Novel Excerpt 1| Focus: Setting | ~750 Words
Jaz could have sat on one of the benches near the back and stayed in that room forever, but she could sense Ariana wanted to keep walking, so they moved to the next display, which happened to be the one Jaz was looking most forward to: the coral reef.
Most of the exhibit had been darkened spaces mottled with pillars and backlit displays, but now the two encountered a wide, bright tunnel. Aside from their few moments of laughter before, Ariana had seemed a bit guarded and reserved throughout their time together—that is to say, her usual self—but here, even she let her jaw drop and her eyes grow wide. Jaz guessed that unlike herself, Ariana had not researched the exhibit before coming.
Walking forward, they entered a huge tube encased in glass, and suddenly it was as if they were in the ocean themselves. The tunnel was submerged in water, and from floor level on each side and all the way over their heads, colorful, magnificent sea creatures scuttled and swam. Even being prepared, Jaz was still wowed. This was amazing.
Other astonished patrons were roaming the tunnel as well, so Jaz and Ariana were forced close together as they slowly moved through the display, taking in the multichromatic sights. The coral reefs along the tunnel walls were as vibrant as the small fish weaving in and out of them. A silvery school moved in unison around the knobby, multihued arms of the coral and kicked up fine white sand as their numerous bodies brushed along the ocean floor. Jaz watched them until they were nearly out of sight, just sparkling sequins in the distance, only for them to zoom back into view a few moments later, the undulating shapes the group made as mesmerizing as they were beautiful.
They took turns pointing out the colorful fish and unique creatures that caught their eyes as they continued their way down the tunnel. Their bodies were close, and though nearly lost in the underwater world all around her, Jaz was acutely aware of the smooth skin of Ariana’s arm brushing against her own. Each time Ariana turned her head to take in a new feature on the other side of the tank, the subtle peach of her shampoo pulled Jaz senses from the water back to dry land.
When they were about halfway through, a sawfish came and rested on the tunnel roof directly above them. Its long nose sported small, toothy spikes, and below that were two dots and a curved mouth that looked hilariously like a smiley face. The face was so at odds with the menacing look of its saw-like nose and otherwise large, shark-shaped body that both women couldn’t help but laugh at they looked on from directly below the creature.
Ariana turned as a mother with a stroller made her way past, and suddenly she and Jaz were facing each other, close together and rooted in place as a river of families flowed by on either side. The tunnel walls caused the giggles of overstimulated children and the murmur of myriad conversations to be reverberated back until the sounds melded into an indecipherable white noise that seemed to surround and isolate them further. Jaz found she could no longer focus on the cartoonish grin settled on the glass above her and was instead only aware of Ariana’s form mere inches away from her own. There was tension like electricity moving through her, charging up and getting ready to spark. It was invigorating and unbearable. Jaz’s heart pounded in her chest; she could hardly stand it. She imagined herself reaching out and touching Ariana’s smooth, honey-tinted skin, Ariana looking at her, their faces impossibly close, warm breath, inviting, their lips inching closer, Jaz’s eyes closing in anticipation…
The woman with the stroller passed, and Ariana stepped away, giving the fish one more glance before moving forward through the tunnel as if nothing had happened—which, Jaz realized, it hadn’t. The space in front of her, only moments before so warm and electrified, now felt cold and empty. She realized she had been holding her breath and emptied her chest in one long, slow exhale. She knew better. The tunnel now felt congested and overly loud, and Jaz was suddenly eager to leave. She pushed through the crowd to catch up with Ariana and soon they were out of the exhibit and Jaz had managed to get her pulse back to normal. She resolved to forget those thoughts had ever crossed her mind.
Novel Excerpt 2 | Focus: Dialogue | ~1232 Words
They sat at the open-air café connected to the aquarium. Ariana would have preferred an indoor restaurant if she had been able to choose, but the temperature was at least bearable in the shade of the restaurant’s awning.
“You know,” Jaz said, munching a fry, “you’re right. I’m not really sure how this connects to Nora’s article.”
“If there even is an article,” Ariana replied.
“What do you mean?”
“Jaz, I hate to tell you this, but we are on a date.”
Jaz choked on her food. “Excuse me?”
“Nora tricked us both. I don’t know if she has an article or not, but she absolutely arranged for the two of us to be here together at the same time in the hopes that we’d enjoy it so much we’d suddenly fall in love and live happily ever after.”
Jaz took a long swig of soda to an effort to get her coughing fit under control. “Ariana, that seems ridiculous.”
“Oh, she’s been trying it forever.”
“Sending you on dates?”
“No, she’s never taken it this far before.” Ariana casually took a bite of her burger, chewing before she spoke again. “But she’s been trying to set me up for ages. Not just with you, with everyone. Literally every woman who has ever looked at another woman in front of Nora has been thrown my way in one capacity or another, but this is the first time she’s engineered a whole date. I can’t believe I didn’t see it coming.”
“But, I mean, how—I don’t understand.”
“She told you to be here right at four, right?”
“And then she gave you two free meals?”
“But only one ticket to the aquarium?”
“Well, I didn’t have anyone to bring anyway.”
“Jaz, she knew I would have been onto her if she had given me the food voucher, so she gave you two and knew we’d meet up—since she told me to be here right at four as well, by the way—and by the time we were done, she knew you’d invite me for food and I’d say yes, and here we are, having fallen directly into her trap.”
“You could have said no.”
“If Nora knows anything about me, it’s that I don’t turn down free food.” Ariana took a handful of fries and chewed thoughtfully. “I mean, I guess I will in advance if I know it’s a ruse, but I was already ensnared in her trap by the time you asked, you know? Might as well accept my fate.” Ariana gave Jaz some time to process, but eventually nodded at the hardly touched food in front of her. “Not eating’s not going to change anything.”
Jaz looked down at her plate like she was surprised to see it there.
“Don’t take it the wrong way,” Ariana said. “I really enjoyed the day—much more than I would have if I had gone alone, I think.”
“Yeah,” Jaz said, “I had a nice time too.”
“Good. But we should tell Nora we completely missed each other.”
Jaz’s wide eyes shot up to meet Ariana’s.
“We can’t reward her for this behavior!” Ariana was glad to see that the laughter that followed seemed to put Jaz at ease.
They ate in silence for a while, but the quiet wasn’t uncomfortable. Nora wasn’t totally off base with this one, Ariana thought. In another life, she could certainly see herself having quite a crush on Jaz. She stole glances as Jaz looked off to the side as she ate, peoplewatching the boardwalk rabble as they passed. She couldn’t help admiring the constellation of freckles splashed across the smooth curves of Jaz’s cheeks or being amused by the way her curls bounced a little with every movement. Her dark, elegant lashes made Jaz’s dark eyes all the more striking, and the cushion of her lips seemed so soft and inviting. Ariana pushed the idea from her mind the second she felt it take hold. Dangerous thinking.
“You know,” she began, speaking to quiet her wandering thoughts, “that first night you came into the restaurant, I was so annoyed with you.”
“Oh yeah?” Jaz challenged, but she was smiling.
“I had a nickname all picked out for you and everything.”
Jaz’s jaw dropped comically. “Wait, what name?”
“You were ‘Miss Uh.’”
“What?” Jaz laughed. “That’s not even clever.”
“Sure it is! For the longest, that’s all I could hardly get out of you.” She alternated between her regular voice and a poor imitation of Jaz’s. “Party of one? ‘Uh.’ More people then? ‘Uh.’ Something to drink? ‘Uh.’” Ariana laughed and was pleased to see Jaz did too.
“Well I was nervous, ok? You’re pretty intimidating.”
“Me? What about me could possibly be intimidating?”
Jaz rearranged herself in her chair and grinned.
“No, seriously,” Ariana continued, “I can’t imagine anyone finding me intimidating. Distant? Ok. Brooding? Sure.”
“It’s nothing,” Jaz replied, and Ariana noticed the faintest blush bloom beneath her dark freckles.
“Well I found you to be infuriating,” Ariana said with a laugh.
“I swear, woman, if you had tried any harder not to hand me your resume—I was about to lose my mind.”
“Oh, yeah,” Jaz said, her face falling slightly. “Sorry about that.”
“It’s totally fine! I mean, if it had been literally any other shift I probably would have thrown your resume in the trash, but otherwise—”
“You would not have!”
“I definitely would! I basically had to pry that thing out of your hands!” Both women laughed, but Jaz’s faded out much sooner than Ariana’s.
“I really am sorry,” Jaz said, seriously. “I was… going through something.”
“Oh, shit. I’m sorry.” Silence fell between them. “Hey, ok, fine, but what does going through something have to do with putting a death grip on your resume when I asked for it?”
Jaz let out a small puff of air. “I guess that’s a fair question.”
Ariana urged her onward with an expectant raise of her eyebrows.
Jaz looked back out over the boardwalk as she spoke. “I lost my job a few weeks before, and I guess all of my confidence along with it. That restaurant was the first place I had gone in to apply when I, uh, got my wits about me, you could say. I really wanted—well, needed—a job and a reason to get out of the house, but then at the last minute, I guess I also kind of panicked. Like, I worried I wasn’t ready, so I tried to put it off, even just for a few more minutes. Asking for the manager was just my way to stall. I kind of just, I don’t know...” Jaz took in a deep breath and let it out slowly before continuing. “Handing it over felt so final. Like I was really taking a leap. I suppose I needed someone like you to push me over the edge.”
“In other words, to intimidate you into action?” Ariana teased gently.
“Ha ha,” Jaz replied, her downturned lips spreading back out into her usual grin.
Ariana wadded up the wrapper from her burger and stuffed it into her empty fry box.
“That sucks, though. I totally get that. Why’d you lose your last job?”
Jaz’s face darkened at the question.
“I mean, if you don’t mind me asking.”
Novel Excerpt 3 | Focus: Internal Monologue | ~400 Words
“Really, thanks so much,” Jaz repeated. The gentle slur Ariana had heard before they left the bar had gone from her voice.
“Hey, well,” Ariana muttered. “It was nothing,” she said, feeling stupid as soon as it left her mouth. “I mean, you know, it was no big deal.” Well that wasn’t better, she thought to herself. She decided she should probably head out of there before she recited any more overused and meaningless platitudes. She pulled her hand up to scratch the back of her neck. She was telling her feet to go, but her legs seemed to be engaged in some sort of mutiny against her. She felt as if a tether, invisible but solid, was holding her on the spot. “Ok, so, goodnight,” Ariana said, and finally managed to make herself turn back toward the park so she could force herself to take the steps that would bring her home. As she succeeded to move herself forward, little by little, the inexplicable pull that she felt deep in her gut lessened with each stride away from Jaz and her apartment, and she chided herself for being silly. She had done all that ridiculous climbing so that she and Jaz would not spend more time together. She knew better. She knew it was asking for trouble. Going home was the safe bet, which made it the right decision. Ariana was glad to be on her way home where she could be alone and think clearly once again.
“Hey,” she heard a voice call out behind her, but she wasn’t sure if it was real. Her thoughts were racing loudly. She told herself she might have imagined it.
“Ariana,” the voice said again. Well, she didn’t invent that one. “Would you like to come inside?” Jaz’s request rang out down the empty street. Ariana hadn’t made it far; Jaz’s voice was still close. She knew it was safer for her to keep moving so the voice would continue to drift father and farther away until it was nothing more than an inconsequential memory at the end of a long night. She could see Jaz again in the professional environment of the restaurant. Safe. She shouldn’t let her guard down now. She knew, more than anything, that she wasn’t the least bit interested in leaving herself open, being vulnerable. It was too much of a risk. No, no, no. The answer was no.
Ariana turned toward Jaz. “Yes,” she said.
Novel Excerpt 4 | Focus: Character Interaction, Romance | ~920 words
“This is a pretty cute place you’ve got, though the security could use a little work.”
“Yeah,” Jaz said, looking around. It was a little messy, but normal messy, not like it had been before. She felt a bit of pride about how far she had come in such a short time, not to mention being put together enough to actually have a guest over, unplanned though it may have been.
“What are you smiling about?”
Jaz didn’t realize she had been, but Ariana’s scrutiny only made her grin spread wider. “Oh, I don’t know. Shit.”
Ariana looked on, her own smile soft and kind across her face. She didn’t say anything as she repositioned herself on the couch and reached for another drink of beer. She looked at the stack of books on Jaz’s coffee table. “A little light reading?” she asked, picking up a thick one on top.
“Have you read that one?” Jaz asked, leaning closer to see which one she had grabbed. “Ooo, it’s one of my favorites.”
“I haven’t,” Ariana replied, setting it to the side and moving on to the next one in the stack.
“That’s a classic,” Jaz said of the next book, and again she scooted closer to get a better vantage. The pile of blankets was in the way, so she pushed it to the floor as she moved to the middle cushion so she could see better. “What kind of books do you like?” Jaz asked as they continued to make their way down the stack.
“Oh, I don’t know. Anything, I guess. I don’t do much reading.” A few quiet moments passed as Ariana flipped through a thin book with a bright red cover, “I used to read every night before bed,” she said, speaking softly, “but I fell out of the habit a few years ago and never picked it back up.” Jaz sensed there was something deeper to the statement, a vulnerability, perhaps, that she wasn’t sure how to interpret or address. So she simply nodded, and they continued going through the stack of books together, Jaz giving brief synopses of her favorites.
When they ran out of titles to discuss, a silence settled over them. The quiet felt thick in the air, and Jaz’s mind raced as she felt pressure to break it. “I want to write a novel someday,” said, surprising herself. She wasn’t sure what had compelled her to share something so private, and she immediately wanted to pull the words back, snatch them out of the air and tuck them away into her mouth again.
“Yeah?” Ariana asked, putting down the book she was holding and turning to look at Jaz.
“I know, it’s silly,” Jaz said, continuing to face the coffee table, though she could feel Ariana’s eyes on her and was aware of a warm blush blooming across her cheeks.
“I don’t think it’s silly at all,” Ariana said. “Is that what all your narrating is about? Are you kind of … practicing?”
Jaz kept her face averted, but she grinned despite herself. “Yeah, I guess you could say that.”
“I bet any book you write would be beautiful,” Ariana said frankly. The statement caught Jaz off guard, and she turned her face to Ariana’s to find her looking back with an expression that Jaz couldn’t quite read. Was she feeling as confused and conflicted as Jaz was? Or perhaps Ariana wasn’t being enigmatic at all, and Jaz was simply distracted by the butterflies that had once again taken flight in her stomach. Jaz’s breath caught in her throat, and she worried the persistent drumming emanating from her chest was loud enough that Ariana could hear it too, but if she could, she didn’t react.
Without thinking, and as if it were the most natural thing to do, Jaz raised her hand to Ariana’s face, which somehow had become so close to hers. Ariana didn’t move as Jaz gently caressed her cheek, her fingers gliding across Ariana’s smooth skin until her hand was cupping the side of her face. Ariana leaned ever so slightly into Jaz’s touch. Ariana’s expression was no longer confounding; the look she was giving Jaz bespoke a clear wanting, an unmistakable desire. Or, Jaz wondered, were Ariana’s eyes merely acting as a mirror?
She and Ariana sat there—maybe a foot apart, now inches, even closer still, the empty space disappearing sliver by sliver—holding eye contact. Jaz’s palm slid across the soft skin of Ariana’s cheek and made its way back toward her ear until her fingers slipped their way through the glossy strands of Ariana’s raven-dark hair. Ariana held Jaz’s gaze. The space between them continued to melt away, though neither seemed to be making it happen. They moved closer and closer until—a pause—so close but not touching, Ariana’s full, inviting lips hovered just an inch, perhaps less so, beyond Jaz’s. The desire to taste her was overwhelming. But Jaz knew if she did, there would be no going back. Ariana languidly closed her eyes as she sat still, waiting. The frenetic heartbeats that had filled Jaz’s chest suddenly stopped thundering. Time froze but for a breeze that blew in from the open windows, the warm current caressing Jaz’s skin and swirling around the two women there on the couch, silent but engaged, still but electrified. Jaz used her fingers, still gingerly pressed to the back of Ariana’s head, to pull Ariana to her. Their lips met.