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  1. My first three pages introduce the protagonist, a side character, a minion of the antagonist, and grounds in setting and place. You get the main plot and sympathy for the MC and SC, plus an intro to the emotional side plot. 1. Amalia and Clara drove to Sunday church service together that morning as they had for a year now. Amalia in a black linen dress with a lovely interlocking pattern of embroidered white flowers at the cuffs and bodice. Clara wore a gray sweater dress and a black crepe shrug. They both had on dark sunglasses, and not because they wanted to hide from anyone. The Nevada sun punished even the godly. They didn’t speak, parking and then walking to the front doors as the hilltop filled with cars for the 9 a.m. service. Fellow church members, God’s disciples in modern times. The community of Piles, Nevada lost Signor Tau Lasso a year ago on May 13. The tragedy had brought Tau’s daughter, Amalia, more into Clara’s life, and not just for the usual reason of mourning a father and mentor beloved by so many. The Word in Life Worship Center sat on a hill against a bright blue spring sky. Most buildings in Piles, Nevada were on a mound of dirt because the town was built over excavation sites and the residual of mine leavings. God’s house crested the largest pile, capped with a clay-colored composite roof gracefully sloping over the main sanctuary. A wooden cross perched jauntily to the side. That morning, a bit of cheap pink fabric had caught in the wind and wound itself about the crossbar, the loose material flapping gently in the wind. Clara paused, looking up askance. That should’ve been their first clue that something strange was in the wind. They walked on to the steady pounding of their grief. Clara recalled Tau’s funerial procession, but them so far behind that even though the coffin was buried a year ago they still hadn’t caught up with the reality. Grief had no prescribed span; it stayed with you until something else took its place, maybe not even then. Their grief was still fresh as the year before. This had been Clara’s first real experience with death. It was even worse in their case because Tau’s story had no true conclusion, not for Amalia. Not for Clara. They couldn’t finish his story in their minds, so how could anyone else? Little did they know, that was exactly what everyone else had done. The front doors opened, exhaling a floral scent so strong, Clara thought the cherry blossom air fresheners in the church bathrooms must’ve exploded. That should’ve been their second clue that the tone for this day was not what they were expecting. The church greeter was sweat-sheened toadie Kenny Susich. At first Clara wondered how even he could smell of roses. But no. Pink roses and peonies clustered on draped tables in the foyer. Amalia sneezed into her black hanky. Kenny’s broad face shifted into a concerned expression as he evaluated their somber attire. "You needn’t go into mourning yet, Clara. Your time will come. You may soon have one." His large globs of flesh constituting two breasts and a stomach pressed against the yellow fabric of his church branded T-shirt. He foisted a pink rose on her with a wink and a lecherous grin. "Have one?" At first Clara thought he meant the rose, which she tried to pass on to Amalia. She wisely refused any gift from Kenny Susich. Clara had acted automatically, not thinking about it first as she should have done. "Have one of what?" His arm pits sweat stained, wispy blond hair featherlight into a horn just over his forehead. Kenny’s light eyes were smaller still when he smiled, his grin displaying every tooth. Clara could count them if she wanted; she didn’t want. He laughed. She didn’t. Kenny struck a pensive pose: chin on his right knuckles, arm propped up as if taking a school photo though he was standing in the doorway, blocking everyone. "Don’t you know what today is?" It was the one-year anniversary of Tau Lasso’s death, Clara knew that for sure. She looked at her friend. Amalia didn’t seem to be in the mood to unpuzzle a conversation with Kenny Susich. She propelled them both forward. "What did I just miss?" Clara asked her friend. Amalia: "Mother’s Day, Clara. Of the two of us, apparently Kenny thinks only you can birth a child." She gave her friend a wary eye. “Better watch out for that one. He’s chosen you.” Children: the church’s entry hall was filled with them, galloping free in the only other place they could get away with it besides their own homes. Mothers and daughters. Mothers and sons. Mothers and their mothers. Mothers and graduates. Not only was it Mother’s Day weekend, but it was also the graduation celebration for all the high school seniors in the church. Children were hanging from the balustrades and the teens weren’t behaving any better. "But Did Kenny Susich just insinuate that you’re old enough to be in menopause?" Clara ground her teeth. In addition to having a jaw like a Tyrannosaurus Rex, she also felt any perceived insult or injustice against one her friends. She wound a long gangly arm through Amalia’s. Also like a T-Rex, Clara had small hands and feet that would’ve been lovely if not so incongruous with the rest of her body. Amalia waved it off, not even bothering to be insulted or argue the point. She was only 45 and Clara had just turned 30. "I’m surprised a goober like Kenny Susich even knows what menopause is." Clara dropped the pink rose he’d given her, hoping it would be trod over. But then she regretted it: that rose, all these roses, had cost the church money. Today wasn’t a day she wanted to celebrate, the anniversary of the death of Tau, father figure to Clara, beloved father to Amalia, but that didn’t mean she should spurn an investment of church funds. Soon she would find the invoice and see just how much that investment had been. It probably wasn’t possible that others’ joy sucked life from you, but Clara felt it then, the certainty everyone else was living and she and Amalia were stuck in the past, their days diminishing before their eyes.
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