This is a revision though it's been a while since I posted my older draft. Thank you in advance for reviewing.I suggest opening with our boy walking into the crowd, addressing it as a wake and then the muted reactions to his appearance with his mother chiding him for his appearance. The rest is compelling. You have a fare amount of tell, I'd work on more show. Finally, I'd like greater external conflict. Internal conflict will carry you so far and then you risk your protag reading whinny. Good stuff, SC_R. Buona fortuna.
Chapter One: To Know or Not to Know
“Toby, don’t be rude; people are waiting,” snaps Mom. (Don't begin chapter one/page one with dialogue. The reader doesn't have a anchor to know who's talking, where/when/why.)
Grudgingly I make my way downstairs. It’s been two weeks since Dad died but relatives I’ve never heard of keep coming out of the woodwork. Mom insists the more the merrier but without merriment it’s just more people, (I'd end this line here. Unless this is a humor book, the last ten-ish words, kill the gravity you established.) and a hell of a lot more lasagna.
All they want to do is reminisce. None of them want to talk about the fact that he was killed in the highest security area of the city. Or that he was
killed murdered. Or that they haven’t found who did it. But that’s all I can think about.
“Ohhhhh Toby,” they say in one communal breath, their eyes widening as they take me in. I’m wearing the same recycled Cage the Elephant T-shirt and flannel pajama bottoms I have every other day. I make no attempt to tame my wicked morning fro’ hawk either. I feel like shit, no point in pretending otherwise.
You’d think I’d been assigned the role of grieving widow in this family drama. My mother is dressed up, her bobble-head nodding along agreeably to everything these people say. I don’t know how she does it. I’ve heard her crying in her sleep but by day she’s someone else, someone pleasant and agreeable and completely foreign to me.
“Thanks for coming,” says Shelly, shaking hands and hugging people like a seasoned politician. Shelly’s two years younger than me but she’s a mini-me of our mother (Iron this out a little.) Try: My older sister by two years, Shelly is Mom's mini-her.. Together they’re in on trying to sell the image: family moving on. I’m the only one who’s failing.
I shuffle around the room, let people wrap their arms around me and stifle cries against my shoulder. But I don’t recognize any of them. Not really. Not even family. It’s like we only have this one thing in common now and nothing more. I want to shout at them, tell them they’re supposed to try to keep it together for us, not the other way around, but I’m drained of
everything, even my voice.
I turn to escape but get cornered again. “So, how are you doing?” asks a balding man, his gut threatening to send shirt buttons flying everywhere.
I whisper the lie. “Okay.” It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the truth. I don’t normally forgo personal hygiene. I don’t know why anyone even bothers asking.
“Well it can’t be easy,” says beer gut. No shit.
“How did you know my dad?”
“Mark and I worked together. Long time ago, before he became a defense contractor. I’m so sorry.” I nod and try to show some teeth. I have no idea if I achieve a smile or a sneer.
Worst of all is the quiet that follows.
“Excuse me,” I say and duck out of the room. I can’t breathe. It’s like someone vacuumed up all the air in this place. Just hearing his name sends a ferocious uprising of grief through me. It reminds me I’m the man of the house now, though I feel anything but.
…Yet that’s the thing—the thing I can’t shake. My father wasn’t a man. He was a force. He was Marine raised, (all jarheads say raised, not trained and the Corps is listed as the largest SOG in the world by Jane's.
trained, ex-Special Forces, intuitive on as all hell, and the body of a linebacker—big ecause he used to be one. Who could be out of their mind enough to take him on? Who could be skilled enough to win? Why? It doesn’t make any sense.
How could this have happened to him…to me…to us? I only think the question but it seems to swell up in the back of my throat. Drained of all energy, (Find another way to say this to avoid repetition.) I shuffle down the hall like a geriatric. I look to my left and right but no one’s around, not here anyway.
I reach out. My trembling hand rattles the knob when they meet. Polite conversation snakes its way down to me. All this stupid talking but no one’s really saying anything. No one will answer my questions. They’re not even acknowledged. Even by Mom. She’s the worst.
Yet there’s no way they haven’t wondered. As if any talk about it is unbearable. As if they’d rather not know. But for me that’s not an option.
I have to.
I push into the room and close the door softly behind me. The hinge squeaks as I do—like a tiny little cry that only I can hear.
Chapter Two: Puzzle Pieces
At once it smells like him. I breathe in deeply. I can’t help it. It’s that painful ache I can’t help but prod.
I would never admit this. Especially aloud. Especially because it sounds crazy…but I’m homesick for him. Can that even exist? Is that why I have to do this…?
I move over to his desk and slide into the chair. I have no idea what I’m looking for or where to look for it. I pull at one drawer after another after another. Only…they’re all empty. His entire desk is.
I swat at the computer. Maybe Dad kept all of his files electronically. I lean into the leather chair and wait for the screen to change.
Only it doesn’t.
I power it on and off. I control + alt + delete. I pray to the Norton Antivirus gods. But it doesn’t work. None of it. It’s just a black screen.
A black screen with one flashing—taunting—white bar.
F-U-C-K Y-O-U,” I pound out on the keyboard. Suddenly even the white bar disappears. My heart sinks. Even the computer won’t talk to me.
I swing the chair around and scan the room. I haven’t been in here many times. It’s Dad’s own version of a man cave.
I get up and head over to the bookshelf. Half of it is filled with baskets full of old newspapers. Dad used to joke that in another life he was a historian—that’s why he keeps all these stories. Sometimes they’re even the same story, just different papers.
I move up to the next shelf and run my fingers over the couple of books housed here. An encyclopedia. A dictionary. Boring.
My eyes scan the room and settle on the only thing that’s left. My Mom, sister, and me. The three of us. Left behind. I reach out and pick up the photograph, my fingers digging into the corners of the frame as I do. I can’t peel my eyes away.
We’re in Annapolis. It’s summer certainly. But what year? I know this. I should know this… The harder I seek the answer, however, the further it seems to be.
I feel a groundswell of frustration and yank open the back of the frame, both angry and eager for the answer.
Only there isn’t a date on the back.
There’s another picture in here instead.
Slowly I pull out the faded photograph and hold it out before me. It’s my father and another man. Both in uniform.
“Toby?” the door rattles in a knock.
My heart jumps. “Yeah?”
“What are you doing in there, dear?” asks Mom. “Are you okay?” she whispers.
“Yeah, fine. I’ll be right out.”
“Oh, okay,” she says quickly.
I stare down at the photograph, at the dark figure beside my father. I don’t have to try to memorize this face; it’s already burned in the back of my mind.
Quickly I tuck the picture back. I grab Dad’s laptop and tuck it under my arm as I go. I look at the door and see the shadow of Mom’s feet just outside. A long, shallow sigh escapes my lips as I force myself to move towards her, and face the strangers in my house.
“Whatcha doin’?” asks Mom. Only she’s no longer asking about Dad’s library but the computer I’m clutching tightly to my side. The one she’s practically talking to.
“Get caught up,” I try to say casually. I may even shrug. I don’t know. I’m a shit actor and an even worse liar.
“Maybe even go back to school tomorrow.” It’s meant as a total kiss-up, bullshit answer, but as soon as I say it, I mean it. I need to see Simon. I need to get out of this place…
“Please?” I add. I don’t mean for my voice to snag, but it does…just a little…right at the end. Mom doesn’t point it out.
Instead, she reaches towards me. I expect the laptop to be ripped from my arms. I end up in a deep hug instead. “Of course,” she whispers into my hair. “Whatever you want.”