Here I am, diving into another novel I may or may not finish. But this has been pretty motivating, and I am now using Plottr which has been an absolute Godsend and making the process go 10x smoother. Tentative title is The Sleepless Knights, set in Jersey (duh), late 80’s going into the 90’s so there will be a lot of pop culture references. Overall, it’s a fantasy with some supernatural elements. Here’s a piece of the beginning chapters. Enjoy
“Do you have a Swedish Vullhound?”
“Hmmm. Not sure I’ve ever heard of that breed before.”
“They are quite rare, my dear. But you should carry rare breeds. Show dog owners love to spend money.” Distant screams and cheers traveled from the far end of the mall.
“Dear Lord, what on Earth is all that racket about?” “I think a band is doing a signing event at Sam Goody’s.”
“Hm, I cannot name a more ear-splitting sound than a teenage girl’s voice.” The older lady dressed in a McCall’s suit with huge shoulder pads rubbed her temples.
“Can I interest you in a cubic zirconia studded collar? I asked, striking a Vanna White pose towards the bedazzled dog accessories. “No, just the treats will do. I have to get out of this sorry excuse for a shopping mall. I simply CAN NOT take that God forsaken noise anymore.”
I quickly rang her up and bagged her homemade treats. Handing her the bag, I wished her a pleasant day, and she left without saying a word. Such was life at Just BeClaws pet gift and supply shop. Out of all the stores in the Monmouth Galleria, my shop was probably the least frequently visited when it wasn’t Christmas time. But the owners were nice enough to hire me three years prior, at 15 and with no job experience. It kept me from flipping burgers, and I could use my mall employee discount at the pizzeria and the bookstore.
Because it was often slow in the store, I could concentrate on my homework, which was rarely a problem, and most importantly, I could hang out with the friends I created with words and pictures, on any pages I could get my hands on. I was the prototypical nerd. The girl who actually enjoyed homework and writing long papers pleading for more vegetarian options in the cafeteria and eliminating the 4 years of gym graduation requirement. I finished clearance tagging some tacky cat jewelry then returned to the counter in the center of the store. I plopped my butt down on the uncomfortable wooden stool and picked up where I left off on my science paper – What would life in New Jersey be like if there were no other humans left besides me? Everyone could choose whatever state or country they wanted to focus on. I could have chosen a million other places I have never and will ever see, but I decided to go the easy route. It’s almost the end of my senior year, and I’m fried. Besides, people aren’t going anywhere for a while. The world will remain loud and confusing, even in silence. I closed my science notebook and dug out my leather bound book filled with handmade hemp paper. A Christmas gift from my best friend Rhiannon. We loved frequenting the hippie store, Intrinsic, on the top level of the mall, thinking we were cool checking out the bajas adorned with marijuana leaves and the psychedelic tapestries glowing under black lights. Carved into the leather cover was The Tree of Life. I knew this had a deeper meaning than simply being a tree, I just hadn’t bothered to find out what it was.
Memory waited patiently, as she did every day, for her new friend to arrive, wondering what new stories he’d have to tell and what new songs she could teach him on the piano. It was getting late, and she started to worry how much time she’s have to spend with him that night. But then again, her time alone in the apartment at night…
I paused and started doodling flowers on the side of the page when frantic footsteps and a near breathless voice yanked me out of my reverie.
“No matter who comes in here. I’m not here. You never saw me!”
Before I could register what just happened or muster some sort of response, the guy dove underneath a rack of thick, hanging afghans, all sporting cutesy embroidered pictures of different dog breeds. I barely got a look at his face.
“Is everything okay, sir?”
“Shhh, you’re going to give me away.”
“I can’t even see your feet.”
He ignored me. Suddenly, the sound of young, desperate female voices distracted me from the mystery man hiding within the throw blankets.
“Haveyouseenhim? Haveyouseenanyoftheguyscomebyhere? Whichwaydidhego?”
The blonde, who was obviously the leader of the trio of frantic girls, had a mouth full of braces and couldn’t catch her breath. The other two clung to her studded, denim jacket as if she was the only one who knew the way to Contempo Casuals.
“Ummm..I’m not sure who you are referring to.” I had to stop myself from looking over at the afghan rack.
“Well duh! Only one of the hottest guys on the planet! Where have you been?”
“Umm..reality? You should come visit some time. We have awesome bagels.” I shot her a goofy grin.
“Ugh, you’re weird!” grunted one the blonde’s lesser attractive disciples. “Can I interest you in a Yorkie plush to cuddle on those cold lonely nights?” I gestured again like Vanna towards the group of plush toys sitting on the shelf behind me.
“Get a life, loser. Come on girls, there’s no way anyone important came into this store.” The bratty trio turned to leave.
“Come back soon when we have more of those biscuits you liked.” The blonde gave me the finger and her minions followed. I was also one of those girls who had a hard time understanding the typical teenage mind. Maybe I was weird or a freak, but I certainly wasn’t interested in being whatever the hell normal was supposed to be.
“They’re gone.” He sighed before peeking through the wall of blankets surrounding him.
“Thanks. That was close. You mind if I just hang out here for a few until I know the coast is clear.” He stayed crouched down, partially hidden by the height of the counter.
“If you wish. No one is going to come looking for you in here unless you are a big dog or cat lover.”
“I’m allergic to cats. Dogs are awesome. I’m getting one soon.” “Well, let me know if you need me to put together a new puppy pack for ya. It’s kind of my forte as you can see. At least until college.”
“Thanks. Hey, I never caught you’re name.”
“That’s because I didn’t throw it, James.”
“As in Dean.”
“Oh yeah, nice!” He smiled and nodded with pride. I couldn’t believe I spoke casually with a boy- a boy who was obviously older than me. A boy who looked intricately chiselled from smooth marble or painted with watercolor and fine tip brushes – an ethereal blend of art and reality. He had 5 o’clock shadow, and his thick chestnut hair was slicked back but soft with a few wisps hanging down over his forehead. I never thought a pair of hazel eyes could be that noticeable. I have hazel eyes but the kind you can’t see unless you look closely under right lighting. His eyes were leaves when they’re just about to turn in October. Tight Levi’s, a slightly tattered black leather jacket, a gold chain, and a white T-shirt completed his look that spelled “unattainable” as much as it spelled “danger”.
“I’m Cayden. Cayden Donnelly.” He held out his hand.
“I know who you are.” I hesitated before gently clasping his soft hand. It’s funny what you can remember like it was five minutes ago even though it happened decades before. That was one of those moments.
“Really, you listen to our music?”
“If it pops up on the radio. Can’t say I’ve added you guys to one of my mix tapes yet.”
“So what do you usually listen to? No wait, don’t tell me..The Comets, or Stella, right?” I wasn’t surprised he named a popular girl rock band and a solo singer, both of whom were played religiously at the roller skating rink that Rhiannon and I frequented.
“They’re okay..if you need something to dance to. But growing up in my house you have to be into hard rock, the longer the hair and the tighter the spandex, the better. At least that’s what it used to be,” I finished under my breath.
“That’s cool. My parents were hippies, so everything they listen to requires tie-dye and acid trips.”
I aimlessly sifted through papers sitting behind the counter trying to look busy. I had a terrible feeling the more we kept talking, the harder it would be to think of good things to say. He started whistling, looking around, and tapping his fingers on the table. Anxiously, I tried to think of something else to say to him. But he was a hot guy who was part of a band who were rapidly rising to Bon Jovi-level stardom.What more could I say to him that he’d actually care about? As soon as he left, nothing I said or did will ever be a second thought in that pretty head of his.
“So..do you like working here?”
“It’s okay. Gives me plenty of time to myself since what you see is what you get as far as customers,” I waved my hands around the empty store.
“Must get kind of boring though, huh?”
“I’m alone a lot but rarely bored.”
“Ha, sometimes I wish I knew what being alone is like. When you’re on the road with your five brothers, and you can barely run into a Dunkin Donuts without getting bombarded by screaming girls, you don’t get many quiet moments.” He smiled but I could tell he was only half joking.
“Awww, what’s the matter? Too much hairspray and frosted lipstick for your tastes,” I quipped, offering him a stick of Juicy Fruit which he accepted.
“Definitely,” he chucked.
“Well, trust me, unless you like boardwalk games and Pork Roll, egg, and cheese, don’t bother with a Jersey girl.” I was only half kidding.
“Ahhh yes, the infamous pork roll versus Taylor ham, boardwalk and Skeeball, New Jersey stereotype. I can relate. I’m Irish Catholic, so everyone thinks I’m a drunk.”
“Do you ever get asked if your a Kennedy?” I laughed.
“Not yet,” he smiled. He had a contagious smile. He’d make you smile even if you were enjoying being pissed off, and then that would piss you off more. His eyes never seemed to change size when he smiled but you can tell it was an honest grin.
“So are you going to tell me your name, or are you going to leave me in suspense?” He spun a turning rack of calendars around, still trying to hide his presence from fans who may happen to pass by.
“If I tell you, you’re not going to stalk me are you? I mean, I know my intense allure is hard to resist,” I bantered.
It was fifteen minutes to 9 pm, so I used my key to bring the gate a quarter of the way down, a classic mall indicator of approaching closing time.
“A little too self-deprecating don’t you think?”
“I speak as I find, Mr. Donnelly,” I smirked.
He followed me around the store closely as I straightened racks and shelves. With every step he took closer to me, I tried to take a step away.
“But what if others find you interesting?”
“I kind of don’t know what that’s like.”
“Well, I think you’re interesting.”
“But you don’t even know me.”
“Trust me, I know more than you think..I mean..I’ve been around plenty of girls like you.”
“Girls like me, huh? And what kind of girl is that?” I made my way back behind the counter, opened the register, and began counting bills – anything to maintain a space between us. Though I can’t say I was particularly nervous around him. Still, I needed to keep my guard up. He could have been one of those skirt-chasing, sex-crazed rock stars who could seduce a nun if he wanted to. But again, I wasn’t the skirt-wearing, boy-chasing type of girl, assuming guys didn’t want to be chased by a girl less exciting than a can of Tab soda.
“Smart, quirky, but closed off, like you’re always trying to hide from everything. But you don’t realize that..that you are…everything..to somebody.”
I froze at his answer and looked at him. He raked his hand through his hair then rubbed the back of his neck. I probably should have said thank you. I probably shouldn’t have felt the need to hide the heat in my face.
“And I guess you know me so well, huh?” I finally answered, trying desperately not to smile but failing as I counted coins.
“Of course I don’t know you. But let’s just say..I see a lot in people they don’t necessarily see in themselves.”
I nodded then started to count nickels aloud as he effortlessly juggled a few tennis balls he grabbed from a bin of dog toys. He could easily see I was getting ready to close the store, but seemed to be making no attempt to leave. Not one teenage girl had walked by in a while, so he could easily leave without the fear of being bum-rushed by raging hormones.
“Well, anyway, I need to finish closing up shop, so…”
“What are you doing when you get out of here?” He quickly threw the balls back in the toy bin then leaned forward on the counter towards me.
“Umm, not sure. Probably just going home, writing a few pages, then watching Nick at Night until I pass out. Why?”
“Yeah, I write and I draw. It’s my major. I’m a regular Renaissance woman,” I held up my journal and showed him a few pages.
“Wow,” he reached for my book. “This is incredible. Can I see?”
“Uh..sure. Just keep it at a few glances, if you don’t mind. I can’t even remember half of what I’ve written or drawn in there. Don’t want to incriminate myself, you know?” I replied, partially in jest. He quickly flipped through some pages, looking up at me in astonishment from time to time.
“Thanks,” I reached for my journal, and he handed it over without little protest.
“It seems like you’ve illustrated some stories there.”
“Yeah, sometimes. Sometimes they just..come to me.”
“Can you come meet me outside once you’re done? I’d like to introduce you to some friends of mine. Plus, we’re not sure what there is to do around here on a Friday night. I figured you could show us the best places for some harmless shenanigans.”
“Oh, well..I don’t know. I have my mother’s car, and I guess I’m expected to back home.”
“Are you sure?”
Not really, I wanted to say. I’d never been asked to hangout with a group of guys before, especially guys who were on the fringe of being considered megastars. Not to mention he had a dangerous smile that could stop time and heal the wounded.
“Thanks anyway,” I walked back over to the gate, passing him, feeling his eyes on me. Soft leather scent mixed with sandalwood and sage hit me like a gust of wind before a violent thunderstorm. Failing to avoid anymore eye contact, I placed the key back into the device that lowered and raised the gate. Then I waited, trying not to stand impatiently like I was kicking him out of the store. I don’t think I had to try too hard.
“Well, good night Cayden. I was happy to help you avoid the clothes ripping and hair pulling associated with being a rock star.”
“True,” he laughed. “You saved me big time. This is my lucky jacket.” He smiled sadly as he bent his way under the partially closed metal, entering the now dimly lit mall walkway. Reluctantly, I brought the gate the rest of the way down, keeping me safe within the small store I knew too well.
“Are you sure you don’t want to come hang out with us? It doesn’t seem like you need to get home right away.” He looked at me pleadingly through the thin metal bars and gently clasped the gate with both hands. At that moment I wasn’t sure if it was he or I who looked like a prisoner.
“Hey, next time you’re in town. You know where to find me? Just find the scent of dog treats and wasted cash.” He seemed to enjoy my corny, cynical sense of humor which often didn’t go over well with many people. Even though I stood my ground with every fiber of my being, he looked like a lost puppy not wanting to leave. Which I guess was fitting, considering I worked in a pet store.
“Okay,” he backed away defeated. “It was nice meeting you, Agatha?”
“Yeah, you still haven’t told me your name, so I will assume you are a lady of mystery.” He turned to walk away.
“Maeve!” I yelled before he could get any further away. He stopped, turned, and gave me another one of those killer smiles.
“I’m Maeve. Maeve Wicklow.”
“Beautiful.” He waved one more time then continued further into the darkness of closing time.
I continued with my end of the night duties – cleaning, straightening, counting the register. But then I added cursing myself out to the list that night.
“Who are you kidding, Wicklow? You’re never going to see him again. He’s probably hitting on some silky-haired, big-titted blonde at a party right now.”
I really didn’t believe the last part, but it made me feel somewhat better. I strolled out into the parking lot exhausted, not from work, but from lament thicker than the dank New Jersey air.
“Maaaaeve!” bellowed an unfamiliar voice as I fished for my keys in the outside pocket of my backpack.
The voice came from a big bus, lit up by the lamppost it was parked under. Moments later, there he was, running towards me before I could even think about putting my key into the door of my mother’s tattered old LeSabre.
The Boys and the Boardwalk
“Dude, all that’s besides the point. You had a cool chick in the palm of your hand and you just walked away like a damn fool. Man, haven’t I taught you not to be a spazz with the ladies!”
“Quinn, it’s not like you’ve been racking up points with females, ya airhead,” Kyler threw a piece of popcorn at my chucklehead of a best friend, which Quinn effortlessly caught in his mouth.
“Hey, nothing could be worse than his layups,” I loved teasing him about his inability to close the deal on the court..and in other areas. He liked pretending to be the James Bond of the group, always getting the girl in the end.
“Ha ha, smart ass,” Quinn flipped me off. “Look, all I’m saying is, you could have been more convincing if you think she is what you say she is,” Quinn washed down the popcorn by guzzling a Coca Colas then crushing the can.
“Yeah, how are we going to know for sure if you never see her again, Cay D.” Young Rian, sitting at our “kitchen” table with his school books open, was the only one in the group I allowed to use that nickname.
“Don’t worry about it, Ree. She’s probably not it. Cayden has had this feeling many times before,” Donavan, in his signature bass voice, tried to shut down Rian’s hopes.
“Don, I know you would be the last to agree. But I’m telling you, if you saw this girl’s drawings, even you would be floored. She’s got to be it.”
“Dude, we’ve been all over the country, all over the world. If you, or any one of us, haven’t found her by now, we never will.” Donavan patted me on the back before hopping up onto one of the bunks towards the back of the bus.
I leaned up against the counter with the tiny sink and one-burner stove that was supposed to be our kitchen. With my arms crossed and my head down, I continued to listen to my brothers’ admonishments for walking away from the girl.
“Hey, come on, bro. Don’t listen to these clowns. There’s only so much you can do, aside from harpooning the chick in the head and dragging her out here, which is highly discouraged of course. Don’t think that’s going to get you laid,” Kyler playfully rustled my hair, which he knew I hated with a passion, so I swatted his hand away.
“Thanks, little bro. I can always count on you to put things in perspective in a wildly inappropriate manner.”
“Spare me, the way you talked about her, don’t tell me you didn’t want to bang her brains out.”
“It’s not like that Kyler. I’m interested in this girl for much more important reasons, in case you weren’t paying attention.”
“Whatever, man,” he smirked.
“Love is not lust. The two are poles apart. Love liberates while lust binds. Narayanananda Swami.”
“Thanks Gus, always a big help,” Quinn teased.
Gus, our faithful bus driver, was a man of few words, but he had floppy disks full of quotes in his brain, and he would chime in with one at any given moment. He always found one relevant to the situation, and to me, he was one of the wisest men I knew. Admittedly, I had to stop and think about what Kyler said. Yes, I was blown away by Maeve’s abilities, and it was refreshing to meet someone who didn’t want to throw her panties at me. But I had to admit she was pretty cute. Ah, hell with it. She was beautiful. In a Velma from Scooby Doo kind of way if that makes any sense. But you could see her eyes through her glasses, cat-like and penetrating. She would have probably looked gorgeous with her hair down. Big breasts too, I laughed to myself, hoping the guys didn’t notice the redness in my face caused by visions of her amazing rack. I liked to think of myself as the level headed one, but I was still human. And I had all the time in the world to be human.
“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall. Confucius.”
Gus leaned forward over the steering wheel and peered out the windshield. I moved up by him to see what he was looking at so intently. There she was. The poor lighting didn’t help, but I knew it was her walk.
“Hey, Quinn, Kyler, come here!” Rian also jumped up.
“What is it, Cayden,” complained Quinn. “I just poured a bowl of Lucky Charms. I don’t want them to get soggy!”
“The girl. Maeve!”
“Oh shit!” Quinn laughed maniacally then opened the bus door.
“What the hell are you doing?”
“Maaaeve!” he bellowed out the door instead of answering me.
“Dude, come on!”
“Okay, I got her attention. It’s all you now, brother.” Quinn waved for me to get off the bus. Once on the ground, I saw her still standing there by her car, probably confused or freaked out.
“Book er, Danno,” he punched my shoulder.
“I swear I’m having Gus drop you off at a funny farm one day.”
“Whatever, get going. Ask her if she wants to go to the boardwalk with us.”
“Since when are we going to the boardwalk?”
I took a deep breath and ran towards her. I saw her looking for her keys in her bag, so I picked up the pace. Once I got close enough for her to see it was me, she stopped her desperate search.
“Hello again, Maeve.”
“You are stalking me, aren’t you?” she joked.
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