View Full Version : A Tangle of Choices, my first novel - an excerpt

03-20-11, 11:42 AM
This is the first chapter of my first full-length novel, about a 25-year-old girl's love and friendship crises, the resultant journey to mental breakdown and the beginnings of her recovery. If you like this, the full version's available from as an ebook for $2.99. Anyway, here goes...

Chapter One

I jerked awake as the front door opened, pushed my glasses back up my nose and looked blearily at the digital clock on the DVD player. It told me it was 02:06. I could hear Steve’s familiar footsteps on the stairs which led to our floor of the converted maisonette. I sat up hurriedly and picked up my book, which was lying open and face down on my stomach. I hoped I looked as though I’d been sat there exactly as I had been when he’d gone out seven and a half hours ago. I didn’t look up; just said “Hiya,” in a nonchalant tone.
“Hi, gorgeous,” he replied. “You’re up late. Reading that book again?”
“Yep. I just can’t help myself.”
‘That book’ was Maskerade by Terry Pratchett. It was the one that had got me into the Discworld series and I had read it at least fifty times, but I kept finding new things to love about it. Steve wasn’t much of a reader and tended to think that if he’d read something once there was no point in reading it again.
“Good night out?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “It was good to see Dave and Si again.”
“I thought you were out with Paul tonight,” I said. Dave and Si were old uni buddies of Steve’s – Paul was a work colleague. As far as I was aware, the two crowds didn’t mix. I chose this moment to look up. “Unless my memory’s going.”
There was a tiny pause as his eyes met mine. Then he said, “I ran into them in the pub and chatted for a bit. They said to say hi to you.” He took off his jacket and hung it over the end of the banister, then sat down heavily on one of the threadbare armchairs. “The club was bloody packed tonight.”
“Aren’t they always?” I asked. The last time I had been clubbing was nearly four years ago, shortly after I’d ended it with my then-boyfriend Joe. My well-meaning little sister Nicky had tried, in the face of my heartbreak, to convert me to the dubious thrill of deafeningly loud dance music, overpriced alcohol and snogging random blokes, all things I’d never seen the appeal of. I finally went with her because she had promised to pay for my entry to the club and the cab home if I agreed to it, and because that way I could say I hated clubbing from experience rather than merely on principle – and then she’d never try to make me to do it again.
I smiled to myself as I recalled the night. It turned out to be a good one, even though Nicky and her gaggle of teenage mates had made me feel old (at twenty-two) and fat (at a size fourteen). I had spent the first hour or so perched on the edge of one of the zebra-striped leather sofas, people-watching and shaking my head and smiling whenever Nicky came over to yell, “Are you sure you don’t want to come and dance?” But after a while, as I was debating the pros and cons of fighting through the crowds at the bar for another vodka and cranberry, the very thing she claimed never happened in a club on a Saturday night, happened – I met the love of my life.
“Hey, sweetheart,” a voice bawled in my ear.
I turned towards the voice and found myself blushing beneath the gaze of a pair of very sexy brown eyes, surrounded by one of the handsomest faces I’d ever seen.
“You can budge up a bit if you want. The fat-arsed git who was between us has gone off for a pee.”
I smiled back awkwardly. “Thanks,” I yelled, shifting over gratefully and giving my numb left buttock some respite.
“So why haven’t you been dancing?”
“Don’t feel like it.”
“Shame. You’re too good-looking to be sitting down.”
I laughed. “That’s an odd chat-up line.”
“It’s the one I always use,” he bellowed. But before we could talk any more, the ‘fat-arsed git’, who turned out to be a fairly average-built bloke, returned and gave the finger to Mr Handsome before giving me a cheeky wink-and-smile and booming, “Any room for a little one?”
There wasn’t, and besides I didn’t want some random guy muscling in when I was busy being chatted up by his cute mate. But having apparently exhausted his supply of conversation, Mr Handsome turned away and started fiddling with his mobile phone. The new arrival, unfazed in the face of my indifference, squatted down next to me.
“Cheer up,” he advised me. I could only just hear him over the thudding beat of Haddaway’s ‘What Is Love’, surely one of the cheesiest songs ever – and yet still a guilty pleasure of mine. “It might never happen.”
I rolled my eyes. I wanted to get up and walk off without a word, but I would have to practically clamber over him to do so and I’d been coerced into wearing a skirt that barely covered my behind as it was.
“It already has,” I told him.
“What an idiot.”
“Er – thanks, I don’t think.” That was it – skirt or no skirt, I was getting out of there; this bloke really was too much. I made to get up, but he put a hand on my arm.
“Hey – you don’t think I meant you, do you? No – I was talking about whoever the bloke was who broke your heart. He must be pretty stupid.”
I sat down again. “How did you know it was to do with a bloke?”
“ESP,” he said, tapping the side of his nose. I laughed in spite of myself.
“That’s better,” he said. “It was either man trouble or you really were just that stuck-up.”
“Are you always this outrageous?” I asked. He certainly had an odd technique with women. Part of me wanted to be affronted at what he’d just said, and yet most of me was just curious to see what he could possibly come out with next.
“Er – yeah, I suppose I am. Faint heart never won fair maiden, after all. And as far as I’m concerned it’s working, because you’re still sitting there talking to me, aren’t you? Seriously, though, you seem really down and I’d like to help you feel better. Tell you what – I’ll cut you a deal. If you tell me what happened, I’ll promise not to try and get into your knickers tonight.”
I laughed again. “And if I don’t tell you?”
“Then I’ll have to turn on the full force of my sexual allure – and I’m not sure you’re up to resisting me, the state you’re in.”
“You may be right,” I said, giving in and starting to play along. “OK – here goes, then.”
And so I found myself telling him everything – all about how Joe had become increasingly distant in the last couple of months and how he would never give me a straight answer when I asked him if he still wanted to go out with me, leading me to dump him on impulse one night when he showed up half an hour late for a date. “I think he might have been trying to get me to finish it anyway,” I concluded.
“Damn it.”
“You’ve told me what happened. So now I’m going to have to keep my promise, aren’t I?”
“If you give me your phone number,” I said, emboldened by having let my guard down to such a degree and having decided that I actually quite fancied him, “I promise not to try and get into your knickers tonight.”
The roar of laughter this produced practically drowned out the terrible music.
“I don’t normally say this to ladies, but you’ve got balls,” he chuckled. “I’m Steve, by the way. Steve Matthews.”
“I’m Ellie Jenson,” I said, shaking the proffered hand.
“Would you care for a drink, Miss Jenson?”
“That would be lovely, thank you, Mr Matthews.”
For the rest of the night after he got back with our drinks, we talked and talked until I felt like I’d known him for years. Nicky came over to let me know that they were all going for a kebab, and I told her to go on without me, which she did after kissing me on the cheek and informing me that I looked like I was ‘well in there’. Mindful of the fact that I had come out of a relationship barely two weeks ago, though, I decided that even if he gave me his number I wouldn’t call him, much as I liked him. It would seem as if I were on the rebound, and besides I had resolved to stay single for at least a year before getting involved again.
However, by the end of the night he had not only given me his number but charmed mine out of me, and true to our words we stayed well away from each other’s knickers. The kiss we shared before parting tingled on my lips for hours afterwards. When he texted me the next morning asking to see me again I couldn’t even pretend to play hard to get; I was totally smitten. I went out with him that very evening and we were a couple from the end of the date onwards. Over the next few months, we fell in love – and moved into the flat we now shared on our five-month anniversary.
For a long time we were totally wrapped up in each other, and I was convinced that he was Mr Right. Surely this, I often thought back then, was the end of all my problems with men. I’d finally found a love like my friends Amy and Ben shared. Sure, we were different in some ways – he liked watching football and going out to pubs and clubs at weekends, in contrast to my preferring to stay home and play Dungeons and Dragons and other table-top games with my equally geeky friends – but then we spent so much time together during the week that it was good to have the chance to miss one another.
Over the past year or so, though, Steve had spent more and more weekday evenings, as well as weekends, going out with his mates and coming home at all hours of the morning, often ****ed out of his skull. And amongst the many photos in the ‘Nights Out’ album on his Facebook profile there were rather more of him snuggled up to skinny blondes than I was comfortable with. He always maintained that if there was anything going on he wouldn’t have put the photos up, which I had to admit made sense – but the suspicion that he might be cheating on me kept popping up in my mind. So far I had no real evidence to back this feeling up and so I usually put it down to my own personal insecurities. But either way, we definitely had problems. I just had to try and find a way of addressing them.
It wouldn’t be tonight, though. Steve had fallen asleep in the chair and was snoring. Taking a deep breath and attempting to get my mind back to a time when I would have found this cute, I got up and went over to him, awakening him with a kiss and a gentle shake.
“Come on, sleepyhead,” I said softly. “It’ll be far more comfy in bed.”
“Mmmm,” he grunted. “Just don’t ask me to perform or anything. I’ve had enough beer to sink an elephant.”
“Don’t worry,” I assured him, trying to sound jovial. “The aura of fag smoke around you is enough to put me off.”
“Sorry, babe. I just had the one on the way home. I’ll give up again tomorrow.”
I very much doubted it was just one judging by how strong the smoke smell was, but there was no point starting an argument about it now. I took hold of his hands and pulled him to his feet, making him stagger forwards slightly.
“Follow me,” I said. “Only about ten steps to go.”
Once in the bedroom I helped him into bed fully clothed. He was totally sparked out. Thanks to my mega-sleep earlier I was now wide awake, so I went to the kitchen to put the kettle on. I had dropped and broken the teapot earlier in the day so it would have to be made-in-the-cup tea – which tasted awful by comparison but would have to do until I bought a new teapot. When it was made I grabbed the packet of chocolate Hob-Nobs from the side, went into the living room and switched on my PC. When I opened Facebook a message popped up: Hey, fellow insomniac.
Hi Mark! I typed back, cheering up immediately. Nice night for it.
Yeah. Shame ‘it’ obviously isn’t on the menu for either of us.
I chuckled. Mark was an online friend whom I had met in the oddest of ways around six years ago. I had been browsing the ‘weird stuff’ section on eBay and he had put up an auction, marketing himself as a ‘Crap Boyfriend’. Apparently the winning bidder would have him forget her birthday, send her one-line emails, never tell her he loved her, and so on. The whole thing struck me as so intriguingly silly that I’d placed a bid; I was the only one who did. He emailed me after the auction to tell me that I didn’t actually have to pay the 99p as he’d just put the auction up for a laugh – and what followed after that wasn’t anything like the listing promised. We entered into a lively and occasionally flirtatious correspondence which endured to this day. I had never met him and probably never would, as he lived in Yorkshire and I was at the other end of the country in Southampton.
Where’s the boyfriend? he asked.
Soundo in bed. What about your missus?
Likewise. So why are you up so late?
Fell asleep waiting for him to get home. Wide awake and bored now! You?
Littlest had a bad dream. Got to be up in 2 hours anyway so figured I might as well stay up!
You’re working on a Saturday? That sucks.
Yep. Started a new job last month, I’m a lifeguard at our local pool.
Wow, is that how long we haven’t spoken for? So we will be seeing you on Baywatch soon then? LOL!
LOL, hasn’t the wrinkly stud role been taken by the Hoff?
As we chatted I felt my mood lift. The tea was left to go cold and the biscuits forgotten as we set the world to rights and played online chess, and it seemed like no time before it was 5am and Mark was signing off to get ready for work.
If only he wasn’t married, I thought as I shut down the PC and made my way towards the bedroom to try and get some more sleep. He might be fifteen years older than me, but he’s funny and intelligent, and quite photogenic as well. Definitely one of those people I’d filed away in the ‘perhaps in another lifetime’ part of my brain.
Meanwhile, though, there was this lifetime – and Steve, who was still asleep in the same position as I’d left him. I lay there for a while, trying to work out whether I should attempt to cuddle up to him – but I dozed off before a decision had been reached, and when I woke up he had left for work.