On The Edge

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“It’s like this glass of water,” and she points to the wine glass in front of her instead. “I have this full glass and I give him half. Then I give him half of what’s left. Then I take a few sips myself, I need to drink too. And so on, until the glass is empty. And when it’s empty, I have nothing else left to give. Nothing left for him. Nothing left for me. Nothing left for anybody.” She lifts the wine glass which she stubbornly calls “water” and she drinks greedily. “And it’s still not enough, he’s not happy. He says I’m selfish and self-involved and never give anything back… when all I do is give until there’s nothing left.”

The whiny voice drowns into another sip of whine, waiting for compassionate words to wash over her. I have no such words to give.

“Did he ever ask you to share that glass of water?”

“No… But that’s what I felt I had to do.”

“Was it? Or did you simply decide that’s what he should need?”

She was quiet, trying to suppress those angry words bubbling inside her. Aren’t the two one and the same? What difference did it make, she knew better… she always knew better than anyone else.

“Did you ever stop and wonder if he wanted or needed water? Maybe he wanted a slice of bread instead, maybe he asked you for it time and time again, yet you didn’t care one bit; you had already decided he should only want water.” Because water was all you were willing to offer, even if that water was make-believe and was in fact wine…

“He should have wanted water!”

Being at the receiving end of that sort of generosity makes one feel worthless. It’s degrading to see your needs, hopes and dreams swept aside like disgusting dirt that they are in somebody else’s eyes, only to be replaced with the “appropriate” ones. You will only want that which I am willing to offer, and you’d better be forever grateful, her actions always made it clear.

“He says that hurts him. That it hurts him to see what I’ve become.”

She was on the edge of realization. He was on the edge of collapse. Their relationship was on the edge too.

“But it’s his fault.”

She couldn’t help herself. Reality was swiftly pushed aside and she was about to yet again plunge into that imaginary world where she is always the victim and the hero.

“No, it’s not. Not everything is his fault. Take responsibility for who you are!”

Would she?

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Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 50

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“I thought it’s more of a whisky night, rather than wine. What do you think?” Robert almost yelled as soon as he heard the bathroom door open.

“Pour me a glass too.”

She entered the room and everything was quiet again. Words were unnecessary, his lustful smile was enough for both of them. There is a certain gratification in having imagined what the unseen would be like and then discover it is even better than expected. It was worth waiting.

The man that feels proud to be seduced will not bother to hide his admiration and desire, he will enjoy the woman that tempts him and he will not waste any of her beauty, because certain women can be a rare gift needing to be unwrapped slowly and enjoyed to the full extent. And the visual impact is something so relevant in such an exploration, the penetrating, lustful eyes are not an offense, but a true acknowledgement of beauty, a source of new sensations for both of the newly discovered lovers.

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/parallel-lives-ana-linden/1118140770?ean=2940045563567

https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/parallel-lives-7

…. and iBooks, of course. 🙂

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 45

She was terribly amused by the new him… or was this actually the old him, the one he was a long time before they ever had the chance to meet? The two tourists were finally at ease with each other and the remaining part of the day was a nice promise for them both.

And tourists they were. The other’s life is a territory one cannot and does not want to explore to its full extent, as the intricate paths of thought and feeling and the prosaic everyday dramas are just the inherent death of any sort of magic that might have sparked an interest in the first place. The tourist is looking for the perpetual delight of uncharted territories – many have been there before, but what really counts is their own discovery, the thrill of the experience. And although the mark of a good trip is the sad feeling you get when your cases are already in the hotel lobby and you’re on your way back home, any experienced traveller knows better than to linger until the novelty wears off. Shedding light on the unknown becomes that sort of addiction which makes the journey worth traveling, in spite of all the dead ends and godforsaken experiences. And the perpetual thrill is only matched by the perpetual denial of the obvious – there is that type of tourist who will never feel at home anywhere and for whom safety becomes the necessary compromise. This tourist in another person’s life is a most selfish creature.

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/parallel-lives-ana-linden/1118140770?ean=2940045563567

https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/parallel-lives-7

…. and iBooks, of course. 🙂

Beach Reads – Giveaway

Early in July I shared my summer news with all of you – Glass Slippers and Stilettos, a collection of ten short stories was available for pre-orders and was going to be released on August 5th. The support and encouraging words I received from many of you have been amazing, reminding me once again what a warm, kind community this can be. So thank you, thank you, thank you and a big hug to everybody!

Since I’m not one for aggressive self-promotion, all I’m going to say is that you can download both my books for free on smashwords.com using the coupons listed below (the promotion ends on August 21st). They are available in various formats, compatible with all e-readers. If you had fun reading the Glass Slippers and Stilettos and Parallel Lives fragments, perhaps you might want to give the books a try or gift them to somebody who might enjoy them. Reviews are welcome and greatly appreciated!

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Glass Slippers and Stilettos, by Ana Linden – coupon code ZV92X

Parallel Lives, by Ana Linden – coupon code CC53N

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 43

The hotel parking lot was quiet, just like the last part of their trip. Once the car engine became silent, neither one of them seemed to be aware of the fact that they had reached their destination.

“So… do we need one room or two? I booked two, just so you know, there’s no need to feel pressured or anything…” Robert only turned his eyes to her when he finished speaking, so he couldn’t perceive the intensity of her expression.

“I think one room is all we need. Don’t you agree?”

“I was hoping…” and a sigh of relief was more eloquent than any words could have been.

Once you get there, you don’t need to hurry anymore. As soon as the luggage was taken to their room, things between the two guests were quietly settled, the rapport seemed to have finally clarified. Once certain aspects become straightforward, anything else escapes the burden of pressure.

“Let’s go have lunch. I know this great restaurant, the food is amazing and the atmosphere… Wait, I have no idea whether… do you like game or do you have an issue with hunting wild animals? Because if that’s the case…”

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

Love of Her Life

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The luxury car crawled by slow enough to let her notice every detail, from the tinted windows, to the impeccable paint shining in the sun, to the speckles rims. But in the congested early evening traffic it was still moving faster than most. A few more elegant manoeuvres of an experienced driver and it disappeared somewhere among the SUVs in front.

“Did you see it?”

Of course. A car like that was hard to ignore. So was the hungry, tormented look behind her sunglasses and those tiny beads of nervous sweat that had appeared on her forehead as soon as she noticed that ghost of a car on the other lane.

“Could it… Do you think it was him?”

No, his car is a different colour.

“Who knows…” She was already fidgeting in her seat, her eyes searching for the car that slid by just moments earlier.

“Can’t you catch up with him? Follow him, see where he’s going, see if it’s him?”

No way.

“Look at this traffic… there’s police everywhere, what do you want me to do?” I didn’t even try to hide the irritation in my voice, but she never noticed it. All she had eyes, ears and thoughts for was that car… was him… just like all those years ago.

“But you could try anyway,” she ordered, forgetting it was a favour she was asking for.

“No,” but the answer fell on deaf ears.

I had done more ridiculous things than try and follow a car, all in order to help with her romantic games over the years, but not this time, not for him… Even if I knew it wasn’t him in that car, she couldn’t have known. She was still chasing him, no matter what, no matter where, no matter who got in her way, no matter who got hurt. Well over a decade had passed since she hadn’t seen or talked to him, yet he was still haunting her. All it took was a glimpse of what might have been.

I tentatively moved forward, upsetting other impatient drivers, but the mystery car was nowhere to be seen, as expected. Yet now she could tell herself she had tried… and hopefully she wouldn’t have to tell me as well.

“Anyway, it couldn’t be him… I think I caught a glimpse of the driver and he looked nothing like him,” she tried to convince herself, settling down, disappointed the unexpected sighting was not going to become anything more. There was no way she could have seen the driver, but then again, she could never see clearly when it came to him.

The rest of our drive home was quiet. I knew all the memories, the regrets and the what if’s that car had triggered. While I may have despised him for the way he had treated her, while I resented her for what she had put everybody else through for the sake of their relationship, I couldn’t deny understanding at least part of her melancholy.

He had been and would always remain the love of her life. The love of her life and the passion of her life, both entwined in one selfish, arrogant, irresistible person…

Once in a while, she’d try to convince herself the man she married was the one she loved most. And once in a while, she would believe it. Yet, the more she saw herself disappearing in a marriage with a good, loving man who could never understand her, who had nothing in common with her, the more she looked back, remembering only the good times, only the passion, only the happiness. She used to have a life of her own, a career, she used to travel and be independent. She used to be alive.

Now she was somebody’s wife and nothing more. A housewife nobody minded anymore, that was all that she was, and most of the time she couldn’t even be bothered to care. She didn’t go anywhere anymore. She hardly left the house to go anywhere but the grocery store. She cooked meals, she cleaned their home, she listened to his boring work stories and once a year or so she managed to convince herself to visit me. So when one of her old, snobby, so-called friends told her how well he was doing and casually happened to mention one of the cars he was driving, she suddenly found herself canvasing the streets, hoping…

But she no longer was the strong woman she used to be. Seeing him, being rejected by him would have broken her. As one of the two persons who would then have to put Humpty Dumpty back together, I reasoned there was nothing wrong in trying to prevent Humpty from falling off the wall in the first place. Some feelings will never remain in the past, and just like she could never forget how much she loved him and how passionate their relationship had been, I would never forget how much I loathed him. She deserved a night out, I figured. She deserved some fun and she deserved to forget for a moment or two. She also deserved to be happy, but that wasn’t something I or anybody else could offer her anymore.

The luxury car drove by, obnoxiously manoeuvring through rush-hour traffic. This time, it was his car. This time she wasn’t with me. He drove the same way he lived – fast, recklessly and passionately. In his own twisted, selfish way, he had loved her too, that I knew; but he had never really cared. He would always be the love of her life. She might be his. For many of us, the greatest love of our life is one we can’t help but leave behind before it consumes our entire soul. That love remains so great in our memory also because it had no time to die on its own, to become mundane, boring and real. It existed in a dimension of its own, even when it lasted for years.

Reality is a different sort of game. She continued her life with her husband, who never started really seeing her. Once in a while, life would through a tantrum and they’d lean on each other, weathering the storm, hoping that would bring them closer. Then they’d forget it as soon as the weather was good again and they’d go on ignoring each other, living apart together, until the next storm would throw them back into each other’s arms. But one way or another, the past would always loom, breeding frustration and unhappiness. Or was that happening because the present was breeding frustration and unhappiness?

In response to WordPress Weekly Discover Challenge – The Things We Leave Behind.

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 41

The few hours stolen away from them by the drive to the mountain resort felt different than their other drives together. They talked some more, they inquired some more, trying to figure out how the day might conclude. The music was still a catalyst, erasing the age difference and the distance between them; but the scenic route they were taking was somewhat ignored this time. Nature lost its relevance as human urges took over, bringing them closer even during long silences.

Amalia became lost when she heard him speaking at a point, asking her if she knew and liked the hotel where they would stay. The weird coincidence made her want to scream at him. Robert had mentioned the same hotel that used to be so dear to her mother and her married lover, their favourite choice for intimate escapades. The mother’s sins… Amalia abhorred the idea of following into her mother’s footsteps, even by coincidence. Since when is coincidence a valid excuse? Deep breaths help, focusing on what you want helps, it’s about you and only about you… The dreadful thought and indignation can be slowly smothered, there are unknown mechanisms that always find a way to provide relief and forgetfulness, so we can move on and survive our own demons.

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 40

Some journeys are not just about the destination, but the cliché doesn’t apply to all situations. If all their previous outings had been about nothing else but the experience itself, a means to discover each other’s secrets and hidden frustrations, past and present, the current one was all about where it would take them, the climax of this stage. It occurred to him that he couldn’t remember when he last waited for so long before sleeping with a woman; whether it was casual or not, sex would always follow soon after opening lines. It occurred to her that she may appear to be the prude she was not; she had initially thought he was a good choice for a first one night stand, not just as a first married man. Instead they had dragged everything, she allowed for things to become something slightly different, to know him and to like the person he was behind the wedding ring. They could and should wait no longer, everything had to get on the right path and neither one of them wanted to avoid or postpone the destination anymore.

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

Opposing Moments

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“How did you do it? How did you call it again?”

The dishevelled person staring back from the mirror looks nothing like the one who used to be there on so many other occasions… or like the one who can still make an appearance sooner or later. There simply are such mornings, such days… such stages. It might have been a night of crying or a night of drinking and dancing and forgetting, it may have been days and days of exhaustion and despair that have pulled that unrecognizable creature to surface from the depth of one’s being. Those versions of the past and the potential future are simply unavoidable.

It becomes a reflex in most of the cases. Somewhere between several cups of coffee or tee, after all those smoked cigarettes, during those extra moments of applying makeup or whatever other daily rituals, one generally gets one’s face on and they’re once more ready to deal with the world… or at least to hide well enough until they are. We don’t really do it to protect others, or at least we don’t do it only for that particular reason. It’s self-preservation, the need to protect ourselves from the way others might react if they caught a glimpse of all that lurks under that socially acceptable mask. Some do it better; others find it difficult. In the end, it can even be a silent competition – who’s going to fall apart first, whose face will betray them, exposing that creature taunting them from the mirror early in the morning?

“How did you do it? How did you call it again?”

Relationships wear masks as well, not only the people they involve. Silent, sometimes unintentional, sometimes quietly, mutually agreed upon masks. When the mask breaks in two and neither one of those halves can be worn convincingly, you know. You notice the cracks even if you try to look away, so you can “call it”, as my friend put it.

I met recently met a couple I hadn’t seen in a long time. They’re not close friends, just some acquaintances, but it was still nice to see them and catch up. He is a friend of my closest friend; she is his girlfriend. What did I think about them, after all those years, my friend asked… Among many other impressions I was left with after a whole day spent together, I got the feeling their relationship was approaching its end. She would end it, I told my friend. Sure enough, about a week later she informed him she was moving out, my friend told me.

How did I always predict it, he kept asking, as though I was some sort of relationship bad omen. I tend to notice certain details and this wasn’t the first time I had “predicted” such situations. There were cracks in her mask… cracks she was trying to hide, but which were obvious whenever he kept ignoring what she wanted, replacing it with what he thought she should want or with what he needed. Small things, here and there, symptoms of something so much deeper… symptoms he stubbornly ignored. If I – a person who didn’t know her all that well – could notice them, why didn’t he, the man living with for several years? Why was he waiting for everything to fix itself, if he still wanted her to be part of his life, if he still loved her?

But I knew the answer, or at least part of it, because I knew he had behaved the same way in previous relationships. You want the girl, you make an effort and you get the girl. But once you “have” her, that’s it – that is the destination, the final point and from then on there is nothing more that needs to be done. That’s the kind of guy he is… complete with the ability of stubbornly hiding from the fact that she is unhappy. When he forcefully has to accept it, it’s generally too late to do anything to change the outcome… an outcome that breaks his heart once more…

The masks fall – his, hers, theirs – and break into countless pieces. The moment becomes the opposite of what he thought it was. The moment becomes the one she was trying to avoid. The moment no longer inhabits the destination, it becomes yet another beginning – an unwanted and no longer avoidable one.

Many times, the kindest thing you can do is look away from the cracks and allow a person to wear their mask as well as they can… hoping they will show you the same courtesy. But when you share a mask with someone else, staring at the cracks from the inside, what is the best moment to stop ignoring them and start focusing on what they reveal?

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In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Opposites.

“Glass Slippers and Stilettos” or My Summer News

It started off as the MissShy Chronicles in the early days of this blog… Some of you may have read those posts, some may even remember them. I was really fond of my MissShy character, I wanted her to grow, so she became Regina and the Chronicles evolved into a collection of ten short stories. After months of procrastination, it all came together under one title, behind one girly cover and now I can finally share Glass Slippers and Stilettos with everybody.

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Regina’s adventures are nothing like Amalia’s from Parallel Lives. Light and humorous, the stories present the bratty, entitled character in various stages of her attempts to secure a husband and a fairy tale ending, all the while trying to preserve appearances and comply with pre-established patterns.

Regina is the woman everybody loves to hate and hates to love. Behind the gorgeous, demurred façade lurk selfish ambition, ignorance and a desperate need to find her happily ever after. The search for a man to rescue her and make her dreams come true follows a sinuous, often obscure, but entertaining path. Regina may try to deny it, but she is no innocent princess, Prince Charming can be a beast in disguise and modern-day happy endings are nothing like their fairy tale version.

The ten short stories are a satire of her journey, presenting the almost stereotypical character in various everyday moments and contexts, all of them related to her extraordinary ability to manipulate the men in her life. Other (often equally shallow) characters, such as Nice Guy, Boyfriend, Ex, Impeccable Pedigree, Sweet Girl, Lover or King will keep her company, allowing Regina to use them and occasionally using her, thus supporting her belief that she is a victim of circumstance. Charismatic and wild, Regina likes to enjoy all life’s pleasures and wants to have the best of everything, while endeavouring to preserve her “good girl” image. There are many obstacles between Regina and her ideal man, but her high heels relentlessly walk over them and the people in her way, hoping for her dream marriage to become reality.

In spite of her many flaws, Regina remains a likeable “villain”, able to trigger a spark of compassion mainly because one can occasionally relate to her amusing predicaments and moral dilemmas. After all, many have struggled with some of these issues – or similar ones – at least once.

If you’re heading for the beach this summer, Glass Slippers and Stilettos might just be that light, entertaining read you want. You can pre-order it on iBooks, Kobo and Barnes&Noble (release date – August 5th). I hope you enjoy it!

https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/glass-slippers-and-stilettos

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/glass-slippers-and-stilettos-ana-linden/1123982690?ean=2940153093093

Have a nice summer, everyone 🙂 .

Partners… Or Not

2Those who come to the beach on their own often tend to search for a partner… someone with whom to share a brief, torrid, summer fling… or maybe someone who simply enjoys the same kind of beach fun they do. Either way, it’s always amusing to observe their group dynamics 🙂

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But here’s a cute reminder that we do have the strength to get over all those bumps on the road on our own as well. Not having someone to lean on at all times doesn’t make it impossible. Some may have the certainty there’s always somebody ready to catch them, yet so many face the hardest challenges on their own… and that’s not always a disaster.

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In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Partners.

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 39

The morning didn’t betray the sleepless moments of the night before. A few hours of good rest are all a woman Amalia’s age needs to recover, especially when the metabolism is already used to late nights of reading and studying and even later nights of adrenaline and dancing on loud, exhausting rhythms, which have the benefic effect of helping one forget the misery of life, at least for a while. The freshness of the new day reinstated Amalia’s confidence and vanity, settling her nerves and allowing for full enjoyment of the little escapade.

Although Robert hadn’t lost any sleep over the next day’s trip, he was relieved to see she was going to keep her word and not cancel the plans they had made. He felt he could trust her entirely regarding so many aspects of his life, he wanted to confide in her, but he had no certain ideas when it came to what she would allow to happen between them. His doubts were of a different breed and he had had the necessary time to learn how to ignore most of them. In any case, he would generally not allow such fancies of his imagination to have a relevant influence over his course of action. He wanted Amalia, Amalia appeared to want him, but it didn’t seem like she had made up her mind whether to act on it or not. Furthermore, she was a beautiful woman, much younger than him, and he knew she could easily twist a man’s head into submission, so he might not be good enough for her. She might want a younger, better looking guy; but his ego allowed for no such matters to inflict any change upon his resolution. He would take his chance, he was worthy of the pleasure and happiness she could clearly offer a man, and if he wasn’t good enough to make the cut, he would just lick his wounds, leave her and find solace in a sex bender with some worthless girl, until he’d manage to forget the bitter taste of her rejection and burry the entire experience deep into oblivion and indifference.

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 38

Some women can instinctively figure out what a man needs and wants from all points of view and she was one of those that didn’t have to make any particular effort to do so. She knew it and she appreciated the value of such an ability, but one has to wonder if that was always enough, if that kind of a skill would always work to her advantage, the way she wanted it. She feared the potential lack of experience; she had the chance to practice her skills on other men, but competitive people who need to be the best at everything have to confront their fear of failure even when it comes to such a trivial matter as sex. Especially since sex was not at all trivial for Amalia, it was a very relevant part of her development and mentality… Robert represented a transformation, the ascension to something more than she had already been introduced to so far, and she wanted to waste nothing of that experience, not even the pleasure of overanalysing it in anticipation and emotion.

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 34

“I’ll pick you up tomorrow at 9 in the morning.”

As soon as he could see Amalia entering her building, the sun reflecting in the glass window, Robert looked up the number of one of his favourite hotels in a nice mountain resort; he lingered for a while before dialling, staring blankly at the screen. Should I actually book one room or two? If you fail the woman’s test at that particular point, there is no turning back and no making up for it… especially with certain women. In some cases, it’s exactly the ones that put up the most impenetrable, holier than thou front, that turn out to be the loosest, and it’s usually an easy and safe guess as to how they might react, given the chance to bathe in the depravity they condemn so loudly, yet crave so desperately. The ones that are open about such things, however, tend to be those that constantly surprise you. For some reason, they live with the belief they are above all others, having a very strong sense of entitlement, which spawns exactly from their open-mindedness and sometimes paralyzing bluntness.

The young woman motioned very slowly after she closed the entrance door behind her, leaning her head to one side in such a manner, so that she could catch one more glimpse of the car parked in front. The man to whom she had just bid goodbye was looking up something on his phone, then he dialled someone. She understood. She smiled contented and hurried up to her apartment. Good.

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 33

The direct way proved to be the easiest approach, yet again.

“The hell with it all… I need a break.”

“Meaning?…”

“I’m going to the mountains for a couple of days. Do you have any plans for tomorrow or could you be persuaded to keep me company for a change of scenery?” He paused, waiting for a reply. “You can have your own room. No expectations, no pressure. Just two people having a couple of days off from their lives. I’m leaving anyway, I set everything up already, but I just don’t want to be alone.”

“Ok.”

“Ok?”

“Yes, ok. That could be fun, as long as you are aware that I like my hotel rooms comfortable and my heels high, so there will be no mountain climbing or anything of the sort.”

“Agreed.”

How exactly does she manage to ignore all my allusions and turn the conversation into something completely different than what I meant it to be? The little bitch… there is no such thing as letting me know exactly where I stand with her.

He thought he saw her winking at him. But did he really want to know for sure or was this just part of the game?

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

Books, Reviews And Awareness – Carol Balawyder

Carnations are the symbol for Multiple Sclerosis, I recently learnt from Carol Balawyder’s blog. In order to raise awareness, she is offering one of her books, Not By Design, for the bargain price of 0.99$ the entire month of May. While I don’t usually review books on my blog (this is only the second time it happens), I find Carol’s writing worthy of such an exception. Not only is she a talented writer, but she is also very supportive of fellow authors, so if you haven’t come across her blog yet, perhaps it’s time you had. Summer is right around the corner and in case you’re looking for something to read on the beach, her books are a nice alternative – engaging, entertaining, yet also well researched and interesting.

Getting To Mr. Right

getting to mr right

Carol Balawyder has managed to create four relatable, strikingly real protagonists and this, together with the highly relevant and complex subject it tackles is what makes her book a real page-turner. Whether we like to admit it or not, the Prince Charming myth – under its various shapes and interpretations – occupies a significant place in a contemporary woman’s love life, regardless of her age, social status or background. No matter if she is desperately seeking this ideal man or she is incessantly trying to debunk the controversial myth, a woman cannot deny the relevance of this concept and the inner struggle it creates.

So much more than a selection of dating stories and disastrous sentimental experiences, the book gives a detailed account of the profound effect an absent father figure might have in determining a woman’s development and the way she will perceive and handle future relationships with men. Getting to Mr. Right is certainly not a “how to” manual. On the contrary, what becomes clear early on is that finding the right partner needs to be a journey to understanding and finding one’s true self.

Campbell, Missi, Suzy and Felicity could be any one of us and most likely, we have been in their shoes more than once. The four very different ladies have one thing in common, they all face some sort of personal, emotional crisis, and this is what brings them together. What might at first sight seem to be a narration focused on the relevance of finding the ideal man and the perfect relationship is actually an ode to female friendship. These four wonderful ladies manage to find their way, realize their potential, understand who they are and what they need not with the help of a man, but with the support of their friends. Once they heal, they make peace with their past and form a realistic view on relationships, they can find balance and love.

We are never too young or too old to discover ourselves or to make a change for the better, we are gracefully and discretely reminded. As for all those huge everyday questions we all have about compromise, independence, career and the way they affect or are influenced by romantic relationships and family connections… it’s a delight to see Campbell, Missi, Felicity and Suzy try to figure them out. At times hilarious, at times heart-breaking, their adventures and feelings are nicely punctuated and enhanced by setting and weather, thus improving the reader’s literary experience. But I’ll let you discover such details on your own…

Not By Design

not by design

Sometimes we have control over our destiny… and other times life simply happens, and not by design. That’s what Felicity Starr, the protagonist of Carol Balawyder’s fourth book in the Getting to Mr Right series, finds out when diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Not By Design is not your typical “boy meets girl, they overcome various obstacles and live happily ever after” romance.

We find Felicity about to reach a fairy-tale ending – a spectacular wedding in Rome – but her life turns upside-down when she discovers her illness and Marco, her wonderful prince, turns into a frog. Struggling to deal with health and financial issues all on her own, left by the man she was about to marry, recovering after her father’s unexpected death, Felicity needs to accept the truth about her own life. In many respects, what she believed to be real turns out to have been an illusion and her choice in men still reflects some of Felicity’s past mistakes. It may have taken her a long time to see her father for who he really was, but that hasn’t obliterated her need for acceptance and approval. Not only does she acknowledge it eventually when she has to sort out all the emotions triggered by his death, but we see it clearly when looking at Marco and noticing how much his character and behaviour towards Felicity resemble her father’s.

The father-daughter relationship becomes secondary in Not By Design. Felicity’s relationship with her mother, Nicole, is emphasized this time, as the two finally get closer and past wounds start healing. Her need for a mother figure also plays a big part in Felicity’s choice to marry Marco, as it becomes obvious from her feelings for his mother. But the relationship that needs the most work is that with herself – her MS helps her grow, become independent and establish a new, more realistic system of values and priorities. First and foremost, she needs to accept herself. As her story progresses, we find Felicity using a cane, but she no longer uses people for crutches.

The setting complements the flow of the story, also enhancing our reading pleasure. Rome and its history infused streets are the romantic, almost surreal scene for the first part of the book, but as the fairy-tale mirage starts dissipating, Felicity moves back to Montreal, the place where reality takes precedence in the best of ways. That is where she finally finds her way and starts seeing her dreams come true, as soon as she understands what is important and what she truly wants.

Felicity is a strong character and the first person narrative brings her closer to the reader in what is a very enjoyable, interesting story. Just like in the first book of this series, Getting to Mr Right, Carol Balawyder has managed to provide us with relevant facts (this time about the physical and emotional struggles of those suffering from MS) without disrupting our reading pleasure. In spite of all these complex matters, Not By Design is a light, relaxing read, perfect for a lazy day on the beach or for a quiet evening at home, when one needs to clear one’s mind and forget about all those troubling daily issues.

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 32

But there was some sort of uncertainty in Robert’s behavior. Although he felt they were heading to the desired resolution, he also felt that she was one that would constantly keep him on his toes, she made him feel like he might not be worth a second glance sometimes, she looked at people in such an indifferent and distant fashion. Yet in spite of everything, he was still attracted, somewhat subdued by her strange ways, cold eyes and cynical attitude, so he needed to subdue her in his own way.

It was only a question of the right moment and of the right place, she was certainly no backseat of the car kind of girl and he also wanted to fully enjoy their first sexual encounter. He was slightly puzzled though: was she just playing with him? Other women would have attempted to get closer by now, holding his hand maybe, a goodnight kiss, at least an obvious hint that they would enjoy a good night kiss from him. But she had kept her distance, and yet she made it quite clear that she would have nothing against a sexual affair with a married man, him in particular. So what now?

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

Down To Earth Or Up In The Clouds

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As children, many of us are often told we can do anything and become whoever we want when we grow up. Then we start growing up. With every year that passes, more and more of those options are stricken off that imaginary list. We discover ourselves, we understand what doesn’t suit us, we figure out what we don’t want to or cannot do. Whether we like it or not, we learn that wanting something doesn’t necessarily mean we can find a way to get it, contrary to urban legends and positive thinking myths. Yet we keep going, we still plan ahead and we find new purposes every day, because the present and the past are not enough, we also need some sort of hope for the future we can hold on to.

The dreams may not be full of grandeur, our younger selves would have probably not even called them dreams, yet realistic expectations and the anticipation of something more, something new or at least something we have experienced, loved and want to relive is not something to ignore. But what happens if we’ve exhausted all the items on that imaginary list – either because we’ve accomplished them or because they will forever be out of reach – and we have nothing else to replace them with, what happens then?…

She really has nothing to look forward to, everything she ever hoped for is behind her now and she is not that old yet… The thought crossed my mind, while wondering how long the woman can go on about her cats. I looked at the phone once again – over half an hour since that conversation had started and it didn’t seem to come close to its end. As usual, she had no regard for other people’s needs or for their time. Had she paid as much attention to the people in her life as she did her cats, her marriage and her life in general would be so much better, I couldn’t help thinking…

Much like Icarus, she got too close to the sun. It had been a relatively quick and sweet ascent and she’s been in some sort of chaotic free-fall ever since, it dawned on me. Every time you thought she was about to hit the ground, you realized she can somehow avoid it – anything to avoid being down to earth, accepting the reality for what it was and dealing with it. Nothing could compare to that blinding, cruel, mesmerizing sun; nobody could compete with the sun. She couldn’t find a way to keep living up there, suspended above everybody else, looking down on a world inferior to her and her sun. She couldn’t duplicate the flight to perfection, that was a once in a lifetime experience. But she would not accept herself for who she was and what everyday life meant either, somehow avoiding to crash into reality at any cost.

The cost had proven to be rather high. There had been false suns and the pretence of flight, she had hope and dreams of getting back up there, above everything and superior to all, yet all those hopes and dreams inevitably dissolved into sad, hopeless, dreamless reality. She couldn’t have the sun and she couldn’t live up in the clouds, so nothing else mattered, nothing and nobody would be good enough. One by one, real, decent, accomplished people who loved her where pushed aside or torn apart because they were here, on earth, living real lives, with their amazingly nice, terribly bad and boringly neutral moments. None of them could ever offer her the height of the sky, a palace in the clouds, so they were clearly against her, a drain and a burden on her existence.

Her list was empty and she was determined to keep it empty. There was nothing she could have anymore, nothing great would happen to her again, because she didn’t consider anything or anyone real worth wanting. Her memories of the glamorous past were exaggerated and at times made up, and the beauty of sun didn’t make it less untouchable, but she wouldn’t hear of it.

I looked at the phone once more… almost an hour. Nonsensical cat stories, invalid complaints and constant self-pity left no room for any interest in others and their sad, happy or average existences. She may lead a sad life, but that doesn’t mean I have to do the same, even if I do try to make it better for her. So with one semi-transparent excuse, I’m back down to earth, breathing a sigh of relief. I know she’s pouting, but I also know this would not be our last conversation… because I am one of the very, very few people she’s got left. What can I say, it’s cloudy up there…

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In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Earth.

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 29

“How come you can get away with such behaviour? Not many married men can afford that luxury.”

She asked the question, but she knew the answer. The truth was simple, his wife couldn’t care less; as long as she was provided with a transparent lie she could hold on to and a very comfortable life, she didn’t care what he did in his spare time. Amalia hated everything the unknown woman represented and she vaguely felt that was one of those aspects of marriage she dreaded the most. But that unknown woman most likely leads the same kind of double life and her husband is completely oblivious, because he cannot be bothered to care, thought at which she almost started laughing. Robert pretended not to hear the question and the loud music drowned their conversation prematurely.

They had talked too much up to that point, all the other times they had seen each other they ended up sharing more about themselves then they would have initially liked to, but tonight was not about words. Tonight was about the thought depriving music, the adrenaline a young woman feels whenever she dances with a new man, his hands on her hips, her winding body driving him insane. A different array of sensations will surface when the object of your desire dances lasciviously in front of you and even more powerful realisations occur unexpectedly, when she decides to stand up and dance with a friend of yours. Knowing that you have no right over her and the shock produced by the unwanted, out of character pang of possessive urges only leads to wanting her more, it drives you to manipulate a situation, so that you know for sure that the other guy stands no chance whatsoever.

The young woman will probably be aware of everything, savouring her power over him. Game on!

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

Dinner and Drinks

1

I like to be spoiled once in a while… who doesn’t? It takes a lot to spoil a woman, many tend to believe… yet so many times it actually takes so little. When his idea of a long walk is going all the way from the door to that uncomfortable spot at the far end of the parking lot, but he suggests an afternoon walk in my favourite park, I know he’s only doing it for me. We walk a lot because I like it and I know he doesn’t mind it too badly if I’m there with him. Hours later we can collapse on comfy chairs on a terrace and spend some quality time with delicious cold drinks. That’s for both of us, just like all our late dinners.

5

Food is one of the many joys of travelling and discovering local restaurants can be a small adventure in itself. From infuriating to enlightening, from disastrous to delicious, it’s rarely what you’d expect it to be, that much I’ve learnt. But after a long day of walking up and down a place you don’t know too well, after taking in as much as you can – museums, shops, shows – nice, cold drinks are just what a girl needs.

3

Yes, small things can make a great difference, when you get the feeling someone has been listening and paying attention. What we tend to forget is that we can and need to be that ‘someone’ for ourselves and for the special persons in our life.

2

We can treat ourselves to something delicious, even if that might be something as insignificant as homemade bread. As for the walk in the park… hmm… that might entail having to put up with another James Bond movie in return… Oh well, the things a girl will do for a man who spoils her 🙂 …

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In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Dinnertime.

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 28

The whole town may not be entirely that way, but they are, Amalia thought as she was heading towards their table that evening in the club. She felt she would fit right in, she would be accepted instantly by all of them, because she was young, beautiful, vibrant and free.

t’s odd how some would find this so promiscuous, and I feel as though I’m coming back home after a long journey. Promiscuity implies deception, hiding away and shame, but look at them, they want nothing more than to be seen how proud they are to be themselves…

Robert stood up as soon as he noticed Amalia arriving and the others turned their heads instantly, admiring her and envying him – she was there for him tonight. But it didn’t mean they couldn’t try their luck too, some of the men thought for a moment, drinking their whiskies. Wanting something and just knowing you are daring enough to reach out and take it is one of the most exquisite types of freedom. And having an impact in the world of such people is a special task, few can do it instinctively.

Amalia refused Robert when he offered to come pick her up from home that night and instead she offered to just meet them in the club later on, offering him some vague excuse about how she had some things to sort out. She didn’t have anything else to do, but she instinctively felt suffocated when he assumed he could just come and collect her, and in an attempt to reassert herself, she decided she would make an entrance. Setting up a dinner with some other guy she knew and she found to be terribly dull was just so she could clear her thoughts. But the moment she saw all of them, the moment she noticed that they looked at her differently than at the other young women accompanying some of them, she realised her instincts had pushed her to do exactly the right thing.

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 27

One of the things to value most about the town that Amalia had moved to a few years ago would be its honesty – nothing going on there is different from the normal life of any other big town in the country. Its people aren’t by far any worse than those in other places, although some of them might be richer, but they lead their lives acknowledging who they are and what they do at a far higher level than anywhere else in the country. The men lead double lives, so do most of the women, and although some social appearances are respected, everything else goes on in plain sight, out in the open, with no need for denial or pretence for their own benefit. Robert and his friends were by far an example of it, all of them successful and proud, some of them well-educated, others perhaps lacking in culture, but all of them married, with a nice family at home and a multitude of parallel lives aside from it. The paradox a myriad of existences creates is a simple one – honesty and deception coexist in twisted harmony, sometimes on different planes, other times even within the same context. People lie, cheat and steal, they are selfish in their own despair and fear, but they admit it and accept themselves and each other for what they are, they find no reason to be ashamed and they walk proudly, acutely aware of their superiority. The mentality of “honest” lies is what makes the town and its people true to themselves, or at least more so than in most of the other places, an enclave where depravation and sin are revered instead on being swept away under the mat, under the mask of religious social propriety.

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 24

A cup of coffee and chocolate ice cream on a crowded terrace came as a welcomed antidote to the sun filled shard of emotions and past. Perhaps they had been more open and honest than either one of them had intended to be, both with the other person and with themselves. The drive back to town cemented conclusions and resolutions and the Eagles CD on the background trickled innocuous intimacy between the two of them. It was that kind of intimacy and freedom you feel when you talk to a stranger, and from it derives the trust you can say anything and everything. It was the relief you get from pouring out your history and hopes, which sometimes gets to be mistaken for early-set friendship. One way or another though, sweetly deceiving or harshly honest, the uplifting feeling remains the same and once it takes over, it produces a constant craving for more and more, until it burns itself out with an unsuspected flame. But it’s that kind of high which, if acknowledged at the proper moment, forms a special type of happiness that some of us will chase relentlessly and at any cost, once we’ve had our first taste of it.

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 23

The sky was starting to change colour, something seemed to be about to happen while they were sitting down staring at the water and thinking back of other worlds, and it took her a few moments to realise what it was: the sun was sinking towards the horizon, it was getting lower and lower and soon enough they would witness the sunset. She wanted to run, she didn’t want to see that, not then, not there, and not with Robert. For some reason, it suddenly became clear that it would be one of the most intrusive moments.

“We should probably head back to town, I think we lost track of time. Somehow, this seems the right place for it,” and she wanted to smile light-heartedly.

“Are you sure you don’t want to stay and watch the sunset? It can’t be long now.”

“Not today.”

They motioned slowly on the hillside, away from the water and the sun, towards the rusty gates and the parked car outside. Amalia was walking behind him this time, closer to the stone walls, disturbing remnants of old houses and temples, treacherous witnesses of past lives they had buried, and she would touch them from time to time, so the shiver of their warmth would remind her that she was still alive, she wasn’t a ghostly sight wondering amongst them yet. They drove away in silence, as though they were sneaking out of the beautiful cradle of memories; and as they were distancing themselves from the ruins of the old settlement, the corner of his eye caught Amalia turning her head and taking a long, depressed look back. What if I never return here again…

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

One Love… Or More?

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“Forever desiring, forever weary of his conquests like the great trickster of Seville, he always subjected himself to just a single woman, only to liberate himself from her through his works.”

Brassaï about Picasso

So many ways types of love and so many occasions to experience them, if only we allow feelings to flourish… Each of us perceives love (in all its shapes and sizes) in their own personal way and it’s certainly too subjective a matter in order to be boxed in or limited by fixed, blind rules. But one general assumption might just be true for all of us: no two loves are the same, regardless of whether we refer to romance, family, friends, people we may not even have met, or to things, jobs, pleasurable activities that embellish our lives in various ways.

It might not last forever, but each and every love we have experienced leaves a mark, it changes us, it becomes a part of who we are. It is a growing and a learning experience at the same time, even in those (many) cases when the dénouement is anything but positive or when it has proven to be painful rather than pleasant. It might leave us broken, but as long as we manage to put together the pieces, we often emerge stronger, with a clearer view of who we are and what we need. And it’s in those situations when we reach out to those other kinds of love that we hopefully have in our lives, relying on them for support we may not even know we need.

5

There are certainly more than one love related myths out there and aside from allowing us to hope and dream, they also set us up for disappointment, fostering unreachable standards and expectations, often blocking our perception of reality and true value. It’s funny how something that’s supposed to make us so happy actually frustrates us and makes us miserable because it doesn’t fit the pre-set pattern. Apparently we sometimes are so desperate to make ourselves feel inadequate by comparison to those untouchable ideals, that the already existing myths are not enough, we constantly come up with new examples of how love (any kind of love) should be in a perfect dimension… we even idealize examples from the animal kingdom…

Let’s be honest, even that generally considered a romantic symbol of monogamous, perfect couple is just that: an image, not reality. Yes, apparently sometimes not even swans mate for life, nor do they have a perfect couple life. They occasionally ‘divorce’ an unsuitable partner, they sometimes cheat on their significant other and they do look for a new mate in case the first one dies. Fun fact – it seems the black Australian swans are the friskiest of them all, on average one out of seven eggs is the result of an ‘extramarital’ affair. Sure, they have good reasons to behave this way; yet even when their couple life is successful, it’s not so much because of love or great romance, but because they’re practical creatures – they’re stronger together and they stand a much better chance to survive and thrive. Hmm… that sounds somewhat familiar…. 🙂

6

So why not make love a personal experience, one that suits who we are, what we believe and what we need? That could prove to be so much more constructive than judging and labelling ourselves and those around…

In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: One Love.

Gentlemen, I Apologize!

1

Yes, I know for a fact there still are many of you left out there, although you are part of what appears to be a rapidly dying breed. To all of you who still open the door for us, who still offer us flowers on special occasions and not only, who still help us with our coat or hold the chair for us in a restaurant, who plan a romantic date and don’t suddenly remember they forgot to bring their wallet, to all of you who treat us with respect, appreciation and consideration, I offer a blanket apology. To all of you able and willing to make a woman feel like a lady, I apologize for all those times your kind gestures went unappreciated or scorned, thus pushing you towards overcoming your decent nature and good manners.

It can be a trialling time of year for any man wishing to show his love and appreciation for those important ladies in his life. Having barely survived Valentine’s Day’s trials and tribulations, now that spring is finally here, many of them have to deal with Mother’s Day and/or International Woman’s Day being celebrated in many places. It’s a murky pool of rules and shifting expectations out there and much as they may try, it seems that the kindest of intentions often turn against them. It’s not as simple as having good manners or being altruistic and generous anymore. Expectations vary from one woman to another and in a world of feminist tendencies, conservative needs and a variety of trends in between intertwining (often in the same person), it’s all about timing and intuition. Does she want/need/expect him to bring her flowers or open the car door or pay for dinner… or will she feel offended if he does any of the above, considering him a Neanderthal wishing to control her, treating her as an inferior, weaker creature rather than his equal? Or is she by any chance saying one thing and expecting another, in which case he needs to carefully anticipate exactly when, how and which rules may apply? None of this can be easy for them, so those of us expecting men to be gentlemen might occasionally have to stop taking such behaviour for granted and show some appreciation and understanding.

I used to think they have an easier time once they get to know the lady well enough in order to know what to expect and what she expects… but how many times have I been told they never really know what to expect from us and no matter how close they may be to us, we keep surprising them with our behaviour (and not always in a good way)?

The flowers hadn’t arrived. It was Valentine’s Day and her flowers and chocolates hadn’t arrived, so he was a bad, bad husband! Bad, inconsiderate, detestable man! But the flowers, chocolates and card had been ordered weeks ahead, the special day hadn’t gone unnoticed or forgotten, even if he had to be away for work. A thoughtful gift and a romantic dinner were going to follow when he got back home. Irrelevant! All of that was irrelevant, as was the confirmation email forwarded to her in order to prove the veracity of his good intentions. The delivery company had made a mistake, everything would get there the following day, but that was also irrelevant and he was still and awful creature who ruined her Valentine’s Day… because she had nothing to show off that day! Obviously, flowers are beautiful, chocolates are sweet, the sentiment is nice on that day alone and nothing else matters!

In case anybody expected this to be a teenager throwing a tantrum, I must add the story above involved middle-aged people married for well over a decade. If only this were the one situation of the sort I ever got to witness… I know the bad, bad man in question and while he certainly has his flaws, just like everybody else, he didn’t deserve any of that. It got me thinking – just how many men doing their best to be real gentlemen go through such experiences with those significant ladies in their life?

As a woman, I couldn’t help feeling somewhat small and petty… I keep feeling disgruntled and unfairly criticised when my gender is labelled materialistic, selfish, petty and ungrateful by men becoming irrational hysterics around various holidays and special occasions. I generally blame it on their unwillingness to be generous and understanding or on their poor choices in women, thus leading to frustration they spread around and for which they blame all womankind. After all, there are women looking just for what these men have to offer, so why should they bother with those of us wanting something else? Obviously, the situation is a lot more complex and the truth can no longer be denied – some of those men may have very well made significant efforts to be decent gentlemen, yet we ladies may have been exactly what convinced them it was not worth it.

Last, but not least, how about reciprocity?… Before turning men and their feelings for us into mere accessories we can brag about (although we complain bitterly if they treat us that way), we might want to take a moment and wonder if we actually offer something in return, thus justifying all those stellar expectations we often have… those very same expectations we blame them for not living up to… We are all guilty of occasionally taking for granted those people who care about us and who treat us well, but turning it into a way of life is something else. And since we were on the topic, Valentine’s Day (for instance) is a two-way street, we can and we should be generous and romantic as well – they may not look as delicate as we do, but that’s not to say they have no feelings, egos or insecurities. Oh… and apparently they might also have a sweet tooth, so it was brought to my attention that they might actually appreciate it if we shared those delicious chocolates they brought us. (Hmm… couldn’t I just offer a few roses? Pretty please? Asking me to share my chocolates with anyone is almost cruel… Oh well… that might be the ladylike thing to do, though…)

Therefore, I apologize to those of you, gentlemen we have been treated unfairly! But don’t give up on us or on that kind side of your nature. Just like you, we also make mistakes and once in a while, we even try to atone for some of those mistakes.

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 20

“Careful, there might be snakes in the grass, just by the water.”

“Do you mean other than you? Are they poisonous?”

“None of us are,” he replied laughing, not at all offended by her all too familiar cynicism. “Not that I know of, anyway. But I would think twice before having an apple, Eve…”

“Why? You strike me as the kind of man who has had his fair share of apples…”

“Perhaps too many… that’s how you inevitably come across the occasionally rotten one and then you get to deal with the consequences.”

“Are you sure it wasn’t you that was the rotten one to begin with?”

“Not to begin with. But who knows, later on… Things change and people evolve to what their true nature is.”

The dialogue restored their sleeping senses, double meaning was a game that they were both good at, but more importantly they both enjoyed it tremendously. Double entendre is the entrance gate into that which finally allows for so many possibilities to materialise, it’s a plethora of opportunities to reach out and pick exactly what you want from a sea of endless interpretations; and the need for any sort of accountability fades away, as an endowed mind can shape the reality into whatever they might desire to understand it to be. Robert was finally near her, standing behind her, not close enough to touch, but close enough for Amalia to feel his breath though her hair, on the nape of her neck, to feel the warmth of his body emanating towards her almost like she had felt the heat of the ancient stones earlier. However, the sensations stirred up were not at all alike.

“How about we swap that apple in your hand for a nice cup of coffee, in an air-conditioned restaurant?”

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 19

The sudden metamorphosis was striking – the cynical smile was gone and she looked real. For the first time she not only was young, but she looked young. He had not foreseen such an effect, all he wanted was to distance himself from the crowd and make Amalia notice he was somewhat different than the rest of the men who probably threw themselves at her feet. But this was something else, this was something he could relate to, she was a person he could relate to and he felt the time winding back, the same way she must have felt. There could have been no other explanation for her transfiguration. He felt an acute need to smile when he saw her gracefully jump over rocks, keeping her balance on the dusty path or on the slippery grass. An indefinite moment from his past wanted to take over him, but he shook it off immediately, finding his way to the stone wall she was leaning on now. She looked alone, having probably forgotten all about him, lost in her thoughts. What does someone like her think about anyway?

“Let’s go all the way down to the water,” she suddenly motioned back towards him and he almost had the feeling she would reach out and take his hand. Was she even thinking of doing such a thing or was it just what he would have liked to happen, in view of old memories and images from a different lifetime that seemed so intent to flood his mind this afternoon? Robert got angry with himself at the mere idea of it, that man was gone and so was that life, with all the people it had encompassed; the person he had struggled so hard to become over the years allowed for no such weakness.

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 17

 

There is a certain dose of masochism in every one of us, but some are endowed with more than the usual amount. Robert knew that she was right and he hated her being right on such a topic, especially when she so stubbornly held on to her ideas. What he failed to grasp was the fact that it was a similar kind of masochism which made him feel attracted to her. It was that particular moment that he realised he wanted and he needed to have her exactly because she wasn’t just beautiful and young, but she was stubborn and with a mind of her own… and because he would never be able to control her. But he was still able to control himself and easily swallow the offensive words he felt the need to throw at her, just as he was able to put aside his latest realisation regarding his urges and carry on with what he had planned for the day. Any sudden move would scare her away, that became clear shortly after they had met, and he didn’t want to risk his newfound happiness: he wanted something and he had no idea how and when he’d get it, and that gave him a thrill of happiness, as he realised how fun it would be to get there.

They were approaching their destination for the afternoon and all the traffic signs and touristic indications started to clearly point out where they were heading. Amalia had to give him credit for the original idea and started to be restless, looking forward to get there, so she could get out of the car and wonder about freely in the scorching afternoon sun.

“Is that where we’re going?”

“It is. Are you going to throw stones at me as soon as we get out of the car?”

“Doubtfully,” she smiled. “I’ve been meaning to come see this place for a while, but it just seems there’s always something else to do first.”

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 16

“The idiot is in love with you.” He didn’t know whether to get angry at her or just laugh at that guy’s stupidity – something from the past was trying to claw its way to the surface, but he instinctively pushed it back deeper, the way he had always done.

“Let’s leave this cliché for another time. He’s just in need of finding himself a new mother figure, someone who would tell him what to do, would control his every action and would relinquish all his responsibility when things go badly; because, after all, it was only her fault, as she was the only one with a say in it, and he can just relax, enjoy the ride and bask in the amount of drama him being the victim of the soulless woman would offer.”

“I almost feel sorry for the poor guy. You don’t appreciate him at all, do you?”

“Of course I do, we’re actually friends, but anything more than that is subject to certain rules. I do care about the fact that he was there when I wanted him to be there and about the fact that he’s a nice guy, but on one hand that’s not enough for me, and on the other hand, I get the feeling that by ‘appreciation’ people tend to understand changing yourself in order to fit some idea of what would please another person. And the irony is, the one I am now is what he’s obsessing over, whereas the washed-out cloth I’d become by changing to please him would hold no interest whatsoever.”

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

Someone’s Birthday

It’s someone’s birthday today… a very special someone… No matter how pouty or grumpy he might get on this particular occasion, I know he actually likes it when people remember and acknowledge his birthday 🙂 . So, to the man who never tried to change me, to the man I never tried to change, to the man who appreciated me for my flaws, not in spite of them, to this unique man I now wish a Happy Birthday and that special brand of contentment he and I understand so well.

Happy Birthday!

Parallel Lives – Sample fragment 13

“He’s a pair of knitted woollen socks.”

“Excuse me? What the hell does that mean?”

“Did you ever have a pair of those woollen socks that grandma knitted for you?”

“Of course, several of them, I might still have one or two in some drawer, somewhere. What does that have to do with anything?”

“They’re the kind of thing that you don’t really need, you don’t really wear, but you can’t get yourself to throw them away, because of what they are. Sure, they’re ugly and the rough wool makes them unpleasant on your skin, but the truth of the matter is that you have worn them a few times, perhaps on a really cold winter night, or when you went to the mountains and the cold was too much to bear… you wore them and they proved to be exactly what you needed at that moment, in order to achieve a certain relative amount of comfort. So you can’t bring yourself to throw them out, you might need them again someday. Plus, there’s also the emotional factor – they mean something because grandma made them, you can connect them to certain memories you aren’t ready to let go yet – and that’s how they end up being kept on the bottom of some drawer, to be taken out once in a blue moon, when the situation is critical. But you would never think of wearing them in public, with your nice, Italian leather shoes, would you? And in fact, you probably wouldn’t even miss them much if you were to finally get rid of them when you cleaned up your wardrobe more carefully…”

Robert was almost laughing at her analogy. I can’t believe how much sense her idiotic idea makes… She actually perceives another human being – one who, by all accounts, cares about her enough not to notice such obvious things – as nothing more than some sort of outdated accessory to be trotted out and tucked away only according to her needs, with no saying in it whatsoever… He didn’t know what he believed about that, he wanted to disagree with her and disapprove of such an attitude, but the truth was he admired her bluntness, he was forced to accept that he himself had treated people no better than that, perhaps even worse, more than one time. But she seemed not to see anything wrong with it because she made no effort to hide it.

For more sample fragments: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/analinden

Three Is Not Always Perfect

I coincidentally found out that she divorced him. The same way I had coincidentally found out the two of them had gotten married in the first place. The same way I found out they had a beautiful daughter.

I didn’t congratulate her on her wedding or on having the baby she was dreaming to have ever since she was a child herself and I didn’t comfort her during her divorce. She didn’t invite me to her wedding, she didn’t let me know that their little family was becoming a trio and she didn’t bare her soul to me when her dream family proved to be just that – a mere illusion. None of us did any of those things, because we were about eighteen when we last spoke, and the last time we were close friends was even a while before that.

Her marriage and pregnancy didn’t come as a surprise. The kind of man she chose to marry didn’t surprise me either. But her finding the strength to leave him did – I was impressed and I was happy for her… and for a moment I could see that stubborn little girl she once was.

We are the same age and we spent the first years of our lives playing and growing up together. Then school separated us, but only in a certain way, because we shared that kind of bond and friendship that seem indestructible at that age. We were both competitive, we were both stubborn and opinionated, we were both convinced we had all the answers, but we were completely different and we appreciated each other exactly because of it. We had constant access to each other’s world, but the older we got, the less use we wanted to make of that access.

Being different slowly became having nothing in common. I didn’t feel comfortable among her friends and she felt like a stranger among mine; so of course we both acted up and those people became the enemy. But we could even accept that about each other – it would be just the two of us when we met, sharing everything and supporting each other during those confusing, complicated and painful years. However, a time came when not even the family drama that always brought us together managed to be a strong enough link. And what a cliché the reason appeared to be – nothing else but boys.

Yet there was so much more to it than that trivial fact – we were making our choices regarding the paths we were going to follow, the kind of life we wanted, the kind of treatment we considered we deserved. I had a boyfriend who worshiped me and perceived me as the centre of his universe, while I wasn’t necessarily always kind to him. Her take on a ‘real man’ was somewhat different than mine… to say the least. Jealousy, violence and control were what she perceived as the main attributes of the guy worthy of her love. Her boyfriends became more and more questionable, until I finally had to refuse meeting one of them. High school girls all over town knew how violent he was and stories about how his family got their fortune were whispered in secretive, fearful tones. No, that was not the kind of guy whose interest you wanted to awaken. But she knew all that… and that was when I was politely informed that I had no business talking about relationships, since I had never been in a real one. After all, a real relationship was one in which the guy set me straight, not let me be myself and do whatever I wanted, the way my boyfriend did.

She firmly believed I deserved to be slapped around a little bit, just to finally understand what real life and a real guy feel like. It was our first and final fight. We still talked once in a while afterwards, mostly agreeing to disagree. But I understood it was time for the two of us to keep our distance, because there was no way the three of us (she and I.. and the dubious boyfriend she would not leave for anything in the world) could be friends. Sure… I understood the appeal when it came to bad boys, but within limits… life-threatening was not and will never be sexy in my book.

Yet.. I understood her… how could I not, when I knew her story? Nothing and nobody taught her that loving a person means so much more than owning their body and soul and disposing of them the same way one does regarding any other type of personal property. Growing up with an alcoholic, occasionally aggressive and mostly unemployed father that both she and her mother adored had taught her what a ‘real man’ should be. Without such a ‘real man’, she herself could not reach her full potential as a real woman… Her mother never left her father, no matter how badly he treated her. He was the most important person in her life; she came second and the kids came third. She worked two jobs to support the family; and when she lost those two jobs, she finally gave in and started drinking too. Once they were sharing the same vice, they became strangely happy, in spite of everything they had to deal with. But her mother never left her father…

This is why I was so pleasantly surprised when I found out she divorced her abusive husband, putting her daughter and herself above the ‘real man’ she had desired for so long. I don’t know the details, but I am glad she stopped perceiving three as being the perfect number for the family she had built in her dreams as a child. We will never be friends again; we will probably never talk again, even if we might still coincidentally find out all sorts of things about each other. But we have never been enemies either, we simply followed our own separate ways. This is why I can now say I respect her for having the power to open her eyes and understand both she and her daughter deserve more. She will never know this about me, the same way I will never know many things bout her, but it makes no difference. All that matters is that we both have the memory of what once was a beautiful friendship, belonging only to the two of us.

In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: What comes in threes?

 

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 12

Amalia turned her head towards him; she couldn’t continue to admire the scenery that was unravelling outside the car window while sinking into her own thoughts on the matter, appearing to listen to him absentmindedly. She had had that conversation with other people before, including a couple of very close friends, and everybody – from the new guys she met who wanted to sleep with her, to her family – seemed intent on figuring out just that particular matter, ending up being more puzzled than they were initially.

“You really like labels: married, single, wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend… It’s really a matter of perception for me, even if some people see me as having what they might call a boyfriend, I happen to believe it takes more than tolerating a person for a few years, allowing him to be part of your life when there’s nothing else better to do and no one else better to be had. It takes more to call it a relationship and no, in my book that doesn’t mean I have a boyfriend.”

“So you do have a boyfriend.”

“I see you’re just about as unable to understand as most of the other people are.”

“I’m teasing you, really. It’s just that people are known to build life-long marriages on less than what you just described there. So what’s wrong with this boy, that you think so little of him? And why exactly does he allow you to behave that way? Come on, tell me what your story is, I want to know.”

Robert’s voice betrayed his curiosity, but there was a hint of something else behind that half smile. She ignored it though; he wanted to know, then he would know. Amalia needed to figure out up to which point she had been right in assessing him and his character, just as she needed to be accepted exactly for who she was, and narrow-mindedness and hypocrisy were not flaws that she could tolerate.

“He’s a pair of knitted woollen socks.”

For more sample fragments: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/analinden

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 10

“I do know some of the out of town… let’s call them attractions… Most of them I can vaguely remember since I was a child and I’d spend my summers here, my mother’s friends helped me get acquainted with such places, since she wasn’t much of a nature person herself.”

“Well, I hope you enjoy our little touristy escapade today.”

He realised it was best not to ask her whether she had inherited her mother’s dislike of the outdoors, no need to spoil the afternoon when there was still some shred of hope that his plans weren’t completely inappropriate for her. It was a shot in the dark anyway, he knew it as soon as he noticed what she was wearing, but he wasn’t ready to accept that a person who had reached maturity in the same old place where he had spent several nice years as a student would be devoid of any sense of history and would shutter at the mere idea of an afternoon away from the noise and oppression of the modern town in which they crossed paths. Her old home town still lived on the shaky mirage of history, nature and culture intertwining in a desperate attempt to take the next step into the reality of the present-day. Robert tried to ignore the obvious detail that he had mistakenly left out – she appeared to be more than pleased to have left that place for good.

“So… do you have a boyfriend?”

Not that again… But some things are unavoidable, she thought, and apparently it was a valid question when people meet other people, especially when a certain type of interest arises between two persons; and she couldn’t really blame her dislike of socially acceptable small talk on him.

For more sample fragments: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/analinden

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 5

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“I apologize, that was rude of me. But I tend to be a curious person by nature and I have the feeling you might know a lot more about me from your friend than I know about you.” Game on. He decided honesty was the best choice for the time being. “Most of the people who work with me – not for me – are friends of mine and we socialize in various contexts that aren’t work-related in any way. Whether we decide to collaborate in the future or not, you strike me as an… intriguing person and I would enjoy getting to know you.”

I’m very curious, I’m sorry… I’d like to know you better… At least he didn’t say “you’re an interesting person”, which she felt was his first instinct, but he managed to overcome it just in time. She normally didn’t go for that kind of approach, but she sensed he had meant the clichés he had just uttered, he was playing his one card left after the inappropriate question – directness would score him some points. He was clearly a spoiled man, used to being blunt in his sentimental approaches, not because of a certain lack of imagination or poetry, but because he felt that such endeavours belonged to a period in one’s life that he had already passed or overgrown.

“Anyway… would you mind if I called you sometime soon, to reach a decision about the summer job?” She kept staring him in the eyes without saying a word, so he decided there was nothing more to be done or said then and there. He was slightly annoyed by her superior, know-it-all look and he wasn’t going to pursue the issue any further, the intriguing brat could make up her mind about him all on her own. “Or you can call me whenever you prefer, in case that’s more convenient to you.”

He hadn’t meant to utter the last sentence, but what’s done, is done, he thought, while he was watching her heading out. Not wanting to completely give in to her, he figured that finding a middle ground was his best option, since she was clearly not going to respond to his “hot and cold” play. Yes, summer was looking up… for sure… And as she was walking away, he felt a pang of unadulterated enthusiasm and challenge, the same way he used to feel when living in the old university town which had also been her home… like there was purpose in life and everything and anything became possible.

For more sample fragments: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

Parallel Lives – Sample fragment 2

Amalia felt there was something of a sociopath lying dormant in both of them, as guilt was mainly a foreign concept in most of the circumstances with which life presented them, at the most mundane level possible. On a large scale, they both had a very acute sense of right and wrong that responded to their personal reasoning regarding the world, people and morals, a sense that suited their open-minded characters, their egotistic needs and their somewhat legal, more abstract rather than moral, view of correctness.

Robert was old, or at least he was old compared to her, but that was not relevant for either one of them when they initially met; just as it made absolutely no difference that he had a wife and a child at home. If anything, these aspects regarding his condition only made him more attractive and Amalia was well-aware that their relation might have ended before having a chance to begin, had he not been the man he was, leading the life he lead. It was time, she decided about five minutes after she met him, it was time to start dating a married man. Date him? Would that be the appropriate phrase for it? She felt it instantly, nothing about it would be what common souls derive from the idea of dating; after all, he was married, there was an age difference and she had no desire to change his status or to manipulate him, so that he would present her with the opportunity of a “normal” role in his life. They would have whatever kind of a relation they both felt like sharing and they would interact on a commitment-free level.

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 1

The buzzing sound of the plane engines and the milky view of the clouds with the protruding mountain peaks below failed to provide her with their usual sleepy serenity. Relinquishing control of her life and relying on the mysterious laws of physics to transport her exactly where she needed to be had been replaced by frantic panic, as her fingernails were deeply embedded in the window seat from the beginning of a flight which would normally allow her to spend some of the calmest hours of her existence. She had to make use of all her self-control to complete the boarding procedures and to maintain her resolution of going through with her trip, but she felt the plane would take her nowhere this time – it had occurred to her that she was only drifting, she never really had a clear idea where any of the planes would take her, she was just spinning in a circle, in the vague hope that access to the right flight would eventually be gained, by chance or by mistake. And as she felt falling deeper and deeper, she couldn’t help wondering why she kept leaping from one flight to another, as none of them had proven to be the right one.

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

Driving By A Marriage Proposal

For this week’s photo challenge, share with us a photo that expresses something fresh.

No, no, it wasn’t meant for me (good thing it wasn’t, because I would have kept driving)… 🙂

I have unwillingly intruded – together with hundreds of unsuspecting drivers – upon a somewhat unusual marriage proposal. The sun was shinning, flowers were blooming, birds were chirping and there it was, stopped on the side, in a dusty, empty parking lot – a car with a banner awkwardly tied to it’s trunk. That simple question so many girls dream of hearing, resonating deeply in their hearts, was spray-painted in black, uneven letters on said banner. A photographer was immortalizing the special moment for the happy, strikingly young couple, so I suspect the question was met with an affirmative answer 🙂 . People were slowing down, many of them even stopping to take a closer look at the unexpected, personal unfolding of the fresh start of a life together for the young couple. Will it last or will their story have peaked with that proposal on the side of a road, on a sunny, early spring day? Who can tell… I wish them well, whoever they are.

One thing’s for sure – the fresh flowers, the budding trees and the bright sun have gotten to all of us, not only to the birds and the bees 😉 . I look at many of the people around and it seems that something has melted within their souls – it’s that recurring transfiguration we witness every spring, the very one that disappears a few days later, as soon as warm days and lively colours become the norm again. But it’s fun while it lasts. 😉

Happy Valentine’s Day!

“Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved. ”

W. Shakespeare – Sonnet 116

There’s more to this day than cards, flowers, chocolates, heart-shaped knickknacks and all sorts of gifts that make us feel wanted and appreciated. Not that they are completely irrelevant – much like the day itself, they are a reminder that a certain feeling, a certain human emotion should be cherished and celebrated once in a while! (And hopefully there’s a little bit more to that feeling than 50 Shades of Grey 😉 ) So I hope that today you get to enjoy a few special moments with someone you love, either face to face or at least hearing their voice on the phone.

Happy Valentine’s Day to all of you and to the people you love!

“Village Teacher” or a Different Kind of Book

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Village Teacher was a surprisingly pleasant break from the books which generally fall into our hands these days. In fact, I could say it’s reminiscent of literature from another time and not only because the action takes place at the end of the 19th century in a politically torn, myth laden Vietnam, but due to the fact it creates an atmosphere often similar to that of an epic poem.

“The footprints never overlapped or touched one another, but there was no doubt that they were walking close together and going forward in the same general direction. They turned around once more and resumed their walk.”

The reader can guess early on how the story is going to end, but that doesn’t detract from the desire to follow the journey of those extraordinary main characters, who never betray their moral values, belief systems and feelings. Teacher Tam and Giang are the protagonists of a delicate, innocent, yet profound love story bringing together two worlds, two cultures, two completely different lifestyles. He is a poor, but erudite, honest, incorruptible village teacher, who values tradition, but keeps an open mind and is able to admit and accept progress, both when it comes to education and to mentality. She is the daughter of a highly influent, well-off, interracial family in the capital, encompassing the best traits of the two nations, French and Vietnamese. So you just know the adventure they have to survive in order to be together is going to be an interesting, entrancing one! As expected, they do manage to overcome social and political intrigues, selfishness and malevolence of their enemies. Their intelligence, selflessness and above all, their unconditional love both for each other and for others predicate their actions and lead them to a life together, in the spirit of their destiny.

Are such characters believable in the real world? Perhaps not, but I chose to see Teacher Tam and Giang as the embodiment of hope and dreams, the voices of aspiration for a better world. The task of establishing a connection with reality falls on the historical facts punctuating the love story, a task carried out in a clear, captivating fashion. Thus even a reader with few notions regarding Vietnamese history (such as I was) finds it easy to create a strong context and a cultural background, a veridical stage where the characters can perform. Some of the obstacles the protagonists face – such as prejudice, religious oppression and discrimination, gender bias – are also some of the plagues tormenting modern society, our own lives. Perhaps I’m not even too far from the truth if I say that the intertwinement of Vietnamese history and culture creates and entity to be metaphorically viewed as a third protagonist of the book, that’s  how much it affects the lives of Giang and Tam, often representing a challenging obstacle for the two young lovers from different worlds.

For me, reading a book has often been an escape from my own reality. And it is relaxing and gratifying to occasionally find escape in a world built on actual history, but populated with exceptional individuals, where the heroes eventually defeat the villains, even when they have to undergo their own personal dramas and emotional growth. Like I said, this book reminds me of another time – that of childhood and innocence, when everything was possible and the good always prevailed in every story. And the fact that the skeptical adult anchored in reality can grasp to the well-documented cultural and historical facts, thus learning something new and interesting, ads exactly the right twist to this exotic story, as far as I am concerned. So it certainly was time well spent accompanying Teacher Tam on the path to achieving his destiny.

This is where you can connect with the author, discover his world and find out more about the book:

http://neihtn.wordpress.com/category/village-teacher/

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 15

“It’s not like that, you’d understand it if you knew her.”

“I’m sure I wouldn’t, but I’m also sure you actually believe that, so you just tell yourself whatever you need to hear in order to go on.”

The silence was drowning the countryside scenery. Nice, cosy and nightmarish, she thought, but that’s not his fault, that appears to be the vastly spread idea about marriage anyway, why would they be the exception? It’s probably never different, they just end up devouring each other’s soul and character in the nicely furnished confines of a home, burying all the frustration, ignorance and dissatisfaction deep under a sea of smiles and placid lies, all under the silent approval of socially accepted behaviour, most likely under the eyes of some child that doesn’t know any better and will probably just grow up to duplicate the parents’ example.

“How about Woollen Socks? Why do you keep him around and not chase him away, so he could find somebody right for him? Or why don’t you make him into more than that, why can’t he make it to the next level?”

“We met not that long after I moved here and he immediately became somewhat obsessed with me. It was pretty obvious and perhaps I should’ve chased him away from the very beginning, because I knew myself well enough to be aware that I didn’t want anything serious with or from him. But I’m selfish and I was a bit lonely at the time too, and the way he worshiped me was quite nice for my ego. He knew that he had no chance to be more than that, the pair of socks on a cold winter night, but he accepted it, or maybe he hoped things would change, that I might change, I don’t really know and I don’t really care. There are still times when I feel lonely and that’s when he’s just a speed dial away, he knows that total availability on his behalf is what I require and he is more than willing to provide that. Because, no matter how bad you think he has it, he still enjoys it a lot more than he would any typical relationship with somebody else but me. It’s me he wants and this is who I am, so that’s what he gets; no more than that though, because he is devoid of any personality, any ambition and intelligence. He may be a nice guy, but he’s no more than that and he never will be.”

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 14

“You do realise that’s a person you’re talking about, right?”

“Yes, and the person in question is completely aware of my feelings, I don’t pretend he means much to me, just as you don’t pretend not to be married. There’s a difference, however: he knows exactly how things stand between the two of us, he knows exactly who I am and what my conditions are, and he has the choice of accepting them or not. He decided he was desperate enough in order to accept anything, as long as once in a while there’s room for him in my life as well; but he is free to leave whenever he wants. Can you say the same about your wife, though? Does she know exactly who you are? Does she get the choice of accepting you or not, or does she just have to live with a nice, cosy lie about what her marriage is?”

She was right… or maybe she wasn’t… He didn’t know anymore, that kind of questions hadn’t been tormenting him for too long a time. It made sense from a logical point of view, but he knew there was more to it when it came to a relationship, especially a marriage; the make belief factor was actually the more relevant one in keeping things together.

“Marriage is different. It’s cruel to tell people things that are bound to hurt them just to fulfill some need for honesty. There’s more to it than that and relationships, especially marriages, need to be protected, sheltered from certain aspects of life; there’s more than enough pressure on them as it is.”

“Right… What you don’t know can’t hurt you. How about being at the receiving end of that sheltering strategy? What if your wife protects you – I’m sorry, your marriage – from certain aspects of life as well?”

“It’s not like that, you’d understand it if you knew her.”

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

The Nice Guy – Holy Grail or Holy Bore?

Brand-new year, same old questions… Amidst all those champagne glasses clinking and all those people cheerfully chanting New Year’s resolutions meant to magically change their lives, some of us cannot help obsessing over what went wrong, what we could have done differently in order to have achieved better results. I’ll quit smoking… I’ll quit that shitty job… I’ll stop drinking… I’ll recycle… I won’t be such a pushover anymore… I’ll go on a diet and lose ten kilos… That’s what we hear left and right. Why the hell don’t women ever go for the guy who’s gonna be nice to them?! Well… that one you don’t hear too often when a new year is on the verge of replacing the old one and everybody is euphorically celebrating all the potential perspectives.

My oldest friend’s familiar voice made me smile; it was my turn to ask myself an age-old question – why do men think their female friends should be able to answer absolutely any question about women? No offense, guys, but what applies to one doesn’t apply to all, we’re not built to fit the same pattern. He quickly got over his conundrum about the latest object of his desire, he smiled back and wished me a Happy New Year once more, not expecting an actual answer this time. But his question followed me – it wasn’t the first time he had approached that subject and rightfully so, since there we were, yet another New Year’s party with him alone and no perceivable perspectives in sight, because he is such a nice guy. So his phone goes back in his pocket – no message from the girl with whom he went out a couple of times and who seemed genuinely interested… interested in getting back together with her worthless ex, that is, as soon as she got a taste of what going out with a nice guy might feel like. And since this particular one was not by far a remote incident, of course he utters to himself, “The hell with women…”; yet he cannot stop wondering where he went wrong and why exactly it is that so many of us prefer to be treated like doormats by various losers, rather than be worshiped and set on a pedestal by the likes of him.

Who is the nice guy? In this particular case – trying to be as unbiased as I possibly can – we’re talking about a more than decently looking man, intelligent, selfless and kind, always there for you, whose needs always come second after yours, who has a steady, although not glamorous job and who believes that a woman is meant to be respected and cherished, not abused or mistreated in any way by the guys in her life. And on a personal note, I know that nobody can ask for a better friend. In fact, this last aspect becomes so disturbingly clear immediately after you first meet him, that one might quickly decide it’s not worth risking to lose such a great friend only to try and have more, only to have some brief affair with him. Let’s be honest, men come and go, while friends are a constant for many of us.

So our guy is still alone and looking around him, he spots countless men hand in hand with pretty, successful women, in spite of these guys’ blatant inability to respect or be fateful to them, in spite of their clearly spoken out lack of desire to be at least civil to them. It was against some of them that he competed and lost the girls now standing there, half smiling and half crying because of the men they had chosen. There she is – that’s the one who begged that guy to move in with her, after promising to pay the rent herself and support him until he got a job; several years later, he still cannot be bothered to work, he drinks twice as much and she’s buried in debts, but she won’t even consider leaving him, no matter how often she has to run and cry on a friend’s shoulder. And that one – she’s the one who often locked herself in the bathroom to cry after having sex with the boyfriend, that’s how much he disgusted and humiliated her, yet even that was preferable to being with a nice guy. There’s another one – she openly preferred the man who threw a frying pan at her for burning the eggs, the same man who religiously checks her phone and email, driven by some sort of paranoid jealousy he finds to be the attribute of any self-respecting male. After all, what’s all that when the alternative implies having to perceive a nice guy in a sexual manner? No, no, no… he’s only worthy of being the sounding board you need whenever you feel like your head is exploding and your soul is breaking in smithereens as a result of yet another misfortunate amorous choice, he’s the one who has to listen to you mention how much you’d like it if men could also be anything but jerks to the women who care about them. Weary of it all, sick and tired of women and their whimsies, the nice guy decides once more that they’re probably all alike, they deserve what’s coming to them, so he won’t bother to care anymore, he’ll just become one of those guys, all the while knowing he’s neither built or able to behave that way to anyone, much less to a woman…

Yes, his girlfriend will receive much more privileged a treatment than she would have expected; in fact, she’ll suddenly find herself in the shoes of those women whose good fortune she had envied for years – or so she thought. Showered with constant affection, this woman will abruptly experience what it means to have a man who only wants to please her and knows only how to be nice to her. From happily bringing her that glass of water in the middle of the night or driving all the way to the other side of the town only to get her that cake he knows she likes so much, to helping her most distant relative or acquaintance move their furniture to their new apartment, he will always be there to fulfil any menial task she might invent. Will he cheat on her? Of course not, how could he, after having gone through all that trouble just to get in her good graces?… So the now fortunate female of the species also has all the freedom she might desire, because he is trusting by nature, hardly knowing the meaning of jealousy and possessiveness – that is, as far as his behaviour towards her is concerned, because he firmly believes she can chose to be with whomever she pleases, whenever she pleases, even leave him if she might be so inclined, no matter how much this might tear him apart.

The realisation that even if he would not cheat on you, you still have to share him with the rest of the world might be quite striking, especially for those of us who want the man they date to treat them in a considerably different fashion than he might treat any of the other people he knows. But one of the nice guy’s major flaws is that he cannot say no, to you or anybody else. His phone will ring in the middle of the night and he’ll get out of bed and go help some vague acquaintance who has car trouble or whose cat needs taken to the vet after swallowing a hairball. And if he’s late for a date, you can be sure he feels terrible about it, because what kept him was not his indifference to you, but his inability to refuse a colleague in need, who was most likely too lazy to do his job in time. That is probably also the reason why his shirt looks like it just came out of the dryer, in his frenzy to do everything and anything for everybody else, he completely forgets to take care of himself. And why should a woman take offence in the fact that he looks as though he slept in his clothes when he takes her out to a nice restaurant? After all, doing something for whoever has the common sense to take advantage of him is so much more important than looks and appearances.

Since he’s had so much bad luck with women, he does his best not to scare them away, so he’ll start off as the “as you wish” guy. Do you want to go out tonight? As you wish. Where should we go? Wherever you wish; as long as you’re happy, it’s fine with me. What should we do at the weekend? Whatever you wish. And it goes on and on, until even the calmer ones of us will lose their temper. Is it really the desire to please or an innate refusal to make decisions, so when things inevitably go wrong, he will not be the one blamed for it? Unfortunately, by the time this question might receive an answer and he might start feeling comfortable and confident enough to have an input and opinions of his own, the girl has already left. We get it, we get, he was just trying not to be dominant; but how about accepting that having an opinion or making a suggestion doesn’t mean controlling a person?

When the girl is not one for making decisions either or she’s just trying to be nice and leave him to his own devices, things tend to take a not so appealing turn. You can forget about going out, because all he really wants is to be with you, to listen to everything you have to say and invade each and every corner of your mind, so he could find out everything there might be to know about you, the most intimate and private details of who you are. And what better place to do so than at home?… Remember that really cute, sexy outfit you bought for those hot clubbing nights? You might as well forget it, because clubs are for posers and pretentious wannabes, you cannot possibly socialize properly with all that loud music and drunken people fidgeting around you. Let’s just stay home, take a nice, long bubble bath together, hold hands and snuggle… you know, really connect… Without even realizing, your mind wonders off to your ex, that arrogant, obnoxiously jealous fool you left because you thought you deserved better; and your memory will play that old, infamous trick on you, making you remember only the good, fun parts, like that last night in the club when you got to wear your appealing outfit and he was so taken by it, the two of you feeling so sexy and alive. Unfortunately, with all the current bubble baths and hand holding making you feel like you’re a hundred and five, chained to this guy for a lifetime and not only dating him for ten days, you forget that your ex was also so great at noticing how sexy the other girls’ outfits were…

In spite of everything else, you made it to your first weekend getaway with your first nice guy and you decide to reward him by letting him surprise you, since he had already mentioned something about how romantic a sunrise in the mountains might be. So you smile contented – there’s hope yet! Or so you think, until you realise that your romantic surprise getaway involves a tent and a pair of hiking boots meant to help you reach that mountain peak where he knows for a fact that nature is at its wildest, so the two of you can enjoy the most spectacular sunrise possible. There goes your dream of a nice, warm, comfortable mountain chalet, with a cosy bed and a soft duvet from under which you could sneak a peek out the window and catch a glance of the amazing sky while he’s bringing you a nice, hot cup of coffee. Did you think that you were going to spend your day souvenir hunting and your evening in some fancy restaurant or loud club? Put on your hiking boots and think again, because the nice guy often harbours a genuine love for nature and its wonders. He will carry your backpack, though… What are we, thirteen, you might almost have time to wonder, involuntarily looking down at your elegant shoes, before you metaphorically run for the hills. The truth is, he means no harm, you left the decision to him and that is what he likes. The same way you might not understand that, he will never be able to understand why you’re relaxed by an afternoon of window shopping (or real shopping) or what you can find so interesting about a hotel in a nice resort, since that’s not at all how you discover true scenic beauty. The truly heart-breaking part is that he will do whatever you like him to, he will put up with all the plans that you make and all the things you enjoy, but as he most likely finds them completely irrelevant, uninteresting and vane, he will roll his eyes and suffer through the deadly boredom you inflict on him; and since he is far from being an accomplished liar, cannot hide his aversion – besides, one is always supposed to be completely honest to the person one dates – but he will constantly ask you why you seem sad or annoyed. After all, that’s what you wanted to do, his sour face should make no difference and you should have the time of your life. In your turn, you sigh with boredom too and your thoughts wonder off to your ex; but this time you are fully aware of it.

What starts off as an unbelievable revelation often turns out to be nothing more than an acquired taste and I believe this might be the nice guy’s case as well, since not only the example in question, but also many of his peers seem to be creatures of extremes, completely unable to find balance or the proverbial middle way in their behaviour. Since things are either black or white, good or bad, there is no room for anything in between and they have formed their beliefs regarding what should generally constitute “nice” behaviour. It’s simple really, they have subjectively decided what “nice” should objectively be like for each and every woman and it is therefore logically implied that anything outside their definition should be undesirable. And they generally suffer tremendously when they see women choosing all those other men that are different from them, therefore not nice, bad. This is where it all falls apart and the dreamboat becomes something else, because niceness and goodness, much like beauty, are also in the eye of the beholder. And since a woman should be able to accept the nice guy for who he is, there can be no talk about him changing. He wouldn’t dream of asking her to change who she is in order to suit his needs. But, in fact, does he not do exactly that?

Who are these women he likes and who keep rejecting him? By some coincidence, it’s always the type of woman who would never be interested in what he likes, her life revolving around different values. Those who might indeed share some of his passions never happen to awaken any passion in him. On the contrary, they tend to fall into the “not pretty enough, not bright enough, not funny enough, not elegant enough” category, because in the end he’s only human, he has his own preferences and taste. Ironically enough, the man who decries women for being attracted to men who hurt them in various ways is also the man attracted to women who would only mistreat him.

In the end, he walks away from another party, yet again convinced that women would prefer any jerk to him, without even considering the idea that treating a woman nicely might imply offering her what she wants, not what he thinks she should want. The truth is most likely somewhere in the middle. There are indisputably self-destructive women, driven by veiled masochism and a deep need to be somebody’s victims; and many of those alpha males are indeed no more than these women’s chosen oppressors. But it is equally true that many of said alpha males become harmless and cuddly the moment they face an alpha bitch in her own element. Everything is relative. So why don’t women choose the nice guy, the one who makes for such a good friend, yet for such a difficult, antagonistic boyfriend, and always go for the bad boy? Wait… maybe, just maybe, some of us want neither a lapdog, nor a torturer for a boyfriend, but simply a well-balanced man, who in spite of his human flaws, manages to find that middle way towards a non-extremist relationship….

But all in all, how does the story end? Does the nice guy ever get the girl in real life? Or is it just not that kind of black and white affair after all?…

Parallel Lives

parallel lives variantaYoung, beautiful and independent Amalia refuses to apply traditionalist conceptions to any of her relationships with men; therefore commitment, marriage and couple routine are not part of her vision on life. Cynical and highly aware of the realities of an unromanticized modern world devoid of long lasting feelings, Amalia appears to only seek the promise of a few moments of fleeting happiness next to the men in her life. The opposite sex is often no more than a refuge from all mundane problems and deceptions, so the young woman stubbornly refuses to settle down with any of the men who try to win her affection – that would only mean the death of her soul, independence and character.
A man will treat a woman as badly as she allows him to and no man can offer a woman all she needs – these are two of her strongest beliefs; needing to be in control, she will not shy away from being at least as selfish, self-involved, manipulative and cold as men are to other women in their lives. Intense sensations are her idea of happiness and Amalia seeks someone who can make her feel and forget, but as she thrives on introspection and analysis, doubt and disappointment, together with unwanted and unexpected feelings will often overwhelm her. But above anything else, she is their confident, the one they entrust with all their fears, hopes, past, future and prosaic stories, Amalia enjoying their conversations as a means of escaping and forgetting her own issues. Infiltrating the thoughts, ideas and emotions of men who care for her becomes a guilty pleasure in which she will relish whenever she finds the power to remind herself that any drop of happiness needs to be savored.
Getting to know the various men in her life ultimately translates in a deeper understanding of herself and her needs, discovering she can still be both disappointed and amazed by the person she is. Her evolution over the years outlines the image of a woman who refuses to lie to herself and become somebody else in order to please people and fit in, often accepting loneliness as a reward and not a punishment.