Anyway, I'd like to get something I've written out there to other people who are not my close friends. People who are used to criticizing stories. I just... I want some honest feedback. And who knows, maybe you'll enjoy it?
Anyway, below you'll find the first third or so of a story I've written. It probably falls into the NA contemporary category, but I'm not entirely sure. You tell me. It'd make me really happy if you took the time to read it and leave a comment. It doesn't have to be a positive comment. Just an honest one. Constructive criticism is very much welcome! (Oh, and please don't steal this, mkay? With even reviews getting plagiarized, I feel like I should add this.)
They say that every encounter starts with a spark. Mine started with a doused cigarette.
I hadn’t previously paid any attention to him. We were just both standing on the bridge, smoking, the party behind and around us still in full swing. Then he cussed and dropped his cigarette, its orange glow floating down towards the water like an unhinged, tiny star that lost its grip in the vast fabric of the late summer sky.
I held my pack of smokes out to him wordlessly, and he pulled one out with a nod of thanks. He lit a match on the stone balustrade we were leaning against and shielded it against the night wind with slender fingers. The firelight revealed sharp features framed by dark, longish hair. His lids were lowered and I couldn’t glimpse his eyes before he sent the match flying after the previous cigarette, plunging us into darkness once more.
It felt strange to just stand there, breathing and exhaling poison with a stranger. I wondered if the feeling I had that we were somehow folded away in our own pocket of space and time was just my imagination. I wondered if this would be another one of these almost-encounters, where you feel you should be saying something but there’s only a stretch of silence; and then time is up and you know that, for whatever it was worth, the chance has passed. Time runs like a river and it stops for no one. All you’re left with is a chain of pearl-like moments. Mine was rather pathetic so far. Despite these thoughts my mind was strangely empty though, my thoughts obscured by smoke. I could find no words.
But he could. “There’s a hole in your sweater.” He pointed at it with the orange eye of what remained of his cig. I raised a brow. “How observant of you.”
Looking somewhat embarrassed, he laughed, smoke curling from his lips and half-forming shapes before they vanished in the night wind. “Sorry. That was lame.” I noticed that my fingers were now self-consciously fiddling with the hole at my waist and quickly shoved them in my pockets.
“There’s holes at the center of all of us, I guess.” The words escaped before I could really think about them. They were true, for me, but I still wished I could eat them back up. Maybe they’d feed the hole in my stomach.
The stranger’s attention was now fully focused on me though. His lean body, still slouching against the bridge railing, was angled in my direction, and I could feel the weight of his stare even though I still couldn’t glimpse his eyes in the dark. His scrutiny made me uncomfortable, and I was hyper-aware of my torn jeans, beat-up-bag, and threadbare jacket. And the holey sweater, of course.
I waited for him to stop staring, to break the tension by saying something, anything. Despite the darkness, I felt spotlighted. I clenched my fists against the feeling of being trapped. I could run – he’d never catch me in the throng of people behind us on the other side of the bridge. We were the only ones on the fringes.
“Maybe we can use those holes to escape.” Startled, I flicked my eyes back to his. I hadn’t been expecting a reply anymore. Especially one that made sense in a way.
“Escape from what?”
He shrugged, turning back to the river and taking another drag of his cancer stick. Another step closer to death. I remembered my own smoke and flicked off the long ruin of ash that had formed with a grimace. What a waste.
“Anything. Rules, pressures. Expectations.” His fingers twitched, and another used up glimstick tumbled to its watery grave. “Ourselves.” He turned to me, brow raised.
“I’m not running form myself.” Cocky know-it-all.
“I didn’t say you were.”
I rolled my eyes. “I know a badly veiled implication when I see it.”
He staggered backwards, a hand clutched to his chest. “I am mortally wounded.” His back hit the balustrade and he bent further and further over it, out into space.
“Look what you’re doing to me! My backbone is broken. My pride lies vanquished.”
“Stop it!” I said, half-laughing and half-worried he’d actually topple over the edge.
“I can’t.” He slid further over the railing, bending his back and releasing his hands. Holding himself up only by pressing the heels of his boots to the stone. Was he mad? I swallowed, caught between the urge to run and the obligation I felt towards him from our interaction that demanded I yell at him while I pulled him upright.
I stood frozen, waiting, as he hung there like an underfed bat.
“This is a pathetic attempt at finding a loophole,” I finally said, trying to keep my voice steady and indifferent.
“It is, isn’t it? I thought the change in perspective might help but my only epiphany so far is that the river is smelly and that I should work out more.”
“Why’s that?” My arm twitched when one of his heels started sliding upwards.
His voice was strained. “My abs are for shit. I really can’t pull myself back up.”
I snorted and stubbed out my cigarette on the balustrade.
“Mind giving me a hand here?” There was definitely a sliver of fear now. Served him right. I approached, eyes travelling over his awkwardly arched form. His shirt had slid up, exposing sharp hipbones and pale skin marred by a thin scar travelling up from his navel and disappearing under the fabric at the left side of his ribcage.
I stepped between his knees and looked down at him as he hung, teeth clenched, hands reaching out to me. I ignored them. His pupils were huge in the dark, his eyes trained on me as if I were his anchor.
But I wasn’t anchored. I was a drifter.
I braced myself on his knee with one hand as I leaned forward and grabbed a fistful of his shirt with the other. I pulled, leaning backwards and pressing his knee down for leverage. His torso swung up, bringing me flush against his chest, my palm covering the rapid beat of his heart.
“This reversal is a lot more pleasant.” His breath ghosted over my cheeks, and I inhaled the scent of smoke and moldy river and a richness I couldn’t place. Fear, maybe?
I breathed again. There. Heady. Intoxicating. I felt powerful; reckless and in control at the same time. Raising my eyes to his face, I noticed that his pupils were still large, his gaze wild. His breath came sharp and hurried.
Definitely fear. I felt a pull toward him, and it was hard not to lean forward, not to use my grip on his shirt to tug him yet closer. I let him go and took a step back, but didn’t break eye contact.
He released a breath, almost a laugh, and raked his hand through the tangled mess of his hair.
“For a second there I thought you’d let me fall.”
“For a second, I almost did.”
“Why?” No accusation. Just curiosity.
I shrugged. “It was your own fault. And I didn’t like the way you were looking at me.”
Like I was an anchor or a lifeline or some shit like that. I won’t let anyone tie me down with that type of look.
He took a step towards me, the easy grace back in the way he moved. “Oh? And what way was that?” He smirked, one side of his lips curling up higher than the other. His eyes had shifted slightly. Still darkened, but no longer with fear. Already back from his short stint as prey.
I stood my ground. Me pulling him up had changed things. I was no longer the awkward girl with a holey sweater and a cigarette to spare. For a second there, I’d held the course of his life in my hands. The decision was mine. He owed me. And I’d make him feel it.
“I’m not sure. You couldn’t quite make up your mind between being a drowning mariner reaching out for his mate’s steady hand and being that same mariner, in awe of the siren he’d follow to death. I don’t much fancy being either.”
He stopped an arm’s length away. “So stop singing.”
“Why don’t you stop making things up?”
“How else am I going to change reality?”
I realized we were nose to nose now, glowering at each other. I straightened.
“Words can’t make anyone do anything.”
He shrugged. “They’re all I have. I’m not like you, singing without realizing it. All I have to make you come home with me are my witty words. And my good looks, of course.” His grin was back, his posture easy and confident as he stood before me.
I made myself scoff. “You’d have to find some mighty fine words to change reality enough for me to go home with you.”
“Ah, see, I don’t think so at all,” he said, placing an arm around my shoulder and turning me to overlook the other side of the bridge. The party was winding down, people walking off in pairs and small groups, holding each other up. A few others were starting the clean-up, breaking down the bar, turning off the fairy lights. The small square looked a lot shabbier without them. Glass crunched under the feet of those still lingering. Everyone was heading home for the last few hours before dawn.
I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t go back to the old warehouse after what happened, and there was no place else to go. My stomach sunk at the thought of having to keep walking all night, careful to stay out of trouble’s way. At least it was still late summer and not too cold.
Warm breath caressed my ear, and I couldn’t suppress a shiver.
“Come with me. I can keep you off the street for the night. I could keep you safe.”
I swallowed, tempted. The last of the lights went out. Boxes were loaded into vans, motors howled, a screech of wheels, and we were alone.
“At what price?” I asked, refusing to look at him.
“None,” he said lightly. “You did save my life after all, little siren.”
I didn’t respond. It would be nice. Not to be cold, not to fear the defenselessness of sleep. And he did owe me. He was alone. I could take care of myself if it was only one guy, couldn’t I?
So... what do you guys think? Would you like the second part next Sunday? Or should I go back to talking favorites and posting pictures of European cities I've been to? Oh, and if you have ideas for a title, go ahead. I hate coming up with them.