Small Cuts (15) Oliver

To find links to all parts of this story, please visit the Small Cuts Page. Back to Oliver:

Elaine’s hesitation spoke volumes. Still, I had to know. “Lainey, say something.”

She nodded, took a deep breath and… at the very same moment both our phones started to ring. “Don’t answer it,” I said, as she pulled hers from her purse. “If it’s important they’ll leave a message.”

She frowned at the screen and I knew what she thinking. She wanted to answer it, if only to delay a few minutes more. And a delay could only mean one thing: my feelings weren’t returned. The phone stopped ringing and she tucked it back into her bag. I waited. She stared at the ground.

Rubbing my hands over my face, I said, “Just tell me, Elaine. I need you to say it. And we’ll move on. We can pretend I never said a thing…”

The phones which had gone silent both began ringing again. This time Elaine answered. With a muttered curse, I pulled mine out of my pocket and looked at it. It was a number I didn’t recognize, but it was local. Whoever it was had left a voice mail the first time. “Hello,” I said, my frustration bordering on anger.

The caller confirmed my name, told me his, said he was with the Philadelphia Police Department. “Police?” I repeated, my nerves jangling the way they do when you’ve been caught at something. “Is there a problem?”

“Sir, I’m afraid there’s been an accident.”

I was about to ask what kind of accident, when Elaine made a noise —something between a gasp and a shriek. When I glanced over, she looked like she was about to collapse. I reached out a hand to steady her, but she was shaking so badly, I pulled her close. The officer had continued speaking, and I had only caught words and phrases as I tried to comfort Elaine. “…very serious condition …unconscious … lost a lot of blood …Jefferson Hospital ER…”

Accident. Serious. Unconscious. Blood. Hospital. Hospital…

“Sir? Sir?”

I shook my head to clear it. “Yes, I’m sorry. What? Who?”

“Your wife, sir. Genevieve _____.” He paused. “Can you drive? Or can you call a friend to bring you down to the hospital?”

Genevieve. I felt like the temperature dropped by about forty degrees. I said, “I’m in the city. I’ll get a cab. Jefferson, you said?” He said yes. I said, “I’ll be right there.” I disconnected and held a weeping Elaine by her shoulders. “Elaine. I have to go. Gen’s been in a serious accident.” She gave a little cry and covered her mouth. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

“James.” She choked through her tears. “James.”

“What about James? Elaine, I need you to pull yourself together.” That sounded harsh, but I didn’t have time to waste. I tried to be gentle, when I added, “Come on, now, honey, I have to go.“

“He’s been in a crash… here in the city. He’s here in the city. Oliver.” She kept repeating herself over and over. “In the city. In the city.” I gave her a little shake to get her attention.

“Was that him on the phone?” Had he he followed her? Or maybe me after I drove past the house? And he knew. He knew what was going on. My mind whirled. We could deal with it. Make an excuse. Elaine and I getting together alone wasn’t all that unusual. But if he’d seen me at the house… I didn’t have time for this. I repeated my question, “Was that James you were talking to?” She shook her head no. “Ok, who was it then?”

“The police.”

An icy finger of dread crept up my spine. “Ok. What did they say? Where is he? Where is James? Was he hurt? Did he have to go the hospital?” I asked.

“He… he… he,” she sobbed. “He’s gone.They couldn’t save him.”

In that moment, I could not define how I felt. My best friend was dead. My wife severely injured. On the same day. At the same time. What were the chances? And I despised myself for the sickening thought that suddenly now Elaine was free. Who thinks something like that at a time like this? Was I a monster? Go to Genevieve. Right. I could self flagellate later. I had to figure out what the hell to do right now. I couldn’t leave Elaine like this, but I had to go to Gen. “Come with me. Gen is at Jefferson.” I put an arm around her shoulder and began moving toward the main entrance. She stiffened and I thought she was going to resist. “Please, Elaine. Just stay with me.”

“Where are we going?” she asked. “Jefferson?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s where they took James, too.”

Small Cuts (14) Elaine

To find links to all parts of this story, please visit the Small Cuts Page. Now here is Elaine again:

When Oliver pulled me against him I completely lost my composure. Part of it was nerves, part of it was my loneliness, but the rest of it was Oliver’s warmth, his strength and his transparent feelings for me. I found myself relishing the feel of his arms around me, his gentleness and the sweet words of comfort he murmured in my ear. “It’s ok, sweetheart. I’m right here. Everything’s going to be alright.” In that moment, I desperately wanted to believe him.

With a deep shuddering breath, I pulled away. “I’m sorry, Oliver. I can’t. This is all just so…” I didn’t finish, unable to find the right words. What was it, exactly? Scary? Wrong? Overwhelming? Any one of those words fit, but didn’t cover the whole of it. Beneath each of those feelings lay the undeniable truth. I was here because Oliver wanted me. I needed someone to want me, to love me the way I always hoped James would.

“All so…?” Oliver prodded. I averted my eyes but he stepped forward and held me by the shoulders. “Talk to me, Lainey.” He paused, lowering his head. “Or maybe don’t say anything at all.”

He moved in to kiss me but I braced my hands against his chest, keeping him at a distance. The pain and disappointment showed in his eyes. I shook my head to clear it. “Don’t. Don’t do this, Oliver.”

He nodded, shoved his hands in his pockets and stared at the ground. “I think I fell for you the moment I laid eyes on you,” he said softly. “All this time waiting. Wanting you. Falling in love with you. It’s been torture.”

“But … but James,” I stammered and Oliver stiffened.

“James is a fool,” he said sharply. “He doesn’t deserve you, Elaine. He doesn’t make you happy.”

He was right. James didn’t make me happy, but I still wanted him to. I wanted my husband to love me the way he did when we first met. What had gone wrong? I felt the sting of tears again and looked toward the ceiling to keep them from spilling over. “And Genevieve? What about Gen, Oliver?”

He sighed heavily and lifted a hand, let it drop. “Oh, Elaine… if only we’d met each other first.” His voice gruff and full of emotion, he said, “I love you, Elaine.” He paused, swallowing. “I’m laying it all on the line, right now. I love you and I want to be with you. I haven’t figured out what the hell to do about it, but there it is.”

My stomach knotted and my already racing heart squeezed in my chest. A thousand thoughts ran through my head in quick succession. Life with Oliver. For a moment I allowed myself the fantasy —imagining the way he would love me, cherish me. I pushed a fist against my sternum to steady my breathing. I thought of James’ reaction. Would he be stoic, logical, always the lawyer, thinking out the details of a separation? Or would he fight for me, beg me to stay, profess his undying love for me? Perhaps that was more the fantasy. Nevertheless…

“Elaine.” Oliver gripped me by the shoulders. “We don’t have to decide anything right now. I just want you to tell me… Do you feel the same way? Or have I just made a huge mistake?”

Nevertheless, I thought. It was the fantasy I chose to believe. I have to tell Oliver… He’s my friend and I owe him the truth.

“Lainey?” Oliver said, breaking my reverie. “Say something.”

I nodded and started to speak, when at the same time, both our phones began to ring.

Time and Relativity

No it’s not a post on physics… But it is about relativity to the observer (either a character, or you, the reader).

Writing a story like Small Cuts, in which the tale is told from the perspectives of not one, not two but four different characters is a challenge. Not to mention that the scenes are not strictly chronological. There have been overlaps, some jumping ahead and some flashing back from the characters’ points of view. More than one of you has mentioned how difficult it must be to keep track of the details. And you would be correct!

One basic way I’ve organized the story as I write it, is to keep the sections as individual documents rather than writing one continuous manuscript. This allows me to have multiple documents open at the same time for quick reference as to what happened previously, both in the full narrative and in the individual character’s timeline.

The second tool I use is a timeline spreadsheet: a log of the major plot points and bits of dialogue that are crucial to the story. I started doing this while I wrote my first novel —a mystery with a progressive revealing of clues— and found it to be indispensable. For a shorter work like Small Cuts, which I think is going to end up as a long short story (under 30,000 words) I would usually not need one. However, the multiple points of view require a great deal of coordination so that it all melds seamlessly.

I’ll use the story to explain what I mean.

In the last section featuring James, I back up in time from what I had written for the other three characters. Oliver and Elaine have met at the Center City Hotel, Genevieve has left the house to see what Oliver is up to. James, however, is still in his driveway waiting to back out on to the street to leave for his golf outing. He sees Oliver drive past, Elaine is still upstairs in bed and Gen is at home in her fugue state. The critical issue in this section of the story —beginning when everyone gets up, to James following Oliver and Gen tracking him down, to Elaine meeting Oliver in the lobby and the emergency vehicles driving by— is making sure there is enough time for each of the characters to perform the actions they have taken in the order in which I’ve written them. Here’s a breakdown for you:

Genevieve is the first one to rise. She goes downstairs, makes coffee and then blacks out at the window while staring at the birds. She doesn’t realize Oliver has gone until she snaps out of it. We know he hasn’t been gone long because the shower is still steamy and his scent lingers. Gen takes a minute to check the news, look for Oliver using the phone app and dress and leave the house.

Oliver is up and out of the house just a little bit ahead of James at his own house. He drives past James as he is backing out of the driveway and then continues onto Center City where he parks in the hotel garage. Oliver is early for his meeting with Elaine so he goes for a walk around the park. Meanwhile, James has abandoned following Oliver and is now speeding toward his original destination: the golf course. He is delayed by getting lost and having to circle back into the city. This puts him on the same stretch of road at the same time as Genevieve.

Elaine is about half an hour behind the rest of them, having risen just after James leaves to shower and dress for her brunch date with Oliver. For reasons I have yet to explain, she has taken a different route into the city but arrives just as emergency vehicles are speeding past the hotel to an unknown crisis. (By now you all have figured it out but Ollie and Elaine are oblivious.)

I’m sure you can see what a mess this might have been if I’d neglected to include enough time for the various scenarios to play out. Ideally, this piece would be best mapped out with a chart with a line for each character as they carry out their actions. I wish I’d thought of it sooner, but this is one of the rare occasions that I am writing by the seat of my pants. *Note to self: buy huge whiteboard.* Nevertheless, I’ve made liberal use of my post-it notes for the details of my timeline. Thank goodness I buy them by the case! And at least they are moveable if I find myself with an inconsistency or a paradox of some kind.

Anyway, every writer does it just a little bit differently. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to organize your work. Unless of course, you don’t organize it at all… and run the risk of making enormous errors in the timeline!

Wishing you happy writing and productive editing!