UnConventional Excerpt: Chapter One

So I have a  habit of holding onto my writing, terrified it’s not “good” enough or finished enough. UnConventional has been “done” for months, yet I kept procrastinating and making excuses as to why I hadn’t sent it out to publishers.

I still have a ways to go, but I sent it out to the first publisher today, and will be sending to more soon, so it’s one step closer to publication, meaning I can focus on my other projects, especially Az Monster and Beauty in the Remnants.

I realized I’ve never posted an excerpt from UnConventional here, so now I have.

Enjoy the first chapter of UnConventional.

Note: The final, published version may differ slightly from the text below.

Chapter One

I’m not supposed to be here. I was going to skip ECAC this year, steer clear of New Orleans and the memories that hang from it like Spanish moss from a live oak. 

The thought swims through my head as I rush through the vast terminal E of Bush Intercontinental Airport, struggling to make it to my gate. The cord from my earbuds sways as I run, the self-identified anthem of my thirtieth year pumping into my ears: All-Time Low’s “Weightless.”

Expecting to fly out of terminal C, I went through security there, only to discover after the TSA torture my gate was actually in E–mostly reserved for international departures. But hey, as the joke goes: “Louisiana: third world and proud of it.” Even with my first-class priority security access (a birthday treat to myself), now that everyone is funneled through the cancer-making voyeur machines, it took me longer than it should have, and I have to race all the way to the far end of the terminal, to gate E21, hopefully before my flight leaves me stranded.

Gripping my bag, grateful I checked my suitcase, I continue my dash. I wish I were taller and my petite legs could cover more ground with each stride. I can’t afford to miss this plane, be late to the convention. I may not have originally planned on attending, but now that I’ve committed, I need to be there.

In the middle of the chorus, my phone rings, cutting off the music, my husband Stephen’s characteristic tone, and I manage to hit the button on my cord to answer it without slowing down.

“Look, I’m late–” I leap onto one of the automated walkways, dodging people and luggage who don’t obey the “slow traffic keep left” rule.

“The company’s expanding their overseas operations, and they put my name in for an international position!”

I’m almost to my gate, hopping off the walkway, narrowly avoiding an old woman. “Stephen,” I say. “I’m about to miss my flight. Can we–”

“This is important, Di. You want me to be excited about that stupid novel you’re writing, but something like this, that actually matters–”

“I’m sorry,” I say, trying not to dwell on how deeply his words sting as I arrive, nearly breathless, at the gate, an apologetic look on my face as I hand the gate agent my ticket.

“We thought we lost you,” she says. “I’ll let them know you’re here. Hurry.”

I jog up the jetway. “I have to go. They’re holding the plane for me. We can talk about this later. I’ll call you when I get to New Orleans.” I hit the button to hang up, the music immediately surging back into my ears. I mouth “sorry” to the flight attendant as I find my seat–1-B–stash my bag, and sink into it with relief. I’m exhausted, sweaty, and disappointed I’ve arrived too late for my pre-flight drink.

I’m shutting off my phone and winding the headphones around it when the man beside me speaks.

“What’s a seven-letter word for the victim of adultery? Begins with a ‘C’?”

I glance over. He has his long legs stretched out in front of him, the tray table opened and the airline magazine flipped to the crossword. A pen poised in one hand, he taps it against his thumb, waiting for me to answer.

Without having to think, I reply, “Cuckold.”

He fills in the word: firm, deliberate strokes, his letters all caps and neat. I like his handwriting. Then he turns and smiles at me: a big, broad grin revealing teeth that are perfect enough to be the result of years of pain and orthodontic work, yet one slightly crooked incisor on the bottom left suggests they’re naturally straight.

“Thanks,” he says, still smiling. “I should have known that.” His hair is slightly wavy, thick. A deep, dark brown with a suggestion of red, conservatively cut but not so short you can’t see its natural body or texture. It’s the kind of hair that demands a woman pull her fingers through.

“I didn’t think anyone actually did those things,” I say, pointing to the magazine.

His cheek raises in a half-smile as he slips the pen in the pocket of his button-up and folds the tray table back into the armrest. “Now that I have such lovely company, I don’t need to.” I notice he leans forward at the waist without really moving or bending his legs as he slips the magazine back into the pouch in front of him.

I find my eyes strangely drawn to his legs and feet; he’s wearing black, loose-fitting slacks and black leather dress shoes, although they’ve obviously been chosen more for comfort than formality.

“I always told myself I wouldn’t be one of those people who’s last to board and holds everyone up. I’m sorry,” I say, forcing my eyes to meet his. Reaching for my St. Anthony medal out of reflex, I flush when I catch myself and drop my hands.

“Let me guess,” he says. His eyes sparkle, his skin wrinkling just a tiny bit in each corner. “You went through terminal C.”

“That obvious, huh?” I say, leaning back in my seat.

He points a finger at me, gesturing with it. “There’s actually this little hidden security checkpoint for terminal E nearly no one knows about. It’s rarely crowded, especially since it’s only open in the mornings.”

“You tell me this now,” I say with a relaxed smile, my head turned toward him.

With an effortless shrug, he returns the grin, and I notice his strong chin, his smoothly shaved, olive-tinged skin that suggests it’ll turn the perfect shade of brown if he spends enough time in the sun. He extends his hand. “Santiago Durán.”

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