to relent. “A real manipulator would have put me on the spot in front of Charlie to win his point.”

“I’ll remember that for next time,” Seth joked.

“Don’t you dare,” she warned in mock severity.

“We’ll have chowder and sandwiches, I think,” Seth tempted. “I’m cooking, and that is something not to be missed.”

“Well, if you are putting it that way,” Libby shrugged, “it would be rude to say no. We graciously accept.”

“Great!” Seth said with genuine pleasure. “I’d really like you to meet my mom and Kelsey… But, you know, try to remember she’s…”

“Fourteen?” Libby supplied with a smile of understanding.

“Yeah.”

“Don’t worry,” Libby said honestly. “I will cut her oodles of slack, if you cut me a lot of slack, as well.”

“For what?”

“I never met a boy’s mother before,” she grinned.

“Hey,” he said, smoothly, “I’m just an old fashioned guy. Gotta meet the folks before I propose, right?”

Libby knew he was joking, but her heart nearly jumped out of her throat and skittered across the checker board tiles of the grocery store.

But then Charlie was before her, so she tried to act casual as she relayed their lunch plans to the boy, who was excited to spend more time with any adult male, a rare thing for him.

And, as they paid for their groceries, Libby was somewhat happy for her son… But very worried for herself.

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