So this is just a little tale that I thought up by reading a single sentence. I don't even remember where the sentence came from anymore or even what it said. It just sparked something in my head and it would not go away until I wrote it down.
It's Happening Again
My computer screen is blank except for a few short sentences and I grab my coffee cup to take a drink of the fast cooling liquid contained within. I grimace at the lukewarm temperature and set it back down on the table next to my laptop. Why can't I write anything? I have always been able to tap out some sort of story or another. But now the ability to write anything at all has slipped away.
I look up from my computer and I catch sight of two chocolate brown eyes staring at me from under a mane of wild dark curls.
"You're not helping," I say. "You're supposed to be helping."
Megan watches me for a moment longer and then a hint of amusement sparkles in her eyes. "What do you want me to do?"
"Fix it," I say while gesturing at my nearly empty word document. "Make it so that I can write again."
"You know, that's not really how it works."
"Sure it does. I say it does and so it does. Now fix it."
Megan reaches down beside her and pulls a thermos out of her bag. I have never really been able to find out just what it is that she has in the thing at any given moment. I stopped asking about two years ago. I watch as she takes a drink and I wonder what the waitress here at the coffee shop would say if she were witness to the fact that someone has smuggled in their own drink.
Good old Megan, defying the social norm like it is going out of style.
"I am blank," I say out of desperation. "You are supposed to step in and show me what my main character is like, what he is supposed to do."
She puts the thermos back in her bag just as a waitress walks by. "Again," she says, "not how it works."
I realize my elevated volume a moment to late. I clamp my hand over my mouth and look around at the other people gathered at the tables around me. Almost no one looks up but one couple does give me the stink eye.
"I have been trying to come up with a new story to send to my editor," I say. "You said you would help me, but so far you have done nothing but give me random ideas that have absolutely nothing to do with each other. Once, just once, can you give me something that is related to something that you have already told me?"
"Fine," Megan says and leans forward over the table, resting on her crossed forearms. "The main character, in your story with the underlying message of determination, is the type of person to just walk away from their problems and forget anything ever happened."
I narrow my eyes and toss a crumpled napkin across the table. Megan dodges it with almost no effort and a beaming smile.
"Just think on who your characters are," she says after a moment. "What drives them? Why do they do what they do? Who are they as a person? What they will do in any given situation will eventually become second nature to you."
She stands up from the table and walks over to my side. "I'm stepping out for a moment. Behave yourself."
I frown and drop my chin into my hands as I stare at the blinking cursor on my word document. Maybe Megan is right. Maybe I do just need to think more about my characters. Maybe knowing who they are will help me to better tell the story and come up with new plot ideas. I sit back and try to draw up a mental image of the person that I am trying to create.
I am in the process of trying to decide what kind of car one of my characters would drive when I look up and catch a glimpse of a man staring at me from across the room. He drops his gaze when I see him but I do not turn away. It is odd, he does not look at all familiar but it still feels as though I should know him somehow.
I am interrupted by Megan returning and dropping down into the booth beside me with a heavy sigh.
"You don't have any new words written," she says with a glance at my screen.
"Doesn't mean I haven't been working," I say absently as I glance around the room to notice that the man has disappeared
"Let's get out of here," Megan says as she grabs her bag up and swings the strap over one shoulder. "Maybe a change of scenery will help you figure this writer's block out."
I nod slowly and pack up my computer.
Writing at home doesn't bring any more success than the coffee shop did and I end up going to bed with a cloud of disappointment hanging over me.
I lay in bed for hours with a blank mind but no desire to go to sleep. I feel restless, frustrated, and so I crawl out of bed to go and sit in my window seat to think. I pull back the curtains and peer down at the city streets below as my head tips to thump against the window frame. The sidewalks are quiet, bathed in pools of sickly yellowish orange from the street lamps that line the roadways. The few people that walk beneath my window are wary and quick footed. Typical of the foot traffic in this area at night. Not too many people want to be caught out in the dark in the rougher parts of the city. I begin to wonder about them, what their lives are like, who they are as a person. Then my eye catches something out of the ordinary.
Sitting on one of the benches across the street is a single figure, a man, his arms spread across the back of the bench and one ankle propped up on the opposite knee. He looks comfortable, at ease. He looks familiar.
He is the man from the coffee shop.
I jerk back from the window and let the curtains drop into place again.
Not again. This can't be happening again.
My heart is fluttering and I take a few moments to breathe and get my heartbeat back under control. Once I feel like I am not going to just come unwound, I get up from the window seat and make my way into the kitchen. Maybe a cup of hot chocolate will help me to settle. Maybe I am just stressed out.
The next morning finds me staring out the window again, my gaze fixed on the bench where the man had been sitting the night before. It is currently empty, but has held several different occupants over the last hour. I have yet to see the man again.
I sigh and then jump as a voice sounds behind me.
"You going to just sit there all morning or are we going to go get our coffee?"
I turn to see my new roommate Sarah standing in the middle of my room, hands on her hips and a frown on her face.
"Sorry," I say as I stand up from the window seat. "I was just thinking about stuff."
Sarah's frown smooths out into a vague look of annoyance. "What kind of stuff?"
"You wouldn't understand me even if I told you."
Sarah grabs my hand and begins to pull me towards the door. "One of these days you will just tell me what happens when you have your spaced out moments. But first, coffee."
The scent of fresh coffee grounds and chocolate wafts through the air as people shift along in the slow moving line. I adjust my computer bag strap on my shoulder and then reach down to grab the two insulated coffee cups that a barista holds out in my direction.
I make my way through the milling crowd of yawning people and drop down gratefully into the booth that Sarah has staked a claim on in the corner. I push one of the cups in front of Sarah and then curl my fingers around my own, reveling in the heat that soaks into my hands which are stiff from the chill outside.
"Thank goodness for coffee," Sarah says after her first sip. "Thanks for standing in line for me."
"Thanks for grabbing this booth before someone else claimed it," I reply. "It is really packed today."
"Hey, no problem," Sarah says with a wave of her hand. "I know you like to hang out here and do your writing thing. Unfortunately, I have places to be today, so you will have to do your writing all by yourself." There is a pause as she looks down at her watch. "Enjoy your alone time. I must be off."
I wave goodbye to her as she leaves, watching her push her way through the crowd to get out the front door. I lean back into the seat and pull my computer out of my bag. With no one to talk to I have time to do the one and only thing that pays the bills now: create a new story to send to my editor. At least if I can find any inspiration.
My thoughts spin away into another world as I settle down into my familiar routine of creating stories. I decide to work on a side project, instead of my main story, hoping that the change in literary scenery will help to jumpstart my creativity. But my mind refuses to remain on subject. It wanders between the many plots and characters that are always bouncing around in my head like some sort of demented game of tennis. I rub my temple with a sigh and use my free hand to pick up my coffee.
"Hey Megan," I say as I feel a pair of eyes staring at me. I look up from my computer screen to see that I am not mistaken. She is indeed sitting across from me.
"Getting any further?"
"Some," I say as I set my coffee down. "It isn't much but even if it's terrible I can just edit it later when what little creativity I have right now takes another vacation."
"Have you thought about what I said yesterday?" Megan asks. She has her ever-present thermos in her hands. Her fingers are fiddling with the carabiner that is built into the cap.
I nod as I watch her fingers. I zone out for a while until, again, I feel eyes on me. However, Megan is not the source this time. She has turned to look out the window that borders one side of the booth. The sensation of being stared at is coming from somewhere else. I glance around the room and instantly know. The man is there again. His grey eyes locked onto me from across the room.
My heart flutters once more and I shift my gaze away. Megan turns from her inspection of the world outside the window and quickly notices my change in mood.
"What's up?" she asks.
I am not really sure how to answer.
"I don't know," I finally reply. "I think it's happening again."
Megan makes a quick sweep of the room and then turns back to me. "Which guy is it?"
"Across the room," I say. "Black leather jacket, dark hair, grey eyes. He keeps staring at me."
Suddenly Megan is on her feet and moving across the room. I almost call out to her to tell her to stop but I don't want to draw any more attention to myself. Instead I sink down behind the imagined safety of my computer screen and hope that nothing horrible happens.
It is only a moment later when I feel a tap on my arm and I cautiously look up to see Megan standing beside me, the grey eyed man hovering near her left shoulder.
"I will be right back and, in the meantime, I think you two should talk," Megan says and then snatches her thermos off of the table and disappears into the crowd.
"Megan, wait," I say in a terrified squeak.
She doesn't stop and I quickly lose sight of her. I jump in startled reflex when the man speaks to me.
"Megan tells me you are a writer," he says.
I am aware of him easing himself into the seat across from me but I refuse to make any sort of eye contact.
"Yeah," I say softly. I clear my throat and try again, this time sounding a bit stronger. "Yeah, I'm a writer."
"I'm sorry if I've made you nervous by staring," he says and I can hear a soft grin in his voice.
I finally find the courage to look up at him and some of my fear slides away.
"It's alright," I say with a little more confidence behind my voice. "Megan obviously seems to think that we should get to know each other. What did you say to get her to drag you over here?"
He shakes his head, his eyes dropping down to his hands where they are clasped together on the tabletop. "No idea," he says with a soft chuckle. "Come to think of it, I don't think I even got a chance to say anything at all."
Might as well get this over with. Drawing it out in the past has always just been a pain and a half.
"Okay," I say. "We'll start with names then. You tell me yours and then I will tell you mine."
"Umm, yeah," he says as his hand reaches up to rub the back of his neck. "There's a problem there."
"What kind of problem?" I ask with a smile. "Don't tell me you don't know your own name."
He tilts his head and drops his hand back to the table. "Funny that you should say that."
"What? Did you forget?" I say with a hint of sarcasm in my voice.
"No," he says with a nervous laugh. "I guess I'm not really ready to give out my name yet. It's hard to explain, really. Is it okay if we just talk for a little while first? Your friend told me that you could help me. You being a writer and all."
"Look," I say as I push the screen of my laptop down into a closed position. "When people first meet each other they give out their names. All I am asking for is your first name."
"Why do I have to go first?" the man asks. "This wasn't even my idea. Your friend was the one who approached me."
"It wasn't my idea either," I retort. "I don't want to go first because she has done this to me before. Megan is a fickle thing and, to be totally honest, her needle points quite a few degrees off true north. Long story short, I have trust issues."
"Alright," he says leaning back and putting his hands up in a gesture of surrender. "I get it. Forget we ever talked. Enjoy your coffee."
He stands up and walks away leaving me alone, irritated, and very confused.
The rest of my day goes by in a rush of errands and quick meals. I find no real time to stop and get back to my writing again until I am back at home and realize that my roommate is still gone. With an unplanned period of quiet solitude bolstering up my feeling of creativity, I sit down at the desk in the living room with a cup of tea and begin scribbling away on some notes about the different characters I have thought up over the course of the day.
After finishing off a list of past events that one of my main characters has likely experienced I feel the need for a second cup of tea. I am in the middle of pouring the hot water into my mug when I hear a knock at the door.
I set the teapot down and go to see who it is. My jaw just about unhinges when I open the door to see Megan standing outside with the grey eyed man right behind her.
"Hi," Megan says with a giant grin. "I thought you might want some company. I brought tall, dark, and nameless with me, if that's all right." She stands up on her tiptoes and tries to peer over my shoulder into the apartment behind me. "Is your roommate home yet?"
"Megan, not now," I say in a half whisper. "I am in the middle of working on something."
"I know," she says as she pushes past me and drags the man in behind her. "But you two really have some things to discuss and I now realize that I need to supervise the whole thing since the last time I put you together, you just left the poor guy to his own devices." She turns to shake an indignant finger in my face. "That was rude, by the way."
I shut the door and turn to follow them both into the living room. "He left me," I say in an attempt at self defense. "Not my fault he's easily offended."
"Excuse me, 'he' is right here," the man says with a raised hand.
Megan shushes him, deposits him on the couch, and then approaches me. Her voice is quiet, near a whisper, when she speaks.
"Listen," she says. "This guy is desperate. He doesn't have anywhere else to go. Just give it a chance. Have I ever steered you wrong before?"
"Yes, many times."
"Name one," she says with a huff off indignation."
"That time you thought it was a good idea to write a story about NASA discovering that the moon really is made of cheese," I say without hesitation. "I tried for forever to get that stupid thing to work out. I edited that thing so often and kept sending it back to my editor so many times that she actually threatened to drop me. Last I heard, she now has a mild phobia of cheddar."
Megan develops a thoughtful look and then grins sheepishly. "Yeah, sorry about that one. But, really, just give this guy one more chance. Please? If it doesn't work out, I won't ask again."
I close my eyes and pinch the bridge of my nose. "Fine," I say. "Just... don't leave me alone with him this time."
Megan reaches out with her pinkie finger and hooks one of my own within its grasp. "I pinkie swear."
Promises made and sealed, I grab my mug of tea out of the kitchen before going back into the living room. After spinning the desk chair around so that it is facing the couch, I plop down into it and lean back against the desk behind me. Megan drapes herself across the armchair in the corner and hooks one leg over the arm rest to dangle over the side. A phone appears in her hands and she begins poking away at the screen like a mad woman.
The grey eyed man is sitting quietly on the couch. His hands are clasped together on his lap and he is peering around the room with a sense of curiosity hanging about him. When he notices that I am looking at him he smiles.
"I hope we aren't interrupting anything too important," he says. "Megan said that you wouldn't mind if we dropped by."
"No," I say. "No, I am getting used to Megan dropping by at odd times."
In her chair, Megan looks extremely pleased with herself. She gives a devious grin without even looking up from her phone and spins one hand in a circle to indicate that I should keep going.
I do my best not to react. "She likes to keep me on my toes."
"I'm Jason, by the way," he replies. "Megan explained a few things to me in the hall. Sorry about earlier."
Megan is now curiously blank when I shoot a glance at her. I wonder what exactly she said to the poor man.
I decide to tackle that subject later. I am feeling more at ease with the whole situation with the introduction of his name and I have given my promise through a pinkie swear to see this through. Best not to waste a chance to get through it with as little stress as possible.
"I'm Jenny," I say. "Last names can wait until later. As for what happened in the coffee shop? Let's just agree not to discuss it any further."
Jason is quick to agree.
Megan snickers quietly until I reach over to smack her arm.
Jason and I settle into a comfortable pattern of conversation then. I ask him questions about his life and he responds the best that he can. He asks about my life and my writing, even giving a few suggestions about plot and character development.
I must admit, Megan was right about this being a good idea.
Megan remains silent in her arm chair, face half hidden behind her phone, but I can still see the look of smug satisfaction growing stronger as the conversation progresses.
There is another knock at the door and I excuse myself to go and answer it. I pull it open to see Sarah peering at me over an abundance of grocery bags.
"Sorry about making you get up," she says as she steps inside. "But I didn't have a hand free to grab my keys."
"No problem," I say as I shut the door.
Sarah sets the groceries down on the counter and begins to put them away. "What have you been up to while I've been gone?"
I glance at the living room for a moment. "Just working," I say. "Visiting with some old and new friends."
Sarah pauses in her movements and turns to look at me. "Your previous roommate informed me all about you before I moved in," she says. "You can just outright tell me that your muse has struck again, you know. And your roommate was right, it is kind of creepy that you refer to your muse like a real person."
"My muse practically is a real person," I reply in a slightly offended tone.
"Giving your muse a name does not put them anywhere near the category of a real person," Sarah says, returning to her grocery duty. "What was the name again? Melanie? Molly?"
"Megan," I mutter quietly. "And don't you dare say anything against her. She has given me a lot over the years. The last several stories that she gave me are what brought in the money to pay for those groceries."
"Wait," Sarah says, cutting me off. "Wasn't she also the one that gave you that idea about the moon and the cheese and stuff? Maybe you should have a discussion with her about those kinds of ideas."
"I already have discussed that with her," I say. "It won't happen again. At least, I hope not. Anyway, moving on. Over the last couple of days she has introduced me to a very interesting main character that will allow me to build on a plot that I have been trying to figure out for some time now. I think it will work for my next big story. Which means that I can get down to some serious work and get back to earning the money that feeds us and pays rent. So do not tell me anything about how I should talk about, or to, my muse. She's my muse. I can do what I want."
"Sorry," Sarah says. She stops and leans against the counter, hands moving to plant on the counter on either side of her hips. Her eyes lock onto mine and she gives an apologetic smile. "I am still getting used to this whole living with an author thing. Forgive the person who doesn't fully understand writers yet?"
"Deal," I say. "Now if you'll excuse me, my muse and my main character are waiting for me in the living room"