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First Pages- The Opposite of Eve

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Below is the opening scene. It introduces the protagonist, antagonist, primary conflict, and setting. 

Travis Lynch is back in town, but I don’t know it yet.

I’m naïve, a younger sister par excellence. I learned to swim when Yvette told me that the lifeguard would spank me if I didn’t jump in the pool. I believed in the Tooth Fairy even in the face of my classmates’ denials, and when I caught my dad putting a coin under my pillow, I reasoned that the real Tooth Fairy had gotten sick. I showed up at the ninth grade Halloween dance dressed as a playing card, believing one of the cool girls in my class when she said we could go as a pair of aces. I was the only one who dressed up.

And for the past eighteen years, I’ve believed Travis would never move back to Henrysville, even though his family is one of the oldest and wealthiest in central Virginia. Yvette once said, “He wouldn’t dare show his face in our town again, because if he does, I’ll make him suffer.” That made sense to me—you don’t want to get on Yvette’s angry side. Consequently, on the Friday before Labor Day, 2018, the last thing I’m expecting is the moving vans.

I’m walking downtown to the Dewey & Floyd annual picnic, since Ben has the car at football practice. The sun is basting me in hot golden rays, and with two miles ahead of me, I detour through the Willow Ponds neighborhood, lined with giant oaks and maples that will shade me better than the treeless sidewalks on the four-lane to downtown.

This will be my first company picnic, despite having worked at D&F for fifteen years. I’ve managed to avoid going until now, but this year, they’re giving me the CORE Commitment award—CORE being an acronym for Corporate Real Estate, not a nod to how many crunches I do each day (answer: none). While it might sound impressive, the award merely means that I’ve been processing payroll at Dewey & Floyd a long time, and they’ve run out of other employees to recognize. My boss usually respects my determined avoidance of social events, but this time he insisted I show up and smile.  

On one of the tree-lined avenues I come upon two long, white trucks, parked outside the brick columns of a gated driveway. The movers, sweaty men in orange t-shirts, load and roll their dollies with wordless focus. No sign of the new owners, who are probably reclining on loungers by the pool while having Jeeves fetch them cucumber water. I’ve nearly worked up the courage to inquire who’s moving in, when I spot a box, tall as a man, with the name “Lynch” scrawled in large black letters down the side. My throat dries up.

The sight of that name ruins the barbecue for me—I can’t muster the appetite for a grill-cooked cheeseburger or even a Smithfield ham biscuit. Instead, I hover at the base of an oak, sipping a Sprite to settle my stomach, kicking tree roots and pretending they’re Travis’s face, until I hear my name over the loudspeakers.

Fifteen years at D&F, and what do I get? A printer-paper certificate with my last name misspelled and a coupon for a one-month sabbatical I’ll never take. I fake-smile for the camera, shake the CEO’s hand, thank my boss, and walk home under the hammering sun. The heat melts my anger, or maybe some part of me feels touched by the company’s gesture, and my stubborn naivete kicks in. Somehow, by the time I reach my tiny brick house on our potholed street, I’ve convinced myself I’m overreacting, that the moving boxes could belong to a different Lynch.

Mimi comes over the next day, gossip bubbling up in her like the caramel in her Sunday Supper pies. She occupies the entirety of my tiny house, with her blond-grey bob bouncing and her hands skittering across every surface. Sometimes I wonder whether she chose her grandmother-name, Mimi, as a reflection of her world, everything centered on her: “Me, Me.” A traditional choice like ‘Granny’ sounds too old and frail for my Pickleball-playing, protest-marching mother.

“Did you hear?” she asks casually.

I sit at my desk, a hand-me-down wooden table shoved against a wall of peeling paint in the corner of the living room. I’m entering new employees into the system, even though it’s Saturday. An old habit of trying to exceed expectations. I ignore her, sure she’ll come out with whatever trivial news she intends to share.

“Eve?” she tries louder.

“Hear what?” I say to appease her.

She keeps her back to me as she straightens the books on my shelves. “Travis moved back to town.” Her voice sounds easy-breezy, but the way she pulls each book forward until its spine aligns perfectly with the others, arranging the world just so, tells me her relaxed attitude is a facade.

“Travis Lynch?” I ask, the name getting stuck in my throat. I haven’t said it in so long.

“Yes, dear. Your Travis.” She turns and smiles, eyebrows arched, as though we share a tantalizing secret.

The words “your Travis” make me cringe. He is not “my” Travis. But I can’t really blame her, since she only knows him as my ex-boyfriend. I never shared the dark truth with her, nor with anyone besides Yvette.

The folds of time conceal my memory of that night, like the pungent green heart of an onion. You’ll never find it unless you peel back the protective layers. By the time you reach that tender center, your eyes limned with tears, you might wonder why you wanted to extract it.

Even though I never revisit that night, I live every day with its echo. When I look at my son Ben for too long—I mean really look at him, stepping back to take him in, like a pointillist painting—his resemblance to Travis stops my breath. Those golden-brown locks of hair, with waves that hint at mischief; teddy bear brown eyes too big for his face; and a left-cheek dimple that emerges unpredictably.  

Determined to mask my feelings, I walk past her into the kitchen. The tipsy wooden cabinets and rusty hinges appear more dilapidated than usual, with Mimi standing there. I retrieve my fluted tart pan to lend her, the sooner to return to my work.

“What do you think he’s doing here?” I ask, adopting her tone of fake casualness.  

“They’ve hired him as the Athletic Director at the high school,” she says.

The pan, a remnant of my cast-off dreams of studying pastry arts in Paris, slips from my fingers and clangs against the chipped linoleum floor.

Mimi bends to pick it up. “No harm done,” she says.

I sink into a chair, my body suddenly incapable of holding itself upright. Visions unroll across my mind’s eye, a time-lapse reel of my worst fears. As Athletic Director of Henrysville High School, Travis will meet Ben. He’ll attend Ben’s football games, recognize himself in my talented and kind son. He’ll do the math, despite the story my parents and I whipped up and spread around town, that I had a fling with an Australian on a camping trip. Once Travis figures out the truth, he’ll want to become Ben’s de facto father.

And what about Ben? He’ll probably revere Travis—a man who shares his love of sports, a scion of one of Virginia’s founding families, a beautiful, entitled prick. He’ll fall for him, just like I did.

My right pinky pulses with blood from where I’ve unwittingly torn the cuticle skin back too far. I suck it, then hold pressure on my pinky to stop the bleeding. 

Mimi places a glass of water in front of me. “I didn’t mean to upset you,” she says. “But I thought you’d want to know.”

“Not my favorite news ever.” I suck my pinky one more time, then switch to water.

We sit in silence, hers different from mine. I can tell Mimi wants to probe, but she clamps her lips in uncharacteristic restraint. Meanwhile, I examine my thoughts like household items after a tornado, trying to make sense of a world that has suddenly been pulled loose and whipped around until it bears no resemblance to the safe, comfortable home of five minutes before.

Soon, I shoo Mimi away, pretending to have overcome the shock of her news. I assure her we’ll see her the following day, as usual. But my thoughts can’t stay away from Travis.

His return will ruin my life—as if Prom Night hadn’t already accomplished that. But now, I have more than myself to defend.



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