Final Preparations and an Excerpt
To say things are busy around here lately would be an understatement. Pre-orders for the Kindle version of my debut novel The Education of Ryan Gregori continue at a good pace, and I’m feverishly proofing the printed version to make sure the paperback will be 100 percent error free. With the September 6th release day for both versions looming, it’s all hands on deck to get the really, truly, super-final versions submitted to Amazon and the printer by the weekend.
I recently wrote about surfacing after the summer and finally coming up for air. I feel a bit like I’ve gone back under; I don’t expect to take a full breath until September 7th. Still, it’s all very exciting, and I’m having a tough time waiting.
By the way, if you’re a fan of delayed gratification (or just as excited about this book as I am) you can pre-order the Kindle version here for just $2.99.
But how about a little instant gratification?
Excerpt from Chapter 1
Between the heat blasting from the dash and Darren’s silence, Ryan found it difficult to breathe. He turned the crank to lower the driver’s side window and exhaled with relief as cold air caressed his face. “Have you thought about what I said?” he asked.
“It’s the tenth of January and you’ve got the windows open,” Darren replied.
Avoidance, again. As they approached a red light, Ryan shook his head, gently applied the brakes, and shifted back down to first gear. The old red pickup groaned and sputtered to a halt, and he exhaled. He knew he shouldn’t have brought it up again tonight, but it was getting harder to ignore the reality. The regular evenings they spent together were dwindling. The unanswered phone calls were mounting. Perhaps it was the stress of the holidays, but Ryan didn’t think so. Darren was slipping away.
“Hey, creeper,” Darren said. “The light is green. Stop staring off into space.”
“Oh!” Ryan eased off the clutch, stepped on the gas, and the truck started rolling forward again. “Sorry, I was just—”
“It’s alright. And about what you said—you know I heard you the first time.”
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“I know, but that was months ago and—”
“And nothing is different. I said we’d figure it out, and we will.” Darren reached over and placed a hand on Ryan’s knee. “You’re my best friend, Ryan, and you always will be. I love you too—in my own messed up way.”
“What’s messed up about it?”
Darren laughed. “Look, we haven’t seen each other since before Christmas. Let’s just get through this party tonight, alright?” Removing his hand from Ryan’s knee, he pulled a bottle of vanilla vodka halfway out of the paper bag at his feet. “This was a good choice, don’t you think?”
“I guess so.” Ryan sighed, reluctantly conceding the change of subject. “I wish you would’ve just picked it up on your way over, rather than have me wait in the truck a half a block from the liquor store.”
“Aw, get over it!” Darren shoved him lightly. “You’ll be twenty-one soon enough.”
“Yeah! Like, a year and a half! It feels really sketchy is all.”
“Ha! It is sketchy!”
Ryan laughed, and flicked on the right turn signal. The truck slowed, and he rounded the corner, turning away from the bright lights of the main road onto Elizabeth Street. The dark of the surrounding neighborhood was cut only by the soft yellow beams of his headlights and the warm amber glow from the front porches and curtained windows that lined the cozy street. He accelerated slightly again and smiled.
“Alright,” he said. “Almost home.”
“Yep. Then we’ll get ourselves turned around and go.” Darren was quiet for a moment. “Ryan?”
“We’re going to have a great night.”
As the truck rolled into the next intersection, Ryan turned his head toward Darren and smiled again. Maybe this love he felt was still unrequited, but someday that would change. Sooner or later Darren was going to realize—
Through the passenger window, he glimpsed a flash of white in the dim street lights, and his eyes widened in slow realization. In the brief moment before instinct took hold, he focused on Darren again and felt the sudden, crushing pain of imminent loss. Adrenaline shot through him like lightning, and he stomped on the gas.
“Ryan?” Darren said quietly. “What—”
The impact was swift and deafening, just behind the cab. He clutched the wheel and pushed the brake all the way to the floor as the back end of the truck first lifted, then spun to the left. Darren was screaming. Time slowed down as the truck continued its spin. Ryan pressed his eyes firmly closed and caught his breath as the seatbelt cut into his neck. This is it, he thought. This is the end, and we never had our chance.
Time accelerated again as the truck slowed and finally came to a stop.
Beside him, slowly, the sound of Darren’s heavy breathing filled his ears. When he opened his eyes, they filled instantly with tears. “D—Darren? Are you alright?” He choked.
Darren looked straight ahead, wide-eyed and clutching the side of the door with white knuckles. “Fuck! Yeah, I think I’m fine, but if you hadn’t stepped on it—I’d have been crushed! Are you alright?”
“Yeah,” he said as he wiped his eyes. “Oh God, I thought for a minute there I was going to lose you. I thought—”
“Fuck. Well, I’m still here. We’re both still here.”
In the impact the truck had turned just over a hundred eighty degrees, and through the windshield Ryan could see a crumpled white sedan steaming into the night. He fumbled to release the seatbelt, shoved the door open and stumbled out into the street.
A lanky young man climbed out of the sedan, dusted in white powder from an airbag. He placed a hand on his forehead and pulled at his short brown hair. “Oh, shit,” he mumbled, then looked toward Ryan. “You alright?”
Darren was beside him now, and before Ryan could speak, he said “Yeah, we’re fine. What the hell?” He looked toward the intersection. “You could’ve killed us! Not only did you clearly run a stop sign, but you didn’t have your fucking headlights on! What the—”
Ryan grabbed his arm and whispered harshly “Let it go.” He exhaled, then turned to the other driver. “I’m just glad everyone is okay. Darren, can you call the police?”
“On it.” Darren scowled as he pulled his cellphone from his jacket pocket and walked a few steps away.
“Oh, man,” the other driver moaned. “I’m sorry I’m—oh, man.”
“It’s alright,” Ryan said. He looked back at the mangled remains of his pickup and sighed. We’re going to have a great night, he thought.
Darren was beside him again. “They’re on their way. Do you want to call someone to pick us up? Steven, or maybe your mom?” He shivered, pulling the collar of his jacket tighter around his neck. “Fuck it’s cold.”
Ryan considered mentioning that he could keep both of them warm, but held back, thinking that Darren didn’t want to hear that right now. Instead he took the phone and said, “Yeah, no reason to bother Steven. I’ll call my mom.”
An hour later, after the police finished taking their statements and photographs and measurements, and the tow truck had loaded up the old red pickup, Ryan’s mother parked in the alley behind the little bungalow on Elizabeth Street. She turned off the engine and sighed.
From the back seat, Darren leaned forward. “Ryan,” he asked, “Can I have the keys? I need to run to the bathroom.”
“Oh,” Ryan replied, pulling the keys from his pocket. “Sure. I’ll be right behind you.” He handed them over and watched as Darren climbed out of the car, vanilla vodka in hand, and scurried across the lawn, down the dark side yard to the front door.
His mother turned in her seat and kissed him lightly on the cheek. “It’s a scary thing for a nineteen-year-old. It’s a scary thing for anybody.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Terrifying. I’m still a little shaky I think.”
“Your Uncle Charlie is going to be really sad. That truck was around a long time between him, your Dad and—and you.”
“Seriously, Mom? You know it wasn’t my fault. You know—”
She laughed. “No no! I’m not accusing you. I know it wasn’t your fault.” She was quiet for a moment. “Do you—want me to come in?”
“No, I’ll be alright. We were supposed to go to this thing tonight, but I’m hoping Darren isn’t in the mood anymore. I’d better go find out.”
“Alright. I love you.” She kissed him on the cheek again.
“Love you too. And thanks for coming, Mom.” He opened the door, climbed out into the alley and headed toward the house.
The front door of the little bungalow was slightly ajar, and as Ryan pushed it open the rest of the way, he smiled. Just inside, Darren was sprawled out on the couch with the television remote in his hand and a glass of water. If Darren could only see himself, he thought—so comfortable and natural in this home they ought to be sharing—then he’d understand what Ryan felt. He let his mind drift, imagining the inevitable moment when all the concerns about ruined friendships and the uncertainties about crossing that line would go up in smoke and blow away like ashes in the—
“Earth to Ryan,” Darren began. “You’re doing that thing again, where you stare off into deep space.” He laughed.
“Oh, sorry!” He blinked his eyes rapidly. “I think maybe I’m still a little shook up.”
“Understandably so.” Darren stood. There was an envelope in his hand that Ryan hadn’t seen before. He extended it, gingerly. “This was taped to the front door with your name on it.”
Ryan retrieved the envelope and regarded it suspiciously. The outside bore only his name, hastily scrawled. Exhaling, he tore it open and removed the letter inside:
10th January 2004
Thanks for getting the rent in the mail on time, and signing the lease. Unfortunately, on second thought I have some reservations I just can’t get over. I’m mailing the original back to you, unsigned. I know you’ve been there since November, but Cara should have told me more about you before she gave you the place when her lease was up. I’m sure you’re a great kid, but I’ve had some serious problems with tenants your age in the past, so now I have a pretty strict vetting process, and college-aged kids aren’t a part of it. Please don’t take it personally; I just need to stick to my own rules and protect my investment.
Colorado law requires I give you sixty days’ notice, so you can stay through the second week of March if you need to. Of course, if you find something sooner just let me know.
Sorry for the bad news, and best of luck.
Silently, Ryan handed the letter back to Darren. As he looked around the warm, close living room, he fought to hold back the dampness forming in the corners of his eyes. In the autumn, when Cara told him she was moving out, and the place would be available, he’d been overjoyed. He gave his notice at sterile, cookie-cutter Asbury Drive and moved into the spare room at the beginning of November. It took no time at all to feel completely at home. He loved the large, square kitchen with the wide windows, the tiny but comfortable bathroom, and the skylights in the living room and bedrooms. Every day since, returning home actually felt like returning home in a way he hadn’t experienced since leaving his parents’ house a year ago. This was the neighborhood he’d grown up in, and the little house was full of the early twentieth-century charm he loved.
He’d dreamed of Darren taking the other bedroom—of the little house on Elizabeth Street becoming their home. He’d dreamed of the day they wouldn’t need the other bedroom anymore.
A few short sentences inside a white envelope changed all of that. He almost laughed. This was the second time tonight he’d been blindsided.
A Little Longer to Wait
As you can see from the excerpt, we open on Ryan having a tough night. Sadly, things for my protagonist get worse before they get better. If you’d like to read more, consider pre-ordering now. The full novel will be released both digitally and in paperback in just nine days.
But in the meantime I’d better get back to work proofing. No reader should have to suffer a floating quotation mark after an em-dash:
Now your thoughts! Are you a glutton for instant gratification, or are you good at waiting? If you’re a self-published author, how did the proofing process go for you? What is your first impression of Ryan from the excerpt above. Let me know in the comments below.
As always, thanks for reading!