I haven’t done this before, but I am sharing the first draft of chapter one of my novel-in-progress, Jordan’s Sister. I have not completed my editing process other than to check for grammar and spelling mistakes, so it still needs some polishing. I welcome any feedback. Most importantly, does it make you want to read more?
This novel is 100% new writing based loosely on two characters I created when I was 14. While Caroline’s Lighthouse is classified as young adult, meaning ages 12 and up (Movie rating: PG-13), Jordan’s Sister is classified as new adult/contemporary (Movie rating: R). The main characters are in their early-20s discovering what it means to be adults out on their own.
Music is an important part of my writing process in general but is especially important to this novel because the two lead characters are singer-songwriters. I included YouTube links to the songs Taylor and Layne sing in case you want to listen. All songs mentioned are also available on my Spotify playlist of great songs featured on the right side of this blog. To best understand Taylor’s general state-of-mind about her life when the novel begins, listen to “Breathe Me” by Sia. The song captures such raw emotions and is absolutely beautiful.
Sunday, May 22, 2016
Dressed in her standard work uniform of black pants and a long-sleeved white shirt, Taylor unbuttoned her cuffs and rolled the sleeves past her elbows, exposing a small four-leaf clover tattoo on the inside of her forearm. She had pulled her long dark hair into a tight bun to appease the bar owner, Marcus Cosney, who had strict rules about hair but was more lenient about piercings and tattoos.
When she had dyed her hair at eighteen, Taylor had also added two additional earrings to each ear and a tiny green-stoned stud to her nose. The emerald was her birthstone. She preferred her new look to being just another pretty, blue-eyed blonde in California. She wished she had inherited her father’s green eyes—the only thing she wanted from him—but instead she looked like her mother.
Taylor had worked at the Mocking Bird Bar two to three nights a week for the past four months since she’d leased an apartment upstairs. She loved the atmosphere more than anything and adored her tiny one-bedroom apartment, which was a vast contrast to the huge home she had grown up in. It was her last night at work for a while because her four-week temporary job would begin the next day. She didn’t have to work at all. She chose to work to be around normal people who didn’t know her past. Her trust fund was extensive and could last the rest of her life if she lived modestly and managed the money responsibly. She didn’t have many friends, but the superficial relationships she’d developed with the regular customers and the more meaningful ones she had with her neighbors had helped quell her loneliness.
She glanced at the television hanging in the corner as she wiped off the counter. She was always careful with its delicate mother-of-pearl inlaid details and well-worn woodgrain. The bar still had its 1920s tin ceilings, hardwood floors, original woodwork and mirrored counter at the back. The main floor had room for a small stage and twenty tables. It was a big enough area for the customers, but not so large that the place didn’t feel cozy and intimate.
It was Sunday night—live-band karaoke night. The regular performers filtered in and waited patiently for the band to finish setting up. Taylor knew they were all ready to take the stage and imagine their own fame for the evening. Sundays were great, but Fridays were Taylor’s favorite nights at the Mocking Bird because of the showcase for songwriters the last Friday of every month. Several up-and-coming artists had received record deals after performing at the Mocking Bird. Mr. Cosney joked all the time with customers that Songbird was taken, so he had to be creative with the name. He spoke in soft, matter-of-fact phrases and kept his greying black hair in a buzz cut as he had since his tour in Vietnam during the late 60s. On especially warm days, he would roll up his sleeves, allowing the employees a rare glimpse of his handmade military tattoos, barely visible on his dark brown skin.
Mr. Cosney preferred showing celebrity gossip on the TV in his bar because he said politics or sports caused angry customers. It was easy enough to ignore; Taylor rarely watched anything.
But something on TV that evening caught Taylor’s attention. The interview show came back from commercial boasting an exclusive interview with the actress Jordan Hoffman.
“And we’re back with Jordan Hoffman, star of the Awake trilogy and former child star of The Spectacular Smiths,” the host said. “Jordan, it’s so great to have you here with us.”
Jordan smiled sweetly at the camera. She looked perfect. Her blue eyes sparkled, and her golden hair fell in loose curls around her shoulders. She wore a form-fitting red dress like she always did for interviews. Red looked radiant on her, showcasing a classic beauty no one could deny. “I am thrilled to be here,” she said. “Awake is such an amazing story. I am so honored to be able to portray Helena and offer readers a true visual of the character.”
“What is your favorite thing about your character, Helena?”
“Oh, there are too many things,” Jordan said. “Helena is so sure of herself in the wake of such disastrous conditions. I have truly enjoyed watching her change and grow as the story progressed. I think fans will really enjoy the final installment this fall.”
“How is this different from your role as Laken on the sitcom?”
“Oh, I couldn’t even begin to compare the two characters. Laken was just a regular girl, and Helena is a hero in the face of disaster. The two couldn’t be more different except for the fact that they look alike.”
“Which character do you identify with the most, Laken or Helena?”
“Oh, definitely Laken. Everyone knows my name after the Awake movies, but I would like to think I am still just a regular person.”
“I hear there will be a lot more music in this installment,” the host said. “Can you tell us anything about that?”
“Oh, I’m sworn to secrecy, but I will say that the hot new guitarist is someone I’m looking forward to working with.”
Taylor rolled her eyes and turned off the TV so the band could start their sound check. What a load of bullshit, she thought. Someone else had written Jordan’s comments. There was no way Jordan could have come up with them herself. No one knew her the way Taylor did. People knew her name and thought they knew all about her because Jordan was America’s sweetheart on the cover of every magazine, but only Taylor knew her dark past—the drugs, the mental breakdown and subsequent suicide attempt—things that could be leaked to the press to knock her off her pedestal. But Taylor would never say anything bad about Jordan publicly; she would rather pretend she didn’t know her at all. It had been at least six months since Taylor had seen her in person.
Willow, Taylor’s neighbor, and fellow part-time bartender slipped in through the employee entrance in the back. She lived upstairs with her girlfriend, Kayla, the owner’s daughter, which gave her free reign of the whole establishment. Willow’s mousy-brown hair, which was the same shade as her eyes, was pulled back in a ponytail. Dressed in her usual workout clothes, there was nothing extraordinary at all about her appearance. If the color beige could have been a person, it would have been Willow, which worked well for her because as Taylor had learned, she preferred to blend in.
“Hey girl, that was some good music last night. I’m glad the revolving door at your place seems to have stopped,” Willow said as she sat at the counter in front of Taylor.
Taylor laughed. “Yeah, I’m trying the celibate lifestyle for a while like you suggested,” she said. “I hope my guitar wasn’t too loud.”
“I prefer that to other noises,” she said with a smirk. “But I didn’t say be celibate; I said to consider dating someone and not sleeping around. There’s no sense in being lonely.”
“You not working tonight?”
“No, I’m off the schedule till Tuesday,” Willow said. “It won’t be the same without you working. Will you be in class tomorrow?”
“No, sorry, I’ll be out for a while,” Taylor said. “I got my schedule, and it does overlap with your morning class. I promise I’ll keep practicing on the weekends.”
“You still need a lot of practice.”
“I’ll come back when the recording’s over. Tonight’s my last night here. To work, anyway. I’ll come back to sing when I have something good enough finished. What can I get you?”
“Whatever’s cheapest is fine.”
“It’s not like you’re paying anyway.”
Taylor looked up as the bell on the front door dinged. A couple walked in and took seats at the front table. Through the window, she noticed a guy standing outside with a black guitar case on his shoulder. He had long, wavy light brown hair and colorful geometric tattoos on both forearms. He looked at his own reflection in the window as if he didn’t realize he could be seen from inside as he talked on his phone.
Willow followed Taylor’s gaze, then looked back at her. “Taylor!” she said. “The beer!”
“Shit,” Taylor muttered. She quickly turned off the tap and mopped up the beer all over the countertop. “I got distracted.”
Willow shook her head. “Think of your music,” she said. “You need to release some of your songs.”
“He’s hot, and he has a guitar,” Taylor whispered.
“Think dating—not one-night stands,” Willow said. “I think he’s coming in here. Ask him out. You’re a liberated woman. Maybe he could help you with your music.”
* * *
Outside the Mocking Bird Bar, Layne finished his call with his sister. She had called him every day since he had mentioned his ex-girlfriend getting married. No matter how many times he told Christina he was fine; she didn’t believe him.
“You were with her for more than two years, are you sure you’re okay?” his sister asked.
“Yes, Christina, I’m fine. And it’s been another two years since I broke up with her. I really need to go pick up my key now,” he said.
“I just wonder why you signed a six-month lease for a four-week job and don’t consider that running away? What about your house?”
“Sis, I love you, but you already have a husband and kids to deal with. Stop worrying about me. My house is fine, I’ve rented it out to Brian for the next six months anyway. I’ll decide after that if I want to sell it or live in it again. And I’m happy Amanda got married.”
“Then why haven’t you had another relationship since you ended things with her?”
Layne glanced in the window and noticed a beautiful dark-haired woman watching him from behind the counter. “Because I haven’t met the right person. I’m hanging up now.” He ended the call and sighed.
It wasn’t that Layne didn’t want another relationship, he just had to find someone who wanted the same things he did. Settling down with kids and a boring job wasn’t what he wanted.
Layne walked inside the door and watched the woman clean up the mess she had made on the counter. She was the hottest woman he had seen in a while. He also thought she looked familiar, but couldn’t think of where he might have seen her before.
He approached the bar and glanced at the woman’s nametag. “Hi, Taylor, I’m looking for Mr. Cosney,” he said. “He was going to leave a key for me. I’m Layne.” He extended his hand.
“Oh.” Taylor took his hand and held it just a moment longer than necessary before letting go, which made Layne’s skin tingle. “So you’re the new tenant. I saw the movers delivering your stuff earlier today. Sorry, he hasn’t left the key with me yet, but he’ll probably check in within the next hour or so if you want to hang out.”
Layne looked over Taylor’s body and stopped when he got back to her eyes. “Sure,” he said. He sat down and leaned his guitar case against the counter. “The bartenders weren’t so pretty the last place I went.”
“You know how to use that thing?” Taylor asked, pointing to the guitar. “Or do you just carry it around for show?”
“What do you think?” he asked with a grin. He watched as Taylor blushed. She was more than just beautiful; she was cute and sweet as well.
“Well, open mic night isn’t until Friday, so all we have going is live-band karaoke for now, 90s night. You can hear our regulars. Some of them are pretty good, others not so much.”
Layne laughed. “I guess I’ll have to wait until Friday then. I’m a songwriter.”
“Another one?” Willow asked. “God, you people love this place.”
“Huh?” Layne asked. “What other one?”
“Taylor here is one of the best singers I’ve heard,” Willow said. “Just wait, she always has to start out the karaoke to get the regulars inspired.”
Layne turned back to face Taylor. “A singer, do you play too? Write?” he asked.
Taylor glared at Willow. “A little,” she said.
“Well,” Layne said. “I’m looking forward to hearing you.”
“What’ll you have?” Taylor asked. “You can’t sit at the counter without a drink.”
“Surprise me,” he said as he stood up. “Will you watch my guitar for a minute?”
“Sure,” Taylor said.
* * *
Taylor was intrigued. Layne’s emerald green eyes reminded her of a guy named Brandon, who she had met years before. He was also a singer. They’d shared a moment, but hadn’t kept in touch, much to her disappointment.
She turned to Willow after Layne had walked into the restroom. “Oh my God, is he not the sexiest guy you’ve ever seen? Those eyes!”
“You do remember I’m dating a woman, right?”
“Sorry. He reminds me of a guy I met once. Do you remember that band Backdraft?”
“Yeah, they had a couple of good songs I guess.”
“Brandon Stallings, I met him once. Layne resembles him.”
“I don’t know. All those boys looked the same to me. I have Layne’s key. Marcus left it with me. I didn’t want to interrupt all the flirting between you two. You want it?”
“Sure,” Taylor said. “I guess we can’t keep it from him.”
“Why don’t you just ask him out instead of standing there lusting?” Willow asked. “Think potential relationship.”
“I’ve told you I’m not good at those. I don’t even know if he’s single, or straight.”
“Considering he just undressed you with his eyes, I’d say he’s both. Plus, he looks to be about your age too. He can’t be past twenty-five—not that you checked his ID like you’re supposed to.”
“I haven’t served him yet.”
“Oh, I imagine you’ll be serving him in other ways.”
“Hey,” Taylor said. “If you’re so concerned, you can check his ID when he gets back.”
Willow introduced herself as another bartender and asked to see Layne’s ID when he came back to the counter. After she had looked at it, Willow grinned at Layne. “He’s good,” she said to Taylor. “All legal at twenty-four.” She left to sit with some friends who were calling her over to a corner table near the front windows.
When Taylor gave Layne his key, he thanked her but didn’t get up. She studied his face, which looked like it hadn’t been shaved for a couple of days. She figured he’d only recently progressed from cute to handsome.
“You really staying for karaoke?” Taylor asked.
“I’m staying to hear you,” he said. “You look so familiar. Where might I have seen you before?”
Taylor wondered if he recognized her but figured a guy like him wouldn’t have seen her on The Spectacular Smiths, something she desperately wanted to leave behind. “I just have a common face,” she said. “I guess you do too because I was thinking the same thing about you.”
“Oh, I was somebody once, but you would never guess who,” he said.
“Who are you?” Taylor asked. She wondered again if the guy could be Brandon using a different name, but he wasn’t acting like he knew her.
“I can’t tell you everything all at once. What fun would that be?” Layne stared at Taylor’s clover tattoo.
“You like clovers?” she asked.
“Yeah, something like that,” he said.
The bar was getting more crowded. The regular karaoke singers had filled their usual tables and patiently waited for someone to announce start time while the band looked over at Taylor. Taylor glanced at the clock and took a deep breath. She usually wasn’t nervous about kicking off the singing, but she was that night with Layne watching her. She walked over to the microphone and put on her biggest smile.
“It’s great to see you all back here,” she said. “I’m Taylor Lee and tonight’s my last night working at this fine establishment for a little while. I’ll miss you all so much. I’ll get us started, but then you guys have to jump in.” Taylor looked through the list of available songs for the evening. She could sing anything, really, but picked “Four-Leaf Clover” because she felt it best showcased her voice. She worked the crowd while singing, but made a point to look at Layne a couple of times to see if he was watching her.
* * *
Layne was awestruck. Taylor had the most exquisite voice he had heard in a long time, and she knew how to perform. The only person he could recall who sounded similar was Taylor Hoffman who had played Sierra on The Spectacular Smiths. He had met her briefly once on the set of the show when his band guest starred but hadn’t been able to talk with her as long as he’d hoped to, something he’d always regretted. He remembered Taylor had blushed when he had complimented her that day. Was she the same Taylor or was it a coincidence? Her eyes and voice seemed to match. Add ten years, tattoos, the pierced nose and some black hair dye. Could it be?
It is her, he thought, it has to be her. The tabloids had said she left the business entirely. Layne felt like part of Taylor’s soul shined through as she sang, just like Taylor Hoffman’s had during the show.
Taylor finished her song and received cheers from everyone in the bar. After she had left the stage, others went up and sang, but none were even close to being as good as her. Layne sat at the bar, slowly sipping his beer, waiting for Taylor to return from her rounds chatting with the customers.
“You did great,” he said as Taylor walked back behind the counter. “You should sing all the time.”
“Thank you,” she said as she blushed. “I think I was born in the wrong generation. The music I love the most was released around the same time I was born. Will I get to hear you sing tonight too?”
“Maybe,” Layne said with a sly smile. He was now certain Taylor Lee and Taylor Hoffman were one and the same. The tattoo on her arm felt like fate, as he had his own clover tattoo on his chest—symbolic of having survived teenage stardom relatively unscathed. “It depends on if they can play my favorite song, which happens to be from the 90s.”
“Which one?” Taylor asked. “I love 90s music, so I bet I know it.”
Layne smiled at her again as he stood up. “You’ll have to wait and see,” he teased. He got up and spoke with the band for a few seconds before he walked over to the microphone and moved the stool out of the way so he could stand.
The band began to play “I’ll Be” as Layne watched Taylor’s face light up. He sang with more emotion than any of the other performers had so far that evening. He felt like he was singing only to Taylor. When Layne had finished singing, the other customers stood up and cheered for him like they had for Taylor. He humbly thanked them, then walked back to his seat at the counter.
“Well,” he said. “Did I pass your singing standards?”
Taylor smiled at him. “You should sing all the time too,” she said. “Your voice is amazing.”
“I’m much better if I rehearse first,” Layne said. “Maybe you could give me some pointers sometime.”
“I’m actually off work soon,” Taylor said. “I live upstairs too if you want to hang out and work on those pointers tonight.”
Layne smiled. “Yeah, I think I could fit that in my schedule,” he said. “So you’re done working here for a while you said?”
“Just four weeks,” Taylor said. “I have a temporary job, and then I’ll come back I guess.”
Layne figured Taylor’s temporary job probably involved the final Awake movie. He knew he would be working with a voice-over artist. If he was right, he was certain it would be the best job he’d ever had. Either way, he was thrilled with the opportunity to reconnect with Taylor.
-Brandi Easterling Collins