As some of you know, for the last two years I've been working on my first novel, 'Committing,' about a group of friends in their mid-20s dealing with the transition into adulthood while reacting to the death of a friend.
I'm pleased to announce that we are on track for a self-publishing date in early January and possibly late December (right in time for Christmas, eh?) and so to whet your appetites here is an excerpt from the 2nd chapter of the book, which sees our protagonist attending the funeral that sets the story in motion.
Keep checking Wood's Stock for updates on the (relatively short) book, which will be available in both e-book and paperback formats. If you see any spelling or grammatical errors let me know. I'm self-editing and as my former co-workers at the Statesman will tell you, micro-editing is not my strong suit. Also, any and all feedback would be much appreciated.
The church was beautiful, a display of minimalist perfection with only a few muted white blossoms and black and white photographs drawing attention away from the ornate structure and its elaborate stained-glass windows. As he entered, Charles couldn’t help but think how lucky Devin was to have married Stephanie, and how lucky Stephanie was that Devin would never plan her funeral. Charles was no more than two steps through the door when little Daniel bounded up to him and wrapped himself around Charles’ leg. He always greeted him this way. Charles called it his Daniel-Socks and would walk around with the young boy sitting on his foot, arms and legs firmly secured behind his calf.
“Hey Dan,” Charles said, reaching down and tussling the boy’s head. Stephanie arrived immediately and bent down to smooth her son’s hair back into place before rising to give Charles a hug.
“Steph, this is beautiful.”
“Thanks Charles,” she said before directing her attention to her son. “Come on Dan, Uncle Charles needs to go sit down.”
“I can take him with me, if you want. What do you say Dan? Want to sit with me and Uncle Tyler?” Charles said, noticing the small line of arriving guests waiting to give their condolences to Stephanie. She merely nodded and mouthed the words “thank you” before turning to embrace a large woman, trembling visibly between unsuccessfully muted sobs.
“Hold on buddy,” Charles said, feeling Daniel’s grip tighten around his leg in response.
He walked with a dogged gait, making a louder stomp each time his loaded right shoe struck the floor. He wondered what malady people must assume had befallen him if they were sitting more than 10 feet away and were therefore unaware of the 30 pounds of three-year-old attached to his pants. Tyler was sitting 6 rows from the front and was watching him arrive, having turned like everyone else to see who was making all the noise.
“Hey Dude,” Tyler said, sliding over to allow room. Tyler was a large man, the kind that you assume had attended some junior college on a football scholarship. In actuality, he was an engineer or something. Charles wasn’t entirely sure what Tyler did for a living besides get paid more than he deserved.
“Where’s Trish?” Charles asked, peeling Daniel off and setting him down on the bench beside him.
“Work. She’ll be here later.”
Trish and Tyler made up the third branch of their little family. Tyler had lived down the hall from the dorm room Charles and Devin shared their freshman year. He had dated Trish in high school when he was a senior and she was a doe-eyed idiot of a sophomore cheerleader. When she finally graduated, she conveniently enrolled in the same university they attended, poised to win back her man. After four years of unrelenting affection – during which Trish was a constant presence in all of their lives despite Tyler’s insistence that they were not, nor would ever be, in a relationship – he had finally succumbed to reality and proposed.
“How are the plans going?” Charles asked.
“Well, my criteria for ‘success’ is not being bankrupt after the honeymoon,” Tyler said. “And in that sense, it’s not going well.”
“Isn’t her dad supposed to pay for everything? That’s a thing, right? Father of the bride and all that?”
“Her dad’s a stingy bastard and she’s a feminist,” Tyler said, “which apparently means she wants the wedding she feels she deserves, paid for with her own money, which really means she wants the wedding of her dreams paid for with my money.”
Someone that Charles should have remembered walked by and gave both him and Tyler a handshake, the kind where the person clasps you with two hands, over and under simultaneously. The woman, probably in her late 50s with slightly graying hair, gave each of them their own individual two-minute session of hand-swallowing and fixed, compassionate eye contact. She said nothing, apparently confident that her condolences were being adequately transmitted either telepathically or through touch.
For their part, Charles and Tyler both put on an appropriately sympathetic and affectionate smile and nodded in that way people do at solemn occasions.
“Who was that?” Charles asked.
“No idea,” Tyler replied. “So Trish is mad at me, we kind of had a fight this morning.”
“Well, she was on my case about not caring about some dumb wedding detail, centerpieces or something, and then all the sudden she says ‘if you hadn’t waited so long to propose then maybe Devin would have been at the wedding.’ Can you believe that shit?”
Charles wasn’t looking at his friend and didn’t respond immediately. His attention was focused on Daniel who was struggling to un-tuck his little white dress shirt from the waist of his pants. “That’s messed up,” he said finally.
Tyler looked to see what Charles was watching and fixed his eyes on Daniel, who had succeeded with his shirt and was now fumbling with cherubic fingers to loosen the bow tie that had become twisted and tight around his neck. Tyler turned back towards the front of the chapel. “Yeah man,” he said softly. “It’s messed up.”
Charles scanned the room. He could see Devin’s parents toward the front of the chapel, sitting hand in hand with rigid backs. As if sensing Charles’ gaze, Devin’s mother turned and met his eyes with an affectionate smile, dipped her head slightly and then turned her eyes back toward the casket that was placed directly in front of them.
It was large, even for a casket, but was otherwise unimposing. The lacquered chestnut was broken only by the silver handle that ran along the side. For the most part, it blended in with the dais at the front of the chapel.
Charles didn’t recognize many of the other guests. He swept his head in one last 180-degree pass from side to side, touching briefly on a few cousins or family friends that he thought he recognized from encounters over the years. Just as his view returned to the front of the room he felt Tyler’s elbow jab his ribs.
“Oh man!” Tyler said in an excited whisper, “Back door, right side. Look who just walked in.”
He put his arm on the bench behind Tyler to better turn himself and froze when he saw her. Blond hair that fell between her shoulder blades. A sleeveless black dress that stopped just above the knee, giving way to two flawless legs held in perfect shape by a pair of striking heels.
“I didn’t know she was back in town,” Tyler said. “How long has it been since you saw her. Three, four years?”
“Five,” Charles said, his eyes still fixed on her as she passed behind the pews toward Stephanie. She moved effortlessly, the kind of woman who was born in heels and confident in any setting. It wasn’t so much a step as it was a sort of gliding motion across the floor, like a the bow of a ship piercing through ocean waves. In every way she looked like she had just walked across the street from where she was filming a Maybelline commercial.
“You gotta talk to her after, get her number,” Tyler said. “Damn, can you believe how good she looks?”
“Dude, I hardly think it’s appropriate to pick up chicks at Devin’s funeral,” Charles replied, louder than he intended. He quickly ducked his head down, hunkering into the pew like a frightened turtle. He could feel his pulse on the left side of his neck.
“Are you kidding me?” Tyler said, oblivious to any sense of volume decorum. “You know Devin would be proud if his funeral helped you get back together with Jessica Warner.”
“Just … shut up man.”
“I think she’s here alone, I’ll waive her over,” Tyler said, rising halfway out of his seat before Charles forcefully grabbed his arm and pulled him back down.
“Dude, they’re starting,” Charles said. Tyler looked embarrassed and quickly composed himself as the pastor took to the pulpit and invited everyone to take their seats. From the corner of his eye Charles watched Jessica move into a pew by herself near the door. His attention was snapped back forward when Stephanie began addressing the guests.
“Thank you all so much for coming,” she began. “You may not have known this, but Devin hated hosting parties. He told me once that in high school he had tried to put something together last minute on Halloween. There was a single bag of chips on the kitchen table, about a dozen guys taking turns playing foosball and one girl, just one, sitting sullenly in the corner. He was so shamed and scarred by the experience that he vowed to never host anything for the rest of his life. If I ever approached the subject he would throw one fist to the sky and scream ‘Never Again!’”
She paused for a moment and pressed her hand to her mouth, her eyes wet with suppressed tears.
“When his condition worsened, we knew that certain preparations had to be taken care of. He wrote his will and something like 40 letters for my son, Daniel, to open on specific birthdays. I have them at home, in a box tucked away in our closet. He said that it was important that a boy learn certain things from his father and it took him about two weeks to decide at what age Daniel should get the sex talk.”
Charles put an arm around Daniel and scooted him close to his hip. The boy was completely naïve to everything being said but was frantically waiving at his mother, trying to draw her attention.
Stephanie looked down and saw him and broke into a wide, tearful smile.
“Hi Daniel,” she said with a little wave. “I’m glad you’re listening because you’re going to get an awkward letter from daddy in 11 years.”
Everyone laughed as Stephanie stood there, beaming with glistening eyes.
“Whenever the funeral came up, Devin would just stop the conversation. I remember one night he said to me ‘Babe, you know what the silver lining in this is? It’s my party, but I won’t have to plan any of it and if no one shows up, well, I’m dead anyway.’”
Stephanie didn’t talk much longer. She retold the story of meeting Devin, how his diagnosis had arrived like a lightning bolt just as things where starting to get serious between them. She told how they both decided they weren’t ready to give up on each other and that come what may, they would face it together.
And that was it. She stopped abruptly, which led Charles to believe that she had prepared more to say, and walked down into the audience to sit by her mother, who pulled her daughter in tight and set her head down on her shoulder. After Stephanie, Devin’s mother spoke, then his father and then the pastor gave a few last words.
Charles stood, holding Daniel, and walked to the front of the chapel with Tyler close behind. He handed Daniel to his mother then turned, joined by the other pallbearers, and lifted the casket up over his shoulder. There had been no rehearsal, or even instructions given, but somehow the eight men seemed to operate with a robotic precision, dipping and lifting in unison and marching in step to some silent drummer.
He had not been to many funerals and he had never been a pallbearer. As he walked down the steps and to the hearse he thought of how many times he had watched the scene play out on movies and television shows and wondered whether he looked the part of the dutiful best friend: somber in his black suit at the front corner of the casket that held his most trusted confidante.
The sun was shining, and Charles thought inside himself how it’s usually raining at the funerals on TV.
He rode to the cemetery with Tyler and when they arrived Trish was waiting for them. They stood at the edge of the grave, just behind Stephanie and Devin’s parents. He could see Jessica standing across the casket from him and for the one second that he allowed himself to look at her she returned, and held, his gaze.
Charles quickly dropped his head and stared at the casket. He was close enough to see the pattern in the wood and he traced the lines along the lid until they disappeared beneath the bouquet of white flowers placed on top. The pastor finished his prayer, a piper began to play and Charles watched as the patterns blurred and then disappeared. The flowers shrank and a dark shadow passed over the casket as it dropped, slowly, into the grave.
He placed a hand on Stephanie’s shoulder. As she reached up and pressed her fingers around his, he could feel her shaking.