Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Test Scene

Okay, friends:

Novels are all about eliciting emotion. So I've written this scene, and I need to know how it makes you feel about Michael, the husband, Ginger, the wife, and Penny, the sister-in-law Michael is talking to. If you could please just leave a brief comment and let me know how you're FEELING about each one after reading this scene, you'd be helping me out. :-) Thanks!

The scene is from Penny's point of view. Michael has just come from talking to his wife, who discovered earlier that he's had an affair.

Pennyroyal


The kitchen has filled with the aromatic scents of vanilla and coffee beans by the time I hear footsteps on the stairs. I turn, not sure who’ll I find on the landing. A smile tugs at my mouth when I see Michael, but the tortured expression on his face forces me to turn away.

So . . . Miss Perfect Example of a Model Marriage isn’t ready to forgive and forget. Something in me wondered if she would rather sweep the incident under the rug and go into denial rather than face the truth about her perfect husband, but apparently she’s decided to face reality.

I should send her an official invitation to the Betrayed Wives Club.

I catch Michael’s eye as he stops at the foot of the stairs and rubs the back of his neck. “I’d offer you a place on the couch, but I don’t think you’ll want to be here when Ginger gets up tomorrow morning. I did make you some coffee, though.”

He gives me a rueful smile. “Did you make it with rat poison?”

“Shoot, I knew I forgot something. You’re in luck—we cleaned out the kitchen drawers today. Not a spoonful of rat killer to be found in this entire house.”

Michael moves to the bar and perches on a stool as I open a box and pull out a mug. “Do you take cream and sugar?”

“I think I’d better take it black. It’s going to be a long drive home.”

I pour the steaming liquid into the cup, then slide it across the bar. He lifts the mug, then raises a brow. “Why are you still speaking to me?”

I lean against the counter and cross my arms. “I always liked you, Michael. And, believe it or not, I understand that marriages can get stale. I’m not happy about you cheating on my sister, but there’s no sense in pretending that these things never happen.” I shrug. “I might even be a little relieved that now Ginger will have to step off her soapbox and stop preaching to me and Rose. But we’ll take care of her. You don’t have to worry about that.”

A half-hearted smile flits across his face, then he sips from his mug. “This is good. Aren’t you having any?”

“I shouldn’t. I need to sleep tonight. Ginger can be a slave driver, you know.”

“Oh, I know.” He takes another sip and lowers the cup back to the counter. I suspect Michael is stalling because he wants to talk, but I’m not sure he should be talking to me. Even though we’ve been related for twenty-seven years, I’ve always suspected that Michael doesn’t take me seriously because I never finished college and I don’t like to talk about politics and world affairs.

But at the moment, I’m the only person around.

“Did, um—” he turns the handle on his coffee mug— “did Ginger say much to you and Rose?”

“Ginger never shares much with us. But she shared enough for us to understand what happened.”

He grimaces, and his dark eyes brim with threatening tears. “I hate that this is happening. I didn’t mean to hurt her. If you knew how I’ve agonized—”

“You weren’t thinking about her, that’s the point. And you know what they say about a man who takes fire into his hand—he’s gonna get burned.” The quote isn’t Shakespeare, but it’s enough to make him wince.

“I don’t want to lose my wife, Pen. It was a mistake, an infatuation. Theresa kept after me, waiting for me after class, coming to my office for advice, managing to meet me in the parking lot every morning. I was . . . flattered. She was attractive, and very intelligent. She’s brilliant, actually.”

“Your wife isn’t exactly chopped liver.”

“But you know how it is—marriage gets comfortable after a few years. And this woman was so . . . exotic. She listened to me. She said she needed me. And now she’s pregnant.”

This news slams into me with the force of a blow. Michael has been caught in a trap, complete with iron bars and a pick-proof lock. The conniving temptress did her work well.

His face transforms, the handsome and detached veneer peeling back to reveal the agony underneath. “I don’t know what to do.” He folds his arms on the counter and casts me a look of helpless appeal. “Ever since I heard that Theresa might be pregnant, I’ve been thinking about this. I’ve considered the problem from all angles, and the best solution isn’t what I want to do. But it’s the only way I can own up to my mistake, keep my job, and continue providing for my sons. I have to walk away from someone, but if I walk away from Theresa, she’ll destroy me. And then I’ll have nothing to offer anyone.”

“I wonder—” my voice is dry— “what made this woman think you had much to offer in the first place.”

Michael drops his head onto his folded arms, quietly and thoroughly going to pieces. The sound of his contrite sobs strikes me as surreal—I feel like I’m watching a Star Trek rerun, and Spock has just collapsed in a crying jag.

After a few minutes, I lean my elbows on the counter and look my brother-in-law directly in the eye. “Get a hold of yourself and listen to me. Have you seen a genuine pregnancy report? Something from a doctor’s office?”

He lifts his head and blows his nose, then wearily props his chin on his hand. “Yeah. I have. And I hate to admit it, but I found myself hoping that she’d miscarry or choose—you know, not to have the baby. But she’s determined.”

“Of course she is. So don’t you dare think of this woman as innocent, because she’s obviously clever enough to get you where she wants you. Let me guess—she said you wouldn’t need to worry about birth control, right?” When his eyes close, I shake my head. “You’re such a man, Michael. You’re smart, but your brains go right out the window when your hormones get stirred up. Face it, this other woman played you, and now Ginger and the boys are going to pay the price.”

His lips tighten. “Do you think Ginger will—”

“Divorce you? I don’t see any reason for her to stay with you.”

The tension on his face dissolves into a bewildered expression of hurt. “I never thought I’d be asking Ginger for a divorce, but I can’t see any other answer. Theresa could make things miserable for me at the university if I don’t marry her.”

“I thought you couldn’t be fired. That you had immunity or something.”

His mouth twists with bitter humor. “Tenure doesn’t mean I couldn’t be fired for gross misconduct. If I abandon Theresa, she could claim sexual harassment.”

“Would she?”

He considers a moment. “Yeah, she would. I’d lose my job.”

“What about your family? Can you just walk away from them?”

“Would I really be walking away? Ross and Ryan are practically grown, and I’m sure most of their friends have divorced parents. I could stay in touch with them and with Ginger; there’s no reason this has to spell disaster. Ginger’s always been independent and capable, she’ll be fine on her own.”

Overcome by sheer disbelief at his matter-of-fact summation, I can’t speak. Ginger has always said that Michael lives more in his head than in his emotions, and now I see the proof of it. He speaks like a true professor, a man who regularly turns problems into logical solutions. I can’t disagree with his argument; his sensible conclusion sounds like something I might have come up with. Being the man he is, Michael will want to marry the other woman. He can even cloak himself in responsibility, claiming that his unborn child needs a father.

But what about the wife and sons he will abandon? Though I can appreciate the common sense in his proposed solution, I can’t deny the heartbreak he will cause.

“I don’t understand,” I say, the words hurting my throat, “why this other woman can’t see that a man who’d cheat on his wife will also cheat on her, but maybe she only wants you for a couple of years. So drink your coffee, stiffen your spine, and go back to Savannah. Ginger will come home when she’s ready.”

Michael looks at me, his eyes soft with pain. “It’s the best thing, you know. Ginger will want to divorce me. No one will blame her for doing it.”

“You may be right,” I answer, “but that doesn’t mean she’ll be happy afterward.”

Michael stares at the counter for a moment, then he gulps his coffee down. He lowers the mug and runs the back of his hand across his mouth. “I never thought I’d be gratefulthat you were around to talk to Ginger. You’re more experienced in these matters, so I know you’ll give her good advice.”

For some reason, the compliment stings.

“If Ginger wants to talk,” Michael continues, “tell her to call me. I’m not going to bother her any more, but I’ll keep my phone on.”

I nod. “Goodbye, then.”

He moves toward the door, picks up the overnight bag he dropped on his way in, and steps onto the front porch. He casts a look at me, a wordless plea for mercy or sympathy or understanding, but I send him on his way with a curt wave. “Drive safely, Michael. Have a nice life.”


10 comments:

Lynda in MO said...

Thanks, Angie, this was fun!

I don't like Penny much. She strikes me as a little smug and filled with some kind of bitterness - a part of her is almost gleeful about her sister's situation.

I feel Michael's pain, but I don't much like the way his "solution" is all about protecting him and his job! He reminds me of people who aren't sorry for what they did, just sorry they got caught!

I don't feel like I have a clear piture of Ginger - don't know how much to believe because the descriptions of her are coming from two flawed people, who both have issues with her.

SmilingSally said...

Poor Ginger. With a husband like Michael and a sister like Penny, she needs no enemies!

I want to shake Michael! He's a wimp, letting others make his choices. I wish he'd grow a backbone and let the university fire him. I'd like him to be more romantic and beg Ginger to forgive him.

Alas, however, if Michael were my husband, I'd "kick him to the curb."

So, I guess I'm angry with him.

I'd LOVE to preview this one, Angie.

Accidental Poet said...

Penny - I like her but I don't trust her.

Michael - oh park the left brain already. I don't much like him, but I can see how women would. He's so not intersecting with the real world. "you're more experienced" - ouch. Just because its logical doesn't mean it should be said.

Ginger - I want to dislike her because she's annoyed Penny, so apparently I like Penny.

Lisa said...

I feel annoyed and a little angry with Michael. He seems like a selfish jerk
Penny- I feel ok about her. She seems to be 'real' about things.
Ginger- I'm not feeling really good about her either. Although, it's hard to judge her character since she's not "in" the scene.

Barbara said...

Ginger: I feel righteous anger for her, as I would feel for any wife in her position.

Penny: She sounds like the natural leader of the sisters, probably the oldest. She makes me feel like she would annoy me if she were at my sister, and at the same time like I would be glad to have her on my side.

Michael: Makes me feel like he needs slapped. What a jerk!

Anonymous said...

Michael - I'm aggravated (not quite disgusted, but leaning that way) with him. He wallows in self-pity, looking for the easiest, self-serving way of avoiding onerous consequences.

Penny - My feelings fluctuate. Initially she irritated me, sounding snipey about her sister, but I like her later loyalty, straight-talking to Michael, etc.

Ginger - warily sympathetic
I sympathize at the treatment she's endured from Michael, but also wonder if she is equally self-centered, etc.

As usual, Angie, it appears you've got a great story rolling. Hope these thoughts help.

Blessings,
Mary Kay

Ruthie said...

Michael--What a selfish pig!! I'd sooner shoot him now than let him hurt his family even more by leaving them. Guess I would have to settle for a good head slap like Gibbs does to DiNozzo on NCIS.

Penny--Jealousy is never attractive, especially when directed at a sibling. So I see Penny as kind of "witchy." On the other hand, she isn't afraid of speaking the truth to Michael...out of love or not is up for debate. I think I want to know more about Penny before making a permanent judgement.

Ginger--Though little is known about her, we know that she has been betrayed by her husband of 27 years. That has to hurt, big time. But since it takes two to make a marriage as well as to break it, I am wondering what kind of a wife she was to Michael. Obviously she didn't listen to him; maybe she even ignored him. She may have done it out of habit, or it may have been deliberate. I do hold Ginger accountable, though, for part of Michael's stupid behavior.

So what am I FEELING? Anger. Frustration. I want to make these people understand how many lives they have destroyed/are going to destroy. I sure am glad I am not a friend of those three, nor one of their attorneys. This could get messy and I am dreading the outcome.

You did ask..............

Linda G said...

Michael: a self centered, spineless
excuse for a husband. He accepts no responsibility for his actions and thinks the easy way out is to marry this woman so he can save his career.

Penny: With a sister like this who needs enemies. I felt like she was almost happy that her sister had been betrayed. Was she jealous of Ginger's "perfect marriage"? Sounds like she had an unhappy marriage or relationship. Or has she had feelings for Michael?

Ginger: Has she spent the last 27 years being the woman behind the man and helping Michael be the success that he is or has she been too busy being super mom that she forgot how to be a wife. Not enough information yet.

darien said...

Okay, I'm going to weigh in too...

Penny: I like her. I like that she is blunt with Michael and I don't begrudge her the snips at her sister. I felt that she was also defending her sister so it balanced that out for me. She has been hurt, and in some respects she has moved on, but she is still getting unexpected jabs of hurt sneaking up on her. I found myself saying 'you go girl', when she said to him that she didn't see any reason why Ginger should stay. I empathize with her. She sounds a little like me, so I have to like her :-)

Michael--he brought out familiar feelings, my own sneak jabs if you will. I'm somewhat more ambivalent against him. I feel like he has no good solution. His actions have caused pain. Yeah buddy, live with it.

Ginger--I suspect that she and Penny are more alike than they want to be and there has been conflict between then because of that. I feel that she has much to deal with right now, and I can empathize with her situation. Although this scene kind of revolves around her though, I didn't really feel her in it.

Angela said...

Thanks for all the comments! :-) All of those feelings you expressed are valid, and I'm so glad you're feeling SOMETHING. (The kiss of death would have been if you said, "I just don't care." )

As usual, none of my characters are completely good and none are completely bad, so they're like real people. Thanks so much for the input--you've given me the encouragement to push on! :-)

Thanks again!

Angie