I couldn’t sleep. My publisher had been calling me everyday, asking where the latest draft was and, quite frankly, I had nothing to give him. I’d been stalling for months but I literally had nothing written down.
I started sleeping with my laptop in case I woke up in the middle of the night, or day, with an idea. All I would do was watch the empty word document, cursor blinking, with my cat sleeping beside me.
I’d gone through a litany of ideas but I always came up empty.
I wrote a successful first book that sold millions of copies. Hollywood producers wanted to turn it into a movie and I was worth a lot of money. I was going to be a sell out.
I listened to my publisher’s voice message again, for the 4th time today.
He was complaining that I’d missed our appointment and that I was avoiding his calls. He mentioned something about the advance that I was given for my second book and angrily talked about the company’s legal department getting involved.
I finally deleted his message.
I looked at my sleeping cat, Homer, and felt a pang of jealousy. “I’m glad you can sleep so peacefully, ya jerk.” I pet his head, still staring at the screen of my laptop and listened to my stomach grumble. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d eaten.
The clock on my computer said it was 1:27 a.m. Too late for take out. Too bad, considering I had no food in the house, other than Plato’s.
I sat up in the bed, tied my hair in a bun and got dressed. There was a diner around the corner from me that was open all night. Maybe food would help my creative process, or lack thereof.
When I got to the diner there were a few people left from the club district getting their hangover cures. Big plates of greasy food and hot black coffee. The diner had a row of tables along the north wall and another along the east wall, which was the non-smoking section. I asked the waitress to sit me at the very back of the smoking section where I knew an outlet would be for my laptop charger. I’d hoped the late night revellers would provide me with some colourful character ideas to use.
After I’d finished my cheeseburger and fries, I sat there for an hour looking out the window. There was nothing to see but I was off in my own world. All I could think about was my publisher and his legal department. I had spent seven years writing my first book, fine tuning it to perfection. They wanted a finished first draft 6 months ago and I didn’t even have one word, never mind a plot or storyline.
I lit up another cigarette and ordered another coffee. I was determined to sit there and come up with ten pages, no matter how long it took me, or how bad the writing was.
I had my thumb on the spacebar, watching the cursor scoot across the screen, trying to drum up a good first word. Something profound. Something catchy. Something….
I looked around for the waitress but didn’t see her. Instead I saw a middle aged man, three booths down, wearing bright neon orange sunglasses and a sportscoat. “I’m sorry?”
“Would you like a twizzler?”
His accent was non-descript and his voice was pleasant. He spoke slowly but his voice was commanding, albeit quiet.
“Sure,” I replied.
He walked over with an unopened bag of twizzlers and offered it to me. I opened it and pulled one out. I hadn’t had a twizzler since I was a kid and felt a bit giddy at the smell of the candy.
“They’re my favourite,” he said, quietly. He walked back to his table, adjusted his sunglasses and stuck a twizzler in the lapel of his jacket.
He was an eccentric man, and very intriguing. “Why are you are wearing sunglasses?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean it’s three in the morning and you’re sitting in a diner wearing sunglasses. What are you hiding?”
“Who says I’m hiding anything?”
I nibbled on the twizzler as I pondered whether I should be speaking to a man with a twizzler in his sportscoat. “What other reason could there be?”
“Because I look cool?”
I nodded slowly. “Okay, I will give you that. You’re wearing bright neon sunglasses in a diner, at three in the morning, with a twizzler in your pocket where a hankerchief should be. You’re definitely cool.”
The waitress, Flo, came over to top up my coffee. As I was adding cream and sugar I noticed the man get up and go to the counter where Flo’s cash register was. I assumed he was leaving and thanked him for the twizzler. He tipped his non existent hat at me and I went back to my laptop, still staring at the empty page. I pressed the backspace button and started typing.
‘In the quiet diner I met a man wearing neon sunglasses. Normally this wouldn’t be a strange thing but it was three in the morning and he had twizzlers in his jacket lapel.’
Was it fair to write about a man who seemed, perhaps, a little off his rocker? At this point I didn’t care. I had nothing else written and thought this could be a good start.
“What are you writing?”
I looked up and Twizzler was still sitting in his booth. “I thought you’d left.”
“No, just paying my bill.” He sipped his coffee and I noticed his glasses were now sitting in the pocket of his waistcoat, snuggling with his twizzlers. “So what are you writing?”
“I’m supposed to be finishing up the first draft of my book.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Supposed to be?”
“I’m a little late.”
“What’s a little?”
He laughed at this and this skin around his eyes crinkled up. Judging by his face he was a kind man. He was handsome, too, for his age. He had white hair and a thin, neatly cropped beard. He also looked a bit sad, though whether this has more to do with the fact that he was sitting in a diner at three in the morning, I don’t know. Then again, I was also sitting at that diner.
He picked up his coffee and walked over, pointing to the seat across from me. “May I?”
“By all means.” I closed my laptop and put it on the seat beside me. He may look kind but it was still three in the morning, after all. “So what brings you here at this time?”
As a writer you become less and less afraid of strangers and look at every human being as a potential character to write about. And this man was definitely a character!
“I went to a movie and then a party.”
“Oh yeah? What movie did you see?”
He shrugged his shoulders and looked out the window, avoiding the question.
“Was it good, at least?”
He nodded slowly, “It was pretty funny, actually. The male character was really good.”
“What’s the movie about?”
“It’s about a relationship between an older man and a younger woman. He’s at the end of his creative career and she’s at the beginning.”
The plot sounded familiar to me but I’d spent so much time hiding in my apartment that I wasn’t sure I knew it. “Sounds intriguing. Do the characters get into a relationship?”
“They become friends, yes.”
I rolled my eyes. “I don’t mean friends, Mr. Coy, I mean do they become romantically involved.”
He thought on this one for a few seconds. “I’m not sure the male lead is all that good looking. And the female character was a very beautiful woman so I don’t see how, if they did, it would be plausible.”
“Why wouldn’t it be plausible? Surely humans don’t need to fit the mould in order to be beautiful.”
“It wouldn’t have worked. She was beautiful and he was old.”
“Just because someone’s old doesn’t make them less beautiful. It adds character, actually, and makes them a more interesting person.”
He tilted his head a bit and looked at me. “What makes a person beautiful?”
“For me or for society?”
I crossed my legs under the table and brushed his leg with my foot. “Sorry.”
“It’s okay, I rather enjoy being kicked by twizzler-eating strangers at three in the morning. Do you want to put your feet on the seat?”
I hesitated a moment. I felt really comfortable with this man, more so than any other potential story character but figured why not. Flo and Joey, the chef, were within yelling distance. Even if this man WAS crazy, I felt relatively safe. I kicked my flats off and put my feet on the seat beside him.
“I am, thank you.” I raised my coffee mug and we toasted.
“So?” He asked.
“So. What makes a person beautiful.”
“In your opinion.”
I looked at the floor and thought about it. “Character. People with character. I once knew a man who had a rather large nose. On anyone else it would’ve been unattractive but on him it gave his face character.”
Turning his head to the side he asked, “How’s my nose?”
I hemmed and hawed, pretending to size his nose up. “Definitely suits you.”
He adjusted his sportscoat like a peacock proudly displaying his feathers.
“Why don’t you take that off? You must be warm in it?”
“I think I will, actually.” He stood and carefully removed his sunglasses and twizzlers and hung his jacket on the back of the seat. “Excuse me, you don’t mind if I put this here, do you?” He asked the non-existent diners. I giggled. He had said this with such deadpan delivery.
Sittind back down he angled himself so that his back was against the window and his left leg was half on the seat. He patted his leg for my feet and I put them back on the seat, being careful not to put them on his leg. He gently lifted my feet off the seat and put them on his leg.
“What else do you think makes a person beautiful?”
I swallowed my coffee before answering. I was starting to wonder if I was being hit on or if he was just one of those guys that makes you feel really comfortable all the time.
“The ability to laugh. People who have a sense of humour, or people who are funny. Whether they laugh at themselves or can make others laugh. People like that are beautiful.”
“I’m funny.” Again, the deadpan delivery.
“Having only just met you, I wouldn’t know.”
“Would you like me to tell you a joke?”
I smiled. “Okay.”
“Oh. That’s too bad because I don’t know any.”
Again, I giggled. I fiddled with my teaspoon and looked at his t-shirt. There was a photo on it of a famous actor and I pointed to it. “Now HE…” and then I looked at the diner’s face. And then all thought left my mind. I was sitting with a famous actor. My feet were on his leg. This famous actor was sitting with me. Me!
He extended his hand to me and said, “Nice to meet you.”
I had to force my hand into his and we slowly shook hands. Eventually I figured out how to speak again. “It’s VERY nice to meet you!”
“See? I’m funny!”
“Well, I wouldn’t say you’re funny. You happen to play funny characters but that doesn’t mean you’re funny.”
“Would you like me to tell you a joke?”
I laughed out loud this time. “I would, but you don’t know any.”
He pointed his finger at me and winked. “Now you’re catching on.”
I took a sip of my coffee and realized why the movie he’d spoken of earlier sounded so familiar. “So this movie you went to see. Were you in it?”
He sat up a little straighter and puffed his arms up. “I happen to play the lead. And a very handsome one at that.” Then he pointed to his nose. “Have you see the nose?”
“I have! And it’s a very handsome nose, too.”
“Thank you. I’ve had 17 surgeries to get it to look like this. I think I’ll keep this one.”
He seemed very shy and timid, yet he was a powerful force at the same time.
I picked up his sunglasses and put them on. “Were you wearing these at the movie?”
“It adds to the aura.”
“Well they’re certainly bright, that’s for sure!”
“What, you don’t like the neon?”
“I wouldn’t say I don’t like it. It’s just very … noticeable is all.”
He was quiet for a few seconds, looking at me. “I wasn’t hiding.”
“You asked earlier what I was hiding from. I wasn’t.”
“I still think you were. Otherwise you wouldn’t be here.”
“Can’t a man come to a diner after the movies?”
“Sure he can. But to continue wearing the sunglasses? Your audience can’t see you in here, therefore your “aura” isn’t necessary.”
“You’re awfully judgemental!” he said, jokingly.
“You should see me at five in the morning!”
He hesitated a count before replying, “I’d like to.”
I could feel my face turning red. Was he teasing or being serious? “Well, I’ll still be avoiding my publisher at five so consider it a date!”
He pulled another twizzler out of the bag and handed me one. I couldn’t resist.
“So tell me about this publisher? Why are you avoiding him?”
This wasn’t my favourite topic to talk about and my body tensed up. With a twizzler in one hand I rubbed my forehead with the other. “I wrote a successful debut novel and they gave me an advance to write another one. The first draft is literally six months late and now the legal department is getting involved. I guess I’m not famous enough to ignore deadlines and get away with it.”
He gently took my foot and started rubbing it. “How much have you written so far?”
“One line?” I closed my eyes. “Okay, you’re really good at that.”
“And your feet are really cute.”
“Much like your nose?”
“I thought we agreed it was handsome!”
“Right, sorry. Handsome.”
We were both quiet for a few minutes. I had my head against the back wall and he was still rubbing my foot.
“I am hiding,” he said, quietly.
I lifted my head from the wall and looked at him, waiting for a one-liner. “From?”
“Myself, I suppose. I fell in love with a woman and she didn’t want anything to do with me.”
“Did she come out and tell you that?”
“She didn’t have to. She was married.”
I didn’t know what to say to that. “I’m sorry.”
He shrugged his shoulders and looked out the window. Still wearing his sunglasses, I snuck some glances at him. He did look a bit sad and now I knew why but it was definitely her loss. He was still an incredibly handsome man.
“What will you do about your publisher?”
I sighed. “Give the money back and hope to god my reputation isn’t ruined. I don’t know what other choice I have.”
“Maybe you should stop thinking about it.”
I laughed. “That’s pretty difficult when he calls me seven times a day.”
“You should throw your phone away.”
“I…” Could I do that? Was that allowed? Everyone has a cell phone these days. “I dunno. I’ll just give the money back and maybe then the stress will allow me to write something.”
He nibbled on another twizzler. “How well did your first book do?”
“International success! I’m apparently worth a lot of money and I’m some phenom that came out of nowhere. Such a joke.”
“How many years did you spend on your first book?”
“Seven. Seven long years and it was a masterpiece.”
“Of course it was! You spent nearly a decade working on it. You can’t expect your second book to come as easily.”
“My publisher can. And does!”
“Tell him to stuff it. Give the money back and write something you love. Forget about your target audience and the numbers. Find a character you love and write about them.”
I nibbled on the end of my twizzler, toying with it while thinking about a character I could write about.
“Here. Come sit here,” and he patted the seat beside him.
I put my flats back on and sat beside him, looking at him as I leaned over the table so as not to be face to face with him. “Oh, come on. I’m not going to bite you.” He angled my body so that my back was leaning against him. He tossed an arm around my shoulder. “There. Isn’t that better?”
I had to admit, he was rather comfortable to snuggle against. “Much, thank you. But who’s going to rub my feet?”
“I don’t remember seeing foot massages on the menu but we could always ask. Flo?”
“SHHH!” I laughed.
Flo came around the corner, surprised to see us snuggled up. All she did was raise her eyebrows. “Flo, can we can a plate of fries and gravy, please?”
Fries and gravy sounded like an amazing idea. I couldn’t believe I was hungry again. I looked at my watch. “5:51 already?”
He lifted up my arm and looked at my watch. “Time flies when you’re eating twizzlers with strangers.”
I held his arm in my hand and looked at his hands, turning them over. “Hands.”
“No, not word association. Hands. I like when someone has nice, well cared for hands.”
He raised his other hand and inspected his hand and then raised mine and inspected them. “How do our hands stack up?”
“Oh, they’re completely atrocious. We should be wearing gloves so we don’t scare small children.”
We continued to snuggle and hold hands while I still inspected his. “Tell me about this woman you fell in love with.”
He sighed a little before speaking. “She wasn’t real.”
I was confused. “I’m sorry?”
“She was real but the woman I fell in love with was a character. She was an actress but I fell in love with her character. I wanted the character. I wanted her to be real.”
“Now that’s complicated.”
He spoke slowly. “It’s also a great story.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, an actor in a movie falls in love with a character in the same movie. You should write that story.”
“Mmm. I’m not good with love stories. I’m better at heartbreak and death. You know, the fun stuff.”
“This would be a heartbreaking story. He falls in love with her but she doesn’t exist.”
“Isn’t that what all love stories are? You fall in love with someone who isn’t real, but is a character being portrayed by someone in hopes of achieving the end game.”
“The end game being?”
“The relationship. We all, in some way, pretend to be better versions of ourselves in order to win the object of our desire. So the story you’re proposing I write happens every day. We all fall in love with the person, only to find out that person never existed in the first place. That person is an exaggeration, for the better.”
“Well I can see why you’re single!”
“Okay, maybe it’s not as bad as I’m making it out to be but it happens. And why do you say I’m single?”
He turned my hand over to look at my watch. “Because it’s 6:21 in the morning, you’ve been here since just after 2 and you’re snuggling with a complete stranger. Attached women don’t do that.”
“I happen to have a very handsome man at home, I’ll have you know.”
“Dog or cat?”
I laughed. “Cat. His name is Homer.”
“Simpson or Iliad?”
“Iliad. I thought it would be an inspiring name.”
“That’s a lot to try and live up to.”
“You’re telling me! He just sits there and mocks me for not writing and then has a nap, meanwhile his name is attached to the most famous writings known to man. Little bastard.”
“I say we change his name.”
“I concur! To what?”
“Twizzler it is!”
When my phone rang an hour later, I groaned.
“Let’s see who’s calling, shall we?” He reached for my phone.
“I already know who it is. It’s my publisher. He calls everyday, on schedule, at 7:30.”
He picked up my phone and answered it. “Hello, Twizzler Residence. How may I help you?” I tried grabbing for the phone but he pushed me away with his other hand. “You’re looking for who? … oh, the writer? … Yes, she is here but she’s writing. Hence being a writer. Boy, you have some nerve disturbing her while she’s working! You ought to be ashamed! … the money? Yes, you can have that back. She’s decided to go with another publishing company.” Again, I tried to grab the phone from him. For an older man, he was strong. He held the phone to his chest and whispered loudly in my ear, “I don’t like your publisher. He keeps telling me he owns you and your rights.” I stopped trying to rescue my phone and gave up. My writing career was over. I got up to go the bathroom and left my phone with him. He couldn’t do any more damage then what I’d already done.
I splashed water on my face in the bathroom and went back to our table.
My phone was sitting on top of my laptop and he had put his sportscoat back on, sunglasses and twizzlers in his pocket. He looked at me and smiled, a small, timid smile. “YOu look exhausted.”
I smiled. “I feel exhausted. I think it’s time to call it a night.”
“Then let’s blow this popsical stand.”
I put my laptop in my bag and pulled my wallet out to pay for my food when he put his hand on my wallet.
“The food has already been paid for.”
I looked up at him and smile genuinely. “One of the last true gentlemen. I thank you, kind sir. For both the food and the company.”
“The pleasure was all mine, madam. Are you ready?” He motioned to the door.
I thanked Flo and we head out into the bright sunshine. I blinked several times, wishing I’d brought my sunglasses. “You’re a smart man, bringing your “aura” with you wherever you go, day or night.”
He pulled his sunglasses out of his pocket and put them on my face. “Better?”
“So which way are you going?”
I told him the direction of my flat and we started walking in that direction, walking arm in arm the whole way.
“What are your plans for later today?” He was squinting in the sunlight so I stopped and put his glasses back on his face and then kept walking.
“Sleep. I’m going to have the most glorious sleep. And then I’m going to call my publisher and send back the advance.”
“Atta girl.” He smiled, put his arm around my shoulders and we kept walking.
“What about you?”
“Sleep sounds good, too. I might run a marathon first.”
“Of course. Don’t forget to do your stretches first. I’d hate for you to get injured.”
We were walked quietly to my flat, both of us immersed in our own thoughts.
“Well, this is me.”
He pulled his arm from my shoulder and looked at me, smiling. “Well, Miss Twizzler. I guess this is goodbye.”
I smiled. “I suppose it is. Thank you for dinner and for walking me home.”
“It was my pleasure.”
I stuck my hand out and he bear hugged me. When we let go I walked up my front steps and waved at him. I always hated goodbyes. He waved back and me and turned and walked away.
When I got into my apartment I pulled my laptop out of my bag and a napkin wrapped around a twizzler fell out. I picked it up and found he had written on the napkin. “Call me when you get up.” I laughed. I didn’t have his number and he knew that.
I pet Homer and put my laptop, the twizzler and the note, on my table. I looked at my bed, beneath the front window, and thought it had never looked so inviting. I flopped down on my bed without even getting undressed and was getting under the covers when I heard my phone buzzing. “My publisher. I guess now’s a good time as any, eh, Homer?” He meowed at me.
“Are you asleep yet?”
Twizzler. “Yes. I’m quite proficient at having telephone conversations while I’m sleeping.”
“Huh. A writer AND a sleep talker. You do have talent! Do you want to go for coffee later?”
“Sure. What time?”
“I dunno. Same bad time, same bad place. You call me and I’ll come pick you up.”
I smiled. “Sounds good.”
Ten minutes later my publisher called.
“Paul, look, I’m sorry. I’ve been having writer’s block and I’m going to return the advance. When I’ve gotten something written then I’ll send it to you and if you still want it then we can talk.”
“I spoke with your assistant already and he told me all about your book idea. I think it’s brilliant and can’t wait to read it. I think the name is catchy, too.”
I was confused. My assistant? “The name?”
“Twizzler. It’s catchy, short and intriguing.”
Twizzler. “What a guy.”
“Nothing. Sorry, Paul, I’ve been up all night and I’m really tired. I’ll call you in the next couple of days, okay?”
“Sure thing. Take your time.”
I sent “my assistant” a text message. “Twizzler?”
“You had the basis for your story the whole time. A couple fall in love with characters they’re portraying, exaggerated versions of themselves in order to win each other over. What happens after that? That’s your story. Now go to sleep and call me later.”
I fell asleep with a smile on my face and a twizzler on my table.