Archive for the ‘Novel’ Category

Like so many things, revision of a novel takes time. It takes time to read it through and think about the cohesion of it. It takes time to map out the plot arcs and try to match each chapter with its intent and pace. It takes time to review each scene for value and construction.

Revision is the real work of writing.

When we revise, we consider whether the work we’ve generated is adding value to the novel or simply a creator’s indulgence. A good editor can help mark scenes and passages for deletion, but a self-edit takes time.

person holding compass

Photo by Valentin Antonucci on

This year’s goal was to edit one piece per month, in the hopes that focusing on a single work would enable me to make real progress. But after 8 months, I’m still sitting on three incomplete novels and one finished one that’s under a serious overhaul.

The next steps are where I’ve stalled. What comes next?

The unfinished novels are all NaNoWriMo efforts that reached 50k words and then sat back waiting to be revised. Revision, I thought, would finish them.

We now have two months until the next NaNoWriMo and I’ve promised myself I cannot write a new manuscript until these are done.

So I’m suspending the revision resolution and focusing on getting these books to conclusion. That seems like the right next step. Just finish writing. How hard can it be?

The finished book has the best shot of being picked up by either agent or publisher and it’s ambitious and complex and needs an editor. But even an editor right now would have questions about consistencies and structure. So that book needs a revision plan. An hour a day to address a specific problem.

Here’s a list of the problems:

Delivery of the faith structure exposition. Who tells the reader about the brides and their covenants and how this forms the whole basis for vampire culture? When does that exposition arrive and how?

Progression of the Blue-Kate romance. A series of scenes wherein they get closer, the sexual encounters crafted to demonstrate that progression.

The secrets. Who has them? What are they? How does Blue figure them out?

I’ve already decided that the reader will know from the beginning that Blue is a time traveler and watch him, unaware of that knowledge, in Kansas. We already know he and Raven are separated at the end. The blog structure enables a Choose Your Own Adventure approach. But if readers actually do skip around in the book, each chapter or scene must be self-contained enough that it gives only what it needs to. For example, the brides exposition is key. It cannot be in a “skipped over” section if the reader chooses to begin the story in Geneva. And yet, if the reader reads straight through, we cannot repeat brides information.

Terribly complicated stuff.

But then maybe I’m overthinking it.


One strategy during revision is to write the scenes that take place outside of the narrator’s experience. What happened before he entered the room?

Those scenes can help me imagine everything from the posture to the motivation of the various characters when our narrator does arrive.

So here’s a scene that drives action in the vampire novel but cannot be in the novel, because the first person narrator, Blue, is not there.

Byron tells Asta that Blue is a vampire

She hadn’t decided to go to bed with Blue yet but she was having a hard time resisting him. When Byron came into her room she expected to surrender to him, use him as a diversion to avoid thinking of Blue, but instead she felt repulsed.

“Leave me be,” she said. He had her pressed against the wardrobe, his body the length of hers, the evidence of his desire pressing against her.

“Darling, sister,” Byron cooed, his cheek against hers, his breath hot on her ear. “Why don’t you want me anymore?”

“You stink of Polidori. You’ve already been satisfied tonight. Why are you after me?”

His forehead fell into the slope of her neck and he sighed heavily. The heat of his breath moistened her collarbone and the cut of cleavage exposed by her nightgown. He raised his hand and traced the laced edge of the gown running his fingertip over the curve of her breast.

Asta raised her hands, pressed them to his chest, and shoved him away. He staggered a bit and grinned at her.

“You’re drunk,” she accused.

“Very,” he agreed. “And enamored of you as always, dear sister.”

“Enough,” Asta said coldly. “We’ve had enough. I’m no longer yours to command.”

Byron sneered. “No, you’ll be whore to the demon instead.”

Asta raised an eyebrow. “You’ll know a whore when you see one,” she said, “in your mirror.”

Byron laughed then, a harsh sound that filled the room and raised goosebumps on Asta’s arm.

“You’ll not see him in yours,” he said in a kind of singsong voice. “Or any mirror for that matter. It’s a thing about them.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Asta said, pushing past him and circling the large bed in the center of the room. She lifted her discarded dress and carried it further away from him to the chair near the window.

“He’s a vampire,” Byron said. “A blood sucking demon who can’t be seen in mirrors, who will never age and never die. Who would as soon tear into your throat as shove his cock in you.”

“Stop this instant!” Asta said, whirling to face him and glaring at him. “Why are you trying to hurt me?”

“I’m not trying to hurt you,” Byron muttered bitterly. “You want him and you should know he wants you, too. But not how you think.” He flopped onto the bed, laying supine, his head sinking into her pillow.

Asta turned back to the window, laid her dress across the chair, positioning it to avoid wrinkling.

“You’re jealous,” she said. “And so you demonize him.”

Byron laughed, “Figuratively, of course.”

“Of course. You’re drunk. You’re mad. You’re hateful. You should leave me be.”

Byron propped himself up on his elbows and looked across the bed at her. “I’m telling the truth, Augusta,” he said. “He is not a man. He is a vampire.”

She turned to face him then. Her glance showed the slightest doubt but it was quickly replaced with what looked like irritation.

“You’re fanciful,” she said. “You always have been.”

“It’s true!” he insisted, climbing up to his knees and crawling across the bed.

“Really, Georgie, a vampire? You could say he’s a rogue, that he’s already married, that he’s seeking a fortune and will blackmail me for it.” She named these accusations like tabloid headlines, flipping her wrist with each one as if showing them to Byron.

“That he’s my lover?” Byron asked.

She shook her head. “That I wouldn’t believe. He’s already told me it isn’t so.”

Byron laughed again. “You’ll believe him; but I’m lying.”

“You’re telling fantasy. A demon? A vampire? They are not real. He cannot be.”

Byron climbed down from the bed then and tugged his sleeve up, baring his elbow. A long pale scar stretched across it and the remains of a bite mark. It was swollen as if it had only just healed.

“Evidence,” he said, baring his wound for her.

Asta stepped nearer, laid her fingers on the broken skin.

“What did this?”

“He did this.”


“Raven. But they are the same.” He stared at her as she examined the wound. Her fingers traced the length of the scar and pressed into the scab of the bite. Byron winced.

“What is this?” Asta asked.

“He fed on me. He always does. I let him.” He paused then tugged his sleeve down. “I let him,” he said again, quietly.

“But why?” Asta asked, searching his face.

Byron stared directly into her eye then, his amber eyes full of hurt and sadness. “For the same reason you will,” he said. “Because I am broken and when he touches me, I feel whole again.”

Asta reached out and laid her hand on his cheek, first her left and then her right. She pulled his face in her hands toward her and kissed him. She could taste tears on his lips.

Lila-Asta“Oh, my Georgie, so tortured.” She kissed him again. “So very alone.”

“You don’t want me,” he said against her mouth.

She shook her head and then pressed her cheek to his.

“Give yourself to him, then,” Byron said, and pulled away. “Just know you must give all of yourself; he only knows how to take it all.”

“Like you,” she said.

He hardened and backed away. “You’ve been warned,” he said as he turned, dragging his bad foot, and headed for the door. “Good night, sister.”


How does Asta feel about the confession Byron makes? She is intrigued. She does not feel afraid. She hardly believes it and even if she did, Byron has survived what she imagines her own encounter will be like. She considers herself stronger than Byron.

When Asta comes to Blue, she knows what he is. She decides to give herself to him anyway. She trusts Blue not to hurt her. Trust that, as it turns out, is misplaced.

We have a guest post today, submitted by Blue Francis Hastings, Earl of Huntingdon and narrator of Seduction of an Innocent, my second novel. Leave comments and questions for Blue below.

I was restless in Vegas. That’s why I started reading. I lifted a worn copy of Atlas Shrugged from under the bar at Sabrina’s. One of the customers saw me reading it and brought in a collection of critical essays on it. I was hooked.

After that, the same customer brought me syllabi from various English courses at UNLV and I read through the required work and the criticism. In the seven years we were in Vegas, I completed about forty English classes.

My favorite work was American Literature. I especially liked the Realism era beginning with Henry James and bleeding over into Stephen Crane. I was drawn to determinism. Sister Carrie moved me in a way I couldn’t really understand.

I knew that destiny and fate were romantic ideas. I knew they were consolation for the seemingly random pain and suffering of the human experience. They worked like religion: the concept of Heaven is merely a draught to help those in pain look beyond their current strife. Like spiritual opium.

Destiny told believers that there was some master plan of which they were simply a part. That the outcomes of their struggles were predetermined.

I didn’t believe that.

I couldn’t.

How could any rational being suggest that my extraordinary existence had been mapped out by anything other than chance? Who could think this shit up?

Car accident, rescued by a vampire morgue employee.

Living in Vegas as a bartender and hired killer.

Guardian over my vampire best friend’s human wife.

Meeting my true love in fucking Kansas of all places.

No, there was no such thing as destiny. There couldn’t be. If there had been, then all of those contracts, the planned termination of other people’s lives, were foretold. And the events leading to that necessary act had been planned by some great puppeteer as well.

What kind of monstrous supernatural being would allow the possession and abuse of young girls?

I killed those men for hurting the girls. That did not make me a sword of justice. I am still only a predator myself. I am survival of the fittest.

There can be no being in charge of all this chaos. If there were, that being is most certainly not worthy of praise or commendation.

Still, fate is a cruel sprite. She encourages fantasy and romanticism. She teases with signs and coincidence.

I read Dreiser and thought about determinism as the sad sister of fate and destiny. While the latter encouraged hope and purpose, the former doomed all beings to clawing at the stone walls of our own dark wells.

To reject destiny and determinism, though, is to become comfortable with chaos. I was not only comfortable with chaos – I didn’t question it, didn’t wonder about it, didn’t reject it – I was an agent of chaos. I encouraged it and perpetuated it. Raven taught me how.

The only regret I have is that I didn’t know I was that – the catalyst for chaos – for a very long time. And that when I did learn, that I experienced for the first time the shame Sara had described to me. Not because of killing people, I’ve already explained that. This shame was over my intentional disruption of other people’s carefully organized lives.

Disruption of Asta’s life. Of Byron’s.

My influence was brutal and had I known, at the time, I might have held back. But I didn’t.


Posted: June 3, 2013 in Novel
Tags: , , , ,

I’m not sure why I remember her that way, dressed in red, but I do. She’s wearing a big dress, the fancy folds of material cascading around her, held aloft by some cage of hoops and petticoats. She looks like something out of a film, her hair swept away from her face, her neck bare above a low heart-shaped bodice. The swell of her breasts makes my eyes water. I want to lay my cheek against her skin, press my lips into the dip of her collarbone.

I’m not sure why I remember her that way. I can’t imagine I ever saw her in such a thing. The first time I saw her she was nearly naked. The pulse of the bass from the speakers overhead, the lights and smoke making the stage look like it was on fire. She stood still and smoldering above the crowd. Her brown hair fell over her shoulders, her lips glistened and pouted, her eyelids were low and thick with mascara.

That should be the red I remember. The red that painted her like a demon. I squinted through the smoke and heat at her and could see the pretty lace on her bra and panties flirting with all of us, touching her the way we wanted to. She barely moved, just let us look at her, want her. And we did.

That should be the red I remember.

That or the smear of blood across her lips. Her tongue quickly licking it away from her white teeth. Those teeth bared, brown eyes fierce, angry and guilty, blood on her hands and the sleeve of her jacket.

“Lila,” I had said but she didn’t turn.

The streetlamp glowed above us, buzzed with energy and clicked with the smacks and pops of bugs that tried to get inside.

She had killed Joey. I knew she’d done it. I knew she’d have to pay for it. I knew what had started it.

I said, “Lila,” softer the second time.

She didn’t turn.

“That’s not my name,” she said finally.

I heard the gravel crackle behind us. Drift was coming. He would find her wearing Joey’s blood. He would want to kill her.

In this life she is a stripper, the jealous older sister of my wife. All of us are demons, but she more than the rest, standing over the only one who knew us who didn’t know what we were. But that’s not how I remember her. I remember her in a long red dress, smiling as if she has a secret, luring me across a crowded room with those deep brown eyes.

I remember her from a long time ago. I suddenly remember her.

“Eliza,” I said.

She turned, hands still red, lips still red, eyes still brown.

Then he killed her.


Red: Prompt from 30×30, clip from Seduction of an Innocent

This is the first 3000 words of the novel I’m querying. It received a review here. It’s been edited, but needs more work. Your comments are appreciated.



Tony is dead. He killed himself Monday night.

I took my window seat. Twelve hours and thirty-two minutes since I was told, forty-five minutes since I’d had a cigarette, and barely fifteen seconds since I’d thought about it. When they passed out drinks it would be thirteen hours and seven minutes since I was told. When I asked the guy on the aisle if I could borrow his magazine, fourteen hours and nine minutes.

We were going to Virginia, the guy on the aisle and me, and there was nothing I could do to stop that now. But we weren’t in this thing together. He couldn’t even hear the mantra.

Tony is dead. He killed himself Monday night.

Half of my life is in Virginia. Two parents. One ex-girlfriend. Four best friends who would do anything for me. Well, three now. Tony is dead.

It’s February and it’s too soon to be going back to Virginia. It’s the time of year they usually tell me they’re coming to me. If I asked they would be on a plane in minutes to be with me. At least that’s what they say. But none of them have ever been to San Francisco. We still call Virginia home. Say things like, “when will you be home again?” But the loft apartment on West Hartford is my home and I know that, even if they don’t.

Wednesday morning at 9:52 a.m. Pacific time, I asked the flight attendant for a beer. She scowled at me, made change from my ten-dollar bill and handed me a Heineken. But the beer only made me want to smoke.

Tony is dead.

I flipped through the aisle guy’s Sports Illustrated. I let my eyes blur and focus and blur again as I turned the pages. The words ran into black lines and then sharpened back into pin points. The images kaleidoscoped into globs of color and back to crisp pictures of tackles and goals and arenas and ball players. I gave up, handed the magazine back, and occupied myself thinking about my apartment. I went through the details, taking a mental inventory like I do sometimes while trying to fall asleep. Books. Boxes.

Something about Monday night.

Candles. Empty pint glasses. Ash trays. My home is a loft apartment with a large bay window through which the sun falls like a God around eleven a.m. There are boxes along one wall with picture frames and books in them. I unpacked the candles first and haven’t gotten around to all of the memorabilia.

Tony is dead.

I moved in two years ago.

Sometimes, when the moon replaces the sunlight through that window, I light a candle to chase it away. And sometimes I just watch it crawl across the floor until it finds the boxes and puts them in silver shadows. On those nights it feels like everything is blanketed in silver shadows.

Monday night. He killed himself Monday night.

But on Wednesday the sun coated the clouds outside my airtight window with such blinding gold that I had to look away. The hum of the airplane stilled the storm in my head. The Heineken was working on the hole in my heart. He killed himself.

My friends say I’m lucky and they’re right.

When I was seventeen, I was offered a world tour with a skateboard company. When I was eighteen I was offered seven swimming scholarships. I attended California State University on an academic scholarship. It has all been easy for me. I set the county record for the 200 IM. I made the finals in the X Games half-pipe qualifier. I took the prettiest girl to prom, a Senator’s daughter no less. Then I went to San Francisco with the intention of forgetting it all. I graduate this year and I am not moving home. I haven’t told my parents that.

I like California. It’s 1999 and the city of San Francisco seems to be recovering from a time when it was the Mecca of social change and trying to adjust to a time when social change just isn’t as easy. I read Moliere and Marlowe, stare at abstract paintings and wall murals, drink cappuccinos and listen to acoustic guitars like they’re the heartbeat of some exclusive, complex sub culture. I chose California because it was as far as I could get from Virginia without leaving the continent.

Tony came to stay in San Fran once. He showed up in August and hung around until November. We had a blast. He could talk to anyone, drink anything and smoke every dime of weed in the place.


“I’m still here, dad.”

“You okay?”

“Yeah, dad.”

He took a breath, heavy white noise in the phone, and said “I’m sorry, son.”

“I know.”

“Your flight leaves at eight thirty. Do you want me to have Joel meet you?”

“No, I’ll take a cab.”

“I’ll call Joel.”

“Don’t do that. I’ll just catch a cab.” I pressed the heel of my hand into my eye.

“I just think you should—“

“Fine, dad, fine. Call Joel.”


“Just forget it. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

There was a long pause and I swore he was going to apologize again. But he didn’t. “Don’t forget your keys,” he said. Then he hung up. No goodbye. I laid the phone down and dropped my head into my hands.

Most of my friends went away to school like me. We return home for the summers and for Christmas. They’re the kind of friends you think you need to keep. The kind you blow others off for. The kind you pretend you still know even though it’s been three years and 3000 miles since high school.

When the plane finally made its approach to Dulles International Airport it would be four forty nine Eastern Standard Time. Exactly twenty hours and twenty-six minutes since my father had called me.

“I made arrangements on Northwest,” he had said.

“That’s fine.”

“Delta didn’t have a flight.”

“That’s fine.”

Silence for a minute. “Brian?”

“I’m still here, dad.”

They were passing out drinks. Thirteen hours and seven minutes. I asked the flight attendant for a beer. Then I paid her and took it. It may have been nine fifty two in the morning. I didn’t care. I wished desperately for a cigarette. I wondered if I lit one now how many drags I could get in before they told me to put it out. It may be worth it. They wouldn’t kick me off the plane. And even if they did, all the better, then I wouldn’t have to go back there.

I had last been home at New Year’s. Now it was February. I wasn’t supposed to be in Virginia. I should have been holed up in my flat in San Francisco procrastinating with cartoons and marijuana. It was snowing there, just like it had been at Christmas. But Christmas had long since come and gone and on Wednesday it felt like it had been one hundred years since Christmas. Even longer since New Year’s Day.

“So that’s it?” Tony demanded.

“That’s it,” I had replied.

“You just left her?”

“What was I supposed to do?”

“Work it out. Fix it. I don’t know. Give her a chance at least,” Tony said.

“Right,” I said.

“This isn’t like you, Brian.”

“Thank you, Tony, but I know what I’m doing.”

That wasn’t the way it was supposed to go.

I should have been stretching in the sunlight falling through the bay window across my bed, not drinking a beer on an airplane reading Sports Illustrated. I never read Sports Illustrated. Tony always e-mailed me the interesting things. A while back I started skimming his emails for content. His tangents were funny but time consuming and I had things to do.

Tony is dead.

I stared out the window. Clouds. Clouds. More clouds. They looked so big and thick up here. I wondered about standing in them like angels do in cartoons. I thought about falling through them when the flight attendant kicked me off for lighting a cigarette.

He killed himself.

Airplanes aren’t as great as people insist they are. There’s that constant loud noise that everyone pretends they don’t hear. The droning sound: the culmination of speed, wind and force; the result of decades of engineering developments, the airborne proof of man’s superiority to animals. It’s all rather egotistical, flying.

I wouldn’t have been at all upset if this were my last flight. I could travel from San Francisco to Virginia in a covered wagon like they did back in the day. Sure, it might take months, but what’s time, right? Besides, Tony would be cold in the grave long before I ever had to face them all again. Or better yet, I could just stay in California, and let them forget about me.

I may have gone so far as to pray for a crash rather than land in Washington in February except that I don’t believe in God. Tony used to say I refused to believe in order to rid myself of the duties of religion, confession and prayer and the like. He may have been right. He usually was.


“Yeah, Tony?”

“What does your heart tell you?”

I had regarded him with a shrug and deflated the point with “I feel a strange grumbling but I think it’s my stomach telling me I’m hungry.” I couldn’t help it. If my heart had a voice I had never heard it.

“How often do you hear your heart?” I had asked him.

“Every time there is an important decision to make.”

“Is this one of those?”

“You tell me.” He had been standing in the corner of my old bedroom, watching me move from dresser to bed, watching me shove items into a duffle bag. He still had his coat on, the zipper hanging open with a ski lift ticket on it, a buttoned-up flannel underneath, a t-shirt beneath that, still wrinkled as if he’d slept in it. Layered like a damn mail order catalog, a burgundy ball cap on his head with a yellow script R. The same Tony as every other day for our whole lives. I stopped moving. I looked at him.

“I don’t know what this is,” I said.

“Have you thought about what you’re doing?” he said, frustrated but not stepping any closer to me. Angry but not able to raise his voice. Hoarse with the thickness of hangover and too many cigarettes. Weak from no sleep. High.

“Since she told me.”

“Is that long enough?”

“Three hours? Sure.” I tugged the zipper around the edge of the suitcase.

“Time to leave?” he had asked. Still there, still the same.

“Seems like it’s always time to leave,” I said, and hoisted the bag onto my shoulder.

It was four forty five on Wednesday and we were descending into Dulles airport. I changed my watch from Pacific Time to Eastern Standard and watched the landscape grow bigger in the window.  The plane landed safely on the runway at Dulles and came to a slow pace to approach the gate. I brushed off my disappointment. Then we docked at the gate and everyone stood up.

I had my black suit for that weekend and so I’d been forced to check my bag. I had nothing to stow and had boarded on last call. I stood there, bent under the overhead compartment, waiting for everyone else to unload their stuff.

I don’t swim anymore. I quit going to practice when I was too drunk to close my eyes under water. I hardly ever write anymore either. Most stories I get around to telling are so full of bullshit that they sicken me. Meli likes the stuff I write. She doesn’t know anything about fiction but she’s beautiful when she’s lying naked in that silver moonlight that falls over my bed. Tony used to tell me I was the best writer he knew. He didn’t know anything either.

Kacie once told me I should write our story, a love story. She said I should call it “A Moment When the World is Silent” referring to those few seconds in the morning where we were both awake with our eyes closed, the Virginia sunlight dancing all through the room, tightly entangled limbs in limbs with the covers down around our waists, skin to skin. I don’t remember those mornings.

She was standing by a closed rental car counter when I descended into baggage claim. She had her hair pulled back into a cloth band and her skin was pale. Faint pink lipstick on and eyes greener than ever, she watched me move toward her. A good amount of people waited on the arriving Californians and they moved past me as I walked slowly toward where she stood. She had gained weight. Her cheeks were still red from the chill February air outside.

I thought about the cold of Washington, D.C. and how it seeps into your lungs and takes up permanent residence. I imagined she embodied that cold although her cheeks were flaming and fighting to restore warmth to her skin. I didn’t want to think about her skin or her body or her hair but it was there in front of me. Her fingers were wrapped around the stem of a white rose.

“Did Joel send you here?” I asked her.

“He thought it would help—“

“We are beyond help, Kacie. But I’ll take a ride. Save eight bucks.”

“Glad you didn’t offer to pay me,” she said.

“No, as I recall, you’re free.” Unprovoked. Unrepentant. Mean.

She followed me to the baggage carousel and stood patiently as we waited for the buzzer and the bags and the frenzy of people staring and grabbing and inspecting and muttering. Then I followed her out to the parking lot.

“The rose was a nice touch,” I said once we’d settled into the seats in her car. I lit a cigarette and rolled down the window. She did the same.

“A man gave it to me when I walked in.” She laid it on the dashboard. “It was supposed to remind me of soldiers in POW camps.”

“Did it?” I asked.

“No,” she said, a little ashamed, “it reminded me of Tony.”

I glared at her.

“Brian, I—“

“I don’t want to hear it.” She backed down. I knew she would. I knew everything she would do. It didn’t surprise me that she had come to get me. She had been picking me up from the airport since I left in 1995. Same Kacie.

“Been gettin’ high recently?” I asked.

“Excuse me?” Was that indignation I heard in her voice?

“Just making conversation,” I said.

She shook her head and exhaled a stream of smoke. I watched the scenery race by the window. Snow still blanketed much of the concrete landscape. Not enough for a good downhill run. Barely worth the effort. A few stretches of grass extended their blades through the white. They were dry and gnarly. Also barely worth the effort.

We were listening to some maudlin music from the alternative station. I finished my cigarette and threw the butt out the window.

“This isn’t exactly the time for a grand forgiveness,” I said, rolling the window back up.

“I think it’s the perfect time.”

“You could have called or something,” I said, “weeks ago.”

“I wanted to see you in person,” she answered.

“Then this event was pretty convenient for you, huh?”

We were silent for the length of another song. Long enough to get off the highway and on to a four lane road that led to my parents’ neighborhood.

Finally, with a deep breath I later recognized as all the courage she had left, she said: “It isn’t easy for me, Brian.”

I knew it wasn’t. It wasn’t easy for me, either, not to share the same air with her much less to think about the last time I’d been here. The air then had been charged with anger when she first told me.

“You did what?” I had yelled.

“It was a mistake,” she had said, trembling.

“A mistake?” I pushed my hand through my hair and tried not to look at her. “When?”

“Over Thanksgiving.”


“You weren’t here.”

“So you found a replacement.”

“That’s not fair, Brian.” She was crying. “It isn’t just that. Look at us!”

“Look at you! Get off the coke, Kacie, that would fix us.”

She wept softly, dropping her chin to her chest. “I didn’t mean to.”

“You fucked Jason,” I said, bringing the conversation back to the central issue.

“You got me to.”

“To fuck him?” I stood over her. She was kneeling on her sister’s bed.

“No, to get high. You got me high.” She shook her head. “I can’t do this. I don’t know what’s happening.” She put her hands over her face.

I remember thinking it wasn’t my fault. That none of it was my fault. I still believed that, less than a foot from her, riding home from the airport in February. It was too soon. The wounds still too raw. We rode the rest of the way to my house in silence. As she pulled into the drive, I reached for the release to my seatbelt. She laid her hand on mine. I jerked my hand away. “Brian, please, give me a chance,” she said.

“I’m not interested in chances.” I stepped out of the car and slammed the door.

Tony is dead, I reminded myself, wanting to shout it at her through the window of the car, like a storm. I wanted rain pounding every inch of my tortured flesh. I would welcome the punishment of it.

I had reached for her. I pushed my hand into her hair at the back of her head, tilted her face up to mine. I had leaned in and crushed her lips under mine.

“No,” she’d whined, eyes rolling, unable to focus.

“C’mon,” I had said. “You’re sorry, aren’t you?” Keeping a grip on her hair, my other hand had tugged on her shirt. I kissed her neck and whispered, “give in.” Took her lips hungrily into my own mouth.

She had twisted underneath me, then sat up and jerked away. I released her.

Her lips pouted, pursed, wet and still bruised with my kisses. “Dammit, Brian,” she choked out, “why do you always have to push too far?”

I should have let go years ago. Guilt flooded me on the steps of my parents’ house. I turned the key and pushed the door open, admitting myself and my bag.