“The faucet dripped ominously in the kitchen, but it was the least of Margaret Jean Farhquar’s problems. The former debutante and now tough-as-nails businesswoman had a hard choice to make, and it boiled down to the same two options that had plagued her entire 31 years on earth: Love or money.
“DeAngelo wasn’t much to look at, but he was comfortable company, the kind of guy to do crossword puzzles with on Sunday mornings. Plus, his father knew more about super-conducting metals than any man alive. DeAngelo was poised to inherit a fortune that rivaled Margaret’s own.
“But Thorn with his brooding brown eyes and poet’s spirit always made her feel like a woman. Just last night, he’d compared her to a swan while kissing her neck, and for a time she actually believed she was a graceful beauty, rather than the stumpy-looking thing she knew herself to be. Her sister, Janice, took all the pretty out of their shared gene pool, leaving Margaret with nothing but brains. But maybe that was the lie, and Thorn was telling the truth.
“Love or money? Love or money? The urgent question repeated in Margaret’s sharp but conflicted mind, as her stomach grumbled angrily and the faucet drip-drip-dripped away on a breezy day thick with consequence.”
Scarlett Ann Jones highlighted every word she’d just written – all 219 of them – and with one finger to the delete button erased Thorn, DeAngelo, Margaret Jean Farhquar and even the lovely Janice. It was almost as though they’d never existed, except she could still undo the delete.
She screwed her eyes closed, and let her fingers do the writing: “I’m a hack.”
She opened her eyes and knew the words on the glowing screen were true. She hit save, then shut down the computer.
“Another wasted day, Ms. Best-Selling Author,” she said. “Might as well call your agent and tell her you’re running away with the circus. You can clean up elephant dung, which couldn’t stink nearly as bad as ‘brooding brown eyes and poet’s spirit.’”
There was no one in the tiny cabin to hear her, so the hateful words she threw at herself hung in the air, along with the dripping of the kitchen faucet and the grumbling in her belly.
“I can do something about those two things, at least,” she said.
Still wrapped in her frayed green writing sweater, Scarlett grabbed her keys for a drive into Gumtree, where nobody knew she was S.A. Jones, creator of Artimus the Mississippi vampire. Her hero with his easy-going Southern charm and biting wit had starred in 15 chart-topping novels and three successful movies.
More importantly, no one in town knew that every attempt to write about a character other than Artimus resulted in failure. She felt like the vampire had created her, rather than the other way around. There was only one cure when those thoughts threatened to consume her.
“I need cupcakes,” Scarlett said, as she drove her beat-up truck toward Gumtree. “Many, many cupcakes.”
Sweet Lips Bakery was decorated in full Christmas mode, with garland and multi-colored lights lining the door and windows. As soon as the door cracked open, freshly baked goodness overwhelmed Scarlett’s senses. She decided to double her order.
“How can we help you, Ms. Jones?” said Stan Burnet, the bakery owner.
You could start, she thought, by using “I” rather than the royal “we,” since you’re the only one here.
“Cupcakes,” she said. “Two dozen, if you please.”
“Having a Christmas get-together?” he said, filling a box with frosted confections as she pointed them out.
“My friends Margaret and Thorn are coming for a visit,” she said. “Janice and DeAngelo, too. And I probably won’t be able to keep Artimus away, but he doesn’t like sweets.”
“Don’t say things like that, Ms. Jones. Everybody likes sweets, even if they don’t know it,” he said.
“Artimus is particular,” she said.
Stan finished boxing the cupcakes and took her money. Scarlett wondered if she should go back to the truck to eat a tasty treat before crossing the street to Nuts & Bolts Hardware.
“There you go, and if you don’t mind, I’ll make my pitch now,” Stan said, pointing to a jar filled with money on the counter. “I’m a North Pole Ambassador this year, so I’m trying to raise as much as I can for United Way. Whoever raises the most gets to be grand marshal at the Christmas Eve parade.”
Scarlett peered at the jar, then put 37 cents into it.
“There you go,” she said.
“Gee, uh, thanks,” Stan said. “Every little bit helps. Merry Christmas to you.”
“Merry Christmas,” she said, deciding the hardware store could wait until she finished a cupcake or three in her truck.
Coming Thursday: Chapter 2: Scarlett pays Nuts & Bolts Hardware a visit and gets hit up for a donation again.