I’ve gotten a lot of comments asking why Sophia’s dad never makes an appearance in the book. And, well, I have an answer for those asking.
Sophia’s dad was originally in the story, back when the book was about 130,000 words. Unfortunately, writers often have to make sacrifices. The industry calls it “killing our darlings”. What they mean by that is . . . we are to cut things from our story, no matter how much we love those things, if they aren’t crucial to the plot or to moving the story forward.
In my case, I was encouraged to even make things not be a part of the plot, just so that I could cut them, as The Forever Girl story was over what is an acceptable length for a debut novel.
I had to look at what could go, and as much as I hated to cut Sophia’s dad, he was one of the obvious cuts. One editor even recommended I cut Sophia’s mom as well. Other than cutting Sophia’s dad, I also combined two characters and cut one of the reveals about that character.
But for those of you who are still dying to meet Sophia’s dad, I have good news! One of my pack rat critique partners, RP Kraul, still had an old version of my manuscript on his computer . . . so now you get to see the outtakes!
OUTTAKE ONE: Dinner with Sophia and her Parents
Empty houses lined the street, and among them rested Mother’s dirty white fieldstone building, shackled with ivy. Inside, she crammed the house with furniture meant to be touched with eyes and not fingers. Everything remained always in its place, in pristine condition, with no personality whatsoever. Her very own plastic world.
I stepped inside, closed the door, and let my bag slip from my shoulder to the floor beside the couch. I nearly choked on the over-perfumed air. The scent of bleach, lemon, and lavender induced an instant headache. Upstairs, I knew, the beds would be made with smoothed sheets and perfect corners.
Mother was at it again: the constant cleaning, arranging, sorting—just more of the same, day after day. She spent far too much time meandering the house, moving ornaments a shade to the left or a smidgen right, flicking a duster where it wasn’t needed, and generally wasting time. But at least she wasn’t at my house.
At the moment, she was rearranging a tiny tea set perched on an end table. “We were worried when you didn’t show. Is everything okay?”
“You know how it is,” I said. I didn’t even know what I was talking about. I just didn’t know how to honestly answer her question without drawing unwanted attention. “I didn’t hold you up?”
“I left the chicken in a little longer, so it wouldn’t get cold. Speaking of which—” She finished her teacup arrangement and scurried into the kitchen.
Oh, the temptation to nudge one of those petite little teacups out of place. But I didn’t.
Dad folded his paper, set it aside, and rose to his feet. His skin creased more around the temples than it had in the past, and a dusting of gray hairs had begun to slowly take over the hairline around his ears. He stepped into the toile-infested living room and threw me a weak smile.
“Hey, kiddo. Dinner’s about ready.” He’d missed Mother telling me the same thing. Nothing came between Dad and his paper.
“Thanks, Dad. But please—stop calling me kiddo.” I gave him a quick peck on the cheek and headed to the dining room table. The room was strewn with ceramic hens—Mother’s latest collection habit. I pulled out a chair to take a seat.
“Be careful,” Mother shouted as she rushed back into the dining room.
“I just antiqued the chairs.” She slowed and dried her hands on a dishtowel. “I don’t want them to get worn from inconsiderate use.”
“Right. Of course,” I said, but she was still looking at me, so I added, “I’ll be careful.”
I examined her workmanship. Sure enough, the chairs had been distressed to appear several decades older than they actually were. Now, as her daughter, it was my job to make sure they never looked a day older than that.
I eased into the chair. Dad sat across from me, and Mother returned to the kitchen to prepare our dinner plates. This was my chance to ask Dad about Elizabeth. She’d been his ancestor, after all. But I needed to get the information out of him without Mother overhearing.
I leaned forward and whispered, “Dad.”
He reached blindly for his drink, head tilted. “What?”
“Shhh,” I whispered, stealing a peek over his shoulder.
He craned his head toward the kitchen, then returned his focus to me. This time he whispered back, mocking my urgency. “What is it?”
A giggle slipped past my lips. “I wanted to ask you . . . do you know anything about Elizabeth Parsons?”
He broke eye contact and straightened in his chair. “No. No, I don’t believe so.”
“I said I don’t. Hungry?”
“I can tell when you’re keeping something from me.”
Mother walked in and set our plates on the table. “Who’s keeping something from you, sweetie?”
“It’s nothing.” I stuck a smile in place. “Dad wouldn’t give me the answer to one of his riddles, that’s all.”
She paused, her hand still on the last plate she’d set down. Her lips pursed together, and her gaze passed over Dad and me. “Well,” she said, hesitating to release the plate before sitting between us, “guess we had better say prayer.”
That was it? She wasn’t going to press us for the truth?
She bowed her head, and I copied her posture, brittle chicken and bloated cauliflower staring up from my plate. We said silent ‘Amens’ before eating. After taking a bite, I glanced at Dad. He drank his water more than ate his food. At that rate, he would need three refills before we finished dinner.
He plastered a big smile on his face. “Tastes great, Kath.”
I sipped my iced tea to hide my amusement, but ended up having to hold back from choking. Too much mint.
Mother, being the sort who couldn’t wait to hear what she would say next, hadn’t heard Dad or my muffled cough, and plunged straight into her usual incessant chatter. “Sophia, don’t you think your dad and I should buy a bigger house?”
‘No’ would have been the honest answer. They barely paid their bills here. But arguing with her was like trying to blow out a light bulb. “Sure . . . . Can I ask why?”
Dad dropped his hands to the table, still holding his utensils, and scoffed.
Mother ignored him, keeping her focus on me. “I had a dream that we would come into a lot of money. It was a God dream.”
“Oh . . . . What happened?” I asked, knowing that was what she wanted.
The smile she returned had nothing behind it but teeth. “Your dad and I were in a car, and we found a bag of money. Some people tried to take the money back, but we knew it was God’s money for us.”
As she spoke, she kept stealing furtive glances in Dad’s direction. I sort of felt like saying, ‘Don’t worry mom, he’s paying attention’. We all knew her words weren’t intended for me, so when my mind began buzzing with faraway, unintelligible thoughts, I didn’t feel bad about tuning her out. But, just in case, I nodded and murmured the occasional acknowledgement.
The dead animals I’d passed in the forest replayed in vivid recollection. Had it been a bad omen? Maybe I was as crazy as Mother. Attempting to ignore the racing thoughts, I returned my concentration back to her.
“. . . going to start buying lottery tickets. But we have to show faith in God, and I believe He is commanding us to buy a bigger house. The money will come later.”
Inwardly, I cringed. I tried to keep a straight face and resisted the urge to remind her that gambling was a sin—in her book anyway. Taking a bite of food, I nodded and turned my gaze to Dad. Interrupt her, please.
“Sophia,” Mother said, indicating my lack of response as insufficient, “you can’t base your life on what you see in the real world. The devil fills it with illusions, deceit, and lies. Don’t believe what you see and hear. Believe what God shows you.”
Dad remained silent, his face contorted by the way his upper lip had curled into a sneer. It wasn’t a look I saw on Dad often.
The conversation died as if someone had lifted the needle from a record. We ate in silence for several minutes before Mother jarred us back to conversation.
“What is your problem?” Mother spat.
I jumped a little, then realized she was staring at Dad. He was glaring back. She slammed her utensils down, and her knife spun forward across the table’s surface.
My heart thudded in my chest. No one said anything or moved until the knife came to a halt. I really didn’t want to deal with another one of her episodes.
“You have a rotten attitude, Kevin,” she said.
“What?” Dad’s expression softened. He must have seen where this was headed. “No, it’s just . . . .”
Keeping my voice soft, I said, “Why don’t we all relax and talk about this later? Doctor Reynolds used to say—”
Mother slammed her fist on the table. “Get. Out.”
It showed some restraint on her part, but that could have been anything. Maybe she realized she couldn’t hit another adult, or maybe she had a flicker of sanity and didn’t want to hurt her daughter.
Or maybe she didn’t want to inflict damage on the dining chair.
My insides vibrated from adrenaline. I stood, trying to stay calm. I wanted to run for the door, but instead took each step with caution. Blood pounded in my ears as I snatched my bag from beside the couch, let myself out, and yanked the door shut.
OUTTAKE TWO: Breakfast with Dad
“Sophia!” someone called across the diner. Dad?
I spun around and, sure enough, Dad was heading over to the table, dressed in his blue work coveralls with his ‘Kevin’ name-badge sewn above the right breast pocket of his ‘Mister Sparky’ button down shirt.
Crap. I’d forgotten our plans to meet for breakfast. “Dad, this is my friend, Charles. He was just leaving.”
“I didn’t know you had a boyfriend, kiddo. Is this why you invited me to breakfast?”
“Charles is not my boyfriend. And really, he was leaving, weren’t you, Charles?” I glared at him, but he just smiled, eyes glinting of mischief, and extended his hand.
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Parsons.”
“You too,” Dad replied, shaking his hand. “Hope you’ve been good to my daughter.”
“Charles, please excuse us.”
I pulled Dad over to a different table. He dropped his massive key ring next to the napkin holder. He probably didn’t even know what all those keys belonged to. One of them was blue with the Colorado Bronco’s logo on the head. That one was for his work truck’s glove box, where he kept CD’s Mother would kill him for having: The Doors, Queen, Nirvana, Nine Inch Nails, The Beastie Boys, Pink Floyd. The good stuff. When I had lived with my parents, he used to let me keep things in his glove box, too.
“Pushing your old man around, are you?” Dad smiled, deepening the featherlike laugh lines near his eyes. “That guy Charles seems nice.”
“Dad, please. It’s not what you think.” I watched over his shoulder as Charles disappeared out the door. “I just met him, and he’s nobody.”
“Yeah? Well, ‘nobody’ is watching us through the window.” He grinned and waved at Charles.
I yanked Dad’s hand down and looked out the window. Charles waved back. I mouthed ‘Go away’, and he winked before continuing along the sidewalk.
“Awe, you didn’t have to shoo the poor man away. He could’ve had breakfast with us.”
“I am under good authority that he wasn’t hungry.”
Dad raised one eyebrow in his usual, exaggerated way.
I placed my hand over his. “Really, I barely know him. I wanted to talk about Elizabeth.”
His smile faded, and his face paled. He withdrew his hand from my grasp. “I told you, I don’t know anything about her.”
One of the young new waitresses—Michelle, I thought her name was, though no one here wore nametags—came to take our order. After she left, I reached in my purse, retrieved the photocopied document, and flattened it on the table. “This”—I pointed at the page—“was in the trunk you gave me.”
“I’ve never seen it.” Eyes steady, voice strong—he wasn’t lying.
“Maybe not, but you know who she is. Come on, Dad, everything we’ve been through? You can’t hide things from me. You must know something.”
“All right. Okay, just—” He sucked in a breath. “Just slow down. You’ve always been one to jump the gun—make something out of nothing. This isn’t what you think it is.”
“You don’t know what I think.”
“Well, it’s not that, whatever that is. I know you, too, don’t forget.”
“Just tell me who she is—what this paper is from.”
He looked over the page, expression slackened. Then his eyes narrowed and his brow knit together. Hadn’t he ever looked through his grandfather’s books?
The waitress returned with Dad’s pancakes and my banana walnut French toast, the vanilla, nut, and syrup lending a comfort to the air that wouldn’t reach our conversation. Dad leaned back and held the paper aside so she could set the food down. He breezed through the document again as she walked away, even flipping the page over to view the blank side.
“She’s related,” he said, sliding the page back, all five fingertips pinning it to the table. “But I bet you knew that already.” Dad lifted his fingers from the document, then tapped them down again. “Can you understand why I didn’t want your mom to find out about this?”
“Because Elizabeth was a witch?”
“Seriously, Dad? You know the people hanged weren’t really witches.”
“You know your mother.” He sipped his water, keeping his other hand forever on the page. “Honestly, I’m about as clued in as you. Other than . . . well, my grandfather—your Great Grandpa Parsons—believed some weird things.” He paused another moment and added, “I think he was Abigail’s nephew, but he’d ended up in her care as a child. Saw her like a mother. It was a crazy time then . . . .”
I smiled, listening to Dad talk as though he’d experienced it himself. “You mean World War Two,” I said. “So what was his deal? He wanted to help his mom or aunt or whoever she was.”
“He thought this Elizabeth woman had something to do with Abigail’s insanity. Talked about her all the time, was constantly showing us pictures. You actually look a bit like Abigail, though it’s no secret you got your looks from my side of the family.” He shook his head and retrieved his hand, unpinning the page. “But that’s all it was, Sophia. Her insanity, and his equally crazy idea.”
“Thanks.” I snatched up the document. “That’s all I wanted to know.”
“No, no, don’t be sorry.” I smiled brightly, but the smile was a lie.
As we ate breakfast, Dad pestered me for details on my personal life while I tried to evade the questions with small talk about selling Grandfather’s house. When he finished his breakfast and I’d eaten about half of mine, I decided to hurry him out of the diner before our bill came. Dad was forgetful enough not to offer to pay, but too much a gentleman not to if the tab reached us before he left.
“You might want to get to work. Don’t want your job calling Mom asking where you are.”
He stepped away, then turned back. “Sophia,” he said, his tone sinking, “I would have left her, so you could have a better life, it’s just—”
“It’s okay, Dad. I know.” I wished he had tried, but Mother probably would have fought for custody just to spite him. My throat tightened. “I don’t blame you for anything, okay?”
He nodded, and I gave him a hug.
“Talk to you soon?” I asked, stepping back.
“Sure thing, kiddo.” This time, it seemed he was the one covering pain with a smile.
Still want more? You may remember this passage about Lauren from the novel:
She smiled through her tears, and that was what killed me. It was her usual smile, one I’d always thought of as real, and now I wondered how much hurt might have always been hiding beneath it.
But what was THAT all about? Well, the next outtake should shed a little light on that. The reveal might come in another book in the series as well, and I have more plans for Lauren’s character . . . .
OUTTAKE THREE: Lauren’s Reveal on New Years
Over the speakers, the club’s party host began the countdown. The band onstage stepped aside, and a large pull down screen displayed a delayed video feed of the ball dropping in Times Square.
I glanced toward Lauren, but she was gone. Ryan lifted on his toes and scoured the crowd. Everyone cheered and kissed one another as the New Year rolled in, but instead of my lips being firmly pressed against Charles’ mouth, I stood with my arms crossed, pinning Ryan with my gaze.
I walked up to him, sensing Charles a few steps behind. “Where’s Lauren?”
Ryan put a hand to his ear, and I repeated myself, yelling over the music.
“I don’t know,” he said. He ran his fingers through his hair and shook his head, then dropped his hand back to his side. “She stormed off in the middle of the song.”
“What did you do?” I spoke each word in measure, an attempt to conceal my anger.
“Me? I didn’t do anything!”
Studying his expression, I decided he believed himself. I turned to Charles. “I’m going to find her.”
“I’ll get us some water.”
As I left everyone behind in search of Lauren, I caught the sight of one very bewildered Ryan. Poor guy. He really was one of the nice ones. The kind of person who would send a get-well card to a hypochondriac. I didn’t bother searching the crowd; she’d probably gone to the bathroom.
When she wasn’t in the bathroom or by the bar, I checked outside. She was sitting on the sidewalk, leaning against the wall of the club with her knees tucked to her chest. She was crying. I never knew what to do when people cried. I sat next to her and kept quiet.
Finally, she wiped her eyes and lifted her head. She didn’t look at me, but she spoke. “I haven’t talked to anyone about it since before I moved to Belle Meadow.”
I shifted my weight and kept my lips pressed together, unsure what she wanted me to say, if anything.
“I’m not ready, Sophia. I shouldn’t have come. Ryan probably thinks I’m a freak.”
I was at a total loss. This was a side of Lauren she’d kept from me for years, and one I’d tried to ignore even existed. But she needed me right now. All I could do was listen and hope I didn’t say the wrong thing.
She bit her lip and took a shaky breath. “It was my fault, for going that party. I thought when I returned, I would be new again.”
I didn’t understand what she was saying, but I gave her hand a gentle squeeze.
“I barely drank anything, and I can’t remember much, just that I woke up, not home, bleeding, you know . . . .” Her jaw clenched. “At the hospital, my system tested positive for rufinol. The guy—I kept seeing his face over mine, but I couldn’t remember what happened.” Lauren swallowed and took a few labored breaths. “I moved here after that.”
“I’m so sorry.” My body shook, and I pressed my hands hard against the concrete, grit and sand embedding in my palms. I could say a million words, but it’d never make her feel better. “I wish I could do something.”
She shuffled her sneakers and peeled the aglet off one of her shoelaces. “That’s not all,” she said. Her fragile voice trembled and fresh tears trickled down her face.
My throat tightened. I didn’t want to hear anymore, but this wasn’t about what I wanted.
“Three months after, the doctor said I was pregnant. I wanted to keep the baby. But the ultrasound at twenty weeks—”
I nodded, trying not to look at her stomach and imagine there had once been a child growing inside.
“He had Potter’s syndrome. No kidneys. Even if we made it to birth, it was hopeless. I had to—” She broke off, sucking in a ragged breath.
I placed my hand on her back, then in an awkward moment, I hugged her, hurting not only for what she had been through, but because people didn’t often open up to me. She trusted me enough to offer share something that might deepen our relationship, but I could never share my secrets in return. It would put her in too much danger. I released her and sat back, staring into the parking lot. Broken glass reflected light from the streetlamps. Cars parked with tires over the paint marks. Quiet. Empty.
There was no place for me in her world. Any chance I had at that disappeared the moment I’d learned the truth about the immortal world.
“I’m sorry,” I said again.
She half-smiled. “Don’t be. Talking about it helped.”
Talking about it helps.
Sure it would. But I couldn’t talk to her about my problems. My life had shifted. Once, friendship had been everything; now my life was full of obligation. The obligation to keep secrets—not only mine, but the ones of those around me. It was then knew I’d protect those secrets at any cost.
Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed the outtakes I’ve shared here. There are many more, but these are the ones that have been most requested—people wanting to meet Sophia’s dad, and people wondering what Lauren’s role in the story is. Initially, she was the person Sophia risks “losing” by becoming part of the supernatural world. She does still play a larger role in the series, come book four.
So, tell me, which outtake did you like best?