Is it crazy to be jealous of a fictional character?
While Mary Sue is proud of her construction-worker husband Billy’s new-found success as an author of spanking novels, she also finds herself resentful of Beverly Golightly, the fictional heroine who gets everything Mary Sue wants: her man’s undivided attention, lots of hot loving, and many delicious spankings.
But is Mary Sue’s jealousy any crazier than the plan she hatches to recapture her husband’s attention?
The screen door banged shut as Mary Sue entered the house and toed off her work shoes. The floor tile, though hard, soothed her hot, aching feet as she detoured into the tiny kitchen to shove a foam container of chicken-fried steak into the fridge. They’d have that for dinner. After waitressing all day, she was too tired to cook, and Billy could hardly be pried away from his precious computer long enough to eat, let alone fix a meal.
She found him in the bedroom he used as an office, pecking at the keyboard. It was amazing how well that man could type with two fingers, and his furious rate of speed indicated he was “on a roll” as he called it, and wouldn’t appreciate being disturbed.
Except she hadn’t seen him all day. Or last night either. She had no idea what time he’d come to bed. She’d fallen asleep alone while he “did one more thing” at the computer.
“I’m home!” she announced.
“Oh, hi.” Billy didn’t even turn around, but continued to hammer at the blasted machine.
You have the prettiest green eyes. I could look at you all day. He used to tell her that all the time when they dated in high school and after they married. Then he got hurt in the accident. Now he couldn’t spare her a ten-second glance.
“You’ll never guess what happened.”
Peck. Peck. Peck.
Mary Sue raised her voice. “I said, you’ll never guess what happened.”
“Mr. McDermott came into the diner today,” she spoke to her husband’s back. “His house was broken into yesterday. The burglars got at least $1,000 in change he kept in a big water jug. Mr. McDermott says it must’ve weighed 200 pounds. The burglars would have had to roll it out.”
“I brought home frog entrails and chicken beaks for dinner.”
“Billy, I’ve been gone all day,” Mary Sue snapped. “Could you at least give me one minute of your attention?”
Pecking stopped. A sigh followed. Billy swiveled in his computer chair. “I’m sorry. I’m about three pages from being done with this book.” So why do you have to interrupt me now? She could read the frustration on his handsome face; it was no less than what she was feeling.
If he wasn’t finishing a book, he was starting one. Or struggling with the middle. Or blogging, tweeting, or posting about a recent release.
Billy rubbed his nape. “What were you saying?” His gaze darted from her face to the laptop.
Two seconds. She’d held his attention for all of two seconds. “Nothing!” she huffed.
“For God’s sake, Mary Sue!” He scowled, and she could tell what he was thinking. If it’s nothing, why are you bothering me?
She flicked her hand at his laptop. “Go back to your writing. It doesn’t matter.” She stomped down the hall.
She supported him. Truly, she did. But he spent more time with Beverly Golightly than he did with her. The heroine of the series of novels he wrote, Beverly had become the other woman in their marriage, a fictitious one, but a rival all the same. And the irony was Mary Sue had encouraged him to create her. She’d pushed her husband into the arms of his paper mistress.
Sometimes Billy got so preoccupied with writing about sex they didn’t have sex. Other times, his story would turn him on, and he’d track her down in the kitchen and give her his hey-hey look. Well, Mary Sue didn’t accept any woman’s sloppy seconds, even if the hussy was just words on a page.
Had she only foreseen how things would turn out, she might not have been so supportive.
Billy had been bored out of his gourd while he was off work and going through rehab after being injured in a construction accident. Always active in sports, he could never sit still long enough to read a book, let alone write one, until his forced convalescence made him pick up her e-reader one day. Mary Sue would never forget coming home from the diner to find her husband waving the device. “This is what you’ve been reading? ‘You’re such a naughty girl. I’m going to have to spank you. Stick out that bottom,’” he’d said, quoting a few lines from one of her favorite books while her face flamed with embarrassment.
No, spanking romance wouldn’t win any prizes for great literature. But Mary Sue enjoyed reading about strong, macho heroes who took the sassy heroines in hand and toasted their curvy bottoms. Bottoms were always nicely rounded in the books—not flat like hers.
Yep, Billy had teased her about her spanking romances—right up until he started writing one. Despite his ribbing, she’d cheered him on, becoming his biggest fan, offering suggestions and encouraging him to submit the manuscript to a publisher when his confidence faltered.
The Misadventures of Beverly Golightly got accepted.
Had she known then what she knew now, she might have been tempted to tear up the contract when it arrived in the mail.
Beverly Golightly sold very well, so he wrote a second book. It sold too. He turned Beverly into a series. Billy never went back to construction.
Writing consumed his days—and even some nights. Mary Sue would wake up in the wee hours to an empty bed. She’d find him pounding away at the computer before he “lost the idea.”
She was proud of his success, but sometimes she wished he’d never pecked a single keystroke.
Mary Sue marched into the bathroom and stripped off her waitressing uniform, wrinkling her nose at the unpleasant fried-food odor. After eight hours at the diner, the grease smell clung to her clothes, her hair, her skin. She turned on the shower, and while it warmed up a bit, she tossed her uniform into the dirty-clothes hamper, picking up Billy’s shorts from the floor and snapping them into the bin as well. The man who played basketball in high school, the slam-dunk king, missed the laundry basket nearly every time.
The man who’d won her over by refusing to take no for an answer and pursuing her relentlessly couldn’t be bothered to follow her into the bathroom and apologize.
Mary Sue sniffed and swallowed the lump in her throat. Billy Everett was a fine man. A hard worker, a good provider, and a faithful husband. But a clueless jerk.
She stepped into the shower, and turned her face into the spray. After a cathartic cry and a deep-conditioning rinse, she donned cutoffs and a tank top and padded into the kitchen. She grabbed a light beer and set about fixing a salad to go with the dinner she’d brought home from work. Chicken-fried steak from O’Malley’s Spoon and Grill was Billy’s favorite.
She thought about him even if he didn’t think about her.
Mary Sue ripped off a hunk of lettuce from the head, washed it, and tore it into bite-sized pieces. Of course his writing career benefitted both of them. Intellectually, she knew that. And she enjoyed his increasing royalty checks. Author Willa Evans, the female pen name Billy had chosen, had attracted a solid, loyal, and growing fan base. They hadn’t become rich by any means, but publishing had enabled Billy to quit construction work, and despite her irritation with being ignored, she was grateful.
Mary Sue thought back to that afternoon three years ago when Sheriff Ian Wilcot had walked into the diner and made a beeline for her. She’d known in an instant he’d come to deliver bad news.
“Billy’s been rushed to Myrtle Creek General Hospital,” he said. The buzzing in her ears had drowned out the Top 40 tunes playing over the diner’s speakers, the clatter of dishes, the hum of conversation.
The tears had started even before she began to speak. “He’s going to be okay, isn’t he?”
She, Billy, and Ian had been in the same high-school graduating class. He and Billy had been buds since the first grade; Ian had stood up as best man at their wedding. “I can’t lie to you, Mary Sue. It’s bad. He fell off the roof of a two-story house. He hurt his back.”
Billy had been temporarily paralyzed and had undergone months and months of intense physical therapy before he regained function. Her blood curdled at the prospect of him climbing up onto a roof again.
Would she have him give up writing and go back to construction?
She only wished he would carve out a little time for her, and only her.
Before, when he built houses, at the end of his shift, work ended. Writing never ended. They could be watching TV together, and he’d be plotting a book in his head. A quick email check turned into two hours at the computer. Five days a week bled into seven.
Go back to construction? She shuddered and sipped her beer. She’d have brought Billy one, but he liked to keep a clear head when he wrote. Coffee, not booze, fueled writers. Java and ink ran in their veins. Virtual ink anyway. Billy wrote e-books.
And he was a damn good writer. Her favorite. She wasn’t prejudiced a bit. A lifelong romance fan, she’d devoured hundreds, maybe even thousands, of books and knew a good one when she saw it. When he’d first gotten started, she read his manuscripts and offered feedback and suggestions. Sometimes in the beginning, he didn’t get female emotions quite right, and she would correct him. It was hard for a man to know how a woman thought. However, that was many books ago. With eleven under his belt, she didn’t read them now until after they were published.
Nor did she help him with his “research.”
“You should let me spank you. Then you can describe the sensation to me. If it burns or stings. How long the pain and color lasts.” He’d approached her after book number three, The Misfortunes of Beverly Golightly. All the Beverly books were named “Mis” something.
So tempting. Hadn’t she fantasized about being spanked? When she’d discovered spanking romances, it had been like stumbling upon lost treasure. She couldn’t bring herself to confess that her interest in spanking ran deeper than reading about it. If he spanked her and she hated it, a beautiful fantasy would be ruined. On the flip side, if he spanked her and she loved it, she feared it would ignite a longing that would go unsatisfied most of the time. Billy’s interest in spanking was purely financial.
“Absolutely not,” she’d said emphatically. “Besides, you don’t need me. You’ve been writing about it long enough.”
“Well, yeah, but I got to wondering, maybe I ought to have some real-life experience to build some street cred.”
“Then swat yourself. You’re not going to spank me.” Quite convincing she’d sounded too. If ever there’d been a time when she’d wished Billy had overridden her objections, that had been it.
Mary Sue shredded a carrot and sliced a tomato to add to the salad.
She’d decided if he brought it up again, in the interest of “research,” she would assist him. But, he never asked again. She sighed.
Warm arms wrapped around her waist from behind. “Are you still mad at me?” Billy nuzzled her neck, his shadowed jaw prickly against her skin. When writing full steam, sometimes he didn’t shave for days.
“No. I wasn’t mad. Just, well, you know.” She relaxed against his hard body. The one thing he did take time for was working out. He still went to the gym three times a week.
“You smell good,” he said.
“Shampoo,” she answered. Better than hamburgers, French fries, and onion rings. “Did you finish your book?”
“The end!” he said.
“That calls for a celebratory beer. Would you like one?” she offered. Reaching “the end” marked a milestone, not the finish line. Next, he would sequester himself to rewrite and revise what he’d already written, then he’d edit it, email it to a couple of author friends for beta reading, then forward it to his publisher, who’d send it back with suggested changes.
For now, this evening, he was done—unless he stepped into his office for something and got sucked into the vortex.
“I’ll get it.” He squeezed her in a hug, then released her to open the fridge. “What’s in the white container?”
“My favorite!” His cheeks dimpled with pleasure, and the last vestiges of her irritation melted away. His large hands dwarfed the beer can as he popped the tab. Tossing his head back, he took a long, slow pull. Mary Sue watched him, enjoying the movement of his Adam’s apple as he drank. Billy had a killer smile and laughing eyes, a perfect-V torso, and a muscled physique. The accident and subsequent surgery had left him with a few jagged scars on his back, but they didn’t affect his good looks an iota. No one would ever guess this poster boy for machismo wrote romances under a female pseudonym. Of course, if they did, he might sell even more books.
Mary Sue could envision female fans lining up in droves to meet him. She’d have to beat them off with a stick. And she wouldn’t hesitate to do it either. He’s mine. Keep your hands to yourself!
“Can I help you with anything?” he asked.
“You can set the table, get us some water.”
While he did that, she finished off the salad by adding some sliced sweet onion, and then scooped the chicken-fried steak with mashed potatoes and gravy into a glass casserole dish and put it to heat in the microwave.
“The McDermotts were robbed,” she repeated, aware he hadn’t heard a word she’d said before. She placed a salad on each of the placemats he’d laid out.
“What did they take?”
She reiterated everything she’d told him.
“That’s at least the third house in two months,” Billy said.
“Fourth.” Crime did not happen in a small town like Split Creek Hollow, where everyone knew everyone. The worst one could expect was an occasional case of public drunkenness or minor vandalism by spirited teenagers during homecoming week. You could pretty much count on neighbors ratting out the latter to their parents. Split Creek never needed more than one lawman. Then, two months ago, the first house got burglarized. “Mr. McDermott said they got in through the front door,” she said.
“Maybe we ought to start locking up,” Billy suggested. No one in Split Creek secured their homes. They’d never needed to.
The microwave dinged. Mary Sue retrieved their dinner and set it on a trivet on the table. “I hate that it’s come to this,” she said. “Let’s eat.” She grabbed the beers they’d left on the counter and took her place.
“Until they catch the guy, better safe than sorry.” Billy motioned for her to serve herself.
“Maybe I’m in denial, but I still find it hard to believe it could happen to us.” She forked a piece of meat onto her plate, scooped out some potatoes, and spooned gravy over all of it.
“I’ll bet the McDermott’s, the Taffeys, the Cordells, and the Abbotts thought that too.”
That was how small and close knit their community was. They could identify by name and face every single family who’d been robbed.
Mary Sue shook the bottle of dressing, sprinkled it over her salad and passed it to Billy. “It’s gotta be somebody from outside Split Creek Hollow.”
“That would be my guess. It would have to be somebody who’s familiar with the town and our habits. Since Myrtle Creek General went in outside of town, there have been a lot of newcomers moving in, and passing through. We used to know everyone in Split Creek, but we don’t anymore.” He shrugged. “Who knows what secrets people are hiding?”
“Like you,” she said with a smile. “Have people stopped calling to ask for help with their computers?”
“Finally!” He forked a bite of chicken-fried steak into his mouth and chewed. His face creased with pleasure. After swallowing, he said, “The gossip mill has spread it around that I lost my computer job, and I now write vacuum-cleaner manuals. Maybe it would have been better if we told them the truth.”
What do you do all day? Been workin’ Billy? After he’d recovered from his accident, he had to account for his time, so they’d concocted a story that he wrote computer manuals from home, thinking the job too boring to attract interest. They’d failed to account for neighbors who needed computer help. Believing they had a cyber-expert in their midst, they’d started calling with questions.
“Erotic romance they might have been able to handle,” she said. “Spanking stories?” She shook her head. “They’d all be wondering if you paddle me.” Her heart thumped. I wish.
“You’d be the hot topic around town.” He laughed.