That Time Merit Was in a Band (Part 1)

by Chloe Neill on 19 February 2014

I visited the wonderful Magical Words again this week to discuss character development, and that time Merit was in a band…

I’ll let you read the MW post for the details, but basically in a very, very, very early (Mary Sue) iteration of Merit, she was in a band. Malik and Mallory were her friends, and a certain Mr. Greer was her vampiric enemy. Kind of. :)

Since I ‘fessed up about her early origins, I thought it would be fun to take a look back.  So below, without further ado, is a never-before-seen chunk of that first story, which I’d named THE DEVIL YOU KNOW.  I think you’ll recognize some names, and at least some bits of the characters. :)

Enjoy it in its campy awfulness!

 

THE DEVIL YOU KNOW

The clock on the wall ticked ominously, and I raised my head to see that it was finally 3:50. Class was over.

I waved my hand. “Thanks, everybody. We’ll finish this on Monday, and I want to see a copy of your outlines.”  Nearly a hundred of our nation’s future leaders grabbed their books, stuffed their satchels, and padded down the lecture hall’s carpeted stairs and out of the room. No stragglers today, apparently, so I erased the board where I’d scribbled a few notes, picked up my folder and bag, and followed them out.

A deep baritone echoed behind me as I entered the classroom building’s hallway.

“Hey, teacher.”  I turned.

Standing behind me was my ex-roommate, Malik Cleary.  Malik was a graduate student like me—his work was in Biochemistry, mine in English. We’d roomed together our first year of graduate school—both responding to the Graduate Studies Department’s Roommate Finder Services—until he’d met his fiancé, Sarah, and left my apartment for hers. He walked toward me, tall, coffee-skinned, beautiful.

“Hey, M. Your hair’s getting longer,” I said, pulling at the end of a dread. His hair was fashionably shaggy, in tight dreads that just skimmed his shoulders. “What does Sarah think about that?”

He gave a grand smile.

“Kate, with so much man, that’s the last thing she worries about.”

Did I mention Malik is an unreformed flirt?

“Engagement has done nothing for your sense of humor,” I said, chuckling and shouldering my messenger bag. “What are you doing in my part of campus?”  The science buildings were safely set into another part of our school’s rather gothic landscape, in tall buildings with windows that had long ago been cemented over—probably to prevent some newly-minted graduate student from mixing a noxious potion and poisoning the rest of the campus.

“I’m taking the afternoon off, and thought I’d pay you a visit. You singing tonight?” I nodded in response as we walked back toward my office. I was the lead singer of a generally acoustic band that played in bars and clubs around the city. I didn’t have the strongest voice, but it was adaptable, from the clear acoustic tones that we usually tried to the occasionally sultry; we could fake our way through a variety of pop songs. The swell of college students—including a few English majors who found my second “career” amusing—seemed to like us.  It wasn’t much, but it helped pay the bills.

“We are auditioning, as it were.”

He laughed heartily. I appreciated the support.

“For who?”

“West’s new owner, apparently.  He’s taken a sudden interest in his holdings.”

Malik smirked. “A new interest in your holdings, I’d imagine.”

Malik was convinced that I was unnecessarily single, that men would flock to me if only I’d loosen up a little. It’s not that I didn’t care about dating, I just didn’t have the time. After taking a couple of years off after college—finding myself, or so I’d imagined—I felt like I was racing toward tenure. I’d finished my class work in record time, and was now teaching and completing the final chapters of my dissertation. I wanted graduate school behind me, I wanted a solid teaching job at a well-respected university, I wanted summers in Tuscany and 2.5 kids and all, well, I wanted all those things yesterday.

Malik wrapped an arm around my shoulders. “Is he hot, this owner?” I rolled my eyes and poked him in the ribs with my free hand.

“He’s never seen me, and I haven’t seen him, but I can’t imagine that he would be. Likely a middle-aged entrepreneur hoping to make a little extra cash in the nightlife industry. You know—deep in the midst of some kind of midlife crisis—owner of the hottest club in town, girls in vinyl and black lace falling at your feet.”

Malik laughed. “Ever the cynic.” I shook my head.

“Not cynical. Practically realistic.”

Malik shrugged. We’d rounded the corner and reached my cramped office—an ex-supply closet doubling as my on-campus study room. A tall man stood next to the door—6’2”, curly blond hair, medium build. He was wearing jeans and a thin, nylon jacket over a snug t-shirt and sandals, his arms crossed as he leaned against the door.

“Hey, Lucky,” said Malik, reaching out to shake his hand. The man reached forward, breaking into a grin, and clasped it.

“Malik. How’s Sarah? She realize she’s too good for you, yet?”

“Still single, Lucky?” Malik asked, a wicked grin lighting his face. “I can’t imagine we’d be having this conversation again if you were getting any.”

Lucky reached out and pulled the messenger bag off my shoulder. “Katie.” He was the only person I allowed to call me that. He’d helped me out of so many scrapes, it was the least I could do.

“Hiya!” I reached out and wrapped an arm around his waist, squeezing lightly. Lucien was my best friend, and had been since high school. He wasn’t a boyfriend—we’d met after both having traumatic 10th-grade breakups and made an instant connection. We’d vowed to stay friends, had dated independently, but always seemed to find each other again.  I’d tagged him “Lucky” years ago, after he’d managed to save me from a series of could-have-been tragedies. I was accident prone; he was accident proof. I felt safer just being around him.

“West at 9:00 tomorrow?” Malik asked, turning toward me.

I nodded. One of our favorites bands was playing, and we’d gotten tickets the day they’d gone on sale.

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” He kissed my cheek lightly and looked at Lucky. “I’m sure you’ll be there, too?” he asked, an unreadable tone in his voice. Lucky paused before answering, shifting his feet. To say that Malik didn’t approve of the time I spent with Lucky was putting it mildly. It’s not that Malik didn’t like him, but he seemed to believe that Lucky scared off my potentials. “Date him or drop him” was a favorite adage. Malik wanted me to find someone. Fair enough, but in the meantime, I needed my safety net. Wait, that sounds manipulative.

“I’ll be there,” Lucky finally answered. Malik stared at him, a vaguely ominous look on his face.

“Right,” he said. “Good luck tonight, Kate. I’ll see you tomorrow. I’m going to bring a friend.” Malik glanced back at Lucky. “A single, male friend.”

A weird tension filled the air, and I wondered for a moment if they’d hit each other. Lucky rolled his eyes and Malik strolled away. “Wear that slinky, black thing,” he said over his shoulder. “My friend will like that.”

“Bye, M,” I called after him. He slung an arm above his head and waved behind him. I slugged Lucky in the shoulder.

“You two have really got to stop.”

Lucky snorted.

“You saw him. It wasn’t me. It’s never me. He’s got an attitude problem. Besides, I like the black, slinky thing.”

I rolled my eyes and reached over to unlock my office door. For both our sakes, I’d ignore that last comment. I swung my office door open, revealing the golden light that poured through the gothic, arched window that filled the south of the office. The office—if one can call a 4 x 6 foot rectangle an office, was cramped and narrow, but the window—which was nearly 5 feet high—made up for its size. We moved inside, Lucky, as always, squeezing behind the small table that stood at the end of the office to bask in the afternoon sunlight.

“God, I love this window,” he said reverently. His arms were at his sides and his chin tilted slightly upward as he stood quietly before the window. I placed my bag on the floor next to the first of the two small chairs in the office—the second was behind the desk—and watched him stand there. He was handsome, but we didn’t have that thing, that chemistry, that might have drawn us together physically.  But he was always by my side.

“You’ve been gone for a few days,” I said, cautiously. Lucky ran his late parents’ charity. His family was old and wealthy and Lucky inherited a fortune and the run of the foundation when they died. That’s why he’d transferred to my high school 8 years ago.

He ran a hand through his curls. His hair was getting longer, too. It was usually short enough to frame his face in soft curls, but now hung nearly to his shoulders. It also seemed lighter—full of golden highlights, as if he’d spent time in the sun.  How had I missed the change?

“I was in California,” he said, as if he’d heard my unspoken question. He turned to face me. “I had a client, a law firm, that was considering a major donation.”  It still seemed strange to hear words like that out of Lucky, Lucky-of-the-t-shirts-and-frayed-jeans. He looked more surfer than businessman, but apparently had managed to grow the business into an enterprise larger than it had been when his parents were alive.

“Oh. How’d that go?”

He flashed that smile again. “We made it happen,” he said, bowing formally.

“Congratulations,” I said. He deserved a little acclaim.

He shrugged. “All in a day’s work.” Lucky didn’t like talking about his work; the foundation was worth millions of dollars and supported a number of charities, but he rarely discussed it. His face brightened suddenly.

“Oh! I brought you something,” he said with a grin. He reached into his jacket pocket, which was noticeably lumpy, and pulled out a small, rectangular tin. With a wide grin, he placed it on the desk.

It was a box of small, square chocolate cookies. Amazingly chocolatey cookies (with a little hint of cinnamon) that he knew I loved. I did have a bit of a sweet tooth, and he often brought treats back from his foundation trips. I had no idea why he was single. Malik, of course, could probably muster a reason or two.

I gave him a grand smile and gingerly opened the top of the tin. The three rows of three cookie stacks stared yummily back at me.
“Mmmm. Thanks, Luck.” I pulled a cookie out of the box and offered him the tin. He declined with a wave. His loss; they were delicious.

“So tell me about this audition.” He spun the second chair around and sat backwards in it, his back toward the window, his arms crossed on the chair’s back. He rested his chin on the top of his hands and waited for my answer.

“I don’t know much,” I said, lowering myself into the first chair. The department head had placed it there in case I had visitors, which usually turned out to be students begging for additional time to turn in papers.

“I got a message from Donald—”

“—the guy who books the shows?”

I nodded. “Yes. Someone bought the club two months ago—an investor from New York. I forget his name. Anyway, he’s moving here from the city, apparently wants to take a more active role in his holdings.”

Lucky snickered. “’Holdings’ as in the club, or the talent?” He looked oddly concerned.  I leaned forward in the chair.

“Lucky?”

“Hmm?”

“That’s exactly what Malik said.”

He blanched.

“Heaven forbid the two of you should make the same jokes. You might actually learn to like each other.”

“We have nothing in common,” Lucky said dryly. I couldn’t understand the animosity. These were two great guys. Why couldn’t they get along?

“You have me in common.” I rose from the chair, reached over the table, and pulled my handbag out of the top drawer.  My blouse, a gauzy, pale blue, long-sleeved number under which I wore a stretchy tank, draped open slightly at the neck. I was always careful not to bend over in class when I wore it. I tended to forget about things like that around Lucky. I don’t mean to sound naïve—he would make some woman incredibly happy one day. He just wasn’t for me. And that was it exactly: He wasn’t for me—I’d already mentally gift-wrapped him in preparation for the girl who would eventually come along and steal him away. I glanced up, he was watching me, something different in his eyes.

“I need to get ready,” I said. Lucky nodded, and pulled himself out of the chair.

“I’ll walk you down.”

I grabbed my light jacket—the city was finally cooling off after an oppressive summer—and we walked in silence to my car. It was an ancient, convertible Jaguar that I’d inherited from my parents. Charles and Vivian, my parents, replaced the 10-year old Jag a new behemoth SUV when they took up golf; the clubs were difficult to finagle in and out of the Jaguar’s slim trunk. Thus, I inherited “Blue,” with its classic lines.  It was my favorite color—robin’s egg blue—a color that my father often told me matched my eyes.

“Glad to see Blue’s still chugging along,” Lucky said, finally breaking the tension that I hadn’t noticed had built since we left the office. What had happened while he was gone? He opened the door for me and stood next to it, waiting for me to get in.

“Blue doesn’t chug so much as slink,” I said, correcting him and sliding into the car. “It is a Jag, after all.”

I slid into the car and pulling the door shut; I rested my left arm on the top of the top of the driver’s side door. Lucky looked down and smiled.

“What?”

He tapped my wrist. He’d given me a bracelet years ago, a silver chain with two charms—a four-leaf clover and Celtic triangle. I’d worn it ever since, and rarely took it off. It started as a joke—I called him Lucky, and he returned the favor by giving me a lucky charm.

“For Luck?” he asked.

I nodded. It was our little private joke: I wore it for luck; I wore it for him. It was a little silly, but it seemed to make him happy. So I did it. He put up with enough of my crap to easily justify my wearing a little, silver trinket.

I looked up at him expectantly. “You coming tomorrow?”

“Of course.”

We were quiet for another long moment, and I could feel the tension building again. He wasn’t telling me something, which was very unlike him. Lucky was nothing if not chatty. With me, anyway.

“We’ll talk tomorrow night,” Lucky said, again as if he could read my mind.  He pushed the door closed, and I started the car and drove home. We’d talk tomorrow night.

# # #

The light on my answering machine blinked erratically as I came through the front door. I lived in a once-neglected brownstone just south of the peninsula that housed our city center; the city frosted the southern edges of Lake Bernadette and extended into the rather, well, phallus-shaped peninsula that jutted into the center of the lake.  Living alongside the lake was a blessing and a curse; we had beautiful views and passionately cold winters.

A friend of the family had purchased a row of the brownstones, four in all, and brought them back to life. Mine was three, narrow stories tall, plus a damp basement. The first floor held an open kitchen and living room, the second my bedroom and a spare for guests, and the third floor, the sanctuary—my library. A room with 10-foot high exposed brick walls, ancient oak floors, and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. One, well-worn, leather club chair stood in the middle of the room; I’d hated to push other furniture in front of the books. They needed space, room to breathe. I loved that room.

My heels clicked as I walked across the hardwood floors as I moved closer to the answering machine. Although just a teaching assistant, I tried to dress professionally. It was too easy to dress and act like a graduate student—I wanted to dress and act like a scholar. It was the final vestige of the life I’d lived in between college and grad school, 13 months of convincing myself that I would be happy as a rainbow-spewing public relations diva. My boyfriend at the time, himself a man obsessed with image, had talked me into it. It had taken me 13 months to talk myself back out. I’d finally owned up to my actual interests—I wanted to write, I wanted to read, and I wanted to teach, in that order. My first novel, or at least the first one-third of it, was currently perched on the desk in the spare bedroom.

I hit the “Play” button. Eight messages.

“Kate, it’s Mallory. Call me. Bye.” Mallory Henry was one of my bandmates. She played a great bass guitar, and sang backup to my lead vocals, but was a tad flighty. The second message started. I listened from the couch as I pulled off my boots.

“Kate, it’s me again. What time are we playing? Call me.”

The third, fourth, and fifth messages were pretty much the same. Number six was a call from my mother, reminding me about our family dinner Sunday afternoon. I had three sisters and a brother. All of us had lived nearby, but we rarely managed to get the entire brood together in one place. Except for Sunday dinners. But despite the fact that we gathered together at my parents’ home every week, my mother was convinced that I needed a reminder. Heaven forbid she should ever meet Mallory.

Message number seven was from Olivia, my oldest sister, who had a family of her own. She was successful and proud of her brood, but was as overbearing an older sister as a girl could ever want.

“Kate? I hope you’re doing something productive. Listen, Jack has a friend in town. He’s gorgeous and single, and we want to introduce you. You need this, Kate.  Call me.”

I rolled my eyes instinctively. I did mention she was overbearing, right?

The final message was different—a man’s voice, low and confident.

“I’m calling for Catherine O’Connell. This is Morgen Greer.  I wanted to confirm your audition at 7:00 tonight. We’ve got a busy night, so we’ll need everyone there on schedule. 7:00.”

The machine cried its final beep, leaving the apartment quiet again. Hmm. I supposed that was the new owner.  While I could appreciate Mr. Greer’s attention to detail, he could free up his entire night by not asking one of his most popular bands to audition for him. Why not just check the books?

Oh, well. His lack of time management skills wasn’t my problem. I checked the clock near the desk—4:48. Hmm. My lack of time would be his problem. I climbed the stairs to the second floor, pondering my fashion options for the evening.

# # #

Seriously. Isn’t that bizarre to read?

The only thing really similar to SGB, other than character names, is the fact that Merit was attacked and made a vampire. But here, that process is lighthearted and almost silly–very much a difference from the real scene.

As I explained in the Magical Words post, it was the mental image of Ethan that helped me understand who Merit really was. Once I knew, I lifted her and her vampiric attack into Ethan’s world, where it belonged.

What did you like most about this parallel world? Add your comment below, and stay tuned for Parts 2 and 3 of our visit to the parallel Merit universe!

 

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1 Remmy February 19, 2014 at 9:54 pm

This still gives me warm fuzzies, and when I read WT again, I’m gonna giggle when I see Ethan. Also, I would still totally buy it.

2 Dotti Elrick February 19, 2014 at 10:19 pm

I kinda like it. It’s different, I like Malik and Lucky. Seeing Merit “pre-Ethan” is refreshing. I can’t wait wait to see Mallory and Morgan. I’d buy this story.

3 CatScott February 19, 2014 at 11:47 pm

Talk about tripping in Bizarro World!! It’s just too weird to wrap my brain around!

4 Marie February 20, 2014 at 9:08 am

Oooh, I’d buy this. I’m really curious about that other Merit…
Do you think it could have a life as another work ?

5 Sam February 20, 2014 at 9:33 am

It is like watching a movie that was “based” on a book.. similar but different. I think I would have started reading either way, but I can see how you had to change it to go with Ethan. If you would have stayed with this start everything would be different. I enjoyed it :)
Maybe keep on the back burner for a different series with a different main character that overlaps with Chicagoland??

6 twiser February 20, 2014 at 2:24 pm

I like it as a non-Chicagoland book/series. But I would totally read it.

7 Sam February 20, 2014 at 4:28 pm

I really enjoyed it and would have still read the series if it started this way; but can see how you would have had to change it when you discovered Ethan. It is interesting to think of what the series would be like if you kept this beginning.

8 jayne February 20, 2014 at 8:35 pm

I’d totally buy it. I want to know more, i think i like Lucky. Its so unlike Chicagoland books but in a very good way.

9 Gaby February 21, 2014 at 9:48 am

I like it. It’s so unlike the actual books that I’m willing to think of it as a completely different story that just so happens to have the same names as CV :-)

10 Chloe Neill February 21, 2014 at 7:55 pm

Thanks, everybody! :)

11 webdiva February 24, 2014 at 2:31 pm

Aiiiiiieeeeee!!! I’m SO GLAD you didn’t go in this direction with Merit. Cheesy. Makes me like *our* Merit all the better. And her grandpa.

12 Demitra February 24, 2014 at 4:34 pm

I really love the part about her being accident prone and lucky being the opposite, so she started calling him lucky! and how he gave her a lucky charm bracelet. It was clever and really adorable :) it’s really cool to see how you developed merit and everyone else into the characters they are now!

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