Several weeks ago I told you about my color-coded approach to revising my WIP, working title My Girls. I also promised to share that revised first scene with you, but then there were technical difficulties and malware issues and corrupt files and…and…and…you get the picture. Like the plucky heroines we love in our stories, I doggedly remained upbeat and hopeful that I’d recover my file with all those beautiful revisions, until the sad day when that all went to hell. Then there were self-pity parties which may or may not have included binge eating ice cream while standing over the kitchen sink.
But all that’s behind me now as I finally bit the bullet and rewrote the revisions. As previously promised, you get to share in the joy. In the comments, I’d love to hear what you think of the scene, what elements do or do not work for you, and most importantly, whether this ‘invitation to the party’ would be enough to make you stick around for Chapter 2 (and don’t be afraid to turn down the invitation – we are all special snowflakes and this might not be your cup of cocoa). So without further ado, I give you My Girls: Act I, Scene I.
Of all the things Eileen expected to see at the Thirsty Horse Saloon on a Saturday night, the pretty young thing wearing the biggest, ugliest wedding dress south of the Mason-Dixon wasn’t one of them.
Eileen stopped just inside the door. The bar’s normal smell of stale beer was almost eradicated by the stench of too much cologne. So many cowboys, so little time. Maybe she should make time to start dating again
“Evening, Ted.” She worked hard not to smile as she watched the bouncer’s gaze slide down to take in her low-cut green blouse and tight blue jeans. Maybe she should start with him. It certainly wasn’t a new thought. “What is going on over there?”
Ted glanced toward the bar. “You mean bridezilla at the bar?” He shrugged. “She’s been here about an hour. Not causing any trouble yet, unless you count some cowboys spilling their beer while they’re busy gawking at her.” He took another long, hard look at Eileen. “Course they haven’t seen anything yet, till they get an eyeful of you. Big plans tonight?”
Eileen pressed her lips together. “Tonight, tomorrow, the rest of my life.”
“Just don’t start any brawls, and try not to break too many hearts.”
She smiled. “I really just came to talk to Mads. But you think I could break some hearts?”
“I reckon a woman like you could break nearly any damn thing she pleased. Just try not to do it here.”
She raised an eyebrow at him. “Maybe you’ll have to get me the hell out of here. For the safety of the patrons, I mean.”
He grinned and glanced down again, this time all semblance of discretion gone. “Promises, promises.”
Her heart did a fluttery thing she didn’t quite expect and couldn’t decide whether she liked, but her legs sure as hell felt less steady under her. Eileen glanced away from him. “That dress is just…unfortunate. So the girl’s a real piece of work, huh?”
Ted glanced sideways again at the bride. “I just told you she hasn’t been any trouble.”
“You also told me she’s a bridezilla. You do know what that means, right?”
He rubbed his clean-shaven chin, then ran his hand over his equally clean-shaven scalp. “I figured it had something to do with monsters, and that damn thing she’s wearing sure counts as a monstrosity.”
Eileen couldn’t argue with that. Before she could set him straight on wedding vernacular, she spotted Maddie, red hair pulled high into a sloppy bun on the top of her head, coming out of the back room with an armful of booze bottles. Never one to miss a thing going on in her establishment, Maddie had spotted Eileen as well and jerked her head to summon her closer.
“The lady beckons.” She dropped the volume of her voice and leaned in a little too close to Ted to be decent. “But we’ll catch up sometime soon.”
As she sauntered away from him, Eileen swore she could feel Ted’s gaze on her backside. Throwing caution to the wind, she added a little extra sashay just for him. She grinned at her best friend when she reached the edge of the long wooden bar and slid onto one of the few empty barstools.
“Don’t get comfortable,” Maddie said. “If you’re done flirting with my bouncer, I could use your help down at the other end of the bar.”
“With Mrs. Haversham? You know, from Great Expectations.”
Maddie glared at her. “I remember high school English, but I have bigger problems right now. I’d bet a horse’s ass she’s had bupkis to eat all day, other than the fruit I keep shoving in her drinks.”
“Maybe you should cut her off.”
“Well thanks for that keen observation, Sherlock, but while I’m giving her seltzer water, I have a full house here and a couple of starry-eyed bartenders who don’t seem to hear very well when my foot isn’t planted directly up their asses, so I could use you running a little interference.”
“Sure. But I need to talk when you have a minute. I came up with a plan.”
“I’ll come over as soon as I can.” Maddie shooed Eileen in the bride’s direction and moved onto the next crisis.
As Eileen slid onto the empty stool beside the bride, she saw the young woman wasn’t just pretty, she was a knockout, even with bleary blue eyes that struggled to focus and long blond hair falling out of the sparkling pins that stuck out all over her head. No wonder every unattached male in the place was making eyes in her direction.
She stuck out her hand. “Hi. I’m Eileen Parker.”
The girl straightened herself and took Eileen’s hand with unexpected firmness. “Lovely to meet you, Eileen. I’m Sarah Newman.”
Something buzzed, and Sarah reached into a ridiculous little sparkly white bag on the bar beside her. She scowled, pushed a button on her phone, and turned back to Eileen. She picked up strand of hair from Eileen’s shoulder. “Pretty golden curls.” She smiled. “So, Eileen, do you know what a girl needs to do to get a drink around here?”
“Sober up, probably.”
Sarah scowled and turned partway around on her barstool to take in the crowd. Any one of those ogling cowboys would no doubt be happy to buy Sarah a drink or two or ten. No wonder Maddie had stopped serving her. No need to chum the waters for those circling sharks.
“Tell you what,” Eileen said. “Why don’t you tell me what happened today, and after that we can see about a drink of some sort.”
Tears welled up in Sarah’s eyes. “What makes you think something happened?”
“Let’s just say I have a sixth sense for these things. Tell me why you’re here alone instead of doing the electric slide at some country club right now.”
“I’m not sure I have enough booze in me to talk about it yet.”
“Hey Eileen.” Josh, Maddie’s second-in-command, leaned over the bar and winked at her. “You’re lookin’ hot tonight. You’re lucky I’m a happily married man or I might not be able to control myself.”
Eileen grinned. “Drop the smooth talk, young man. I’m here tonight on important business, and I could use a drink.”
Josh grabbed a shot glass and filled it with Jameson’s, Eileen’s usual.
Sarah grabbed his forearm. “Hey! She gets a drink and I don’t?”
This time Josh’s wink was for the bride. “Darlin’, you know, left to my own devices, I’d do damn near anything for you, but Maddie has spoken, and in Maddie’s bar, her word is law.” He squeezed Sarah’s fingers, then slipped away from her. “I’ll check back on you ladies soon.”
As Eileen watched Josh walk away in his well-fitting jeans, she caught movement out of the corner of her eye. She turned her head just in time to see Sarah toss back the Jameson’s and slam down the glass on the bar. A second later, Sarah’s eyes watered again as the full force of an uncut shot of whiskey took its toll.
“I was planning to drink that,” Eileen said.
“Sorry,” Sarah said, but it sure as hell sounded like she didn’t mean it. Eileen could learn to like this girl.
“And for future reference, it’s more of a sipping drink than a shooter.”
“Good to know.” Sarah rummaged through her purse. “Stupid little bag. It was just here…Here!” She pulled out a phone and held it in the air. Then she punched at the screen and handed it to Eileen. “That’s him.”
Eileen looked at a picture of Sarah in the arms of a lean, dark-haired, dark-eyed, thirty-something guy. They were on a sailboat, probably on the lake. “The groom, I take it? He’s a hot one. They’re usually trouble.”
“It’s worse than that.” Sarah snatched the phone back and stared at the picture. “He’s also a successful lawyer. And a real snake.”
The phone buzzed in her hand and Sarah jumped. She punched at the off button and shoved it back in her purse.
“Was that him?”
Sarah gave one curt shake of her head.
Eileen waited, but the call she hadn’t taken seemed to have silenced the bride. “So, he’s a lawyer. What else?”
Eileen spotted Maddie moving in their direction. She slid the empty glass in front of herself and dropped her voice. “Listen, Sarah, give me a few minutes to discuss something important with Maddie, without interrupting, and I won’t mention that last drink to her. And after that, we’ll sit here for a while and talk about – what’s his name? The SOB?”
“We’ll talk about Gerard. But first, you have to let me talk to Maddie.”
“What do you mean, no?”
“You want me quiet, I want another drink. That’s my price.”
“You’re a shark.”
She shrugged one puffy shoulder. “My dad was a lawyer until he…And my mother was a lawyer until they had kids. And now my sister’s one.” She straightened her back. “I’m only a lowly paralegal, but I know about negotiating.”
Eileen studied Sarah’s face. Her eyes weren’t that bloodshot, and she wasn’t slurring. Much. “Deal. One more drink, if you behave.”
They shook on it.
Maddie watched them as she approached on the other side of the bar. “What the hell’s going on here?”
“Just bonding,” Eileen said. “Listen Mads, I know you’re swamped, but I do have something to tell you.”
Maddie leaned one arm against the bar and nodded. “You have my full attention for about thirty seconds.”
“I finished Rita.”
“What! I thought it was going to take another month.”
Eileen couldn’t hold back her grin. “Let’s just say I was motivated. And she’s beautiful. I have some pictures on my phone.”
“Hey!” Sarah grabbed Maddie’s arm. “Is that a fight over there?” She pointed toward the pool tables.
“What the–? I don’t see anything, but I need to check this out, Leen.”
“Cute,” Eileen said when Maddie was out of earshot.
Sarah flounced one of her lacy sleeves on the bar. “I’m ready for my drink.”
“We had a deal.”
“I behaved, you talked, I get my drink.”
“Damn lawyers,” Eileen muttered as she signaled to bring Josh over to them. “Can we get the rest of that bottle of Jameson’s?”
Josh rubbed the back of his neck. “It’s a quarter full. Seems like a lot, even for you. But it’s not just for you, is it?”
Eileen held up three fingers. “I swear I’ll call a cab if I need one, and as far as you’re concerned, it’s all for me.”
He reached under the bar and pulled out the bottle, which he slid in front of her. “As far as I’m concerned, you climbed over the bar and took it yourself.”
“Thanks.” Eileen winked at him. He held up his hands as he backed away from them.
Eileen poured two fingers of whiskey, drank half of it, and set the remainder in front of Sarah. “Isn’t there someone you could call? What about your friends, your bridesmaids?”
“Sure, like Meredith, whoever that is.”
“Merdith sucks! Mer. Meredith. Sucks.”
“Ah.” Eileen assumed Meredith got triple billing as friend, bridesmaid, and fellow cheater with Gerard. “There must be someone who’s not a cheating bastard.”
When Sarah shook her head, the whole dress rustled. “My sister Liz, but she’s busy keeping hounds at bay.” She picked up the glass of whiskey.
Eileen stilled her arm. “Why don’t you try sipping it this time?”
Sarah glanced at the glass, then sipped. “She’s keeping Linney at bay. Liz, I mean. Liz’s keeping Linney at bay.”
“Is that another bridesmaid?”
“Worse.” Sarah lifted her arms out to her sides. “Sheez the woman who put me in this dress.”
“Sheez my mother.” She plucked at the high-necked lace-enveloped bodice. “My grandmother’s dress.”
“That’s a whole lotta dress. And even more slurring.” Maddie had appeared behind the bar and stood with her arms crossed in front of her.
“Don’t sneak up on us like that!” Eileen said.
“Don’t feed the kid whiskey!” Maddie snatched the glass and bottle away from them. She stopped glaring at Eileen and smiled at Sarah. “So, I was thinking, kid, if you won’t let me call you a cab, I bet Eileen here could drive you home.”
“No!” Sarah used the edge of the bar to push herself upright. She slapped her hands over the dress, trying to put it into place, whatever that looked like. “No home. I can’t…I don’t have…a home.”
“Let me guess,” Maddie said. “You lived with what’s-his-name.”
“Gerard,” Eileen said.
Maddie raised an eyebrow. “You lived with Gerard, so you can’t go home. You mentioned your mother earlier. We can send you there.”
“No!” Sarah dropped her voice to a stage whisper. “She’ll never let me out.” She gripped the edge of the bar, turning her knuckles white. “Once Linney Newman gets her claws into you, you never get away. There’s a purple room…my old room…just waiting for me to fail. To crawl home.”
Eileen’s chest felt tight. She knew what it was like to crawl away from a relationship, to crawl to someone to save you. Whether to your best friend or your controlling mother, it sucked even more than lawyers.
“Maybe the inn,” Sarah said.
“What inn?” Eileen asked.
“Where we were supposed to stay tonight. That pretty little inn at the top side of the lake.” She rummaged in her purse again and Eileen peered closer, marveling at the amount of stuff jammed into the little thing. “Here!” Sarah handed Eileen a folded, wrinkled piece of paper as her phone buzzed again. She yanked the phone out of her purse, jammed her finger into the off button, and shoved it back down into the mess.
Eileen unfolded the paper. It had a full-color picture of a beautiful cottage with a red tile roof and bright blue shutters that matched the color of the serene lake behind it. There were a list of house specs, and a sales price that made Eileen’s eyes cross. “This is where you’re supposed to stay tonight?”
Sarah shook her head. “Address of the inn is on the back. I saw this—” she pointed to the flyer—“when I drove up to make the reverzation. Reser…whatsit. Daddy used to rent a cabin up there for us.” She sighed. “There’s beautiful light for painting.”
“I’ll take you to the inn as soon as I’ve finished talking to Maddie.” Eileen pulled her own phone out of her pocket, punched a few buttons, and handed it to Maddie.
Maddie whistled. “She’s gorgeous.”
“Lemme see!” Sarah leaned forward. “Who is she? Hey, that’s a car.”
“Not just a car,” Eileen corrected her. “A fully restored ’68 Mustang ragtop with a four-on-the-floor. And she’s going to be the pin-up girl for my classic car restoration business.”
Sarah leaned over farther toward the phone, then lurched sideways. “Whoa!” She landed hard against Eileen, pushing her off her barstool until Eileen landed on her feet, braced and holding up a drunk bride.
Maddie barely blinked. “It looks like an angel vomited on you.”
“Thanks for the help.” Eileen glanced down at Sarah’s dress and confirmed her suspicion that the tearing sound had been layers of poof renting away from the bridal satin and crinoline underneath it.
“Let’s get you back on your barstool.”
Sarah wrenched out of Eileen’s grasp. “I need to pee.” Faster than Eileen would have thought she could go, the girl staggered off in the general direction of the ladies room.
“If she’s not back in two minutes,” Maddie started.
Eileen nodded. “I’ll go in after her.” She handed over the house flyer to Maddie. “Take a look at this place. It’s in that gated community out by the lake. Very pretty. Very safe.”
“But worth it.” Eileen re-read the list of specs. “It’s got a state-of-the-art security system.”
Maddie handed the page back to her. “I wonder what the hell they kept in there.”
“I don’t know, but it looks like it could keep out damn near anyone.”
Maddie leaned her forearms on the bar and took a long look at Eileen. “Is that the plan, a god-awful expensive security system and a house behind steel gates?”
She shook her head. “Right now, my focus is on the business. The only other plan I have is to make sure Alex stays behind bars as long as possible. Which brings me to a question. What are you doing Tuesday?”
Maddie was looking past Eileen. “I have a doctor’s appointment. Did she just…What the hell? She did!”
Maddie took off around the other end of the bar to get out from behind it. “She pilfered a bottle of wine from the back table,” she called over her shoulder as she hustled past Eileen.
“Of course she did.” Eileen fell into step behind her best friend.
They found Sarah in the ladies’ room, sprawled across the broken down navy blue sofa along the wall – Maddie’s idea, based on something she’d seen in an upscale bar up in Richmond. With her dress poofed out in all its glory, the willowy blond took up two-thirds of the sitting area. In addition to several of the layers of lace that had pulled away from the satin, the dress sported a barely attached left sleeve, a bar-crud caked bottom of the voluminous skirt, and a newly pink bodice. Maddie wrestled the culprit, a now-empty bottle of cheap red wine, out of Sarah’s hand. When Maddie stepped away to toss the bottle into the trash, Eileen saw that the seed pearls on the bodice hadn’t taken the wine stain, creating the ugliest polka-dotted effect she had ever seen.
From somewhere underneath all that lace and crinoline, a cell phone buzzed. Sarah fished under the skirt and pulled out the tiny purse.
“I thought you turned that off that phone at least twice,” Eileen said. She held out her hand, offering help.
Sarah shook her head as she stared at the screen. “This is bad.”
Eileen took the phone. A message from Liz, the sister. Mom found the cab company you used. Making me drive her to the bar. I’ll stall as long as possible.
Eileen handed the phone to Maddie, who rolled her eyes. “Just what I need on a Saturday night.”
“Help me get her up,” Eileen said over Sarah’s head. “We can wipe her off a little and take her out the back door in case the sister can’t stall for long. Sarah? Sarah, are you listening? Will Gerard be at the inn?”
Sarah shook her head.
Eileen looped one of Sarah’s arms around her own neck while Maddie did the same on the other side. They hoisted Sarah to her feet. She was a skinny thing, but she was tall and nearly dead weight.
“No sense wiping her off now,” Maddie said. “God knows what you’ll have to clean off her by the time you get out to the lake.”
“Gee, thanks,” Eileen said. “You are all kinds of helpful tonight.”
They maneuvered Sarah into the tiny hallway that led to the back door.
“Wait,” Sarah mumbled. “You’ll drive me away from Linney? You’d do that for me?”
“That’s what we’ve been trying to tell you for the past half hour, kid.” Maddie leaned forward a few inches as they drag-carried Sarah between them. “Leen, before you take our blushing bride to sleep off her wedding night, why’d you ask about Tuesday?”
Eileen pushed her hip against the steel back door and spilled out into the parking lot. “Parole hearing Tuesday morning.”
“Alex is up for parole? How”
“First offense, so apparently two and a half years are enough.” Eileen pushed down the side of Sarah’s dress so they could maneuver the monstrosity through the back door.
“I’ll be there,” Maddie said.
“You’re not missing your doctor’s appointment.”
“It’s in the afternoon. Tuesday morning, bright and early, pick me up in that hot rod of yours.”
“Thanks Mads. Now help me get the bride and her lovely gown into the backseat.”
“Thanks Mads! Thanks Leen!” Sarah swayed, pulled away from them, bent forward, and lost a night’s worth of cocktails and bar fruit all over the front of her dress and one of Eileen’s favorite cowboy boots.
Eileen clenched a fist and took a deep breath. “Better here than in my car.”
They shook the mess out of the lace as best they could, then helped Sarah stumble the few feet to the car and got her and her dress – vomit side up – onto the ridiculously expensive, reclaimed red leather seat. Maddie clapped Eileen on the shoulder. “Better you than me.”
“You say that now,” Eileen called after her as Maddie headed back into the bar, “but the mother sounds like real piece of work.”
“Ugh, Linney,” Sarah mumbled.
“Don’t worry,” Eileen said as she slid into the driver’s seat. “I have a feeling Linney Newman is about to meet her match.”