Building Friction (Part 39- Conclusion)

zara's picture

"I don't like the ending."

I was sitting in Nelson's office. The lawyers had finished up their negotiating on my first book, the collection of my articles that I'd written for the website. We'd come to the agreement that I would be paid $100,000 up front and earn 1% on the back end after costs. It sounded good enough to my and my lawyer had nodded reassuringly, so I signed the papers and shook the appropriate hands.

Nelson brought me into his office shortly afterward, ready to discuss his thoughts on the finished manuscript that I'd turned in the week before. I was surprised that he'd read the entire thing already, but he assured me that he always liked to read the work himself rather than leave it to someone else.

"It feels forced." He was talking about the ending. I kept my eyes on his pink marshmallow hands. I'd been crying most of the weekend and spent the entire meeting hoping that my make-up job wouldn't betray my underlying emotions.

"Alright," I conceded. When I looked up, I could see his piggish eyes peering intently at me.

"What's wrong with you?" he asked, sounding genuinely concerned.

"More of the drama," I said with a sigh.

"This book," Nelson lifted up the stack of paper and shook it at me. "This is about what's been going on with you, isn't it?"

"Yes."

"So, is the ending in this how it turned out in your life?"

"No."

He put the stack back down on his desk. "Care to elaborate a little more for me please? What did happen? I'm assuming that things did not work out between you and 'Jeremy.' Is that it?"

I nodded, my chin tucked low and nearly hitting my chest. "In the end, the character, well... me... ends up alone. With no one."

"Why didn't you write that into this?"

"It just happened very recently."

"Well, get your ass back behind the keyboard and write that in. I'd like to see how it reads with the realism in the ending that is present through the beginning and the middle. It betrays the rest of the story if you sell out in the end." Nelson sat back in his chair and folded his pudgy hands in his generous lap.

"People aren't going to want to read a story where the antagonist ends up alone. There needs to be something positive. Something needs to work out." I was fighting his instructions without fully understanding why I was doing so.

"Life doesn't always play out the way that people want it to. Drama is great in the beginning. Drama becomes a headache after awhile. More people are realists than you have been lead to believe. They understand that things can't always work out the way that their dreams want them to. You must have bought into that or you wouldn't have had to coat your eyes in heavy shadow to cover up the puffiness. You'd still be fighting for your fantasy." Nelson tilted his head and stared at me.

"You can tell?"

"Yes. I also have 3 daughters, so I know what misery looks like."

"So I can't have the fantasy in the book? Hell, if I can't have it in real life, why rob it from me in the fiction?"

"You really want a fantasy? Is that really, truly what you want?"

I thought about it. The knot in my stomach was churning. I hadn't eaten since I'd seen Geoff on Saturday night and it was now late Monday afternoon. My thoughts felt like they were hanging from the rafters of my mind, hung and robbed of their breath and life. "Yes and no."

"You want a fantasy that has the possibility of becoming real."

"You really are a dad." I smiled tentatively at him. He returned the gesture with his own warm smile.

"That I am." He pushed the stack of papers across the table towards me. "Now, rewrite it. Honestly this time. Don't cheat the reader."

I stood and shook his hand. I was really beginning to like him. The thought of liking my publisher gave me a very hopeful sensation.

I went home and attacked the last quarter of the book. I took out of the sappy romantic gestures and reduced the character representing myself and Geoff into exactly what they were in real life. Hopelessly doomed. There was not going to be a moment where they could work it out.

There was no reason why they should have been together in the first place. It happened to have happened, and that was special in and of itself. Faking it, as Nelson had put it, would have sold them out. Faking it would have sold out Geoff and I.

Tears streamed down my face as I made the revisions. Having to confront that it would never work out between us and was never meant to, hurt me. I smoked through two packs of cigarettes in a 36 hour period. I didn't leave the computer to do anything besides drink coffee and relieve my bladder.

The ending turned out longer than the previous one, but it was much more true to us. Geoff was never the asshole that I had seen him as in the beginning. I would never see him as an asshole, even in the future. The way that he'd handled things was not to hurt me. It was for his own self-preservation, and of all things for me to fully grasp, I understood that and respected it. I would always think of him and a part of him would be in my heart forever.

It weighed heavily on me that I wouldn't have been published in the first place if not for him. While I had never confronted him on the matter, I knew that he had to have been the one that recommended me to Nelson. My webmaster had no clue about it and had even launched into begging me not to leave the site when I brought it up. A good number of the readers would leave when I did, which distressed her and made it obvious that she wasn't the one who did the recommending.

After talking to my agent, I learned that she knew less about the deal than I did. I ended up firing her when she attempted to gain a cut of my deal. I had signed a 5 book contract with Webber & Nelson, so my need for her services had greatly diminished for the time being. I knew that I would need to look for another agent eventually, but Nelson had put me at enough ease that I trusted him not to screw me over. There was still the possibility that it was all an act, but it really didn't strike me as such.

Geoff had always been such a strong supporter of my writing, even if all his online alter-ego ever did was tear me down. Once I'd gotten close to him, I gained the knowledge that he was doing it in an odd attempt to kept my writing clear and unaffected by ego. I had to admit that the comments he'd left had affected me much deeper than the praise had. We're only as good as our least abrasive insult.

It saddened me that I would never be able to properly thank him for doing what he did.

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"Now this ending?" It was the following Monday and I was sitting in front of Nelson once again. He was shaking another stack of papers at me, this version containing the newer ending. "This ending is GOOD."

I smiled, my lips pressed tightly together and tried to contain the joy.

"True, she doesn't get the guy, but there's still hope in it. She's learned her lesson, and most importantly, taken something from the whole experience. She doesn't need to always preplan her moves. She knows not to judge someone in a split second, but she's also learned that her judgment works for her. There will be readers who will be too close-minded to appreciate an ending that is happy and doesn't include walking off hand-in-hand with their preferred male choice, but Chloe? Screw those people. This is really good." Nelson was standing, his hand extended.

I reached forward and shook it, now beaming. "Thank you so much," I eked out.

"No, thank YOU," Nelson returned. "You're going to be very popular. And that's going to make me a lot of money. Now get your butt out of here and think of a dedication for your first actual novel. From the looks of it, you've got some people that you're going to want to thank."

I left the Webber & Nelson offices that day is a state of bliss and confusion. A dedication would need to be written, but how could I do it properly without mentioning Geoff?

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"I think you should talk around it," Malory was saying.

We were sitting in Lilly's restaurant. It was after closing time and we were picking over some of the remaining desserts that hadn't gotten snapped up over the dinner shift. Lilly presented me with a huge slab of New York Style Cheesecake that she'd drizzled caramel syrup on. They'd managed to dig up a birthday candle and lit it. Sean threw together some cheesy lyrics and we'd all laughed loudly before sitting around a large table. It was late and most of us were dragging.

"What do you mean? Not mention his name? Like: 'dedicated to someone special.'? That kind of thing?" Lilly was sipping at a Jack and Coke. Her chef's hat was slightly askew and her white smock was smeared and dotted with different food from the evening's specials.

"Does he really deserve a mention at all in the first place? You don't know if he was really the one who recommended you to the publisher," Sean added in his typical pessimistic manner.

"Who else could have done it?" Steph asked. She was snacking on a slice of warm apple pie. "It's not like any of us know anyone with pull."

"Speak for yourself," Sean argued. "I have my connections."

"OK, so was it you?" I asked.

Malory snorted. "If it had been him, you would have heard about it long ago. In fact, he'd be reminding you daily about how you owe him one."

Everyone else laughed. Sean's mouth twisted up. "Why do I bother with you people?"

"No one else would have you?" I said. The laughter continued.

"Fine, I still don't see why any one of us deserves a mention. The story is fiction, right?"

"Yeah, but the characters are all modeled after you guys. So I owe it to you for influencing me. You really think I could have thought up people as colorful as all of you? I don't have that great of an imagination!" I smiled, but something in my heart seized at that moment. I knew that I would have never been able to dream up some of the things that Jeremy, the character representing Geoff, said. Geoff had a way with words that never would have occurred to me on my own.

"Fine, so just list our names, but don't say who's who. That way we can all be proud and flash the book around, pointing and saying 'That's me!' Or don't. In the end, it really is all up to you, Chloe." Steph smiled warmly at me. I'd missed seeing her open smile.

I pulled my little notebook out of my purse and started scribbling down names. "Is it weird that there are some of you whose last names I don't know? I spend every damn weekend with some of you and yet I'm such an idiot with names."

"Whose don't you know?" Malory asked.

"Well, I've written you checks before, so obviously I know yours, but I don't know Claude's. Ken's, Skippy's...." I thought for a moment and tapped the end of my pen on the pad. "Shit! I don't even know Joshua's!"

Malory gave me Claude's last name and Sean was able to provide Ken's and Skippy's, but when it came to Joshua, no one knew.

"No, wait!" Steph stopped the discussion. "Shaney's is Lohman and she's his sister, right?"

I scribbled in Lohman. "Yeah, but is that her maiden name or her married name?" Sean asked.

"She's divorced," I answered. "I can't imagine keeping your married name after you get divorced."

"True," Sean replied.

"So you're going to be all famous," Lilly smiled. "And we all will be able to say that we knew you way back when."

"You actually think that I would abandon you bitches so that you could say that? Hell, you'll be able to say 'I knew that bitch. In fact, she's sleeping the Jaeger off on my couch.'" I laughed. The table joined me.

---------------------------------------------------------------

My book of articles was released in mid-October, and the publishing company held a large party in my honor at the Mandalay Bay. Icy fingerprints of the memories from earlier in the year crept down my spine. I had to shake my head to avoid thinking too deeply about them.

Everyone had shown up. My mom and dad paraded around proudly, clutching their copies of my book to their chests. It still felt strange that they were proud of writing that included the intimate details of my sexual appetite, but I allowed them their moment. I think they were answering more questions than I was.

There were a couple of reporters from the local paper. The book had gotten luke-warm reviews from the handful of reviewers that were given copies early. Nelson had assured me that I shouldn't be nervous about it, that my novel would be received much better. He was always so affirming,  I worried that it might give me a false sense of hope.

The group had dressed up and I'd even convinced Tornado Bait to play for me. The older attendees cringed when the volume from the speakers flooded the small convention room, but shortly after, everyone was dancing and enjoying themselves.

I snuck out a side door to have a smoke. I'd had to shake so many hands that I felt the intense desire to dirty them with a little tobacco stench. I turned the corner and leaned against the wall,pulling my pack out of my purse. As I fumbled with my lighter, suddenly one appeared in front of my face, startling me.

Joshua stood in front of me, holding a burning Zippo. I leaned in and lit my cigarette and then relaxed back against the wall again.

"You did it," he commented softly.

"I did," I sighed. "It still feels surreal. All those books in there, all with my picture on them? Kinda creeps me out a little."

Joshua laughed. I had always loved the sound of his laugh, full and deep. "I like looking at your face," he finally said.

I wasn't sure how to respond. I moved closer to him and put my head on his shoulder. "You're in the novel, you know. Well, I changed your name, but there's a character based on you."

"Really?" He sounded surprised. "Does he do anything cool?"

"Actually, not really. I mean, he's always ready for a fight. I made him fairly realistic," I giggled. Joshua punched lightly at my arm.

"Wow. That's pretty fucking cool though. I'm just another nobody in your world. Being considered, even for a small role? That's badass. Is there anyone else in the story too?"

"Yeah, there's a little bit of everyone in the characters. I felt the easiest way to get readers to relate to the story was to base it on people I already knew. Give a sense of truth behind the fiction."

"Do we get a mention? Like in the end or something?"

"I actually wrote all of you into the dedication. You're in there."

"Cool. Be nice to see my name."

"It's there. You can point and say 'Joshua Lohman, that's me!' and then get laughed at when people tell you that the book sucked." I smiled and stood up straight, then threw my finished cigarette into the nearby gutter.

"They're not going to say that. Hell, they'll all be fucking impressed!" Joshua smiled widely. "But Chloe?"

"Yeah?"

"My last name isn't Lohman. That's Shaney's married name. Silly bitch still hasn't had it legally changed. Says she likes it better than our last name."

"Well, fuck," I rubbed my forehead. "I didn't think she would keep it, so I told the publisher that your last name was Lohman. I'll have to call them in the morning and make sure that they get it changed. What IS your real last name, then?"

"Webber." Joshua produced a small bottle of whiskey from his pocket and took a swig, then offered the bottle to me.

I chill ran over me. "Webber?" I repeated.

"Yeah. Shaney thinks it sounds nerdy. Hell, a name's a name, you know?" Joshua smiled at me, then his smile dissolved. His eyes looked away. "Awe fuck," he muttered softly.

"Joshua?" I asked, reaching out. My fingers brushed his hand as they wrapped around the whiskey that he was still holding out in front of him.

"Yeah. The answer to your question is yeah. I really didn't want you to know, though. I didn't want you to think that you'd owed me anything. You're a fucking incredible writer. Fucking ten times better than most of the people that they end up hiring and then lose money on. I was doing it for my grandpa as much as I was doing it for you. He's always bitching that there's no more good talent out there in the world and..."

I stopped him by kissing him. I wrapped my arms around his neck, pulled him close and refused to let him go until he returned my advance.

"Oh," was the only thing he could say when we parted. "Yeah. You didn't have to do that. I wasn't expecting that."

"I know you weren't," I said. Tears were freely flowing from the corners of my eyes, ruining my make-up. Joshua stepped forward and ran a thumb along the trail of one of them.

"I'm not like those other guys. I'm really not good enough for you," he said.

"Fuck that. I decide what's good for me. And what makes you think that just because I kissed you that changes anything between us? Arrogant bastard." I narrowed my eyes at him and then punched him in the upper arm.

He nodded slyly. "That's me. The arrogant bastard." His smile returned. He continued to wipe away at my tears. "You really need to get back inside. People are going to miss you."

"No one will ever miss me. I'm not going anywhere. I couldn't do it without my friends. I couldn't do any of it."

"That's what I love best about you," Joshua said, opening the door I'd snuck out of and helping to lead me back to the party.

"What's that?" I asked.

"You've always known what's most important. Sure, I've seen you fuck up on occasion, but in the end, you're a lot like me. Friends will always come first. I respect that about you."

We entered the convention room and faces turned to greet us. I looked out over the sea of people, my friends, my supporters, the loves of my life. My heart swelled when I saw so many smiles pointed toward me. I reached down and curled my fingers between Joshua's, lacing them tightly together.

"Friends WILL always come first," I said, then leaned over and kissed him again. There was an audible gasp from a few people in the crowd. "You have no idea how happy I am that you understand that."

"Well, I live by it as well," he said softly. His blue eyes were weathered around the edges. His smile was an experienced one.

"I'm counting on that," I said, winking at him. He kept his fingers laced through mine for the remainder of the evening. It was new and strange, but I was ready for a little new and strange.

With the support of my friends, I knew I could handle anything. Joshua would always be my friend first. There was a comfort in that. It was almost as if it was meant to be that way. I needed to fall to be able to look up with wiser eyes. And from my new perspective, I loved what I could see.

Comments

bolivia_tracker's picture

Finished!

Like Mallory, I also enjoy tangible evidence of the emotion a woman is supposedly feeling for me. Six months later I can no longer hold any kisses in my hands; there's now no proof that it was worth it, and I'm sure that it wasn't.

Ivychains's picture

I just recently became aware

I just recently became aware of your work through myspace ( actually the blog where you said you quit came up as the most popular so I came across it with pure luck) and everything I've read of yours so far has been hell, for the lack of a better word, fresh. There have been times where I've grabbed a friend's arm and pointed to the screen like, "read this! it's bloody amazing!" and honestly meant it.

The conclusion to Building Friction absolutely FLOORED me. As far as I knew, there were three possible endings, one, the other or neither, but the fact that you were able to create a fourth without having to build more characters from scratch as you go along and it never bacame obvious that that's what you were going to do, takes a lot of skill.

Soo, with the risk of sounding lame, great job. Building Friction was ultimately satisfying ^_^

Jackson Tea Crumpet's picture

I just finished this...

I read this starting at 10pm the last two nights. Last night I read until I couldn't see straight anymore, tonight I can still see straight, but just barely. Ok, so here it goes, I want to say something to the effect of "you probably hear this all the time, but this kicked ass" but you probably hear that a lot. So here's what I'll tell you, this story was phenomenal, it deserves to be published in a book if it hasn't been already. While I was reading through it I encountered quite a few typos, which I'm assuming were caused by one of two things:

1. You were so in your zone writing the story, that you weren't paying attention to what was ending up on the paper. And once the story was finished you didn't think to have someone else edit it for you.

2. It was really late when you typed some of this and you weren't paying attention to the keys you were hitting. I only add this as an option because I do it a lot and the typos are sectioned off in different areas of the story, they aren't really that random.

So, I just thought I would let you know about that. Over all the story was amazing, I found myself glued to my screen unable to stop reading, which, I'm fairly sure, is not normal for a guy due to the content of the story, except maybe the erotic parts, but those are outnumbered by the parts with massive amounts of drama in them. Anyways, you are a phenomenal writer, and I hope at some point you write more stories such as this. Do you read crime novels? Because for some reason, I can really see you writing a crime novel of some sort, but that's just my opinion. Anyways, I just wanted to pass on my review of your story, I told you I would get around to reading it eventually, and I did, so yeah, go buy yourself a book, since I know that's what makes you feel good, go buy yourself a book in celebration of writing a fantasic story!

much love,

Jackson

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