Hi guys! Today I am pleased to welcome author Kelly Rand who is hear to share an excerpt with us from her new book, Portrait of a Crossroads. Kelly has also brought a Riptide store credit to give away to one lucky commenter. So please join me in giving her a big welcome!
Riptide Publishing is proud to release their first standalone F/F story, Portrait of a Crossroads by Kelly Rand. Here’s an extended excerpt from the story— This scene picks up right where the official excerpt leaves off. If you enjoy the excerpt, leave a comment letting us know, and you could win $5 to Riptide Publishing!
The next day, Annette sat on the front porch and watched a little plane fly low overhead and disappear over the house. She was in another sundress, her legs even more tan than the day before.
She put her hands on the stack of college brochures in front of her. They were thick and smelled like fresh ink, their covers colourful and happy. On one, three students stood under a tree, their smiles showing rows of perfect white teeth. On another, students hunched over desks, hard at work on exams.
She opened the first one. Sheridan College. One of her friends was going there. The next was Mohawk College, which was the closest to home. But even as she pondered the list of potential majors, she couldn’t decide which one she wanted.
She remembered having hobbies. When she was eight, her dad had started paying for dance classes, and she’d ridden with her friend’s mom once a week with her leotard stuffed in a plastic bag. She’d done that for five years, pirouetting through recitals, curtseying through rounds of applause. She’d felt delicate and limber when she danced, even when her body had started to change and she’d flushed with embarrassment when she’d worn a bra under her sweater, hoping none of the boys at school would notice.
She’d read, too. She used to love to read. She’d be assigned romantic classics—Wuthering Heights and Pride and Prejudice—and devour them in a week. She’d ride her bicycle down the road to a nearby forest and recite “The Lady of Shalott” by a babbling brook like Anne Shirley had done in Anne of Green Gables.
But somehow, in the last year, it had all stopped. She still went out with friends occasionally, the ones with cars that idled in the driveway as she grabbed her coat. But everyone else picked up and ran when the final bell had rung on her high school career, leaving Annette standing in place as streams of cheering students raced past her. She hadn’t been ready to leave high school. She didn’t know where to go now. At some point, she’d known what made her unique, but she didn’t know anymore.
She left the brochures and walked to the edge of the porch, watching the willowy woman trim hedges in front of the house next door. The woman wore her hair in a little ponytail, and a billowing white shirt and jean shorts. Annette inspected the ink on her leg. It appeared to be a vine, maybe, or a thorny collection of roses. The woman snipped another branch and looked up at Annette, and from a distance, Annette felt the eye contact. It was sudden and numbing, and Annette waved. The woman waved back.
Annette had never thought about the women being lesbians. She’d had plenty of friends she could see herself living with. When her dad died, she almost had lived with one of them. Her best friend Marnie’s parents had arrived at their front door asking to meet with Christian, who’d sat at the kitchen table speaking in a low, polite voice with them. In the end, Annette had watched from the top step as they left. “Let us know if you need anything,” Mrs. Williams had said, and when Christian shut the door behind them, he’d sighed. She’d had to ask him three times since then before he’d finally admitted to her what the conversation was about.
Annette tried to recall if she’d ever seen the two women kiss. She’d seen them unload groceries together, a little domestic action that could happen between anyone. Before she realized it, she’d stepped off the porch and headed across the invisible barrier between their houses.
“Hi,” Annette said.
“Hi,” the woman said. She chopped at the bush again, snipping before she stood back and examined it. “I’m having trouble getting this cedar bush even. They told us when we bought it that it needed a special touch.”
The bush did look a little butchered. One side was longer than the other, and there was a big empty spot cut all the way to the bark near the top. “What’s the problem with it?”
“It has to do with the way the branches fall. Or . . . something. I wasn’t paying attention. Otherwise I’d know.” She took off her glove and wiped her forehead with the back of her hand. Annette wasn’t sure how old she was. She guessed late twenties—older than Christian and younger than her old high school science teacher. But Annette suspected her guess was skewed by the mature situations in which she saw her. She was a responsible woman who could direct movers. She was a mature homeowner trimming shrubs. She had a calm presence overall, from the solidity of her hand movements to the sure way she smiled. Annette imagined her chest rising and falling in slow, even movements, as if her heartbeat never quickened.
The woman dropped the other glove on the ground and extended her hand. “Have we ever met? I’m Sadie.”
“Annette.” When they shook hands, Sadie seemed to pump hers harder than necessary, as if anxious to formalize the moment.
Sadie dropped the clippers and sat on the front step, nodding at Annette’s house. “So you live there with your brothers?”
Annette tucked her hair behind her ear and looked back at her house. It seemed funny from over here, with its white clapboard siding and its gravel driveway stained with oil. Gauze curtains hung in the front windows. They were pumpkin-coloured and had been there since Annette was little. “Yeah. Christian and Angel. It sounds religious, I know, but I think my parents just liked the names.”
“I talked to Christian once. I ran out of gas for the lawnmower.”
Annette was still watching her house. “Did he give you any?”
“He did. He looks scary with the motorbike and all, but he was a nice guy.”
The bushes that surrounded Annette’s porch hadn’t been trimmed in years, she noticed. The vinyl seats of the swing were cracking. “We’ve lived there alone since my dad died last year.”
“I know. We’d just moved in. I remember it. I saw the ambulance and . . .” Her voice trailed off, and Annette was grateful. There was nothing left that she wanted to say about it.
A little plane took off and glided over the farm field across from them. A transport truck stopped at the stoplight. Annette knew both of these things without turning to look.
“So what do you do?” Annette asked. She meant as a job rather than how Sadie passed time in general, although she was hungry for either bit of information.
Sadie paused and ran her tongue along her top teeth. She had a tongue piercing—a little piece of metal poked through the powerful muscle to gleam like a beacon. “Come on in,” she said. “I’ll show you.”
Annette followed her through the front door. The thrill pooled in her stomach to finally see the details. Hardwood floor. Freshly painted walls. Thick scarlet curtains that hung over windows that looked out on Annette’s house, which looked small and inconsequential from here. Seeing the high ceilings and the old wooden railing in Sadie’s house, Annette remembered what her father had said. Cracks in the drywall. No foundation. Before the women had moved in, an elderly couple had lived in the home. They’d hobbled to and from their vehicle, or sat in lawn chairs on the front step, watching traffic. They’d cast disapproving glances any time someone left Annette’s house.
The front room smelled of incense and pine needles, a scent that seemed to rest on Annette’s tongue. Crimson furniture adorned the living room—a couch, an overstuffed chair, an area rug. The walls and tables were slate grey. But the furniture and the rows of exotic knickknacks that lined the shelf over the TV were nothing compared to the paintings on the perimeter.
Large portraits sat on easels. In one, an old woman looked winsome, a sweep of white hair dipping over her brow. Her eyes were dark and watery, a weathered hand clutching the front of her dark sweater. In another, a little girl with a cloud of blonde curls and a velvet dress held a bouquet of daisies. In yet another portrait, a stern-looking man with an unfinished shock of grey hair wore a business suit. A paintbrush lay in front of the old woman’s portrait.
“This is me,” Sadie said, making a sweeping gesture at the room. “I paint portraits.”
Annette leaned in and examined the portrait of the old woman. Each crease was a loving stroke. “This is beautiful. How many do you do?”
“Maybe one every month or so. It depends on the complexity. They take hours to do. Hundreds of hours.” Sadie stood next to Annette and looked on with her. Upon closer inspection, Annette saw why Angel called her “the woman with the tattoos.” She had another of a heart on the inside of her wrist. Annette was sure there were more. Maybe one on her back, or on her shoulder, like Christian and Angel. Surely there was one on her chest, maybe a smattering of ink close to her breast.
“It’s like capturing people’s souls,” Annette said, moving to the one of the little girl. “Who orders them?”
“Just people. People who can afford to have a portrait done.” Sadie sat on the arm of the chair. Her hands stayed firmly on her legs. She didn’t twist her hair around her finger the way Annette did, or flinch from eye contact. “What about you? Are you in school?”
“Not anymore. I graduated high school and now I’m just kind of . . . doing this.” Annette shifted to the shelf above the TV and inspected the knickknacks. There was a little wooden carving of a giraffe, its spots a deeper brown. “I’ll go to college one day. I just don’t know what I want to do.”
“Well, what do you like to do?”
“I don’t know. I mean, I used to know. I don’t anymore.” Annette moved down the line to a wooden doll painted with rich reds, greens, and golds. The doll’s eyes were dark and curved, its lips heart-shaped. “I don’t even have a job right now. I’m trying to find one but I don’t have a car and there’s nowhere in walking distance of here.”
Sadie walked to the shelf and opened the doll to show a smaller identical one inside. “I painted those a few years ago. Matryoshka dolls. I’ve always been fascinated by them.” She left the lid off the larger one and set them on the shelf again.
Annette’s hair swayed around her face as she studied them. “They’re beautiful.” She fingered the outline of the largest doll’s face, afraid to touch at first. Then she took its top half and put it back in place.
Sadie stepped back and sat on the couch, crossing her tanned legs. Annette felt the weight of those eyes on her, and she turned on her bare feet to face her audience. Sadie made her confident, she realized. She could stand in her sundress and bear the weight of that calm scrutiny, which in the intimacy of the living room felt like something between desire and camaraderie.
Since finding her father’s body at the bottom of the basement stairs, Annette’s been drifting through her days, watching cars pass down the rural Ontario crossroads beside her house. Her brothers have no great ambitions, but Annette remembers a time when she did. She just can’t remember what they are.
Then she meets her neighbour, Sadie, a tattooed, world-weary, newly single portrait artist. Something about Sadie awakens something in Annette—the essence she captures in her subjects, perhaps, or the way the old familiar crossroads seem so fresh and promising from the view out Sadie’s window.
Annette begins to help Sadie, cleaning brushes and filing invoices between long lazy afternoons of conversations and shared silences. Soon, though, Annette wants more from her enigmatic neighbor, and their slowly heating friendship melts into passionate nights. Somewhere along the way, Annette discovers that her lover has illuminated for her, as with the people Sadie paints, not just her essence but her own endless worlds of possibilities.
Purchase Portrait of a Crossroads from Riptide Publishing here.
About the Author
Kelly Rand lives in southern Ontario, Canada. She has worked as a journalist for more than fifteen years, covering court cases and elections and every kind of human interest story imaginable. She published her first erotic romance in 2012.
She has a particular interest in trans fiction, and has published some and wants to write more of it. She also writes male/male, female/female, and male/female stories that range from figure skater love to sexually disgruntled Canadian musicians. In her more highfalutin moments, she likes to think of her stories as a merger between erotic romance conventions and Southern Ontario Gothic.
When she’s not writing, she likes live music, spontaneous road trips, volunteering with street youth, obsessing over various celebrities, and looking at pictures of cats on the internet.
You can find her at http://www.kellyrand.net or on twitter as @Rand_Kelly.