“As Life Goes: The End of the Innocence” is now off to the editor and I expect to have it available just before the Black Friday / Cyber Monday sales right after Thanksgiving. It is the second book in the “As Life Goes” series; As Life Goes: Elementary is already available.
Excerpts for the books in that series are available via:
As Life Goes: Elementary – Links to Excerpts
As Life Goes: The End of the Innocence – Links to Excerpts
As Life Goes: The End of the Innocence – Excerpt III
Matthew pulled away from Tim’s place on Valley Street and turned left up the steep hill to West Side Field. He took the right turn onto East Street and looked up in the mirror at Melissa who never came up front once Tim got out as she always did.
Matthew looked at the time on the clock, which read a little past nine and turned into the parking lot.
Melissa barely looked out the window and grabbed at her things around her seat. “Are you planning to make me walk down to Carlton Street from here?”
“Of course not,” Matthew answered, shutting the van off and turning to the side in his captain chair seat in order to look directly at her. “What’s going on with you today? You’ve been bi-polar all day. Happy half the time and upset the other half.”
Melissa fidgeted and tugged at her pull over. She then fussed with her hair. She tried to look up in the rear view mirror quickly and then fished through her bag for her brush.
“I presume you’re coming tomorrow and not seeing Paul tonight,” Matthew said looking at her affectionately, watching her combing out her hair.
“No, I’m not seeing him tonight. I have to comb out this rat’s nest of sand and salt water or I’ll look like hell tomorrow too,” she said, sounding agitated.
Matthew looked at her hair, “I get it, I suppose. You look fine. At least I think you do.”
“Ugh!” Melissa huffed pulling more of her hair with the brush.
“What?” Matthew responded defensively. “I meant that.”
“Of course you did; Matthew can do no wrong.”
“What the hell is going on with you?” Matthew said.
Melissa looked up at him, half mad and half upset. She dialed it back because she knew she was out of line. “Forget it. I’m sorry. Long day… it was fun and I want to go tomorrow but I’m tired a little and cranky. Too much sun and then too much pizza…”
“Anything else?” Matthew asked quietly.
A small grin stretched over her lips. “Well, I’m feeling a little crampy ahead of my monthly visitor…”
Matthew playfully winced. “I have to be the only male that gets subjected to this. Alecia and Carrie are getting to be TMI with me too.”
“What can we say,” she said softly and slowly moving up to the front seat. “We trust you. You’re a nice guy. You defend us. You never judge any of us.” She sat in the passenger captain chair sideways to face him and dropped her bag forward.
Matthew looked at her and just stared casually.
“Nothing to say?” Melissa asked. “I figured you’d chime in with one of your pearls of wisdom. We are going to have to start writing them down. Sanfordisms or something like that.”
Matthew shook his head. “No, I was waiting to see what you were going to say next.”
“You’re pretty humble, generally,” she quipped. “Did I miss something pertinent?”
“No,” he answered naturally, leaning backwards part of the way.
“Oh, no” she said in a mischievous tone and raising her right eyebrow upwards. “I am invoking friendship rules. You have to come clean with what you’re thinking…”
“You have to know the rule number,” Matthew said playfully.
Melissa scrunched up her nose and then rested her hands on her knees. “Four,” she said simply. “Unless divulging would break a trust, friends must speak what’s on their mind.”
“That rule can only be invoked once a day,” Matthew said glancing over at the clock. “Time limit?”
“Next five minutes,” she said boldly. “Communication; just the facts and no hurt feelings – go!”
“Okay,” Matthew said with a slight sigh. “I was thinking about the way you and the girls…”
“The guys do too; you’re like their rock,” Melissa quickly added.
Matthew held up his hand, “Okay.” He moved in the seat a little. “I was thinking about just the girls and two things dawned on me.”
“Go on,” Melissa said anxious to hear the rest.
“I realized that as nice as it was to hear, that you and the girls appreciate me and how and where I stand, it dawned on me at that moment that your opinions of me were the ones that mattered the most.”
Melissa smiled warmly. She started to reach over and then hesitated when she thought of Paul.
“Paul,” Matthew said, noticing her movement and then her stopping short. He looked into her deep brown eyes. “It’s okay, I understand.” Matthew looked to his left and casually out the windshield and then back to her. “So what were you so miffed about today?”
Melissa breathed in to respond but Matthew jumped back quickly. “And you can’t simply say, ‘dumb bitch Liz’ like you always do. I want you to tell me specifically what about her tagging along pissed you off today because I know that’s what it was in general.”
Melissa deflated her lungful of air and mulled over what she wanted to say. “Okay… honestly? No holds barred? No guilt involved? I speak my free mind and… you keep me as your best friend?”
“Yes,” Matthew said without hesitation.
Melissa flinched a little. She had tossed in the last part of her comment on a lark and it didn’t faze Matthew at all; he answered it wholeheartedly.
“Okay,” she said sitting upright. “It really pisses me off the way Liz is. Donna and Marie go to school with her at Lyman Hall and they hate how she is. She is conceited and inconsiderate. You made plans with Donna for tomorrow…”
“I made plans with everyone,” Matthew defended casually.
“Yes,” she retorted, tipping her head, “but you asked her in the vein of having her come specifically. Yes, you’d go if she couldn’t and she could have tagged along with Liz, but you asked her specifically so it’s sort of like a public date.”
“I wouldn’t presume to debate your point,” he said playfully smug.
“You would lose,” Melissa responded in kind with a smile. “I mean, you literally just finished asking her to go and Liz had to follow you all the way out to the water. Good thing when you came back out to cozied up to Donna. You scored back lost points…” Melissa trailed off in her comments as a brief unsettled look crossed Matthew’s face. “What happened out there anyway?”
“Oh you know, just chit chat; you know Liz,” Matthew said quickly.
Melissa pointed to the clock. “It’s never just chit chat with her; not since seventh grade when she was kicked out of Dag Hammarskjold Middle School for making out in the stairwell. You’re inside the five minutes.”
“No holds barred? No guilt involved? I speak my free mind and… you keep me as your best friend?” Matthew repeated Melissa’s ask.
“Yes,” she responded nervously. “Or course… to the end of our days.”
“She made a pass at me,” Matthew said quickly. He looked at Melissa’s blank stare. She really didn’t want to hear the rest; he could tell by looking at her.
“How?” she asked Matthew.
“Are you sure…” he started.
“How?” she repeated to him.
“Under the water…” Matthew said looking down and then away. He was somewhat embarrassed to tell her but it was what they both agreed. “I wanted to stop her and say ‘no’ but the second she touched me…”
“You had sex with her in the ocean? In plain sight of everyone?” Melissa said with a roar.
“No, no, no!” Matthew quickly defended. “No,” he continued squirming in his seat. “Firstly, I’ve never done that… I’m still… well… you know.”
A look of relief washed over Melissa’s face.
“She reached for my swim trunks under the water and touched me. I was excited. As much as I wanted her to stop, I wanted her to keep going. And she did. She reached inside.”
“And?” Melissa asked.
“And eventually I couldn’t take what she was doing anymore and I… well… you know.” Matthew said with a slight smile.
“Eeeww. In the water?” Melissa said puckering up her face.
“What?” Matthew said. “It’s the Atlantic Ocean, not a pool. There’s a ton of salt in the water already, and all the marine life, large and small, do far more than what I did in there.”
Melissa burst out laughing and Matthew was happy to have the tension broken so he laughed along with her.
He glanced over at the clock as it went past the five-minute mark.
“So have you ever?” he asked her. “You know… with a boy?”
“No,” she answered looking at the time as well. “Second base is as far as I let them go. If I touch them when we kiss it’s always on the outside of their pants, if at all.” She looked over at him and then at the clock. “So never?”
“No,” Matthew said. “I never tried entirely so I don’t know if I could have or not. I never went in prepared, you know, carrying a condom or anything, so I don’t know.”
“Third base?” she asked.
Matthew turned up the corner of his mouth slightly and Melissa asked nothing further.
“So I know we’re past our time and all, but why does my interest with Liz bother you?” he asked starting the van and turning around to face forward. “At some level it’s always bothered you. You’re the one with the steady boyfriends since ninth grade; what’s the big deal who I am infatuated with?”
“I don’t know really,” she said softly, moving to sit forward herself. “Maybe because I know it’s an infatuation and risky that I don’t want your feelings hurt… Maybe I think you’re this awesome person that deserves someone that can really appreciate all of you and what you offer to them.”
“She doesn’t?” He asked, dropping the van into drive.
“Hell no,” she answered loudly. “I supposed there’s someone for everyone but she doesn’t deserve you.”
“And you do?” he blurted out quickly and looked at her.
Melissa turned red and quickly responded “I never said I did. And I am seeing someone.”
“You never said you didn’t either,” Matthew said. He waited for her to follow up more but she stayed quiet the remaining two blocks to her house.
Once there Matthew turned off the van and hopped out. He grabbed the left over pizza for her to take in and she grabbed her things. The two of them walked toward the door of her mother’s apartment. Matthew looked up quickly to see the curtains move and come to rest. He smiled a little and then turned to Melissa.
Melissa opened up the front door and dropped her things inside. Matthew stepped inside to set the pizza carry out box down.
“So tomorrow then?” he said.
“Yep,” she responded brightly.
Matthew stood at the door and looked down into her eyes. He caught himself in the pause and taking half a step forward. He immediately stepped back.
“Okay,” he said leaning toward outside. “I’ll see you then.”
“Matthew,” Melissa said calling out quickly.
He turned around, looked right into her dark brown eyes, and only stared.
“We were talking just before, when I said how we girls thought of you. You said ‘two things dawned on me.’ You only told me one. I’d really like to know what the other thing was.”
Matthew breathed in deeply and turned to face her. “Do you remember fifth grade when we first met?”
“Yes,” she said, fondly recalling some of the memories that quickly flooded her thoughts.
“I was thinking of the kind things you were saying about me, that you and the girls thought. And then I thought about how it really only mattered to me what you thought.”
“Yes, you told me that,” she said softly. “What was the other thing?”
“I though how nice and warm it made me feel that you thought those good things of me. Like in fifth grade when you used to tell me I was the nicest boy you ever met. I realized suddenly that somewhere along the way, in middle school I think, you stopped saying it. I realized I missed it and I hoped I still was that ‘boy’ to you.”
“You remember that?” A flood of emotion poured over Melissa and she struggled to keep herself in check. “I still feel exactly that way about you.”
“It’s nice to know that.” Matthew smiled softly, took two steps backwards, and called out. “See you tomorrow.” Matthew hustled around the van and got in. Melissa closed the front door, pressing her right hand on it, leaving it there, and just stared at it.
Once she couldn’t hear the sound of the engine anymore because the van pulled away and around the corner, she burst into uncontrollable tears.