Come Back to Me

  • Paperback: 240 pages

  • Language: English

  • ISBN-10: 1942204035

  • ISBN-13: 978-1942204039

  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches

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"Come Back to Me 

(Blue Feather) is well-written, with an interesting setting, and characters any reader can care for. . . ."

 

 - Lambda Literary Review.

by Chris Paynter

 

Author Angie Cantinnini’s agent convinces her she must use a pseudonym if she hopes to land a contract with a mainstream publishing company—especially since the protagonist of Angie’s novels is a hard-boiled male detective. Neither Angie nor her agent anticipates the raging success of the series of books or the mountain of wealth that accompanies each new release. 

As a best-selling author, Angie should be delighted with her Bohemian life in Key West, but happiness is elusive because it’s her alter-ego, Zach England, who’s receiving the accolades, while Angie is relegated to anonymity. 

Meryl McClain, the recently hired book review editor at the prestigious New York Banner, wants to make a strong first impression with her readers, so she picks Zach England’s latest novel for her debut review. She offers a scathing critique, unaware the real author behind the pseudonym is her long lost true love, Angie. Heartrending choices separated the lovers eleven years earlier. 

Seeing Meryl’s review overwhelms Angie with feelings she thought she’d laid to rest years ago. This stroke of Fate beckons them to reunite, but Angie’s secret identity and Meryl’s struggle with a childhood trauma conspire to keep them apart. 

Torn from a shared moment in their past, the words Come Back to Me have haunted the two women for more than a decade. Is it too late for Angie and Meryl to choose love again? 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 5 is where our two main characters, Angie and Meryl, first meet in their college creative writing class. 

 

Excerpt Chapter 5

 

Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, January 1997

 

     “No, Father, I haven’t returned Stan Alberson’s call. I told you, with my studies, I really don’t have time to date.”

     “You surely have time to at least have coffee with him. He’s expecting to hear from you.” Channing McClain’s deep baritone rumbled in her ear.

     It was the third week of her sophomore spring semester and the fourth of these annoying phone calls.

     Meryl bit back a sigh. If her father was anything, it was persistent. It served him well as the head of McClain Steel, and he didn’t let it stop there. He rarely, if ever, took no for an answer, especially if it involved his daughter and what he felt was in her best interest.

     Not this time. Not if she could help it.

     “I have to go. My creative writing class meets in forty minutes, and it’s across campus. I’ll talk to you later.”

     “We’re not through discussing this.”

     “Bye, Father.”

     She hung up, hurried to her desk, and gathered her books into her backpack.

     “Where’s that short story?” Rifling through some papers, she found it between the pages of the school newspaper. She shoved it in with her books. With her scarf wrapped around her neck, she snatched up her knit cap from the bedpost and pulled it over her head before leaving her dorm.

     She dodged the icy spots on the sidewalk and attempted to keep her mind off her father and his meddling ways. Maybe this class would help. Her critique of the short story would at least be a distraction.

     Meryl slowed her pace. It allowed her time to ponder why she had no interest in calling Stan—or any guy, for that matter. She’d dated in high school, but had gone out only a couple of times since starting at Lehigh. The guys she’d dated were interested in one thing, which she wasn’t willing to give up. So, she endured the tongue probes and briefly endured the fumbled groping. But it never stopped there. Once they pushed her to go further, that ended any future dates.

     Her solitude became her father’s obsession. He seemed determined to match her with the perfect future husband. In Stan Alberson’s case, it had everything to do with the fact he was heir to the Alberson Shipping fortune. Meryl wouldn’t have cared if he were the damn Prince of Wales.

     She stomped up the steps leading into Drown Hall and to the second floor classroom where the class met twice a week. Meryl unfurled her scarf and pulled off her cap. Running her fingers through her hair, she hoped she didn’t have a serious case of cap head. She took her customary seat in the second row of desks arranged in a semicircle and glanced around, searching out who’d written the story. It was her first critique of this particular author, Angie Cantinnini. Her gaze stopped on the dark-haired woman seated across from her in the front row.

     She sure can write. And she sure is cute.

     The instructor entered the room before Meryl could analyze that last thought.

     Faye Evers missed the sixties by about ten years. She might have been born in that decade, but Meryl was sure she was too young to march in protests or participate in sit-ins. It didn’t mean the woman had given up the whole flower child persona, however. Her brown hair was wild and long, almost to her waist. She wore large hoop earrings and a tie-dyed skirt. Her knit shawl draped over a blouse that looked suspiciously like burlap.

     “Okay, everybody, let’s settle down.” Faye perched on the edge of the desk in front of the semicircle. “Let me remind you to take note of what’s offered in the critiques of your stories.” She slid on her reading glasses that hung from a thin gold chain around her neck and scanned her legal pad. “We begin today with Kim Calbers’s story about living in rural West Virginia. Where’s John Franklin?”

     A beefy redhead raised his hand.

     “We’ll let you give your critique first.”

     While John droned on, Meryl stole multiple, and she hoped furtive, glances at Angie. Her hair was short and feathered away from her face. She wore a Lehigh sweatshirt with “Women’s Softball” scrawled across the front, and faded jeans. Her left knee poked through a hole partially covered by thin white denim strips. Slightly disheveled, she seemed at ease with her appearance. She flipped a red pencil on the tablet of paper on her desk, keeping her head down during three more critiques.

     “Now, let’s discuss Angie Cantinnini’s story, ‘A Thanksgiving Day Surprise,’ about a young woman coming out to her family on the holiday.”

     The pencil flipping stopped, and Angie straightened in her chair.

     “Brett Mooreland? Give us your assessment.”

     Meryl continued observing Angie while Brett offered up an uncomfortable homophobic response to the story. Angie’s knuckles whitened as they gripped the pencil. Meryl was sure it would snap at any moment. Angie looked alternately from Brett to the eraser tip and back to Brett until he finished his harsh critique.

     Idiot.

     A cocky grin creased his lips, but the grin faltered, and his predatory expression slid from his face after he caught Meryl’s glare. He had flirted with her during the course, and she’d ignored him.

     “Next up is Meryl McClain. What did you think, Meryl?” Meryl thought Faye’s expression was pleading with her for compassion.

     Meryl met Angie’s eyes and offered her a reassuring smile before she began her critique.

     “First, I think Angie’s writing is phenomenal.” She glanced over again at Angie and noticed that she’d relaxed in her chair. “The story flowed and held my attention. The dialogue was crisp throughout. She did a good job of relaying the tension in the household, to the point where I felt like an intruder at a family dispute. When I finished reading the story, I felt emotionally drained. I sympathized with the main character. I can’t imagine the pain she went through. . ." Meryl stopped, then started again. “I mean, I thought Angie conveyed the main character’s pain very well.”

     Meryl gave Angie another slight smile when she finished while Faye went on to the next student’s critique. Thankfully, it too was a positive review.

     Faye took her turn commenting on Angie’s work. She reaffirmed everything Meryl had said about the story and added a few more compliments. “Angie, I don’t mean to single you out, but I can see you’re a gifted writer. I hope this is something you’ll pursue after graduation, yes?”

     “Yes, ma’am.” Angie ducked her head. “I hope to.”

     “Good. Your talent shouldn’t be wasted.”

     Angie kept her face averted and renewed her fascination with her pencil.

     The second thirty minutes of the class seemed to drag. Faye stood up from her perch and reminded them of next week’s exam. “Remember, I’m a stickler for precise grammar, people,” she said over the shuffling of papers and squeaking of chairs. “If you have any questions before Tuesday, don’t hesitate to call me at my campus office.”

     Meryl approached Angie from behind while Angie pushed her English book into her backpack. Meryl spoke as Angie hefted the backpack onto her shoulder.

     “Angie?”

     Angie raised her head. “Uh. . . hi.”

     “I admire your work. Faye’s right. I can tell already that you’re the best in the class.”

     Angie’s cheeks reddened.

     “I didn’t mean to embarrass you.”

     “No, it’s okay. Thank you.”

     Meryl glanced at the door and then at Angie. “I’d better take off. I need to get a jump on a term paper that’s due in a couple of weeks. And I know me. If I procrastinate, I’ll..." She stopped. “I’m sure you have a class to get to. I only wanted to tell you I love your writing. I’ll see you next week.”

     Meryl waited a half beat longer, but Angie didn’t offer any more to the conversation, so she moved toward the door.

     “Meryl.”

     Meryl turned around.

     “Would you mind if I walk with you? I thought we could talk about next week’s exam. I don’t know where you live, and I’m not sure you want the company, but—”

     Meryl beamed. “I’d love it if you walked with me. My research material for the term paper’s in my dorm room.”

     They left Drown Hall, strolling side by side. Angie moved out of the way of a threesome engrossed in their conversation and oblivious to the space they took up on the sidewalk. She stumbled into Meryl.

     Meryl grabbed her elbow and held her upright. “Watch where you’re walking,” Meryl shouted after the three, who paid her no attention. “Do you think you own the sidewalk?”

     “Thanks.”

     “I can’t believe they didn’t see you.” Meryl frowned at the retreating students. She turned back to Angie. “What’s that funny smile for?”

     “Nothing. Thank you for defending me.”

     “I thought they were rude,” Meryl said in a soft voice.

     “Hey, I didn’t mean anything by it. So, where are you from?"

     “Pittsburgh. And you?”

     “Not too far from there. Youngstown.”

     “That’s not very far at all.”

     “Different state, but right up the road. What’s your major?”

     Meryl glanced over, saw Angie’s wide smile, and her stomach fluttered. She took a moment to catch her breath. “Journalism. I’m taking the creative writing class to get some practice at writing anything and everything. And yours?”

     “I’m majoring in English, with a concentration in creative writing. A lot of students go on to teach, but I’d like to make it as an author.”

     “I think you’ll do just fine.”

     “I don’t know about that. I’m sure I’ll be doing something entirely different for a while after I graduate.”

     “It might take you a couple of years, but there’s no doubt in my mind you’ll make it.”

     Angie lowered her head.

     “I’ve embarrassed you again,” Meryl said. “I have to stop doing that.”

     “I’m not used to the praise, I guess. The only other person who’s read my writing and complimented me on it is my sister.”

     “What about your parents?”

     Angie’s steps faltered.

     “Are you all right?” Meryl asked with concern.

     “Yeah,” Angie said in a hushed voice. “My parents and I don’t have the best of relationships.”

     Meryl wondered whether Angie’s short story was autobiographical. She slowed to a stop and placed her hand on Angie’s arm. “I’m sorry.”

     “Thanks. Me, too,” Angie replied.

     Meryl’s heart pounded in her ears as she gazed into Angie’s dark brown eyes. God, what’s wrong with me?

     Meryl ended the moment by resuming her walk down the sidewalk. Angie fell in beside her. “What would you like to know about me?” Meryl asked.

     “What about your family? Do you get along?”

     “My family.” Meryl listened to the crunching of their boots in the snow. “Where to begin? I’m an only child. I get along well with my mother. My father. . ."

     “If you don’t want to talk about it, you don’t have to.”

     “No. I do. My father likes to run my life, or at least likes to try. And he’s someone who’s used to hearing ‘yes’ from everyone around him. It starts with his job, but then he thinks that should carry over into his family life.”

     “What’s he do?”

     “Have you heard of McClain Steel in Pittsburgh?”

     “Yes. We studied it in my high school economics class because of the McClain Mill in Youngstown. It was fascinating how Channing McClain kept his company going after the downturn in steel use in the eighties. He shifted into manufacturing stainless steel and titanium without missing a beat.” Angie came to a halt. “Wait. Isn’t your last name McClain?”

     Meryl nodded.

     “And you’re from Pittsburgh?”

     “Yes.”

     “Your father is. . ."

     “Channing McClain. The guy you’re gushing about.”

     “Then that means you’re. . .” Angie seemed embarrassed with her reaction. “I’ve never, well, I’ve never. Shit. God, I’m sorry.”

     “It’s all right.”

     “No. It isn’t. I’m acting like an idiot.”

     Meryl stared at her and made a decision. “You know what? I’m cold. Why don’t you come up to my dorm room? I have a microwave. We’ll have some hot chocolate while we talk about next week’s test. How does that sound?”

     “I could stand some hot chocolate.”

     Meryl felt relief and something else. The feeling had visited her at rare moments in her life. She’d grabbed hold of it when it arose, praying it wouldn’t slip through her fingers. But the feeling always dissolved, leaving her cold and alone. As they drew closer to her dorm, the long-remembered sensation settled on Meryl like a warm blanket.

     Hope.