An interesting thing just happened. As I was going over the final edits of my soon to be released novel, The Oblivious Billionaire, it occurred to me that (just maybe) an editor from a big five publishing house could one day be reading it and judging my writing worthy of a publishing contract.
The thought made me pause and rethink. I was a bit more careful and also a little bit sad that I hadn't been as careful in the past. I love this story. But then, I love all of my stories. They all deserved (but often didn't get) my best attention.
(A little background: I love the freedom of self-publishing. But I would also love the chance to work with and learn from a team of editors and a top-flight marketing team. My friend Greta Boris and I are collaborating on a series that we've decided to--if possible--traditionally publish. Our current plan is to market our first in the series to our dream agents and editors until all four books are written. If we haven't been able to sell it by then, we will self-publish. But this isn't my topic at hand.)
In retrospect, I should have treated all of my books as if they were about to be read by the most discerning readers. Just like those looking for love should always dress and behave as if their forever-someone is right around the corner. Just like we should live everyday as if it's our last--which I know sounds sounds cliche, but it's so true. Just like Zach learns in The Oblivious Billionaire, life can change in an instant.
How we show up may or may not matter in the grand scheme of things, but the Butterfly Effect tells that even minutiae matters. (That could be a cool book title.)
- 1.(with reference to chaos theory) the phenomenon whereby a minute localized change in a complex system can have large effects elsewhere.
People are going to want to know what happened to Zach, but I don't make it very obvious intentionally. I briefly mention the dead rabbit laying nearby. The idea grew out of a personal experience that I don't even really remember. I only learned about it from my parents and siblings. The story is that while my sister was driving on a country road (we lived in what a college boyfriend called the Wilds of Washington) a dead rabbit crashed through the windshield of my sister's car. It must have fallen with a great amount of speed from a great height to be able to shatter the windshield--so that could be one explanation. Another, maybe even more likely, it's not unusual for someone who's had a concussion to black out--maybe even several years after the head trauma. And Zach has had, because of his lengthy football career, one too many blows to the head.
THE OBLIVIOUS BILLIONAIRE
Shafts of sunlight shot through the trees and sparkled on the tall waving grass. Zach breathed in the summery air carrying scents of sea and salt and campfires. The Top of The World scenic lookout lay just ahead of him. From there, he would be able to see the Channel Islands, but for now, he contented himself with the manzanitas’ twisted trunks, the cheerful poppies, and the scrub oaks that lined the rugged path.
He’d been warned about hiking alone, of course, but he’d been warned against many things. Warnings he mostly ignored. He knew dawn and dusk were feeding times. But in all his years of hiking, he had yet to see a mountain lion. Of course, that didn’t mean they hadn’t seen him. He often came across coyotes, sometimes deer, an occasional rabbit. Owls, crows, hawks, and sometimes even buzzards flew overhead. In fact, at that moment, he heard an eagle cry. Looking skyward, he spotted a magnificent eagle soaring overhead carrying a large animal clutched in his talons.
A sudden sharp pain dropped him to his knees. His hand went to his temple. Warm, sticky blood coated his fingers. Pain wrapped around his head like a vise. He struggled to remain upright. His call for help sounded like a whimper. He fell into the grass and listened to it whisper. The morning birds sang a reply. The sky was an endless blue.
As a rule, Charlie made it a point not to travel to Laguna Beach on her day off, but when her brother Dan mentioned a hike to the Top of the World and said that Kirk would be going, she had to tag along.
Never mind that the hike along the Aliso Creek trail had an elevation of a thousand feet and the weather forecast was hot and muggy. The view from the park at the peak would be spectacular, and if she positioned herself behind Kirk, the view on the ascent would be just as fine.
Besides, she had to prove to Kirk—and Dan, of course—that she was no longer the overweight and out-of-shape bookworm they had always known and sometimes teased.
But then Dan had invited his girlfriend Steph, and Kirk had Layla panting after him, chatting nonstop about some silly reality TV show. Now, Charlie felt like the fifth wheel.
Although, as far as wheels go, she was well dressed. She’d splurged on spandex shorts with a matching geometric-design T-shirt a few months ago and she liked her outfit better than Steph’s cutoff jeans and tank top or Layla’s midsection-exposing vibrant pink halter top and booty-call shorts.
Around mile five, the path narrowed and the group fell into single file with Dan leading the pack. Steph followed him, and Layla had positioned herself in front of Kirk so that every time she’d stumble, she’d fall onto his chest. He didn’t seem to mind, but Charlie was over it.
“Charles,” Dan called over his shoulder, “did you bring the granola bars?”
She hated it when her brothers called her Charles, and why did they always rely on her for food? “No,” she called back. “Do you want some raisins?”
Dan’s shoulders slumped, and even though she couldn’t see his face, she knew he was frowning.
“I’d like some water,” Steph said.
Kirk stopped and planted his fists on his hips. With his honey-caramel colored hair and hazel eyes, he shared Charlie’s coloring. When they had been younger and their families went on outings together, occasionally people would mistake him for one of her brothers. They were a matched set. Too bad he had yet to recognize it.
“Let’s take a breather,” Kirk suggested.
“Under the shade of that tree?” Layla pointed at a tall scrub oak, making Charlie doubt her previous airhead assessment of Layla. Although anyone who would wear makeup instead of sunscreen on an early morning hike couldn’t be all that bright. Maybe that was why Layla chose to dress like a neon sign—as if all those vibrant colors could distract from her less-than-sparkling wit or personality.
In the spot of shade, Charlie rolled her shoulders and watched Steph pull water bottles from Dan’s backpack. Steph and Dan had been dating for months now, but Dan had yet to introduce her to the rest of the family. Steph, with her shoulder-length brown hair and smattering of freckles, had a friendly girl-next-door vibe. Charlie could see her fitting in with the rest of the Monson crowd. Steph was nothing like flashy Layla, and Charlie wondered why her brother hesitated to show her off.
Could he be more worried about what Steph would think of the Monsons than what the Monsons would think of her?
Kirk had his own bottle and he unscrewed the lid, looked to the sky, and splashed water on his face. Droplets rained over his chiseled cheeks and dribbled down his neck and over his broad, muscular shoulders, dampening his shirt. Charlie hoped he would lose the shirt.
Quickly, she averted her gaze, not wanting to be caught staring. Besides, she didn’t really need to watch Kirk. She’d memorized him long ago. She’d been in love with him for as long as she could remember. His family had moved next door the year she was born and she took this as a sign that as soon as she had arrived, he’d been drawn to her. They were like magnets, the pull invisible but powerful. She knew he felt it, too, but didn’t recognize it the way she did. Yet.
Steph softly cursed when she dropped a water bottle and Dan and Charlie exchanged glances. Dan would have to tell Steph she’d have to clean up her language if she wanted a warm, lecture-free welcome in the Monson household.
“I’ll get it,” Charlie said as the bottle rolled past her feet.
The bottle bounced down the rutted trail, picking up speed. It hit a protruding rock and launched off the path.
“Let it go,” Layla called. “It’s not worth it. We’ve got plenty of water.”
But Charlie couldn’t abandon the plastic water bottle—she’d been too well trained by her conservationist father. She tramped through the tall grass, but stopped short when she caught sight of a man’s boot.
She’d read too many mystery novels not to scream. Seconds later, Kirk was at her side, pushing past her to rush to the inert man. Then, her medical training kicked in.
Looking like a sniper victim, he lay face down on the trail, his limbs spread at awkward angles. A dead and mangled rabbit lay near him.
Layla swore, using a word that would have had her banished from the Monson household. “Is that Zach Walden?” She moved to brush past Charlie, but Charlie blocked her and dropped to her knees beside Zach, directly opposite Kirk.
“A blow to the head,” Kirk said as he bent over Zach. “Impossible to tell if he sustained the injury before or after he fell.”
“Is he dead?” Layla asked.
Zach, as if hearing her, stirred to prove her wrong. His eyes fluttered open and he focused on Charlie. “Hello, angel,” he said. “Am I in heaven?” His eyes closed before anyone could answer, and he drifted out of consciousness.
Zach’s gaze focused on the ceiling. His eyelids felt heavy, as if they’d been weighted. An image of pennies placed on the eyelids of corpses flashed in his mind. A clip from an old Monty Python clip floated through his consciousness. I’m not dead yet. He licked his lips; they were cracked, dry, and tasted of blood. His head pounded. Someone touched his hand and whispered what sounded like a question he didn’t have the ability to process enough to answer.
He tried to respond with another Monty Python quote, “I’m getting better.” But his throat was raw and it hurt to talk. Besides, the man with the no-nonsense gaze didn’t look like someone who enjoyed Monty Python.
He closed his eyes, willing the pain to go away. A face swam into his memory. A beautiful woman. Long honey-colored hair. Full red lips. Brown eyes framed with thick lashes. Who was she? He couldn’t remember her name.
But that wasn’t all he couldn’t remember.
The next time he woke, a football game was playing on the TV. The New England Patriots had a good team? “That’s crazy,” he croaked.
His words set in motion a whirlwind of doctors and tests. During the poking, prodding, and bandage-changing, Zach learned a few things: He’d been found unconscious on a trail near Laguna Beach and rescued by a doctor and nurse who had happened to be hiking that day. He’d been in the hospital for five days and he couldn’t recall any of them.
Zach closed his eyes against all this information and tried to reconcile the hospital truth with his memories. But questions plagued him. A reality TV show host was president? That had to be a joke, right?