Unexpected Neighbors

Here’s another post originally intended for the long-gone Sweet Saturday Samples bloghop, which I wanted to move out of my drafts folder already. Originally scheduled for 8 September 2012, it differs somewhat from the published version.

***

This week’s excerpt is the point where I’ll be ending my excerpts from Little Ragdoll, since if I went much further, it would give too much away. In the future, I may feature some excerpts from earlier in the book, or some future excerpts that don’t give anything vital away.

In Chapter 52, “Unexpected Neighbors,” Justine says she notices the next door neighbors finally pulled into their driveway last night. As she and Adicia are wondering who their neighbors on the end of the cul-de-sac might be, the doorbell rings, and everyone gets a shock in more ways than one.

Thank you all so much for your kind, encouraging comments on Little Ragdoll and its characters! I’m so glad I finally went back to this long-hiatused story from scratch and memory 16.5 years later. The way it ultimately turned out was a story I couldn’t have written at 13-14, when I was working on the (beyond-awful) discontinued original first draft.

***

Adicia opens the door and takes several steps back in astonishment.  Allen, a very pregnant Lenore, and their two daughters are standing right in front of her, all of them looking just as stunned.

“What in the world!” Allen says. “What in the world are you doing in the house next door to us?”

“We didn’t even know you’d come up here!” Lenore agrees. “Did you come by while we were on vacation at Lake George?”

Justine hears their familiar voices and rushes over. “You live in our new neighborhood?”

Lenore hugs both of them. “However you came to be here, I’m so glad to see you’re safe and sound.  And you came in time for my baby to be born.  It’s due in September.”

Allen turns around and looks at the dark red Super Beetle in the driveway. “Adicia, when did you learn to drive, and where did you get the money to buy or lease a car?”

“I haven’t learnt to drive yet.  I’ve been waiting to find a teacher who’ll come to the house, or for you or Lucine to come back from vacation so I can start learning.”

“So then how and why did you get a car?  Am I about to hear something that’ll make me very upset?  And how did you know Lucine’s on vacation?  Did you run into her and she never told us in the few days our vacations overlapped?”

“How did you get such a nice house?” Lenore asks. “Are you renting a room here?  Don’t tell me you took up squatting.”

“The house is paid for in full, as is the car,” Adicia says.

“Where in the world did that kinda money come from?” Allen asks. “Boy, I never expected to come back from my summer vacation at the lake to find my youngest sisters moved into the house next door.  Is this legit money you used to pay for all this?  This furniture I’m seeing just in the living room doesn’t look cheap either.”

“I have enough money in my bank account to afford to live comfortably for awhile to come.  There’s plenty of money in there for Justine too.”

“Since when did you get a bank account?  And how in the world did you already manage to stash so much dough in there that you’d be able to support yourselves long-term?  Who gave you that kinda money?  Is this clean money?  Who’s your sugar daddy?”

“I don’t have a sugar daddy.  I’m not that kinda girl.”

“Why don’t we sit down so we can catch up?” Lenore asks. “We came over here to meet the new neighbors, and even if we already know them, we can still have a proper visit.”

“Would you like something to eat or drink?”

“No, we’re fine.” Lenore sits down on the overstuffed brown leather davenport. “Nice furniture.  I wish we had leather upholstery.”

Irene crawls onto Adicia’s lap and smiles up at her aunt. “We missed you.  You missed my fifth birthday last month, but you won’t miss my first day of school.”

Amelia is captivated by the sparkly sapphire on her aunt’s left hand and pulls her hand closer to her face. “Your ring is pretty.”

“Do you like my other ring too, the one with the flowers?” Adicia asks.

Allen stares at Adicia’s rings and grabs her hand away from Amelia so he can examine the rings himself. “Who’s been giving you this kinda expensive jewelry, Adicia?  I have a sick feeling in my stomach that this has something to do with that rich boy Warrick, and if you tell me he’s the one who’s been plying you with money, houses, cars, jewelry, and other expensive presents, you’ll have a hell of a time convincing me not to go give him a piece of my mind for using you like that.  You’re a respectable girl from a poor and working-class community, not some kept woman to be kept in a gilded cage for the entertainment of some limousine liberal who was born with a diamond-encrusted silver spoon in his mouth.”

“You can’t do or say anything to Ricky right now, since he left on Thursday morning for boot camp.  They drafted him, and he’s being forced to go to Vietnam.  His number was eighty-eight, and since he withdrew from Columbia, he lost his student deferment.” Adicia looks down, overcome by sorrow at having lost her husband so soon.

“Wait, that guy was living with you?  And Justine was here in the house too?  Please do not tell me you did anything with him.”

“He was drafted?” Lenore asks. “Come over here and sit by me, sweetie.”

Adicia gently pulls Irene off her lap and goes over to Lenore, leaning against her as Lenore puts her arm around her and gives Allen a dirty look.

WeWriWa—Allen Comforts Adicia

weekend_writing_warriorsveteransbadge_4

Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8 sentences from a book or WIP. Since I’ll be starting my Halloween-themed snippets in just two weeks, I decided to move an older post out of my drafts folder instead of starting the next scene in the WIP I’ve been sharing from. That way, I won’t have to break off the forward momentum for an entire month-plus.

This snippet comes from Little Ragdoll, Chapter 38, “The Sacrifice of Adicia,” set in August 1969. Adicia’s mother, who served a few months in prison for embezzlement in 1962, was recently threatened with more jail time if she failed to pay back the remaining money by the end of August.

Mrs. Troy, true to her black-hearted, anti-maternal nature, coerced Adicia into giving up her virginity for the remaining $3,000. In exchange, Adicia was promised a handsome husband with a good job and the ability to graduate high school instead of being forced to drop out at sixteen. By remaining at home till 18, Adicia will also be able to keep protecting her baby sister Justine.

Big brother Allen has just found out what their evil mother did, and is furious. When he goes to see Adicia at their sister Ernestine’s place, he winds up hugging her for the first time.

siblings-vintage

Adicia sits up and puts her arms around her brother, sobbing against his chest.  Allen hugs her back, the first time he’s ever hugged any of his sisters.  He still can’t entirely shake his social conditioning about manly versus unmanly behavior, but he’s hardly acting like a pansy by comforting someone he loves.  He hugs her as tightly as he knows how, to make up for all the years he never did it.  Seeing how she only comes up to the middle of his chest makes him painfully aware of how small she is for her age, how much she still resembles a little ragdoll even at fifteen.  She’s not even five feet tall yet.

“I’m not really sure I believe God exists, but onea the things that makes me think he might exist is that I got the best big brother in the world.  Out of all the families in the world, we were chosen for each other.”

Little Ragdoll Cover

I will be having my cover redesigned, though keeping it based on the same reference picture I worked from, and still using lots of dark blue. I don’t regret the experience of having designed two of my own covers, but I quickly came to understand something more professional will sell more copies.

WeWriWa—Super Big Brother

weekend_writing_warriorsveteransbadge_4

Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors, a weekly Sunday hop where writers share 8 sentences from a book or WIP. I’ve been sharing from the new opening pages of Little Ragdoll, a contemporary historical Bildungsroman (growing-up story) I’m releasing on 20 June. It’s my imagined telling of the growing up and well-deserved happy ending of the girl who inspired The Four Seasons’ famous song “Rag Doll.”

Adicia, her four best sisters, and their surrogate mother (an exploited live-in servant and nanny) are on their way to Woolworth’s in early September 1959 when they run across the two oldest brothers. Fifteen-year-old Allen is concerned because Adicia is limping, but even if it’s “just” caused by socks with holes, he’s not about to let his next-youngest sister go on such a big walk in that condition.

***

Allen reaches into his pockets and hands Adicia four dull quarters. “Here you go.  Enough for round-trip subway fare.  You, Ernestine, and Justine ride for free, since you’re so short.  The nearest station’s on the corner of Delancey and Essex.  Since you don’t hafta worry about walking no more, why don’t you go to onea the stores uptown?  They’ve mostly got the same goods for the same prices, but it’s nice to get outta the neighborhood when you can.”

Adicia slips the coins into her pocket and waves at her favorite brother as she continues down Essex Street.

***

When writing the beyond-awful, original, discontinued first draft of 1993-94, I pretty much stumbled into the storyline of Allen eventually quitting his delinquent lifestyle and trying to save his sisters from their awful mother. When I finally went back to the story from scratch and memory 16.5 years later, Allen became a nice guy from the start, not that heavy of a drug user or drinker, and determined to get above his raising by graduating high school, leaving the old neighborhood, and becoming respectably working-class.

Even though they’re only ten years apart, Allen is essentially the only real man in Adicia’s life until she meets her future husband Ricky in 1972. He’s quite possibly my favorite big brother character I’ve ever written. He proves himself as one of the best big brothers ever in June 1962, when he kicks down a door to save Adicia and Justine from a fire, and then runs back into the burning tenement to save their one-year-old nephew Giovanni.

Sweet Saturday Samples—A Quasi-Date

Welcome back to Sweet Saturday Samples! This week’s excerpt is from my contemporary historical Bildungsroman Little Ragdoll, Chapter 43, “‘Don’t Get Above Your Raising.'” It’s January 1972, and 17-year-old Adicia has agreed to go out socially with 19-year-old Ricky, her rich new neighbor from up the street who’s smitten with her. Though they live only a street apart, they’re in separate neighborhoods due to how the northern, gentrified section of the Lower East Side broke away to form the so-called East Village in the mid-Sixties. Adicia’s big brother Allen isn’t too happy when he discovers them together.

This scene contains one of the pieces I wrote during my biggest editing and revising phase. I’m a sinistral chauvinist who always includes at least several lefties in every cast of characters, but this time I’d totally forgotten. The book now boasts 13, plus a few babies whose left-handedness hasn’t had time to manifest yet.

***

That Sunday, while Justine is visiting Lenore and the girls, Adicia and Ricky are having lunch at an outdoor café in the West Village.  Adicia is confident in her decision to only make friends with Ricky, nothing more, and figures having an ally on the block can’t hurt.  After all, he might come in handy if she needs to run away to avoid being traded off like a piece of meat by her parents once she’s eighteen.

After their sandwich plates are cleared, a waiter brings dessert menus.  Adicia looks over it long and hard before finally deciding on a blueberry turnover with powdered sugar and whipped cream on top.

“You must not have dessert too often,” he says after the waiter takes their orders.

“We have a lot of it when we visit our brother, but not at home.  And I’ve only rarely gone to a real restaurant.”

He smiles at her. “In that case, I’d be happy to take you out every weekend.  It’s not right for anyone to grow up not knowing what it’s like to eat out or have fancy desserts.”

Adicia looks around and then at the ground. “I’m used to it.  I just like having a chance to do it when I can.  Don’t feel obligated to keep taking me out.  And remember, this isn’t even a date.”

Ten minutes later, the waiter returns with their desserts.  Adicia sees Ricky moving his fork to the left side of his plate just like she’s doing.  Across the table, Ricky smiles at her when he sees what she’s doing.

Adicia laughs. “Don’t tell me the universe put yet another lefty in my circle.  That makes thirteen of us.”

“My kindergarten teacher tied weights to my hand, but that only lasted one day.  My parents threatened to sue the school and get a private tutor for me if they didn’t leave me alone.  I’ve never known a female lefty before.  So you apparently know a lot of others?”

“Me, my sisters Emeline, Ernestine, and Justine, my brother Allen, my sister-in-law Lenore, my nieces Irene and Amelia, our four friends the Ryans, and now you.  My dad was born one, but he gave into teachers tryna switch him.”

“Now I like you even more, knowing you’re one of my own.”

Out of the corner of her eye, Adicia thinks she sees her brother.  Her suspicions are confirmed when he approaches their table.

“What a surprise to see you, Da—” Allen stops mid-word when he realizes she’s sitting with a stranger. “That’s not David!”

“Why would I be out with David?  He lives in Poughkeepsie now.”

“Who’s David, a former boyfriend?” Ricky asks.

“He’s a really good friend of mine.  We grew up together and knew each other since we were seven.  He’s the brother of my sister Ernestine’s best friend.”

Allen looks at his sister and her companion in shock. “Adicia, are you out on a date?”

“No!  This is just Ricky, who moved up the street from us recently.  I’m just getting to know him as friends.”

“Well, in my experience, if a girl wants to get to know a guy as only friends, they don’t go out to eat.  What are your intentions towards my sister?”

“To be honest, I really would like to go on a date with her, but she insists she only wants to be friends and that a poor girl and a rich boy shouldn’t get mixed up.”

***

Allen proceeds to deliver a long rant about how Ricky couldn’t really like Adicia, who comes from a starkly different social class, and forces his sister to come home with him before the date is over.

The Thrill of It All Blogfest—Fire!

Thrill

To celebrate the release of her new book Pop Travel, Tara Tyler is hosting the Thrill of It All Blogfest, with the help of Heather M. Gardner. The following prizes will be given:

An e-copy of Heather’s book Maguire’s Corner
An ARC of Pop Travel
A $20 Amazon gift card
A banner or caricature designed by Tara

Thrills come in all varieties and genres—sci-fi, horror, fantasy, romance, thriller, military, mystery, you name it. I was hoping to have started Part III of my current WIP by now so I could use the planned opening scene, the bombing of Paris in June 1940. I’m not quite there yet, so I chose something else.

My contemporary historical Bildungsroman Little Ragdoll is my imagined telling of the growing-up and rags to riches story with a twist of the girl who inspired The Four Seasons’ song “Rag Doll,” loosely based around the lyrics and set from 1959-74. In Part II, Chapter 16, late June 1962, protagonist Adicia’s loser oldest brother Carlos inadvertently starts a combined gas and electrical fire down in the basement, and their entire tenement burns down.

Everyone else has gotten out of their 8th floor apartment except for not-quite-eight-year-old Adicia and her three-year-old baby sister Justine. They think they’re going to die, since they closed their door and the knob is now too hot to touch. When they hear footsteps, they start screaming. Their 18-year-old brother Allen went up to the 9th and 10th floors to warn the residents of the fire, then came back to check his family’s apartment.

***

It seems to take forever until Allen is able to kick the door down and get in there to save them.  Justine is hysterical with sobs and clutching her rabbit for dear life as he picks her up and grabs Adicia by the hand, running as fast as he can for the fire escape.  Adicia has her schoolbag over her shoulders, and finds it hard to run fast enough to keep pace with that extra weight.  She clings onto her brother’s hand for dear life, and Justine is afraid to let go of his neck for fear she’ll fall and be crushed by the mob on the fire escape or die of smoke inhalation.

“We forgot Giovanni!” Adicia screams as they’re halfway down the fire escape, throngs of people pushing past them. “Gemma’s baby is going to die!”

[After Allen has deposited his sisters on the sidewalk and gone back for their oldest sister’s baby, whom she left behind for adoption after she steathily divorced her abusive husband]

Giovanni has toddled into Mr. and Mrs. Troy’s bedroom, where Gemma dumped the bag with his baby supplies before she left.  When Allen dodges back into the flaming apartment, Giovanni is sitting on the floor by the bag and bawling.  Not wasting a minute as pieces of the flaming rafters start coming down from the tenth floor, Allen grabs his nephew, puts him in the bag, and darts back out moments before the entire Troy apartment is engulfed in flames.