Apologies for being so quiet on the blogverse lately. I’ve been writing and editing Wide Awake like a mad woman in hopes of a summer release! I believe I’ll be able to announce an official date in April. The cover reveal will also happen in April. In other words—SHIT IS GOING DOWN, PEOPLE. I’m excited, can ya tell?
Below is the first half of Chapter One for those interested in taking a peek. I’ve ended it right before things get reeeeal good.
For those not in the know, this is a sequel, so it might seem a little confusing if you haven’t already read the first book, Lucid Dreaming. For those who have read it, book two begins just a few weeks after book one ends. Enjoy!
P.S. This is unedited to please forgive any spelling and grammar goofs
The alarm clock on my phone played such a whimsical little tune, as if mocking the misery that was waking up before the sun. How was it 6:00 AM already?
I dragged my uncooperative body upright, licking the scum of nighttime from my front teeth. My long, brown hair was a rat’s nest—perhaps literally. This was Manhattan after all. Either that or I must have had some fitful dreams, because even without seeing my reflection I could tell it was especially chaotic this morning. I yawned and stretched, placing one foot down on the floor, followed by the other. The creaky wood was like ice beneath my bare feet and my whole body cried out in protest.
Nevertheless, I persisted, my desire to pee narrowly stronger than my desire to crawl back into the warmth of my sheets. Said pee, however, very nearly escaped before I ever reached the toilet thanks to an obnoxiously cheerful voice hollering, “Happy birthday!” the second I opened the door.
I clutched my pounding heart, bloodshot eyes round with terror, but it was only Janelle, my best friend and longtime roommate. Her face split as I stood before her all morning breath and crooked pajamas.
“I made you breakfast, girl!” she cried with abundant pride. “And by made you breakfast, I mean I poured you some Lucky Charms and left the milk out.”
Lovely. I might even be able to fit some of those blue moons and horseshoes down my gullet once I swallowed my heart back into position.
“That’s very generous of you,” I grumbled irritably. My best friend was not the least bit put-off by my lukewarm reaction, grinning from ear to ear and skipping in a circle around me as if it wasn’t the literal crack of dawn. The downstairs neighbors just adored her.
“Exactly how much coffee have you had?”
“Girl, this is a natural high!”
I snorted as I started toward the bathroom, wobbling on my feet like Bambi treading ice.
“I don’t recall you being this chipper on your own birthday,” I quipped. Janelle’s birthday fell a couple weeks before mine.
“On my birthday I was the one getting closer to joining AARP. Today, it’s all you, grandma.”
Her jab might have been amusing had I not actually been crooked and cracking like a geezer. To feel this dilapidated, I truly must not have slept well, but try as I might, I couldn’t recall a single dream or nightmare. I sunk onto the Arctic toilet seat, rubbing the sleep from my eyes.
Probably better to not remember.
Leaning back on my new cushy, swivel chair, I threw my arms behind my head and admired my handiwork. I cared little that the entire front wall of my new office was glass and that everyone in cubicle-land could see me. Let them look. I worked hard for this office, and damnit, it looked good. It was impressive what a well-stocked bookshelf, some desktop knick knacks from the gift aisle at Target and some framed art of classic book covers could do to a room.
“Wow,” said a tiny voice from the doorway. It was Jill, my former across-the-aisle cubicle neighbor. Her bellflower blue eyes were wide with childlike wonder. “It looks fantastic in here! You really have a gift for decorating.”
“Thanks,” I replied absentmindedly. “I probably could have done a far better job if it wasn’t such a cramped space.”
Before I finished the sentence I regretted it, sucking in my breath sharply.
Jill still works in a tiny cubicle, you snob.
I backpedaled. “Uh, but I mean, it’s way bigger than before so I guess I shouldn’t be complaining.”
“It’s ok, Alison,” Jill said in sugary sweet earnest. “I know what you meant.”
Jill was so nice. Too nice. Whenever she was around, spouting words of encouragement and positivity, I found myself thinking, what’s the catch? But there never was one. Clearly Jill wasn’t human, but rather a humanoid beam of sunlight sprinkling warmth and joy wherever she went. The girl simply had no dark side.
“What’s your story, Jill?” I asked curiously, steepling my fingers and pressing them to my lips. “What brought you here?”
I’d meant New York, but I was almost equally curious about Prolific.
“Well actually,” she began with textbook sheepishness; color filled her damsel-pale cheeks. She chewed tentatively on her bottom lip. “I really want to be an author someday, but I know how hard it is to be successful, so I thought learning the industry from the inside seemed like a really good place to start.”
“What kind of stuff do you write?”
“I write children’s fiction. Chapter books!”
Of course you do.
“That’s really cool. I can’t believe I never knew that about you after sitting across the aisle from you for so long.”
“I don’t really talk about it much,” she murmured, digging the toe of her ballet flat into the industrial carpet. She was like a living, breathing Disney princess. She even looked like one, all petite and pretty. If not a princess, a pixie, or an antique ceramic doll like the kind that used to have full page advertisements in the TV Guide.
“Well, you know how much I love to read, so if you ever want someone to look over your work and give you feedback, feel free to send it my way.”
She seemed overjoyed by this offer, but her timidness in no way dissipated.
“Oh, you probably wouldn’t be interested in these silly kid stories. Besides, I’ve never shared my work with anyone before. It’s kind of embarrassing, you know? Letting people get into your head like that?”
“I wouldn’t judge you. I’ll be honest and fair, but never judgmental.”
Jill stared at the tacky pattern on the clipped, grey carpet.
“Well, I’ll think about it.”
“No pressure,” I told her with a warm smile. It was the kind of statement that should have organically ended the conversation, but it hadn’t. Jill still lingered in the doorway, her glittering eyes studying the little glass box I now called my office. I watched her with a quiet awe. How could a girl like this live in a city with some of the rudest humans known to man? What kind of thick skin was she hiding under that marshmallowy-soft exterior?
“What are you up to on Friday?” I inquired. “My best friend Janelle is throwing me a little birthday shindig at The Dickens. You should come.”
“Oh! What time?”
“We’re meeting up right after work. We can go together, if you want. It’s only a few blocks from here.”
The girl lit up like a firecracker, her joy palpable.
Her bright, toothy smile made my stomach glow with warmth, like I was back in the Girl Scouts reading books to old ladies. I guessed she didn’t get invited many places.
It was Marcus, the newly-hired and exceptionally energetic receptionist. I watched as he glided gracefully passed the glass wall and popped in the doorway beside Jill. In his hand he clutched an envelope of robin’s egg blue.
“A courier just delivered this for you,” he said, a devious gleam in his eye. “Can I stay and see what it says?”
I raised a brow, though the request was hardly surprising. On his first day, Marcus already began referring to everyone in the office by a nickname of his choosing. He’d wasted no time diving headfirst into the entire company’s private business, possibly even starting a few rumors of his own, right out of the gate. The kid had no shame, but he wasn’t entirely unlikeable. On the contrary, I kind of enjoyed his enthusiasm and unbridled lust for life.
“Sorry,” he apologized without meaning it. “I’m not lucky in love so I’ve gotta get my kicks living vicariously through others!”
The man was nothing if not honest.
“You can stay,” I said, addressing both he and Jill. The pair hovered closely over me as I thumbed open the envelope. Half of me hoped the missive wouldn’t say anything inappropriate. The other half hoped it would.
Your presence is humbly requested at my apartment this evening. You need bring nothing but your beautiful self. I shall provide everything else.
“Oh, I bet he will!” taunted Marcus with ample sass. He often reminded me of Janelle.
I hope the gift goes well with your new office.
No sooner had I spoken the word than the courier rushed by the glass wall and popped in, a package in his hands.
“There you are,” he said to Marcus. “I almost left without giving you the other part of the delivery.”
Marcus accepted the box with a flamboyant flare, his gratitude toward the courier more exuberant than was probably necessary. It might have had something to do with the skin-tight cycling pants he was wearing. Only after the man and his killer biker thighs were out of eyeshot did he hand over the box. His eyes were alight in the same way Jill’s had been when I invited her to The Dickens.
“Open it, open it,” he practically squealed. Like a kid being presented with his birthday cake, he started to clap, both hands pointed vertically.
Happy to indulge my little audience, I obeyed. Inside the box, wrapped up in shiny, gold tissue paper, was a gorgeous set of black iron bookends. Each side was the silhouette of a person, and I recognized their identities almost at once. Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy. Each had an arm extended with a hand that would lie flush against a book, as if they were trying to reach out to one another from opposite sides of a barrier.
My heart fluttered inside my chest, the rhythm of my breathing uneven. Without a word I sprung from my chair, plucked the ordinary, wooden bookends from the top of my squat, Ikea bookcase and replaced them with the new ones.
The three of us stood shoulder to shoulder and admired them for a moment, though I suspected I was the only one who’s eyes were watering.
“That is so sweet,” Jill finally said. “He really knows you.”
Marcus sighed, but not wistfully.
“Well it’s not bling or lingerie, but I suppose if you like them…”
I loved them.
My eyes lowered to my fingers. Ringless. To my unbraceleted wrists, my un-necklaced neck. Jewelry, or bling, as Marcus had so tastefully referred to it, held little appeal to me. Lingerie was offensively uncomfortable, (not to mention a waste of time and energy) but these bookends…
“He does know me well,” I said, echoing Jill’s sentiments. He knew everything well, but most of all, me.
The door unlocked. I pulled out my key and tossed it back into my purse, lowering my eyelids and inhaling deeply through my nose before entering. It was an attempt to quell some of my schoolgirl giddiness, but it was futile.
My presence had been humbly requested.
I pushed open the door, fully expecting to see a familiar stark white, virtually barren, and dimly lit apartment. While I’d been correct about the dimly lit part, the ghostly blue illumination of computer monitors had been replaced by the flickering of no fewer than twenty candles positioned in artful compositions across the room. The flames tossed dancing shadows against the walls.
Complimenting each carefully crafted displays were sprigs of white baby’s breath and rows of pale pink gladiolus. My favorite flower.
All the electronic equipment that typically occupied the space had been removed. In their stead, a blanket was spread across the ash wood floor in the center of the room. On top of the blanket, an impeccably arranged picnic had been laid out, like something straight out of Better Homes and Gardens. Dark sandalwood chopsticks and white, ornately folded cloth napkins were placed beside dishes of royal blue trimmed in black. There was one tall-stemmed, crystal wine glass at each setting, and beside them, the tiniest, ceramic shot glasses I’d ever seen.
The air was heavy with the savory scent of Asian cuisine and my stomach rumbled in response to the salty goodness that filled my nostrils. Half my senses were in overdrive already, and I had yet to encounter the evening’s main attraction.
He stalked toward me from the kitchenette as I stared, starry-eyed, at the magnificent layout before me. Beautiful as my surroundings were, they held no comparison to the man who now held my gaze.
More than a head taller than me and nearly as slender, he sported eternally messy, ink black hair and warm, tired eyes the shade of moss on a fallen tree. His strong, moon-pale arms reached for my hips, crafty hands closing over the bone and carefully turning me toward him. He closed the gap between our bodies, his flat torso and chest meeting my curvy one, and arched his neck to deliver a slow, searing kiss. When he pulled away, his lips lingered over mine tormentingly before saying in a familiar, calming baritone, “Happy birthday, Alison.”