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Living in the Rain is now available on Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. If you think the book is a good selection for your book club and you’d like me to come and discuss it, please let me know. Send me an email at [email protected]. I’d love to hear your thoughts and answer your questions about the book with you and your friends!
Here’s the first chapter:
Cassie Pennebaker had met Joe Darby at Kent Community College two years ago when they both took a class on the elements of style in creative writing. They were sitting next to each other, and when Professor Miller gave them a writing prompt and twenty minutes to create a character, Cassie couldn’t help but notice, as she looked around the room for inspiration, that Joe’s middle finger on his right hand had been cut off somewhere between the first and second knuckle. Intrigued, she stared at the beheaded digit. Was he born that way? How had the tip of the finger been severed? Distantly, she heard Professor Miller clear his throat. She tried to turn her attention back to the prompt. A grocery list, a bicycle, a dog. She couldn’t think of anything but Joe’s finger. She slouched down in her seat and held up her blank piece of paper to hide her face.
After the class was over, Cassie emerged from the classroom with her determined stride. Although she was looking down, her hair falling in front of her face, she was aware that Joe was standing down the hall by the water fountain. She thought he was waiting for her. As if on cue, he fell in step with her as she walked by him. She reached up to pull her hair back from her face, and she felt his eyes taking in her collection of earrings—hoops, studs, and jewels—that climbed up the curve of her ear. Peering at him out of the corner of her eye, she saw his gaze travel down her neck to her Flogging Molly T-shirt, white belt, and black skinny jeans, and then back to her face with its pointy little nose. She could sense that he liked what he saw.
“What happened to your finger?” she asked as they walked through the hallway and out into the parking lot.
“I noticed you staring at it,” he said. She looked up at his smooth mocha-colored face, his startling blue-green eyes, and his big white teeth.
“I was. I was trying to imagine what happened to it,” she said.
He threw back his head and laughed, and his corkscrew curls fluttered around his face. His laugh started out loud and ended in a high-pitched chortle. “Let’s get coffee,” he said. “How about Dunkin’ Donuts?” She agreed and followed him out to his car. On the short ride into town she looked at him and noticed that his lips were the color of nutmeg, a rich brown with shades of purple. He pulled into the Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot. They jumped out of the car, walked into the store, and ordered. She went to find a table.
As he carried their coffee and donuts over to her on a tray, she studied him and wondered about his parents. “So, who’s black and who’s white…I mean, if that’s okay to ask,” she said as he placed a pumpkin-flavored latte and a cinnamon apple donut in front of her.
“My mom’s white. My dad’s black. I guess that makes me black.”
“Why? I don’t understand why having one black parent makes you black. You’re fifty-fifty. You’re mocha. You’re coffee with cream. You’re wh-ack. You’re bl-ite. Like Obama. Why is he black? I’ve seen pictures of his mother. She looks like my mother. And she left him just like my mother left me.” Cassie twirled a piece of her metallic pink and blue hair between her slender fingers.
“It’s the one-drop rule,” he said.
“The what?” she asked, her lips covered in cinnamon and sugar.
He chewed his donut before he said, “If you have one drop of black blood you can never be white.”
While Cassie pondered this “rule,” she studied Joe’s beautiful face. “Wouldn’t it be great if we were all tan? Then it wouldn’t matter,” she said. “We could all have tan babies.” Joe laughed his hearty laugh. She liked the sound of it. It made her remember the feeling she had when her mother would come and sit on her bed as she fell asleep. A blend of happiness and security. When he didn’t answer, she asked, “Are they still together?”
“My parents, you mean? Are anyone’s parents still together? Are your parents still together?” Joe finished his chocolate-covered donut and started on a glazed cruller.
She noted his cynicism. “No. My dad died when I was two. Then my mom up and married an Aussie when I was fourteen and she left me here with my grandmother when she went to live in Sydney. To be close to his family, she said. Haven’t seen her since.” She picked up her coffee and took a sip. “It’s weird, you know, I hate her, but I miss her.” She paused and he nodded. “So, I thought I was going to hear the story of your finger.” She locked her eyes on his and took a bite of her donut, licking the sweet cinnamon sugar from her lips in a quick little movement. She saw how his eyes followed her tongue.
He chuckled. “I accidently stuck it in a lawnmower when I was ten. It was the year my dad left us and my mom said it was now my job to mow the lawn. So I went to the garage and got the lawnmower out and was cutting the grass in the backyard when a branch got stuck in the machine, and without thinking, I stuck my hand in to pull it out. Hurt so much I passed out, and when my mom came home she found me lying there with my finger chopped in two. Too much time had passed and they couldn’t reattach it.”
Cassie listened to Joe’s story and tried to visualize the little boy with the lawnmower. The sound of the engine, the pungent smell of the cut grass, the spray of blood on the metal. She smiled in amazement. “Wow. That is really crazy. Just like that. Gone. A body part. No more. You know, sometimes I think about death and how one minute the person is here and the next minute they’re not. Like your finger. Poof. Like my mother. Bam. Gone.” Her cheeks were flushed and little beads of sweat had formed on her upper lip. She reached out and pulled his hand toward her. She examined the tip of the finger as if it were a priceless piece of art. She ran her finger gently and slowly over the tip of his damaged finger.
“Okay. Cut it out,” he said, trying to take back his hand. She could tell he was excited. In an attempt to change the conversation, he said, “Do you hear from her? Your mother, I mean?”
“I used to get a monthly check, but when I turned eighteen she sent a note saying that I should take care of myself now. Ha, what a joke. Like I wasn’t already taking care of myself. She’d been gone for four years. She liked to think that she had been taking care of me by sending a check. What bullshit.” Cassie’s small blue eyes were bright.
“Yeah, that is bullshit,” Joe agreed.
“Enough about her.”
“Yeah, enough,” said Joe and laughed into the silence that sprang up.
Cassie suddenly felt like she knew enough about Joe to make a move. “Who do you live with?” she asked.
“Just me and Weezer, my cat,” answered Joe.
“Yeah. Like the group.”
“I love Weezer.” She smiled.
“They’re my favorite. Do you want to come over…and listen to them?” He didn’t laugh as he said it, and she knew he was afraid she’d say no.
They eyed each other over the Styrofoam cups and crumpled tissue papers, collected their garbage, grabbed their backpacks, and headed out the door.
Have a great time reading!