Welcome back, Dear Reader! If you’ve read the first seventeen (it is a novel, after all!) excerpts, feel free to skip this preamble to the meat a few paragraphs down. If you haven’t, well, thanks for joining me!
These are exciting times for your ol’ pal Jerry – after talking about it for most of my life, I finally put the proverbial money and mouth together and started my first novel, Of Dreams & Angels, in the fall of 2019. I’m working on the second draft now,but in the meantime thought it would be fun to start putting pieces of it (and thereby my entire soul, don’t you know!) out into the universe. Maybe you’ll get caught up in the intrigue and start following along too.
The synopsis – well, before we get to that, Stephen King, in his memoir On Writing, wrote that many of his stories can be expressed as a What-if question, and after reading that, my imagination (as it pertained to story ideas) started framing situations that way. Of Dreams is this question: What if a man started dreaming about a woman he’d never met, but who actually exists; falls in love with her based on what he sees in the dreams and sets out to find her?
Don’t ask me where it came from, and believe me when I say I’m just as shocked as you are that my first idea for a novel – ok maybe not the first idea in the grand scope of my life, but the first one to make it to fruition – was a fantastical love story. But as soon as I thought of it, *I* wanted to know what would happen, which made me think others might want to, too.
At all rates, here you have it, Dear Reader (also a not-so-subtle borrow from Mr. King, who as you may know refers to us as “Constant Reader”) – another excerpt from Of Dreams & Angels. In this excerpt, Joe and Claire have officially come together, yet their individual wounds from the past are causing fear to raise defenses. But we get a glimpse of how they learn, slowly, to dismantle those walls together.
They made love throughout the night, their bodies weaving into one another as easily as the connection of their words and emotions. When they weren’t tangled up in the throes of physical expression they remained wrapped around one another, talking the midnight hours away, dozing, talking once more, connecting evermore.
Daylight eventually found them, as they lay wrapped in hotel sheets and blissfully exhausted. The light momentarily dawned a reality for Joe, realizing Claire hadn’t made any calls since they’d crashed into the room nearly ten hours before. They’d been unable to pull away from one another, yet tried to navigate the hallways and elevators and doors and furniture on the way to where a week—if not a lifetime—of pent up passion was finally explored, finally released. With the reality of the morning hour, Joe appeared more panicked than she did, asking if the kids and work were taken care of. She’d laughed, her body wrapped in a sheet with her head propped up on an elbow, hair cascading down her shoulder. As she shone with a light brighter to Joe than dawn fighting through the draped windows, she assured him Audrey expected this at some point, nudging Claire with the suggestion that if the moment felt right not to come home one night, she’d take care of all the rest.
They ordered room service for breakfast; a makeshift picnic between them as they sat on the bed in robes, disbelieving the world and time that existed outside the doors and windows. Their conversation was lighter than the night before—while there wasn’t yet clarity on where they were going (apart from Joe’s literal trip to the airport in less than twenty-four hours), there was an unspoken understanding of where they found themselves now. For the moment, that was enough.
They passed the daylight much the same as the midnight hours, discovering new levels of each other in thought, body, and spirit. Claire opened further and told him more about her heartbreak at the hands of David. Joe told her of the scarring he’d permitted following his young love with Rachel; how it had tainted every relationship since. She told him of her uncertainty whether the news business was for her anymore; that time paused for children and family aside, it hadn’t lived up to the ideals of her youth. She thought she might like to write a novel. Move to the country, raise the kids in the country and away from the increasing feel of closing walls and servitude of the urban and technological world. Joe told her he’d always wanted to spend a year or longer travelling abroad. Learning to sail. A resident of nowhere. She said she’d been terrified that even if love found her, she wouldn’t know how to love in return, without caution, without suspicion. He admitted his cynical theory (and practice) of making relationships into an island—somewhere to visit from time to time, but nothing that encroached on the rest of his life.
The earth spun on its axis around them, but as with the rest of the week they felt sheltered—perhaps even protected—in their world made for two. Room service eventually became lunch and lunch became dinner. Daylight faded from the edges of the windows as sly as it arrived those many hours before—another reminder that even if this world existed apart from the one outside, it still obeyed the same laws of time, with its own unwelcome endings.
She lay with her head on his chest, running her fingers along the lines of his body as the minutes on the clock encroached yet another new day—the one they tried to will out of existence. They had grown quiet, and Claire was the one to finally break the silence, giving voice to the unspoken.
“Joe? What happens tomorrow?”
His own hands weaved their way through her hair and down along the curve of her back. “Well, I’m going to get on a plane, for now.” He shifted so he could see her face. “And then I find a way to find my way back to you, just as I did before.”
“Are we being realistic, though?” Her tone had changed, and she moved now to create space between them. “No matter what the throes of early romantic notions tell us, are we just being foolish?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you’re going to go back to your real life, and I’ll go back to mine. We’ll think about each other probably round-the-clock for the first few days, reliving these hours in our minds, but then life will do what it does best, and get in the way. Absence will make the heart grow yonder, as it were. You’ll tell me as you’re leaving tomorrow that you’re going to call, you’re going to write. And at first you will; I know you will.” She sat up now, attempted a smile, reached with a force of will for his hand and interlaced her fingers with his. “I already know you’re too good of a man not to, Joe.
“But then you’ll have to work late one night or I will, or the time difference will be too awkward to coordinate. And we’ll miss a day. And then a day turns into two, and two eventually turns into a week.
“And by then, we’re too in-like with each other to want to hurt one another, so we try at first to schedule it, to keep it a priority. Except now it feels forced. Now it feels like something we have to do, instead of wanting to do. And in the meantime the girl that smiles at you while you’re at the gym or on the mountain trail makes you wonder if your heart still actually beats on its own, a little bit, and if maybe you weren’t really a little confused during that week away in London.” She was looking down now, unable to hold his gaze.
He tried to interrupt this new stream with levity. “Well, that’s unlikely, because hiking this time of year in the Rocky Mountains, nobody is smiling. Their faces are too frozen.”
She looked up for just a moment and again attempted a smile, but behind it Joe could see the layered pain of years past, pulling the corners of her mouth downward. “And then maybe one night when we’ve agreed to talk maybe both of us are just sitting on our sofas half a world apart, hoping the other person won’t dial the phone—and maybe won’t dial it ever again—so we don’t have to have the conversation where we’re now saying words and phrases like ‘it was such a lovely week’ and ‘you’re such a lovely person’ and ‘maybe if we were closer’ and ‘we really tried, didn’t we?’, and just plodding through such a mess of conversation because while we’re broken-hearted people, Joe, we’re not heartless, and so we’re trying to let each other down gently.”
Joe sat up, reaching to take her hands back into his. She spoke again: “And we hang up the phone, and it’s a feeling of relief—if not sorrow—and we hate that what we had now has a black mark on the memory, when we could have just left it as it was, as we are in this hotel room right now: perfect.”
He looked awhile into her eyes, absorbing all she had said and wanting to be respectful of it. Not wanting to dismiss. “Claire,” he finally managed.
“That was probably the most eloquent description of the denouement of two people I’ve ever heard. You managed to make the lousy sound beautiful.” This was enough to bring real laughter to both of them.
“I know how badly you’ve been bruised, Claire. I know you don’t want to put yourself at risk of that ever again. And I know the odds are stacked almost exponentially against when there is physical distance.
“But I also know—if I may say it—that that was fear talking, that was the armour guarding a heart that has been irrefutably hurt. But it wasn’t the heart itself.
“I’ve already said this: that I don’t know how this works, or how to handle what happens next. All I know is that I want there to be a next. I don’t want this to end today—perfectly. I want us to get imperfect with each other.”
“It’s going to get messy, Joe,” she said. He could feel Claire straining against herself, simultaneously attempting to pull her hands away while trying to mesh them into his even more.
“I want the mess. I want to know what that looks like and feels like with you,” Joe said.
“That’s just the infatuation talking, the romance.” She forced another smile. “I don’t mean that in a cruel way, Joe, because believe me, there’s a voice inside that tells me I want the same right now, too. But I don’t know if that voice is reasonable. I don’t know if it can be trusted.”
“Then what’s the alternative—that we trust the voice of fear? Of rejection? Of heartbreak?” He turned his own smile now, looked down, brought her hands to his mouth and kissed them.
“Claire, I know your pain. I know your fear. I can’t tell you how I know, but I do. But I also know that I’m sitting on this bed in this hotel room half a world away from a life where I’ve tried to plan every moment, manage every risk, take the proscribed path and reach a pre-planned destination. And none of it—not its single best moment—has compared to even a minute I’ve spent with you. And now that I’ve found you, I’m not going to give that up just so I might be able to later say ‘At least Claire didn’t break my heart’. Because even if you do, I won’t have to go to bed a single night ever again wondering where you are, or if you were real, or what might have been, or why my—why the universe brought me to you.
“You can tell me to go, and you can tell me not to call, and if that’s truly what your heart—and not all the bricks you were forced to build around it, after you put it in someone’s hands and they dropped it without a care—is saying we should do, I will respect that.
“But if you’re tired of carrying those bricks—as I know I’m tired of carrying mine—then I’m here with you right now, saying I want to dismantle those walls with you. It’s going to get messy, sure. We are going to make mistakes. But I would rather get covered in dust and mortar and make those mistakes with you, than make what my heart is telling me would be the biggest mistake of all: to go back to life without you.”
A tear she had been fighting broke free, tracing a trail along the side of her face. Even in this, she was beautiful, and he reached up with a hand to catch it as it fell.
“I’m scared, Joe. I’m really scared.”
“I know,” he said.
“And maybe the talk of distance was just a ruse, was just fear or armour talking. I am smart enough to know that deep down, past all the disguises of distance or even infidelity, heartbreak so often comes down to just one thing. It wasn’t getting cheated on that did the damage; that was just the form it came in. Just like it wouldn’t be when you stopped calling that would inflict the actual hurt.
“What I’m really afraid of,” the tears that had dammed up along the rims of her eyes now breaking free, “what has and would hurt the most, would be giving my heart to you, and in the end you telling me it wasn’t good enough. That I gave you all of me, and you were able to just let go.”
“Oh, Claire,” he folded her into his arms, her head against his shoulder. She was quiet, but he could feel the catching of her breath; the shoulder of his robe starting to dampen.
“What if I told you I’m just as afraid of that as you are? And what if we agree to be scared shitless together?” She laughed, pulling her head back to look at him again, as he took her face in his hands, kissing her forehead, the tears on her cheeks.
“This is going to sound… well, however it sounds, but you are the woman of my dreams, Claire. The universe brought me to you—sent me across a continent and an ocean to find you, when I hadn’t even been looking. I’ve never, in my entire life, ever, put stock into anything like that before, but when I looked into your eyes for the first time the other night, I knew.”
“That I was brought here to love you, and I am not going to let that go.”
Joe moved his mouth to hers, taking her into his arms. They fell back into the sheets, discovering one another once more, letting the night fall away around them.
Thanks again for stopping by, Dear Reader! Stay tuned in the coming weeks for more.