When You Least Expect It
The Riley Sisters
By Jennifer Friess
To celebrate the release of When You Least Expect It, Book 2 in The Riley Sisters series, I am holding a giveaway over at popular reader social media site Goodreads. You can enter here to win a copy of The Wind Could Blow a Bug, Book 1: https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/147094-the-wind-could-blow-a-bug
And for you today, dear dedicated blog readers, I have Chapter 1 of When You Least Expect It…
Kiley gazed out the windows into the darkness as she autographed her novel for the last customer in the bookstore. She signed it, then smiled at the customer as she was hurriedly ushered out the door by the owner, Mrs. Bethany.
“Five minutes till close,” she barked.
Kiley got the feeling that Mrs. Bethany didn’t hold a lot of book signings in her store. But Kiley’s agent seemed to be able to get her into almost anywhere: expos, libraries, bookstores—chains and independents. This didn’t always make for a warm welcome, but Kiley was always grateful for anywhere she could get more sales and talk to readers, having one-on-one interaction. Her agent was happy that Kiley was so game to be on the road for long periods of time, traveling around the country. Most authors had 9 to 5 jobs and kids and obligations they were reluctant to leave behind. Knowing that tomorrow would be the end of seven months on the road, Kiley now realized maybe she should have been skeptical about why she was the only one willing to do this rigorous touring. Maybe there was a good reason why sane authors didn’t want to.
Kiley got up and began loading the leftover books onto the metal cart the owner had pulled up next to the table where she had been signing. Mrs. Bethany would place one or two copies back on the shelf, no doubt returning the rest of the stock back to the publisher. Kiley gazed at the cover of her book. The picture featured a good looking man and woman in an embrace. But what always jumped out at her was her name. Even though it had now been a year since the book had first been published, she still felt like she was dreaming when she saw her name in print on the cover of an actual honest-to-goodness book.
Well, it wasn’t exactly her name. It was her pen name, K. Riley, because her given name, Kiley Riley, sounded like a Dr. Seuss character. She couldn’t use her middle name of Renee. Ick. Every Renee she had ever known was a bitch. It was kind of cool being known as an initial. It also doubled as an actual name, “Kay.”
She flipped the book over in her hands and looked at the picture of herself on the back cover. The team at the publishing house had wanted her to change her hair, have it look more natural for the picture, but she had resisted and finally won out. No one seemed to be a big fan of the sleek black bob with bangs she had sported since high school, but she loved it. And it was HER hair. No one else should get a vote.
Most people are pretty impressed when they find out that her first book was published while she was still attending Alva University for her bachelor’s degree. Well, her only published book, so far. If she was honest with herself, she was impressed by this too.
Kiley had done writings that were so much more serious. Started stories that she spent years working on, only to abandon them. She never thought the little free-write she started at 1:00AM about her jacked up life at the beginning of her sophomore year of college would turn into a novel. It only took her three weeks to flesh out the first draft. By the end of sophomore year, Kiley’s favorite English teacher had read it and was helping her to find agents to shop the novel to. It took months before a publisher bought it. It made her a bit disillusioned by the whole process. It wasn’t the romantic experience she had always dreamed that it would be. Writing was the fun part. And she tried hard to remember that through everything that came after. There was another year of going through the editing process. Ugh! She could barely recognize the finished product as her story. The publisher paid her, and slapped her name on the center of the cover, so they must have thought it was still Kiley’s work.
Kiley received her box of advance reader copies on Christmas Eve, her senior year. There was no doubt that everyone received a copy as their Christmas gift. Although, in retrospect, she probably shouldn’t have given copies to her parents. But Kiley didn’t want to think about all that family drama right now. That January, it was available for purchase. While the publisher let Kiley postpone a real publicity tour until after her final classes ended in May, she still did occasional newspaper and radio interviews to support the book. She multitasked and did these while completing her classwork. It was a good thing she had planned ahead and completed her senior research project the first semester, rather than waiting till the second. Actually, Kiley had to give credit to her big sister Jane for that advice. Jane was always the planner in the family.
She didn’t get to go on any big, national TV shows. But she did get to do local morning shows and talk shows. The first time she was super-nervous. But once she learned the TV lingo and what camera to look at, she was as good as gold. There was one appearance she had to fly to, but most she would just drive herself to. If they were on a weekend, sometimes her boyfriend Ted would come along.
He would say, “Let’s pretend this is a little mini vacation.”
She would say, “It IS a little mini vacation.”
But he never liked this clarification, for some reason.
Ted wasn’t scheduled to graduate until December. He said that was why he didn’t mind traveling with her sometimes. All his toughest classes he would be taking in the fall. Ted was a biology major. His plan was to go on and get his master’s degree. He made fun of Kiley when she had first tried to secure an agent for her story. He had thought she was crazy and had delusions of fame. He fed her statistics of how many writers actually supported themselves solely from their craft. Ted was a glass half empty kind of guy.
Of course, they weren’t yet dating at that time. Ted just lived in the same dorm as Kiley. They often saw each other coming and going. They passed each other at the mailboxes and ran into each other in the laundry room. They started dating, well, sometime around when the publisher gave her a deal.
Wait, was that right?
He had asked her out. She had been so flattered, that of course she said yes. They had been a couple ever since.
Ted was the same height as Kiley when he had shoes on, which made him shorter than a lot of other guys. He was skinny. If he forgot to eat lunch, he could be classified as scrawny. He had beady eyes that saw the world through metal-rimmed glasses, which sat atop his nose that didn’t quite fit into his face. He wasn’t classically handsome, but he had a kind of dork-sheik about him.
Once she had finished her classes, she took off for her official book signing tour across the country. Kiley’s agent helped her to set up appearances. She even skipped graduation to go. She had the registrar ship her degree to her mother. Why bother with a ceremony symbolizing the start of her life, when she could already be living it?
It was discouraging, at first, when so few people would show up for her book signings. It wasn’t at all like she had pictured when she daydreamed about becoming a writer. She had imagined being in a big, national chain bookstore with the smell of coffee in the air, and a line of people curving all the way out the door and around the building. But with only two large national bookstore chains remaining, most of her stops were in small, independent bookstores that became cramped when you added an extra table and chairs.
The publisher kept stressing to her how important it was for an unknown author to get out and meet people, to get her name (and book) in front them. They said it was the same as with a new band needing to tour. While it was great having strangers tell her how much they enjoyed reading her book, it seemed everyone always asked the same question:
How did you come up with the idea for your story?
The answer Kiley always gave was that it was based on her own life, which truthfully, large parts of it were. But the truth, which she never told them, was that it had come to her in a dream. But she couldn’t tell people that. It sounded so—Stephenie Meyer. She desperately wanted people to believe she was a good writer, not just a transcriber of dreams. She wanted to have wonderful ideas of her own freewill, not from her subconscious. It seemed like the lazy man’s way to create a story.
She felt more comfortable the more signings she did. Ted came with her for a month in the summer, to keep her company. But a little part of her was happy when he went back to school for the fall semester. She was lonelier now, with no one else in her hotel at night to talk to. But when Ted was with her, she always seemed like she had to put on an act to keep him happy. Like if he saw her pick coleslaw out of her teeth with her black, plastic spork, he might be repulsed and run screaming the other way. She felt like Ted held her to a higher standard than she held herself. And that was kind of annoying.
She snuck in visits to her mom and dad when she could. She talked to her identical twin sister Miley several nights a week on the phone. Miley always said she couldn’t be on a six month trip like that. She just wasn’t programmed for it. Kiley liked traveling and seeing different cities and towns. But she was still lonely. She was becoming too used to this transient life. She needed to get back to reality. And start a second book already! Her future standard of living depended on it.
After the books were all on the cart, Kiley grabbed the other assorted odds and ends from the table. She dropped her empty cup of fountain coke and the crumpled napkin containing the crumbs from her orange cranberry muffin into the garbage can. She picked up her selection of Sharpie markers she had brought, black and silver, fine and ultra-fine point, and put them back into her messenger bag. Just then her cell began to ring. A quick glance at the picture on the screen told her it was her older sister Jane.
“Hi. I’m not interrupting, am I?” Jane asked worriedly.
“No. Perfect timing. I am just about to walk out the door,” Kiley replied.
She covered the mouthpiece of the phone and thanked Mrs. Bethany for having her. She only grunted in reply, although by most book signing standards, Kiley’s little book had done very well for her business tonight. Kiley waved at the two employees in the back of the store who had helped with set up, then pushed her way out the glass door with the metal frame. The little bell chimed in farewell.
“I just wanted to make sure you are still planning on arriving tomorrow,” Jane inquired.
“Yes. I would love to just come straight down now, but I’m in Arkansas,” Kiley said, approaching her white SUV that glowed under the parking lot lights. Climbing behind the steering wheel of her Toyota RAV4, she watched as the owner locked the door and flipped the sign to “Closed.” “I am pretty sure I would fall asleep on the way to Alabama.”
“Oh, that is fine. I would rather not have to worry about you falling asleep and ending up dead in a ditch tonight.”
“Ah, I miss you, optimistic sister,” she replied, sarcasm dripping from every word.
“Very funny. Do you think you will make it here by dinnertime tomorrow?”
“That is my plan.”
“I can’t wait to see you.”
“I can’t wait to see you, too. I bet you have changed a lot in the three months since I saw you last. Time to head to the motel.”
Kiley drove toward the nearest interstate, where she had seen a bunch of chain motels, and a few mom and pop joints that looked like they could be a set for a new horror movie. Coming into town, she especially remembered seeing one that looked like it had recently had a fire, in the last five years or so, with boards covering the windows. But there was a giant brand new shiny banner hanging across that building which read “Now Open for Business.” Kiley couldn’t imagine anyone dense enough to actually stop there to get a room for the night. She was terrified to even drive past the place, afraid that a ghost would come up her tailpipe, or in through her ventilation system, and possess her.
She checked in to a low-budget but reasonably clean-looking motel. She handed over her debit card at the front counter, praying that there was enough money remaining in her checking account for both a room tonight and gas tomorrow. She pulled her little carry-on case to her room, swiped the key card, turned on the light, then fell face first onto the bed. Kiley was so tired. She wished she was still a little kid and could just sleep like this. Her appearance clothes would get wrinkled, but she wouldn’t be having any engagements in Oakley and could have them dry-cleaned before any future ones. But sleeping in her dress clothes wouldn’t be very comfortable.
Kiley pushed herself up off the bed. She pulled an old, stretched gray T-shirt out of her suitcase. She didn’t bother to look for her own toothbrush. She opened the one sealed in plastic wrap provided by the motel instead. Then she laid down on the lumpy mattress. She tried to fluff the flat pillow, but it was no use. The low thread count sheets scratched her as she tossed and turned. She hadn’t paid a high enough price for this motel for them to have a budget big enough to use fabric softener. She turned on the television to her favorite late-night talk show, hosted by Timmy Killon. The radiating glow of the screen and incessant drone of the men talking soon lulled her into sleep.
Follow the romantic entanglements of The Riley Sisters in my books:
The Wind Could Blow a Bug ON SALE for only $.99 for a limited time & GIVEAWAY going on over at Goodreads (ends August 15, 2015)
When You Least Expect It AVAILABLE NOW!
PURCHASE as a Paperback or eBook on Amazon.com TODAY.