Posts Tagged ‘Novel’

The Agent Rejection

Posted: September 8, 2015 in GenX
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I’m about to begin querying my GenX novel After December to a small press. I made the decision over the weekend after considering, again, the response I received from an agent last spring.

Agent: Nobody wants to read about the 90’s. It’s too recent to be considered historic and too long ago to be considered relevant.

Fair enough. To be honest, I don’t remember that much about the 90’s. We have Trivial Pursuit: The 90’s Edition and it’s ridiculously hard. I spent most of the decade wrapped up in my own personal dramas related to high school, boys, college, and my parents’ divorce.

Also there was a lot of drinking and smoking weed.

But the next part of the agent conversation is what made me question why I was even interviewing agents:

Agent: Why can’t the main character just be 22 now?
Me: Like, a Millennial?
Agent: Yeah.
Me: But there’d be social media and a big part of the story is his detachment from his friends.
Agent: Maybe he’s just not into social media.
Me: A Millennial?

I know some Millenials and they’re basically good kids. But come on. They’re value system is very very different from ours. Stripping GenX from Brian Listo is like making Elizabeth Bennett a lesbian. While it might be a doable version of the story, it would be a very different story.

Finally, the agent asked who would read my novel. I said book clubs — you know, those GenX moms who drink wine and remember their high school boyfriends? Possibly college kids now — I read Ethan Hawke’s college-kid-finds-love-and-loses-it novel The Hottest State when I was in college and it resonated.

Agent: So Millenials are a target audience?

As if to prove her point about aging Brian into the now.

The Millenials I know think DiCaprio originated the role of Jay Gatsby. They don’t need modern-era novels. They just need something that confirms their own interests in self, fame, and partying.

So, okay, one agent who doesn’t get it is just a single strike out. Get back up there and keep swinging. What I realized, though, was that agents reflect what the publishers say they want. So I need to find a publisher who will buy my pitch.

Next blog: The Pitch.


Let the Music Play

Posted: March 25, 2014 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

In my Very Important Literature courses, the ones where we only read the most distinguished work by the most influential writers, we established some rules for fiction.

Rules are important because they help you figure out if what you’re reading is worthy of distinction or if it is destined for the discount rack.

One of the rules is no current-culture references. These references date the work. Even if the work takes place in a prior era and the references would be devices that established that era, good writers do not rely on pop culture to tell time and setting details.

I can see where there’s merit to that rule.

In the only Emily Giffin book I ever read, I took a red pen to all of the designer label references. Okay, I get it, I wanted to shout at her, the character is into the NYC fashion scene. Stop fucking name dropping.

The pop culture references are considered cheap. They’re shortcuts. They keep the writer from doing the hard work of explaining the character fully enough that I can envision her Jimmy Choo heels and Coach bag.

Lay off the Prada perfume, I would say as I smell it wafting by, without having to be told that’s her scent.

In the earliest versions of my novel, I used song lyrics to introduce chapters. The lyrics were meant to provide a frame of mind for the character.

After my Very Important Literature training and my Quality Fiction Analyst Degree, I ripped the song lyrics out. They were a cheap device. I knew that.

Monday’s 360 pages included one section called The Green Velvet Notebook which is the collection of song lyrics that the dead antagonist has left as a sort of suicide note.

What’s worse, throughout the novel the narrator, Brian, continues to name drop the songs on the radio, using them to fill out the scene like a sort of inventory of senses that includes hearing.

I wanted to be sheepish about the references. I wanted to flag them and exchange them, during revision, for quality descriptions of the scene.

I wanted to eschew pop culture in that way I’d been taught.

But I didn’t. I left them there.

Now I have to hope that the committee that reviews the contest entries has grown out of the Very Important Literature rules that refuse pop culture references.

I have to hope they are where I am which is an admission that pop culture is part of our marrow. It feeds our bones. We use it to relate to one another and to remember the eras that formed us. We use it to remind ourselves of things long passed and to ignore the realities we cannot change.

It may be a Generation X thing, and that’s fine. That’s what I want. That’s what I do.

So, on that note, here’s the playlist to give you an idea of the tone of the book:

Those titles with a * were actually included in the book. Brian mentions them or someone else does. One of them is a first dance song to which they all sing along. Yak. I know. What drivel!

The + indicates songs whose lyrics appear in The Green Velvet Notebook section. Tony collected those lyrics, he found they connect with him at some point in some way. They are his memories and since he’s dead when the book opens, they’re all we have of him.

So I broke that rule I learned about pop culture and its inappropriateness in literary fiction. But who cares? It’s only a first novel and it’s only a contest and no one’s really going to know I wrote the thing anyway, right?

Unless it wins.

So I finished the novel I started in 1989 and submitted it to the SC Arts Commission’s First Novel Competition. Related posts forthcoming, this experience has been awesome. But here’s the first post-submission reflection.

Let me explain what happens when you re-join a world you created.

First, you remember the times and reasons you created the world to begin with. In 1989, I was thirteen and had just moved to California from Virginia. It was a tremendously dramatic experience for me, one which if properly psychoanalyzed may reveal itself to be the source of every-terrible-thing-I’ve-ever-done.

It was also tremendously defining for me, not just my personality but my family as well. One of the characteristics born of that experience is my disdain for unmet expectations. This characteristic revealed itself in 2000 when I informed Charlie that I expected an engagement ring for Christmas and if he had no intention of meeting that expectation, he should say so.

In 1989, I was expecting to go to middle school with my best friend from whom I’d been separated at the end of 5th grade because of school re-districting. I also expected to be in school with Brian Craighill, the boy on whom I had my very first crush.

Moving to California crushed those dreams. Crushed them.

The second time I revived the novel our family had moved back to Northern Virginia and new boy, Marc, turned against me in a devastating way and took my friends with him.

The third time, my family had splintered and I was at college trying to figure out what kind of life I had now that my old life was over.

Finally, in 2009, I picked the novel back up and wrote the only version of it that would be recognizable in the final draft completed yesterday. In 2009, I finally realized Brian’s struggles were about an unwillingness to change, to grow up, to admit he was not meeting expectations.

  • From the 1989 story I kept the original characters, with a few new ones and the title.
  • From the 1993 story I kept the secondary conflicts, the love of Brian’s life has betrayed him and his parents don’t understand him.
  • From the 1995 version I kept the primary conflict and it contributes the book’s first two sentences: Tony is dead. He killed himself Monday night. I also kept the narrator, which is Brian in first person.
  • From the 2009 version I kept the scope of the novel, it’s told in six days, and the underlying tension: Brian does not want to go home for Tony’s death because the last time he was home, he’d done something that severed his ties with his friends.

What has not changed is that this story is about Brian Listo and his friends. They are The Crew, an amateur skateboarding “team” of which he is The Captain. Best friends since elementary school though now separated by their college choices. Brothers to one another even though life choices (drugs, girls) have tested their loyalty.



Last night in our November Columbia Writers’ Alliance meeting, I presented a workshop on dialogue.

I used clips from a favorite novel, Water for Elephants, which had short pieces of dialogue of each type. Here, I’ve used my own work because I wanted to see if I’d been successfully applying what I know about the fundamentals of dialogue in a story.

Here’s what dialogue does in a story:

Set the scene

Tell the reader where and when they are. What is the weather like? Is it daylight or darkness? Is the sun shining or is it overcast? Are we amid flowers and manicured pathways or desolation and ruin?

From Sunday School:

“So what should we talk about?” Preacher asked.

“Heard they won’t get power back to Calvert County till Tuesday,” Popeye Logan said.

“Heard that, too,” Ed Duncan confirmed.

“Your son out workin’ today?” Mr. Mahoney asked Preacher.

“Sure is,” Preacher said, “came home for dinner around 2 a.m. and then back out again. Been on for 48 hours.”

“Heard the resort got power back yesterday morning,” Mr. Cleary said.

“Got money,” Popeye Logan said, “Gonna have that.”

“Ain’t the money,” Mr. Mahoney said.

“Sure ‘tis,” Popeye said.

“It’s a business. No power, people go home. They go home, you issue refunds. Gotta keep the power on. Plus, they got their own grounds guys up there.” Mr. Mahoney blotted his upper lip with a handkerchief.

“Gotta have money to have all that,” Popeye said.

Advance action

This kind of dialogue changes the story. You can find it by locating the beginning of the dialogue passage and jotting down each character’s condition: sad, anxious, worried, angry; then read the dialogue and jot down the characters’ positions. If they’re the same, the dialogue has not advanced the action.

From The Second Sister:

We’d been far enough from water for long enough that our own skin had itched with filth. But we hadn’t seen nothin as far gone as Byron Meade.

“What is this, Dad?” Erika said.

“Hello,” Emelyne said, reaching her hand out.

“Don’t touch it,” Erika snapped, smacking Emelyne’s hand away.

“This man saved me,” Dad said.

“Saved you from what?” I asked.

“And I’ve brought him here to repay him.” Dad clapped his hands together and looked at each of us who were starin at that bear.

We stood there, the father and the daughters and the bear in the empty swimming pool with our shelter behind us and the fire tossing shadows around us. The Old Texas sky arched above us full of stars.

“Repay him how?” Erika asked.

“You’ll marry him,” Dad said.

“You must be joking,” I said.

Give insight into characterization

Characters can speak with a dialect, can use splendiferous vocabularies, can stutter, or can drift off the main point of the conversation. They can use one-syllable expressions, purposefully shortening names and employing slang like, “k” and “huh?” All of these are ways to show character. How a character speaks is an indicator of his education, his interest in what’s happening, and his origins.

From Gordon Finch’s Miracle:

“Whaddaya doin?” she said.

Gordon looked at his raisin toast then back at her, lumpy and bulging across from him. “I don’t understand the question,” Gordon said.

“I mean every night? Right at twelve.”

“Twelve thirty.”

“Other people are sleepin’. Whaddaya doin’?” she asked again.

“I work,” he said, then, “at the tire plant, I work at the plant. I get off at twelve. I come here to eat.”

“Every night?” she said.

“No,” he said. The toast was cooling in his hands. The cheese on his eggs gone gelatinous now. He said, “Only when I work.”

Who Does it Best?

I’m a Hemingway fan and he’s prone to dialogue exchanges that are so lengthy one can lose track of who says what. I also have a spot of playwriting in me and because of that I like for the words the character uses to stand alone, without tag or narration, and I believe that if those words are good enough, one doesn’t need the excess.

Just to indulge myself, from The Sun Also Rises (p.128):

“Say,” Bill said, “what about this Brett business?”

“What about it?”

“Were you ever in love with her?”


“For how long?”

“Off and on for a long time.”

“Oh, hell!” Bill said. “I’m sorry, fella.”

“It’s alright,” I said. “I don’t give a damn anymore.”


“Really. Only I’d a hell of a lot rather not talk about it.”

We know there are some firm rules about how to incorporate dialogue. The most important rule is:

Speak only those things which no one else knows or could possibly know without it being said.

If the dialogue is merely repeating what the reader or the characters already know, then it isn’t being productive. Remember that most people don’t speak what they’re really thinking, so you must somehow convey their thoughts through the words they choose.

Until the next workshop installment, why not share your thoughts on dialogue? Who does it really well? What makes a dialogue passage stink?

Additional resources: Write to Done, Writer’s Digest, Roz Morris via a G+ from Melanie Marttila of Wordsmith Studio 

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.