In an effort to be transparent, I am going to put the first chapter of Behind Closed Doors here on my blog. Why? To give people an idea of what this work is like since it’s so different from what I usually create, and to gauge responses to the changes I’ve made.
The general consensus was the book was too slow to start and that Easton, the first character to “speak,” didn’t have enough of a voice in the beginning. I thought about that and tried to figure out what made her important to me and what struggle she was trying to overcome. I worked on making her less disdainful and more flawed, and that made a rework of the book (her parts anyway) necessary.
So, here it is. Feel free to comment if you want, but don’t feel obligated. Just so you know, I take criticism well as long as it’s constructive, so don’t worry about hurting my feelings. I really want this story told, so I’ll take all the advice I can get
Easton Matthews pushed her long brown hair behind her ears and grimaced. “You want me to what?” Reaching out, she snatched the pink flyer from her husband’s outstretched hand and read the words again, but this time out loud. “The Southern Sisters Society welcomes you to Seabridge,” she drawled, rolling her eyes. “We are a group of women committed to making our town the best in the south! We would love to have you attend our next meeting and get to know you…” Her voice trailed off, and she narrowed her eyes. “Craig, are you crazy? Does this sound like me at all?” She couldn’t help shuddering at the mental image of a room full of well-dressed, money-hungry, social-climbing women all gathered together to discuss their special little town. Considering her own casual style and preference to remain in the background, there was little doubt in her mind that she wouldn’t fit in, and she didn’t want to try. It would just make everyone uncomfortable, and Easton had more than enough things to deal with without adding a socially awkward get-together to her list.
Craig shook his head and gave her an apologetic smile. “Well, not on the surface, no,” he admitted, “but I was thinking this might be a nice way for you to meet some of the other women in town. You know, help you break the ice?”
Easton made a face and handed the flyer back to him. “No thanks,” she muttered. “I have no interest in wasting time with a women’s group that exists for the sole purpose of increasing societal impressions.” She turned and gestured around the room they were standing in with a sigh. “Besides, I won’t have time. Look at all the unpacking I have to do before I can start thinking about working on my projects again. If there’s even a chance of getting something completed by Christmas, I need to focus on getting us organized. Really, Craig. Look at this place!”
Craig cleared his throat. “Honey,” he said, resting a gentle hand on her shoulder, “I’m not sure where you got the idea that the only people in this group are women who care about their social standings, but even if it’s true, I think it would be a good idea if you went to the first meeting. You may find one or two people you like, and if you don’t, well, at least they’ll know we’re here in town and who we are. That wouldn’t be so bad, would it?”
With a frown, Easton stared at him until a bright splotch of red formed at the base of his throat. “Oh, is that so?” She rest a hand on her slender hip while pointing at him. “Craig Walters, I know an ulterior motive when I hear one. By any chance are you hoping this group of women might be your gateway to the wealthier people in town?” She giggled as his blush spread. “You couldn’t be any more transparent!”
She turned away from him, buying herself some time by reaching toward the box closest to her and ripping the top open. As she dug through the towels and blankets, she considered her options as she half-listened to him talk about the importance of marketing and promoting his business and how she could help. He wasn’t asking her for much, she supposed, and even though it was true she didn’t like big groups of people, especially large groups of women, she wondered if in this instance she could overcome her automatic instinct to refuse and instead swallow her discomfort and make an appearance. After all, he was trying to make his dream come true by moving them out of the city to start a new chapter of his car business, so if meeting possible future customers would help, she felt she owed it to him to at least try.
With a groan of defeat she straightened up and couldn’t help softening at his sheepish expression. “Okay, okay,” she relented. “I will go to the first meeting. I will smile and use my perfect southern manners, and I will try to drop as many hints as I can about your new car dealership. But,” she cautioned, “I want it noted that I am doing it because you asked me to, not because I want to.”
Craig exhaled with obvious relief and swept Easton into a crushing hug. Squeezing her until she squealed, he planted a loud kiss on her mouth and smoothed her hair from her cheek. “Thank you,” he said, his brown eyes sparkling. “I know the idea of going makes you nervous, but I want this move to work for the both of us. I think you joining this Society will be a great start, and in more ways than one. Just think, we left Charleston only a day ago, and already we have a lead for prospective clients. Plus, if you play nice with the other women, maybe you’ll find some people interested in your artwork once you start working again.” He released Easton and rocked back on his heels as he pulled his cell phone from his pocket. “I’m meeting the realtor to look at some of the properties I showed you earlier, and I told him I’d call when we were settled. Are you okay here alone, or do you want me to stay?”
Easton looked from the boxes filling the room to her husband’s wide smile and shook her head. “I’m fine,” she said, knowing he was excited and not wanting to dampen his enthusiasm by asking him to stay. “I’ll start in here and then work on unpacking the bedroom.”
“That’s great,” Craig murmured, his attention already diverted as he held the phone to his ear. “That’s really great. I shouldn’t be too long.”
Easton turned back to the pile of boxes filling the room as her husband’s voice disappeared down the hall. She tried to ignore the lump of discomfort that settled in the pit of her stomach at the thought of walking into a room full of women she didn’t know, but the lump seemed to grow into a boulder after she called good-bye to Craig and began pulling piles of books from the cardboard box closest to her. She tried to distract herself by arranging them in the bookcase next to the fireplace but then stopped to stare out of the large picture window with a frown. She reached up to play with the charm on her necklace, a silver bird with its wings spread in flight she had designed herself, and she couldn’t help thinking she had just made a huge mistake. She didn’t want to end up making a fool out of herself and risk Craig’s opportunity at getting a client base for his business, but the truth was, it wouldn’t surprise her if that was exactly what happened. She didn’t have the best track record when it came to first impressions, and she had a feeling she was only going to get one chance with those women.
With a resigned sigh she realized even if it was a horrible idea, it was too late for her to back out of it now. She was stuck going to the Seabrigde Country Club no matter how uncomfortable it made her, because she had promised Craig she would try, and she always fulfilled her promises. When she could, anyway. Craig wanted a fresh start as much as she did, and she knew deep down he was hoping this meeting might help her overcome some of what her therapist had called ‘situational social phobia’ even though they both knew it wasn’t likely.
“Southern Sisters Society, huh?” She murmured as she yanked a blanket out of the box and started folding it between her trembling fingers. “We’ll see just how far your southern hospitality goes, I guess.”
By nine-o’clock, the last of the sun’s rays were replaced by a dark sky and scattered stars. Easton was exhausted from unpacking and making decisions about what went where, but she couldn’t make herself stop moving. Thoughts about the upcoming Society meeting kept circling her mind, and she couldn’t quiet her nerves no matter what she tried. Craig wasn’t home either, and she missed having him there to talk over what was causing her to be so anxious.
“You’re a big girl,” she reminded herself, drumming her fingers against the granite countertop in her kitchen. “It’s time to start acting like one.”
She knew she wouldn’t be able to sleep, so she considered her limited options. While neither unpacking the garage nor trying to get somewhere with her artwork sounded appealing, she didn’t have many other choices, and the reality was, both unpleasant situations needed her attention. Since the thought of touching one more cardboard box made her shudder with dread, she decided to walk down the hill to the guesthouse and look through her new studio instead.
She was careful as she made her way down the stone pathway. It was her first time going to the studio since the move, and the terrain was unfamiliar. The last thing she wanted was to trip and fall, although if she broke her ankle, Craig couldn’t very well hold her to the promise of going to the Society meeting, could he? The thought made her laugh to herself because she didn’t have that kind of luck; breaking a wrist and being unable to work for months would be more her style.
She counted backward in her head as she looked for the key to the side door. She figured it had been months since the disaster with her last contract, weeks since she had all of her art supplies boxed up, and days since she had even thought about it. Craig had been supportive of her decision to step back from the demands of the art world while trying to get a handle on her life again, but she knew he was concerned despite his trying to hide it, and even though it made her stomach clench, she couldn’t deny the time had come for her to start facing what had happened and try to move on. Next to Craig starting the new branch of his car business, the possibility for a fresh start for her had been the biggest consideration when deciding to move, and she hoped enough time had passed that her mind was ready to relax and allow her creativity to flow. She was tired of being stuck.
She flicked the lights of the guesthouse on and blinked in the sudden glare. She made a mental note to switch the lightbulbs to those that mimicked natural light as she surveyed her workspace, and then she closed her eyes. She breathed in and out, concentrating on expanding her chest as she inhaled and relaxing her shoulders on the exhales. She counted ten breaths, then opened her eyes and frowned. Nothing.
She walked over to the corner where her easel had been placed and brushed her fingers across the canvas leaning against the wooden frame. She still experienced a glimmer of happiness at the feel of it, but it was much duller than the usual spark she got. There were also no images flashing through her mind, no pull in her heart urging her forward, and she missed it. She was used to having so many ideas she had a hard time deciding which one to work on first, so the sudden absence of them made her feel hollow and alone.
She wandered around the space she had set up without thinking of anything in particular. She picked up some of the pieces she had been working on, all of which were in different stages of completion, and none of them spoke to her at all. She went from her workbench to the shelving unit she had installed, then made her way to the small pile of boxes that needed unpacking. She read the words written in bold letter on the sides, paint, glaze, tools, and turned away again without touching them.
Her breath caught when she saw the stack of covered canvases leaning against the back wall. She knew what they were, and her hands started to shake at the memory of all the disappointment and anger laying within their partial completion. Their unfinished results had been the first contract she had ever broken, and the shame she felt at being unable to fulfill her obligations still had the ability to bring tears to her eyes.
“Damn it,” she breathed, turning away and cringing as the image of her agent’s angry face burned bright in her mind. “Shit.” She shook her head, but she could still hear the furious words thrown at her, as clear as if they were being shouted in that moment. “Failure,” “incompetent,” and “unreliable” had been the worst, and she still couldn’t deny any of them.
She stumbled to the doorway and switched the lights off as she passed, thankful for the darkness as it once again threw her failed attempts at being a She opened the door and stepped through, then shut it firmly behind her. It’s no use, she told herself as she trudged up the path to the main house. To be an artist you need to be creative, and let’s face it; your creativity is gone for good. It’s time to let your dream go and move on, Easton. It’s time.
The next few days passed in a whirlwind of unpacking and organizing. Easton didn’t mention that she had been in the studio and Craig didn’t ask, but she caught him looking at her sometimes with an expression she knew meant he was curious about her work. She didn’t encourage him, and he was polite enough to let each moment pass without a word. She knew she couldn’t avoid the conversation forever, but she just wasn’t ready to admit she had choked. Again. He didn’t mention the Southern Sister’s Society meeting either, but she knew that was on his mind too by the way he made sure the pink flyer was in plain sight every day. He would casually pick it up and move it to different places, sticking it under a magnet on the refrigerator or pinning up to the bulletin board by the phone, so she wasn’t surprised when, on the morning of the Society meeting, she walked into the kitchen to find him seated at the table. He was usually long gone by the time she got up, and the coincidence between the date and his sudden change of scheduled didn’t go by unnoticed.
“Craig, I’m going to the meeting,” she assured him as she sipped her coffee. “For heaven’s sake, you don’t have to be here to push me out the door.”
He smiled at her. “I’m not,” he said. “I just wanted to linger over my breakfast for once.”
She rolled her eyes but smiled back. “Okay,” she relented, sitting across from him. Propping her chin in her hand, she sighed. “Are you going to be late tonight?”
He shook his head. “I shouldn’t be. I’ve narrowed down potential properties even more, so I’m more comfortable with the timeline I set.”
“That’s nice,” she murmured.
He reached his arm across the table and reached for her hand. She let go of her mug to slip her fingers into his, and he gave them a gentle squeeze. “You’ll be fine, you know,” he said, his voice low and gentle. “They’re going to love you, and when it’s all over, you’ll be calling to tell me how great it was.”
She bit her lip. “We’ll see,” she said. She squeezed his fingers back. “I’ll do my best, anyway. I promise.”
“I know you will,” Craig replied, releasing her hand. “I don’t have any doubt.”
That’s one of us, at least, Easton couldn’t help thinking as he began updating her on the properties he was considering. I’m glad he believes in me, because I’m fresh out of faith right now.
She found the country club without any problem. It sat on top of a hill overlooking the ocean, and it looked like every other country club she had seen. There were even the same types of cars in the parking lot, she mused as she slipped her BMW into a vacant spot between a Range Rover and a Mercedes SUV. She shook her head as she got out, laughing to herself at the ridiculous notion the towns’ soccer wives needed high-end SUVs to drop their precious cargo off at school to then head off to the gym or to their coffee socials.
Slinging her purse over she shoulder, she made sure the car door was locked and made her way to the front door of the club while practicing her best I’m-so-happy-to-be-here smile.
“Good morning,” offered a young man dressed in what she guessed was the club’s official uniform of khaki shorts and white polo shirt as she approached. “May I help you?”
Easton swallowed and waved the pink flyer she had in her left hand. “Yes, please. I received this flyer yesterday inviting me to attend a Society meeting today. Where would that be taking place?”
The young man’s smile grew. “Oh yes. The Southern Sisters Society meets in the William McKinley room on the first Thursday of the month. When you go into the lobby, please check in at the service desk, and they will walk you to the room.”
Easton nodded and stifled a groan. She knew exactly what that meant, and she had no desire to hear what a wonderful country club they had and how anyone who was anyone was a member, and didn’t she want to sign up and start enjoying all their club had to offer without any delay? “Thank you,” she said. “I’m sure I’ll find the desk without much trouble.”
“You can’t miss it,” the man said, and Easton couldn’t help smiling back at his easy grin. He reminded her of the college kids she used to see walking around Charleston, and just as she had found their carefree attitudes charming, she found this young man’s easy smile and relaxed personality just as refreshing. “It isn’t really a desk, but more like a big, long table. It has a bunch of vases with orchids sitting on it.”
Easton nodded. “Of course it does,” she muttered. Taking a deep breath and squaring her shoulders, she gave him a small wave. “Thank you.”
It’s only an hour, she reminded herself. Even you can handle this for an hour.
The service desk was to her right as she walked through the automatic glass doors, and the perky blond girl standing behind it bounced on her toes as she greeted Easton. “Hello,” she sang as Easton approached. “Welcome to the Seabridge Country Club! We are so happy to have you here.”
“Thank you,” Easton said, her face aching with the effort of keeping her smile from turning into a grimace. “I’m here about the invitation I received. I understand the Society meets in the McKinley room?”
The girl nodded and bounced some more. “Yes, the Southern Sisters Society meets here on the first Thursday of every month without fail. They are a great group of women, and they are committed to making the community a better place for all the residents of Seabridge. We are excited to have you here, and I would love to give you a tour before the meeting starts. I just know you would love to become a member here! We have so much to offer, and our members are all treated like VIPs,” she gushed. “We make sure everything is perfect in every way possible.”
Easton held up her hand to stop the girl from continuing. “Thank you, Priscilla,” she said, reading the name tag affixed to the young woman’s shirt. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to go to the meeting first. I just moved into town, so I’m not quite ready to make any big decisions at the moment.”
The light in Priscilla’s blue eyes dimmed, but her smile remained fixed. “Of course,” she nodded. “I understand. However, I’m sure it wouldn’t be a difficult decision,” she countered. “I am confident you will love the club enough that the decision will make itself. The club is the only one of its kind in the area, and all of the members are important to us. There are events held here people talk about for years afterward, and I would hate for you to miss any of them.”
Easton raised her eyebrows. “Well, that’s lovely,” she said. “Now, if you will just show me where the McKinley room is, I promise I will consider my options.”
Priscilla blinked and stopped bouncing. “Of course,” she said, her smile faltering. “It’s right this way.”
Easton followed a few paces behind the young girl as she led her through the lobby and down the hallway, cringing at the ornate marble hallway and the large portraits of long-dead republican American presidents as they strode past. The entire ambiance made her uncomfortable, and she couldn’t imagine spending time in such a place on purpose, not even for Craig.
“Here it is,” Priscilla said, pausing outside a set of doors with an elaborate sign welcoming the Southern Sisters Society members. “I do have to remind you only members of the club are allowed to attend these meetings regularly. Today you are a guest of Kennedy Powell’s. She is the president of the club, and all prospective members are signed in under her until they join the club themselves.”
“Of course,” Easton said. “I will make sure to conduct myself with the utmost decorum while I’m here.”
“Thank you,” Priscilla said, not receptive to Easton’s sarcasm. “We are committed to making sure our members have an enjoyable experience while they are here, and we ask that our guests respect our rules.”
Easton resisted the urge to roll her eyes as Priscilla pushed the left side of the door open and gestured her through. She nodded to the young woman, and as her eyes adjusted to the light and the door shut behind her, she surveyed the room before her. “Oh God,” she murmured, watching as no less than thirty women sat around tables draped in white linen and focused on an elegant blond who paced back and forth in front of them. She reached up and put a hand against her chest while concentrating on taking slow, deep breaths in an effort to slow her racing heartbeat. “I am in serious trouble.”
The story goes on from here (obviously), and it’s written in four distinct voices. Each character has their own issues and secrets, and throughout the entire 375 pages, you get a chance to understand each of them and their unique qualities. I have the entire thing up on Wattpad, and just today got a few more readers and votes. I’m hopeful there is a reader base for this, even if it’s just a few people who are entertained by what it is I’ve written.