5 months. That’s how long it’s been since I’ve posted here, so I’m long overdue for an update. School has been kicking my butt but thankfully my accelerated class finished last week, so now I’m only taking two classes each week and they’re both done by 8:30 at night, usually sooner. It also means that my homework is pretty much cut in half too, so I’m finally going to have a little free time to work on other things, I think.
Even though school has been taking up most of my free time, I have continued working on guitars. I went from building and selling a couple each month, to not even finishing one each month. I hate not being able to work on them, and continuing to build the business, but I know it’s only a temporary slow down.
There’s also been a temporary slow down in my writing, but I’m continuing to work on it as I can, as-well. The sequel to My Life As Death is currently over 14,000 words, and if you enjoyed the first one (still not available anywhere but this website… yet :)), then you’re definitely going to enjoy this one. Nate and Weed are maturing… a little… and having a blast with a lot of new experiences, while trying to navigate this thing called life…and death. I have no idea when it’ll be done, or when I’ll even share a little of it with you guys, but I can’t wait. I’ve already realized that this will be a trilogy, and I know how it ends, so I’m excited to fins out everything that happens in-between.
I’ve got a few other writing projects in the works, and I’ll share those details eventually as-well, but for now I’m keeping them to myself. One thing I will share with you, and I’ve literally shared this with only two other people so far, is the fact that I will most likely be starting a new job. When I left work today, I had a voicemail about a new position I’d interviewed for a couple weeks ago. Nothing is official yet, but I was told they’re working through the process with HR and I should be receiving an offer next week. This could throw a wrench into everything, because the position is one that will require a whole lot of learning and effort on my part, but I’m up for any new adventure.
So, there’s the long over-due update. Hopefully it won’t be another 5 months before the next one.
Amazon really created the whole e-book and indie-author revolution. And they’ve been the best choice for many, many authors since 2007. I was a little late to the party, publishing my first book in 2013, but they were still the biggest and best option for me. I experimented with trying other platforms over the years, but staying exclusive with Amazon always proved to be the right choice, until now.
I am happy to announce, that each of my books is now available on every e-book platform, as well as paperback. Additionally, hardback editions will be coming in the near future. I’m not sure what direction I will be going with future books, but right now I want to make sure my books are available to the largest audience, so you can find links to them on your favorite platforms including Apple, Kobo, Scribd, and more at:
I started writing my first novel on March 4th 2011. By that time I already had a general plot and several characters in mind. I’d even researched how to write a novel, and used many of the suggestions to document the characters and plot. I was 10,000 words into it before I realized it was terrible. All the preparation and research I’d done did not help that story at all, but I did take some of the character attributes and the character arcs, and use them in the first novel I managed to complete. That one was The Dark Genesis of Daniel James.
After completing Dark Genesis and self publishing it, I kind of stopped actively learning how to write better. I’d completed one book, and most experts agreed that the best thing you could do to continue getting better at writing is to actually write, so that’s what I did. I wrote a few more books and published two more through KDP. I wrote the books that I wanted to write and enjoyed doing so, but because at some point I would like to actually have a full time writing career, I realized I needed to get back to actively trying to learn how to be a better writer. Thankfully, in this day and age, there are quite a few resources for this. One of most helpful to me lately has been the Writing Excuses podcast (https://writingexcuses.com/).
Each episode of the podcast is 15-20 minutes long (because you’re in a hurry and we’re not that smart), and provides a ton of insight from a group of successful writers, often times featuring other extremely successful authors as guests. They’re also hilarious. I started back at season 1 episode 1, and I’ve made it up to season 6 episode 20. I’ve already learned so much, and I still have 11 more seasons to go until I’m caught up to their current episode. I can’t wait to see how much more I learn from this group. So for anyone looking for an easy way to learn from great authors, I highly recommend checking them out.
Today I received my second rejection letter. It was once again a courteous one, but it was also quite evidently a form letter so I didn’t get any direct feedback. One thing I was able to gather from it is that I might need to tweak my description. It’s a little hard to say for sure, though, because the only explanation was “Unfortunately, the project you describe does not suit our list at this time.” Maybe I’m not describing it well enough to catch their attention or maybe they just aren’t looking for a YA novel about a teen protagonist who has to kill people. It’s really hard say. One thing I do know, is that with each subsequent submission I have continued to make slight adjustments to my pitch, which I hope has improved it.
This rejection came from a submission I made two weeks ago, so I am cautiously optimistic that this two week turn around might be the norm, rather than the exception, though most of the places I’ve submitted to have stated turn around times of six weeks to six months, so maybe it is just rejections that have the quicker turn around. All I really know, is that I will continue submitting to agents and publishing houses and eventually, My Life As Death will be picked up. In the mean-time, I’ll keep writing and building guitars like this one I just finished today:
I’ve got a little more setup to do (mainly intonation and adding the serial number tag and strap buttons) but even though a customer said one of my previous builds “almost plays itself”, from a playability standpoint, this is probably the best guitar I’ve made. It plays so easily but I’m not 100% sure why. I do have a few ideas though, so hopefully I can keep that going with all my future builds.
It’s the last day of the holiday break which means tomorrow I have to return to my day job. I really don’t mind it going to work but I know I’m not going to have as much time as I want to continue working on all the projects I’ve got going. Thankfully, even though it started off with me not feeling well, I did end up having a pretty productive break. I’ve managed to complete some guitars and even sold this RG9 (serial number 0006) minutes after it went up online:
I also managed to query a few literary agents, which was a huge project on my to-do list. I think My Life As Death has a great shot at commercial success, so I decided long ago that it would be the one I use to get an agent. So far I’ve only received one rejection, and it was a very nice one, so I’m not discouraged yet. I also plan on continuing to query more agents, especially as others start to open up to submissions now that the New Year has started.
And probably just as important to my the well-being of my writing career, I’ve finally been able to get more writing done. School will be starting back up soon, so I know my time will become even more limited, but the writing is flowing nicely, so I expect to continue making progress on a couple of the books I have in the works. I don’t know if I will be sharing any of them on this site, but I will definitely keep you up-to-date with how they’re coming. And I’ll do the same with the guitars as well.
Hello! There’s been so much going on but I want to keep this kind of brief, so I won’t go into too much detail over each project in this post.
First off, the guitar I shared in my last post was RG13-0002. I love how it turned out with a split humbucker, but I didn’t get to enjoy it too long because I had a customer waiting for it before it was even done. Here’s the finished product:
I also finished a 3-string license plate guitar but I haven’t got it put up online yet:
Additionally, I’ve got 6 other guitars I’m currently working on, so that’s where most of my free time has gone lately, not that I have a lot of free time between work and school.
Speaking of work, I’m now 3 months into my new job, and I still love it. The company I work for, and the people I work with are great. And while I probably won’t stay in the same position once I complete my schooling, I’m very happy doing it now and I have plenty of opportunities with this company once I get my engineering degree.
As for writing, I’ve been doing some, but not nearly as much as I want to. When I do take the time to write, I have been continuing to work on the sequel to My Life As Death. It feels like it’s starting off a little darker this time, but I’m also so early into it that I can’t say that for sure.
I’ve also been spending a lot of time getting my packet ready to submit to an agent. I found the agent I plan on submitting to first so I’m working on making sure I have everything to meet her requirements. Thankfully what she is asking for is pretty standard for the industry, so a week or two after I submit to her I will start researching other agents and I can pretty much use the same submission package for them as well. I know a lot of people suggest submitting to multiple agents at once, but she is the one I really want to go with, so I figure I’ll give her a week or two headstart.
So that’s a quick recap of all the projects keeping me from updating this blog as often as I should. I plan on updating a little more often, but now that MLAD is done, I will probably start sharing more posts on my guitar making processes. Every guitar is a little different but the various processes are generally similar for each.
The room was almost pitch black when I opened my eyes, with just the slightest light from the moon creeping through the open window. I hadn’t even made it to the fireswamp scene before falling asleep with Shawna in my arms. At that time everything had felt right, but she was no longer in my arms. I don’t know what time she left, but she had apparently turned the movie off when she did.
My alarm clock showed 2:38 AM but even after just a few hours sleep, I was wide awake, with thoughts of Shawna rushing back in to fill my mind. I could have tried to fight for another couple hours, or even minutes, of blissfully ignorant sleep but I knew it would do no good. Instead, I went down stairs and made my way to the front door. Unfortunately, this time, when I opened it, Shawna wasn’t waiting to talk to me.
I lit up a cigarette and flopped down onto the bench swing before taking a massive drag deep into my lungs. I knew cigarettes weren’t good for me. Hell, everyone knew that they would eventually kill you. But man, sometimes there really was nothing better. So after I finished that first one, I lit another, trying to decide if I could do what I had to, knowing I only had a few hours left to do it.
“Death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it for a while.” …Or so the movie says. But what if it didn’t even have to be delayed? I asked myself.
If I refused to kill Shawna, then Lucifer would just assign another reaper. But that didn’t mean she would have to go alone, because it would also mean that I didn’t live up to my end of the deal with Lucifer, so I would forfeit my second chance at life. We could end up like Romeo and Juliet, the Leonardo DiCaprio / Claire Danes version and not the original one. I mean, the original version was fine, but the modern take was amazing and not just because I had a huge crush on Claire. The cars, the weapons and the acting were all incredible. But even though I had no chance at ever being with Claire, if I played my cards right, I could spend eternity with Shawna.
So not doing anything could be the answer I’d been looking for all along. It seemed so simple, yet perfect, that it made me start to question everything, because I had the feeling nothing involving Lucifer was ever simple.
At that point I knew I wouldn’t get back to sleep so after my third cigarette I decided to take Pamela out for a little ride, partially because Lucifer had never spoken to me while riding the KZ, and partially because trying to hold a conversation with him would be so much easier in the car.
I really wasn’t sure how anything with Lucifer worked, and I didn’t want to just drive around yelling his name out the window, so I did the only thing that made any sense to me; I drove to the place I first met him.
I felt my stomach start to tighten, and my hands grip the steering wheel a little harder as I neared the field where I had wrecked my car. I didn’t even realize it while I was doing it, but I had instinctively let my foot off the gas. By the time I reached the bridge that I’d bounced my rear bumper off of, I had already slowed to a crawl so I pulled over to the shoulder and put the car in park.
I hadn’t been back to that spot since the night of the accident, and probably for good reason. I felt my skin start to crawl as I looked around. I’d been down that road a hundred times before that night, and never felt anything strange, so I knew it wasn’t haunted by anything other than my memory, but that was enough. I could almost guarantee I wouldn’t be back any time soon.
“She doesn’t deserve to die, you know,” I said.
“And why do you say that?” Lucifer replied. “Because of what she told you?”
For some reason I didn’t even jump at the sound of his voice, or the sudden red glow from my radio; I was expecting it.
“She was just a kid.”
“And Ms. Reader was an old woman, but that didn’t stop you from doing what you were supposed to do.”
“Ms. Reader planned her husband’s death.”
“So premeditation is a requirement for murder?”
“No, not really. But at least I knew she meant to do it. That made it a little easier to convince myself to do what I had to do.”
“But Shawna didn’t plan whatever she did. She was just a kid protecting herself.”
“At least that’s what she told you.”
My face instantly got hot, and both hands clenched into fists, even though there was no one to punch. Lucifer was just a voice, toying with me.
“Are you saying she’s lying to me?”
“No, not at all,” he said, with a fake innocence in his voice that made me want to punch him even more. “I have no doubt she believes everything she’s told you, regardless of the truth.”
“So she’s lying to herself?”
“People remember things in such a way, as to make it easier on themselves to deal with it after the fact.”
“I don’t really care about how she remembers it.”
“And rightfully so. The only thing you really should care about is making sure you’ve determined her death by 8:00 am.”
“I made a deal,” I replied, “and I intend to keep it.”
I could hear a chuckle in his voice as it, and the red light faded
I’d heard exactly what I’d expected to hear from him and I got exactly what I expected to get out of our conversation. I knew he wouldn’t listen when I pleaded about her age or her innocence, but I left that stretch of road feeling a little better about what I was going to do. I probably could have wasted a little more time just driving around, enjoying a few moments before I forced myself to go see her but then I would have run the chance of Shawna’s mother being awake. And there really was no reason to postpone what I had to do, so I headed straight to her house while I still had the courage to do what I had to do.
Her house looked like it always had, maybe even better without Matt’s red corvette sitting out front, but somehow it felt different as I pulled up. Or maybe it was just that I felt different; almost like an intruder. I’d been there a thousand times, and several times had even been that early in the morning, but I’d never felt out of place before. It was almost enough to make me turn around and head home, but time was running out and I knew I had to stick to my plan.
“Shawna?” I whispered as I softly tapped on her window. It was open a couple inches but I didn’t want to startle her by opening it more and just climbing in.
To my surprise, she moved back the curtain right away.
“What are you doing here?” She asked with a smile.
“I just needed to see you again.”
“And you couldn’t wait until the sun was up?”
“Can I come in so we can discuss it?”
“How do you know I don’t already have someone in here?”
She managed to keep a straight face for just a second, before grinning and sliding the window up for me to climb through.
“I didn’t wake you up when I left, did I?” She asked.
“No, I guess I was just done sleeping.”
“Really? You fell asleep just a couple hours ago and, no offense, but you looked like you needed it.”
“I just mean that you’ve looked a bit tired and stressed lately. And you were sleeping so good, so I thought it would be best if I left so I didn’t wake you.”
“Why weren’t you sleeping?”
“Really?” She asked. “Why do you think?”
“I told you, it doesn’t matter what happened all those years ago…”
“Maybe not to you,” she replied, “but not everyone will feel the same way.”
“It shouldn’t matter to anyone who really matters.”
“Regardless of how anyone else might feel,” she continued, “it still brought up a lot of things that I haven’t had to think about and feelings I haven’t had to deal with, for quite a while. I just had a lot on my mind, and I decided to come back here so I could think and you could get a little sleep.”
“I appreciate that, but I don’t want you to ever think you have to leave. No matter what you’re thinking about or feeling, you know you’re always welcome at my place. And you can talk to me or even just sit there without saying a word. Okay?”
There was a smile on her face, even as a tear rolled down her cheek. Then she wrapped her arms around me and pulled me close as she buried her head into my chest. That’s when I reached up and caressed the nape of her neck, ready for the vision to come.
“Where were you after school?” I yelled, causing Weed to hit his head on the hood of the Weed Wagon.
He was rubbing his head as he came around the mail truck with a less-than-happy look on his face.
“I was smoothing things over with Stephanie and Tiffany, so you’re welcome.”
“I thought Stephanie was fine with my excuse about having to pick up my mom.”
“She was, until she saw Shawna in the car with you this morning.”
“Yean, so again, you’re welcome.”
“This morning is kind of what I needed to talk to you about,” I said, seizing the opportunity to change the subject.
“If you say you’re going to try things with her again…”
“No, no, it’s nothing like that.”
“Good,” he said, pulling out a cigarette.
I followed his lead and lit one up myself.
“So are we just going to sit here sucking on these things or are you going to tell me what’s so important that you came in here yelling at me for helping you out?”
It took me a second to find the right words.
“Lucifer gave me my last assignment right before Shawna got in the car.”
“No, no it’s not.”
“Sure it is,” he replied. “Get this last one overwith and we can get back to life as it should be.
I just continued to stare at him.
“So, are you going to tell me who it is?”
As I opened my mouth, I suddenly didn’t know what to say. I’d never kept anything from Weed. He knew everything I’d done and we were still friends, but Shawna was a friend too, and it almost felt like betraying her to even say her name to him.
“Come on man,” he continued, “you know you’re going to end up telling me eventually; whether it’s before or after you finish your assignment.”
He was right, I did know it, but that didn’t make the words any easier to say. He lit up another cigarette, and so did I. Then I took one long drag before deciding to just tell him the truth.
“I got to school a little early today.”
“I kind of figured that out, seeing how Shawna was already in your car by the time I got there.”
“Are you going to let me tell you about this or not?”
“Sure, sure, go on.”
“So I got there a little early and was jamming out to some old school Metallica when Lucifer decided to interrupt the music.”
“The black album?”
“What? No. I said old school Metallica. I was listening to Kill ‘Em All.”
“A little ironic, but still a good choice. Did you know it was originally supposed to be titled ‘Metal Up Your Ass’.”
“Yeah, though I like the name Kill ‘Em All better. But that really has nothing to do with my story.”
“So anyway, Lucifer teased me a little about permanently becoming a reaper, which I declined.
“A wise choice.”
“Then he says “and here’s your last assignment”, just as Shawna walks up.”
Weed just sat there, with a shocked look on his face, then slowly started to grin.
“You almost had me,” he said.
“You almost got me. For a minute there I actually believed you.”
“Did you hear what I said?”
“Yeah, and it almost worked, too. But there is no way Shawna’s murdered, raped or molested anyone.”
“I’m telling you, she’s my next assignment.”
“Sure she is. So what’s she done?”
“I don’t know.”
“So you were alone in a car with her, before and after school, and you didn’t even touch her to find out what she’s done to deserve to be your next assignment?”
“I’m not sure I want to know.”
“Dude, you’re going to have to come up with a better story next time you want to prank me.”
“But nothing,” he said, “I’m not falling for it.”
It took me the rest of the night, as we worked on the weed wagon, to convince him that Shawna really was my last assignment.
“So what are you going to do?” He asked, finally accepting that I wasn’t trying to pull one over on him.
We were trying to relax in his room listening to a little Pink Floyd, but my mind refused to become comfortably numb.
“I don’t know,” I replied, taking a hit off his silver bowl. “There’s no way I can kill her, but if I don’t, then my time is up and Lucifer will just send another Reaper.”
“Either way,” Weed said, “I end up at least one friend short.”
I just froze. I’d been so caught up in my own dilemma that I hadn’t thought about it from his perspective. Suddenly I felt awful.
“I’m sorry, man, I really shouldn’t have drug you into any of this.”
“Are you kidding? I’d be pissed if you hadn’t.”
“But this is some heavy shit, and I just don’t know what to do.”
“You’ve got five days, right?”
“So we’ve got a little time to think and we’ll come up with something.”
“I’m not so sure.”
“Have I ever given you a reason to doubt me?”
“Do you really want me to answer that?”
“No, probably not. Just take another hit.”
I did. Then he did, both of us smoking a little more than we probably should have, but we slept like babies.
The next day Shawna seemed to be avoiding me, which normally would have bothered me, but right then it was probably the best thing that could have happened. I had no idea what to do, and I really doubt I could have faced her without losing it and telling her everything.
Wednesday and Thursday were pretty much the same. I went to school, but I couldn’t tell you a single thing even one of my teachers had said. Every minute of every day my thoughts were preoccupied with my deal with Lucifer and what I was going to do about Shawna. Weed tried to help take my mind off it by coming up with all sorts of small random projects for me to do around the garage while he worked on the Weed Wagon, but I probably messed things up more than I helped. I decided to change things up on Friday by taking the KZ to school. I figured it might clear my head a little, and the ride to school really did help a bit, but in the end it just invited trouble.
“Are you going to finally give me a ride?” Shawna asked.
I jumped at the sound of her voice behind me. Her last class was at the other end of the school, and I’d rushed out to the parking lot as soon as the final bell rang, so I have no idea how she made it out there so fast.
“I…uh…,” I stammered as I turned around to face her.
“You gave me a hard time last time because I had Weed take me home, but I’m actually dressed for the occasion today.”
She wasn’t wrong. The tight jeans she was wearing looked great, and were better suited for a ride. Those pants and the slightly low cut blouse made it hard to come up with any good excuse to turn her down.
“Uh, sure. Why not?” I replied, while trying to force a smile to match hers.
Her smile widened as I handed her the helmet.
The bike had one long seat with more than enough room for the two of us to fit comfortably even with a little space between us, but she slid right up against me as I started the bike.
“We can take the long way back to my place if you want,” she yelled above the engine.
With her legs straddling mine and her arms wrapped around my chest, I definitely wanted to take the longest way possible so I pulled from the parking lot and headed straight for the city limits. I didn’t have any specific path in mind, as we just kept taking random roads further away from the school, our homes, and anything that reminded me of reality. I was just enjoying the freedom that only the open ride could provide and the chance to share it with Shawna.
I had plenty of gas, so I wasn’t even thinking about turning around until I started to recognize some of the landscape and realized exactly where we were headed. There were several other roads I could have taken but I decided to continue towards the salvage yard anyway. I got a little choked up as we passed the giant tire and gravel drive. In my mind I could see Finkenbine’s enormous silhouette moving through the garage beside the trailer.
I don’t know if Shawna actually sensed something or not, but at that moment she seemed to hold me just a little tighter.
If I could’ve had just one wish, it would have been for that ride to last forever, but I knew that wasn’t possible, and continuing to ride with her holding on to me was only making the reality of my situation even more painful. No matter how much I wanted it, I knew that I couldn’t outrun my responsibility on that bike. The only real option I had was to face it, so once we reached the quarry I turned the bike around and we headed back towards her place.
It took no time to get to the bowling alley, even in the Weed Wagon. I had wanted to take the KZ, just in case I was ready to leave before Weed. Unfortunately he seemed to know exactly what I was thinking and insisted on driving so I was left to his mercy. But I still wasn’t sure why we didn’t take the Chevette. It may not have looked much better than the mail truck but at least it was faster.
“Look man, maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.”
“Too late now,” he said, grabbing the keys from the ignition and sliding open the mail truck door.
“You know I can hotwire this thing with the screwdriver in the glovebox, don’t you?”
I was only half joking.
“Don’t make me get the cattle prod,” he said, motioning to the toolbox behind his seat.
Unfortunately I had no idea if he’d actually brought it.
We sat staring at each other with our poker faces on for at least a minute, before we both started cracking up.
“Fine,” I replied, “but if we’re doing this I’m going to need a little helper.”
“I’ve gotcha covered,” he replied, pulling out two Big Red bottles.
I knew Weed, so I also knew there was no way it was red cream soda in them.
“Nah, that’d probably be a little too much. It’s MD 20/20.”
“Mad Dog? Good choice.”
“I’m glad you approve. Now can we get in there and have a little fun?”
I took a big drink from the bottle Weed handed me and scanned the parking lot. It was still pretty early but the place was already almost full. That meant we’d probably be waiting on a lane or any of the video games in the arcade. I took another drink, then finally turned back to Weed. The look on his face told me he wanted to be there even more than I didn’t want to be there, so there was no way I could make him leave but I couldn’t resist making him wait just a little longer either.
Pulling a cigarette from my pack, I patted my pockets, pretending to not be able to find my lighter. Exasperated, he pulled out his butane powered torch and lit it for me, then climbed out the door.
“Now I’m going in, with or without you,” he said, slamming the door shut.
“I’m coming, I’m coming,” I replied. “Don’t get your panties in a bunch.”
“They’re your mom’s panties, so…”
“Wow, you did not just go there.”
I couldn’t hear his reply over the sounds of Mötley Crüe’s Girls, Girls, Girls, spilling from the doorway as we went inside but the grin on his face told me he was very pleased with himself.
As I had feared, the place was packed. Groups of teens were hanging out around the various tables, collecting their bowling shoes from the counter, or just hanging out in any space they could find. We couldn’t see the actual lanes from just inside the door but based on the scoreboards shown on the televisions hanging above each one, I was pretty sure they were all taken.
“We might’ve been better off staying at your place.”
“Nonsense,”he replied. “First of all, we got your pathetic self out of the house.”
He wasn’t wrong.
“And second of all,” he rambled on while scanning the various groups around us, “If we’d stayed there, you’d have zero chance of getting to second base with some hot chick.”
“I don’t know,” I replied, “I think your mom has a thing for me…”
“You know you deserved that.”
“But come to think of it, I could do worse for a step-dad…”
“Okay now you’re just taking it a little too far.”
“Maybe a little, so how about we turn our attention to all the possibilities surrounding us.”
He made a good point. There were plenty of girls hanging out everywhere, and a lot of them seemed to be unattached, but even if luck was on my side, I wasn’t sure I was ready to just hook up with some random hottie.
“I thought you said I needed a night of video games?”
“Video games, bowling, girls, there’s no reason we should limit ourselves to just one form of entertainment.”
It was really hard to argue with that logic.
“How about you scout out the arcade while I check out the lanes?” He said.
“And should I be looking for open games or girls?”
“Yes,” he said, before turning and heading into the crowd.
I thought about heading right back outside, but I hadn’t been to the bowling alley for quite a while so I was a little curious if they’d updated their arcade selection.
It took a couple minutes, and a little too much maneuvering past too many people for me to reach the entrance of the arcade area. There were no overhead lights on inside, but the flashing screens from each game cabinet provided more than enough light to make my way from one machine to the next. Many of them were the same old games that had been there forever, but I did find a few new ones.
There were a couple guys with light guns in their hands, ducking for cover, then popping out to mow down an army of bad guys, trying to get through the levels of Time Crises before time expired.
Another updated machine featured the newest version of Tekken, which allowed the players to join together in team battles against the never ending stream of opponents. The graphics on the cutting edge game, and the game play itself, looked amazing but there was a line of guys waiting at each machine for their turn. I really wasn’t in the mood to stand around, watching and waiting so I moved on.
Towards the rear of the arcade area were the older games that didn’t have the flashy graphics or immersive 3D worlds of the newer ones. Dig-Dug, Q*bert and even Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had become too oldschool for a lot of people, but not for Weed and definitely not for me. We still prefered Out Run to newer racing games like Cruis’n USA. Not that the new games weren’t enjoyable, but they didn’t quite hold the same appeal. And on the plus side, there were a lot less people waiting to play them.
Some obvious noob had just missed an easy jump over a barrel on the first level of Donkey Kong, using up his last life and the last of his patients as I walked up to the machine.
“Stupid game, not even worth playing,” he grunted as he walked away. I had to laugh at him as I grabbed the joystick to try my hand at it. Not because of his reaction, but because I remembered being just as bad when I first started playing. The game, like most older games, really was about timing and reflexes. Thankfully I had gotten much better in the hours of practice I had, before I got into cars.
The screen finished flashing “Game Over” and I was just about to press the start button when Weed appeared beside me.
“What are you doing?”
“You said games or girls,” I replied. “This was what I found.”
“Okay, it may be true that I said that, but you know girls trump games.”
“And if you look around, you’ll notice there really aren’t any in here, so Donkey Kong it is.”
“And if you’ll look around, you’ll see two hotties headed our direction now,” he replied.
I followed his gaze back towards the entrance to the arcade area, but the only girls I saw kept walking right past on their way to the bowling lanes and concession stand.
“Okay, so they might still be another minute,” he said, turning back to me, “but not long enough for you to get in a whole game of DK.”
“And what happens if these imaginary girls don’t show?”
“They’re coming,” he continued.“And besides, I got us a table.”
“Really? That was quick.”
During Rock N Bowl the pool tables only cost a dollar an hour, so even the guys who didn’t want to throw balls down the lane or or mash buttons of the video game machines all night usually showed up for the cheap 8-ball which meant there was usually a list a mile long waiting for one.
“How much did it cost you?”
“Mikey was working the counter so we got off cheap; one joint now and one when we leave.”
“And it’s ours for the night?”
“As long as we want it, or at least until his shift is over at 2:00.”
“I knew there was some reason I kept you around.”
“You mean besides my amazing personality?”
He couldn’t even say it with a straight face.
“So what table did we get?”
“Table eight in the corner.”
“Works for me.”
Weed racked the balls as I found each of us a cue that was relatively straight. Nine ball was my prefered game but Weed liked 8 ball, so that’s what we started with. After all, it was his joint that got us the table.
“And you’re sure these girls are actually coming?”
“And you’re sure this isn’t just like what happened at the party?”
“It’s funny you should say that,” he replied with a grin.
I didn’t know what to say when he pulled a wallet from his pocket, the same wallet that had been stolen from him the night of the party.
He just continued to grin at me for a second, then glanced over my shoulder and waved.
As I turned around I saw two smiling girls headed right towards us, one of which looked like the cute little cheerleader Weed had left me for just before my accident.
“Please tell me this is some sort of joke.”
“Not at all. Apparently that night was some sort of cheerleading initiation thing. The next day she felt bad, and must have liked something I did, or something she saw, because she’s been looking for me ever since. She and her friend actually came here tonight because she heard we used to come here.”
“I believe that she felt bad for you, I mean, we all do, but…”
“Shush, now be cool.”
The girls reached the table, and with mostly-sober eyes I realized Weed’s thief wasn’t quite as young as I’d remembered, but I was still sure she wasn’t an upperclassman, though that really didn’t matter to Weed. Her friend, though, I recognized as a senior, but we didn’t run in the same circles at all, so I wasn’t sure what her name was.
“Tiffany,” she said, introducing herself as the younger one, Stephanie, moved next to Weed.
“Yeah, I kinda know that.”
“The whole walking out on Mr. Baker’s class thing, and then saving Ms Reader from the burning car…”
The memory of Ms. Reader brought back some dark thoughts, and apparently I did a horrible job hiding it.
“I’m sorry,” she said, gently touching my arm. “I didn’t mean to bring up, you know, I just meant that pretty much everyone knows who you are now.”
“I don’t know if that’s such a good thing…”
“So Nate,” Weed said, saving us from our awkward conversation. “I promised these ladies that we would teach them how to shoot pool.”
“Don’t you think someone should teach you first?”
The girls laughed and Weed started to turn red, so it was a good start to the night, at least for me.
Weed teamed up with Stephanie for the first game, which gave me Tiffany. To my surprise, though, Tiffany didn’t seem to need me to teach her a thing about pool. Weed broke, sinking the ten and the four balls. He tried to pocket the six, but missed and scratched instead.
I’ve got this one, Tiffany said, grabbing the cue ball from Weed.
She then proceeded to sink the two, three and six balls before finally missing a tough bank shot on the yellow number one. Weed and I just stared, and even Stephanie seemed surprised by her friend’s sudden skill. I would have thought we were being played, except she was on my team, and there were no stakes.
“Don’t worry about that,” Weed said to Stephanie, “It must be beginner’s luck. We can still rally.”
Standing behind her, with his arms around hers, Weed helped Stephanie grab the cue and line up a shot. They seemed to be taking a lot more time than necessary, and both seemed to be enjoying the whole process. Tiffany and I just kinda looked at each other.
“Maybe we should give them a little space,” she said to me.
“Maybe,” I replied, “but knowing Weed it won’t take long.”
The words came out of my mouth just as Stephanie was about to take her shot, but the sudden burst of laughter made her miss the cue ball completely, and hit the nine ball right next to it.
“Hey now,” Weed said, but I wasn’t sure if his objection was to what I said or to his partner’s reaction.
“I believe that’s another scratch,” Tiffany replied, handing me the cue ball.
Several hours, and way too many games of 8-ball later, I found myself out in the parking lot, smiling, laughing and feeling much more relaxed than I had in quite a while. I really wasn’t sure where this thing with Tiffany was going to go, or if I wanted it to go anywhere, but what I did know was that she was leaning against her car waiting for me to kiss her. I took a step forward, but before I could make my move, she leaned forward and kissed me.
It had been a while since I’d kissed a girl but it was by far the best one I’d ever had. There was an excitement and a passion in it that told me she wanted me, and at that moment I wanted her too. She wrapped her arms around me so I moved my hand to caress her neck and that’s when the images came flooding in.
Instinctively I pulled back.
“What’s wrong?” She asked.
The shock on her face probably mirrored the look on mine.
“Nothing’s wrong,” I lied. “That…was great…”
“I thought so too…So why aren’t we still doing it?”
The look on her face was part anticipation and part hurt. And I didn’t want to hurt her.
“I’m sorry, I…uh…just remembered that we were supposed to pick my mother up from work.”
“Like, ten minutes ago,” I said, looking at my watch.
I turned around and Weed had stopped his makeout session with Stephanie and was staring over her shoulder at me with a confused look on his face.
“I’m sorry,” I said to all of them. “I really am, but Weed, we need to go.”
Like the true friend he was, Weed backed my play. He even waited until we were a block away from the bowling alley before he ripped into me.
“What the Hell man?”
“I’m sorry, really, really sorry.”
“Please tell me there is some really, really good explanation for why I don’t still have Stephanie’s tongue in my mouth.”
“Because I touched Tiffany.”
“That’s kind of how making out works.”
“And when I touched her…the images started coming…”
“So it’s not something you can turn on and off?”
“So what’d you see?”
“Nothing really, I pulled away as soon as they started because I didn’t want to see anything.”
“Why not? You could see all of her dirty little secrets.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of.”
“There’s nothing wrong with knowing how kinky she really is.”
“That’s the problem, I don’t just know if she’s had lustful thoughts, or if she’s lied, or simple things like that, I see it all.”
“And…what if she’s done something really bad?”
“How bad could it be?”
“I’m not sure I want to find out.”
“Why not? What if she’s a sex fiend?”
“Good point,” I replied, “but what if she’s my last assignment?”