Just had to brag a little bit:
Today marks the two-year birthday of my baby novel. On this day in 2014, I was inspired to write a book about a quirky little town that I stumbled upon and, to my delight, today I reached the word count required for my manuscript to qualify as a legitimate novel! And, to make matters even better (though admittedly a little bittersweet), I wrote my first death scene! This is quite a milestone in my life as a writer, so I thought I would write a little tribute here and publish one of my favorite scenes just to celebrate the occasion. Read on, if you’d like, to discover one chapter of Cobbly Nob.
Warning: the following chapter will be slightly confusing without any context, but nobody will probably read this far into this blog post anyway. (Let’s be honest.)
The Tea Scandal
Paige awoke to a light tapping on her bedroom door.
“Paige? You awake, honey?”
“Yes,” Paige croaked. She cleared her throat. “Yes, Mrs. Ellis!”
“We’re about to open for brunch; you’ve slept the morning away!”
“Oh!” Paige glanced at her phone. It was indeed past 10 o’clock. But if she had slept so long, why was her head pounding so mercilessly against her skull? Waking from a nightmare at the witching hour and banging her head on the ceiling had probably not done her any favors, but what she wanted more than anything was a strong cup of coffee.
“We saved you some breakfast, if you’d like!” continued Mrs. Ellis.
“And tea!” shouted Miss Linda from down the stairs in the kitchen.
“I’m up!” Paige sprung up, careful to mind her head, and promptly sat back down as the blood rushed from her head and her vision faded.
She threw on some clothes, tossed her hair up, and swiped some mascara on her pale lashes with the mechanical efficiency she had mastered during her senior year of high school during which she had had to get up at 5 o’clock and be at school within half an hour in order to take all of her electives.
She was greeted with “Good mornings” from Mrs. Ellis and Miss Linda, who she had taken to calling “the Hens” in her mind, as they fluttered about the kitchen. A plate of waffles waited at the counter for her, but she could hardly enjoy them in all of their syrupy, buttery goodness for the throbbing of her head.
“More tea, honey?” asked Miss Linda. Paige was not sure whether she was asking if she would like honey with her tea or whether the stiff “Grey Hen” was warming up to her enough to use a pet name.
“Yes, thank you.” Miss Linda poured her yet another – it was her third that morning alone- generous cup of tea and then allowed a thick stream of fresh honey to drip into it from the honeypot. So much for terms of endearment, thought Paige, sipping her tea and scalding her tongue.
Her head ached worse than it had only moments ago. Each morning at breakfast, one of the Hens would set a hearty plate of waffles or pancakes with bacon (or, more commonly in accordance with Southern hospitality and love of good vittles, both) and, with it, a steaming cup of tea. And Paige never seemed able to escape the humid kitchen, with its many delicious smells weaving together in a tapestry of scent she could feel on her skin, without having to swallow a second helping of some dish and at least two additional cups of tea. She suspected the Hens were trying to fatten her up, having overheard Mrs. Ellis worry that their guest was “as thin as a rail” although, despite being tall and lanky, she was quite average sized.
Despite these overwhelming servings of the best home-cooked meals she had ever eaten (she felt a bit like Scarlett O’Hara, enjoying the plenty of the Antebellum days), her head continued to throb with a pounding that crescendoed every moment. Four cups of tea and she was forced to recognize one undeniable truth: she needed coffee and only coffee. Strong, thick, black coffee bitter enough to jolt her awake and cure the throbbing.
“Coffee?” said Miss Linda when Paige mentioned it. Her angular face adopted an insulted look. “I’m afraid we do not have any.” She whisked away with her teapot with the same air of disappointment that Miss Dinah had displayed when she spoke of dog-people. Apparently to Miss Linda, coffee-drinkers were in the same category of offenders.
After that, Paige learned her lesson and for three more mornings did her best to savor the sweet tartness of the tea at breakfast and ignore the sharp ache in her skull throughout the rest of the day. She spent the afternoons of two of these days at the Blue Bookstore with Aunt Mary. However, sorting through the stuffy and poorly-lit aisles, filled with the wonder of books though they were, did nothing to help her plight. It was not until the fourth day- her fifth full day in Cobbly Nob- that Paige remembered the coffee shop, the Sock Monkey Cafe and Modern Art Gallery, that she had seen downtown. Henceforth it became her sole mission in life to visit that hallowed cafe and suddenly the cartoonish image of the Sock Monkey on the sign no longer seemed tacky but a sainted portrait.
“Morning! More tea?” a cheerful voice greeted her. Paige looked up from her book, Wuthering Heights, and was relieved to see Mrs. Ellis’s motherly face beaming down at her. How she was so energetic without coffee, Paige did not know, but she was glad at least that Miss Linda was not the one serving her breakfast this time, for it meant she could probably get away with only two cups of tea without upsetting her hosts.
She downed a plate of scrambled eggs so fluffy they were like pillows for the ham that nestled among them, flipped her book closed and tossed it into her messenger bag, and walked briskly out the door and down the road before the second kettle of tea could whistle at her to drink it.
Every two steps seemed to beat in time with her thoughts: “Cof-fee. Cof-fee.”
And then, there it was, in front of her, the cheesy red smile of the Sock Monkey on the sign. She pushed the door and prayed that it was open. It was. As she crossed the threshold, the dry, nutty scent of coffee grounds greeted her. She inhaled deeply- Oh, bliss! – and then marched up to the counter.
“A coffee please,” she said decisively, not even glancing at the menu and barely glancing at the barista. “Black.”
“Well you certainly know what you want,” laughed the employee behind the counter. He was the same young man who had said hello on her first day there, the day of her trip to Kat Kingdom. “You sure you don’t want some cream? Maybe make it a frappe?”
“No,” said Paige, annoyed. Honestly, just because she was a teenage girl did not mean she liked those frilly milkshakes wannabes. “Black.”
“Coming right up.” He did not dare laugh again, but Paige saw a twinkle in his eyes- which she also noticed were exceptionally brown…The color of a macchiato, she thought- as he took her money and handed her her fifteen cents change. She took a seat at the bar and withdrew Wuthering Heights from her bag.
“Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same,” declared Catherine from the pages of the gothic novel. Paige, headache lulled to a dull groaning by the coffee-scented air, was captured by the passionate scene unfolding in the words of Emily Bronte. The decorations and sounds of the coffee shop, a quirky combination of Mardi-Gras and hipster chic, were forgotten.
“He does not know what being in love is?” wondered the hysterical heroine.
“No, he does not,” murmured Paige with a cynical smile. The love affair of Heathcliff and Catherine had never seemed to her as authentic as that of Anne and Gilbert, Elizabeth and Darcy, or even- reluctant as she was to admit it- Rhett and Scarlett. It was too…dramatic.
“Who does not what?” asked a tenor voice. She looked up and blinked, eyes adjusting from the black and white of the page to the reds and greens, golds and blues of the cafe. The boy from behind the counter slid a large mug, the face of the Sock Monkey printed on its side, under her nose.
“One moment,” she said. She lifted the mug to her lips and gulped at the coffee, wincing as she scalded her mouth, but swallowing anyway and sighing in satisfaction. “Bless coffee.”
The boy smiled at her, a silly half-grin that made his macchiato eyes light up. She was reminded of the twinkle lights she had seen him hanging the day before. “Who does not what?”
“Oh, sorry,” she looked down at her book. “I was talking to my book- I mean- myself.”
“What book?” Without waiting for her answer, he lifted the cover from the counter and scanned the title. He nodded. “Emily Bronte. Good choice.”
“You’ve read it?” she looked back up at him, more seriously now. After all, meeting someone who likes one of your favorite books is having a book recommend a person.
The boy nodded. “Literature course, senior year.”
“Nice,” Paige said. She took a more cautious sip of coffee and turned back to her novel.
“So who doesn’t what?” asked the young man.
“You never answered my question except to say it was about your book.”
“Oh,” said Paige. “Heathcliff. He does not know how to love. His affair with Catherine is not love, but a futile passion as he projects his ideals of the perfect other onto her.”
“You sound just like my literature teacher.” The laughter was in his eyes again and Paige could not help watching it- it was so…she could not think of the word…refreshing? No. That wasn’t quite it. He noticed her gaze and she blinked, blushed, and tried once more to return to her book.
“So you agree with the teachers that Heathcliff was not really in love with Catherine?” he pressed.
“Yes,” she said, not allowing herself to look up again, her cheeks still hot, though she could not tell why exactly. Perhaps it was the coffee.
“Okay then…” he exaggerated a shrug and turned away. “Let me know if you need anything.”
Paige nodded, sipped her coffee, and reached blindly into her bag for a pen to highlight Catherine’s impassioned speech. Her fingers knew where to look: she always kept her favorite purple pen in the smallest inside pouch that was meant for a cell phone, but was rarely used for this purpose. Where was her phone anyway? Oh well. She’d find it later. Her hand found the pocket, stretched out from use, but it did not find the pen. She carefully lay the book face down with its covers splayed so her spot would not be lost, wincing as she did so at the crackling of its poor contorted spine. She looked in her bag. No pen.
“Stink it,” she muttered.
“Come again?” The boy looked up from where he was scribbling in a notepad the order of another customer.
“Nothing…actually, could I borrow a pen?” Paige asked, noticing the neat row of exactly eleven pens in his apron pocket.
“I’m afraid I don’t have an extra, but I can grab one from the kitchen.”
“Um…” said Paige, quirking an eyebrow at the collection neatly clipped into his apron.
“Oh these pens?” Mark followed her gaze. “These are mine, but I suppose I could lend one to you…”
“If you don’t mind terribly,” replied Paige with some sarcasm.
“Well I do mind, but not terribly I suppose.” He ran his finger along the tops of the pens, hovered over one in particular that to Paige was identical to the others, and carefully withdrew it without messing up the regimented lines of the others. He handed it to her and watched from across the counter as she drew a straight line underneath Catherine’s speech.
Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.
“Thanks,” he said as she handed back the pen after drawing a large, bold question mark beside the passage. “Why the question mark?”
“Because I don’t understand it. That’s the point of a question mark, isn’t it?”
“What don’t you understand?” he asked, ignoring her sarcasm.
“This quote, but I’ll figure it out if I keep reading.”
“Read this book before?”
“Depressing choice for a reread, wouldn’t you agree?”
“I like it,” Paige said, tilting her nose a tad higher and meeting his eyes.
“I didn’t say it wasn’t good,” the boy’s eyes stared back into hers and seemed to laugh at her. “Just so…Gothic.”
Paige blinked. “It isn’t as Gothic as Frankenstein.”
“It has all the elements.”
“Meh,” said Paige.
“He knows the elements of gothic literature? Who even is this guy?” she thought. “And does he look a bit like Josh Groban…focus, Paige.” She imagined Scarlett O’Hara rolling her eyes and forced herself to focus.
“The ghost?” continued the boy.
“A dream,” said Paige, bored.
“Not actually a castle.”
“Alright then. I’ll agree that Frankenstein is more Gothic, and add that it is a better study than Emily Bronte’s replica.”
“Replica!” Paige nearly spit out her coffee and closed the book.
“Yeah,” he said, casually flicking away the dripped coffee with a rag. “Emily’s writing is almost indistinguishable from her sister’s. Slip a chapter of Jane Eyre into Wuthering Heights and I wouldn’t even notice the difference. The female authors of that era tend to be so…the same. Poorly-worded statement, perhaps, but I think I am justified in saying that Mary Shelley broke the standard, especially considering her writing predates the identical Bronte triplets…er…sisters.” He grinned mischievously and Paige could tell he was relishing annoying her. Well, she relished a debate too.
“There may a family resemblance between the writing styles. So what? They lived and wrote at the same time, in the same family! Emily, however, was a one-hit wonder and Wuthering Heights is far more profound than Jane Eyre.” (Sorry Jane, thought Paige, wincing as a beloved character blinked back imaginary tears in her mind.)
“Oh is it?”
“Yes. The resolution for Jane Eyre was too neat. Sure, Rochester lost an arm, but everything was too happy, too unrealistic. On the other hand, Emily’s novel ends ambiguously, which offers a much richer study on not only its story but the world beyond its covers.”
“Interesting, but I believe we were talking about Frankenstein-”
“Oh don’t even get me started on that book, with Victor’s trembling and fevers always ruining the action. The only character development was a worsening of nerves. Mrs. Bennet of Pride and Prejudice might as well have played the role.”
“Let’s not drag poor Mrs. Bennet into this,” laughed the boy. “You really have no mercy on her poor nerves.” He said this in his best imitation of the nagging woman. And then Paige found herself laughing too.
“Sorry, I get a little intense about books,” she said, taking a sip of her coffee and nearly choking again as she laughed.
“Clearly,” said the boy, but he was smiling. He held out a hand. “Mark Turner.”
“Paige,” he repeated. “Fitting name for a bookworm.”
“Indeed.” He was still holding her hand. Blushing, she pulled it away and they both turned to their tasks: her to her book and him to his cleaning. She was quickly immersed in the chapter again and when she finished her coffee and looked away from the page, Mark was gone, but beside her was a single pen resting on a napkin, which bore a note in cramped writing:
For your annotations. I’d like to hear what insights you come up with. Also, not all love (in literature) is fake; you just have to find it. -Mark.
Paige bit her lip in thought, but also to keep from smiling, and slipped the napkin and pen into her bag. When she reached the Wild Plum, her smile had not yet faded as she replayed the conversation with Mark in her mind. Why did she feel so silly? It was ridiculous, but she could see Scarlett smiling slyly in her mind…
Her smile faded upon entering the tea house.
“You!” said Miss Linda, in what could only be considered an angry squawk. “Where were you? Is that…” she inhaled deeply “coffee that I smell?”
“Oh, yeah…” Paige said. “I stopped by the Sock Monkey for a cup.”
“Well I suppose you won’t be wanting any of the tea I just brewed then.” It was not a question, so Paige just stared back apologetically until Miss Linda clucked sorrowfully and retreated to the kitchen.
The next morning at breakfast, no tea was offered. Rather, Miss Linda, without a word, set down a tin cup of room-temperature water. Paige fought the urge to laugh and looked toward Mrs. Ellis, always such a cheerful sight in the morning as she fried bacon and picked lovingly on her husband’s manners, but caught herself at the equally serious expression on the “Red Hen’s” face. Suddenly her plans to return to the Sock Monkey, both with the purpose of finding coffee and meeting Mark again, were dismissed from her mind as impossible.