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I didn’t have the heart to take this page down; it’s the first chapter of the paranormal/fantasy novel I wrote about 5 years ago.  Novel #2, still unpublished.  As I read over the below (quite painful), written so long ago, I see many things I’d do differently (it sucks), but at the time, it was my best effort (that’s true).  Growth…ouch.

The Secret of Others by Sara Morris

Prologue

Magic

I was about to pass him on the stairs so it was now or never.I practiced what I wanted to say a few times in my head and then took a deep breath of courage.

“Hi, Harry.”I raised my hand in a casual half-wave.My coworker came to an abrupt stop between two stairs and stared.I couldn’t be sure if it was the dim light of the stairwell or a side effect of my soaring blood pressure, but his expression seemed taken aback.Maybe he didn’t recognize me.“I work here at the clinic with you?”

A few months ago I started working in the writing clinic at the Hollywood Center Community College.This means I spend my Wednesdays proofreading and rewriting essays.It’s one of six part-time jobs that I juggle and I’m happy for the work.When I graduated college I thought I was going to have a “real” career with long hours and office politics and natty little power suits that I wore to meetings.But life doesn’t always turn out like how you plan it to.

When tragedy took its mallet to my life, there wasn’t much that was strong or admirable about my reaction.Nothing had ever prepared me for turning twenty-one and then losing my entire family; so I taught myself.I moved back home and the first thing I learned was that sugary foods put me to sleep and the more I slept, the faster the days went by.Cable TV became my drug of choice and HBO was the best dealer ever.Nobody understood what I was going through and watching TV was way better than listening to people tell me it would all be okay.

It took about a year and a half for me to stop feeling dead inside, but eventually I woke up one day and it was gone.I didn’t do anything different or see anybody special – it just kind of went away, or at least stopped hurting so much.The upside was that I was so sick of my own company, going to work and being around other people soon became the best part of my day.Looking up at my frowning coworker, I told myself to stay strong.I couldn’t deal with another Saturday night alone.

“I’m a writing tutor?I work here on Wednesdays?”Self-consciously I pulled at the bottom of my t-shirt.Even to my own ears I sounded awkward.

“Oh yeah right, hi.”

“Hi.So how’s it going? Sure is quiet today.”

He scratched his head.“Yeah I guess.Did you need something?”

“Nope, just saying hi.You know, since it was slow and all.”I stood there nodding at him, a smile still plastered across my face.A familiar panicky feeling began to flutter in my chest.Plan A was not going well.“I’m probably going to see a movie on Saturday if you want to come.”Harry’s eyebrows raised up so high half of his forehead disappeared.

“Are you asking me out?”

“No.”I lied.“Some other people might come too.I just thought it’d be nice to get to know everybody here.”And by everybody I meant him.Harry was the only person at the clinic besides me who was over twenty.

“Cool.Who’s coming?What are you going to go see?”My mind raced.

“I’m not sure yet.People are still getting back to me.You know how it is.”

“Sure, yeah…”

We both nodded at each other.Me taking note of how much Harry reminded me of Doogie Howser, him staring at a point somewhere near my left shoulder.Harry cleared his throat.“Well thanks for asking me, but I can’t go.I’d like to go, it’s just that I have some other stuff I’ve gotta do.”He looked like he was going to say something else, but after a moment he shook his head.“Alright, well, see you around.”

“See ya.Have a good weekend.”I added, hoping it made it sound like the whole movie thing had been no big deal.

He took a few steps before stopping again to look down at me.“What’s your name again?”

“Billie.It’s Billie like Billie Jean.”

He grinned.“Alright.Later, Billie.”

“Later.”I repeated.A second later I heard the stairwell door on the floor above me open and close.I stopped pretending to descend the stairs and pressed my hot face into my hands.I inhaled and exhaled slowly until the sick feeling in my stomach went away.I knew this wasn’t the end of the world, but it had been embarrassingly awful.

A few mornings later I stared at my reflection in the mirror and acknowledged that I was running out of positive energy.I needed a Plan B.Tomorrow was Saturday and the only exciting thing I had planned was a long walk to my favorite coffee shop.What was wrong with me that was making this so hard?

Bluish-violet eyes blinked back at me owlishly.Was I hideous?Was that why I was alone?Or was it just because I’d become the most socially awkward person on the planet.I looked from the freckles on my nose to my long, dark brown hair in a ponytail.I swayed my head from side to side and watched as my ponytail swung around like a whip…and then it happened.The best idea I’d ever had hit me like a ton a bricks and I loved it so much I smiled at myself.I’d get a dog.A dog would give me companionship.A dog would facilitate meeting new people – strangers talked to you when you have a dog.I would go to dog parks and take my dog on walks and it would be just the catalyst my life needed.

When I went down to the kennel I immediately noticed a sweet, forty pound Golden Retriever named Sophie.She was blonde and beautiful and looked just as I imagined a dog should.I was sitting and petting her in the ‘Meet and Greet’ room, when all of a sudden the door to the cages banged open and a huge, slobbering monstrosity came running in, his leash dragging on the floor behind him.He was as black as night and about the size of a refrigerator.Sophie couldn’t care less and sat there like an angel.I, on the other hand, stared at the beast with alarm.

“NO.”I said firmly and was pleased to see him stop short.Maybe I was better with animals then I thought.He tilted his head at me.“No.”I repeated again. “SIT.”But the moment I said ‘sit,’ the dog rushed me.I put my arms up, but they were useless to stop him from heaving half of his massive body into my lap.The air whooshed out of my lungs and I grunted under the impact.Huge paws crushed my chest and his wagging tail felt like a baseball bat every time it smacked my legs.Finally my voice came back.“No!Down!Bad Dog!”

A stocky man with smooth, dark hair and a face etched with deep lines, meandered into the room.  He came over and grabbed for the leash, but I noticed that he was grinning at my predicament. “Lo siento.Down Magic.Malo.”

As the man unsuccessfully tried to pull the dog away I lent a hand and shoved as hard as I could.The thing barely moved.“This isn’t working.”I complained with frustration.

“Two hundred pounds is hard to move if he no want to.”He chuckled and gave another ineffective pull.“His type is Mastiff.You know this dog?”The dog in question was now doing its best to eat my face.

“I’ve heard of it.”I cranked my head sideways in an attempt to dodge his foot-long tongue.Was this man going to help me or was being mauled by a giant half-horse standard protocol down here?I started to seriously reconsider my bright idea of getting a dog.

“His nombre is Magic.We found him tied up to a tree.Pendejos with a pellet gun were shooting at him.”Shaking his head, the man braced his feet and tugged forcefully on the leash.The dog whined unhappily as he slid off my lap.“He’s running out of time and he knows it too.He’s been acting up all week.Come on hombre, don’t bother the lady.”

The dog let out another whimper and I felt like a real jerk.This poor animal was in a kennel on borrowed time and here I was begrudging him a little affection.“Never mind.”I said quickly.“He can stay.He probably just got excited.You said his name was Magic?”

The man nodded and with a look that spoke volumes, dropped Magic’s leash into my palm.He took a seat across from me and I watched with interest as he stretched his legs out and crossed his hands over his stomach.I envied how comfortable he seemed in his own skin.

Magic was thrilled with his newfound freedom and immediately began to lick me again, this time on the hand that held his leash.I thought it meant he was trying to tell me he appreciated my change of heart.Cautiously, I patted his head in return.

“What’s a pendejo?” I asked, more in an attempt to make conversation than from any real curiosity.

He smiled at my pronunciation.“It’s bad so you no say it, okay?”

“Okay…but can you still tell me?”

“It’s stupid kids – gang members, want to be criminals you know?Magic was howling muy malo so the neighbors called to complain about the noise.When we came they ran off. ”My heart lurched.

“Somebody was really shooting at him?”

“We see everything here.”His eyes went sad and distant.“We find them dying when some idiota feeds them rat poison.We find them with broken backs, hit by the coche on the side of the road.We…”

“Please.”I held up my hand to stop his words.I didn’t know what else to say.Just the small bit that I’d heard so far was echoing nightmarishly in my head.“I’m sorry.”

He nodded and both of us sat there for a moment, quietly lost in our own thoughts.I looked from beautiful, calm, perfect Sophie to the dog in front of me who was still watching my every move and subtly trying to shimmy his body closer up onto my lap.I rubbed his gigantic black nose.I couldn’t get over it how big he was.

“Was he really hurt when you rescued him?”

“Opposite.” The man answered cheerfully, his teeth big and white as he smiled at me.“Not as single scratch.”

“You’re kidding.”

“The bullets bounced right off like Superman.”I laughed as he intended me too.“No, probably they just had bad aim.”

“Is that why his name is Magic?Because he didn’t get hurt?”

“Sí and no.There’s a saying in México that to dodge a bullet is to become one with the magic of the universe.”

I smiled at how superstitious he suddenly sounded.I wasn’t much of a believer in that kind of stuff myself.The dog’s huge tail started wagging when he saw my smile.Was he happy because I was happy?My eyes widened and a knot filled my belly – what a sweetheart this big guy was.It was too bad nobody had adopted him yet.“So according to your saying, he’s got some magic in him.”

“Anybody who’s given another chance has magic, no?In my culture we call the magic people our guardians, but maybe for you it’s more right to say that they are just lucky.”

I looked down at Sophie, my ideal dog who embodied everything I thought I wanted, and yet somehow I had the feeling that Magic was the one I was supposed to bring home.I liked the idea of having a guardian; it made me feel less lonely.

“My family is dead.”I blurted out of nowhere.As soon as I said it I wanted to kick myself.

The man looked nowhere near as shocked by my admission as I felt.“Lo siento.I’m sad for your loss.”

“Everybody but me – my parents, Alex…”I trailed off as my older brother’s serious face popped into my mind.We were only three years apart, but he’d always seemed like the smartest person in the world to me.“My younger brother Ben was only nineteen.”He’d been the baby of our family – fun-loving, rambunctious, and spoiled rotten.“Their car was hit by a truck.It was an accident.”

I watched the man sitting across from me.He didn’t say a word and I appreciated it – appreciated that he didn’t fill the silence with platitudes that only made me feel even more self-conscious than usual.He simply nodded at me like he understood and he probably did after being around these abused animals day after day.

“I’m Raul by the way.” He stuck his hand out, his eye contact unwavering.“Raul Ramirez.”

“I’m Billie Carlyle.”I shook his warm, calloused hand.His handshake was nice and firm.“My real name’s Bernadette, but everybody calls me Billie.”I’d been named after Bernadette Devlin, a radical feminist and the first woman elected to British Parliament.My sweet, wonderful parents had been quite the socially conscious history buffs.Alex’s namesake was Aristotle’s famous pupil, Alexander III, the philosopher king.When Ben came around I think they decided it was finally time to represent the U.S.A. and picked our famous forefather, Benjamin Franklin.I nuzzled Magic’s neck and watched as a huge string of slobber dropped onto the floor.

Raul interrupted my thoughts.“He likes you.”

“Yeah…”I felt a happy contentment I’d forgotten existed.“I like him too.”

Magic must have understood what I was feeling because he hefted his head onto my shoulder and sighed.I patted him softly and made up my mind.We’d take long walks together and keep each other company.I’d be the best doggy mom in the world.It was time.

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