Hello from Belgium! Everything’s going well, bar a tumble down the stairs that left half of my body comically bruised (I can laugh at it now.) 😉 Less than two weeks before my next novel comes out, so I thought I’d share the first chapter. Enjoy!
The Road to You
© Harper Bliss
I look at Grace and I know it will end soon. She’s just not right for me. I can’t put it into words just yet. I’ll need to suffer in silence for a while first. But I will tell her soon. Although, sitting here with her now, in her off-campus apartment on East Fourth Street, and seeing how the late afternoon sun catches in her hair, I foresee a difficult break-up.
She looks up from her book. “Pussycat,” she says.
Reflexively, I roll my eyes at her. “What?” I hate it when she calls me that. It started with just Kat, though I told her from the very beginning that my name is Katherine, not Kat, and certainly not Pussycat.
“Got your claws out again?” She smiles a disarming smile.
“I told you before,” is all I say.
“But you do everything a cat does.” She doesn’t let it go. “You purr when I pet you. You ignore me when I want you to look at me the most. And you’ve got very sharp claws. You even growl when you’re unhappy.” She rakes her fingers through her hair the way she does. She had it cut short this summer, before we returned to university, despite me begging her numerous times over the phone not to. When I saw her again after those long weeks during which she visited her family in Florida, I had to admit she had done the right thing.
“What did you want to ask me?” I ignore her comment, though I know she’s right. My claws have become a little sharper every day for the past few weeks.
“I just wanted to say something.” Grace’s voice is always high, in a pleasant way. “I love you, Pussycat.” She reaches out her hand and her fingers find my back, caress my skin.
“I love you too,” I say automatically. It’s not a lie. I love Grace. I never thought I would, but she wormed her way into my heart. But ten months together, and me as good as living with her instead of in my dorm room, have muted the passion I used to feel for her. Even though ours was definitely not a love-at-first-sight, thunderbolt kind of attraction. At least not for me.
Grace never questions my love. She’s not a questioning kind of person. She just assumes things very easily. Like me not holding it against her when she arrived twenty minutes late for our first date—a date she instigated. I hid it well back then.
We’re too young to stay together, anyway. I’m only a junior at NYU, she a senior. When it comes to romance, we’re mere babies. Though I do consider her my first true love. The first one that matters.
“You’re driving me crazy, Kat,” Grace says. “You’re looking at me all funny and you’re making me wonder what you’re thinking.”
I quirk up my eyebrows. It’s not like Grace to say things like this. Then again, it’s not like me to have the thoughts I’ve been having. I try to remember when I started getting an inkling of our relationship nearing its end. Was it when she spilled coffee all over my French text book and I lost it? Or when I spotted her chatting animatedly to another girl in her Women’s Studies class—a girl whom I know for a fact has had a crush on her all year—and I didn’t experience any pangs of jealousy? Instead, I figured she’d find a rebound person easily when things between us didn’t work out.
“I’m just nervous about this assignment. You know how much I regret taking French as an extra credit, but now I’m stuck with it and I’ll be damned if I’ll let it ruin my GPA.”
“At least Seabolt’s a looker,” Grace says, again not questioning me further.
“Do you have eyes in your head?” Grace replies. “She’s by far the hottest professor on campus. She makes me wish I had taken French.”
“She has these thin lips and pinched-together mouth. And her eyes have this eery light color. I just find her frightening, that’s all.” I’m also not in the habit of thinking of my professors as hot.
“There’s a rumor going around that she’s one of us. Marcy claims she’s seen her being very friendly with a certain female student.” Grace sits up a bit. Topics like these always get her extremely excited.
“Marcy would say that.”
“Why would you say that?” Her tone is snappy now. “I don’t get why you don’t like Marcy.”
“She’s just… too much for me. Too in-your-face. Too radical and militant.”
“Do you know where we would be without other people being militant for us?”
Here we go again. Grace spends way too much time with her fellow students. This kind of stuff is all they talk about for hours on end. Then she gets upset because I don’t like hanging out with her friends. Wanting to end this conversation as soon as possible, I hold up my hands in supplication. “Yes, Grace. I do know. I know all about it.” Damn it, that sounded way more condescending than I had anticipated.
“Whatever,” Grace says, and looks away.
I have to suppress the urge to up and leave. It’s Saturday and my roommate will be out. I could have a perfectly relaxed evening on my own—minus the laboring over the presentation I have to give in my French class on Monday. Choosing French was a frivolous choice for me, but I honestly believed it would round out my education well. I also didn’t want to be an American who only ever wants to speak their mother tongue.
I love watching French movies, especially older ones with Catherine Deneuve, and my first girlfriend introduced me to the music of Jacques Brel. I just wanted to understand, without the help of a dictionary, what he was singing about. I’m not one to make a decision without thinking it through and examining the results from every angle. I found zero downsides to taking French. What I hadn’t expected was that learning a new language seems to be a million times more difficult for me than for everyone else in my class. I stumble over every word. I can learn the vocabulary all I want, and revise the grammar all night long, but I’ll never be a fluent French speaker. I’ve racked my brain trying to figure out why—as I tend to do—and the best explanation I can come up with is that I simply don’t have a knack for languages. Which is why my major is Economics.
“What do you want to do tonight?” I ask, because I need to stop thinking about my French class, this assignment, and the prospect of Professor Seabolt’s disappointed glare.
“TV and takeout?” Grace offers.
I nod my assent, though I can easily think of a dozen more exciting things to do with my Saturday night, but this is what we do now. We stay in and watch a TV movie. Eat too much and drift off into sleep without even considering the prospect of touching each other.
The thing about Grace is that I don’t want to lose her. We know plenty of people who’ve remained friends after breaking up. With this as my objective, I’d better end it with her before she starts hating me.
“Ali, Ali, Ali.” Anna shakes her head at me. “Will you never learn?”
“I’m in college so I learn plenty every day.” I tuck a strand of hair behind my ear.
“You don’t seem to pick up on what matters, though.” Anna scrunches her lips together. “How old is she, anyway? How long have we known each other? You usually don’t have affairs with women above twenty-five.” She shakes her head again.
I probably shouldn’t have told her. I wouldn’t have—as I said to Julianne earlier, I can keep a secret—but Anna mentioned the rumor that’s going around campus and then I guess she could just read it on my face. “I’ve decided to broaden my scope,” I declare jokingly. “She’s only forty-one.”
“Jesus, Ali.” Anna twirls a strand of ginger hair around her finger as she looks at me. Her coffee must have gone cold by now. “How did it even happen?”
I bite my lip and lock my gaze on her. “I’ve been told I have a certain… inviting kind of look in my eyes. She must have noticed.”
“Nu-uh. I’m not falling for that. There’s too much on the line for a professor who sleeps with a student for her to have just fallen for your pretty face like that. You must have pursued her. I know you well, remember?”
“Let’s just say I needed some extra guidance on the subject of the French Revolution. For instance, did you know that Thomas Jefferson was the U.S. Minister to France during the revolution?” I know I’m driving Anna crazy with this. She’s too strait-laced to get it. Most people are.
“Do you have an end game in mind?” Anna ignores my knowledge about this particular topic. “And what if the rumor spreads?”
I play with the gold bangle on my wrist. “My conscience is clear.” I lean back in my chair and rest my ankle on my knee. I get a flashback from last night, when I sneaked into Julianne’s house long after dark. I should be tired today, but I’m not.
“Do you have feelings for her?” Anna grimaces after taking a sip from her coffee.
Finally an interesting question. “I’m not indifferent to her, or what she thinks of me.” A slow smile creeps along my lips. “It’s just such a thrill, you know, to sit in class and watch her explain something while remembering the delicious noises she produced the night before. While nobody has a clue. And when her eyes land on me, which they always do at some point, to have this secret between us. It’s intoxicating.”
“For now,” Anna says. “But you can’t be so naive to think there won’t be consequences. You could get expelled for this.”
“No way.” Though my tone of voice sounds certain, a flicker of doubt runs through me. “Both my parents are alumni. And we all know how generous the Wests can be.”
“Your father would have a heart attack if he found out.” Genuine worry crosses Anna’s face. I do wish she would lighten up. It’s just an affair.
“Then he would have my mother at hand to make him better.” I drop my foot to the floor and plant my elbows on the table between us, staring deep into Anna’s eyes—knowing it will unsettle her.
“Are you rebelling against the establishment because of your perfect upbringing?” Anna looks away. She’s not really one for prolonged eye contact.
“Perfect?” I huff out an offended breath. “I dare you to try and be a West for a month. You’ll soon notice exactly how perfect things are in my family.”
“It must have been hard growing up in that huge house on the Upper East Side, having to walk all of two blocks to get to Central Park.”
“Dear Anna.” I grab her by the wrist. “You’re my best friend in this whole wide wretched world, and I love you dearly, but why are you on my case so much today?”
“Because,” Anna says, “I think you like her more than you let on and you might get hurt.”
I sigh deeply. “When was the last time you saw me get hurt by a chick?”
“That’s just the thing, though. She’s not”—she curls her fingers into air quotes—“a ‘chick’. She’s your professor. She’s in a position of power.”
“As you said earlier,” I retort, though I still fail to see why I’m getting the third degree about this, “she’s the one who could lose her job over this. She’s the one taking the risk. While I truly appreciate your concern, there’s no need to worry about the future state of my heart. We’re both consenting adults.”
“I’m just worried, Ali. I can’t see this ending well.”
“We both know you worry too much.” Anna spends most of her day worrying. About the cowlicks in her hair. About the A minus she got for an English Lit assignment. About what my parents thought of her when she came to dinner. About how her mother is coping upstate, even though Anna has been in college for almost two full years. “Are you coming to my gig tonight?”
“I don’t know. I want to, you know that. But I have to write an essay by Tuesday and I only have fifteen hundred words so far.”
“Fifteen hundred words? I’ve never written anything longer than a thousand words at the most. You try too hard, Anna.” I tap my fingers against her arm. “Come to the gig tonight and I’ll hook you up with Jennifer. She’s been asking for you.”
Anna turns up her nose at this. “If you want me to come out, you’re gonna have to do better than try to tempt me with Jennifer.”
“What’s wrong with Jennifer?” I let go of her arm and lean back again.
“Apart from the fact that she’s probably hit on half, if not more, of the female population at NYU, I know for a fact that the only reason she’s even remotely interested in me is because I won’t give her the time of the day. She’s immature and crass.”
“Why don’t you tell me what you really think?” I give a chuckle. Jennifer accompanies me on acoustic guitar when I have a gig, and she’s even more of a player than I am. I shrug. “It was worth the try. For what it’s worth, she’s a great friend.”
“Please don’t tell me she plays the guitar for you for altruistic reasons. Being on stage with you just gets her more pussy.” Anna states this so matter-of-factly, I burst out laughing.
“Come for me then?” I bat my lashes at her. “We’ll make a night of it. It’s Saturday. You shouldn’t be working on an essay.”
“Are you playing anything new? Because I’ve heard all your songs a million times.” Despite her petulance, I know Anna will be there tonight.
“We’ve been practicing a new cover. One of your favorite songs. But you have to come see which one it is for yourself.” Anna never fell for my advances either. However, after she told me off in no uncertain terms, she did take a different shine to me. We’ve been friends ever since.
“Who am I to resist the pleading Alison West look? Those hooded eyes, that crooked smile, who can possibly be impervious to that?” Anna jokes. “Of course, I’ll be there.”
I shoot her one of my crooked smiles, secretly glad that we never ended up in bed together. Because if we had, I might not have Anna Davis as my best buddy. Tonight, I’ll dedicate my cover of “Anna Begins” to her.
<<End of preview>>
The Road to You will be available on 31 May 2016