Friday, December 24, 2010

My gift to you: a Bartender book teaser

I've been plugging away at the revisions on the bartender book even today on Christmas Eve. I reached my goal for the week though. The revision on the first four chapters are rewritten. It's taken me all month to do those, which doesn't really bode well for meeting my goal of finishing a complete rewrite by the end of January, but restructuring the beginning was one of the hardest parts (and it's still too long, but I'm hoping I can cut other stuff along the way to compensate) and I'm really in the groove now. So much so that if it wasn't Christmas, I'd spend the weekend writing. But I've got a week of nothing but writing in sunny California coming up soon.

Anyway I thought I'd share a couple of the new/reworked scenes that I added.

So that you have context you may want to check out some of my previous teasers.

The story is told in alternating points of view between eighteen year-old college student Zoe and her thirty-eight year old mother, bartender Ivy.

Zoe starts the book with a slightly reworked version of the beginning you'll find here. (I changed it so the book begins during her winter break from her first semester of college, so now she is getting the tattoo as a late birthday present. This is the first chapter now though it was the second at the time and it is actually way way better. Sigh, maybe I shouldn't post teasers because of this...)

And then there is Ivy who works in a bar that is actually named The Bar in a town that she and Zoe refer to only as Nowhere. I posted a bit of her introductory chapter here. This is no longer the first chapter, but I still kept a lot of this as it sets up the primary place in the book, The Bar.

This teaser is where I introduce Zoe's best friends Bender and Dylan (who was previously named Cole, so sorry for any confusion that may cause) and give you a sense of their friendship and what Zoe is leaving behind. It will be important in the latter part of my teaser.

Today I'm going to give you a bit from Ivy's point of view and then a bit from Zoe's. It's probably the biggest teaser I've ever post, but it's the holidays so enjoy.

We're going to start with a scene to give you context and introduce one of my favorite characters, Eli, then skip ahead.

Oh and a couple dorky little notes. Both Eli and Bender have my husband's tattoos. And since I decided to pay homage to my favorite soapy TV with some of my character names, Dylan is in honor Dylan McKay from Beverly Hills, 90210, and Bender's first name is a tribute to Rory's smart but rebellious boyfriend Jess on the Gilmore Girls. (Can I also just say that when the awesome author Tara Kelly read part of my rough draft and told me it reminded her of an edgy Gilmore Girls, I was overjoyed!) The name Bender itself though comes from mine and Ivy's favorite eighties movie, The Breakfast Club.

Anyway.... this is Ivy:

“Whoever invented the Irish car bomb must’ve really hated their bartender. It leaves what looks like curdled baby puke at the bottom of the pint glass and you have to stick your hand in there to get the shot glass out.” I shuddered, adding, “And it’s impossible to get those glasses clean. Only a scorned lover would wish that on someone.”

Eli laughed. “Or an inconsiderate riverfront rat.”

Nowhere’s riverfront was like a college town without a college. Every bar had a beer pong table and their clientele was underage or freshly returned not-so triumphantly from State. The girls went out wearing little more than underwear and high heels. The boys wore their baseball caps backward and had perpetually red faces—booze sunburns.

Gesturing at the front door, Eli said, “I saw the former high school football stars out there smoking.”

I rolled my eyes. “I only served them because tonight’s been so dead. The regulars were wasted when I got here and left by nine. Had about six or seven customers after that including those guys. They had two pitchers of beer, six car bombs and that’s my tip.” I indicated five quarters piled in the middle of the bar. “But least I made Howie a little money. And now that you’re here, we can mock them. Did you see how they can barely squeeze into their old letterman’s jackets? That’s what happens when your college experience is one long frat party.”

We both grinned. Normally Eli would build off of my insult to create a whole story about the riverfront rats, but instead he patted his belly and said, “I know the years of drinking haven’t been the kindest to me, but I’m nearly forty.”

I winced at his use of the ‘f’ word especially since he’d yet to turn thirty-eight like me. Every night, I slathered on creams to smooth the wrinkles that were forming around the corners of my eyes and mouth. Fortunately makeup kept them hidden and the black hair dye I’d been using since fourteen covered any lurking gray.

Eli didn’t go to such lengths, but the years hadn’t been unkind. He had a slight paunch, which probably seemed more extreme to him because he’d been such a skinny kid. But unlike most guys we’d graduated with, he still had a full head of hair. In fact, I’d hardly recognized him because he’d kept his head shaved in high school and now he allowed his dark brown curls grow in. He’d gone gray at the temples and the stubble on his face came in more salt than pepper, but he looked good.

“You’re doing much better than those guys,” I assured him.

He flushed slightly, took a swallow of beer and changed the subject.

Okay, I'm going to skip ahead now to get to a scene that originally was the opening to the book and I'm glad I found a way to reincorporate it. This is still Ivy, but you will see when it changes to Zoe.

At last call, Eli opted to pay his tab instead of having another beer. Since he’d only had one, I refused to charge him. He offered to stick around to help me close up, but I shooed him off knowing that he had to open the auto shop at seven in the morning.

“Zoë will be here any minute along with Bender and Dylan,” I told him. “They’re just across the street at the pool hall.”

That seemed to reassure him enough to get him out the door, but I expected Zoë and her friends to come in the side entrance, so when the front door slammed open, I thought Eli had smoked a cigarette and changed his mind.

“And they say chivalry—” I stopped at the sight of the riverfront rats staggering toward the bar, more bleary-eyed than they’d been when they left. “I already did last call. We’re closed,” I informed them.

The smaller of the two stopped and wobbled side to side, preparing to turn around, but the bigger guy held out his cell phone to display the time and said, “It ain’t two yet.”

I motioned at a clock on the wall behind him, set ahead like all bar clocks. “According to that it is and that’s what I go by.”

“C’mon, Bobby, let’s go,” the big guy’s friend urged.

But Bobby narrowed his eyes and said, “It’s bullshit the way the bars in this town operate. It’s not like this in real cities.”

Like where, your college town? I thought. But while I seethed on the inside, I managed to sound unruffled. “Actually I’ve worked in many different bars in many different cities and they all operated like this hence the phrase ‘bar time.’”

Bobby lumbered toward me. Slamming a meaty hand on the bar, he spat, “I don’t give a fuck about bar time. Real time says I got ten minutes so get me a beer, bitch.”

I considered two options. One, calmly pick up the phone and call the police. Two, calmly jump on top of the bar crushing his finger under my boot in the process. Before I could decide, a third option presented itself.

It was not the option I would have chosen.

Bender came from behind and threw his arm around Bobby’s thick neck. He used the headlock to steer him toward the front door, threatening, “You better get the fuck out of here like she told you, asshole. She’s like a mother to me and what would you do if someone talked to your mother like that?”

I hadn’t heard Bender enter, but there he was with Dylan beside him and Zoë holding the front door open.

The smaller guy danced around Bender like an excited terrier. “We’ll get out of here, man. No worries, no worries,” he yapped. “We’re going. Just let him go.”

Nearing the doorway, Bender loosened his grip. Bobby turned on him and reached for the long blue spikes of hair jutting out of Bender’s head. He managed to flatten one into Bender’s face before Bender shoved him. Bobby landed on the wooden bench built into the wall beside the door, his head inches from the window.

“Did you learn to fight from sorority girls?” Bender scoffed. His fists were raised as were Dylan’s, who hovered behind him. Bobby pulled his knees in, ready to kick.

Everything would unravel before I could get around the bar. A window would break. The cops would come. Brawls like this happened at the riverfront bars all the time, but not here. And Zoë and Bender were underage. If we didn’t end up in the hospital, we’d end up in jail.

I panicked like I had as a nineteen year-old cocktail waitress during my first Vegas barfight screeching, “Stop it! Get out! I’m calling the cops.”

All the lessons I’d learned at the biker bar I’d worked in for a year during my mid-twenties had vanished. But fortunately Zoë remembered.

My daughter stepped between Bender and Bobby. She stood as tall as Bender, and with her head shaved except for her bangs, she looked almost as intimidating as he did. She stamped her combat boots and flapped her arms like they were pterodactyl wings.

Slim, a biker who was most definitely not, had coached me to do this the morning after a particularly scary fight. “I know you’re little, Ivy,” he’d said, “But puff yourself up big like an animal in the face of a predator. Make sweeping gestures and use a booming voice.”
He’d demonstrated with four-year-old Zoë present and she’d mimicked him, flailing her arms as she chirped, “Get the fuck out!”

Fourteen years later, her voice was much more powerful. “Get the fuck out!” was punctuated with more stomping and arm-waving. She forced Bender and Dylan to back up, clearing a path for the riverfront clowns to the door. The smaller guy dragged the bigger one out and Zoë pulled the heavy wooden door shut and bolted it.

While Bender and Dylan whooped and high-fived her, I called the non-emergency police line to notify them that I’d ejected two hooligans and would like an officer to cruise by to make sure they didn’t cause further trouble.

The boys jumped around, reenacting the fight while Zoë put the stools up. When the three of them met me after work, they usually cleaned and stocked while I balanced the register. Zoë slipped right into that routine, but I needed to settle my nerves.

As soon as I picked up the bottle of vodka, Bender and Dylan rushed straight to the baby bar. Zoë rarely drank, but I decided that we needed to honor her, so I grabbed shot glasses for all of us. She walked over, arms crossed, as I poured.

I lifted my glass in her direction and said, “To Zoë.”

“For saving our asses,” Dylan added with a laugh.

Bender met my daughter’s eyes as he spoke. “Because we’ll miss her like crazy.”

“And don’t know what we’ll do without her,” I continued, picking up the fourth glass and offering it to my daughter.

She was supposed to take it and say, “The Bar knows best.” She’d grown up watching the routine and I needed her to do it quickly so I wouldn’t cry.

Instead Zoë shook her head. Glowering at me, she said, “You’ll probably end up arrested. You just asked the cops to drive by and now you’re serving alcohol to minors after hours?” She stomped to the side door. “I’ll wait outside so you don’t get in trouble.”

“We’re still going to drink to you,” Dylan called after her. He was the only one still smiling as he clinked his glass against mine and Bender’s.

Bender downed his shot and ducked out after Zoë, muttering that she was probably right.
I swallowed the two shots that remained, whispering, “The Bar knows best,” but without others to echo them, the words failed to comfort me.


“It’s locked,” Bender said, emerging from the Bar’s side entrance as I tugged on the passenger’s door of his car.

Spinning on the frozen snow, I faced him and cupped my hands, demanding, “Toss me the keys.”

He arched his pierced eyebrow in a way that seemed to ask, “Throw something that might scratch my car? Are you crazy?”

The glare I shot back read, “Not as crazy as the drunk, underage fool who started a fight in my mother’s bar.”

I waited for him to tell me to come back inside, to roll his eyes and say that I was overreacting because the cops weren’t going to drive by until they were done patrolling the riverfront where fights always broke out at closing time. And he would probably be right about that just like he had been about the drunken frat boys. When they’d been turned down for last call at the pool hall, Bender had insisted on heading to The Bar to make sure they didn’t cause trouble for my mom.

Go ahead, I thought, tell me you’re right so I can tell you that I was, too. You and my mother are just as predictable as the riverfront rats and the cops. You’re always looking for an excuse to fight and she’s always looking for an excuse to raise a glass. Nothing ever changes in Nowhere.

Instead of answering the accusations in my eyes, Bender used The Bar’s brick wall as a shield to light his cigarette. He took two long drags before finally saying, “When this kind of shit happens I know you wonder why you’re friends with us.”

His cold words knocked the wind out of me. I grasped for him as he approached. “Bender, I didn’t mean….”

He thrust the keys into my hand, instructing gruffly, “Start it so you aren’t cold. You should drive anyway since you’re the only one who hasn’t been drinking.”

It was not a precaution he took because he feared being pulled over. Bender couldn’t care less about getting into trouble, but the Continental was sacred. No one could smoke in it or drive it after having more than two beers and that night he and Dylan had had at least six each. For a while, this rule meant we walked home a lot because I hadn’t been allowed behind the wheel of that Lincoln until I’d my license for a year.

The car had belonged to Bender’s maternal grandfather, the only person who’d ever mattered to Bender besides Dylan, my mom and me. Bender’s parents had divorced when he was a toddler and bounced him back and forth for years because he fought with their new spouses and stepchildren. He’d been headed for foster care at the age of ten when Grandpa Bender moved to town and took him in. Grandpa Bender had never liked his grandchild’s father, so he legally changed the boy’s name from Jesse Fitzpatrick, Jr. to Jesse Bender. In addition to giving him a new name, he taught his grandson to channel his angry energy into rebuilding the ’59 Lincoln Continental. Grandpa Bender had coveted that car since he’d worked on its production line and bought it to celebrate his retirement from Ford. He’d left it to Bender when he died and though Bender was only fourteen at the time, he managed to hold onto it, often living in the car when his parents kicked him out—at least until he met me.

My mom had a tendency to take in strays, mainly in the form of alcoholic boyfriends. Since I’d made her promise not to do that, she all but legally adopted Bender. She also defended both him and Dylan in the principal’s office after we’d rescued the frogs I was supposed to dissect in biology class and set them free in a nearby pond. When Mr. McGivens implied that I was headed down “a bad path” because I’d befriended “troublemakers,” Mom glared at the man who’d also been her principal and said, “Those boys aren’t troubled, they’ve just been ignored and written off by everyone including you!” She stopped there, but her furious brown eyes added, Just like me.

Mom had only known Bender and Dylan for a couple of weeks at that point, but she recognized the kind of kid she’d been and when we left the principal’s office, she hugged me and said, “You’re their Hanna. You’ll be good for them and they’ll teach you to have a little fun like Hanna and I did.”

I hugged her back, beaming on the inside because Mom’s Hanna stories were the only ones I never got sick of. The epic sleepovers. The band that had never gotten past the two of them tinkering around with a keyboard that Viki bought them, but had the best name ever: Hanna Is Not a Palindrome. The road trips to Chicago and Milwaukee to sneak into goth clubs—not that I wanted to do the clubbing part, but having friends as close as my mom and Hanna had been was my fantasy. After moving around so much during grade school, I hadn’t allowed myself to get close to people in middle school even though it seemed like Mom and Pete were solid. It was like I knew that she’d take me away two months before eighth grade graduation, but when we moved to Nowhere and I had a guarantee we were staying, I could let my guard down.
I wanted to tell Bender all of this to quell his doubts our friendship.

We’re different, but we balance each other, I wanted to say, but I walked around Bender’s car in silence, clutching his keys so they dug into my palm and I could focus on that pain instead of the way his words had gashed into me.

I willed him to go back inside so I could cry like I wanted to, but he remained where I’d left him, smoking his cigarette and watching the block that the riverfront rats had disappeared down. So I started the car as he instructed, but not for the heat. I needed the loud music that would blare from the speakers as soon as the engine turned over.

In the time it took Bender to finish his cigarette, I listened to a Rancid song about “hittin’ the shots” and “broken homes and broken bones” in an urban version of Nowhere. Bender’s driving playlists were composed of angry songs about drinking and fighting with the occasional anthem about shaking up the system thrown in for me. Bender and Dylan didn’t show much interest in the political aspect of punk. They couldn’t articulate what they were rebelling against, but the songs they loved expressed the kind of frustration they felt growing up in a dead-end place like Nowhere—a frustration that I feared would destroy them if they didn’t get out.

After tossing his cigarette butt into the street, Bender tapped on the window and I unlocked the passenger’s side door. I turned the music down as he slid into the car, finally knowing how to respond to his remark about our friendship, his freak-out over my tattoo design, and all of the similar incidents that had occurred over the past two weeks. I knew he was trying to push me away, but I wouldn’t let him.

I stared directly at him even though he wouldn’t meet my gaze and said, “Come with me tomorrow, you and Dylan. Move to Washington.”

“Pffft.” Bender shifted in his seat, fidgeting with the left sleeve of his leather jacket near the freshly tattooed racing flags that he’d had added to the collage of pistons and gears on his shoulder.

I'm gonna leave off there. Hope you enjoyed it. Happy Holidays!


Amy Lukavics said...

YESSSSSS that was fantastic. LOVED the paragraph about the eye cream and hair dye.

You freaking rock, and I'm so happy to see that things are running at least a little bit smoother for you, writing wise. Happy Christmas Stephanie!

marina said...

I am so excited!!

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Thank you both! Glad you enjoyed it!

Amy thanks for being such a big cheerleader and yes things are going a bit smoother. Slow, but smoother.

Katherine said...

Lovely Christmas treat to read.