A very cool small press publisher put out the all-call for romance novella submissions recently. I decided to give it a go, even though I didn’t have a romance novella written. I did have an idea though–one I came up with last year and would love to see myself develop.
So I pitched it. But I did a really bad job with the pitch and never heard back from the publisher.
While I was waiting to hear from them, I was madly writing. I wrote some scenes that I really love. Overall, the story as I had it, didn’t work for me, so I’m kind of glad I didn’t hear back. (Ha! I’m such a liar.)
But no matter. It was good practice and left me with some nice scenes to share here. I call this scene, “Bare Feet are Very Sexy.”
Amelia pulled her car into the driveway of the little bungalow. She knew house as Mrs. Cookie’s house. How long had it sat vacant after Mrs. Cookie had died? A long time. Mrs. Cookie’s family used to use it as a summer house, Amelia could remember. What had made them decide to sell?
She turned the key and her car shuddered to a stop. Before she got out of the car she snuck a peek of the scene inside.
There was a fire in the fireplace and the room had a warm glow from it. She could see the back of Neil, bent over his guitar. She couldn’t see his kids, but assumed they were sitting at his feet. At least babysitting older kids meant she could play card games and hang out with them instead of spending the whole evening trying to keep them in their beds.
She pulled the handle of her door and opened it, cold sea air whipping her in the face. Babysitting. Truly the work of a spinster.
At the door she noticed the house had been painted and the old concrete step was now slate. The rail was new as well. And there was a copper drain chain instead of the old aluminum pipe. The house looked very comfortable and dare she say it, luxurious. She rang the bell.
The door knob turned and her tummy did a little twist.
Neil opened the door. He looked wonderful. He wore a blue wool sweater over a white collared shirt, with the collar unbuttoned. His jeans looked expensive, dark blue with crisp creases.
She was surprised how tan his bare feet were.
If he were going out, she thought, he ought to get his socks and shoes on.
“Come in, come in.” He opened the door wide for her.
As she stepped in he put one hand at her elbow and greeted her with the whiff of a kiss by her ear. It felt very…continental.
“I’m so glad you were free tonight. I think you are just what this song needs.”
Did her heart stop?
“The kids…” She pulled the words out of her brain that had suddenly turned to fog.
“You don’t mind do you? They might come in and interrupt once or twice but I gave them a movie—a long one—with the thought they might fall asleep in there while they watch.”
Amelia nodded. This. Was. Not. Babysitting.
That’s the trouble with old guys like me, built in family.” He chuckled a little and with his arm still on her elbow, led her into his living room. She would have given at least a week’s wages to have dressed better.
“Can I get you something to drink?” He was asking. “White wine? Tea?” She saw a half-full wine glass on the coffee table. Pull it together, she commanded her brain.
“I’d love a cup of tea.” They weren’t alone. The kids were in the other room, but only a fool drinks at a strange man’s home on the first date.
“Herbal? Green tea? What do you like?” He padded into the kitchen, an open layout that appeared to have all of the newest touches, from the black granite counter to the stainless everything.
“Surprise me. I like it all.” The words sounded calm to her ears, but her mouth was lying for her.
She turned to the wall of windows that faced the ocean. Old Mrs. Cookie had had an amazing view.
“You look lovely this evening.” Neil said.
Amelia bit back a “Who me?” She knew she looked scruffy. She had come to play with the kids. But she managed a “Thank you” and also thanked the Lord she had dressed in layers. Underneath her university sweatshirt was a rather cute little camisole.
She unzipped her sweatshirt and took it off, letting it hang over her arm.
She was also glad, in this particular moment, that she did so much heavy lifting at the gift shop.
Amelia wandered away from the kitchen and sat down on the leather sofa. With the fire crackling in the stone fireplace and the sweeping few of the ocean in torment she couldn’t keep her head still.
Neil joined her, sitting next to the other arm of the sofa. He set the tea cup on to the drift wood coffee table in front of her and picked up his guitar.
The drift wood table was a bit beach-themey for Amelia’s taste, but perhaps Neil wasn’t originally form the coast. She noted with pleasure that he didn’t have a single wood carving of the fisherman in his yellow slicker. The fisherman sold hand over fist in her gift shop, but only to tourists.
Neil began to strum the guitar in a slow syncopated way. “Do you sing the blues, Amelia?” He stared out the window at the ocean while he played.
“Sure,” she said. There wasn’t much call for the blues on Sunday morning, but she could sing anything.
“All right then. Join me on the chorus. Real simple.” He picked out an easy melody, a little Robert Johnson kind of thing. He turned to her and looked at her from under his black eyelashes, a little smile playing on his lips. He started in a falsetto, “Oh, baby won’t you let me come ho-me…” He drawled, his guitar singing baa-a-da-da-da-da-da. Then he winked.
It sparked a laugh in Amelia. She felt her cheeks dimple.
“There you go.” He said, his fingers still strumming. “That’s the smile I was looking for. Relax now, work is over, this is all play.” He sped up his strumming, and sang again, this time in his own baritone, controlled and smooth—too smooth for the blues, Amelia noted.
“I met another woman and she ate me out of house and home.”
Amelia chuckled. He did a mean impression, this one.
“We called her Jezzy Jackson and she were skinny a-as a bone.” He nodded at her again with a twinkle in her eye. But he didn’t sing the next line.
Amelia licked her lips and gave it a try, “She slept in the kitchen with her feet in the hall, You know baby, I never loved her at a-all.”
He nodded his approval and sang one more line, “Now you won’t take me back ag’in, I’ll have to look for a new love where I kin.” He played a little flourish to finish it. “Very good. You do know the blues. And nice contralto. I didn’t expect that soul from a little thing like you. We’ll sound great together.”
Amelia agreed with a smile. His silly falsetto even sounded nice with her deep singing voice. Seemed like it was rare to find a sound that complemented her own. “So what are we going to sing? I’m guessing not that.”
“You’re guessing right. There’s one on the radio I really like, Have you heard it?” He began to strum some cords that sounded familiar.
“Sing it for me, I don’t recognize it yet.”
He stopped playing, “It’s Prodigal Son, you know that one? New release by Children of Mercy?”
“Oh sure. That is a new one. Were you wanting to do it for like…an offertory?” The song was sort of dark, if she remembered the lyrics right. And a bit too pointed, she thought, given the circumstances.
“I do, but it’s got new lyrics. I did a little rewrite on it. See, things changed since I came back. I don’t feel…that way…anymore. And it’s time to sing about it.”
“You really related to it when you were making your move here?” She could see that. The song was from the perspective of the prodigal son as he struggled to admit he was wrong.
“Yeah. That’s why I wrote it, I guess. I needed to fight my demons. I knew I was wrong. Do you believe me? All along I knew I was wrong.”
“You wrote it?” Amelia leaned forward, attentive. She hadn’t known he was a songwriter. In fact, she realized, she new nothing about him except his divorce.
“On the side. Well, it used to be on the side. Now I guess it’s the main thing. I thought if I came and sang the rewrite it would help people understand where I’ve been, where I’m at now.”
“But why a duet?”
“Because you are lovely.” He strummed a little and began to sing. His words were of forgiveness, of the Prodigal seeing his need for forgiveness and begging anyone who would listen to forgive. “The chorus is the same as on the radio, will you sing it with me?” His voice was husky with emotion. She joined him in the chorus which was just the one line repeated four times:
“Father please forgive me, and restore what I have thrown away.”
The sound of his voice rich with pain, as he sang those words, took her breath away. When the sound of his laughing children broke through their song it brought tears to her eyes.
“I can’t sing this with you at church Neil. This is your song. For your family.”
Neil rested his guitar on his lap. “It sounds better when you sing it with me.”
She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. She had to ask a few personal questions before she grew attached to this man. He attracted her like a magnet but she couldn’t tell what he really wanted. “Do you really want God to restore your family?”
“Bonnie won’t take me back. I tried. Last year. I tried, Amelia. And then I had a year of grief and self pity. I’m back now for the kids, but I know she won’t have me. We’ve been divorced for seven years. You can’t just restore that.”
She nodded, but she didn’t agree. Her God was big enough to restore anything. But she had a feeling Bonnie saw it Neil’s way. At least right now. She turned back to the windows and watched the ocean churning.
“But what about the other woman?” He supplied.
“She slept in the kitchen with her feet in the hall.” Amelia responded with a half smile.
He laughed. “I let the success get to my head. I had the internet business and the songs that were all over the radio. Bonnie wouldn’t leave this coast. I wanted to go to Nashville. And then I met her. Bonnie will tell you she was a younger woman, that it was a mid life crisis.” He shrugged, “She’s probably right. I just saw a woman who believed in me. Nothing will undo a man like that.”
He leaned the guitar against the couch and slid next to Amelia.
She shivered and her chest sparked with anticipation. He wrapped his arm around her shoulder. “Last Wednesday, at choir practice, I looked at the group of people and your eyes said you believed me. You led the way for all of them to forgive me. A woman who believes in a man.” He sucked in a little breath, “It’s a powerful thing.”
She chewed her bottom lip and tried to relax. His fingertips played on her shoulder. When was the last time a man had touched her bare skin like that? It had been too long.
“What happened with this other woman?”
“What do you think? She found a more successful man. That was her style. Not that I blame her. She loves and moves on. It’s the world’s way. Not God’s way.”
That was the truth. God’s way was faithfulness and trustworthiness.
“It feels good to be doing things God’s way again.” Neil whispered in her ear, his breath warm against her skin.
She didn’t respond, but stared at the roiling waters of the Pacific Ocean.