Songbird - a look back

So, you’ve probably read the first few chapters of The Songbird’s Refrain right now. I’m in the process of working with a professional editor to get everything polished and clean. But I’ve done a lot of that polishing on my own.


The Songbird’s Refrain is lucky in that the first chapter needed very little developmental edits (the same could not be said of the whole book, as I’ve discussed previously). But that didn’t mean it didn’t need work! I did have to wind up sacrificing lines I quite liked (ex: “It occurred to me that being so mysterious was probably not the best way to find a target demographic.”), but I think the current first chapter conveys the tone of the story a lot better, and gives you a much better look at Elizabeth as a

person.


I thought it would be fun to share the original first chapter!


——


Have you ever seen something that made everything in you go silent?


My mind was buzzing with worries – I was waiting on callbacks for the school play, I had at least 4 hours of homework strapped to my back, and my advisor had forgotten about our meeting for the fourth time in a row. I had been stressing over my past, present, and future – I don’t think I would have noticed if a giant robot suddenly came down from the sky. But I noticed the bright blue eye immediately.


When I saw it, it was like someone had flicked a switch inside of me. I moved forward like I was being pulled by a magnet.


The eye was staring at me from a flier tacked on a stop sign pole. It must have been just put up – it had been raining during my last hour, and only cleared up as we were walking out of school. But the flier was dry.


It was dominated by the eye – just the eye, bright blue and framed by gold lashes. But above the eye, in sloping gold text, were the words: Come see the extraordinary. Underneath the eye was 9 PM, today’s date, and the address for the old Filmore building on 39th Street.


“Curious?”


I almost screamed at the gentle whisper, right at my ear. I spun around, shocked to see a muscular woman with heavy-lidded eyes coated in sparky red eyeshadow smirking at me, her toned arms crossed over her chest.


“I didn’t mean to frighten you,” she said, in a tone that suggested that she had very much meant to frighten me. “I just noticed you looking at our flier.”


“Oh.” Well, that sounded intelligent. I tried again. “Oh.” My eyes kept being drawn to different parts of her – she was wearing only a pair of leggings and a see-through tank-top over a sports bra. Every time she shifted, new muscles rippled.


She laughed, holding out her hand. “I’m Bridget.”


I took it, my hand feeling very limp in her strong grip. “Elizabeth.” I glanced back to the flier. “So you’re part of the … um, what is it, exactly?”


Bridget laughed again. I got the sense that she just enjoyed showing it off – it was deep and throaty, the kind that probably had people dropping to their knees in front of her. I had half a mind to, honestly. Her dark brown eyes glinted. “What is it, indeed?”


It occurred to me that being so mysterious was probably not the best way to find a target demographic. But I was intrigued. “Um … Is it a show, or something?”


Bridget smiled, clearly enjoying this. “Or something. Or maybe and something would be more accurate.” She plucked the flier from the pole cleanly, as if it had been hanging up there by sheer force of will. “A spectacle. You’ll never see anything like it again, that’s for sure.”


Something in her tone made a shiver work its way up my spine – or maybe it was just her voice. “Um. What kind of show is it?”


“Call it a variety act.” Bridget’s eyes sparkled. “We have things to suit … all tastes.”


The way she glanced at me out of the corner of her eye almost seemed inviting. Without thinking, I blurted, “Oh, God, this isn’t one of those weird sex things, is it?”


This time, Bridget threw her head back, her laughter seeming to dominate the sounds of the city. My face flushed and I looked around, embarrassed, but no one even glanced at our direction. They simply walked around us, busy people with busy places to be.


“No, Elizabeth,” she said. “It is not ‘one of those weird sex things.’ After all, you seem a little on the younger side, so why would I bother inviting you to something like that?”


“I’m sorry!” If the ground could have swallowed me whole, I would have gladly dropped into it. “I just … Wait. Inviting me?”


Bridget shrugged. “Why not? You seem interested. We’re always looking for people who understand … who truly connect with our work.” She held out the flier, right-side up. The bright blue eye stared at me, as if waiting for a response.


“Um … Right. Well, uh …” If there were an award for “least articulate,” I’m pretty sure I would have won first, second, and third place. Luckily, Bridget seemed to be able to translate.


“Take the flier,” Bridget said, still holding it out. “Decide for yourself if you want to come out or not. I’ll be … keeping my eye out for you.”


I looked down at the flier. The bright blue eye seemed just as hypnotic as before. I reached up and grabbed it before I even realized I was going to do it. I brought the flier to my face, staring at it. I couldn’t help thinking the eye looked … aware, somehow. Like it really could see me. At the very least, it looked familiar.


“Thank …” I said, looking up. But Bridget had disappeared. “You,” I finished to the empty air. I looked around, but she was nowhere to be found. It was as if she had vanished into the empty air. Only the flier in my hands was enough to convince me that she had ever been there at all.


All at once, the sounds of the city became very loud, and I realized that my shoulders were aching from my backpack. I winced, adjusting the straps, and hurried home. I made a quick pit-stop in my bedroom to drop off my things before heading to the kitchen.


“Sorry I’m late, mom,” I called into the kitchen as I walked in.


Mom glanced over her shoulder, smiling a bit absently. “Hm?”


I glanced at the clock. It was about a half-hour later than I usually got home. Had I really been talking to Bridget for that long? “I … I’m late,” I said, a bit awkwardly. “So I was apologizing. There was this girl, she –”


“That’s nice, dear,” my mom said. “Would you mind helping me set the table?”


I sighed. I guess she must have had a rough day, or was wrapped up in some other thoughts. I nodded. “Yeah, sure.”


After dinner, I went back to my room. I checked my e-mail anxiously, but there was nothing. No callback meant that I probably didn’t get the part – big surprise. But there was no e-mail from my advisor either, which was more annoying. At this rate, I wasn’t going to get my college applications out on time. I really needed his help, so what was the big idea? I had half a mind to go to his office and chew him out in person.


I sighed, putting my hands to my face. I wished I could just do it by myself, honestly, but the truth was, I needed direction. I had no idea what I was doing – I was just another high school kid with an unrealistic passion. Besides, if I couldn’t even get cast in a lame high school play, how was I supposed to get into acting school?


Rolling over, I noticed the flier staring up at me from my floor.


I picked it up, turning it over and over in my hands. The back of it was perfectly blank – no tape or anything, even though I hadn’t seen any evidence of that on the flagpole. Every time I turned it right-side up, the blue eye seemed to stare right into mine. Almost as if it were beckoning me to come find out who it belonged to.


Hell, what was I thinking? I didn’t have time to go off to some weird “variety” act. I had way too much homework to go anywhere tonight, much less some show that would take who knew how long. Besides, I wasn’t the type of person who just went off on a whim. I didn’t like last minute plans. I didn’t like plans in general, much less the last minute ones. Most nights, I was in my room – right where I liked to be.


But … Bridget had invited me. And, sure, she probably said that to everyone, it was probably all part of their act. But she had picked me to talk to, out of everyone walking around. That wasn’t the sort of thing I was used to. Most of the time, it felt like people saw right through me, but Bridget hadn’t. Hell, even the flier looked like it was staring at me. In other situations, it might have been creepy. But here, it felt nice. Like for once, I was being noticed.


I stared at the flier for a long moment. Then I crumpled it up. And shoved it right into my pocket.


“What the hell,” I muttered, grabbing my jacket from where I had hung it on the bedpost. The homework could wait. I was only 17 once, and there would be plenty of opportunities to sit around in my bedroom when I was boring and old.


I paused by the living room. My parents were in there, watching television. “Hey, guys? I’m going out, okay?”


For a wild moment, I wanted them to turn around and ask me where I was going. I wanted them to tell me that it was too vague, too silly. For them to tell me it might be dangerous. I wanted them to forbid me from going, and guard my room to make sure that I didn’t.


I wanted them to see me. I wanted to feel seen.


But neither of them even looked away from the television screen. “Okay, Lizzy,” dad said vaguely. “Have fun.”


My stomach clenching, I went out the front door.

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