Finding an Editor Ch. 01byqhml1©
This one came to me while I was at work, listening to some guys drone on and on about racing while more were agonizing over basketball brackets, and another guy was whining about his upcoming divorce. I threw in wrestling just because I've never liked it. All the wrestling, basketball, and race fans-GET OVER IT.
It's just a story.
I was sitting at the table gossiping with my friends when Hilda looked at the entrance.
"Well look at that! Benny Henson. I thought when his wife left him he shriveled up and blew away."
His breakup was pretty. Pretty ugly. Pretty painful.
Pretty much her fault, and it pretty much destroyed him.
She "traded up', taking off with a banker. Tried to rape him in the divorce. Had everything pre-prepared, sign here, sign here, initial this. I'm being fair honey, just sign. Bob says it's very fair. He'll get it notarized, just sign.
Benny was quiet, and people assumed because he didn't talk much, he didn't think much. He thanked her for trying to help, turned around, and beat the hell out of Bob.
He dragged him out of the house and threw him over the porch railing into the rose bushes. When his soon to be ex wife protested, he threw her into the rose bushes beside him. Then he decided the roses needed irrigating, so he pissed all over the happy couple trying to get out of the bushes.
Then he leaned over the rail and told them if he heard the first word about pressing charges, he would hunt them down, shove a thick piece of rose briar up their ass until it stuck out their mouths, and saw it back and forth until he got bored. They never said a word.
Unfortunately, a next door neighbor saw and heard it all, and it was just too good a story to keep quiet. His wife worked for Bob at the bank, and it wasn't long until bundles of briars started showing up on both desks. If his father hadn't owned a big chunk of the bank they would have both been out the door.
Benny had a third cousin that turned out to be a hell of a divorce lawyer. When the smoke cleared, since she made more and cheated, she had to pay him maintenance for three years, or until he got married. When they filed papers on the bank for violation of the ethics clause of their employment policy, a quiet settlement for an undisclosed amount was reached. She desperately wanted the McMansion she had forced Benny to buy, so she had to give him half of full market value to keep it.
Benny walked away with a big chunk of change and a nice monthly check.
What he didn't walk away with was his pride. He didn't have a clue, and it shook his self confidence badly. When she found out she was going to get hosed in the settlement, she started a smear campaign about his character, his size and stamina, even his sexual preference. Only the threat of a lawsuit shut her up, but by then it was too late.
He held his head high, but it hurt and he withdrew into himself, disconnecting from any social interaction. Taking a delivery job that kept him on the road a lot, he all but disappeared from the local social scene.
Yet there he was, striding right towards us.
'Us' was the usual bunch of gals who got together every other Thursday at the local pub to let off a little steam. A little flirting, a little dancing, a good bit of drinking on occasion. Housewives, professionals, factory workers, our binding factor was a shared history going all the way back to grade school. No social distinction here, we were just 'the girls'. Some were married, some were divorced, and everyone knew who was who.
He stood before me awkwardly, before speaking rapidly.
"Bonnie, can I talk to you for a minute? I'd like to ask you something."
He caught me on my fourth whiskey sour, and I was feeling pretty good. I had known Benny since we moved into the house next door when we were five years old. We were inseparable until the start of junior high. Then biology took over and we went separate ways.
Benny didn't belong to any particular circle, but got along well with everyone. He was mostly a loner, but a friendly loner. I was in the cute girl club, and had the A list of boys swirling around us. Benny dated but strangely, never expressed interest in me. I always wondered why.
And here he was, out of the blue, wanting something from me.
The whiskey made me mouthy, honestly, I was just having a little fun.
"Ask away, big boy, but the answer will be yes. I knew you always wanted me."
The girls were smiling ear to ear, enjoying his discomfort. He seemed a little shocked.
"No, no. I need some professional assistance. On something I know you're skilled at. I'll pay you."
I couldn't help getting one more dig in.
"Benny, honey, I just said you can have it for free. And I am pretty skilled."
Giggles and light laughter swirled round the table. Benny got red, said just forget it, and headed towards the door. I jumped up and grabbed his arm, tugged him towards the dance floor. Luckily, it was a slow song.
He was stiff at first but gradually relaxed, even seemed to enjoy it a bit. I leaned in and whispered in his ear.
"Relax, Benny. It was all in good fun. Surely you remember what a tease I am."
"I remember. You spent your junior year in high school trying to give me a permanent blush."
"I couldn't help it, you were so serious all the time."
The song ended and we stood awkwardly for a second.
"Come back to the table," I urged him. "tell me what you need. You know I'll help if I can."
He was back to looking uncomfortable.
"This needs to be a private discussion. Why don't I call you sometime in the next few days. Still in the book?"
"No, I cancelled my home phone, couldn't see the point when I use my cell constantly. Here, give me your phone, I'll program it in."
I was surprised when he handed me the latest, top of the line Iphone. I know it showed.
It was his turn to smile.
"Can't be a technophobe forever, Bonnie. When would be a good time to call?"
"Right now. Saturday, 6:00. I'll be at your house. But I want fed, a rack of your ribs to be specific. All the trimmings, including dessert. Then I'll probably be more willing to give you help, whatever it is."
This threw him.
"Uh, Bonnie, I'll be glad to, but I don't want to mess up your social schedule. You sure you don't want to do it on a week night?"
"Honey, honey, look around you. When it comes to possibilities in this small town, I'm fishing in a pretty shallow pool. Everything available has been caught and tossed back so many times they have hook mouth."
"It'll be nice to spend an evening with someone I actually like."
I still made him come back to the table and sit with us until another slow dance came up on the jukebox. He felt really nice, I was sad to see him go.
And me? I had one more, a cup of coffee, and went home to my big divorce house and my little divorce life.
I was a lot like Benny, I didn't see it coming. We had our lives all planned out. My husband was going to climb the corporate ladder, while I was going to be the best high school English teacher in the state. Judging by the awards hanging on my den wall, I accomplished my end of the deal.
He made it to VP, then decided an almost fifty year old wife wasn't the correct arm candy for his social functions. I got traded for a twenty something, cute as a bug, and dumb as a rock. He was slick though, taking a West coast assignment and most of the money. I ended up with the house free and clear, a little cash, my car, and bad memories.
I had just retired from teaching when me left. It was too late to go back to full time, so I did substitute teaching from time to time. It helped financially and relieved the boredom, but it wasn't the life I expected to be living.
Without embellishment, I was still a good looking woman. I exercised on a regular basis, ate right, and took care of myself. Most women will admit that at our age we agonize over every new wrinkle and blemish, and the ravages of gravity, but overall I was holding up quite nicely. Men from forty to sixty thought so, anyway.
I dated fairly regularly, but not seriously. Couldn't seem to find one that held my interest. Perhaps that was why I was looking forward to dinner with Benny so much.
I often wondered why Benny never asked me out. My marriage collapsed about six months after his, and we would see each other from time to time around town. He was always friendly but never made overtures. If you're female, this piques your interest and assaults your vanity.
Benny was a lot of things, but first and foremost he made the best barbeque in the area, maybe even the state. He was always in demand for private parties and fund raisers as a cook. The local Republicans almost canceled a rally last year because he wasn't available. This was why I pushed him into fixing those ribs. I knew from experience they would melt in your mouth, with the perfect blend of vinegar and spices.
I wasn't disappointed. Ribs just right. His secret recipe dressing coleslaw. He had a thing about that. Any fool can pour barbecue sauce over cabbage, he was fond of saying, but very few people could make good coleslaw. Potato salad with the same dressing. Cornbread pancakes instead of hush puppies, another one of his trademarks. Baked beans with shredded barbecue and large chunks of red onions mixed in. His wife was a fool to walk out on meals like that.
I told him so as I slid back from the table.
He grinned, "She didn't like barbecue that much, not high toned enough for her I guess."
I patted my stomach, so glad I had worn a loose fitting sundress instead of jeans.
"Good. More for me."
I'm glad you said that. I haven't brought out dessert yet."
"Let's give it a little while. If I take one more bite right now a Bonnie bomb will explode all over your dining room. Take me for a walk, this is the first time I've been to your new house."
His ex choose the wrong time to trade up. It was just before the real estate market collapsed, and Benny made out like a bandit when she bought him out. When Bob left his wife for her he got hosed pretty good also. Word had it they were just barely making enough to cover the new mortgage. Maybe that's why we didn't see them out and about like before. Oh well.
Benny held onto his money for awhile because he wasn't sure he wanted to stay in the area. When real estate tanked bargains were everywhere, and he took his time, finally deciding on a small two bedroom house with four acres of land. He paid cash for it. It was in good shape and he kept it neat as a pin.
He let me hold his hand as he gave me the tour. For some undefined reason this pleased me no end. I admired his vegetable garden, and the flower beds would have put Martha Stewart to shame. I told him so.
He was looking right into my eyes when he said,
"I've always enjoyed looking at things of beauty."
For once he had me blushing.
We settled on the porch swing, watching the sun set over his pond. He reached over and flipped a switch, and three small fountains erupted in the center. The spray created mini rainbows against the setting sun. The man continued to amaze me.
I was as happy as I had been in a long time, so I decide to take up my old pastime, teasing him until he blushed.
"Benny, I know why you asked me out here. The secret must be killing you. I'm glad you decided to share it with me first. But it's pretty obvious to anyone who is around you for any length of time."
He indeed turned a deep crimson.
"What do you mean, you know? What have they been saying?"
"Benny, Benny. Everybody knows you hate NASCAR, professional wrestling, and basketball. We all know secretly you're a Yankee. Admit it, you'll feel better if you do. You're probably a hockey fan."
"Uh, Bonnie, I was living here when you parents moved here. NASCAR? Watching a bunch of guys turn left for four hours, that's entertainment? The only reason most people watch is for the wrecks, and you can see them on the highlights of the late news. Basketball? Watching tall guys running up and down a wooden floor trying to get a ball through a hoop? The only reason people watch that is to gamble."
"And wrestling? If your idea is watching pumped guys roll around in spandex panties in positions that would get them arrested outside a ring and trash talk to a script is fun, turn in your college degree. It's obviously not doing you any good. It's a soap opera on steroids, literally."
"As for hockey, guys skating back and forth hitting a piece of rubber and each other with sticks? I'll never understand it."
"Now, if you could get the wrestlers into race cars, have them run so many laps, get out and play the race car drivers a game of horse, then have the winners wrestle the basketball players, add in a few pyrotechnics, a buzzer beater free throw, a wreck or two, and some trash talk, that would be entertainment. If a few of them would wear hockey masks, it would damn near be perfect."
I decided to give it a rest.
"So, Benny. Why am I really here? What IS the deep dark secret?"
He told me to hold on for just a minute. He came back with a piece of paper and a check. He handed me the check.
It was made out to me, for one hundred dollars. The memo line read 'deposit for services to be rendered. The other piece of paper was a binding nondisclosure agreement from a law firm a few towns over.
"Sign the paper and take the check, Bonnie. If you don't I won't say another word."
Curiosity killed the cat and undid countless women. I signed and handed it back to him.
As soon as he had it in his hand he led me back into his house and into the spare bedroom. He had turned it into a home office. Tidy, efficient, a top of the line computer sitting on the desk. He gave me one more lecture.
"I know you signed the paper. But I need you to look me in the eye and say you won't tell a soul. Eventually, if things work out right, everyone will know anyway. I just want it to be at my pace. When it comes time, you can be the one to break the news, if you want."
"Benny, in all our lives, have you ever known me to betray a confidence? I thought not, but if you don't tell me what's going right now, I'm going to scream! Talk. Now."
"All right, take the office chair, it's more comfortable. This is going to take awhile."
He paced for a second, then plunged in.
"When Mariam left me, it shook me to the core. I didn't have a clue she had stopped loving me, and had found someone else. She was good, but then I wasn't looking. I thought we had a good life. Our kids were grown, we had the house to ourselves. I was looking forward to spending our time doing things we had put on hold for most of our lives. She actually seemed happy. Hell, the night before she sprang Bob on me we made love twice. I now see it was a 'I'm sorry and goodbye' thing."
"Looking back, I realize that a woman who could have sex twice with a man one night and profess love to another the next morning was someone I would never understand."
"Add to that the ruthless way she went about trying to take everything we had accumulated together. This type of person didn't exist in my world. I was numb, if it wasn't for family she would have probably gotten everything she wanted. I know I wasn't in shape to defend myself."
I interrupted him.
"I can't say I know everything you were feeling, but I can identify. I was almost as surprised as you when Dan left. It was cold, and vicious, and I didn't have the support you did. He got me pretty good. We're a pair, aren't we?"
I was trying to smile through tears. He surprised me by coming over and giving me a gentle hug.
"I'm sorry Bonnie, I know it was hard. Hopefully we're both better off now."
"That being said, at the time I was a mess. My old boss went through almost the same thing, and he insisted I get help, even set me up with the counselor he used. It actually did me a lot of good. In fact, it's led me to where I am now."
"My therapist urged me to write my thoughts down so I could discuss them during our sessions. I filled up about thirty spiral bound notebooks. It did help, but I discovered something. I loved to write."
"She encouraged me, complimenting me on my style. Told me to seriously pursue it, if nothing else to aid in my healing. I took a creative writing course at the community college."
"So I started to write, compulsively. I bet I didn't turn the television on for six months. Almost got carpal tunnel until I bought the computer and learned how to use it."
"At first, I wrote just for my own enjoyment. Then I started wanting to share them, get some feedback, see if people were actually interested in reading the stories. Since I didn't want anyone locally to know, I went to the internet. You'd be amazed at the sites out there for writers."
"And I got feedback. People actually seemed to enjoy them. One suggested that most seemed to be about my ex wife and the pain I was in, I should try a site called Literotica. Ever heard of it?"
I paled. Hoping he wouldn't notice my agitation I denied ever hearing of it.
"It's a site for erotic fiction, divided into categories. All types of things from science fiction and fantasy, romance, a section called 'loving wives', although it should be renamed 'cheating wives', stories about transsexuals, bondage, just about any part of the sexual spectrum is covered."
"I wrote a few rants against the ex, but in the end, while the opportunities for fantasy revenge are endless, it's hard to sustain the rage forever."
"So I stayed away from the hard sex, hurting stories, and concentrated on love stories. I've always been a sucker for happy endings, even though from experience I know it doesn't always happen. I primarily write in the romance category now, been at it for two years."
"I"m fairly popular, and love getting the comments, good or bad. It keeps me in perspective and helps improve my writing."
"Anyway, as to why I brought you here. One of the features of the site is a section that puts your work out there for publishers to look at. About two months ago I picked a few of what I thought were my best and submitted them."
"Two weeks ago I got a request to send some samples of my work to a publisher. I sent them a draft of a novel I just finished, along with some short stories. Much to my surprise they really liked the novel."
"I got a detailed email telling me to have a professional editor look it over and help polish it, send the end result back, and if they find it acceptable they would like to publish it. That's where you come in. I know you worked for a publisher right out of college as an assistant editor before you decided to teach. So, can you help me? We'll have to find out standard rates so I can pay you. Will you do it?"
I had worked for a publisher right out of college, even held the title assistant editor. That was a fancy name for someone who did the grunt work while real editors turned unknowns into best selling authors, and pandered to the ones already established. But I did learn a lot and enjoyed the time immensely.
"Well, will wonders never cease! A writer! Nobody saw that coming. I'd love to help, but my skills are a little rusty. When can I see it?"
He seemed really relieved.
"As soon as you want. I can pull it up now if you like."
"I think I'd like to see some of your old stuff first, kind of get a feel for your development. Would you mind?"
"Not at all, let me pull it up for you."
He went straight to the Literotica site and brought up his page. I was surprised to see over thirty stories, a few poems, and two novellas.
"Get comfortable, take your time, I'm going to wash up the dishes and get the coffee ready. Let me know when you need a break."