I used to be a plotter. I used to have graphs and questionnaires galore about my characters, who they were, where they grew up, and in the great big plan that was my novel, what was going to happen to them. Then when I’d finish filling notebooks about their journey, I’d snap it shut and never write another word again. Not even the novel I had planned to write.
It turned out that I liked getting to know my characters slowly. As the reader would witness the story unfold before their eyes far ahead in my future (should they buy the book and read it, that is), I was also getting to know my characters as I wrote them. So Ashe and Riley meeting in that elevator in the first chapter of Loving Ashe? Yup, I was getting to know them, too.
Sure, I had a loose idea of the plot in my head, but I’ve since learned that writing it down for clarity only ruined the slow reveal for me as the writer. I wanted the mystery of learning what came next as I wrote the scene as much as the reader turning the pages to find out what happened next.
It also means that sometimes I make wrong turns, i.e. I write thousands of words that end up on the cutting room floor. I set it aside, read it the next morning and then go, hmm… it doesn’t feel right. And then I proceed to write the alternative scene. It’s like a director saying, “wait, that scene didn’t work. Let’s rework the script and do it a different way.”
Some writers think that’s a waste of time. I mean, thousands of words unused just like that. But that’s the beauty of writing. There’s no one way to the top of the mountain. We’re all going to get there (tell the story) but there are many ways to do it. For me, it means writing one scene only to rewrite it a different way, or in some cases, even from a different character’s perspective like I did for Gareth after what happened in Chapter 24 of Loving Ashe. That story, Barbed Wire, written from his perspective is a bonus story.
So why am I writing about this? Because while perusing my laptop directory to backup my files before I decide to upgrade my laptop drive to SSD tomorrow (I have to pay someone to do it because I’m too scared to do it myself), I found that alternative chapter that was replaced by Chapters 18-19 in the final version. Even chapter 19 is actually a second edition addition after readers who read it in the rough draft wondered where the heck it went in the first edition.
Reading it has made me realize why the final edition felt like something was missing from their time at Ashe’s apartment. That’s because I took it out. Why? I can’t remember now, but now I understand why Chapter 19 in the final version was so short. Will I add it? I don’t know, but it’s a reminder of why I write the way I do. And that there is no one way to tell a story.
Chapter 18 – Choices
The world of hurt came sooner than Riley expected. 0445 hours to be exact.
She’d finally extricated herself from Ashe’s arms, her legs wobbly as she made her way to the bathroom for she had to pee really bad. If only she’d just peed and gone back to bed, back to the man who’d just made love to her not once but three times in one night, leaving her hoarse from all the – God only knew what – sounds she made, life would have been perfect, at least until morning.
But curiosity won, and instead of returning back to bed, she turned away from Ashe, slipped on a shirt she spotted draped on a chair, and stepped out of the bedroom.
Her plan was simple. She wanted to see his apartment, see how he had decorated it. And as she walked out of the bedroom, through the hall leading to the living room, Riley realized that Ashe was still in the midst of moving in. There were boxes in the hallway, some of them opened and some still sealed with packing tape. All the traveling he had to do for his movie, and meetings in L.A. had prevented him from completely moving in. His kitchen was stocked at least, but even the carton of milk and the block of cheese were a week past their expiration date. At least there was coffee in the cupboard and a still-unexpired carton of half and half in the refrigerator. Riley saw a grocery list he’d written down secured with a magnetic business card from some big shot realtor, a list that began with almond milk and gluten-free bread to Riley at the bottom.
There was an opened box right next to a floor to ceiling bookshelf, half of the shelves already filled with books. She had to check that out.
The selection already on the shelves made her smile. They had been arranged in no particular order. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dickens, even Austen had made the list. Defoe, Herriot, Hemmingway, Bukowski, Poe, Brontë. Inside the box were more books, some of them probably antique, with their tiny print and brown leather covers.
But the books only held her interest for a few minutes. There was another room at the other end of the apartment and she wanted to see what was in it. Didn’t Paige say that Ashe had purchased a two-bedroom apartment?
The second bedroom door was ajar, and Riley pushed it open and stepped inside. She held her breath as she switched on the light, the world of hurt welcoming her with open arms.
It was a child’s bedroom – a girl’s. Its walls were painted a light shade of pink, with stencils of Elsa, the snow queen, and her sister Anna, gracing one corner next to a toy bin. The bed was one fit for a princess, with its tulle canopy draped over it from a ring in the ceiling. It looked like a bedroom out of a catalog, Riley thought, one that she had always wanted when she was a little girl. But they’d been too poor and all she had was a bunk bed and toys purchased from Goodwill or given away during toy drives at the local fire station.
Unlike the boxes that littered the living room, this bedroom had everything in place. Above the toy box was a bookcase, with books already arranged. Books that a little girl would love to read, Riley thought.
There was a bean bag in front of the toy bin, as well as a kid-sized table and chairs, with a tea set arranged in the middle. On the bedside table, Riley saw two frames arranged so that they faced the bed. She picked the first frame and stared at the picture. Why was she doing this to herself, she wondered. Why put herself through the pain of being the girl caught on the rebound?
In the photograph, Ashe was grinning from ear to ear, and next to him, a young woman who barely reached his shoulders, also smiling, was holding a baby in her arms. He was wearing a suit, and she a nice pink and white dress, though a bit too conservative with the neckline. Proud parents, Riley thought, remembering Paige’s words.
The other picture was of the girl and her mother, the same woman who had held her as a baby, with Ashe crouched behind them to fit into the shot. Only in this picture, the girl was older, maybe about five years old. They were posed in what seemed like a desert landscape and in the distance, Riley could make out reflectors and a man wearing a parka and a baseball cap. Another man, half out of the frame, was holding a clapper, the one they held out in front of the camera to say which scene, which shot, and then “Action!”
Riley cursed under her breath and wrapped her arms around her as she stood in the middle of the room. She really should just leave, she thought. It was the best thing to do. Even if she confronted him, what would he say that would make things better? What could he say that would make her feel better about what had just happened between them?
“Her name is Rowan,” Ashe said and Riley turned around to see him standing by the door, a towel around his waist.
“When were you going to tell me that you’re married? That you have a daughter?” Riley asked.
Ashe frowned. “Now if you put it that way, the answer’s never.”
“What?” She stared at him, anger about to burst out of her. “You mean I don’t deserve the truth?”
“Of course you do, Riley. I wouldn’t give you any less than the truth,” he said. “But I’m neither married nor a father. At least, not yet. Rowan is my niece.”
Ashe walked towards her and Riley let her arms drop to her sides. She felt foolish and stupid. She remembered what Paige said, about the things her friend Betty had told her. “But Paige said -“
“Paige said this, Paige said that,” Ashe murmured. “When will you start asking the questions yourself, Riley? When will you start listening to yourself more than you listen to others? Because that’s who I’d rather listen to, and honestly, this girl Riley is more fun than Paige.”
“She heard it from Betty,” Riley said. “It’s not like Paige was lying to me.”
“No, maybe she wasn’t,” Ashe said. He was standing in front of her now, tilting her chin up so she would look at him. His eyes held her again, rooting her in place.
“Rowan is my sister’s child, and she’s my goddaughter,” he said, looking about the room as he spoke. “She’s five years old, about to turn six, and she’s crazy about Frozen and Maleficent. Even those dolls that come to life with their dollhouses and little pets -“
“Yes, Lalaloopsy,” he said, smiling faintly. “She’s also just lost her mother to leukemia five months ago, and so it’s been tough for her. I thought having her here for a time would be good for her, and that’s why she has her own room. And she’ll always have this room.”
“I’m so sorry, Ashe,” Riley whispered. “I didn’t know about your sister. I wish I’d known, but I didn’t.”
“Because it’s not the world’s business to know everything about my life, Riley. Just the ones who matter to me. Like you,” he said.
“I’m so sorry.”
He sighed, dropped his hands and turned to look around the room. “Maybe I should have said something sooner. But just as you needed to trust me first before you could tell me about your dreams, about your history with Gareth – or not, don’t you think I would need to trust someone first, too, if I were to share a huge part of my life with them?”
Riley nodded. “You’re right. I really should stop listening to other people who mean well.”
“Do they really mean well, Riley?”
She stared at him. “What do you mean by that?”
“Do they really mean well for you? Or do they do it for themselves? For their own peace of mind maybe?”
Riley swallowed. “I don’t know. I guess I’ve never really considered the difference between their peace of mind and mine since….well, since I almost OD’d over a boy two years ago, and I could never really trust myself anymore since then.”
“Yet you made a choice to be here now, without anyone else telling you whether it’s the right or the wrong thing to do,” Ashe said. “I won’t tell you whether you did the right thing or not. But what I can tell you is that you’ve made me a very happy man tonight – and I don’t mean the sex. I mean, that was excellent, don’t get me wrong. I would do it all night if I humanly could, but life isn’t just about sex or whether someone’s got a nice rack-“
“- or well hung,” she added.
“You know what I mean, Riley.”
They stood for a few moments, not speaking. So close yet so far, Riley thought, driven apart by her need to believe everyone else but herself.
“Will you come back to bed with me?” Ashe asked, holding out his hand towards her. “I’m really very tired. I’m still jetlagged, but I’d really like you to be with me. But only if you really want to. I won’t tell you what to do.”
Of course, she still wanted to, Riley thought. She may be slow sometimes, but she certainly wasn’t stupid. Her fingers touched his first, then she felt the grip of his hand, warm and comforting. It sent tingles up and down her spine. Then Ashe pulled her towards him and enclosed her in a deep and long embrace that left her breathless.
Hours later, as they awoke with the sound of rain greeting them from outside the arched windows, Riley turned to face him.
“So, who did they mean was your girlfriend? The long term one? Is she someone famous?” Riley asked, her words muffled against his neck as he held her in his arms.
Ashe drew away, covering his mouth as he yawned and then stretched. “Miss long-term girlfriend is now married to a stockbroker and has four children, and no, she’s not famous. She got tired of waiting.”
“How long were you two together?”
“Four years is a long time.”
“True. But four years is also a long time of always being broke with no one believing you’re any good,” Ashe said, chuckling to himself. “It wasn’t until five years ago that I started getting better roles, better paychecks. But by then, she decided she was tired of the uncertainty that comes with my career, where one day you’re on top of the world, and the next, you’re washed up.”
“So you haven’t been with anyone in five years?”
He looked out at the window, his gaze distant. “Of course I have. Just not long-term. My last relationship didn’t last long, probably eight months. But even then, it was rocky because of my crazy work schedule. It finally ended after Hazel died and all I wanted was to be left alone. I went back home and spent two months there, just getting my bearings and helping my parents cope – and Rowan, too, of course.”
Riley wanted to ask more questions – like who was Rowan’s father, or where was Rowan now? Who was she living with? Was she with his parents?
But that would have been too much for one night, and even she had to concede that she had to stop the over-thinking and let whatever new things she’d learned about herself and Ashe in the last few hours marinate a bit, without anyone else telling how things should be. For now, she needed to just enjoy being with him, revel in the way he twirled a lock of her hair around his long fingers, before letting it cascade down her chest, or how he loved to flick his tongue along the barbell clip that graced her nipple, making her gasp and sigh, as she closed her eyes and let him do whatever came next.
For now, she just needed to be present, and let her heart lead her wherever it needed to go, away from all the self-doubt and all the regrets of her past. There was much to learn about balance, she thought then.
And so much more to learn about herself.