Hello, Readers! Well, about that NaNoWriMo…
But that’s okay! I’m still working on the book I started for NaNoWriMo and hope to have it finished and ready for edits by January. I have another chapter preview for you, too.
About the Book:
When Alex agreed to spend spring break camping with his best friend from college, he expected Emily to actually go with him. Stuck in her dorm with the flu, Emily convinces Alex to go enjoy the outdoors and finish working on his master’s degree thesis. Alex has never been much for the great outdoors, but some peace and quiet away from a bustling college campus is too tempting to pass up. Loaded down with hastily bought camping supplies and enough bug spray to fumigate an apartment complex, Alex heads off into adventure.
But, Emily forgot to mention one minor detail: her brother, Ryan. Now Alex is stuck inside a tiny cabin in the middle of nowhere, with no cell service, no heat and a distractingly handsome man who is completely off-limits. As his thesis goes nowhere, Alex may go insane from attempting to act as hetero as possible around Ryan, if the mosquitoes don’t eat him alive first.
“You don’t camp much, do you?” Ryan laughs when he opens the fridge to find half a grocery store stuffed inside.
“No,” I grouse. “Emily was going to take care of the groceries once we got into Ashwood. “And I don’t grocery shop all that much to begin with, so… I may’ve just grabbed what seemed logical.”
He takes out a jar of olives and holds it up. “Logical?”
“Some people like olives,” I mutter with a shrug. “In their martinis,” I finish much quieter.
“Martinis?” he asks, to which I point over to the counter where bottles of vodka, vermouth, rum and peach schnapps are lined up like a frat party bar. He looks back at me with a shake of the head. “Thought you were here to work on your thesis?”
“Write drunk, edit sober,” I offer with a cheeky grin. “Emily and I made a deal with ourselves to not be total overachieving study nerds the entire week.”
He puts the olives back in the fridge. “Guess I can understand that. At least she wasn’t planning to bring a boyfriend up here. Uh, you two are just friends, right?”
“Right!” I shrink away from the protective brother grizzly bear look he’s giving me over the open fridge door. “Just friends. Don’t get me wrong, Emily is wonderful, but-”
I stop. Evaluate my situation. Decide not to leap out of the closet into unknown territory. He’s asking, so Emily obviously hasn’t divulged the fact we play on the same team. Best just leave it that way.
“She’s not my type, romantically speaking.” Well, not a total lie. I love her, but Emily and I together? Hah! We’d kill each other within a week. “Besides, we’re both way too busy with our degrees right now to deal with relationships that go beyond coffee dates and study groups.”
He nods at that and starts taking a few items out of the fridge. “Emily always did put her studies before anything else. You mastering in psychology, too?”
“Sociology, but our studies cross paths a lot, and we share two classes.”
“Sociology… Like social studies?”
“Right.” I examine the items he’s taken out and try to determine what he’s going to make with what I now realize is a totally random assortment of food I’ve filled his kitchen with. “My primary focus is the way in which evolving technology changes aspects of society. It mirrors well with Emily’s focus on the psychological effects of technology dependence, so we’re often using the same reference materials.”
He shrugs, a jar of mayo in his hands. “I don’t really get the difference in all the ‘ologies’. They didn’t teach psychology in high school, and social studies was a watered down gruel of politics, culture and geography.”
I think on that for a moment as I watch him grab some paper plates and open the buns. My eyes betray me for a second and take a peek at his buns as he turns around to grab silverware out of a drawer behind him. As he turns back around, I quickly avert my gaze back to the edible buns.
“Oh, uhm,” I clear my throat as my mind stumbles. “Emily studies people at a micro level, I guess, focusing on the mental changes, adaptations and coping mechanisms humans implement in response to technology. I look at things from a macro level, more of the big picture, using statics, data and research to determine the ways in which technology effects not only groups of people, but how those groups interact with other groups. How ideas are exchanged. How trade is conducted. If it effects what they buy, when they buy…”
He’s nodding along as I talk, but I’m not sure if he’s actually listening. Honestly, I get that it’s dry, and I usually lose people at ‘statistics and research’.
“What they buy, when they buy,” he repeats while mixing spices into some of the ground beef I bought. “Do you plan on getting a job in marketing, then?”
I cringe at the topic, not because I don’t know what I plan to do with my degree, but because of what it’s expected that I do with my degree. “Maybe.” That’s a nice, unassuming word. A middle ground. A way to avoid discussing the topic further. “What about you?” And if all else fails, flip the question. “How’d you get into photography?”
“My mom was a photographer.” He speaks much more candidly about his parents than Emily does. “And my grandpa helped me get into it, too.”
“Cool.” Lame response, I know, but I don’t really know what to say when discussions allude to things involving deceased loved ones. Once again, I seek something else to talk about. “What are you making?”
“Hamburgers.” He stops pounding the meat in his fist and- Oh my God, I just went there… “You’re not a vegetarian, are you?”
Alex… He’s waiting… with his meat in his hand… Stop it!
“N-no,” I cough out the word. “I like meat.”
“Good,” he says and continues to massage the meat with spices.
I bite my tongue to keep unwanted noises from escaping my throat. Distraction. I require a distraction. Futilely, I take out my smartphone and sigh at its lack of signal. “Emily wanted me to call her.”
Ryan sets two pounded meat patties on a paper plate. “So… call her. And tell her she’s got some explaining to do to her big brother.”
I turn my phone around to show him. “No signal.”
He leans in a bit. “Your Wi-Fi is off.”
“Yes,” I confirm while trying not to stare too deeply into the stormy gray blue Ryan has for eyes, then explain further as he raises an eyebrow. “The campus Wi-Fi is finicky, constantly disconnecting and re-connecting. It runs down my phone’s battery.”
“Turn it back on,” he instructs then goes to the big white ceramic farmhouse sink to wash his hands.
I watch him for a second, noting there seems to be decent water pressure and reminding myself to ask him about a shower… Alone. Not a shower with him, but- Focus.
I tap over to the settings on my phone and switch on the Wi-Fi. It immediately pics up a public channel and connects, no password required. A few seconds later, my data and call signals jump to three bars.
“How-?” I start then answer my own question. With my field of study, I have to be on top of evolving technology like this. “You have a mobile tower?”
“Yup.” He shuts off the sink and heads back to the fridge. “Can’t run a business these days without some sort of connection to the outside world.”
A low whistle passes between my lips. “Those aren’t cheap.”
“A buddy of mine got me a good deal on a used one.” He puts lettuce on the counter. “They’re actually pretty common around here.” Then an onion. “They have to be.” Cheese slices. “There’s a nature protection law or something that prevents companies from building actual cell towers in these woods.” Tomatoes. “And you shouldn’t stick tomatoes in the fridge. They get mushy and tasteless.”
“Oh, sorry. Wait, if you have a mobile cell, you have internet? And you should password protect your connection…”
“Who’s going to steal my connection? The bears?”
I chuckle nervously. “So, you do have bears around here…”
“Yes,” he smirks. “But they only Google sites about bee keeping and hibernation techniques.”
“Ha-ha,” I say dryly, but I like his humor. “Internet….?”
“Yes, I have internet, and cable TV. It’s not that new super high speed stuff you’re used to, but they ran the cable when a few rich folks built big vacation homes near the river. God forbid they come out here on vacation and not have television.”
I raise one eyebrow at him, and he laughs, getting my implication without me saying a word. And damn me, because his laugh is one of those light, gentle laughs that gives a guy goosebumps. And I’m not just talking about on my arms…
“I know, I know,” he says, one hand raised in resignation while the other holds a knife. “I have those rich folks to thank for being able to watch hockey and Game of Thrones.”
“Hockey? Really?” Mentally, I tick a box next to the ‘Ryan is absolutely straight’ scorecard I’ve started.
“Boston Bruins all the way, man.” He does that little chuckle again, a grin stretching his beard.
I bet he has a baby face underneath it. “Now I know where Emily gets it.” The hockey, not the baby face…
“Are you kidding?” He makes quick work of putting a layer of lettuce on the buns and slicing the tomatoes. “Other way around. I swear, she only went to MU in Boston to be closer to Garden Stadium where they play.” He holds up a slice of tomato.
I nod and he puts the slice on what I suspect is going to be my hamburger bun. “She took me to a game last fall,” I admit. “It was cold. And loud. And I didn’t really understand what was going on aside from a bunch of guys hitting a puck, and each other, with sticks.”
“Not a sports fan, then?”
His question could be conceived as dangerous in some crowds, so I choose my answer carefully. “I don’t mind them, but I won’t stop to watch a game if I have something better to do. I’m more into… movies and video games, not that I have much time for anything these days that doesn’t involve a library card or my research badge at Franklyn Labs.”
“Of course. Who doesn’t put mayo on their cheese burgers?”
“You’d be surprised how many around here only like ketchup or mustard.”
I scrunch my nose. “Mustard…”
“Ew,” we say together then laugh.
“C’mon,” he says, picking up the plate with the uncooked beef in one hand a two beers fisted in the other.
Curious, I follow. He flicks on a switch and leads us out the back door. Overhead, a mosquito lamp buzzes, providing a small ring of light against the dark woods. The sun hasn’t completely set yet, but it’s low behind the trees. The sky has gone this dark blue color, beautiful yet foreboding about the oncoming night. A few steps beyond the door is a picnic table, and beyond that a ring of stones circling the charred remains of a campfire.
“You can set that down there.” He puts the two beers and the plate of meat on the table then heads for the campfire. “What’s Franklyn Labs?”
I watch as he takes a few split wood planks and arranges them in the pit. Two metal prongs protrude, and I think they hold a spit of some sort. Guess we’re having grilled hamburgers, open flame style.
“Franklyn Labs is where I do intern work for my degree. Public survey evaluations and statistical analysis, mostly.”
“Boring. You can say it.”
“Okay, it sounds boring.”
“It can be,” I admit. “But sometimes the research can be interesting, too. I mean, have you ever stopped to think about how much our society has changed in the past decade due to smartphones? And- Oh, I should probably call Emily.”
“Probably. I’ll get the fire started. Be sure and tell her I owe her one.”
I pause as I tap over to my phone’s contact list. “One what?”
“She’ll know,” he smirks then goes back to the fire.
Thank you for continuing to read my stories, and I look forward to kicking NaNoWriMo’s butt next year!