The aim of this week’s writing challenge is to drop the reader into the story in the middle of the action, using dialogue at the outset to engage and to get the action going. The instructions are to begin a post with a scene that includes dialogue, to think of a hook — a moment that can act as a catalyst and drive the narrative forward.
One of the examples to get us started is to recount the day you said goodbye to a former lover.
“I have loved you for the past eight years,” he confesses, looking straight into her hazel eyes without a trace of the shyness one would expect at such an admission. His flop of brown hair falls across his eyes and he pushes it back with his long, thin pianist’s fingers.
Her heart skips once but she doesn’t miss a beat, her face doesn’t betray her surprise. “I can’t believe that’s true,” she says evenly, without so much as a facial twitch.
The bar they are sitting in is modern and stylish, with white walls, dark wood floors and floor to ceiling windows overlooking the street, one storey below. The dim lighting is pierced by the neon white and blue accents that glint through the windows from the sign over the door.
To look at Brian and Tina, they appear to be two regular young people, both in their early twenties, leaning naturally toward each other as though they are old friends.
They have not, however, seen each other or spoken in seven years, and that last encounter was at a university function at which they barely exchanged two words, and whatever they did say to each other had been unfriendly. Yet neither of them feels surprised to be sitting here now, facing each other across a small, highly polished bar table as though the animosity had never existed. As though they had never been apart.
They had decided to meet for a drink when she called him out of the blue to tell him she was moving out of the country and across the world to follow her dream of studying and working as an archeologist. In her mind, she was leaving forever, on a one-way ticket, with no plans of returning.
Why she had called him, she wasn’t sure. She had decided in the heat of the moment, following the purchase of her plane ticket, to call a handful of people who would know what it meant to her that she was finally leaving, moving abroad to follow her dreams. But why, among all the people who she had known, who would have understood the significance of this move, why Brian? She couldn’t say precisely.
“Well, it’s true,” he assures her, a bit sadly, a bit rueful, but with a big grin on his face all the same. He is thrilled to have her here before him and to have the chance to say what he has dreamed of saying to her face all these years. “I haven’t been able to have a decent relationship since you. I’ve never loved anyone since.”
“You broke up with me, if you remember, and then you ignored me when we ran into each other a year later. Where was it? Some university thing. And the whole nine months we were together I never really got the impression you were over your previous girlfriend anyway.”
All that lost time, she thinks.
She can’t believe that the first boy to break her heart grew into a man who had dreamed about her ever since. Impossible. He had remained the example that she held every subsequent boyfriend up to. And no one had ever quite been Brian.
“I broke up with you because I loved you too much. I was nineteen. I was scared. I knew I wasn’t ready to settle down with anyone and I just loved you too much to stick around and while away the time.”
“Sorry, but you loved me too much to stay with me? Come on! What you’re really saying here is that you were a young guy who wanted to go out and try out a whole bunch of different women, get some experience.” she countered. “Of course you did, that’s normal. But just admit it, don’t try to be all romantic about things.”
“Yeah, I did want to be more experienced than I was. It would have been a bad idea to marry the second girlfriend I’d ever had. I needed to live a little first. We never would have lasted. But letting you go was the hardest thing I ever did and I always hoped somehow we’d meet again. Why do you think I moved back to town to get my second degree at your university? It was all for you.”
Tina swallowed the lump that rose in her throat. She couldn’t believe that he was saying this. It was so…romantic. She had never been romanced like this. He was saying all the things a girl dreams of hearing.
She was transported back to the fall they started going out. The air had been crisp, the leaves just changing colour, the sky that deep autumn blue. They walked the city’s parks and sat on benches, they talked of poetry and writing, they went for drives in his father’s old car. For years afterwards, in and out of other relationships, the look and smell of falling golden leaves on autumn evenings brought her back to her memories of him and the places they had fallen in love together. The feeling of soaring on the wings of a first teenage love.
Snapping back to the present, she realizes that she, like he, has never really gotten over their relationship ending, has never had another successful one, though she has had many boyfriends since.
Up to the surface of her mind also floats the realization that she no longer feels for him what she did then, or what he claims to feel for her. Being back with him would for her simply be a reminiscence of being sixteen and in love again for the first time. Tonight – now – she loves the idea but not the man. Standing on the precipice of the most terrifying decision she has ever made, the decision to leave home and country, she desperately wants to have the security and that piece of her past to hold on to. And so, rather unwisely, she pushes the doubts out of her mind and allows Brian to woo her all over again.
He takes her hand and his piercing gaze meets hers. She swallows the guilt and the doubt she feels and resolves to fall in love with him again, not just with the idea of him.
As Tina’s last week at home melts away to hours, she invites Brian to join her wild, celebratory evenings out with her other friends. They are a motley crew, her and her friends, a mix of pagan romantics, goths, young parents, bar tenders, scholars and musicians. And now Brian.
Brian was raised in a family and with a background similar to Tina’s. He grew up playing piano and writing, had a business and an English degree, had published several books of poems. His writing was not the writing of a starving bohemian. His was the refined writing of the privileged few.
He sits on the outside fringes of the celebrations, watching, absorbing the mood and reacquainting himself with Tina, the new Tina. This is not the Tina of 16, the Tina he knew then. Here, now, she is older, has grown into a more experienced and self-assured woman. And he realizes watching her that he loves her all the more. He begins to make plans for a life with her, sure that she will not be abroad for long. How could she be, with the romantic and enticing proposal he intends to offer her upon her departure?
No, he thinks, she will go and live her dream for a bit, but they will stay in touch and she will return within the year. He is sure. He knows her parents, he knows her, and he knows this future. This is the future he had expected would be his eventually. After eight years, he can wait one more, and he knows that asking her not to go at all would be a mistake.
But Tina, meanwhile, has an entirely different vision of her future. Unwaveringly, she still does not have any plans to return home. She has every intention of remaining abroad. She wonders how they will be able to carry on a relationship across the distance, whether they will reunite, and where. It is hard to imagine him coming to live abroad with her. She can’t really see him living that life. But she shrugs and leaves it up to chance to work things out.
At the airport, they say goodbye and promise to speak the following week, once she has landed and settled.
True to his promise, Brian calls her the following week. He continues to write to her, too. And he asks her to marry him.
What he cannot see, though, is Tina being swept up in her new life, in her adventures abroad. She hikes across vast distances, stopping to breathe in the view and let the unending openness free her spirit. She also spends hours meticulously sweeping small sections of dig sites, focusing on the grains of sand, looking for treasures contained therein.
When the summer ends, she begins classes at the university. Slowly, she begins to pull away from Brian. She doesn’t answer Brian’s letters and is non-committal on the phone.
It is only later, much later, that she realizes what a coward she has been. At the time, she doesn’t give her actions much thought but looking back later, she realizes that she was scared to tell him she made a mistake, scared to admit that in her wish to hold onto the memory of their original relationship, she led him on. Scared to apologize for shattering his dreams after he bared his soul.
One day, she receives a book of Shakespearean sonnets in the mail. There is no letter and no return address but she knows that Brian sent it.
This is the last contact they have with each other. She never hears from him again, because she never replies to his last attempt to reach her.
The years roll out across the miles and, though at times they each think of the other, they never speak again.
Romeo: Is love a tender thing? It is too rough, too rude, too boisterous, and it pricks like thorn.
Mercutio: If love be rough with you, be rough with love. Prick love for pricking and you beat love down.
I have only made it through a few other bloggers’ posts so far, but here are some of their dialogue compositions: