Back in 2017, I became involved in a project called the Collaborative Writing Challenge. This organization published seven collaboratively-written novels in various genres. (You can find the novel I worked on HERE.) While I have to admit the story itself didn’t turn out to be the greatest (it’s hard to collaborate with 26 other people you’ll never meet!), it was incredibly fun and challenging, in the same vein as putting together a jigsaw puzzle. If you’re into that sort of thing.
After this fantasy project wrapped up, they announced a new, romance-themed project, and it was an open-call for the first chapter. Now, I had never written romance before; in fact, I had never even READ romance before, but I still really wanted the chance to be involved. I’ve seen a few Sandra Bullock and Julia Roberts films, so I figured what the hell?
My first step was to search babynames.com for ideas for my main character. The first “name” that stood out to me was Abcde.
Yup. My thoughts, exactly.
However, the pronunciation of Abcde is supposedly “Absidy,” which I actually think is lovely. So that’s where that comes from. Once I had a name, all I needed to do was combine as many rom-com clichés as possible – beautiful klutz? check. gay best friend? check. overbearing older sister? check. stick-in-the-mud, sexy neighbor? check. throbbingly hot, aloof crush? check. workaholic, demanding, but adorable boss? check. weird pet? check. quaint apartment, comic relief, and too-close-for-comfort family? check, check, and check.
If my chapter had been chosen to start off the romance novel, I wanted to give the other writers every opportunity possible to explore different paths. Which guy would Absidy ultimately end up with? The sexy neighbor? The quiet neighbor? The guy she had a horrible first date with? What’s the deal with her boss? Her aunt and uncle? Her sister and her sister’s fiancé?
But alas! The project folded and the CWC no longer exists, except in an old Facebook page that hasn’t been updated since 2018. So that is why I am leaving this unfinished story here. I know that I will never use it, as I am not a romance writer, but if YOU are, please take it. Give it a good home. And if you finish Absidy’s story, I’d love to know what happens to her.
Absidy by Accident
“If you’ll excuse me,” Absidy said, rising from the table and laying her napkin on her chair, “I’ll be right back.”
Her date remained silent, his eyes remained perfectly round, and the bowl of linguine remained upside down on his head, the noodles sliding in wet chunks onto the shoulders of his Armani suit. Her red wine dripped from his nose and chin, and in the devastating silence of the restaurant, she could hear every plop as the drops landed in his napkin.
Absidy Roth calmly hooked her purse over her shoulder, smiled, then hurried with what she hoped was dignified speed to the bathroom.
“It’ll be ok, it’ll be ok,” she muttered as she locked herself in a tiny stall. She plunged her hand into her bag, frantically brushing aside tissues, breath mints, and two extra pairs of hose, until she found her cell phone. “Come on, pick up,” she pleaded, shifting her weight from foot to foot. “Pick up…pick up now…CODY COOPER PICK UP THE PHONE!”
“Stop yelling! I did!”
“Sorry, I didn’t hear it,” she said as she ran her fingers through her short, black hair and blew her bangs off her forehead.
“Why is your voice echoing? Are you in the bathroom?”
“Yes. I’m hiding.”
There was a long pause. “…Whyyy?”
“Cody!” she cried. “This date is a disaster!”
“What do you mean? Kyle is cute, funny, and he owns half the bars on 4th Street.”
“I spat wine on him.”
Another pause. “You spat wine?”
Absidy nodded miserably. “Right in his face. He told me this hilarious joke just as I took a huge gulp and I couldn’t help it! I exploded like one of those balloons in IT!”
“That’s not the worst.”
Cody sighed heavily. “Oh, really?”
“When I did that, he got really surprised, you know?”
“So he jerked back in his seat, but there was this waitress behind him with a tray of food, and when he jerked, he bumped her arm and–”
“I get the picture. So now you’re in the bathroom?”
“Have you been crying?”
“Ok, this is what you’re going to do. Put your big girl panties on, wipe your nose, wipe the black goop out from the corner of your eyes, march yourself out there, and tell him that Fago Lago’s been going downhill for years. Make some joke like you never liked their over-priced food anyway, and see if he’d like to get a hot dog and beer.”
“You know I hate beer.”
“Not the point. Got it.”
“Ok? Can you do that for me? And tell him I’ll take off 10% the next time he wants me to host a party to make up for this.”
“I’m not going to do that. That makes it sound like going on a date with me was a mistake.”
“You’re right. Better make it 20. Now I must say good-bye. Richard and I have reservations. Love you, babe.”
Absidy stretched her neck from side and rolled her shoulders, like a gymnast warming up. “You can do this,” she told her reflection as she assessed her looks. Hair? Still decent. Make up? A bit smudged under her stone-gray eyes, but she could make it work. Dress? A little shorter than she liked, but then again, most dresses were short on her 5-foot, 10-inch frame. But it hugged her hips and the blue looked good against her olive skin. She straightened her shoulders and marched back into the restaurant.
At first she thought she had taken a wrong turn.
But then, as she saw the pile of noodles on the floor and the people casting furtive glances her way, she realized, no, she was in the right part of the restaurant.
It was just that he had left.
“Thanks for coming.”
“What are big sisters for?” Heather said as she leaned over the passenger seat to look up at Absidy.
Her fiancé, Len Governor, made an exaggerated frowny face. “You look as gloomy as a raincloud, with your li’l blue dress and li’l grumpy cat face on. Come on then, love, in you go,” he said as he stepped out and leaned the seat forward so Absidy could crawl in the back of Heather’s coupe.
“Len!” Absidy threw up her hands. “I’m in a dress!”
“So if I have to bend over, people will see my…bum.”
He laughed. “Well, I can’t fit back there. I’m too tall.”
Absidy crossed her arms over her chest. “You are, like, an inch taller than me.”
“Yeah, but I’ve got longer legs. You’ve got fairly short legs and just an absurdly long torso.”
“Come on, you guys! Someone’s waiting for this spot!” Heather said.
Absidy glared at Len. “Why did you even come? I called my sister, not you.”
“Aw, we was playing cards when you called, and she didn’t trust me enough to leave me at home. Says I have to come, too. So, here I am!” He flashed his perfectly white teeth at her, which glowed almost radioactively against his coffee-brown skin. Absidy rolled her eyes and was about to argue more when someone honked.
“Fine!” she scowled and climbed into the back seat, quickly sweeping shirts, hangers, and dry-cleaning bags to the floor. “And may I just remind you, I don’t trust you either!”
Len laughed as he got back in and shut the door. “Why? Is it still because of this?” Suddenly all traces of his English accent were gone and he now spoke in the voice he had used when Heather introduced them – a voice that languished on vowels and was critical of words bearing only one syllable. He and Heather had told Absidy that Len was from somewhere in “Deep East Texas” and had managed to keep up the charade for three whole months until one day Len accidentally called an elevator a “lift.”
“Absidaaay…” Len said, turning around in his seat to look at her. “I sure ay-am sorry ‘bout yur date, but jest ‘member that thay-ers plenty of turds in the septic tank.”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “It’s ‘fish in the sea,’ you idiot.”
From the front seat, Heather laughed. “He’s just trying to make you smile.”
“Well, I don’t feel like smiling.”
Their tires crunched over the gravel driveway as they drove around to the back of the old Victorian house. Heather skillfully dodged the major potholes and parked in the grass. Her headlights fell upon an attractive couple, hand-in-hand and wincing against the bright lights.
“Oh, look who it is,” Len said, turning and giving Absidy a wink. “Our good friend Diego. Let’s say hi, shall we?”
Before Absidy could protest, Len had popped out of the car and was holding out his hand to help her out. “Diego!” he called over his shoulder, “What are you up to tonight?”
Absidy reluctantly grabbed Len’s hand and struggled to extract herself from the backseat before Diego and his date walked over. She heard their footsteps on the gravel growing closer as she extended her right leg from the car, but when she pulled her left leg forward, her heel suddenly caught. Muttering a curse, Absidy fumbled to extract her stiletto from the hangers that had wrapped it like ivy, but she quickly realized those were all snagged on the shirts and plastic bags.
“What are you doing?” Len asked, gently tugging on her hand.
“I’m stuck!” she hissed, her heart pounding. She would die if Diego Sanchez saw her like this – frozen in a Russian Cossack Dance with a clear view all the way up to her—
But at that moment, two things happened simultaneously:
1) She freed her heel, and
2) Len tugged harder.
Absidy went flying out of the car and straight into the arms of her neighbor, knocking her forehead against his chin.
“Oof!” he grunted and stumbled back.
“Diego!” screeched his date.
Absidy’s face slid down his muscular chest before she was able to catch her balance and stand back up. She tugged her dress down to its appropriate length, coolly smoothed her hair back, and said, “Good evening.”
Heather and Len were both leaning on Heather’s car, watching with Cheshire Cat grins, but Diego simply smiled and said, “Nice to see you, too, Absidy.”
His date threw back her long, ice-blond hair and pointed at his shirt. “D, you’ve got makeup all over your tie and collar!”
Absidy blushed. “Ooh, sorry about that. But, hey, if he ever cheats on you, you’ll know what shade lipstick I wear!”
The blonde cocked her head to the side and peered at Absidy as though she was trying to read a billboard a mile away.
Absidy shook her head. “Pretend I didn’t say that. Diego’s very nice and you are gorgeous and obviously able to handle five-inch heels, so I’m sure you two will have a lovely date. Unlike me and my date this evening, which was going fine until–”
“Ok, sweetheart,” Len said, placing his hands on her shoulders and steering her towards the back door. “Aunt Bea and Uncle Rog asked Heather to stop by once we’d picked you up, so we’ll be upstairs in a minute.”
Absidy frowned at her sister. “Just you? Why not me?”
Heather shrugged and nonchalantly looked over to the first floor of the Victorian, where a blue light flickered through a window, signaling their aunt and uncle’s nightly “NCIS” marathon was in full-swing. “Maybe they just like me better.”
“Well,” Absidy said, her mouth flat-lining across her face. “On that note, goodbye to you all.”
She wobbled in her heels across the lot and through the back door. Once inside, she slid off her shoes, flexing her toes to regain some feeling. “Hi, Aunt Bea. Hi, Uncle Roger,” she called through the wall.
“Welcome home!” her aunt called back. “How was it?”
Absidy rolled her eyes as she massaged her insoles. “Great!”
Her uncle cleared his throat and said, “Is Heather still outside?”
“Yes, she’s talking to Len and Diego. And Diego’s date.”
“Pretty, isn’t she?” Aunt Bea said. “Reminds me of a young Christy Brinkley.”
“Yeah, she’s definitely…blonde,” Absidy agreed.
“Don’t forget rent’s due next week,” Uncle Roger said.
“Uncle Roger, have I ever been late on rent?”
“No, but that’s because I always remind you,” he replied. “See, if I didn’t remind you, you’d forget.”
“Can we maybe test that theory next month?”
“Why would I want you to forget? Now be quiet, the commercials are over.”
Absidy padded up the narrow wooden staircase, swinging her heels by their strap around her finger. When she reached the second floor, she paused for a moment to stare wistfully at the door for Apartment 2A. She placed her little finger in her mouth and chewed at the nail. “You’re so hot,” she whispered.
“Are you talking to me?” The stairs leading up to the third story creaked and Sean MacGuire appeared. He paused for a split second and blinked at her. “You look nice.”
Absidy popped her finger out of her mouth and blushed. “No. I mean thanks. I mean, no, I wasn’t talking to you. I was just saying that it’s really hot in here.” She fanned herself with her hand. “Am I right?”
Sean shrugged as he strode across the floor to 2B. “It’s Austin. It’s May. Your aunt and uncle only run the A/C when it gets above 85. It’s always hot in here.”
“Ha ha. True dat,” Absidy said and made finger-guns at him.
Sean looked at her with a blank face. “Aren’t you going to ask me what I was doing up on your floor?”
“Oh, um, fixing our window unit? I hope?”
Sean shook his head, clearly disappointed. “I am not your family’s maintenance man. Fixing things is my hobby, not my profession. Your aunt and uncle are very kind people, but if your unit is malfunctioning, it is their responsibility to fix it, not mine.”
“Sean, I didn’t mean to–”
“I was up there because your parrot has been squawking its head off for the last 45 minutes and I was concerned it was dying.”
“Oh no!” Absidy clamped her hand over her mouth. “Is he ok?”
“Well, I assume so.” Sean crossed his freckled arms and for a second Absidy thought she saw a smile tugging at his lips. “I knocked at your door and he got very quiet, and when I called out, ‘Ricardo?’ he told me to get lost.”
“Oh, well then he was probably just yelling at the TV.”
“Mm, how nice.” Sean tucked his curly, strawberry-blond hair behind his ears and opened his door. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I was in the middle of practicing.”
“Isn’t it almost midnight?” Absidy said.
“There’s a concert tomorrow,” he explained. Then, almost as an afterthought he said, “There’s still some tickets left, I think.”
“Oh, uh, maybe I’ll check it out,” Absidy replied.
Sean gave her a quick nod and shut the door. The sweet sounds of his violin followed Absidy as she climbed the creaky stairs to the apartment she shared with Heather and Len.
“Hi Ricardo,” she said as she flipped on her bedroom light and turned off the Cartoon Network. A soft concerto seeped up through her floorboards and she swayed over to her closet.
“Hi Ricardo. Bye Ricardo. Hi Ricardo. Bye Ricardo.”
Absidy pulled off her dress to change into boxer shorts and a T-shirt. Ricardo let out a low whistle.
“Aw, you’re sweet,” Absidy said and pushed a treat through the bars of his cage.
She sat down at her desk and shook her mouse to wake up her laptop. The email from her boss, Bunny Nakayama, was still open from that afternoon.
WHERE IS MR. FORD’S MANUSCRIPT??? IT’S BEEN 2 DAYS!!! I’VE GOT 27 SHORT STORIES IN MY INBOX AND THE EXCEDRIN ISN’T WORKING ANYMORE! Sorry, I know you probably won’t check this until tomorrow, but seriously, if you could finish editing it and send it back to me ASAP, that would be great. Also, there’s something I need to discuss with you, but email isn’t the right place, so call me tomorrow.
Absidy minimized the email, which brought Mr. Ford’s 5000-word ode to truck stops front and center. Her eyes immediately glazed over as she scanned the document, searching for the sentence she had been reading when she dozed off the night before. She chewed on her nails in an effort to stay awake, but her head was starting to bob when she heard the front door open.
“Want to watch a movie?” Absidy asked.
“Sorry,” Heather said. “I forgot I have some papers to grade.”
“Aw, what about our game?” Len said.
“Ask Absidy, maybe she’ll–”
“Nope,” Absidy said, then got up and shut her door.
She sat back in her chair and pushed off from her desk. The chair wheeled across the room and when she reached her bed, she turned and pushed off again. Sean’s ethereal voice floated up to her through the floor vent under her window:
“I can hear that, you know.”
Absidy dropped down to the floor and put her mouth to the register. “Can you maybe just switch your practice room and your bedroom?”
“Can you maybe just take the wheels off your chair?”
Absidy grabbed a pillow off her bed and placed it over the register. Then for good measure, she stood on top of it, leaning her forehead against the window and looking out onto the street below. She stared past her reflection to the cracked sidewalks that snaked through live oaks and elms, past more Victorians and a handful of Gothic revivals, all long-converted to apartments and duplexes. She sighed. “What a stupid night.”
From behind her, Ricardo made kissing noises. “Muah muah.”
She laughed. “Love you, too.”
Something flickered in the shadows at the end of the block. Absidy frowned and strained to see through the night. Suddenly the light cast by the streetlamp was broken and someone stepped into view. Absidy’s jaw dropped open and she gasped.