Headphones was an experiment, a story written in "snapshots", a serial, a comic in word form-- call it what you will. It ran for one year plus one day-- January 1st of 2015 to January 1st of 2016. It was the story of a group of friends who took in a damaged girl and helped her find herself. But on the way, she helped them fill the holes in their own lives. I've pulled it now with the hopes of rewriting it into a book. Each day was matched with a music video and each month's mixes are still here. So if you've stumbled in, enjoy the music, and hopefully I'll be able to post updates occasionally!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Updates on Embers And Flame

I made my Camp NaNo goal, so yeah me! I purposely set it lower than the November challenge, simply because I was being realistic. Nicer weather means time outside. But still, a challenge like that where I go online daily and record my progress seems to help me keep my mind on the project. With that said, I'm still shaky on this story. I'm feeling it more, and I'm not sure I really felt "Cracks" until I hit about 30K words (which is where I am on E&F now), so maybe that's just how long it takes for me to really feel my characters. I keep diverting from the original plot outline, which probably isn't helping, either! Anyway, I've tightened Chapter 1 a bit, so here it is in its present form:

Chapter 1

The roar of the motorcycle pulling into the campsite next to mine shattered the peace of the evening, and I imagined that sunset’s reflection in the small lake rippling with the vibrations. I glared as the intruder flipped the kickstand down and swung his leg over the seat, but my scowl softened slightly as the man pulled off his jacket to reveal tight black jeans that displayed trim hips and a flat ass. My resentment at the interruption evaporated completely as he removed his helmet and shook out his jaw-length black hair. He noticed me watching and stepped my way. I struggled to rise from my low camp-chair as he crossed the space between us, extending his hand.
“Ben Torres,” he offered as he wrapped his hand around mine. A bright smile, set off by tawny skin and dark eyes that were almost as black as his hair, dazzled me, drying my mouth, making it difficult to form words.
With a deep breath, I pulled myself together and introduced myself. “Cherry.” Ben didn’t release my hand as he tipped his head while his mouth rose up on one side, as did a thick eyebrow. I wasn’t exactly suave at the best of times, and gorgeous men made me more awkward than usual. Sweat broke out at the back of my neck as I rattled out my clarification. “Uh, Charles Andrews. The third. Grandpa was Charles, Dad is Charlie.” Like a total doof, I pointed towards my auburn hair with the hand not still in his possession. “It was really red when I was a kid, so they called me Cherry. Guess it stuck.” I was babbling, and the heat of a blush spread across my cheeks. I knew, at that moment, that my normally pale face was redder than my hair ever had been. “Thank goodness it darkened as I got older,” I rattled the last as my voice faded.
Ben pretended to not notice. “Nice to meet you, Cherry.” He rewarded me with another of those bright smiles, this time displaying deep dimples. He finally loosened his grip with a quick squeeze and I looked at my empty hand as if something was missing, but I couldn’t remember what exactly. “Mind if I set up next to you? Only spot with no trees.” It was obvious that I didn’t understand the comment, because he laughed. “I’d prefer to not wake up to bird shit on my bike.”
I shook my head side to side but didn’t make a sound. Ben crossed the grass and started fiddling with the hitch of the small trailer and unhooking the latches. I expected him to pull out a tent much like my own as he pushed the lid back, but instead, he spent a few moments bracing the stabilizer jacks before sliding out a flat platform and sticking some silver poles in unseen holes. With a flip of canvas, he had a temporary home. The camper didn’t look any bigger than a kid’s pup-tent, but at least Ben wouldn’t wake up on a half-deflated air mattress with a crick in his neck.
As he finished, I found my voice. “Ah, hey Ben, want a beer?” I called to him.
He smiled at me again. God, that was a great smile. “Sounds good. But I need to get a shower and something to eat first. Give me a half hour?”
I wasn’t going to say no. While he dug around in his saddlebags, I did some digging of my own. I’d brought two lawn chairs with me, but the extra one was still in the back of my Rav4. I unfolded the canvas chair and then dumped the rest of the case of Budweiser into the cooler, pushing the cans down into what was left of the ice. Gum-ball sized chunks bobbed in the melted remains and as I tidied up my area, I debated whether I should head up to the little convenience store to buy another bag. It was embarrassing that I was this excited about the prospect of company.
The truth was, I was glad for the companionship, even if it was only for an hour or two. I’d arrived the evening before, fully expecting to enjoy the solitude. I’d made the two-hour drive straight from the hospital, not even changing out of my scrubs and arrived well before sundown with plenty of time to set up and relax with a small fire and a cold beer. I’d spent the day swimming and fishing and hiking, all the things I normally enjoy. Nevertheless, instead of finding inner peace, I was simply bored to tears.
The week was pre-paid and non-refundable, and still, I contemplated chucking it in and heading home as I sat eating a cold bologna sandwich. My ex and I hadn’t been passionately in love, but we’d been good friends. If Ryan didn’t have a new man in his life, I would’ve asked him to come. What he’d found with David gave me hope that maybe someday I’d find someone, and at the same time, it reminded me how lonely my own life was. Even though our relationship had never been some blazing romance, but we’d had fun together.
My ruminations faded and that breathless sensation closed around the back of my throat as I spied Ben’s dark figure sauntering down the middle of the road, his shadow growing and shrinking as he passed under the pole lights. I had grown dark without me even noticing. His movements were fluid as he hung his towel over one of the support poles and tossed his shaving kit and dirty clothes through the small door of his camper. He’d traded his black jeans for sweats and his heavy boots for a pair of well-worn Nike’s. Even with his wet hair combed back, he was still one of the hottest men I’d ever seen. I hadn’t had a reaction like this in probably ten years. Honestly, I thought only kids got this hepped-up. Yup, my evening had improved drastically.
“Budweiser Lite okay?” I asked as I pulled the cooler lid open, amazed at how unaffected my voice sounded, considering the way my stomach had tangled in upon itself.
“Anything, as long as it’s cold. I can’t believe how warm this spring has been,” he said as he dropped into the offered seat.
“Oh, great,” I thought. “We’re going to talk about the weather. How lame is that?”
Ben tipped his head back and stared up at the stars. “You on your own?”
Okay, talking about me was marginally better than talking about the weather, I thought, but barely. “Yeah, me and the ex split up in March, but we’d planned this months before, and I’d arranged for time off from work, so…” I didn’t add that this had been our favorite get-away. For seven summers, we’d spent weekends here on the lake and trails. When Ryan moved out, he’d taking half the furniture, but he’d left the camping gear. On a whim, I decided to prove to myself that I was fine on my own, and kept the reservation. The fresh air would do me good, I thought. Get away from the city traffic and the antiseptic smell of the hospital. I’d done little but work and tool around the apartment since the first of the year. I hadn’t even gone shopping to replace anything that Ryan had taken, except the coffee maker. That had been a must.
“Married long?” he asked with sympathy in his voice when I paused.
I’m glad it was too dark for him to see my discomfort. I’m out in the city, but away from home and on my own, I tend to be a bit more circumspect. “Not married. And it was amicable. It just feels a bit strange, being on my own again.”
“Yeah, I remember that feeling,” he agreed.
The sun was already hot through the canvas and I blinked the sleep from my eyes. The bright green of the light hinted it must be mid-morning, instead of the soft glow that usually flooded the tent with the sunrise. The twitter of birdsong had woken me the morning before, but we’d sat up until almost 3, drinking and laughing. If city noises rarely disturb my sleep, a little birdy-racket wasn’t enough to wake me when I’m past tired. It’s been years since I’ve sat up just talking with someone, but Ben had been incredibly open as he told me about his job as a mechanic in his stepdad's garage, his divorce after being married for 11 years, his 16-year-old son, Eric, and his plans to see some of the country before making his way to southern Arizona to visit some family. He hadn’t so much as blinked when I inadvertently dropped Ryan’s name after about my fourth beer.
Rolling off the air mattress, I grabbed some clean clothes and a towel. I’d take a shower and then decide if I was staying or heading home. Ben’s deep voice startled me as I backed through the tent flap. “Ah, Sleeping Beauty awakes! I thought maybe you were going to sleep all day.”
“Uh, no.” Ah, there’s that wit again, I thought, as I drew a blank on anything clever or funny to say. But the surprise of finding Ben still here threw me. “Figured you’d be on the road by now.”
Ben had a chamois in his hand, polishing a bit of chrome on his bike, but he straightened to face me. “Well, it’s a good thing I’m not in a hurry. Naw, a baffle’s gone bad. That’s why it was so loud last night. Guy in the office said I can probably get one at the bike shop in Benton tomorrow.” He said that with a hopeful tilt to his voice.
“Need a ride in?” I asked nonchalantly, eternally glad that I’d not mentioned packing up and leaving.
“You’d do that? Thanks!” Another of his wide smiles rewarded my generosity. “Well, since I’m not going anywhere today, maybe we can get in some fishing. Do you know if they rent out poles?”
I was so busy admiring his legs in the baggy cargo shorts that I almost didn’t catch the words, but they finally sank in. “Oh, yeah! Sure! And, uh, no need to rent one--I’ve got an extra, if you want to use it.” Okay, I needed to tone it down. I was sounding entirely too excited.  
“That’d be great! Tell ya what, go shower and I’ll see about buying some bait.”
I showered as quickly as I could, barely taking the time to brush my teeth or my hair and totally skipped shaving, and made it back in time to find Ben digging through my cooler, checking its contents. His grin turned conspiratorial when he spied me, as if we were planning a day of mischief instead of fishing.
“Do I have dirt on my face or something?” Ben asked as he ran his hand across his nose and rubbed his cheeks.
“Huh? No,” I answered with a frown. “Why do you ask?”
“You keep looking at me.”
The heat rose in my face. God, he was right--I had been staring. I needed to stop that. Now. “Um, sorry. Just...” What was I even supposed to say? Sorry, I just think you’re gorgeous. Sorry, but I’d like to run my hands through your thick hair. Sorry, but I have a thing for guys that could grace the cover of Cheekbone magazine.
He just chuckled and winked. “It’s cool, bro.” For a moment I wondered if he was flirting with me, but then he tossed his baseball cap at me. “Here, put that on. You’re starting to sunburn.” I pulled it down over my eyes and followed him, tilting my head as I admired his butt. If luck was my friend, I’d be able to pass my blushes off as sunburn, because I had a feeling that crimson was going to become my semi-permanent color for the next few days. Damn my freckled complexion.
Ben chatted as we fished and then offered to clean and cook our small haul as payment for my upcoming taxi service. I did my best to remain circumspect throughout the day, but I know Ben caught my continued stares on more than one occasion. I expected him to become uncomfortable, but I swear he was trying to hide a smile. The amusement in his eyes at my obvious interest was embarrassingly clear and it confused me. I expected our conversation to become stilted or for him to withdraw altogether. Instead, he suggested we hit the swimming pool during the hottest part of the afternoon, and then he built up the campfire as the sun started to set and we talked as the flames died down to embers.
Monday morning dawned brightly, but the night temperature had dipped and I shivered when I stepped out of my tent. Ben and I hadn’t sat up quite so late the night before and the birds’ singing had worked as well as any alarm clock I’d ever owned. I was just pulling a jacket on over the tee and lounge pants I had slept in when I heard cheerful whistling and looked up to watch Ben as he walked down the narrow road towards me, a styrofoam cup in each hand. I definitely wasn’t noticing the way his tee clung to his chest, nor the way his dick was swinging in the loose pouch of his sweats. I definitely wasn’t deducing that he wore boxers. No, not at all.      
I volunteered to fry up some eggs and bacon and toast some bread on my camp stove as a way to distract myself. It should have worked, but he stood only feet away and admired my equipment. I repeated to myself that he meant the propane contraption that I had set up on the picnic table, but the side of me that apparently never matured past his teens wanted to dismiss my logical side and pretend Ben meant something else entirely. My light-blue Bermuda shorts weren’t quite as loose as his, and I did my best to hide the half-chub that insisted on making an appearance. I reminded myself repeatedly that he’d been married for more than ten years and was just an overly friendly person.
“You camp a lot?” he asked. “I mean, you’re well supplied here. And everything looks well used. Not like someone who buys everything shiny and new and then goes camping one weekend a year.” He ran his finger over a patch on my tent where a stick had ripped through the screen during a storm a few years earlier. I’d been half-afraid that a tornado was going to pick us up and carry us away, but Ryan had wrapped his arms around me and assured me that it was nothing more than a passing thunderstorm. With lots of wind.
“It was our summer thing.” The thought was a little bittersweet and it was reflected in my tone. For the first time, a flash of discomfort flashed across Ben’s face.
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to bring up painful memories.”
“No, it’s fine. It’s hard to explain our relationship. We lived together, we slept together, we got along okay. We just weren’t in love.” I shrugged. “We’re still friends.”
“I can’t imagine. Angie and I fought like cats and dogs towards the end. We’re friends now, but it took us awhile to get there.”
“You said Eric’s 16 years old? What were you, like 15 when he was born?” Immediately, I wished I could take the words back. I turned away from him and scrunched my eyes shut as I silently mouthed ‘fuck’ to myself.
Ben just laughed. “18, actually.”
I turned to face him again, my eyebrows shooting up in my surprise. “Wow! Really? I can’t even imagine that. Being a dad that young, I mean.”
Ben sat down on the picnic table bench and stared in the murky nearly cold coffee cradled in his hands. “I don’t recommend it. Teen lust doesn’t survive and mature into a lasting relationship when you have to live with your mother while you try to work and go to school. And then add in the pressure of taking care of a screaming baby at the same time.”
I said “wow” again and grew silent as I buttered the toast and plated the eggs. I sat across from him, sliding his across the uneven wooden surface of the table.
With a deep breath, Ben pulled himself back to the present and smiled. “Smells good. So, what are the plans for today?” he asked as he smiled at me and dug into his breakfast. I couldn’t help but smile as I loaded my own fork and took a bite.

*note: if you are interested in being a Beta reader, contact me through the comments. 

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