Bringing a Novel to Life

For the most part, I can sit down and write anything and maintain a fairly coherent train of thought throughout the story, blog post, or article.  Blog posts or articles are fairly simple since they run in the 1200-1500 word count.  The biggest challenge with them is communicating exactly what you want to say in such few words.  Short stories are more challenging, but by their very nature, the story arc is quick, so it’s possible to carry the entire premise of the story and all its details in your head as you write.  I usually knock out a short story in a few days from draft to edit.  On the other hand, novels are a much greater challenge given their length and complexity.

In general, I spend about four to six months on a single novel from writing the first word on the page to the second round of edits I do before it gets to my beta readers.  Not only that, but the details are often complex covering a rather large timeline and involving a whole host of characters and settings.  To make things even more complicated, I usually only spend an hour a day, five days a week writing, so I’m adding layer after layer onto the story slowly over time.  It can make for a rather discontinuous story sometimes.  On some Mondays, I have to backtrack to remember exactly where I was in the story and where I want to go when I start up the writing process again.

Luckily for me, I happened to find some software that really helps me in this process.  I use a program called Scrivener, which helps me organize my notes and ideas so that I can always stay on track with my novels.  While it’s just as easy to write a novel in Word, Scrivener has many features that make it a better solution.  The main area of the screen in Scrivener looks very much like a Word document, but beyond that it’s very different.  The navigation pane to the left (see screen shot below) allows me to add documents that are not part of the novel.  For example, I create character descriptions and timelines that help me avoid inconsistencies throughout the process (you’d be surprised how hard this is).  The panel to the right has a space for notecards that summarize each chapter and a notepad to record random thoughts or ideas that pertain to each chapter.  The combination of all these elements helps me keep the novel on track and gives me one place to focus all of my energy rather than hopping through multiple files during the process.

Scrivener

In years past when I had tried to write a novel, I found the process frustrating because I lost track of the storyline or confused characters, which made finishing a coherent story frustrating.  With Scrivener, I can focus on the story and less on the process, which makes me a happier writer.  Given my time constraints, I need all the help I can get.  I’ve been using Scrivener for two years, and during that time, I’ve finished four novels.  That’s four more than I ever finished without it.  While the software may not be a panacea for all that ails a writer, it certainly makes it easier to bring a novel to life than other approaches I’ve tried, which makes me one satisfied customer.

Summer Morning

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The cacophony of silence embraces me.  What speaks louder and with as many voices as the early morning?  The sun wakes and yawns a subtle glare from the mountains in the distance.  Vivid pinks and oranges push against the edge of darkness and flood the valley below.  The mist, a mysterious creature of the night, proves as ephemeral as the legends in its wake.  The pungent odor of trees and earth rides the cool breeze that envelopes me raising the tiny hairs on my arms.  A relaxing shudder rolls down my spine as I take in the morning and the glory of it all.

The tall, slender aspens come alive in the light, one side brighter than the other as if they are huddled around an inviting campfire.  A slight breeze ruffles their limbs, a visceral chatter among the trees.  They call out to me, remind me of their beauty.  They have stood the test of darkness and are reborn in the tender golden light, a microcosm of the circle of life.  The birds, sensing the endless possibilities of a new day, fritter from tree to tree, chirping and singing the praises of the morning.  A hummingbird, awash in endless motion, hovers from flower to flower.  A stray call pierces the silence, and then, like an embarrassed interloper, falls quiet again.  The cacophony returns in all its wonderful solitude.

The blades of grass, spread far and wide across the yard, bow to the morning sun, each pregnant with voluptuous drops of dew.  The droplets yearn for the sun, angle toward it, hoping to rise only to fall again.  That cycle, so pervasive, yet elegant, rules all.  The morning light will give way to the harsh midday summer sun, the cool air will be replaced by the coarse heat of the day, and the vibrant colors and energy will fade and fall listless in the grind of the day.  Then, the night will come, a simple repose from the vagaries of the unyielding summer heat, but the morning, the wonderful, peaceful morning, will soon return in all her beauty.  It’s a promise each day makes.

Something Lovely

The first time I saw Anna I knew that I would love her. Her piercing blue eyes were what got me. They seemed so intense and unique in their crystal blueness almost like her pupils were black floats on some heavenly Caribbean sea. I was mesmerized by them and the secrets they could tell. Her long, blonde hair hung down below her shoulders and glistened like gold in the sun. She wore more makeup than I cared for, but I looked past that because her beauty seemed ethereal despite the deep, cherry red lipstick she favored. She was tall, for a woman, but at six-five, I had quite a few inches on her. She had a slender figure and modest breasts, but none of that mattered because I knew I would love her.

We met, or I should say, I saw her on the train on my way home from work one day. I stood wedged into the corner of the front car of the train with the weight of the crowd pressing against me. Sweat dribbled down my back and into the crack of my ass. I felt miserable in the stifling heat. The failing air conditioner in the train protested the heat of the crowd with an impotent whine. A sour body odor permeated the car overwhelming the usual faint urine smell. The moment I had hopped on the car at the Peachtree Center station I realized the air conditioner wasn’t working, but I knew it would be difficult to find room on another car in the rush hour crush, so I stayed put reluctantly.

I stood in my corner wishing my misery away when I saw her no more than half a car from me standing with her hand looped into a strap that hung from the ceiling. She seemed bored, or maybe she was miserable in the heat like me. She stared nonchalantly out the window of the train as the occasional light in the tunnel whizzed by. She didn’t turn her gaze to me although I stuck out above the heads of most of the other passengers. I was used to sticking out since I was usually one of the tallest people in a crowd, but she didn’t notice. I wanted her to notice.

The train hummed at it headed north and once we exited the tunnel under the city and light flooded the car, I got a better look at her in natural light. I had inched my way closer to her at each stop along the way. The throng of rush-hour commuters pushed me further into the car and I used that opportunity to get closer to her until I was practically standing right in front of her. That’s when I noticed her blue eyes, those gorgeous blue eyes. She still didn’t pay me any attention; she seemed far more interested in whatever could possibly pass by outside.

The train eventually began to empty as more stops north let the flood of rush hour patrons dribble out of the balmy car. The crowd thinned enough that I could have moved to another car, one that might have had a fully-functional air conditioner, but I didn’t want to leave the beautiful blonde behind until I had to do so. My stop, Brookhaven, was coming up fast, and despite my discomfort, I didn’t want the ride to end. I didn’t want to say goodbye to the dream girl that stood before me.

By the time my stop arrived, only a handful of people stood by the doors waiting to exit including myself and Anna. I wasn’t sure if she was getting off at my stop or was just anxious to get off the train. She clasped her long, slender fingers tightly around the silver pole next to the door and looked straight ahead through the glass. I stood just a few feet to her left glancing askew at her trying to see more of her. She didn’t notice, but she did turn my way briefly and give me a slight smile that halted my breath. Sweat poured down my back and sides both from the heat of the train car and the intensity of her presence.

I wanted to say something to her, something witty, but I was at a loss for words, which was unusual for me. Her beauty scrambled the signals from my brain to my mouth. The train slowed before it came to a stop at the platform in Brookhaven, and it became apparent that she was getting off at the station too. She stepped toward the doors in anticipation of whisking away on the platform once they opened. I didn’t want our time together to end, so I said the first thing that popped into my mind,

“It sure is hot in this car,” I said to her. I wanted to hit my forehead with the heel of my hand because it was such a banal, obvious thing to say.

At first she wasn’t sure I was talking to her, but when my stare and likely creepy smile persisted, she said “Yes, it is.” She managed to smile back before the doors hissed open and she was sucked into the throng of people coming and going from the train. I stalled in my spot enjoying the music of her soft voice before I hopped from the car just as the doors slid shut again. I had almost missed my own stop due to my absent-minded musings.

I tried to follow her in the crowd, but despite my height, I quickly lost sight of her as she hurried down the steps by the escalator. I jogged as much as I could in the crowd and tried to find her from the bottom of the steps, but she was gone. I flitted through the turnstiles holding my bag up high to get through quickly without getting entangled in its steel tentacles. I moved a few steps beyond the exit and came to a hard stop.

I stood there for a moment in the waves of people rushing past me with the brunt of the evening sun boring into my sweating forehead. The cycle of the turnstiles behind me sprung in a rhythmic thump as passengers filed out of the station. I looked around furtively hoping to catch a glimpse of her blonde head in the crowd. I saw plenty of blondes but none that matched her height or the green blouse she wore. She had managed to disappear instantly like the ephemeral mist that follows a heavy summer downpour. I wished it would rain to tamp down the relentless heat.

My shoulders slumped as I walked away from the station. My heart sank as if I had missed a great opportunity, a chance to meet the woman of my dreams. My walk felt weighted and awkward. I practically slid my feet along the sidewalk in front of the station. I caught a whiff of a taco truck parked along the street next to the station. My despair at having lost sight of her combined with the heat and the greasy smell of fried beef made my stomach churn. I took a deep breath out hoping to expel the foul odor, but I couldn’t lose it until I had walked a few hundred yards past the truck.

The sick feeling lasted only for a few minutes before my focus returned to Anna. I looked around as I walked to my apartment hoping to see her just casually walking in my direction. I had no idea if she lived nearby or if she commuted to the Brookhaven station by car or bus, but I knew that I wanted to see her again. I had to see her again.

Over the next few days, I kept my routine exactly as it had been on that fateful day. I left work exactly at the time I had left on that day. I got into the same car of the train. I stood at the same end of the car. I held onto the silver poll that ran along the ceiling and I searched the crowd for the beautiful blonde woman I had seen, but she didn’t appear. With each passing day, I lost more hope until finally I fretted that I had let my one opportunity slip between my fingers.

I berated myself for not being more attentive to what was happening in those minutes when I was by her side. I should have been more assertive. I should have said more to her. I should have introduced myself. Why didn’t I do these things? My whole life had been defined by missed opportunities, and now, when it mattered most, I had let it slip by like a lazy lion too slow to give chase.

In the days before I saw Anna again, every time I caught a glimpse of blonde hair in the crowd, my pulse quickened and my eyes searched frantically to see if it was her. Disappointment flooded my mind each time I realized it wasn’t her. The range of emotion from excitement to frustration in such a short time frame took its toll on me. I lost my appetite, I couldn’t sleep, and my desire to work fell by the wayside. A sickness overcame me that I couldn’t quite describe, but it felt like a moment I had experienced before where I knew I was going to be sick right before the illness descended upon me except nothing came; I just felt on the edge of illness.

A week later, the tide of emotion had ebbed to its lowest point. I was on the verge of being depressed. My friends had noticed the change in my demeanor and had commented on it several times. I brushed off their concerns and simply said I was tired or not feeling well, both of which were true. They accepted my explanations and hoped that I would get better soon after I refused their offers of help. Nothing could cure me but seeing Anna again.

On a Tuesday evening after I had all but given up on seeing her again, I stood stoically on the escalator taking me down into the cavernous Peachtree Center station. Normally, I’d scan the crowd as I rode the escalator looking for Anna, but I’d become almost catatonic from lack of sleep and insufficient diet, so I just stared straight ahead ignoring everyone in my path. The pale lights in the escalator tunnel flickered and glimmered as the pedestrians passed under them like we were inside some giant toaster. Something sparkly caught my eye and drew me to it as if someone were forcibly turning my head.

At first, I just glanced at it and looked straight ahead again, but then I realized that the sparkly object was an earring on a blonde woman. I looked more closely, and there before me just a couple steps ahead stood Anna ramrod straight with her bag strapped to her shoulder. I nudged my way down a couple of steps and stood behind her. Excitement brimmed in my mind as if the thick storm clouds had parted and revealed a glorious blue sky. I was thankful to be on one of the longest escalators in the world. I enjoyed the ride next to her, but I remained silent. My whole demeanor changed in the moment I stood there like I had morphed into a new person by the time I reached the bottom of the steps.

Her heels clicked furiously toward the platform just as the rush of wind from the oncoming train bathed the track with cool air. I followed her as closely as I could and hopped into the car with her after the doors opened. My mind tumbled over itself searching for things to say. Normally, I’m good with small talk, but I was at a loss in her presence. I stood just on the other side of a pole that we both held onto as the train jerked forward. Finally, after the train had smoothed out and entered the dark tunnel heading north, I said the first thing that came to mind. I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity.

“This tunnel always creeps me out,” I said smiling. I looked at her hoping she didn’t find me creepy, a stranger who followed her onto the train and started talking to her without a provocation.

She smiled back, ever so faintly, and said, “I know.” She looked up at me for a moment and her eyes averted to the black glass in front of us. I could see her face in the reflection. Her smile had faded and she simply stared ahead. I felt like I was losing the battle for her attention.

“I’m Rob by the way,” I said offering my hand up to her.

She looked at my hand for a split second as if she were deciding whether or not to accept it. She let go of the pole and pushed her hand forward to me, “I’m Anna.”

“Nice to meet you, Anna.” I smiled at her as if I had won some great prize. I loved the way she said her own name, more like “Ahhhna” than “Annnna.” I mimicked it when I said it to her. I hoped she didn’t think I was making fun of her.

She said nothing more. She returned her gaze the walls of the tunnel as they zipped by in semi-darkness eerily enlightened by the dull lights that hung on the walls of the cave. We were approaching the next station.

“Where do you work?” I asked trying to keep the conversation going.

She hesitated. I didn’t know how to interpret her visual cues. Did she want me to go away? Was she just shy or was she not interested? Normally, I was good at interpreting the subtle signals women gave, but this one had jammed my radar, rendered me incompetent.

“At a law firm at Peachtree Center,” she said curtly. I thought our conversation would die a painful death at that point. She didn’t seem interested at all until she said, “What about you?”

“I work across the street. I’m in sales.”

“You must travel a lot.”

“Not too much. I’m the manager, so my team does all the traveling.”

“Must be nice to be the boss.”

“It has its moments.” I laughed and she smiled at my forced joke. We fell silent for another moment. She took out her smartphone and stared at the tiny screen intently as she scrolled through something with her thumb. She had long, slender fingers that were nicely manicured. She wore a pink nail polish that day on the train that gleamed even in the harsh lights of the car.

I kept my gaze on her as she peered into her phone. I loved the way her long blond hair hung down below her shoulders and curved around her breasts. Her white blouse hugged her breasts firmly and the navy skirt she wore fit tightly around her waist splaying out ever so slightly around her hips. The skirt hung down to her mid-calf, but I could see that her legs were strong and slim as she balanced in the navy heels she wore. Her perfume created an aura of heavenly pleasure around her. It wasn’t too heavy, but it was bold enough to make her presence known. I immediately fell in love with the sweet scent that reminded me of a nice summer breeze.

I wanted desperately to continue our conversation. I imagined the next few things I would say to her and her response. In my mind, our discourse was free and easy and we’d walk out of the train arm-in-arm agreeing to a date at some point in the future. In reality, the train became unbearably hot despite the cool air blowing on my head from the air vent above. I sweated profusely, but my suit jacket kept all visible signs hidden from Anna. When the pressure became too much, I forced myself to speak to her again.

“Where do you get off?” I asked. I knew exactly which station she would disembark, but I couldn’t think of anything else to say. My mind drew infuriating blanks.

“Excuse me?” she asked confused or perturbed by my question.

“Which station?”

“Oh, I, I live near Brookhaven.”

“Really? I do too. I live at the Post Apartments there near the station.”

“Nice. I have a friend who lives there.”

At first, my heart sank. I hoped her boyfriend didn’t live there. It would sadden me to know that Anna visited my apartment complex regularly for someone else.

“What’s his name? I may know him.”

“Her name is Nancy Ware. She lives in the unit at the back of the complex.”

I was relieved. “I don’t know her.”

“I wouldn’t expect so. That’s a big complex.”

The train emerged from the tunnel heading north and the glare of the sunlight made us both wince until our eyes adjusted. Anna slid her phone into her purse and looked at me. She seemed engaged, interested. I sensed an opening.

“I’m going to grab some dinner at the Chinese place across the street from Brookhaven. Would you like to join me?”

If she was put off by my assertiveness, her eyes didn’t betray her. I imagined that she got asked out often by guys who were smitten by her beauty.

She puckered her lips and raised her eyebrows like she was considering an iffy proposition. “Sure. I’m game.” She smiled at me and my heart raced. I never dreamed that I’d see her again and go out to dinner with her all in the same day. I discreetly breathed a sigh of relief, but an electric excitement swirled through my whole body.

The rest of the train ride to Brookhaven felt like the beginning of a first date. We asked questions of each other and talked about ourselves as if we were in an interview. I stared at her intently when she spoke noticing all of the little things that made her who she was. Her piercing blue eyes sparkled in the sunlight and mesmerized me. The line of her jaw was quite angular, but it was smooth enough to give her the soft edge of a beautiful woman.

She laughed at my story about my coworkers and our antics on a business trip. She twirled her hair subconsciously as she talked about some arrogant lawyer at her firm. She leaned into me when the train came to a jerky stop at the Lenox station, and my heart skipped a beat. In the space of a 30-minute train ride, we had gone from complete strangers to chatting like old friends. I could barely contain my excitement.

We walked side-by-side out of the train station and across the street to the Chinese restaurant, which was wedged between a grocery store and a dry cleaner in a nondescript strip mall that faced the station. The noisy traffic combined with the exhaust fumes and evening heat would normally make me cranky, but with Anna next to me smiling and talking animatedly, I barely noticed. I felt like we simply floated across the street to our seats against the big window in the restaurant. We barely acknowledged the waitress when she stopped by our table, but we managed to order after much discussion over the menu and talked non-stop until the streetlights provided the only light outside the window.

Over four hours glided by before we knew it. The waitress had cleared our plates long ago and the bill sat between us untouched. We were the only ones left in the restaurant. A crowd had surged around dinner time and slowly disappeared as the evening wore on. The waitress leaned against the podium near the door staring listlessly out at the sidewalk. The restaurant didn’t close for another 30 minutes, but the waitress looked as though she wished we’d leave so that she could begin to clean the place.

I looked at Anna during a pause in our conversation. She smiled at me and flipped her hair back away from her face. I wanted to get lost in her eyes. I wanted to lean across the table and kiss her plump lips. I imagined many things, but I knew it was too soon. I knew I wanted to see her again. And again.

“This was fun,” she began, “we should do it again.”

“I’d like that.”

“What are you doing Friday night?”

“I’m going out with some friends on Friday.”

I wondered what she meant by “friends.” A boyfriend?

“What about Saturday?”

“That’d be great.”

“Well, then, it’s a date.”

“I’m looking forward to it.” She smiled at me and twirled her hair in her fingers. I loved the way she did that. It was an endearing habit that made her seem real to me.

We split the bill because Anna insisted that we do so. I tried to protest, but she agreed to let me buy her dinner on Saturday, so I dropped my objections. As we stood up to leave, she put her hand on my arm and left it there. A current pulsed through me at her touch.

“It was nice meeting you Rob.”

“Thank you for joining me.”

She broke away from me for a minute and leaned down onto the table to write something on a piece of paper.

“Here’s my address for Saturday.”

I looked at the business card she had handed me. The big loopy numbers and letters of her address were written on the back of the card. I flipped it over and read the front. “Anna L. Bradley, Attorney.” The thick card paper had a premium feel to it with the glossy insignia of her law firm raised on one side.

“Nice business card.”

“Thanks.”

I pulled a card from my briefcase and wrote my phone number on the back. “Here’s my phone number in case something comes up. Otherwise, I’ll pick you up at seven.”

She took my card and looked at it briefly before she tucked it in her purse. We walked outside and back toward the street. A train whirred to a stop at the station across the street. I mused that our journey had begun just a few hours before at that very station. I wondered if it was the same train car making its return trip, a true sign of destiny.

“Thanks for the wonderful dinner,” she said as we came to a stop on the sidewalk.

“Thank you for joining me.”

“I’ll see you on Saturday.”

“At seven.”

She smiled and gave me a little wave. “Good night.”

“Good night.”

She paused for a moment and stared at me with a big, beautiful smile before she turned and walked in the other direction toward her apartment. I stood there for a while watching her walk away and fade into the distance down the sidewalk. The click of her heels on the pavement made music in the night. I felt alive and vividly aware of everything around me. The cool night air smelled crisp and clean. The street lights sparkled like terrestrial stars. My footsteps were light and energizing. Nothing could pull me down from the clouds. Nothing.

The week crawled by slowly. Saturday was only four days away but it might as well have been four months. I didn’t see Anna again on the train the rest of the week. I wanted to call her and check on her but I didn’t want to appear needy. Instead, I just waited it out in the slow, painful drip of time that was relentlessly stuck in the tar pit of anticipation.

I awoke on Saturday in the dim light of early morning too excited to go back to sleep. I watched the sunrise from my bedroom window, but all I could think about was Anna. I saw her face shining in the morning sun. I imagined her lying next to me entangled in the sheets, her smooth olive skin contrasting starkly with the glowing white sheets. I imagined kissing and touching her, and the current of exhilaration that had permeated every pore of my body on the night we had dinner returned. I wanted to call her right then and ask her to spend the day with me. I couldn’t wait until the evening. I didn’t want to endure another moment without her.

I had gone as far as to pick up my cell phone and find her number before I put the phone back on my nightstand. I had to be patient or risk undermining our burgeoning relationship. One of the things that had made me an incredibly successful salesman had been my steely patience, and the despite the fact that Anna crushed any discipline I had, I refrained from calling her, but the anticipation of our date was killing me.

My best efforts to distract myself failed miserably. I ran errands, but almost every song on the radio in my car made me think of Anna. I went to the gym for a few hours, but I couldn’t really focus on my workout because I was thinking of Anna. I simply went through the motions in every set I did and plodded along on the hapless treadmill for half an hour. For lunch I ventured down the street to Brookhaven in the hope that I would run into Anna going about her day, but I didn’t. She was everywhere I turned but nowhere in sight. I was hopelessly smitten by a woman I barely knew.

When the hour finally arrived, I found myself sitting outside her apartment building 15 minutes early. I had tried to time it to be exactly on time, but my eagerness got the best of me. I wasn’t going to knock on her door 15 minutes before our date, so I sat in my car for another ten minutes. I’d waited all day, so what was another few minutes.

At five to seven, I knocked on her door at apartment 223 and waiting nervously for her to answer. I heard clicking footsteps inside the apartment before the door swung open revealing my date for the night. I caught a whiff of her heavenly perfume before I could take in the sight of her. My heartbeat quickened. She stood before me in a tight black miniskirt and a white, sleeveless blouse that clung to her body like a second skin. She wore black high heels that made her taller, which I appreciated given my height.

“Wow, you look great,” I said. These words tumbled from my mouth without much thought. I knew I probably sounded like some horny high school boy.

“Thank you. You look pretty good yourself.”

“Thanks.”

We stood in a stark silence for a moment sizing each other up for the night ahead. I came to my senses after a few more slow seconds.

“Is teppanyaki okay?” I asked.

“That sounds wonderful.”

“Good because I love The Kobe House,” I said smiling. She giggled as if I had said something funny as she shut the door to her apartment and locked it. Maybe I spoke a little too enthusiastically about my favorite restaurant. She turned back to me and we stood close to each other. The energy between us made my heart race. I tried to calm down as we walked to my car.

The restaurant was only a few minutes south of her apartment near the Lenox Mall on Peachtree Road. The valet opened her door when I pulled up outside The Kobe House and I handed him my keys as I took Anna’s arm and walked with her into the building. The restaurant was already bustling with diners and the theatric chefs. We walked past families gathered around the warm grills laughing and chatting with the chefs as they performed feats of skill with knives and food.

The hostess seated us at an empty table near the back of the restaurant, and I was glad to have some time alone with Anna before others joined us around the table. We sat on the end with six empty chairs encircling the grill.

“Have you been here before?” I asked her.

“No, but I love teppanyaki.”

“The food is very good here. I come here more than I should.” I smiled and patted my stomach. Anna laughed.

“I don’t think you have anything to worry about,” she said coyly raising her eyebrow as she looked at my midsection. I tightened it subconsciously even though she could not possibly see through my shirt.

“Tell me more about yourself,” I said. I really wanted to hear everything about her. I had to unravel the mystery of Anna.

“I did that the other night.” She was playing hard to get.

“There has to be more. Where are you from originally?”

“North Carolina.”

“Really? Where?”

“Raleigh.”

“I have an aunt that lives in Raleigh.”

“I doubt I know her.”

“Are you sure because you’re both from Raleigh?” I joked. She laughed.

“I haven’t lived there since I was eight. My mom moved to Atlanta after my parents divorced.”

“Oh, sorry to hear that.”

“Does your mom still live here?”

“No, she passed away about five years ago.”

“Oh my god, I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. You couldn’t possibly know.”

“What happened?”

“Let’s talk about happy stuff. I don’t want to be a downer on our first real date.”

I paused for a moment in the uncomfortable turn the conversation had taken. I thought that family was a safe topic, but her mother’s death had taken me by surprise. I did what I always did when I was uncomfortable. I made a joke albeit a poor one.

“This is our first date?’ I looked at her bemusedly. “I thought Tuesday was our first date.” I smiled wide and chuckled a little.

“I guess it depends on how you define ‘date’.”

“Good point.”

At that moment, the hostess led a family of six to our table and filled the remaining chairs around the grill. The older couple and their grown children smiled and gave the perfunctory greetings as they assumed their seats, but the family was quickly absorbed in its own conversation leaving Anna and me to our own little world in the corner of the restaurant. The chef finally made his way to our table and begun his act while he methodically cooked our dinner before us.

Anna and I watched the chef like two adult cats watching kittens play before them. We’d seen it all before, but in between the smiles and laughs as the chef joked, we also volleyed questions to one another slowly getting to know each other more deeply. I felt like an artist filling in the colors of a painting as I learned more about this mysterious woman who had monopolized my every waking thought for the past four days. She was as beautiful and wonderful as I had imagined. Everything about her mesmerized me from her gleaming smile to the way she twirled the end of her long hair subconsciously while she listened to me. If I wasn’t falling in love, then I couldn’t possibly know what love was. But I knew.

We overstayed our welcome at The Kobe House. The meal came and went. The family next to us had left, and I had already paid the bill, yet Anna and I sat at the corner of the table and talked like we were the only two people in the room. The waitress came back and started wiping down the table that had just been cleared as if to give us a hint that we should leave.

“I think we should go,” I said. Anna looked over her shoulder at the waitress who was now standing at the other end of the table like a prison guard on the lookout for any funny business.

“I guess so.”

“Do you want some coffee?”

“Sure.”

“Why don’t we go across the street to the coffee shop?”

“Sounds good to me.”

She stood up and we walked toward the door nodding and thanking our waitress as we left. I put my hand on Anna’s back lightly touching her as we walked. We barely touched, but the electricity and excitement flowing through me was almost overwhelming. I knew then that I had to have her. I wanted to kiss her, but the rational side of me knew that would not be appropriate. My usually steely patience was failing me yet again.

We closed down the coffee shop. We sat at our tiny table in the corner of the restaurant and talked without so much as taking a breath between words and sips of our coffee. I’d never talked so much in my life even during some of my most heated sales pitches. I’d never listened so intently either. Everything I learned about Anna was like a golden nugget to me, something I cherished and locked away in my memory.

By the time I retrieved my car from the valet and drove Anna back to her place, it was almost Midnight, but I didn’t want our date to end. I wanted to wake up next to her in the morning. However, I knew it was not reasonable to expect such a thing. This was our first date, and despite my desires, I didn’t want her to be that easy. The chase was more fun and exciting than the catch. It always was.

“I had a great time tonight,” she said as she smiled at me in front of the door to her apartment.

“Me too. We should definitely do this again.”

“Yes, we should.”

“I’ll call you.”

A pause followed as we looked at each other. Her eyes were still bright and expressive. Her lips were still a bright red and plump. Her perfume still hung in the air between us intoxicating me each time I got close to her. I leaned in and kissed her on the cheek. A bolt of excitement pulsed through my body. A slight tremble rumbled through my hands, but I steadied them by putting them on her waist. We stood close for a moment before I kissed her again on the lips.

If my desire had been an alarm, it would have been throbbing at the full decibel level at that point. I could feel it in her too. Her lips were warm and so soft. Her tongue prodded mine and I pulled her closer to feel the heat of her body next to mine. I was aroused to the point of embarrassment. I hoped she didn’t feel it. I didn’t want her to think that I was some teenager with implacable hormones; although, I felt that way.

We parted slowly and I looked in her eyes. They had that subdued look that invited me to go further, but I resisted. Despite what I truly wanted, I didn’t want to ruin it on our first date. I retreated to my normal reasonable self reluctantly, but my libido protested sharply.

“I should let you get some sleep.”

She seemed disappointed, but she lingered in my space. I leaned in and kissed her lips again before I stepped back. She started to say something but stopped short.

“I’ll call you tomorrow. Maybe we can spend the day down at Piedmont Park or something. The weather is supposed to be nice.”

“Sure. That sounds fun.”

“Good night.” I stepped back but kept my eyes on her.

“Good night.” She stared at me but didn’t make any move into her apartment. I wasn’t sure what message she was sending to me, but I knew that this felt different, and I didn’t want to ruin it with sex. I had done that so many times before, so I had to force myself to turn away. I looked at her one more time and turned around and walked to my car. The night air cooled me as I walked away, but nothing could dampen the visceral desire I felt at that moment.

I didn’t sleep much that night. All I could think about was Anna. I tossed and turned in my bed twisting the sheets around me until I could no longer turn over without untangling the mess of fabric that mummified me. I alternated between night sweats and incredibly intense boners that jostled me awake any time I even drifted off momentarily. The next morning I clambered out of bed more exhausted than when I had retired the night before, but the possibility of seeing Anna again provided the spark to get me going. By ten that morning, we met again at the coffee shop for breakfast before we took the train to Piedmont Park. We spent a remarkable day together that still remains one of the best days of my life.

Over the next several weeks, my life was all about Anna. Our schedules weren’t perfectly aligned so I didn’t get to see her every day on the train, but we spent time together after work even if it was just a quick visit at her apartment, my apartment, or some random restaurant in Brookhaven. We spent our weekends together, we introduced each other to our friends, and we made plans to take a trip together in the fall. Everything was falling into place. I couldn’t have been happier, and I knew she felt the same way.

In the physical realm, our relationship had not progressed to the point of sex. There had been lots of kissing and some groping, but nothing more. Anna seemed hesitant to go much further. She didn’t say so, but I thought she wanted to wait until our relationship firmly matured, but we never discussed it. We simply stopped short of sex.

Although I desired her more than anything, I respected and loved her and didn’t push the issue because so many of my previous relationships had gone downhill after that first sexual encounter. I couldn’t bear the thought of drifting away from Anna. I was determined to avoid that situation. Nevertheless, an unmistakable desire burned between us, and as a man, there was only so much waiting I could do. The sexual tension was always there and it begged for a release.

One Friday night in early September, we returned to her apartment after having dinner downtown near Centennial Park. We’d met some friends after work and had drinks and a big meal. Both of us were feeling a little inebriated, which was obvious in the way we slouched into each other on the train back to Brookhaven. I walked her to her apartment and leaned into her to kiss her good night, but instead of pulling away I fell into her and kissed her passionately. The self-control I had so carefully honed over the past three months quickly fell away under the influence of stiff drinks and pent-up desire.

She unlocked her door and we continued inside her apartment. I wanted her and she seemed to want me. My addled brain put up no resistance as we kissed and touched each other. Her heavy breaths and slight moans as I kissed her drove me crazy. I was so aroused that it pained me. I had to have her at that moment. There was no turning back. After a few months of being the perfect gentleman, I could no longer hide my true desire for her.

She ripped off my shirt and removed hers as I backed her onto her couch. Her small breasts pressed against my chest, which excited me further. I kissed her hard and moved down her neck until I was licking and kissing her nipples. She arched her back and moaned, and I reached down to undo her jeans. Once I unbuttoned them, she started and sat up breathing heavily but with a look of concern on her face.

“Are you okay?” I asked somewhat flustered by her reaction.

“Yes.” She paused but still looked concerned.

I could hardly contain myself. I kissed her left nipple and massaged the other one with my hand, but she sat ramrod straight against the back of the couch. At first, it didn’t deter me. She gently pushed my head away.

“There’s something I should tell you,” she said between deep breaths.

At this point, all I could think about was sex. I knew she was the one. I’d spent three months ruminating about it and exploring my feelings for her. She was different than all the other women I had dated. She was beautiful as many of the others had been, but we connected on a level that was beyond the physical. We had similar backgrounds, similar likes and dislikes, and our friends were even similar. It all felt right. She was the one, and I wanted her, but her words immediately raised a concern in my mind.

“Is something wrong?” I asked.

“No, but…”

The first thing that popped into my mind was that she had some sexually-transmitted disease that she had failed to disclose to me earlier. I thought about that in the short moment she paused. How would that affect our relationship? It didn’t change how I felt about her, but it certainly would put a damper on the physical side of things. I decided in that instant that it didn’t matter. I loved her anyway. Nothing could change that. I waited.

“Do you not want to?” I asked impatiently. I was clearly disappointed especially in my drunken state, but a small part of my sex-addled mind understood.

“I do, but I’m…there’s something I should tell you.”

“Are you okay?”

She smiled faintly and looked at me lovingly, but the concern was palpable. She slowly unzipped her jeans and pushed them down her narrow hips. She didn’t have to remove her underwear because I knew in an instant what she had to tell me. Stunned, I fell back on the other end of her couch. Nothing could hide what I felt in that moment. My arousal drained from me in an instant. Fear stormed across her face, and she instinctively pulled her jeans back up and buttoned them quickly. She grabbed her blouse as she ran back to her bedroom. I heard the door slam with a thud, but I remained pinned to the end of her couch, speechless.

Many things flashed through my mind in those agonizing seconds or minutes that passed immediately in the wake of her revelation. The last three months had been a glorious time for me. I had met the woman of my dreams. I had fallen in love with her, and she, seemingly, had fallen in love with me. There were no words to describe how I felt about her. Up until that moment, I could not imagine my life without her. I didn’t want to imagine such a thing, but then, I found myself torn between the ideal life I imagined for us and the reality that had presented itself. The result was paralysis.

It didn’t help that we were both drunk even if only slightly. The cloud of alcohol removed those filters we often used to shield ourselves when life delivered the inevitable surprises. I finally stumbled to my feet and put my shirt back on. I looked down the long, narrow hallway to her bedroom. Her door was still shut. My escape was preordained, easy. There’d be no emotional battle, no screaming fit, and no slamming of doors that would end this relationship. I took one or maybe two steps toward the front door and then stopped.

An hour earlier, I would have never entertained the idea of walking out on Anna forever. Never. I loved her. She was everything I wanted except for that one thing. Why did that matter to me? Why couldn’t I simply take her for what she was and enjoy the wonderful relationship that had blossomed between us?

I wavered in the seemingly vast space of her living room partly from drunkenness and partly from indecisiveness. Thoughts swirled in my head incoherently. I couldn’t make sense of my feelings. Finally, a swell of reason came over me and I walked back to her bedroom door. Never had I felt so determined and sure of myself.

“Anna,” I called from her door after I knocked lightly.

I couldn’t hear any movement on the other side of the door. Silence echoed loudly in the dimly lit hallway.

“Anna, please come out.”

“Anna, I’m sorry.”

A sniff and a gasp of breath emerged from her room.

“Please,” I said.

“No, please go.”

“I’m not leaving.”

“I’m sorry I can’t be who you want me to be.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

She paused and sniffed. I could tell she was crying. I thought I heard her audibly sob before she said, “You know what it means.”

“I don’t care about that.”

Her sobbing became more audible. I wanted to reach through the door and hold her.

“I don’t. I love you. I love who you are. That’s all I care about.”

“You don’t mean that.”

“I do.”

The moment lingered for a long time with me leaning against her door coaxing her to come out and with her on the other side sobbing loudly. Her cries broke my heart, and I started to cry silently. I couldn’t fathom hurting her. All I could think about was how she made me feel, how much I loved her.

“Please come out, Anna.”

After a long pause, I heard the lock on the door click and she slowly opened the door. She looked at me pathetically. Her beautiful blue eyes swam in a sea of red, and her usually bright, full lips seemed dull and withdrawn. She hesitated, stood back in the bright light of her bedroom before she took a step toward me. I grabbed her and hugged her close. She lost it and cried into my shoulder, big heaving sobs that reverberated through her apartment like a wounded animal crying out in a lonely forest.

We stood in that embrace for the longest time saying not a word. I inhaled her sweet scent and rubbed her back as she clung to me. Finally, she broke away and looked up to me like a child scorned. She rubbed her eyes and her nose with her hand.

“You don’t have to stay. I understand if you want to leave,” she said. Her voice was shaky and pathetic. It made me love her more. I wanted to protect her at all costs.

“I don’t have to, but I want to.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“Thank you.” She buried her head in my shoulder again and wept. I held her and my resolve hardened. I loved her no matter what. Nothing could change how I felt about her.

I spent the night with her for the first time that night. We woke up beside each other the next morning. We were both scared of what the day would bring, but we remained mostly silent as we ate breakfast together. The elephant in the room begged for attention. Finally, I took the first tentative steps toward some semblance of resolution trying to reconcile the woman I loved with the secret she had kept from me.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I couldn’t. I’m sorry. I just didn’t want to ruin it. I just fell for you so quickly that first night.”

“I would have understood.”

“Would you?”

“Yes.”

“Would you have given me the chance?”

“I’d like to think so.”

“I don’t think you would have. No one has, or at least no one that I have cared so much about.”

“You have little faith in me.”

“It’s not you. I’ve…I’ve been through this before.”

I took the last bite of my eggs and looked at her pensively. Despite my resolve, doubts plagued me. I struggled to reason through it. A long silence ensued.

“Were you born male or both?” My own question startled me when I heard the words tumble from my mouth, but I had to know.

“Male.”

“I just can’t believe it. You’re so…beautiful.”

“I work very hard to look like this. I had wanted my entire life to be a woman, and one day after I graduated high school, I decided that I would become one. That’s who I wanted to be. It was the hardest decision I ever made, but it was also the most liberating. This is who I am.”

“I don’t understand it.”

“It’s hard for you. I understand. You’ve always been who you are. You’ve never struggled with knowing that you were somebody else. Most people are like you. I envy you. I wish I could be happy with who I was, but I wasn’t. I’m happy with who I am now.”

I bit a chunk of the bagel she had toasted for breakfast and chewed it slowly considering what she had said. She was right. I didn’t know what it was like to be someone trapped in an identity that I didn’t want. Still, I struggled to reconcile it all, to sort out my entangled and confused feelings.

She stood up suddenly and for once I looked up to her. She peered at me seriously. “I love you. I really do, but I need you to make a decision now. I can’t handle the heartbreak if this lingers on. You can walk away right now with no strings attached. I won’t make you feel guilty or even bother you. You’re free to go, but if you stay, it has to be because you want to give us a chance.”

Her eyes moistened and I thought she was on the verge of another breakdown, but she stood firmly in her space and looked at me hopefully. In all her weakness, she seemed strong as if she had weathered this storm before.

I swallowed the bagel and took a deep breath in. I stood up towering over her once again as I gathered my plate and took it to the sink in the kitchen. I returned to face her. I knew she saw the thoughts dancing across my face, but she betrayed no nervousness at what I might say. She didn’t waver or back away. I reached out and pulled her into my arms and hugged her tight. I pushed her back and kissed her deeply. The familiar excitement returned and I knew at once that I loved her. I had always loved her, and I always will.