I not only participated in National Novel Writing Month (November), but for the first time, I actually completed a 50,000-word novel in thirty days.
As the hour approached signifying the end of November, I sat in my recliner, laptop burning up, typing faster than my normal ninety words per minute. Then I typed, “THE END,” fairly certain that what I’d written in the final hour was gibberish.
It was not. That’s not my opinion. My beta readers confirmed it. I’d really written it that quickly, and it still made sense. It confirms what I’ve known since the days of mind-numbing newspaper deadlines. Just sitting the rear end in the chair and writing gets the job done, and it sometimes does a better job of getting it done than when we agonize over every single word, sentence, and paragraph.
So I may be a week late in announcing it, but I thought I should mark the occasion with something here. I even wrote a post yesterday, mentioning the book, but forgetting to mention how it came to be.
Again, the shock that I’d done it blocked some arterial flows to the brain.
Lacy Schumacher picked up a tray filled with hot chicken wings from the kitchen window. When she turned to head to a booth in her section, “Your Cheating Heart” blasted from the stage at the front of the bar. Suddenly, her feet went out from under her when she slipped on the puddle of beer spilled by one of the customers. Chicken wings flew in the air and the small cup of blue cheese dressing landed on top of her head and rode with her on her descent to the floor. A celery stick landed on her chest.
She heard the laughter all around her, making the humiliation complete. Then a hand appeared and helped her stand. She felt the growing wetness on the back of her jeans from the beer, as she pulled the container from her head. Blue cheese dripped down her long brown curls. George grabbed some napkins from a nearby table and started dabbing at her hair. That’s all she needed. They’d only been dating a few months, but now any doubt he had about her abilities to do anything gracefully were probably dashed.
“It’s all right,” she said, as she took the napkins from his hand. “I’ll be right back.” She headed for the bathroom, hoping she could clean up well enough to continue her shift at Misty Mountain, the bar where she’d worked for several years.
Misty Mountain hopped on a cold Thursday night in January, and Lacy longed to go home and soak her aching feet in a hot bath as she used a wet paper towel to dab at her hair. Too bad her house didn’t have a hot tub like so many of the rental cabins in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains surrounding the small North Carolina town of Murphy.
The economics of the town depended on the tourists whose visits to the mountains were as unpredictable as the weather during the winter months. Locals accounted for a fraction of the crowd most of the time, and the part-timers were scarce from Christmas to Easter. But tonight, the restaurant was enjoying the first busy night of January.
“It’s the winter festival in Blue Ridge.” Julie Cole had told Lacy when she’d come in for her shift a few hours earlier. “We could have a big crowd tonight.”
Julie and Lacy had started working at Misty Mountain about the same time several years earlier. Julie, more outgoing than Lacy, gravitated to bartending. She loved teasing and laughing with the customers. Lacy enjoyed her job, but she was quieter.
“The band from Nashville will draw a crowd, too,” Lacy had said. “I can use the tips, and I bet you and Johnny could use the business.”
“That’s for sure. It’s been a slow month so far.” Julie had stopped washing glasses and put her elbows on the bar. “So have you two talked yet?”
Lacy tied a black apron around her waist. She knew Julie meant well, but she didn’t want to talk about George. Julie, and her husband Johnny, owned Misty Mountain, and George was Johnny’s brother. Even though she and Julie were good friends, she felt uncomfortable discussing George with her. Small towns bred familiarity—she knew that all too well.
Lacy shook her head. “It hasn’t come up.”
“It will. Especially if Becca ever finds out the two of you are dating.”
Becca, George’s ex-wife, still lived in Nashville, where the two of them had moved twelve years earlier. She knew Julie was right. Maybe it was time to just end it with George before it went any further. It was inevitable that Lacy would be left heartbroken when George came under pressure from Becca, if they kept dating.
“George is buying into the bar,” Julie had said as she poured the pitcher of beer. “Did he mention it to you?”
Lacy shook her head. George had moved back to Murphy after his divorce, but his son still lived with Becca in Nashville, four hours away. Last time they’d talked about it, he said he wasn’t sure what he was going to do. He’d been handling the music end of the bar for a month, bringing bands in from all over the south for live music on the weekends. Maybe he’d decided to stay. He certainly didn’t need to tell Lacy about all his decisions.
“He sure has been bringing in some good music.” Lacy had said. “I guess he’s decided to stay in Murphy for a while.”
She’d been burned too many times in the past by men she fell for who hadn’t fallen for her in return, so she tried not to think about George’s sandy brown hair that fell softly over his collar or his brown eyes that sparkled whenever he talked about music and his passion for finding just the right sound. She didn’t think about his broad shoulders or the way he looked in his solid-colored flannel shirts rolled up halfway on his forearm. She most certainly didn’t think about those things or about the way he kissed her good night when he walked her to the door of her house. So far that was as far as the relationship had gone, and that was fine with her. She liked George and enjoyed spending time with him, but that was it. She didn’t need another relationship to turn out like the last one—with her boyfriend engaged to another woman.
“George has lots of connections back in Nashville,” Julie had continued, as she put wine glasses in the racks above her head. “It must have been awful with Becca for him to leave his career. He was making a name for himself as an agent, at least that’s what Johnny says. George doesn’t mention Nashville very much.”
“I can tell by the names of some of his clients that he was doing well. Sometimes when life gets difficult, it’s best to make it less complicated. So he came home to Murphy.” She headed to her first table of customers, anxious to stop talking about Julie’s brother-in-law.
George, six years older than Lacy, left Murphy for good after he graduated from college. He and Becca married a few months after George finished school in Atlanta. They left right after the wedding. Lacy knew why Becca wanted to leave Murphy. And Lacy approved, and only felt relief when she left. She vividly remembered Becca and her nastiness after the accident that killed Becca’s father and Lacy’s sister, but Lacy didn’t remember much about George. He faded into the background behind Becca’s monstrous personality.
When George returned home two months before for all the activities surrounding Johnny and Julie’s Christmas wedding, she noticed him immediately. He’d divorced Becca, and when he turned up in town, single and handsome, all the single women noticed him, too. When he entered Misty Mountain, the women didn’t hesitate to tell Lacy what they’d like to do with him. George was handsome, no doubt about it, but she wasn’t going to fall for his rugged good looks. When he’d asked her out his second week back in Murphy, she’d been surprised, but she agreed. Neither one of them were looking for anything serious, since both were coming off broken relationships. They’d been casually dating ever since, but they hadn’t discussed Lacy’s sister and her connection to Becca’s father. And Lacy had never met George’s nine-year-old son. Casual and easy—just what she needed.
Julie and she had stopped talking as people began to fill the bar. Lacy hadn’t had a chance to even think or stop moving, until she fallen on her rear end, sending chicken wings flying through the air. In the bathroom, she attempted to clean herself up so she could finish her shift with a little more dignity. She dabbed at her face and pressed towels against her backside, hoping to lessen the obvious beer stain. Fluffing her hair, she gave herself a pep talk so she could finish out the night. When she returned to the floor, the band played “Crazy” as a female singer with died black hair held the microphone close and channeled Patsy Cline to the stage of Misty Mountain. The song carried her back to the bar, where she almost ran into George when he turned around abruptly. He’d been talking to Julie at the wait station.
“Lacy, you clean up nicely,” he said. “How do you like the band?”
“They’re good. Julie, I need a pitcher of Bud and two shots of Yaeger.”
“I wish we could get together later, but I have Jed tonight—he has a long weekend off school so Becca met me halfway.”
“Where is he?” Lacy asked, looking around for an eight-year-old boy.
“I dropped him off at the Johnson’s to play with Gracie for an hour while I checked in down here. You know Nick’s mom loves kids.”
“I know, she’s adopted Gracie. I’m sure she’ll do the same with Jed.”
“Jed may be more of a challenge, I’m afraid.”
Lacy looked at him, waiting for him to explain. But instead he gave her shoulder a pat, and headed to the small office next to the bathrooms in the back.
Small towns bred their own soap operas. Brains not occupied in noble pursuits dipped into the depravity of the human condition. Lacy knew it very well. Nick Johnson had been her boyfriend up until four months ago. He said he wasn’t ready to commit. But then just two months after making that declaration, he asked Molly Parker to marry him. Molly had returned to Murphy in the fall with her ten-year-old daughter Gracie. And despite the engagement of Molly and Nick, Lacy chose to forgive them both. She and Molly had been childhood friends, and Lacy had fallen in love with Gracie. She didn’t believe in holding grudges, but she knew that placed her in the minority. She knew plenty of people still talked about her sister, and now they probably talked about her friendship with Molly and her relationship with George. She squared her shoulders while she waited for the drink order.
“Becca is a real bitch,” Julie said as she set two full shot glasses on the tray. “She called George at the last minute today and made him drive two hours to pick up Jed. Johnny and I both were happy when George left her. It’s just too bad Jed lives so far away. He needs his father. Wait until you meet him, and you’ll know what I mean.”
“I have a feeling Becca might not be too keen on me having anything to do with her son.”
Julie raised her eyebrows. “That’s why I’ve been telling you the two of you need to talk about it. Julie holds her father’s death against you, even though you didn’t have a damn thing to do with it.”
Lacy’s ‘elephant’ in the room, sat on her chest, suffocating her. The secret. The scandal. The shame.
“It’s been twelve years,” Lacy said, while Julie poured the pitcher. “Can’t she just move on?”
“You don’t know Becca,” Julie said. “She never forgets anything. She still remembers the first time Johnny brought me home for Thanksgiving dinner, and I refused to eat her pecan pie.”
“Aren’t you allergic to nuts?”
“Exactly. But try telling Becca that. She said I had offended her and her mother’s recipe.”
Lacy shook her head. Becca seemed to forget that the accident killed someone else besides her father. It also killed Angel, her sister. Angel—that’s what her mother named Angela and that’s how both of Lacy’s parents treated her, especially after her death. When the wheels of the town’s gossip truck began, the Schumacher family retreated into the cocoon of their mountain home.
Angel was Lacy’s elephant, the favored child of her parents, until that night, that awful night of revelations and death. The town didn’t give the Schumachers any room to mourn Angel’s death because as soon as news of the two riding in the car together on the road to Cherokee became public, the rumors of Richard Perry and Angel Schumacher’s affair began. Angel received the brunt of the scorn, while Mr. Perry became the victim. Becca, one year older than Angel, never forgave the Schumachers, who she loudly proclaimed raised a whore of a child.
Lacy spent her last years of high school taking online courses to graduate, living in a house devoid of any emotion or love, except for that devoted to the shrine of Angel set up in the bedroom next door to Lacy’s. But Lacy knew better. She heard the fight the night Angel left to meet her lover. Her parents had finally seen the Angel others had seen all along. But she still didn’t deserve to die, and she certainly didn’t deserve blame for the accident.
Julie set the pitcher down on the tray, and Lacy brought herself back to the present.
“George and I will talk, but not tonight. I’m praying it won’t even be an issue. After all, it’s not like we’re serious or anything.”
“Don’t count on Becca changing.” Julie grabbed Lacy’s hand. “And you don’t think George is serious about you? Have you seen the way he looks at you, the way he watches you as you wait on tables? George likes you. And I’m pretty sure you like him, too.”
“I do like him, but that doesn’t mean we’re getting serious about one another. I just want to have some fun.” Lacy turned away before tears developed and showed how much of a lie her words were. She stopped crying a long time ago, and she’d be damned if Becca Parker Cole would make her cry now. And she was even more determined that George not make her cry, either.
She had work to do, although she cringed when she saw Don and Kathy enter Misty Mountain. She sighed in relief when they took seats at the bar. Julie, as the owner of Misty Mountain, made more money than Lacy did, so Lacy felt comfortable with the most difficult of customers sitting in Julie’s section, not hers. Besides, Julie handled obnoxious easily. Not only were they obnoxious, they were lousy tippers. She even saw Don scoop up a tip on the table after Kathy had gotten up to leave one night. A real jerk.
“Hi, Lacy,” Kathy yelled out as she passed them on the way to a table. “We’re just having drinks tonight, or we would have sat in your section.”
Lacy smiled and went to wait on a new table. It’s not that Don and Kathy weren’t nice people. They were very involved in several projects around town, always generously giving both money and time to various fundraising projects. They’d even started the Bear’s Den, a nonprofit organization that raised money and did community service wherever needed. Don had been a pilot for Delta, and he never let anyone forget it. Kathy, a flight attendant until she married Don, never let anyone forget that, either. The two made for one condescending team. They also knew everything about everything. And if they didn’t, they changed the subject.
Lacy tried her best to accept everyone she met, but sometimes folks made it difficult. But at least for tonight, miserable in her beer-soaked jeans and tragic memories, she’d be spared their arrogance.