Excerpt- Chapter One from Well-Played
The following is an excerpt from Chapter One of my Suspense novel, Well Played:
He laid the items carefully out on the dresser in front of him: the ribbon from the spelling bee, the faded photograph, the dog collar. His hand passed over the last item with a wave of reverence. These things always gave him courage and he needed it today.
Victoria Raymond was everything that he wanted and nothing he deserved, but the wanting was everything and he was tired of not getting what he wanted. Today was the day he would do something about it
Today was the day he would ask her if she felt the same way.
He had good reason to believe she did. She had chosen him to ask for directions to the library that day. Him. He could still remember the smell of her as he breathed it, a warm vanilla smell. He decided to walk her there and then she smiled at him and thanked him.
See, that was just the thing about her. She was different from the other girls. She understood and appreciated kindness and manners. Maybe it was because she was a little older than him, but he didn’t think that was the only reason. She loved literature, just as he did. In fact, it was in English class where they had met and now he awaited it each day with a growing eagerness. He watched her always as she read; he was mesmerized by the change in her eyes.
He was invisible to most, but not to her. At first, he had been so surprised to be noticed, he had felt his heart quicken and his palms begin to sweat. No, she was not like the others. She had looked right past the rest of the class and found him, sitting there in the back row. It was like she had been searching for him just as he had been searching for her. Destiny, that’s what it was.
He knew he was not good looking. His skin had cleared up a little bit since his mother had taken him to the dermatologist, but the red scars were still the first thing he saw when he met his own image. His hair had been longer, but he had cut it recently, certain that she was the type to like a clean cut man. He had not been wrong for she had noticed and commented on it the next day. His mother had been pleased to take him to the mall when he asked for some new clothes, for he had never cared about clothes before.
He wished he was taller. This made him think about Gym class which was like opening an old wound. He despised Gym class, but he was very careful to keep this hatred hidden deep inside. It was not good to let people see what bothered you because then they could use it against you. Instead, bury it, just deep enough inside to stay out of sight but close enough to find it, to fuel it until you could do something about it.
It wasn’t that he hadn’t tried sports. There had once been hope. Back in elementary school, when it seemed all things were possible, he had played soccer and baseball. It was clear from the onset that he was untalented, but his father always encouraged him, assuring him he would get better if he worked harder. Like a child, he’d believed it. In the yard, he kicked hundreds of soccer balls against the garage, threw basketballs until his arms ached, tossed the baseball in the air and sought its capture in his glove.
But in the end, he was never good enough.
He would never forget the terror of watching gravity pull that baseball down from the sky. He followed all the instructions, positioning himself under it, stretching his glove wide, his eye on the ball as it descended to determine his fate. Time stretched out painfully before him as he imagined the hope in his parents’ faces, the fear in his coach’s. He could hear the crowd’s soft intake of breath as the field tensed in anticipation. And he would never forget the groan of the crowd as the ball bounced off the edge of leather and sealed his fate.
Now he looked down at his clenched fist and saw that he had snapped the comb in half again. He opened his dresser drawer and reached under the pile of neatly folded shirts to find the supply of replacement combs he kept in an old wooden box he’d found in the cellar. While he was at it, he replaced his treasures, laying them carefully in the box. Then, he tucked it all away and, with a sigh, discarded the broken comb. He decided to discard his doubts as well. Those were games. They didn’t matter, really. She was all that mattered and he had to keep himself centered on that. Sometimes the rest threatened to swallow him up. It seemed it would consume him, this rage that rumbled inside of him. It took a lot of control to stay invisible sometimes…
He nodded a farewell to himself in the mirror and wished the young man good luck.
Before he entered the kitchen, he paused. Through the clink of spoons on coffee cups and the hush of the seal on the refrigerator door, he heard his parents talking about him.
“He seems different,” his mother was saying. “He seems happier, I think. Yesterday, he asked me to take him to the mall to get some new clothes.”
“I know, I’ve seen it, too. He was asking me about hunting yesterday and I think I may have finally convinced him to try it again. He was helping me clean the guns and we actually had a decent conversation. It was good to see him interested in something besides that goddamned computer for once.”
In the hallway, he smiled. They were pleased with him, clearly. He had to admit it felt pretty good and it had taken relatively little effort on his part. Wait until he brought her home to meet them. He envisioned family dinners with her at his side. She was so comfortable around adults, she would certainly impress them. And when they saw how beautiful and kind she was, they would love her too. He would even go hunting with his dad if that’s what it took to make the old man happy…why not?
His mother looked up and smiled when he entered.
“Good morning. That shirt looks very nice on you,” she said while her soft hands smoothed collar in the back. He willed his body not to flinch at her touch and felt his eyelid twitch a little as a result of the unseen struggle. She seemed only to notice that he had accepted her touch.
It wasn’t until he boarded the bus that he really started to feel nervous. He sat stiffly in his usual seat and watched the houses fly by. God, he used to hate the bus ride to school. Before he learned to be invisible, that is. He remembered that one kid who always shot spit wads at him as he sat stoically staring out of his prison window. One time he had asked him to stop, very quietly and very politely, and that was when he really became the target. It seemed like he could still hear the whispers brushing against the back of his neck.
He could still see that kid’s face as he sobbed when he found his dog. Oh, yeah, he was a real tough guy on the bus, pushing little kids around, but he bawled like a baby over that dog.
Just like a helpless baby.
He sighed at the memory and tucked it away again.
He felt very focused on the task ahead of him, but he cautioned himself against overconfidence. Amanda White now entered his thoughts and he brought his hand up to steady his quivering eyelid. She had sat next to him in Chemistry and their arms had touched. His body waited tensely for her to jerk her arm away and when she did not, he examined her. She was not as pretty as many of the girls, but she was not ugly. She had called him up that time to clarify some data on the chemistry lab and he had patiently walked her through the calculations. Then, for a while she would smile and say “hi” when they passed in the hallway. All the signs were there, but she had still rejected him when he asked her to the Christmas Dance. She had touched his arm again as she told him she already had a date and he had just stared at it for a moment before walking away. It was like a girl to lead you on like that, just so they could rip your soul out of you.
But that was in the past and it was best that it stayed there. Besides, all things happened for a reason. Clearly that did not work out because fate held something better in store for him. Amanda couldn’t hold a candle to this one, anyway, so it was all for the best. When he thought about it that way, he felt a little bad about how angry he had been at Amanda.
Doubt tugged at him a bit, but he shut it down firmly. She was nothing like Amanda, he reminded himself. Just to be safe, he did consider his competition. She paid little attention to the athletes in the class, he thought with a smile. She was friendly enough to them, but she was not impressed by the fact that they were athletes. However…
Last week, Jason Grant had asked her to help him with his homework, he remembered with a grimace. He had seethed as he watched her lean over Jason’s paper, her head perilously close to his. She talked quietly so as not to disturb the other students who were working and he had strained to hear their conversation.
Still, he could not be sure that she had been unfaithful to him. He didn’t have a lot of experience in this area, and after all, she was such a friendly person. And Jason Grant had taken advantage of that, which showed no honor at all. It surprised him because he hadn’t expected that from Jason. It was so disappointing when people didn’t turn out to be who you thought they were. Appearances could be so deceiving…
His bus arrived at school early as usual and all it took was a quick lie to the driver to let him off earlier than the others. As he wove his way, unseen, through the empty hallways, he went over what he would say. He had practiced it so many times, it seemed like a scene from a movie that he knew by heart. Just like one of those chick flicks that end happily despite all odds and leave you feeling like anything is possible, even for you. For the first time in a long time, he had hope. It had seemed to him that he was forever destined to tumble headlong into the darkness and despair, but then there had been a light and a foothold and he knew that it would be alright. It was true what they said. Love could really change a man.
It could change the direction of a man’s life.
He knew right where to find her and he paused in the doorway a moment, drinking in the sight of her as she worked over the desk. When she felt his presence, she looked up and smiled.
“Hey, you’re here early today,” she said.
Today would change everything. He could feel it.
His teacher carefully set down her pen and turned to give him her full attention.
“Yes,” he replied. “There was something I wanted to talk to you about, Miss Raymond…”
Featured Image: http://us.123rf.com/400wm/400/400/terex/terex1012/terex101200089/8475132-leather-dog-collar-on-a-white-background.jpg