Chris Marie Green, Paranormal & New Adult

 

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Vampire Babylon
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She Code
Jensen Murphy Terror Island

Excerpt

THE SHE CODE - August 2013

She Code Rule 1: Females stick together, securing prospects for the less fortunate, weaker members of the pack

In the early 2000s...

I suspected my friendship with Sheila was doomed on the night she blew my boyfriend.

Actually, I’m using the term “boyfriend” pretty loosely. I mean, Jack Redding had no idea he was the main attraction in my Kama Sutra daydreams, and I’d never even sent an obvious wink of interest in his direction. You could even say he was fair game, cruising around the annual Gaslight Comics beach luau, Heineken in hand, pheromones on overdrive, blond hair and blue eyes complementing a perfect Southern-California summer sunset. The pastel food tents and flickering tiki torches only added to his inconvenient charm.

“Beverages are served,” my best friend Sheila said, handing me a party cup. She’d refilled both of ours with more sangria.

I smiled in thanks and tore my gaze away from Jack Redding, still buzzed with possibilities.

Hmm. How does the company receptionist go about approaching her dream man? With a charming line? (“Hi. I noticed your beer was winking at my cocktail, so I thought some matchmaking was in order.” Nah.) With sports talk? (“So, how about them Padres?” Eh, too generic.) Or maybe an overtly sexual greeting would do the trick. (“Me. You. Pink tent. Now.” Much better—and worse.)

“Mandy?” Sheila asked. She had that mother hen look on her fashionably pale face.

“I’m not drunk,” I said innocently, and really, just a little too quickly to be trusted.

“You’re digging someone.” She wiggled her eyebrows then glanced around. “I can tell by the way you’re handling your cup.”

I stopped caressing the plastic. Bad fingers.

She was still hunting. “Who is he?”

“Sheila.” I waved my hand in front of her nose and snagged her attention. “I don’t date coworkers, so don’t bother IDing him.”

“Sound decision. God. I wish I had your willpower.”

“You do.” I quaffed down some booze. “You just don’t exercise it.”

Sheila slid me a vague smile as one of her red curls tickled her mouth. Curls like you’d find on a nasty-cool sorceress like Daria in the Butcher Knight comics from Top Cow. Daria was one wicked lady, but you kind of wanted to be her because no one messed with her hell's-a-poppin' attitude during the series’ lamentably short run.

Sadly, I'm no ultra-girl, myself. No flowy hair or smart-aleck power to defeat villains with a single verbal punch. I’m just your everyday, happy-go-lucky lightweight whose powers had waned after a horrendous break-up nearly a year ago.

Anyway, I’ve actually been a lightweight ever since my first taste of beer in college, when I had a whole can and ended up blubbering to Sheila all night about the word “sources” and how if you repeated it a hundred times it started to sound Gaelic and even sort of Martian. She’d listened with sober patience, patted my back every time I got emotional about my inability to correctly enunciate the “r” in “sources,” and then helped me to my feet when I all of a sudden found myself on my back instead of sitting upright.

A single can of beer. I guess you could say liquor is my tasty downfall.

“Hey,” Sheila said, nodding toward Jack Redding. “That guy’s looking over here. What do you think?” I believe I squeaked or something. My quiet adoration was about to explode into reality!

Time for an end zone dance.

Instead, I asked cluelessly, “Who’s looking?”

Jack Redding. That’s who. But play it cool, Mandy, just act inaccessible and enigmatic.

“Cutie pie over there,” Sheila said.

“I don’t see a...Oh, wait. You mean Jack Redding. Yeah. He’s okay. He’s an inker for the company.”

“What’s an inker again?”

I drew in the air with a finger. “The country singers and romance writers of the comic industry. They work their derrieres off but get no respect.”

Sheila ahhhed. “Sort of like comic books themselves.”

“You got it." I couldn't resist going into geek mode. "Being an inker and a person who either creates or reads comic books is a double negative whammy, almost like being the kid in the X-Files fan club who no one wants to hang out with because they’re too much of a dweeb. Inkers are spit on twice by whatever defines normalcy.

My friend stared at me, and I could tell she was worried that I needed to be cut off from the sangria.

Chasing Amy explains the concept really well,” I added.

“Oh, that movie about the confused girl and Ben Affleck, who made her even more confused.

There. I'd known Sheila would understand the movie translation of real life. We’d talked the same pop culture language forever, although I have to say that, ever since she’d come back from an extended trip to her aunt’s in Manhattan after college graduation, I’d wondered...Well, no biggie, but sometimes she cocked her eyebrow at me these days, like she didn’t get me as much as she used to.

I went on. "So the guy who drew over Ben Affleck’s original drawings was an inker. What they do is...Not to get technical or anything, but they add definition to the penciled images in story panels. But, as the movie points out, inkers are not tracers.”

“Sounds like they are.”

“Shh! They’ll go turbo if you say that. They’ve got a complex. If you happen to chat with an inker tonight, just tell them how cool it is that they bring out the best in other people’s work. You can't go wrong saying something like that.”

Sheila grinned over the rim of her drink, wicked Del Mar party thoughts dancing in her eyes. Was she thinking about Jack Redding? “I wonder if he’s worth my effort.”

Hello? Was she thinking about squeezing in on my man? Not that he was my man, but...

“Sheila, I’m still the new receptionist in the office, and the Gaslight people are under the misconception that I’m sweet and professional or something. You having sex with one of my coworkers is like me having once-removed sex with them. Bad form.” Especially since I was trying to climb my way up the job ladder, aiming to be a Gaslight penciler someday. I had it all planned out. “Can you not blow my reputation by getting it on with one of my colleagues?”

“Your reputation’s not what I want to blow.”

I always appreciated a good pun point, but I kept mum. Sheila digging Jack Redding was not a plus. Gorgeous Sheila, who seemed to have become some kind of Cosmo Girl in New York. Jack Redding wouldn’t ever look twice at me if she decided he was her type.

Then she wrinkled her nose. “Ah, you’re right. Hitting on someone here would be a horrible idea. I just...”

I touched her shoulder, reading into the emptiness at the end of her thoughts. “I know.”

After a pause, she shrugged, and my hand fell away from her.

“I did some relationship math today,” she said.

I ventured a smile. “Yeah?”

“If I’m ever going to have a quality connection, I need to find a good man pronto. Her eyes went dreamy. “A solid courtship would take at least eleven months for me. And, of course, I want to bask in the honeymoon glow of my new marriage for a few years. Then come the kids—each one nine months. But if I want more kids after the first couple, I’d need to space them apart, so that’s a year more each.” She sighed. “So I really need to get started.”

“You’ve got a lot of time for all that. Think of how modern science is progressing. When we’re ready for babies, we’ll be, like, sixty, and they’ll be able to accommodate our need to procreate.”

“Mandy, you're so full of it.”

She'd said it with a slight grin, so I just offered one back.

Still, she couldn't help one more comment. “I’m really behind schedule. But maybe I can find ‘The One’ tonight, you know?”

Was she referring to Jack Redding again?

Sure, he was my longshot, but I was a pro at cultivating impossible crushes, even if I was a tax-paying, real-deal adult now. I was twenty-two and absolutely convinced that I’d meet someone as manly and exciting as Indiana Jones real soon. Relatively, Jack Redding was truly a reasonable option as far as lusting went. Besides, engaging in those safe, princess mind games was far easier than dealing with an ex-boyfriend who didn’t speak the language of happily-ever-after.

I finished the last of my drink. Could I maybe forget about Brennan for the next few minutes? Chances were he wouldn’t be making a comeback in my love life anytime soon.

I tilted my drained cup toward a nice-guy editor, trying to get Brennan White out of my head. “You’d like Jason Holbrook. He's sweet.”

“I don’t know,” Sheila said. “He looks mean. Kind of like Carrot Top with those eyebrows. I can’t handle another guy who rips out my heart and pisses on it. Just like the last faux boyfriend. And the one before that. And—”

“Maybe you need to change strategy. Hold back in the emotion department a little.” Advice from the expert.

“Are you telling me to stop sleeping with anything that generates squiggly wigglies?” She said it with a cute, funny voice, but I could hear the strain of hurt running just under the joke.

“Come on, you’re not a slut.”

Sheila paused, like she wanted to say something else. But then she seemed to shake it off, even if it left behind a little niggle with me.

There was just something about her ever since she’d gotten back to town. A coolness every once in a while. A few too many pauses in conversation here and there...

“I guess I’m just tired of waiting for ‘The One’ to come along,” she finally said.

I flashed another look over to Jack Redding. But I didn’t stare at him. Not at all.

He glanced over at us, and I almost toppled with the rush of anxiety. It was about time for him to catch onto my crush; it’d become about as subtle as a Vegas sign flashing “Open!”

I focused on Sheila, just to sustain the chase and make him wonder. “Hey, we’re decent girls, right? So it makes sense that there’d be some decent guys here, too. Those are the odds.”

“What we need is radar. Real-Mandar.” Sheila lifted up her head, swiveling it around, seeking. “Boop-boop-boop...” She panned nearer to Jack Redding, and the Real-Mandar signals increased in speed.

“Boopboopboop.”

Then stopped on him.

“Bee-da-bee-da-bee-da-bee-da—”

I stepped in front of Sheila, correcting my balance. “Your Mandar’s malfunctioning again.”

“Hah! He’s looking over here.”

Why did I get a bad feeling about this?

“Oop,” she said.

“What?”

“He’d heading in.” Licking her finger, she chalked one up in the air. “That’s pun point two for me tonight.”

My stomach was sinking now. She’s the one who’d made eye contact with him. She was the one with the lively red hair and the welcoming smile. I was just a wallflower, and I wanted to bust out of that label, believe me. But here? Now?

Maybe I should’ve told her that Jack and I had a connection going, a romance that would transcend the workplace because we could keep it totally secret from everyone else. But friends don’t make moves on other friends’ prospects after they’ve made their desires clear. That was part of my Code—a set of rules I’d made up just from seeing all the relationships go down around me while growing up. And they’d been easy enough to follow throughout the years.

Until now.

Sheila flashed a quick smile at something over my shoulder, then redirected her gaze toward the ocean.

He was behind me, wasn’t he?

“Hey.” His voice.

I peered over my shoulder but, as I feared, he wasn’t looking at me. Right away, I took a step backward, withdrawing from the competition, giving it up for Sheila because she’d claimed him first.

Sheila grinned back at him. Man, she was good, and I think she’d even honed some ooo-lah-lah skills in New York with her aunt, who was in the fashion industry and was supposed to be super hip and awesome.

I could tell Jack Redding was a goner because of the way he sort of leaned toward her. Not obviously, but you could feel the pull of sexual gravity. He was even angling his beer to the side, like he didn’t want anything blocking the path to her.

“Having fun?” he asked.

Sheila put on a breezy ’tude and glanced at me, soliciting my opinion. It was just like her to include me, involving me in the conversation so I wouldn’t come off as complete vapor.

“Tons,” I said.

Jack Redding gave me a stunned look, as if he’d just realized I was there, too.

I lost track of the small talk for a second. I could hear Sheila’s let-the-flirting-commence voice. Her laughter. His laughter.

But, as far as Jack Redding was concerned, I was vapor.

Poof.

THE SHE CODE, a New Adult Single Girl/Geek Lit novel by Chris Marie Green, with sketches and comic panels by Neko Press Comic’s Billy Martinez!

 

 

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A noir-mystery-fantasy series by Chris Marie Green