Jennifer

Many years before The Love Sucks Club was even on my radar, before I had even entertained the idea of writing any novels at all, I wrote a short story called “Dreams.” It started in high school, with a short story about a woman who told her dreams to her partner every morning when she woke up. The main character was Jennifer and my teacher found it fascinating – as did I – it stayed in my head for almost twenty years until I wrote the following story.

A few years after writing this story, a conversation with my best friend Aj led to the idea of The Love Sucks Club and Jennifer popped into my mind again. Something about her appealed to me and though I didn’t see her having her own book, I wasn’t quite ready to put her in the bottom of the dead ideas pile. I pulled it out, polished it off, and opened a novel with it. Jennifer from this story became Esmé in The Love Sucks Club and the narrator became Dana.

I found this story again tonight while going through the old “fragments and short stories never published” folder and decided to bring it out to show how sometimes the writing process really can take over twenty years from start to finish.

 

Dreams

       It all comes down to this. Her body under mine is slim, yet soft. Her wet bikini leaves smears of water on my clothes. I push salty strands of hair out of her face and as I press my mouth against hers, I think, “This is the moment in which my entire life changes forever.”

Jennifer looked a bit like a teenage boy. She was slim and long. Her legs seemed to bend at strange angles when she sat and somehow, she always seemed in danger of knocking something over with her elbows. Jennifer’s deep brown hair, longish over the face, short everywhere else, stuck up in impossible pieces all over her head. Yet, there was something so female about her, something in the curve of her jaw, or the length of her neck, or the perfect shape of her ears.

I saw Jennifer for the first time at a beach bar on Strand St. I was sitting alone with my notebook, nursing a beer. I heard the men in the bar muttering to themselves, but I didn’t pay much attention. On an island as small as this, any new girl is a reason for a press release. I continued to scribble dream worlds in my notebook. I fancy myself a writer, some cross between Robert A. Heinlein without the nipple fixation and Robert B. Parker without the testosterone.

I didn’t look up again until a few droplets of water across my page interrupted my thoughts. I blinked against the glare which was outlining the most striking woman I had ever seen. I don’t think I thought she was beautiful, or even hot, not then, but she left me stunned. Her mouth was full and smiling, and her face completely open. Her eyes, hazel, with flecks of gold were full of amusement and vitality. I just looked at her, my face impassive.

“Hi, I’m Jennifer.”

I nod. Look pointedly down at my notebook and back up at her.

“The guys at the bar told me not to talk to you.”

“They were probably right,” I answered, looking back down at my notes.

“They said you believe that your dreams tell the future.”

I ignored her and  sat, trying to write, trying to think of anything that could take my attention, while she stood there for several moments. I could feel her eyes on the top of my head and I fought against every impulse in my body that was telling me to look up. Finally, I heard her leaving. I waited a few minutes, then got up and left. They know me here, I spend enough time at this table, drinking their booze and eating their overpriced fried food to warrant a tab that I pay on a monthly basis. There are advantages to being the local celebrity.

Three days later, I took my morning coffee onto the deck and Jennifer was sitting on a lounge chair. I glared at her.

“You’re on private property.”

“I asked the bartender where you live. She said I couldn’t miss it. She was right. It’s beautiful up here, do you live alone?”

“I live alone because I prefer to be alone, “ I snapped. “What do you want?”

“I read Annabelle’s Lies,” she said quietly. “I had a dream that we met and fell in love.”

I sat down, and passed a hand over my eyes. Annabelle’s Lies. I didn’t want to be reminded of Annabelle or her lies. I glanced at Jennifer, resisting the urge to straighten the hair that was blowing across her face.

Several hours later, Jennifer was still occupying my space, drinking my booze and rummaging in my refrigerator. She moved constantly, opening and closing books, looking at my artwork, touching the glass frames. Her hands were always in motion, she had a frenetic energy that kept me in a constant state of anticipation. Everything she said, everything she did seemed like a prelude to something else. My head was spinning.

Five days later, she hadn’t left. I took her back to her hotel to get her clothes. I took her to K-mart, the island’s only store to stock up on bathroom supplies and makeup and postcards. She cleaned my kitchen and cooked for me. I didn’t eat fried bar food for five whole days.

During the day, we went to secluded beaches and snorkeled and swam. On shore, she fed me fruit and wine from her picnic basket, while I rubbed her pale skin with suntan lotion. She jet-skied while I watched.  She went diving. She jumped off of a cliff. She learned how to kite surf and parasail and skydive, and I paced obsessively on the shore, sure she was never coming back. At night, I made love to her on the porch, under the stars and let her gently mock my awkward fumbling.

“It’s been three years,” I muttered. “And there was no one before Annabelle.”

“I know,” she whispered back. “I know.”

Every morning, she made me tell her my dreams, sure that there was meaning in every one. She quoted to me from my novel, in which I wrote about my dream of the Old Man and the Sea. I was a young boy, and I sat in a boat, and the old man wanted to tell me something, but I could never understand what it was. After Annabelle died, I finally figured it out, but it was too late. I talked about the old man, but I wouldn’t talk about Annabelle. I wouldn’t talk about those dreams. I talked about all of the others, though. Jennifer loved to hear about my dreams, and I elaborated on them, weaving her into my tales of lucid dreaming, precognition, and fairy tale worlds.

Five days.  This morning, I refused to tell Jennifer about my dream. I didn’t want her to leave the house today, but she insisted we go out and be among people. Jennifer didn’t want me to be a hermit, she didn’t want the others to hate me, to tell the tourists not to talk to me. She wanted to go snorkeling, she wanted to be in the water. Jennifer insisted. It is important to remember that Jennifer insisted.

It all comes down to this. Her body under mine is slim, yet soft. Her wet bikini leaves smears of water on my clothes. I push salty strands of hair out of her face and as I press my mouth against hers, I think, “this is the moment in which my entire life changes forever.” I breathe hard into her mouth, then switch my hands to her sternum. I fall into the rhythm of the CPR. Push, push, push, breathe, repeat. The familiarity weighs on my shoulder. I breathe into her mouth over and over, until the ambulance shows up and the EMTs take over. This is it, this is the pattern of my life.

I don’t think I will dream tonight.

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