July 15, 2017

Chapter One from Pucker Up!

How about a peek at the upcoming standalone novel, Pucker Up? 

Here is an unedited copy of Chapter One!


Chapter One

I march through the doors of Bannam Hall at Saint Martha’s University and jog down the handful of steps into the courtyard. I’m headed for my usual appointment. It’s not on paper, but Jack Morgan, editor of Martha’s Musings, has come to expect me and I can’t disappoint him. Or, at least, that’s what I tell myself. Martha’s Musings is the only paper at my college, and I need a spot on the paper to add to my resume if I’m going to have any hope of a job when I graduate. Especially if I want to stay in Nova Scotia where the jobs in this field aren’t all that plentiful. It’s all part of the career plan I crafted at age fourteen.
My roommate, Emily, falls behind me. She’s smiling as she taps out a text—probably to her boyfriend—on her cell phone. No one else makes her smile like that, all red cheeks and shocking white teeth. 
I glance back at her. “Come on, Emily, I’m going to be late.” I can barely keep the frustration from my voice. 
She looks up at me and frowns before shoving her phone in her back pocket. “Holy shit, Compulsive Charlie, slow your frigging roll.” She's out of breath as she jogs to catch up. 
When she reaches me, I turn and hurry forward until she links her arm with mine and forces me to slow down again. 
Compulsive Charlie, that’s what she has called me from as early as junior high when we became best friends. She constantly tells me I’m OCD, but I’m not. If she read the definition for it, she’d know I don’t meet the criteria. I’m just focused and driven, particularly when it comes to school and my career path. 
“You need to relax,” she says.
“You know I can’t be late.”
She laughs at me. “Of course not. You wouldn’t want to be late for an appointment you don’t really have.”
I nudge her with my elbow, and she laughs at me. She has a point. At the beginning of the year, I tried to get a position on the paper, and the editor told me he didn’t accept freshmen. There were too many people interested in the paper, and he wanted to ensure he gave the opportunity to people graduating in the next year or two. I understood, but decided to accept his policy as a challenge. Now it’s almost spring, the school year is nearly over, and he still hasn’t changed his mind. The editor might be more stubborn than I am.
“So, what was all the smiling for?” I ask.
“Brad wants to take me away this weekend,” Emily says. “We’re gonna go into the city for a Thin as Thieves concert. Interested?”
I shake my head, earning me a pout with a bottom lip so thick she might just trip on it. 
“School is over in a few weeks, and you’ve barely done anything with me this year except movie nights and study sessions.”
“Sorry, but we’ve got exams in a few weeks, and I’m so far behind.”
She laughs at me. “If you’re far behind, then I might as well off myself because I’m definitely fucked.”
I let out a little chuckle as we approach the double doors leading into Chancey Hall, one of the oldest buildings on campus. And it’s one of my favorites. It was renovated a few years ago, but they kept the interior consistent with the original features: wood paneling, high ceilings, and tall, narrow windows with stained glass above them in a semi-circle shape. I open the right door, and Emily passes through. People exit through the door on the left. 
Inside, Emily unlinks her arm from mine and keeps walking, waving at me over her shoulder. “Go get ’em, tiger. I swear, you’ve got more persistence than a yeast infection.”
I slow to a stop and stare at her back, making a face as people frown at me in disgust. Not that it bothers me. Luckily, I’ve had enough people tease and torment me over the years. I shrug it off with a sigh and continue to wade through the passing crowd. At Jack's door, I take a deep breath and prepare myself, standing a little straighter. I pull down the hem of my sweater and give myself a little shake. 
“You’re a rock,” I whisper to myself. “An immovable force. Don’t back down.” I knock three times and take a step back.
“Come in, Charlotte,” Jack says. I swear I hear him sigh through the closed door. 
Slowly, I open the heavy wooden door; the hinges groan in protest. I smile wide as my eyes lock onto Jack’s, and then I wait, with bated breath, for him to ask me to come inside. 
We have a routine. It’s always the same. Knock three times. He asks for me—by name—to come in. He offers me some of his lunch and then asks me to sit. I plead my case and then he tells me no. I continue to plead, and he tells me I know where the door is. It wasn’t quite so formulaic in the beginning, but we've evolved over the last six months. Sometimes I veer off course to change things up, but the meeting always results in the same conclusion: a big, fat no thank you.
I hold my hands in front of my body and take six steps in before stopping in the narrow space between his two leather chairs. It’s twelve o’clock on the dot. The clock above his desk rings out with one quiet ding as the second hand slides into its perfectly vertical position. Jack takes a bite of his sandwich, glancing up at me between bites. From the smell, I’d say it’s tuna. The fleshy flakes and the edge of some sliced cheddar cheese stick out on one corner.
He picks up the other half of his sandwich from a square Tupperware on the desk. He holds it out to me and says, “Eat.” A piece of lettuce falls from one of the corners to land on a stack of scattered papers on his desk.
“No, thank you.” I can’t stop my nose from crinkling. I haven’t been able to eat tuna in years, not since I got food poisoning from some bad sushi. 
“Have a seat,” he says, pointing to one of the chairs. “I have a meeting booked for twelve-thirty so let’s get this over with.” He adjusts in his seat, leans back, and pulls his sweater across his belly. He’s otherwise lean, but has what people would probably call a beer gut. 
He wipes crumbs away from his stomach as I find my voice. 
“I would like to be a part of St. Martha’s Musings.”
“No.”
I hold up a finger. “I graduated top of my high school class. I have a four-point-oh average and am on a full scholarship. I was editor of my high school paper, and I received an award at graduation for obtaining the highest online views ever. And!” I pull out a piece of paper from my messenger bag and hold it out to him. 
He scowls while waving a hand at me, gesturing for me to put it away. 
“This is an example of my writing. I think you'll be most impressed. It’s a short piece I wrote for my high school newspaper about the school cafeteria’s focus on fatty foods and how it contributes to childhood obesity.” Proud of my article, I beam at him. 
He fakes snoring. “This is the ace in your pocket?” He shakes his head and sighs. “Even if this was the most interesting article I'd ever read—which, let's face it, this is one step above putting me in a never-ending coma—it's nearly the end of March and school is almost over. We have one paper left to publish before the end of the term. Why bother?”
I nod, beaming at him. “Because I want this. More than I've ever wanted anything else in my entire life.”
“You’ve made that point clear. Now tell me why.”
I sigh and sink into my seat. Emotions. He wants me to get personal, but I’m not really good with that kind of stuff, especially with people I don’t know well. “Well…” I begin. “I love to write, and this is one of the few ways I can see myself writing and getting paid for it. I mean...eventually, if I get to work for a paper or a magazine.”
With narrowed eyes, he scrutinizes me, and I squirm in my seat. I left out a little nugget that’s essential to my story. But he doesn’t need to know any more details than what I’ve given him. 
“I told you in the fall I reserve all positions on the paper for juniors and seniors…and in rare cases, sophomores.”
“I could start coming every day,” I say with a warm smile.
He rolls his eyes and groans. “You really are a pain in my ass, you know that?”
“I do.”
“You know what, kid?” He leans forward and props his elbows on the edge of his desk. He points in my direction. “You got it.”
For a moment, I’m stunned. I mean, I thought my dedication and persistence would pay off, but I was starting to lose hope once the New Year rolled around. “Um…what?”
“I’ll give you a shot.”
“Is this a trick?”
He frowns at me before shaking his head. “By the time you get the story, school will be over. And that’s if you get the story. This isn't something that appears to be in your wheelhouse.”
My wheelhouse? Screw you. I shimmy to the edge of my seat and struggle to keep my voice even. “You have my undivided attention, and I think you'd be surprised at all the things I have in my wheelhouse.” I pull the flap up on my bag and pull out my day-timer. It’s my life. While most students I know use their phones to manage their calendars, I’ve always preferred the handwritten kind. I never go anywhere without it. I open it to the notes to the left of today’s date and grab a pen, clicking it three times. A habit. I press it to the page and wait for his instruction. 
“If you harass this guy as much as you harass me, then you just might get something out of him,” he mutters. 
I'm not sure he means for me to hear, but my hearing is perfect so I absorb every last syllable while I bounce in my seat. He’s giving me a chance, and the story he has in mind seems to be a good one. If it wasn’t such a disgusting habit, I’d be chewing my nails right now.
“The captain of the hockey team was drumming up interest from some scouts. Then all of a sudden, the coach benched him during the playoffs. Some people are saying they ultimately lost because he wasn't playing. So, I've had multiple people try to get an exclusive, but he won't talk. I got to asking myself, 'What's he got to hide?' Drugs? An injury? What else could it possibly be? I need you to find out.”
I click my pen while I consider his offer. My gut twists into knots, and I struggle to find the words. I wanted him to give me a story—any story—but this was not what I had in mind. “The information you want me to dig up seems awfully personal, the kind of thing that could damage this guy’s reputation.”
“I thought you said you wanted to be a reporter? You think reporters only tell sweet stories and talk about rainbows? No, they get their hands dirty. They find out things that readers need and want to see.”
“Readers need to know why he couldn’t play?”
He clears his throat and narrows his eyes. “Listen, kid, this business isn’t for the faint of heart. A guy puts himself in the public eye, he has to expect to be a topic of discussion. If this guy goes pro, do you think the big papers will back off a story because it might hurt his feelings? Grow up. And if you can’t do this story, then you’re not someone I’ll ever allow to write for my paper.”
“Never?”
“Not in this lifetime.”
I heave a sigh and click, click, click my pen. I don’t want this, but what choice do I have? Journalism students usually get their experience at school or through summer internships. Without a spot on his paper, I won’t be competitive after graduation. 
In complete silence, we stare at each other. I’m confident he’s serious, and I can’t risk my future, not for a guy I don’t know. Besides, maybe it won’t be a smoking gun. Maybe it won’t be anything juicy at all. I hope for this as I write down the details. 
Sports piece.
Captain of the hockey team. 
Why was he benched? What does benched mean? 
“Okay, I can do this. Yeah, of course.” I swallow a hard lump in my throat and shift uncomfortably in my seat. “Besides, I love sports. They’re amazing.” I hate everything about sports. I especially hate how obsessed people seem to be about them. What's more? My experience with jocks has been traumatic, at best.
He rolls his eyes at me. “Right. I’m sure you attend all the games. At any rate, I don’t want a sport’s piece. I want a human-interest piece. I want to know the person behind the player. His upbringing. His family. What makes him tick? And I want to know why he was pulled off the ice!”
Human interest.
Who is he?
“Apparently this kid came from nothing. One of our reporters tried to get his story by going to his hometown, but no one knew a thing about him. Showed up at a private school on full scholarship at age seventeen. No one knows who he was or where he came from before then. This guy has secrets, and I want to know all of them.”
I don’t want to be intrigued, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t. “No problem. He’ll be singing like a canary when I’m done with him.” 
Jack stands and grabs his knitted cardigan off the coat rack to the left of his desk. He slides his arms into the sleeves and adjusts his shoulders until it sits perfectly. 
“You’ll have it by tomorrow,” I say confidently as I slide my day planner and pen back into my bag.
He chuckles. “Ten days. I want it on my desk next Wednesday by the end of the day. You bring me my story, and you got a spot on the paper next year. AND I’ll print your story in the final issue of this year’s paper.”
The final edition for the year? The image flashes in my mind clearly. The bold-lettered title and my name at the bottom in little letters—but still there. My dad will be so proud. I can just imagine the look on his face.
“But!” He holds up a finger. “You don’t get the story and you don’t come to my office again.”
“You’d miss me,” I say. 
He rolls his eyes. He does that a lot. Perhaps it’s a medical condition.
“Right.” He taps me on my shoulder as he approaches me. “Up you get. I need to go, and you need to get out of my office.” He scoots me out, but I wait on the other side of the door. He locks his door and turns, almost bumping into me. “Why are you still here?” His tone is full of exasperation. I’d be offended if I wasn’t sure somewhere deep down that he likes me. I mean, he has to—if he hated seeing me so much, he wouldn’t be in his office every week waiting for me. 
“You didn’t tell me my subject’s name.”
“Well, if you’re such an enormous sports fan, then it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out who our hockey superstar is, right?”
“Right. Of course not.”
He pulls the hem of his left sleeve back and glances at his watch. “I’m going be late, Miss Morrison.” He turns his back to me and heads for the courtyard exit. His sweater has static and is bunched together at the back so his woven pink and green belt is exposed. Before pushing through the exit, he glances back at me. “Oh! I forgot to mention that he’s not a fan of reporters. With a special hatred for ones who like to bring up his personal life. He’s refused to speak with every reporter on my staff for the past three years. So…good luck.”

Good luck? He’s underestimating me. Nothing motivates me more than a challenge. I just hope I don’t destroy this guy in the process.

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