Monday, February 21, 2011

Author Spotlight: Pairs by D.W. Richards

Pairs is the story of Kayley and Adam, a single mom who makes her living writing greeting cards and a young carpenter; and Alexandra and Henry, a former stripper with dual identities and a math teacher with some unusual gender issues. The couples are connected through Henry and Adam, who are cousins, and through Kayley’s friend Helen, who is also Henry’s step-sister. As each couple builds a connection, the joint friendship turns into family. Kayley’s daughter, Terra, becomes a central focus of both relationships; she is loved and nurtured by the village that the couples create.

With the tightening of the bond between the couples, the mission for the pairs—which begins and ends with Kayley—turns to parenthood for Henry and Alexandra. The story weaves the elements of past sexual abuse, sexual dysfunction, problem pregnancies, and absolute devotion to family into a plot that draws the reader into the lives of these very unconventional characters.

Read an excerpt!

After hanging up the phone, Kayley lay in bed reflecting on her grandmother’s news. Fondness and guilt, both half-forgotten, lined the passage back to her university days with Gavin. She couldn’t recall if she had ever known his name, she only remembered him as Spaz.

Through the close-knit channels found only in small towns, her grandmother had been informed that there was something for Kayley in Gavin’s will. However, there would be a delay as his estate had been frozen. Her anticipation about the possibilities churned feelings more associated with an impending exam than with curiosity over an expected gift. Perhaps because that was usually the form in which his gifts had tended to be delivered.

Gavin had encouraged her writing and had introduced her to the great women of literature. He had his favourites. There was Sappho the romantic poet, whom he would quote from time to time. And, of course, there was Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette. He saw her recurring theme, of women turning to other women as a result of the pain in loving men, as gender neutral. In the larger picture, she wrote of a universal abyss of conflicting desires.

Kayley wondered if Gavin would be disappointed in her, given that her literary career was stalled at writing greeting cards, and hoped he would understand that life had simply gotten in the way.



***



Summoned by a firm knock, Kayley stood in the foyer of her townhouse chastising herself while unlocking the deadbolt. She had forgotten that the carpenter was coming that morning. Her four-year-old daughter, Terra, upset by the fog, remained very close.

It had been a morning of mayhem. Starting with the call from her grandmother, their normal routine had entirely unravelled. She hadn’t had time to get dressed or pull up her hair or even check her appearance in a mirror. Before opening the door, she reviewed the first impression she was about to present. Dirty housecoat, serpentine springs of blond hair, morning breath, and likely, she suspected, a new big and sore- looking zit, one befitting her morning, somewhere very obvious.

When she finally opened the door, the surprise of the moment left her temporarily speechless. Adam had come at the recommendation of her friend Helen. Kayley couldn’t recall his exact relation to Helen, a family friend or cousin of some sort. She had agreed to meet him as a favour, or so she had thought. Upon beholding him, Kayley reconsidered her original take on the arrangement. It was definitely Helen that had done the favour for her.

Kayley had on more than one occasion, but only after splitting a bottle of wine, shared with Helen her penchant for red-headed men and nicely cropped beards. And there he was, delivered to her doorstep: her own fit and trim Highlander.

She speculated that Adam was likely in his mid-twenties and therefore thought him a little too young for her to seriously consider as dating material, but she allowed herself the acknowledgement that he would definitely be a nice distraction while he was around. She had to laugh at herself for wondering if he worked with his shirt off. But as Kayley soaked in her first impression of him, the guilty pleasure of her tiny infatuation suddenly, agonizingly, crashed into the recalled calamity of her own appearance. She could hear the bagpipes wheeze to silence.

“Kayley?” he asked.

“You must be Adam,” she replied, unsure of whether she had been gawking.

“That I must.” “Come in.”

Kayley stepped back to the foot of the stairs leading to the second floor, making room for Adam in the tight foyer. After entering, he extended his hand in greeting and breathed in the aroma of coffee coming from the kitchen.

“I’m a little sticky,” she responded, while assessing the tackiness of her fingers and glancing down to Terra. “We had a bit of a juice incident.”

Adam smiled and looked down toward Terra, who partially hid behind her mother, but pushed aside her ringlets of red hair for a clearer view. He crouched to her eye level, and Terra moved a little further back. Adam stroked his hand apologetically along his beard as a speculated explanation.

“No. No,” Kayley said. “It’s not you. Waking up to fog has thrown her off. Normally, Terra would be doing laps and offering to give a tour of her playroom.”

“The fog?” he asked Kayley, before repeating his question to Terra. “The fog?”

Terra didn’t initially respond, but with gentle encouragement from her mother, stepped into view, nodded, then retreated.

“The fog makes her anxious,” Kayley explained. “Our doctor figures that it is along the same lines as being afraid of the dark. She believes that Terra will probably grow out of it.”

“Fog,” Adam said to Terra, “that’s just a grownup way of saying the clouds have come to visit.” With the encouragement of Terra’s sudden interest, he continued. “They see us all the time, but from far away. They’re curious and sometimes come down for a closer look, and to play.”

Holding her mother’s hand, Terra stepped out in full view and thought about this surprisingly reasonable explanation. Her confirming glance alternated between Adam and her mother. Terra liked clouds. Assured by their expressions, Terra concluded that it made perfect sense and repeated Adam’s insights to her mother, as if Kayley had just arrived and missed this important piece of information. When Terra was done, a light went on for her and she gave Kayley a befuddled look, which Kayley interpreted as either Why didn’t you tell me? or Shouldn’t you already know this stuff by now? A laugh bounced from Kayley as she nodded at her daughter. Although triggered by her daughter’s behaviour, her joy in the moment lay not only in the humour she had found in the childlike easiness of Adam’s solution, but also in the release of a long- standing concern.

“Adam is right,” Kayley said.

He was right, Kayley thought when she looked at him. Fog was just a grownup way of saying that the clouds have landed. It was that simple. He seemed a little older to her than her initial mid-twenties guess. Kayley caught herself in content admiration, then soberly wondered how long she’d been smiling.

“Sorry to have to ask this,” she managed, “but do you mind if we just finish off with breakfast? We’re running a little behind.”

“Sure. No rush.”

Adam enjoyed the idea of extending their time together. After removing his boots, he followed Kayley’s waved invitation to join them. Within the small confines of the available floor space, he could have almost reached out from the foyer and grabbed the chair at the head of the table without ever moving.

“Coffee?” Kayley asked, while assisting Terra into her chair. “Sure,” Adam replied as he sat down.

“I’ll just get Terra settled.”

The glass table and four chairs were all that could fit between the window wall at the front of the townhouse and the short jut of lower cabinets that denoted the threshold of the kitchen. Although Adam sensed a definite vibe of spent anarchy, he felt a personal serenity as he observed the interaction between mother and daughter.

He watched Kayley while she went to the kitchen and rinsed her hands before mixing water from the kettle into a bowl of dry oatmeal. After adding a touch of milk, she poured a glass of juice and returned to the table with her daughter’s breakfast. A faint aroma of cinnamon trailed behind her, settling around the bowl when it was placed on the table. Extrapolating, Adam wondered about the kind of person she was. It was a question that caused a rewind to his initial surprise when he had opened the high wooden gate leading into her front yard.

Cement patio stones leading up to the entry were grey-black with age and speckled by mould. With the passage of time they had shifted slightly out of level alignment. Midway up the path was a concrete bench, which had settled into a fixture. The fog added a weight of antiquity, an illusion of ruins. In that setting, the sorry condition of the stunted vines and drooping stocks had created a vision of a bygone glory, a secret garden left unattended due to a change in fortune.

“If you don’t mind me asking? What happened to your garden?”

“I am what happened to my garden,” Kayley replied, with a tone of defeated acceptance. She spoke to Adam from the opposite end of the kitchen, with her back to him, as she poured his coffee.

“Cream and sugar?” she asked. “Black is good.”

Adam stood up and remained by the short run of cabinets beside the table, waiting for the hand-off from Kayley. During the exchange, they both became very conscious of their close proximity. A moment made awkward because Adam had assumed that Kayley would be returning to the kitchen, but in fact she was on her way to join them. She peered up to him, relaying her intent immediately.

“Sorry. Yes. Of course,” he said, feeling like a hapless barricade. Adam went back to his chair and Kayley sat across from her

daughter, happy to see her settled down.

“You’re what happened to your garden?” he asked.

“Take a look around,” she replied. “Not a houseplant in sight. I gave up a long time ago. Yet every year, Helen goads me into trying my hand at growing vegetables, and every year, I wipe out a wheelbarrow load of plantings. The tomatoes never had a chance.”

“She can be very convincing,” Adam said. “Hence the career in pharmaceutical sales.”

“You’re going to grow lots and lots of tomatoes,” Terra said between spoonfuls of oatmeal.

“Thank you for your encouragement, Mouse,” Kayley replied.

Helen had provided Adam with mere snippets of Kayley’s story but they had been enough for him to agree to her request to donate his labour, to do the work at cost, and to never let Kayley know. What Helen had not prepared him for was Kayley’s attractiveness. Blue-grey eyes, wavy blond hair currently in the cutest case of bed-head he had ever seen, and evidently, even through her bathrobe, she was pleasantly zaftig.

Adam assumed Kayley to be a contemporary of Helen’s, given that they knew each other from university, and therefore would place her in her mid-thirties, but to him she appeared younger. However, he had long ago given up on guessing the age of a woman based her appearance, preferring to reserve judgement until he heard the woman talk, listening for what she had to say and how she said it.

“Thanks for your patience,” Kayley noted, appreciatively. “Actually, this is nice,” he replied. “A slow ease into the day.” Kayley reached to her daughter and softly stroked her cheek. “Yes,”

she agreed, “it is nice to ease into the day slowly.”

“How do you know Helen?” she asked.

“Three degrees of separation, sort of. Well, two degrees anyway. Helen is the stepsister of my cousin Henry. Her mother married his father. They were both in their early twenties when it happened, so they’re not really that close. No animosity or anything, they’re just not tight. Anyway, he was a math major and during his studies he met a woman named Daleesha who was doubling in physics and biochemistry. Uber-brain.”

“I know,” Kayley said. “I’ve met her.” “Really?”

“Kind of a three amigas thing with Helen, Daleesha, and myself.” “No shit,” Adam said, then glanced at Terra and winced in apology.

“Sorry.”

“That’s a bad word,” Terra noted.

“Terra, he apologized,” Kayley pointed out, and she smiled at Adam. “So, you were saying.”

“Henry and Daleesha lost touch after graduation,” he continued. “Totally unrelated, Helen got to know Daleesha later on through her job in the pharmaceutical industry. At one point Helen was a kind of liaison with the universities.”

“I know,” Kayley reminded him, through a subtle grin. “Right. Three amigas.”

“Sorry,” she said buoyantly, then briefly glanced at her daughter. “We won’t interrupt anymore.”

“In a nutshell,” Adam summarized, “when Daleesha decided to give it all up to open a daycare, she was in the market for a contractor to do some renovation work. In passing, Helen mentioned it to Henry who immediately thought of me. I told my boss and, well, you know the rest.”

“You do big jobs like that and you took on my basement?”

“That wasn’t a big job. And that was my boss. I’m kind of her site-manager slash foreman. This is a little side-project for me. I take them on if things are slow.”

Adam never liked to lie, even halfway. He tended to blush. Yet this time was different. Although he had told a bit of a fib, he didn’t feel the least bit dishonest.

Read the reviews!

“Pairs is a great read, transporting me from daily life into this witty, sexy, and romantic tale that had me rooting for the happiness of the characters I was falling in love with. This is a romance for grown-ups. It shows how love and friendship can bring out the very best and the very worst in us. And it does it so charmingly that I had a hard time putting down the book.”

– Karen Opas, Saturday Night Magazine, the Globe & Mail, and “C” Magazine.

"...a hilarious, sexy, thought-provoking, sweet diversion..."

--Autumn Baker, Amazon reviewer

"Pairs is a story that not only shakes up ideas about gender, love, and sex, it also challenges the traditional concept of family. I highly recommend it."

--Melissa Brown Levine, Independent Professional Book Reviewers




D.W. Richards is a member of the Canadian Authors Association and beyond being a novelist he is also a script-doctor and freelance writer. An excerpt from Pairs will appear in the October 2010 issue of the international literary PDF quarterly Cantarville as a standalone fiction piece. In addition to creative writing, D.W. Richards has a Bachelor Degree in Psychology from Carleton University and is a Certified General Accountant. He divides his time between Venice, Italy and Ottawa, Canada.

Visit his website at http://www.pairsthenovel.com/  or connect with him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/DW_Richards

Also available in a Kindle edition!


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