I had a really difficult time picking this week’s novel excerpt. I take that to be a good thing: I don’t want to share much about the new project yet because I like it all too much. I want certain scenes to remain just for me for now.
That being said, I’m sharing a short scene that took a bit of work to flesh out, mostly because I second-guessed myself on what details to include and which to leave out, and how much dialogue was TOO MUCH dialogue (although I’m starting to think dialogue may be one of my strengths). But I still like where this new project is headed, and it’s gotten me excited about writing again.
Enjoy! Let me know what you think.
It was sunny, and the wooden tables inside the pub looked the brightest they had yet. Xander could see every speckle of dust as it danced in the sun rays. The ale handles looked dull in the sunlight, and with the regulars not in yet and the odd patron spread out across the tables watching the TVs or on their phones, Xander went to look for the brass polish.
She was absentmindedly polishing the ale handles, vigorously polishing a surface that would get fingerprints on it in a matter of hours. Being able to see her face clearer and clearer the more she rubbed and applied pressure, the dirtier the cloth got, the more satisfaction she felt.
“I could do my make-up off these handles,” she said out loud.
“You don’t need make-up,” a voice said.
Xander looked around and found its source. A man leaning on the bar on both his elbows. The early October air was crisp, and his leather jacket didn’t look very warm, but his smile didn’t betray him and only projected confidence and amusement. And with his fade cut and dirty brown hair, easily six feet and a few inches tall, of course he’d be confident.
“And that’s not a compliment,” Xander said. She smiled back and put the brass polish and dirty rag in the sink. “You alright?”
“I’d be better with a pint of cider, please,” he said and winked. She looked straight at him and didn’t look away while she grabbed a glass. She pulled the cider handle and turned her attention to the pouring liquid – getting the foam right on this one was tricky.
“Yeah, I think it’s the weather, but it’s still early.”
“Ooh,” he said and smiled again. Don’t ask. Don’t do it. “Where is that accent from?”
C’mon, dude. “I’m American.”
“That’s near New York, right?”
“No, not really,” she said and put the pint in front of him. “It’s closer to Washington, D.C.”
“Oh, right. What brings you here, then?”
Jesus Christ. “Just wanted to try living out here.”
“No family here, or anything?”
“I have an aunt out in Cheshire somewhere, but we’re not close.”
“Interesting,” he said. “Have you seen much of London yet?”
“I haven’t been here since I was a kid, so not much yet, no.”
“I’ll be back on your day off and we can do something.”
“Want to pay for that pint first, though?” Gross. Do better.
He laughed and handed her a £10 note. He offered light resistance when she went to take it, waiting until she looked at him before releasing. He winked again.
“Something wrong with your eye?” Xander said and turned to punch in the numbers on the register. She turned around with the man’s change, but he had gone to a corner table already. She waved his change in his direction, but he shook his head as he took another sip of his drink. She shook her head and dropped the £5.70 in the tip jar.
“Xander, darlin’, I’m ready if you’re done batting your eyes at that fella.” Steve had moved from his seat to the side of the bar he never saw.
“What were you hollerin’, Steve?” There was no way to save face, but she pulled another pint as Steve drained the remaining of his old one. She saw Neal lighting up a cigarette at the door, and she added Steve’s third pint to his tab before pulling Neal’s Sagres.
“He’s cute!” Steve said. “You going home with him after your shift?”
“Let’s not be nasty, yeah?” Xander said.
Steve raised his eyebrow and took a sip of his drink. Xander had the Sagres ready when Neal walked in and sat three stools away from Steve. When she put the pint in front of him, he smiled. “Thanks, lovely. You alright, Steve.”
“Hey, Xander, when you’re ready.”
“Hey, Danny,” Xander said and checked her watch. “Damn, that time already?”
“You by yourself today, girl?” Neal said. “It won’t stay quiet for long.”
Xander was grabbing Danny’s Bulmer’s and his glass, remembering to squat down, not bend over. “Tara is downstairs, and I think Shannon is coming in an hour.”
“Thanks, Xander,” Danny said and handed his money. “There’s a few people on the other side.”
“Oh fuck’s sake,” she said and handed him his change. “Not you, Danny, my bad. But if it’s gonna get busy– ”
Danny laughed. “So polite. It’s fine. Go, go.”
Xander walked back to the other side and the cider man was back and smiling, and another woman was a few feet away from him.
“What can I get you?” Xander asked the woman.
“Glass of house red, please, love. Large.”
Nodding, Xander went to the man. “Same again?”
“Yes, please, love,” he said and winked again.
“You know, if your contacts are bothering you or something, I have eyedrops.”
Xander poured the glass of wine and cashed out the customer. She took the empty glass he’d brought back and put it on the dirties tray, then grabbed a clean glass before pouring another cider. The man was still looking at her and she couldn’t not smile at him.
“Here you go. That’s £4.30, and don’t go without getting your change again.”
“You know,” the woman with the wine said. “If she’s being nasty, sit with me and have a chat.”
Xander let out a snort as she punched in the man’s pint and got his change for a £5 note. The woman took big swigs of wine and showed her crooked teeth at the man. The sun shining through the window wasn’t doing her any favors and showed every stain on them, along with flyaway hairs on her head.
“You’re alright,” the man said, not looking away from Xander. “What time do you finish your shift?”
“11,” Xander said.
“What are you doing after?”
“I’m going home,” Xander said.
“Can I walk you home?”
“Fuckin’ hell,” the woman said and scrambled off the stool. Xander laughed as the woman went to sit outside and almost run into the door on the way out.
“No, thanks,” Xander said. “I live far away.”
“I don’t care,” the man said. “How far?”
“Essex,” Xander said and walked around the bar to the floor. She heard the man laugh as she did her glass collection run. With one bottle in hand a mixed-drink glass in the other, she walked to the other side of the bar, nearly colliding with Tara as she opened the cellar door.
“Sorry, darlin,’” she said. “You okay?”
“She’s left us lonely, Tara,” Steve said. “That bloke on the other side has had her attention for an hour.”
“Jesus, relax, Steve,” Xander said. “I know you don’t drink that fast.”
“Take a little break, darlin’,” Tara said. “Before it gets busy.”
“Okay,” Xander said. “Neal, let me get you another one first.”
“Thanks, lovely.” Neal was counting his change already.
Xander poured the pint and put the money in the register before filling a glass with coke from the soda gun. She took it and walked around to sit next to Neal. She felt the man stare at her from the other side of the bar, from his lonely table.
“He botherin’ you, darlin’?” Neal said when she sat down.
“Nah, he’s fine. Keeps winking, though.” Xander took a sip. Coke here tasted different than at home.
“You’ll be careful, yeah? Get one of us to walk you home or pay for a taxi.”
“I’ll be okay. He won’t be here for long anyway.”
“Yeah?” Neal said and took a sip of his Sagres.
“Well, look at him,” Xander said and took another sip of her drink, looking behind Neal’s head. “He’s dressed like he’s going somewhere, probably The Roundhouse or Camden, and he’s probably in here meeting someone before they head out. Then it’ll be the end of my shift and I’ll be home.”
“He can wait for you,” Neal said. “Come back here after he’s had a few.”
“That’s why I told him I work until 11 when I really finish at 9.”
Neal laughed. “What are you like, girl!”
“Can’t trust a man who drinks alone,” Xander said.
“You sayin’ I’m dodgy?” Neal said, raising his eyebrows but the corners of his mouth were twitching. “I was gonna buy you a drink later, but not anymore.”
“You’re not drinking alone, though,” Xander said. “You’re drinking with me.” She clinked her glass to his with a smile and took a sip. Neal laughed and took a sip himself.
“Look at Steve,” Xander said. “He can be dodgy and annoying, and he’s always drinking alone.”