Tom cleared the dust from his throat and began reading from his first draft. “Lynn and I ascended the steep bluff, chatting about our hopes and dreams for the new house we just purchased. It was quickly becoming dark but we were determined to walk the five miles around Devil’s Lake by flashlight if necessary. We had things that needed to be said. Things that needed to be heard. This hike could be the beginning of the end of what he considered a decent life.
Lynn heard a rustling in the bush beside us and grabbed my wrist. Her cold hands dug into my flesh almost painfully. I stopped talking mid-sentence to listen. I was having trouble seeing in the dusky light, so I grabbed my flashlight and shined it in the direction of the rustle. I wasn’t sure how high to shine it, and swooped in in a circle trying to see the object that interrupted this intense conversation. Before us appeared two huge eyes, making their way confrontationally to the path in front of us…”
“Hold on!” Aaron interrupted, grabbing the pen and top-flip notebook from his breast pocket, “Do you really need to say ‘new house we just purchased’? Isn’t ‘we just purchased’ redundant?” He flipped through to the first blank page and proceeded to make a note.
Tom cut his eyes to Chloe for help.
“Once again, Aaron,” she said as if speaking to a child, “we aren’t editing for grammar here. We are helping Tom gather a cohesive story draft. He just wants to know if there is a story here. He will edit out redundancies in the second draft, right?” She looked at Tom with expectation.
He flushed and nodded. “Right,” he mumbled without conviction, wishing everyone would stop looking at him.
Aaron rolled his eyes. “I’m just saying, if we see a glaring issue, shouldn’t he note it so time isn’t wasted on it later? Isn’t that the point of this group?”
“C’mon, Aaron,” groaned Jack, “You do this every time. You fixate on one tiny issue that is only obvious to you. You beat it until it’s dead and we’re all angry, and no one else wants to put themselves out there again.” He got up and headed for the refreshment table. “It’s a giant waste of everyone’s time,” he tossed over his shoulder.
Chloe stood as well, “Tom, it sounds great so far. Let’s take a break and we’ll finish in ten, okay?”
“No, that’s fine. I didn’t have much more left anyway.” Tom headed for the double chocolate chip cookies and the solace they offered.
Aaron threw his hands up in frustration and followed Tom and Jack to the punch and cookies. His very demeanor said “if you can’t beat ‘em, may as well join ‘em” as he shook his head with disapproval.
Chloe plopped next to Anne with a sigh. “I really don’t want to kick him out of the circle. He does pick up on important things the rest of us miss.”
“I know. I get that. But I am so tired of wasting the entire hour arguing with him about things we aren’t even discussing. We could end up with no circle at all if he keeps coming.”
Chloe pulled her blonde hair back into a ponytail, contemplated, then let it go. She blew out a breath she didn’t realize she was holding. “Maybe I could somehow tell him a session is cancelled when it isn't? Have an extra session and not tell him?”
Anne raised her eyebrows in agreement. “It could work…”
Jack sauntered over with his plate full of cookies and his plastic glass full of red punch. “Y’know what would make this moment perfect?” He held up the glass in a mock toast. “Vodka. Make it a double.”
Anne blushed and giggled. Chloe suspected Anne had a school-girl crush on Jack. Who wouldn’t? He was the true definition of ruggedly handsome. The muscles bulging beneath his tight black t-shirt showcased many tattoos. Somehow this only added to his sex-appeal. “Writer” was not the first thing to come to mind when looking at him. “Jailbird” or “biker” came close if one were being honest. It made him so attractive, in Chloe’s opinion. In Anne’s also, apparently.
“Cheers!” Chloe laughed. Vodka would definitely make this more fun. Her eyes followed Aaron as he trekked back to the circle. Can you imagine Aaron drunk? Maybe he’d relax a little.
Aaron settled back into his chair, balancing his plate of cookies on his lap. His raised pant legs revealed navy blue socks with white polka-dots. They matched the bow-tie around his scrawny neck. He reminded Chloe of Pee-Wee Herman. “Do you remember Pee-Wee Herman,” she murmured aloud. Jack followed her gaze and snickered.
“Oh my God, yes! All the dorks in my neighborhood would watch Pee-Wee's Playhouse every Saturday morning. I never got it.”
“Wasn't he arrested for exposing himself in a theater,” Anne said. Three sets of eyes peered at Aaron, then back at each other. The ensuing laughter brought unwanted attention.
“What’s so funny,” Tom asked, his mouth full of cookie.
“Nothing,” the three said in unison, going back to their seats.
Chloe began, “Tom, thank you for sharing your progress with us. Would you like to continue?”
Tom blushed to the roots of his hair when he realized all eyes were once again on him. He swallowed his cookie, that turned into sawdust in his throat. “No” he croaked, “I think I’m good.”
“I thought it was really good, Tom,” Anne offered. “I can’t wait to find out more about the eyes – and that says something about your writing.”
Tom was quite a bit younger than the rest of the group. As-if the usual doubts writers have about their work weren’t enough, he struggled with the age-gap between himself and his “peers”. Surely their extra years on this earth equated to better writing. Still, he was proud of himself for dipping his toe in the shark-infested waters of the local writer’s circle. Maybe he could do this writing thing after all.