A SPECIAL NOTE ABOUT THIS CHAPTER. I had been working on Jericho for the better part of a year when the characters staged a mini-revolt and decided to take matters into their own…er… hands. This was the original version of a chapter in Part II that ended up on the cutting room floor. It takes place after Syd’s ill-fated dinner with her husband, Jeff. I think the departure from the published narrative will be pretty clear. Hope you enjoy it.
“Let’s shift gears here and talk about you.” Maddie walked back to her chair and sat down. “I want to hear about your ill-fated encounter with Jeff.”
“Oh, god. I guess I do owe you an explanation for showing up and commandeering your evening.” Syd sat down and picked up her wine glass. “Is there any more of this? It might help me feel a bit less mortified.”
Maddie picked up the bottle and refilled her glass. “There’s no reason to feel mortified-and if you’d rather not talk about it, that’s totally okay.”
“No. It’s fine. I want to talk about it-I’m just embarrassed. I don’t know what I was thinking when I agreed to meet him. I mean, he was ogling our waitress within five minutes of sitting down.” She shook her head. “And then he had the gall to suggest that I-” she looked up to meet Maddie’s concerned gaze. “Never mind. It doesn’t even bear repeating.” She took a sip from her wine glass. “Suffice it to say that all of our original issues are alive and kicking. He said some things that really pissed me off-and I’m afraid I stormed out on him.”
Maddie was puzzled. “Really? You don’t strike me as the storming-out kind.”
Syd met her gaze. “You don’t know what he said.”
They looked at one another in silence for a few moments. Then Syd let out a slow breath and shrugged. “Oh, what the hell. He tried to suggest that I wasn’t interested in reconciling because of my friendship with you.”
“Me?” Maddie was stunned-and alarmed. Her thoughts spiraled back to the night Jeff showed up at the library unannounced. There had been a fleeting moment when she thought he might be sizing her up as a potential rival-but she had quickly dismissed that idea as being ridiculous, and a product of her overactive imagination. Now, she wasn’t so sure.
“Yeah-how absurd is that?” Syd asked. “It infuriated me. Jeff has always blamed our-issues-on what he chooses to define as my ambivalence toward intimacy.”
Maddie’s heartbeat was accelerating at an unhealthy rate. She could barely take in what she was hearing, and she had no idea how to respond. Syd was regarding her with an earnest and open expression-and Maddie knew she had to say something. “Well…” she began, “that hardly seems like a characterization that’s consistent with your life prior to marriage.”
“It isn’t. But you have to know Jeff. In his world, any woman who doesn’t immediately want to hop into bed with him has to be demented-or gay.” She sighed in frustration. “Of course, once our relationship hit the skids, that axiom was expanded to include me.”
“He thinks you’re gay?” Maddie couldn’t believe the turn the conversation had taken. She was tempted to stab herself in the thigh with her fork-just to be sure she was awake and not caught up in some torturous nightmare.
“He thinks any woman who doesn’t want to sleep with him is gay.”
“I still don’t see how I factor into this equation.” Maddie knew it was a mistake to ask, but she had to know what Jeff said about her to Syd.
Syd lowered her gaze. “He seemed to think that-well…. He found you extremely attractive. And in his book, if he finds you attractive then it must mean that I do, too.”
The tingling between her ears was getting worse. Maddie was certain she was blushing. “He thinks that we’re….”
“In a nutshell. Yeah.” She raised her eyes and saw the distressed look on Maddie’s face. “God-I’m sorry.” She reached out a tentative hand and touched Maddie’s knee. “I must have been crazy to tell you all of this. I should’ve kept my mouth shut. I never meant to offend you.”
Maddie recovered enough to pat Syd’s hand with her own. “I’m not at all offended. Honest.” She forced a shy smile. “If anything, I should be complimented. It’s not often that I get cast as the third part of a triangle.” She chewed the inside of her cheek. “Can you imagine David’s reaction?”
“Oh god!” Syd covered her face with both hands. “Don’t even think about telling him-I’d die of embarrassment.”
“You would? Now that’s a darn shame.” She gave a dramatic sigh. “I sort of liked the idea that I might be the object of fantasy for someone.”
Syd peeked at her between her fingers, and then lowered her hands. “You’re joking, right? At last count, you had a string of lovesick admirers that stretched from here to the state line.”
Syd was incredulous. “Did you actually just say pshaw?”
Maddie glowered at her.
“No-really. You did. You said ‘pshaw.'”
“So what if I did? It doesn’t make your insinuation any less ridiculous.”
“Ridiculous? You’re so clueless. You have no idea how many poor, pathetic people are out there pining for you.”
Maddie scoffed at her. “Pathetic would be the operative word, too.”
Syd crossed her arms. “Oh, so anyone who finds you irresistible is classified as pathetic?”
“Well then it’s a good thing I’m not gay-because if I were, I’d surely be at the top of your list of rejects.”
Maddie suddenly felt like her stomach was doing back-flips. She needed to get this conversation back on solid ground, and soon. “I wouldn’t say that.”
“No. In your case, I might be inclined to make an exception.”
Syd looked at her with narrowed eyes. “Why’s that?”
Maddie held up her empty pasta bowl. “I’d never reject the hands that fed me.” She winked and gave Syd her best smile. “Whatcha do for an encore, blondie?”
“We are still talking about food, right?”
“Were you in any doubt?”
“I’m slowly learning that with you, it’s always safer to ask.”
“Then, yes. We’re still talking about food.”
Syd stood up and collected their bowls. “Let’s go see what else we can cobble together from your vault of shrink-wrapped delights.”
Maddie stood up, too. “Now I’m confused-are you talking about my freezer or my bedside table?”
“Pervert,” Syd muttered, as she left the room and headed for the kitchen.
[The author bears no responsibility for the events that follow.]
Maddie smiled, and followed Syd down the hall, catching up with her in the dining room. Syd had stopped and placed their dirty dishes down on the big, oak sideboard and stood leaning against the table with her arms crossed, watching her approach.
“What’s up?” Maddie asked, setting their wine glasses down next to the now-empty pasta bowls.
“I think we need to have a little chat-this just isn’t working out for me any more.”
Maddie felt her stomach lurch. “What do you mean? What’s not working out?”
Syd waved her arm in frustration. “This. This isn’t working out-this whole goddamn delayed gratification thing. I’ve had it. It’s ridiculous. Real people don’t behave this way. Real people would have ripped off one another’s clothes and been at it like badgers about a hundred pages ago.” She was warming to her theme. “And that Beta-reader can just go and fuck off! I’ll use as many italics as I goddamn well want to.”
Maddie sighed. “Look-I know this is hard. But we both understood when we signed-up for this gig that it was going to be a painstaking and protracted process.”
Syd was incredulous. “Oh really? Are you telling me that this isn’t driving you nuts? I suppose that facial tic of yours is just a happy coincidence?”
Maddie thought about that as she slowly raised her hand to her left cheek. “I have a facial tic?”
“Well, duh. What did you think it was-early onset Bell’s palsy?”
“Have you been reading my PDR between scenes again?”
“Don’t change the subject. I’m horny as hell-and I need to get laid. Jesus. Even Gladys Pitzer is starting to look good to me.”
“Syd, we signed contracts. You know that.” Maddie glanced nervously over her shoulder at the large, backlighted computer display that directed their actions. “I really don’t think we should be having this conversation now.” She discreetly jerked her head toward the author, who was visible as she typed. She dropped her voice to a whisper. “Can’t you just wait a few more minutes? Soon she’ll have to head on to work, and we’ll be alone.”
“Alone? And this benefits me how, exactly?”
Maddie feigned umbrage. “I’m hurt that you even have to ask me that question.”
“Well, I’m sorry to offend you, Keemosabe-but to date, being alone with you is about as exciting as a marathon reading of Emily Dickinson poetry. My god. You’re supposed to be this legendary Lothario, and all I seem to be getting out of it is a bad case of acid reflux.” She reached out and grabbed Maddie by her shirtfront. “I’ve had my fucking U-Haul packed since page 38.” She made fists in the soft fabric and tugged the tall woman closer. “Come on, Stretch.” Their noses were now just inches apart. “Let’s play doctor.”
A loud tapping sound disrupted their conversation.
Maddie sighed. “Great. Now you’ve done it.”
Syd was confused. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Maddie jerked a thumb toward the enormous computer screen behind them. “She’s deleting all of this. I told you to wait. Now we’re toast. Happy now?”
Syd was busy running her hot hands up under Maddie’s shirt, and nipping along her collarbone.
The clacking was getting louder. More determined.
“Syd…” Maddie was starting to lose focus. “We’re about to disappear.”
“No worries,” Syd whispered against Maddie’s mouth. “I have a backup.”
You may now rejoin the official narrative, already in progress….
Copyright Ann McMan, 2010. All rights reserved. This story, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced without the prior express permission of the author, except for the purpose of personal enjoyment, provided that all disclaimers remain intact.