In honor of Shakespeare’s birthday I’m sharing chapter seven of my novel SAVED BY THE MUSIC. It is my love song to Shakespeare. The handsome boy (Axel, a cellist who looks like Jim Morrison) lives on a boat called Perchance to Dream, and he is obsessed with Shakespeare! Writing this book was so much fun when it came to incorporating Shakespeare, and this chapter has a bunch of references. If you’d like to read more, it’s available on Amazon and other places as an e-book – so you can have instant gratification 😉
Here it is:
I skulked along the rocking dock to the boat and tried to see in a window. I wasn’t tall enough, so I stood on my toes. I still wasn’t tall enough, so I leaned against the boat, gripping its ledge to pull myself higher.
The boat moved.
“AHHHH!” I screamed, as I was pulled from the dock. I dangled from the ledge, helpless.
I tried to pull myself up. My muscles burned from the effort, but I failed.
Jumping back down looked impossible. If I fell into the water, I could be crushed between the dock and the boat. Besides, I couldn’t swim. How long could I hold on?
A set of hands came from above and locked onto my wrists. Warm, strong hands.
They pulled, and I went up. My skin rubbed against the cold, smooth fiberglass, and a chill shot through me to my spine. My arms felt like they were being yanked from their sockets. I slid over the top, my body rolling across the thin metal railing as I flopped onto the deck: Willow, the catch of the day.
My fingers traced the grain of the wooden deck gratefully. Trembling and gasping, I looked up. “Th- th-thanks.”
Axel looked pissed.
“May I ask, what the fuck is wrong with you?”
Good to see he’s was getting over the timid thing.
“Next time, could you just knock?”
This was a new Axel. One who spoke. One who could be sarcastic. One like—me.
He led me down the hatchway steps, offered me a seat on one of the two couches attached to the walls facing each other, and wrapped a blanket around me. Then he picked up a black T-shirt from the floor and slid it on, but not before I noticed some decent-sized slash marks across his chest and stomach—like he’d gone a few rounds with a box cutter.
After I warmed up, we moved to benches at his table, also attached to the wall. The benches were bolted to the floor.
“So, you always prowl around at one o’clock in the morning?”
“No, I never even leave my room at home, except to go to school. Kind of like you and this boat.” I remained a master of obnoxious observations.
Axel’s change in behavior might have had something to do with the citrus-flavored vodka he was kicking back shots of. He’d slugged down two in the few minutes we’d sat there. “Want some?”
I shook my head no. “How can you get liquor? You’re not twenty-one, are you?”
He laughed. “You kidding? You think they proof around here? I call up, and they deliver it for an extra ten. They’d sell it to a two-year-old if he had the cash and could make the call.”
“Do you realize you said more to me just now then in our whole first conversation?”
He tossed another shot down.
“Getting to know you now,” he replied.
Getting to know the bottom of the bottle was more like it.
“I’m eighteen, incidentally,” he said.
Behind him, behind me, and everywhere else were shelves and stacks of books. Only one side of the cabin—the galley—was bookless.
“You want something to drink?” he asked.
“I’ll take some tea.”
“A tea totaler, huh?”
“Well, I am fifteen.”
He laughed again.
“What’s so funny?” I asked.
“Nothing. You’re right, you’re right. It’s just that all the fifteen-year-olds I’ve ever known—from Park Avenue to this dump—would never turn down a shot in favor of tea.” His words tottered a bit.
“Whatever,” I grumbled.
“Don’t get pissy. I like that about you.” He smiled, lopsided and dimpled.
He puttered around his galley, stumbling a few times, searching for the tea. The area was small, about the size of a closet. It was all done in shiny black granite.
Finally, he managed to put a mug of steaming tea in front of me. He threw the box of tea bags into a drawer.
“Safely stowed,” he said with a wobbly chuckle.
Actually, I felt a little shaky myself. You really knew you were floating on a sailboat. This was no fluttering. We were bobbing. Up, down; up, down.
Axel sat back down across from me and took another shot. He hiccuped, and then his face turned really serious.
“Not to sound parental or anything, but don’t ever do anything like that again. You could’ve been killed.”
He did sound parental, but his 80-proof breath overrode his voice. He took my hand in his and squeezed.
Jesus, is this the guy who could barely look at me before?
He sucked in some air, like he was getting ready. I could tell this was going to be an Aunt Agatha–type talk. That’s if Aunt Agatha ever decided to belt down a bottle or two.
“This yard is fenced in for a reason. At night, they lock the gate to keep trouble out. Don’t go looking for it inside.”
Yeesh, that was so an Aunt Agatha line. Delivered slurred, and with breath that could halt a charging rhino.
“You’re awfully deep for an eighteen-year-old,” I said, uncomfortable in his ultra-tight grip. Off the deep end was what I meant.
What was really bugging me, though, was this bubbling chemical sensation inside—a powerful reaction, a connection. That and the feeling that I somehow knew Axel already.
“Yeah, well, I . . . I grew up in a hurry.”
He let go. I took a sip of my tea, just to have something to do with my hand.
The mug quoted Hamlet in purple Elizabethan-type print: “To be or not to be—that is the question.”
“I promise I’ll be good, okay?” I said it a touch snottily.
I didn’t like being told what to do. Especially when it made sense.
“What were you looking for?”
“Huh?” I’d been checking out his weird salt and pepper shakers.
“Is this supposed to be Julius Caesar or something?” I fingered the white one in a toga with a wreath in his hair.
“Yeah, and the pepper’s Brutus. Corny, I know. They were a gift.”
“Was this mug a gift, too?”
“No, I bought that.”
He asked again, “What were you looking though my window for?”
It seemed so stupid now.
“I heard a cello playing. This was the second night. And when I saw your light on. . . . I thought it might be coming from here.”
“Yeah, it was me playing. Why are you surprised?”
“I don’t know. . . . I guess you don’t look like a cellist.”
He sank his head into his hands, elbows on the table.
“What does a cellist look like?”
“Short hair, suit type of guy.”
He considered that. “Well, I do own a suit.”
His eyebrows creased in thought. “I think I left it back at the town house, though.”
“You look more like . . . like a rock star.”
He leaned back and gave me a tired look.
“Yeah, yeah. I know. I’ve heard it all before. Let’s not bring Mr. Morrison into this conversation, okay? We’ll let the dead stay dead.”
“Okay, sure,” I said. “It’s just that I’m really into Jim. He’s kind of like . . . ” I looked into my tea, embarrassed. “He’s kind of like my only friend.”
“That must make for some exciting conversations,” Axel said.
I couldn’t help but laugh.
“Hey, I made you smile. What do you know, I’m good for something.”
He took a shot to celebrate and slammed the glass down.
“I’m sure you’re good for more than that.”
He shrugged, like he wasn’t sure at all.
“I’m making that my mission,” he said.
“I’m making it my mission to keep a smile on your face.”
This guy was loco. “Good luck with that.”
Before, he wouldn’t look at me. Now, I couldn’t break away from his stare. “Why do you care if I smile or not?”
Axel passed his shot glass back and forth a few times between his hands. “I feel like we’re kind of the same.” Suddenly, he sounded dead sober. “There’s this . . . kindred spirit thing going between us. You feel it?”
I’d felt it the moment I saw him. That, more than anything, had been what had sent me running. Who could stand still for a jolt like that? Now it sizzled, this current running through me. But admit to it . . . ?
I leaned back, shifting my shoulders and trying to relax the knot in the back of my neck. It made me uneasy, being kindred spirits with a manic-depressive nut job.
But his eyes were relentless, and I couldn’t deny it.
“Yes,” I finally replied.
“Well, I . . . I don’t want to see you lose your chance.”
“To do what?”
“To enjoy life . . . to walk around with a smile.”
“Are you saying that you have?”
He stretched his arms out and cracked his knuckles, staring at them.
“Yeah, maybe I am.”
Good lord, his mood swings were making me dizzy. Axel was eighteen, handsome, and rich. What the hell is his problem?
“I think you’d better lay off Hamlet for a while,” I said. “And vodka, too.”
“The play’s the thing,” he whispered.
I didn’t know how to respond to that, so I didn’t.
He snapped out of his trance and looked at me with a sly, drunken smile. “Here’s the deal. If you’d like to hang with someone who’s actually breathing, I’m available. You’re the first person I’ve felt inclined to talk to in a long time. But no more comparisons to Jim Morrison. I have enough of my own shit without dealing with his.”
He held out his hand.
“Can you handle that?”
I shook it.
“I can handle that.”
The real question seemed to be, What was it HE couldn’t handle?
* * *
Axel could certainly hold a conversation drunk.
We talked for a long time, about books, mostly. I’d turned a decent number of pages in my life, but he’d read me under the table.
Shakespeare was his favorite. He had the entire collection, leather-bound.
Axel said that Shakespeare had explored every emotion—and that he’d said everything there was to say. According to Axel, everything after Shakespeare was regurgitation. Poetic rehashing.
“You know,” I said, “I’ve always thought they should use Lady Macbeth’s ‘out damned spot’ line in a commercial for a laundry stain remover.”
Axel considered that. “Hmm. Or for a carpet cleaner ad, maybe.”
I glanced out the window, and my eyes practically bulged out of my head. The sun was rising!
“Oh my God, my aunt’s gonna freak!”
I jumped up and looked frantically for the sneakers I’d kicked off. I only found one.
“I gotta run.”
Clutching my footwear, I rushed up the steps and out the hatchway. Axel’s head popped out after me.
“Hey, Cinderella, catch.”
He chucked my other sneaker at me.
“No more wandering around in the dark. You want my phone number?”
“I don’t have a phone.”
“Then just fluff up your pillow, go back to sleep, and see me in the morning.”
“I don’t have a pillow.”
“You don’t have a pillow?” he repeated. “Wait a sec.”
He dropped below, then reappeared a few moments later.
“Here,” he said, chucking me a pillow in a navy blue case.
I pawed into the feathers, pressed them against my chest.
I climbed down the ladder to the dock.
It sure beat the way I’d come up.