In Too Hard (Freshman Roommates Trilogy, Book 3) (20 page)

BOOK: In Too Hard (Freshman Roommates Trilogy, Book 3)
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“There aren’t many,” he said. His hands stilled on the papers he was collecting and he placed them on the carpet, then stood up, zipping up his cargo pants as he did. He crossed to his desk and sat down as I continued on with the reorganizing. I didn’t like that he’d pulled away, but honestly, I wanted to put the papers back in the order I wanted. This was
giant jigsaw puzzle after all.

I waited for Billy to come to terms with whatever ghost Aidan Colly represented to him. And to talk about it with me.

“It seemed the easiest route to go at the time. It wasn’t what I necessarily wanted to write next.”

“No?” I said, but kept my attention on the work, not looking back at him.

“No. In fact, I think I started
first. But then
hit and everybody loved Colly, and I knew I could clean up with a sequel. I didn’t know at the time how much money I would end up seeing with
, so that was foremost in my mind. I wanted to be able to support myself as a writer.”

“Well, you’ve accomplished that,” I said lightly.

“Yeah, I have. So far.”

I thought I’d lost him, but I kept on working, letting him sift through his demons like I sifted through his notes.

“When we sold
, my agent insisted on a one-book deal, even though we got offers for two, and even three books. She said because of the price that
went for at auction, that the publisher would put so much promo behind it that it couldn’t help but do well. And then we could negotiate for a killer deal for the next book.”

“Sounds like she was right,” I said, my back still to him.

“She was. It’s not her fault that I haven’t been able to cash in on that by completing a second book.”

“Is that when you switched from
to the sequel?” The piles were all straightened and I turned to face him, though I stayed seated on the floor. I had put my clothes back to rights, but I knew my hair and swollen lips showed the past hour we’d spent in each other’s arms.

But he wasn’t looking at me. His gaze was fixed out the window, even though the shades were down.

Slowly, he began to nod. Still looking at the window he said, “Yes. We weren’t counting on
doing so well with the critics. We knew it would do well the first few weeks out because of what the publisher was putting behind it, but then…once more and more big-hitter reviews came in…”

“You moved to the sequel.

Gangster’s Providence
. But I didn’t get very far.”

“No?” I asked, though his number of files on his computer was answer enough.

He shrugged, and his gaze finally fell to me. “
was a coming-of-age story. How many times does someone come of age?”

“I don’t know. It seems like it could be once. Or for other people, it could be all the time. People change. What they grow into changes.” I looked away from him, his gaze was too intense. It felt like he knew more secrets than I had revealed.

Would ever reveal.

“Yeah, that’s true. But, I didn’t want to do that to Aidan. I left him in a good place at the end of
. And yes, other challenges will most certainly come his way, but I didn’t want to manufacture them just to cash in on him. It sounds crazy, but it kind of felt like I was…betraying him, you know?”

I nodded. Yeah, I did know. Though I—and any other Billy Montrose fan—would love to read a
Gangster’s Folly
sequel, I did kind of like the idea of Aidan Colly staying forever as we left him.

“Anyway, I knew it didn’t feel right, and I never came up with much. I put the idea away for a while, and tried to go back to
, but by then… I don’t know. I lost the thread or something.”

He looked away from me with a sad smile. “And thus began what I now call my Years of Starts.” He motioned to the completed boxes in the corner of the office and the remaining ones on the credenza.

I’m not typically the pep talk kind of girl. That is much more Lily’s area. I kept my voice equal, without any sign of rah-rah, and said, “And this will be your Year of Finish.”

He looked at me for a long time. I held his gaze, not saying a word. This was on him. I could lead the author to water…

“Yes,” he finally said. “It will be.”

We both took deep breaths, like something monumental had just been overcome.

Montrose pulled his laptop over to him and opened it up. And I pulled the
notes over, and immersed myself in my other boyfriend—Aidan Colly.



Chapter Twenty-Three





t seemed so weird to be writing without Syd in the office. It was startling to realize just how much I’d become used to hearing her papers rustle, or the soft clack of her keyboard as I read students’ papers or—wait for it—started a new chapter in my work in progress.

Yeah, I was deep into
Down in Flames
. I was still on the fence about the whole Esme/Rachel thing, so I was just using Esel as a placeholder knowing it would be an easy find and replace later.

It wasn’t quite as inspired as
, and the writing didn’t flow. It was…work this time. But it felt good to keep going on the same project, and I tentatively held my literary breath that perhaps I was past the big hurdle in my career.

Something wasn’t quite right with it, though. There was something missing. But, where before my mind would have wandered to other stories, other characters, this time I stuck it out with Esel and crew, and trudged through. I trusted myself as a writer enough (okay, almost enough) to know I could figure out what was missing by the time I finished the first draft and could go back and fix it in edits.

My phone rang and at first I got excited thinking maybe Syd’s roommate’s birthday party got over early, but realized it wasn’t her ring tone.

“Hi Nora,” I said to my agent.

“Hi Billy, sorry to call you on a Friday night.”

“That’s okay, I’m actually still in the office.”

“Great. So, how’s the writing going?” she asked, just like she had every time she’d called me in the past five years. First it had been weekly, wanting to cash in on the post-
buzz. Then it had dropped to every other week, then monthly. Now I heard from Nora about four or five times a year with a “I’m ready anytime you are, Billy. People will be jumping to get your next book…they just won’t be jumping as high next year.”

I could only imagine how much money I’d left on the table by not having a second book finished in the first year or two after
came out.

Those thoughts will only impede your journey forward.
My shrink’s voice played in my head as I gauged how much to share with Nora.

“Well, Nora, it’s early, but I think I’m on to something.”

There was a long pause on the other end. I’d said stuff like that to Nora early on, but after a while I had figured there was no sense fudging the truth—or outright lying—to the woman who had a stake in my career.

“Billy…that’s…that’s great,” she said, genuine enthusiasm, and surprise, in her voice. “How far along are you?” the businesswoman in her asked. No “What’s it about?” or “Are you liking it?” Nope, those were questions from an editor, or a fan. My agent was one of the best in the business and I valued her greatly. But she was not a cheerleader or a hand-holder. Something that appealed to me when I signed with her.

I did a quick look at my word count, something I had refused to do thus far. “I’m at…” (holy shit) “a little over eighty-thousand words.”
had been right around a hundred thousand words. And though
Down in Flames
would probably be a bit longer, it wouldn’t be a lot over that. I wasn’t far from being done with the first draft. (Holy shit!)

Another long pause. Nora was probably quickly trying to process this news. I’d never given her anything more than “I’m a couple of chapters in,” and even that had been a lie.

“Billy, that’s great,” she said, her voice still unsteady, as if she was sailing in uncharted waters. I’m sure she got “almost there” type of news from her authors all the time, but in the six years I’d been with her, she’d never heard it from me.
was complete before I submitted to agents way back when. I’d done some polishing based on Nora’s notes before she’d shopped it, but this was new territory for the two of us together.

“Um…well…I know you’ve been reluctant to show me anything you were working on in the past, but…”

That was because there was never anything beyond chapter one. But, still…I wasn’t sure I was ready for feedback yet. At least not from my agent. “I don’t think it’ll be too much longer before I can send you the completed first draft. That might be best.”

“Of course. Really, you think you’ll…complete it? Soon?”

I laughed at Nora’s inability—even being the shark that she was—to hide her shock.

“Yes, Nora, this one
be completed. And if I can get a couple of glitches figured out, it will probably only be three or four weeks. Of course, there will be edits and—”

“Oh, my God, Billy! That is such great news.” Nora had been a great agent for me, leading me through the process of first time publication with tough love, but patience. To now hear what sounded like tears in her voice…it made me feel both joyous and shitty that it had taken five years to get to this point.

Let the rest of the bullshit go.
I’d said to Jane Winters
. That’s all behind me. It was all…pre-Syd.

I was vaguely paying attention as Nora went on and on about her game plan for the book. I made the necessary noises, but my mind wandered to Syd.

I had thought that Bribury was what I needed to kick-start my writing, at the very least to get out of NYC and the various distractions the city held for me.

But I’d been at Bribury for a semester and had never even come close to typing “Chapter Two.”

It was only after working with Syd, talking with Syd, making love to Syd, that things became…unclogged, and I was able to let my thoughts flow freely on the page.

As if I’d conjured her up, there was a knock on the door and she stuck her head in. Seeing I was on the phone, she started to back out of the semi-open door, but I motioned her in. She waved to me and then proceeded to take off her coat, boots, hat and mittens.

“Okay, Nora, that all sounds good. Hold off on anything concrete, though, okay?” I said, not really having heard all she’d said. Certainly nothing since Syd had taken off her coat and I saw she was wearing those skin-tight, stretchy legging things that all the Bribury girls were wearing. Syd had on a long sweater hiding all the best parts, but I knew very well what I would find underneath that bulky, black wool. And I’d soon be refreshing my memory.

“Okay, sure,” Nora said, drawing my mind back to the conversation. But my eyes stayed on Syd as she took a pile of papers from the credenza and headed over to the couch with her backpack. “But, Billy?” Nora said.


“How about I have some casual lunches and just let it…slip that you’re close to being done. Just to, you know, get a buzz started. Would that be okay with you?”

“How long can we sustain a buzz?”

“For you? At least six months.”

“I won’t need six months. Unless you read it and think it needs four months of work.”

I could tell she was wondering which way to go. Be prudent and possibly deflate me, or… “There won’t be four months’ worth of work, Billy. I’m sure it will be great.”

Nora wasn’t one of the top literary agents for nothin’.

“Okay, then. Just a casual slip. Don’t let them think we’re shopping yet. And make sure Adina is one of the people who hears the news.”

Adina Saunders had been my editor with
and had really smoothed out my first-time edges and helped shape the book. Because of the deal we’d held out for, we didn’t
to bring it to her first, but I wanted to give her that courtesy. I’d take the best deal for me and for
Down in Flames
(assuming I was offered any deal), but I wanted to give Adina a chance to match it so we could work together again.

“Got it. As it so happens, I’m having lunch with her next week.”

“Great. Then hold off on any other leaks until you have lunch with her. Let her be the first to hear it.”

“Will do. Are you sure you don’t want me to take a look at what you’ve got so far?”

I swallowed, thinking. It just didn’t feel right. “Nah, I’m good right now. I just want to finish it.”

“Super. Okay, I—Oh, Christ, I almost forgot the reason I called you.”

“What’s that?”

“Well, I don’t think it’s anything to worry about, but we’ve been getting mail again from an overzealous reader. Another Folly Dolly.”

“Kari Aldrich again?” I said, naming my most persistent fan/stalker. I noticed Syd’s head move when I mentioned another woman’s name, but she didn’t look up from her work.

BOOK: In Too Hard (Freshman Roommates Trilogy, Book 3)
9.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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