Doreen was actually thrilled when the writer’s group she belonged to changed their monthly meeting from Armando’s Italian Bistro to Janine’s Book Shoppe and Coffeehouse.
The leader of the writing circle, Cliff said they were expected to purchase something at Armando’s to support local business and show appreciation for allowing the group to meet there. The cheapest appetizer on the menu at Armando’s was fifteen dollars. Doreen was presently scraping pennies and nickels together for bus fare. A fifteen dollar appetizer was way beyond her budget.
Doreen knew Janine and her partner Laura who owned Janine’s Bookshoppe and Coffeehouse. They would have no problem with her coming to the writer’s group, ordering a small coffee and slowly savoring it all night. A purchase was a purchase and Supreme Leader Cliff could suck it up and deal with it.
Doreen had seen the notice for the writer’s group a year ago on the bulletin board at the Buy For Less where she worked bagging groceries. At first she laughed aloud at the idea of doing such a thing. She had barely finished high school and bagged groceries for a living. The other members of this group would surely laugh at her.
She had walked home from work that day, not being able to scrape up
enough money for the bus. She thought about how writing stories had gotten her through the worst times. She would scribble on a notepad and read her stories aloud to her mom after her dad had deserted them. She had scribbled on her cot in the shelter where they were forced to go when they were evicted.
She had read aloud to her mother when she was dying, knowing full well her mom did not hear her.
She went home that night to her tiny efficiency apartment and dug her stories out of a cardboard box in the corner. True, most of her inspiration came from Danielle Steele, Lifetime and Hallmark. Doreen had heard once that writer’s were supposed to write about what they know. Doreen begged to differ. The world she knew she was too painful to put down on paper. She preferred the fantasy world that existed on TV and in romantic novels.
Ironically it was Janine from Janine’s Bookshoppe and Coffeehouse who convinced Doreen to check out the writer’s group.
Doreen would go into the coffeeshop sometimes on Saturday and sit at the counter as Janine served her customers. She was a loud, friendly woman with a huge laugh. She allowed Doreen to sit and drink her small black coffee and sometimes offered her a bagel or cinnamon roll on the house.
When things slowed down Doreen would tell Janine about her week. Not that there was much to tell. She had worked at the store and taken in an abandoned cat she’d found in the alley behind her building. She’d named him Max. Her landlord did not know about Max.
“So, I saw this little notice at work on the bulletin board about a creative writer‘s group. They meet at Armando’s the second Wednesday of every month. I think I might join up.”
Doreen was afraid Janine would laugh at her but she leaned over the counter and gave her a huge smile.
“I think that’s a great idea, Doreen. You know, I have a lot of faith in you. You don’t say much, but I think there is a lot more going on in your head then you let on.”
After the first few meetings at Armando’s, Doreen wasn’t sure she wanted to continue. Andy, Simone, Jordan and Cliff who were the group‘s regular members were all college graduates and smarter then she ever hoped to be.
She would sit silently picking at her fifteen dollar appetizer knowing full well she intended on taking it home and attempting to stretch it into a couple of meals. When asked her opinion after someone read aloud she would mumble something about it being “good.” Sometimes they read about things like family vacations or college semesters spent in Paris or Brussels. Things she had absolutely no frame of reference for.
The first night the group had moved to Janine’s there was a snowstorm. Doreen had shown up anyway thinking no one else would show up. Her cell phone had ceased working due to non payment and she had no email. If the session had been canceled there was no way for her to know.
Cliff was the only other member who had come. Cliff with his nasal voice and his constant bragging about getting a novel published on Amazon Kindle.
“Well, here we are Doreen. I guess you have no choice but to read aloud this evening. It is about time I would say.“
Doreen was mortified to read from the handwritten pages of her tablet. She hadn’t even had enough time to go to the library and use the computer.
She had been working on a novel in secret. All about a farm girl from Iowa who moves to Los Angeles and falls in love with a dashing movie star.
Her voice was barely audible as she read aloud but her confidence grew as she continued. Maybe this wasn’t so bad.
Then Cliff pounded his fist on the table in a rage. He nearly knocked over his pot of coffee.
“Why? Why? Why?” Why do people write this crap and come to my forum? Why, I ask?”
Doreen was about to burst into tears when she heard loud clapping near the front of the coffeehouse. Janine and her partner, Laura.
“I thought it was really good, Doreen. Diana was a spunky character. I liked her. Keep at it.“
Cliff looked at Janine with unhidden disdain.
“You aren’t part of this forum, Janine. Your input is not needed.”
“Cliff, I own this place and you are here by virtue of my good graces. I would suggest you shut up or leave.”
After he left in a huff Doreen stayed and talked to Janine and Laura. She was so thankful to them for saving her from further humiliation and for being so kind.
“I meant what I said, Doreen. You have talent. Just don‘t be afraid to bar your soul. Put real emotion into your writing.”
It was the writing advise Doreen had ever gotten. She went home that night and wrote. About all of it. Daddy leaving them. The harassment at school she got for being poor. Mama getting cancer. All of it.
Two years later Doreen came into Janine and Laura’s for her usual black coffee and bagel. She’d been working here for a year along with the new grocery cashier job. It was a lot to handle with her writing classes, but she was coping.
“Hey Doreen! Love the new haircut! That jerk Cliff was in here last night with his group. Someone told him was work was elitist drivel. I thought the man was going to cry. I am almost felt sorry for the arrogant prick.”
Doreen laughed at Janine.
“I’ve got some news. An online magazine is publishing one of my short stories. I wanted you to know before anyone. And thank you.”
Laura embraced her in a huge bear hug.
“Congrats, Girl. I knew you could do it! Just promise you will dedicate your first novel to me.“
When her first novel was published, Doreen did just that.