We have had a fun and exciting 2015 filled with big changes, wonderful authors, and great books. We’ve added some new names to our line up and continued to publish the writers you know any love. To celebrate we encouraged our authors cut loose and play a little bit in the spirit of the holidays season. The result is the story that follows.
BOUGHS OF FOLLY
Chapter Here We Go by Stefani Deoul
“She nodded her head in agreement.”
ARGH. Alex Norris lets her head fall forward into her hands. Then, using those gorgeously manicured hands to press against her temple, she most emphatically shakes her head, letting her actions provide release for the “nooooo” screaming in her brain.
Just once, she thinks she might read a draft from a new writer who wouldn’t have their lead character “nod their head in agreement.” Maybe they could nod their arms or their legs or their tush. Or maybe, just maybe, they could just, wait for it, simply nod.
Exhaling, and releasing one loud raspberry, Alex concedes it is time to call it a day. Actually, it was probably time to call it a day three hours ago, but why be picky?
Alex pauses for just a moment, letting her brain send the thought down until it connects to her body, releasing one self-satisfied smirk. It’s nearly as good as a full body stretch. Ahhhh. At least she can still amuse herself…
No. No. Don’t go there. Ugh. Too late.
…If no one else.
Ah yeah, no one else. Okay. There’s a mood killer for you.
Time to get up, shut down the computer and switch the heels for the Rag & Bone biker boots. As she turns to grab her coat, Alex can’t help but look down from her 17th floor office, the view never more breathtaking than during the holiday season. With one glance, she sees the tree at Rockefeller Center, the skaters, the crowds, the lights. The lightly falling snow makes it all feel as though she’s looking at a perfect, giant snow globe. And that, she thinks, is the problem.
Forty-two isn’t supposed to look like this, all perfectly colorful and sparkling from a distance, all cheer and joy separated by double-paned safety glass, keeping them just out of reach.
Forty-two is supposed to be intimate, a cuddle in front of a fireplace, a snowball fight where losing is winning, hot cocoa complete with baby marshmallows and a box with something picked just for me. From someone meant just for me.
Alex Norris, hard-hearted, big-city editor, lets the tear run down her cheek as she loops her Burberry cashmere scarf around her neck, lifts her jet black hair out and over, and carelessly settles her Alexander Wang Rocco bag on her shoulder. Wiping away any trace of emotionality, she strides through the empty office and hits the elevator button. Time to blow this pop stand.
Chapter My Turn by Wynn Malone
The elevator doors open and Alex glances up from her iPhone. The woman standing inside takes Alex from her Twitter feed, for a moment stopping her thoughts on everything but the brown eyes looking back at her. Alex steps in, quickly returning her attention to her phone, avoiding the gaze that lingers on her, and then turns away.
The doors close and Alex chances another glance at the woman sharing the elevator cab. Her back is resting against the wall, her hands in the pockets of her black leather jacket, relaxed, confident. The scuffs on her work boots indicate she actually bought them to work in. Her scent is faint, though Alex detects a trace of Acqua Di Gio. The presence of the dark haired, bohemian woman in the black leather jacket grows until it fills the elevator. An instinctive stir moves through Alex’s body.
Oh God, how cliché; elevator sex with a stranger. Alex had read it a hundred times in the contrived scenes of so many manuscripts thrown onto the piles of rejection. Yet the thoughts gathered and demanded center stage. What would happen if…
What if she moved closer, close enough to touch the hem of Alex’s skirt, close enough to move her hand around the curve of Alex’s hip, to the small of her back, pulling Alex against her thigh? What if she moved her lips to the base of Alex’s neck while her hands turned the buttons of Alex’s blouse? What if her hand moved to Alex’s breast? What if her mouth and tongue followed?
Her brows furrow as Alex focuses on the words and images on her phone, though her Twitter feed seems nothing but a blur. Come on, get a hold of yourself. You are not that lonely. There’s always George, The Best Gay Man in The City. He says it is so, and you agree. And yet, even on the evenings when the wine and laughter drift into nights of sleeping peacefully in each other’s arms, the loneliness returns by morning. Even the Best Gay Man in The City can’t change that.
The elevator stops and Alex looks up at the row of numbers. The doors open on the first floor, and Alex waits for the woman to step off first.
“Nice scarf,” the woman says as she saunters through the open doors.
Alex dismisses a fleeting urge to follow her. She scrolls to George’s number and taps the screen.
The Chapter written by Sally Bellerose
Joey DuBois grins as she strides out of the elevator. Joey has sworn off the Armani- wearing intellectuals who inhabit the upper floors of many of her buildings. Otherwise she would have been be hard pressed not to make some flirtatious conversation, maybe even an outright pass to find out for sure if the hot woman in the cashmere scarf, too cool to exchange a civilized nod of recognition, was indeed a lesbian. Maybe this one was too aloof for even a simple exchange of conversation. No matter. No more rich spoiled women who find Joey sexy in July while she’s subcontracting a suite of new offices for them, but tire of her when it’s time to invite her to the Hamptons for Thanksgiving. Joey steps into the street, smirking.
She is the first to admit she has a chip on her shoulder. Not a chip exactly, more like a pet ferret that Joey has carried all the way from her first job working third shift in a tampon factory in Western MA. She left town when she left that job – she was a girl who was too good with machines and too friendly with the boss’s daughter. Twenty years later, Joey supervises the maintenance of eleven buildings and an ever-expanding crew of workers, but she still carries that polecat on her shoulder.
An instrumental version of “Jingle Bells” spills into the street from a storefront. The only thing Joey hates more than being without a girlfriend during the holidays is being with a woman just for the sake of not being alone during the holidays. Even if the woman in the Burberry scarf was a single lesbian, and not another “do-me” rich girl, what are the chances she and Joey would have hit it off?
Joey is thinking so hard about the woman’s perfect, short, red nails as she rounds the corner, how a woman with nails that well-cared for but that short might be interesting, that she bumps into a project manager coming out of her own office.
“Hey, Boss,” the guy says good-naturedly. “Good to see you smiling.”
Chapter Outta the Way – by Baxter Clare Trautman
He and Joey chat, exchanging notes about the day and what’s planned for tomorrow. He lifts his hand to say good night, but pauses, staring over Joey’s shoulder. “I love this job.”
Joey looks. It’s the woman from the elevator. She grins. “Yeah, it’s got some nice perks.”
The woman walks past them, still tweeting, texting, or whatever the hell she’s doing on her phone.
“See you tomorrow, Boss.”
Joey waits a minute, hands in pockets. A couple walks by, arms linked and heads bent, laughing at something he’s said.
“What the hell.” She starts after the elevator chick – it can’t hurt to test her gay-dar. She pulls out a five-dollar bill and catches up to the woman’s smartly clicking heels.
“Excuse me! I think you dropped this.”
The woman turns, eyes and mouth three perfect “o”s. She glances at the money. “I don’t think so.”
“Oh. My bad. I could have sworn I saw it fall as you were walking by.”
“I hardly ever have cash anymore. It must be someone else’s. Yours now I guess.”
The woman slips dark hair behind a gold earring,18-karat if Joey isn’t mistaken. She catches a warm hint of perfume on the snowy air. Folding the bill into her pocket, she says, “Must be my lucky day. And I really do love that scarf. Would it be too cheeky to ask where you got it?”
Joey is pleased the woman blushes.
“No, not at all. I just….I really can’t remember where I got it. I’ve had it forever.”
“Maybe a boyfriend gave it to you.”
The woman laughs. “No. Definitely not that.”
“Well, maybe you’d let me buy you a drink while you think about it. Maybe help jog your memory.”
The woman stammers and Joey grins. But her grin fails as a woman strides up to the elevator chick and spins her around by her elbow.
“Where the hell have you been?”
Chapter And In This Corner by Ann McMan
Alex couldn’t decide which emotion had greater sway, and she only had a split second to pick one.
Her libido was waking up like a lazy cat—stretching its legs and taking cautious looks around the perimeter at the intriguing new addition to the landscape.
But her ire at being manhandled and embarrassed in public before a perfect stranger was winning her emotional tug of war.
And boy, was this stranger ever perfect…
Alex yanked her arm free.
“Serena, I think you can see that I’m engaged right now.” Alex faced the stranger. “I apologize for my…” she searched for the right word, “friend’s rudeness.” She glared at Serena, then back at the other woman. “Yes, I’d love to meet you for a drink.”
Alex wasn’t looking at Serena, but she could sense her fuming. It was palpable. She knew her capacity for epic rages, and right now, her annoyance was growing with a timbre that matched a jackhammer pounding away across the street.
Serena’s temper could crack concrete, too. That’s why they’d stopped seeing each other.
And that’s why it wasn’t okay for Serena to just show up like this. Again.
The good-looking stranger smiled.
Oh, yeah. The cat was on high alert, now.
“Okay,” the handsome woman drawled. “I know a place right up the street.”
I just bet you do.
Alex smiled at her and extended her hand. “I’m Alex.”
“Joey.” The woman smiled and squeezed her fingers. Her hand was firm and soft.
Alex released Joey’s hand—reluctantly—and glared over at Serena. “I’m sure you’ll excuse us.”
Serena was so angry her face was turning purple.
“You can’t just walk away from me,” she hissed.
“Can’t I?” Alex linked arms with Joey. “In fact, I think I can. If you want to speak with me, Serena, you can call my office.” She lowered her voice. “I think we have an understanding about these unscripted encounters.”
She took Joey’s arm and steered her away.
After they’d walked half a block, Joey ducked her head closer so she could be heard above the din that defined West 49th Street on any weeknight.
“So,” she said. “Do you want to tell me what that was all about?”
“Believe me.” Alex shook her head. “It’s a long, dull story.”
“Well, I’ve only known you for about two minutes, but I somehow doubt it’s dull.”
Joey stopped at a crosswalk.
“Morrell’s wine bar is in Rockefeller Plaza. Wanna give it a try?”
Hell yes, I wanna give it a try—it, and anything else you’d like to suggest.
Alex tightened her grip on Joey’s arm.
“Try and stop me.”
Chapter Whatever: by Ellen Hart
Meanwhile, in a galaxy far, far away, Glenda reclined on her holographic chaise and watched her favorite intergalactic telecommunicator for today’s edition of the reality show, “Lesbians of New York.” Recently, the show had bored her to death. “Finally,” she whispered. “Some action.”
Alex and Joey slid into a booth at Morrell’s and, together, studied the wine list.
“Just make your freakin’ move,” said Glenda, betting that Joey would get the ball rolling. Instead, the women tried to one-up each other with their knowledge of various wine regions of France.
Joey ordered a bottle pinot noir. A bottle, thought Glenda. She mentally offered Joey a fist pump. “Drink it fast.”
It took forever before the waiter returned with the wine. In the meantime, Alex and Joey bobbed and weaved, danced around each other. “Oh, for the love of the cosmos,” grumbled Glenda. These people were so primitive.
The wine was finally poured and Joey tried to impress Alex with a seductive smile.
“I’m an editor,” said Alex, “for a big publishing house. Just so you know, I don’t sleep with women who use improper syntax.”
Glenda rolled her eyes. She was about to turn off the show when the evil Serena entered the bar and took a seat mere feet away. Alex and Joey were so intent on their discussion of adverbs that they didn’t notice.
Glenda’s other favorite intergalactic reality show was, “New York: Blood and Guts on the Streets,” so she recognized the slight bump of a shoulder holster under Serena’s coat. Her interest renewed, she grabbed for a bowl of holographic popcorn–she was watching her weight.
The evil Serena was doing her best to listen in on the women’s conversation.
“Get out of there,” whispered Glenda. “Don’t you see what could happen?” Unless, she mused, Serena wasn’t evil. Was it possible she was trying to protect Joey from the clutches of an unscrupulous–and galactically picky–editor?
Only space/time, as Einstein so often said, would tell.
The Chapter that Follows Whatever: by Georgia Beers
Back in New York City, Joey uses her best moves, alternately frustrated and impressed when Alex falls for exactly none of them. She keeps at it, though. Joey’s never backed down from a challenge in her life and she has no intention of giving up on this one. No, Alex has piqued her interest in a way that hasn’t happened in months. Maybe over a year. No, this one…this one would be worth it. Joey is sure.
Across the table, Alex sips the (very, very good) wine and watches Joey over the rim of her glass. She knows exactly what she’s doing. This is textbook date etiquette. Flirting 101, if you will, and Alex is a pro.
Flirt #3: Sip deliberately, never letting your eyes leave hers even as you do so.
It’s only the slight flare of Joey’s nostrils that lets Alex know her shot has hit home, and she smiles in satisfaction. Putting her glass down, she gently runs her fingertip around the rim (Flirt #23: any slow movements with your hands will catch attention) as she settles her gaze on her unexpected date.
“So. Joey. Tell me about you. What do you do? I mean, I doubt saving damsels in distress from their crazy exes is your regular gig, but I could be wrong…” She lets her voice trail off and raises one eyebrow in expectation.
Flirt #15: An arched eyebrow is never not sexy.
Joey clears her throat and shifts in her seat, and Alex knows she has hit her mark yet again. This one is so easy, but Alex doesn’t find that disappointing. It’s been a rough week. She hasn’t got the energy for a challenge. What she’d really like is for Joey to take her home and make her forget how lonely this time of year makes her, even for just a night. It’s not ideal, Alex knows this, but if she could feel something besides alone for just a little while, it’d be worth it. Wouldn’t it? She continues the fingertip-on-the-rim thing as she subtly wets her lips with the tip of her tongue.
Flirt #4: shiny lips are irresistible.
Leaning forward just slightly (Flirt #1: cleavage will get you everywhere) she whispers, “I mean, you’re not actually a superhero…are you?”
Chapter that Follows the Chapter Where Alex Puts a Full Court Press on Joey: by Marcia Finical
“Oh my God, you’ve figured me out already. And I …” She is interrupted by the Twilight Zone ringtone blasting from her jacket pocket. Joey grabs the phone and hits “Ignore.” “Sorry about that.”
“Life has a way of intruding at inopportune moments, I’ve noticed.” Alex waves her hand away as if to say “no matter.”
“I…” Joey begins, but the Twilight Zone fills the space between them again. Visibly irritated, Joey presses the Ignore button harder than necessary.
“Some people just never know when to give up.” Alex is not about to be put off by whoever is pestering Joey. “At least they could have the decency to leave a message.” She knows how to find out who the mysterious caller is. “I hope it’s not someone you’re running from.” She lets the question hang in the air, assuring a response.
“Yeah, my sister.” Clearly Joey is not amused.
Alex bursts out laughing at the unexpected response. “Better than a stalker.” She continues, the wine already having an effect. “Just so you know, you’ve already met mine. My stalker, I mean. I really should get a restraining order against her.”
“That bad, huh?” Joey tilts her head toward Alex, then jumps when “Twilight Zone” plays again. “The world had better be on fire,” she says into the phone, her voice tight.
Pushy bitch, Alex thinks, then watches the color drain from Joey’s face.
“Oh my God, no… yes of course… I’ll rent a car and drive up tonight.”
“My mother’s lost. I mean she’s wandered away from the Alzheimer’s facility, and they can’t find her, and I’m the only person she still recognizes. I have to find her!” Joey jumps up from the booth and throws two $20 bills on the table, then reaches into her pocket and pulls out a business card. “I’m really sorry. Here’s my number, although I’ll totally understand if I never hear from you. I’m sorry, Alex!” Joey turns and pushes her way through the crowd to the exit.
Alex is still staring after Joey when Serena slides into the booth. “Scared another one away, huh? You’re slipping, Alex.” Serena has that same damned smug look on her face that she hates. “She wasn’t your type anyway. I mean, she couldn’t afford to give you those boots or that Rocco bag like I can. She probably still hasn’t finished her Christmas shopping at Walmart – you know, Fruit of the Loom undies and 6-packs of tube socks.”
Alex doesn’t hear the rest of what she was saying. Serena could carry on conversations for hours all by herself, and often did. What just happened? That sexy, confidant woman had dissolved right before her eyes, revealing an anxious daughter who’d drop everything, including her, to rescue her mother. She takes another sip of wine. What must it be like, she wonders, to have someone drop everything and come to her rescue? Taken aback at first by her behavior, now Joey Dubois seems like a real hero, not a superhero, someone Alex would definitely like to know better.
“And then Crystal said,” Serena pauses for emphasis.
Alex stares across the table at her ex. “Serena, shut the fuck up!”
“Hey, Sheila, you gotta see this,” Glenda called out. “Alex and Serena are getting into it again!”
The Chapter in Which We Discover Who This New Character Crystal Is by Carol Rosenfeld
“I don’t care what your damn dog-walker said.” Alex flung the cashmere scarf that Joey had admired over her right shoulder, knocking over her wine glass in the process. Serena jumped up as a wave of red wine spread across the table and reached inside her jacket, while Alex picked up the wine glass, which had broken.
The tension was such that in a galaxy far, far away, Glenda and Sheila, her live-in masseuse, switched to eating actual popcorn.
“Crystal is not just a dog-walker.” Serena looked a little like Napoleon, with her hand inside her jacket, except Serena was a lot taller.
“Oh, I know, “Alex said. “Crystal is multi-talented. She waters plants, picks up dry cleaning…”
“Crystal is an artist!” Serena shouted. Other patrons of the Morrell wine bar were turning to look at the two women. “You know she only does those things so she can pay the rent and make her art.”
“Macrame is soooo retro,” Alex said.
“Everything alright here, ladies?”
“Fine.” Alex and Serena spoke as one. Alex put down the wine glass. Serena took her hand out of her jacket.
“Glad to hear it, seeing as it’s the season for peace and joy.”
“Please, we’re in New York City,” Alex said. She couldn’t help noticing the stranger’s hat. She had never seen a black leather Santa hat before, with black fur around the rim and a little black fur ball at the tip. For just a second, she imagined how that fur ball might feel against her bare skin. Alex shivered.
“Thanks for your concern,” Serena added.
“I think you two need someone to take you in hand, making a scene in a classy joint like Morrell’s.”
“And I suppose you’re the person to do it?” Serena asked. She couldn’t help noticing the stranger’s Harley-Davidson knee-high, lace-up leather boots.
“It’s a tough job, but….” the woman shrugged. Her wire-rim glasses glittered as they caught the light.
“And you are?” Alex asked, in her haughtiest manner.
“Your Secret Santa, of course.”
Chapter Almost Done – Rachel Spangler
“I don’t know where you get off…” Serena rose to her full five-foot-ten inches.
“I generally get off wherever I please,” Sexy Santa replied.
Alex snorted. The comeback may have been sophomoric, but she liked women who didn’t back down around Serena.
Serena seemed mildly impressed, too, as she gave the woman a more thorough once over. No doubt she liked what she saw. Leather was one of her triggers.
“Why don’t you head out?” Santa suggested, then dropping her voice added, “before I remind you of your manners.”
Alex winced. Bad move. Serena might be a total bottom in bed, but she didn’t roll over in public, ever. She had a bit of a complex about her submissive sexuality and overcompensated in other areas of her life.
“Normally I’d flatten you,” Serena said, “but I’m in the middle of something with my girlfriend—”
“Ex-girlfriend,” Alex clarified, but she might as well not have been there. The two of them were locked in a staring contest, some lesbian equivalent of a pissing match.
“I suggest you leave,” Serena said.
Santa stepped closer. “When it comes to suggestions, I’m more of giver than a taker. Actually that holds true in a lot of areas of my life.”
Serena’s jaw twitched from anger or arousal, or more likely both. “Then we’ve got a problem.”
“You see a problem. I see an opportunity for you to learn from your mistakes.” Then, finally acknowledging Alex, Sexy Santa flashed a gorgeous smile and said, “Would you excuse us?”
“My pleasure.” Alex stood and grabbed Joey’s business card. Any other night she would watch Serena’s downfall like some engrossed, reality-TV fan, but she had a call she wants to make.
“Where are you going?” Serena snapped, and once again grabbed Alex’s arm, and with the added intensity of showing off for someone who’d challenged her, the grip hurt more than usual.
“Let her go.” Santa’s voice was low and commanding.
Serena shook Alex hard as if to prove she didn’t intend to release her, then with her free hand reached under the lapel of her coat.
“Freeze,” Sexy Santa shouted, and in a blur knocked Serena back onto the table. Wine flew everywhere as they wrestled. Glasses shattered on the floor, followed by a loud metallic thud as a handgun skittered across the floor, but when everything settles, Santa had Serena pinned to the table face down with a knee in her back and both hands restrained with zip-ties.
“Lieutenant Holly Claus, NYPD,” Sexy Santa barks. “I strongly recommend you lay still and shut the fuck up.”
Chapter WTF, bringing it home, by Fay Jacobs
Christmas came and went. Alex laughed. “Came and went. That’s probably what happened to that bitch Serena and Sexy Santa.”
But, back at work and facing New Year’s Eve solo, she couldn’t get Joey out of her mind. She wondered if the wandering mother ever turned up, and if she should try to call. She’d been fighting the urge to do so all week.
What the hell. She dialed, and Joey picked up on the second ring.
“Hey, it’s Alex. From the elevator and the crazy stalker.” Now there’s a come on. “I see you’re back. Everything work out all right?”
“Eventually,” Joey said. “I can’t believe you called. Not after I ditched you like a lunatic.”
“Apparently I collect lunatics,” Alex said with a laugh. “Would you like to finish our conversation at the wine bar?”
“ I think I would,” Joey said. “When did you have in mind?”
“Now. Times Square later?”
As Glenda reclined on her chaise with her holographic Schnauzer at her feet, she let out a wheeze of disgust. There they were, Alex and Joey, holding hands in Times Square, waiting for that stupid crystal ball to drop. How trite. Stupid reality show.
Two minutes later, amid Glenda’s continued scoffing at the cheesy lesbian love story, her girlfriend Daisy teleported into the room.
“Lesbians of New York, this freakin’ boring reality thing. Everybody is so, well, normal. Whatever happened to bulldykes, paddy wagons, cigars and clubs in bad neighborhoods? Remember when one of the lesbians in every story had to die a terrible, horrible death? What happened to all the outlaws?”
“The Supreme Court,” Daisy spat. Now they’re as boring as everyone else in that galaxy.
Glenda nodded her head…in agreement.
Copyright © Bywater Books with Rachel Spangler, Georgia Beers, Ann McMan, Ellen Hart, Wynn Malone, Carol Rosenfeld, Baxter Clare Trautman, Fay Jacobs, Stefani Deoul, and Marcia Finical • 2015 • All Rights Reserved