I see from my last blog it’s been quite a while since I’ve had the self-discipline to sit down and write a new post. Now that I’m back at my day job teaching, I wanted to take a moment to give you a sneak preview of my forthcoming second novel, The Second Wave, set to the hit bookstore shelves and online retailers in early October, 2016.
Even though this event will soon strip me of my “debut author” title, I’m so pleased to share that, thanks to the Golden Crown Literary Society, my debut novel, The Revelation of Beatrice Darby, is now and forever an award-winner. Not a bad way to start off a novel-writing career!
Anyhoo, after the excitement of my first GCLS convention hobnobbing with the lesfic greats pictured above, and then hearing Doris Day’s “Secret Love” piped through the room as I made my way to the podium in early July, it was time to get back to the work that brought me there in the first place. Beach days be damned, the final edits and proof pages for The Second Wave needed my attention as the deadline loomed.
Now, with a little over a month until its release, I thought it would be fun to tease you with a post of the first chapter. So without further ado, here it is…
The Second Wave
Alice rushed down the hall of Intensive Care toward Leslie’s room. Her nose twitched at the pungent aroma of disinfectant as she counted off room numbers while negotiating her way around portable patient-information computers, linen hampers, and gurneys. The Facebook message from Leslie’s daughter, Rebecca, was startling enough, but when she’d read that Leslie had a stroke the day before, it shoved her off the fragile foundation she’d finally rebuilt after losing Maureen. After all these years, just reading Leslie’s name was enough to send her heart scattering in all the wrong directions. Nearing the room, she rounded the corner, trembling at what she might encounter. Who would be there? How would she handle seeing Leslie after all this time in a hospital bed, hooked up to all kinds of wires and tubes? An hour after responding to Rebecca’s message, she was packed and off on the two-hour drive from Boston to New Haven without having considered if it was the right thing for either of them. But since her daughter had gone to the trouble of locating her, it had to be serious. Not too serious, she’d hoped. God, please, not too serious. When she found the room, she poked her head in. “Rebecca?” she said softly. “Alice?” Rebecca got up from the chair parked by her mother’s bed and smoothed down the tailored blazer that contoured her athletic build. She bypassed Alice’s extended hand and went right in for an embrace. “Thank you for coming.”
• 16 •
“Thanks for contacting me,” Alice said, staring over at a Leslie she didn’t recognize. “She can use all the prayers and good vibes she can get right now. From what I recall, you two were pretty close friends at one time.” Alice smiled, her eyes still fixed on Leslie. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen my old friend.” She sat in the chair beside Leslie’s bed and gently held her hand, taped and purpled from an IV needle. “Hey, Bella,” she said. “It’s me, Betty.” She smiled when she felt what she thought was movement in Leslie’s fingers. “What happened?” Rebecca asked, hopeful. “Did she just squeeze your hand?” “I don’t think so. I mean I think I felt her fingers move slightly.” Alice surveyed Leslie’s face. It was thin and pale, but even a condition like this couldn’t entirely eclipse her perennial beauty. Rebecca smiled at Alice. “Whatever it was, I think I had the right idea messaging you.” “Boy, this is something of a time warp,” Alice said. “You were so little the last time I saw you.” She turned to Leslie. “You did all right with this one, Bella. She seems like a real smart cookie.” “Too smart for my own good, she always told me.” The light of Rebecca’s smile dimmed. “I’m scared,” she whispered. Alice twisted her body to face her. “I’m sure you are. I remember how close you and your mom were back then, both you and your brother.” “He’ll be coming by later when he gets off work. I wish the doctors could tell us something definite.” “What do you know so far?” “They’re calling it a mild stroke. She was in and out for a bit yesterday, but today she’s just been out.” Alice tried to stay focused on what Rebecca was saying, but her eyes kept drifting back to Leslie. She kept Leslie’s hand safely tucked into her own. “So what’s up with the nicknames?” Rebecca asked. Alice smiled. “It was a little joke we had. Betty Friedan and Bella Abzug from the feminist movement.”
The Second Wave
• 17 •
“That’s right. You had that crochet thing in the seventies. She really loved that group. In fact, I can still recall an argument it caused between my parents.” “Argument? Why?” Alice’s palms were suddenly sweaty. “My dad’s an old-fashioned, working-class guy. He didn’t get feminism. I was young at the time, but I remember him saying something like it was the first step in making men obsolete. I got panicked thinking someone was gonna come and take my dad away.” Alice chuckled. “That was the toughest part of being a feminist, trying to convince everyone it wasn’t at all about undermining men.” “He wasn’t having any of it. I think he kind of shamed my mom into abandoning the philosophy.” “I’m surprised. She seemed quite taken with it when she first started coming to the meetings.” Alice grinned at the recollection. “But your mom must’ve watched too many Leave it to Beaver reruns as a kid—the good wife and mother above all else.” “Which is why it was such a shock to my brother and me when they divorced a year after I left for college.” “They did?” After the initial shock, Alice avoided Rebecca’s eyes. “It was the weirdest thing. Out of nowhere she said she wasn’t happy anymore and asked for a divorce. I was furious with my dad for finding a girlfriend less than a year later, but it sort of explained their split. They’d just grown apart.” “Do they still talk?” “They’re cool with each other,” Rebecca said. “My mom says he’s a great guy, and she’d never want my brother and me to feel uncomfortable around them.” “That’s always been your mother. She’d do anything for you kids.” “You didn’t know any of this?” Before Alice could contrive a response, Rebecca said, “Oh, I think you’d moved away by then.” Alice was quiet, still reeling from the information. “How come you didn’t stay in contact?” “We did, sort of,” she said, mustering her wits. “We would talk on the phone from time to time after I moved to Boston.” “You guys always seemed to have so much fun together.”
• 18 •
Alice shifted uncomfortably in the chair. “I’m sorry if I’m asking too many questions.” “No, no, that’s okay,” Alice said. “It’s just been a long time since I’ve thought about that part of my life.” “She seemed happiest during those times when she had your friendship. I couldn’t figure out why you didn’t remain close. I asked her once, but she was her usual evasive self when it came to my probing.” “What did she say?” “You know, how people get so busy in their lives with jobs and family that time slips away. When I was younger, I thought it was a lame excuse until I started to experience it with my college friends.” “Especially if one of you moves out of state.” “That does complicate matters,” Rebecca said. “Do you want to take a walk to the cafeteria with me?” “Sure.” “Mom, we’ll be back in a few minutes, okay?” Rebecca gave Leslie’s foot a tender pinch. Alice smiled at the way Leslie’s daughter loved her. Then again, Leslie gave everyone reasons to love her.
As Alice sipped her coffee, she stared at Rebecca, who was chewing a tuna sandwich. Despite her short, gelled hair and forearm tattoo sneaking out from her blazer sleeve, she was unmistakably her mother’s daughter—identical dimpled right cheek and heavenly blue eyes beneath symmetrical, Rita Hayworth eyebrows. “Do you mind if I take a turn questioning you?” Rebecca smiled as she took another bite of her sandwich. “I think I know where this is headed. Let me help you out. Yes, I’m a lesbian, in case you weren’t entirely convinced.” Alice frowned. “I’m sorry for being so transparent. But actually, what I wanted to ask is when did you know?” Rebecca wiped her mouth with her napkin and leaned back in her chair. “I think I always knew. I didn’t come out until my
The Second Wave
• 19 •
senior year in college, though. I did the normal-chick routine. You know, boyfriends in high school and mixers in college, but I never connected with any of them.” “What do you mean, ‘connected’?” Alice asked. “Well, now I know that subconsciously, I always felt something was missing when I was dating guys, but it was when I fell for a woman that I realized what it was. It’s amazing how all it took was one kiss from a pretty girl to make everything crystal clear.” Alice nodded enthusiastically and then caught herself. “Did you have sex with men?” she asked in a barely audible whisper. Rebecca smirked. “I don’t know if this conversation is totally awkward or I find you incredibly cool.” “I’m so sorry for prying,” Alice said, her cheeks hot with embarrassment. “Forget I even asked that.” “Yes, I had sex with men, three of them, one in high school and two in college. I found it to be…” She looked up toward the fluorescent lights for help. “Kind of enjoyable but a galaxy away from being with a woman.” Lost in the familiarity of Rebecca’s words, she nodded again. She then remembered herself and reached for a casual reply. “It must’ve been quite a confusing time for you.” Rebecca slurped the last of her Diet Coke through a straw and scanned the cafeteria. “Alice, I want to ask you something.” Alice’s neck prickled with the heat of accusation as she fingered her coffee’s plastic lid. “Umm, sure.” “It’s pretty personal.” “Go ahead. It’s only fair,” Alice said, bracing herself. Rebecca hesitated, clearly negotiating her words. “Did you and my mother have something more than friendship?” Alice’s face felt like it was about to combust. “What would make you ask that?” “Just wondering.” Rebecca shrugged and piled scrunched-up napkins on her empty plate. “Are you a lesbian?” Alice’s time-honored reticence at a straightforward answer to that question prevailed even while she maintained eye contact with Rebecca.
• 20 •
“I’m sorry,” Rebecca said. “I hope I didn’t offend you. It wasn’t supposed to be an offensive question.” “No, no, it’s not,” Alice said, pausing for a breath. “In fact, I am.” “Is my mother?” Alice attempted to laugh the question off. “Rebecca, well, how should I…I mean that’s a question you ought to ask her, don’t you think?” “She’s not real talkative right now.” “I mean when she’s better.” “If she gets better. They don’t know the full extent of the damage yet.” “You have to believe she will,” Alice said, remembering Leslie’s face when it was alive with youth and the promise of dreams. “I thought she was going to be all right when she whispered your name Saturday night.” Alice’s heart plummeted. “She said my name?” “I could swear I heard ‘Alice,’ twice. That’s why I thought to look you up. It’s the only thing she’s said since I found her yesterday afternoon. Not my name, not my brother’s, or her grandkids’. Yours.” A fire spread up Alice’s neck and across her face. Could that be true? Could she actually have said her name? “She’s going to be okay, you know.” Rebecca’s eyes watered. “I want things to be different between us when she is.” “What do you mean? She doesn’t have a problem that you’re a lesbian?” “Not at all. She’s been great from the moment I came out to her. She loves my partner, Sage, and our son. It’s my father who’s had the problem.” Alice averted her eyes. “Then what do you want to be different?” “I want her to talk to me. We used to be so close when I was a kid. I don’t think she’s been happy for a long time, but I can never get her to open up.” “You think it was the divorce?” “I think it’s something else,” Rebecca said. “She’s fine with my father and his wife. They’ve been known to get together for dinner once in a while.”
The Second Wave
• 21 •
“Has she dated much?” “At first she did, but she never seemed to click with anyone. Then a few years ago she started saying she’s fine alone, that she’s too old to fall for anyone again, and that all the men her age are only looking for caretakers. I called ‘bullshit’ on that excuse and suggested she try dating a woman, but she just gave me an ‘Oh, Rebecca’ and walked away.” Alice sipped her coffee to wash down the jealousy creeping up from the thought of Leslie dating. “Hey, you two should hang out again. You could revive the old feminist crocheting club.” The suggestion brightened Rebecca’s face. Alice entertained a momentary glimmer of hope, too. “That’s a lovely idea, but I’m afraid we’re both too old to be driving two hours back and forth every other Friday.” “Ever think of moving back to the area?” “I have, especially since my wife passed last year.” “I’m sorry.” Rebecca placed a hand on Alice’s. “I didn’t even think to ask about you.” “Understandable, given the circumstances. Her name was Maureen, and she was an exceptional person. We had twenty-eight wonderful years together.” “Listen to me. I don’t even know you, and I’m trying to convince you to move back to Connecticut like you and my mom can relive the past or something.” Rebecca’s eyes watered. “I’d do anything to make her young and healthy again.” Alice smiled. “It’s a lovely wish. Those were good times.” “Not for me,” Rebecca said. “I had to wear those awful crocheted vests and scarves she made me.” Alice laughed. “Those were all the rage in the seventies.” “I’ll stick with tattoos and Birkenstocks, thanks,” Rebecca said with a thumbs-up. “Should we go back and see how she’s doing?” “So you never answered my question before,” Rebecca said as they carried their trays to the trash receptacles. “What question?”
• 22 •
“Were you and my mother ever more than friends?” “Rebecca,” a voice suddenly called out. Bill, Rebecca’s father, walked into the cafeteria and approached them. “Thanks for coming, Dad. I wouldn’t have texted you if I’d known you were away.” She kissed him on the cheek. “That’s okay, honey. I’d be mad if you hadn’t,” Bill said as he eyed Alice. While age had thinned his hair and stooped his shoulders a bit, he was still handsome. “Hello, Bill,” Alice said, extending her hand. “Alice Burton, Leslie’s old friend.” “I remember.” His tone was less than affable, his handshake flaccid. “How’s it going?” Without waiting for her reply, he turned to Rebecca. “How is she?” “Not better but not worse either. Stable.” Alice shrunk from the eerily familiar feeling of being the outsider during poignant Burton family moments. “I’ve got to get going, Rebecca.” Rebecca stopped her father to address Alice. “Are you heading back to Boston?” “No. I’m staying with my sister in Branford for a few days.” “Will you message me before you go?” “Sure.” Alice gave Rebecca a cordial kiss on the cheek and the obligatory courtesy nod to Bill before leaving. Driving back to her sister’s house in Branford, Alice missed the exit off the interstate as memories of Leslie hijacked her attention. She turned onto Route One and headed back toward her sister’s house in the Stony Creek section of town. When Abba’s song “S.O.S.” came on the oldies station she’d barely been listening to, she cranked up the volume. When she heard the line about how hard it is to go on when someone you’ve loved is gone, her eyes clouded with tears. Leslie had to wake up.
THE SECOND WAVE © 2016 By Jean Copeland. All Rights Reserved.