Friday, July 8, 2011

First Kiss...excerpt from The Cove

“You’re not wearing your engagement ring,” Todd’s statement held a little sarcasm, but more curiosity than anything. Gail was standing in the doorway, still dripping wet from swimming. Todd handed her a towel.

“I can’t swim with it on,” Gail replied, wrapping the towel around her and trying to stop the majority of the water from hitting the floor before it made too much of a mess in his kitchen. “Could you imagine if I lost it? Ugh. That would be awful.”

“Yeah, your fiancé must have spent a lot of money on it.”

“Why are you being so sarcastic tonight?” she asked, heading for the bathroom. He didn’t answer her question, just walked back over to the kitchen counter where he’d been making smoothies.

“Do you want bananas in it?” he asked, calling to her over his shoulder.

“Of course,” she called back through the bathroom door. She was getting way too comfortable at his house. She laid her swimsuit across the tub, changed into the clothes he'd laid out for her, and wrapped the towel around her head. He was just finishing with the blender when she opened the bathroom door. He handed her a glass with a big straw stuck into it like he always did. She collapsed onto the sofa, tucking her legs up under her. It was too warm for a fire in the fireplace, so the room seemed very quiet.

Todd sat down on the chair across the room. The cottage wasn’t big enough for the space between them to be very far, but the point was clear. He didn’t want to sit next to her. He sipped his smoothie and said the last thing she would have expected.

“Did you know that I’m rich?”

“What?” she asked, sitting up a little.

“Yeah, I’m very wealthy. Probably more so even than your dad.”

“What are you talking about?” she demanded. She shook her hair down from the towel and looked up at him. “And where did this come from?” She didn’t mean, where did the money come from. She meant, why were they having this conversation. But he answered the other way.

“My parents left me a lot of money when they died,” he sat back and looked at her, a little smug.

“So,” it was more a question than a statement.

“So, after I sold their house up in South Bend, I had even more money.”

“Was it a…big house?” she asked, kind of glancing around at the small cottage where they were sitting. Her voice had dropped almost to a whisper.

“Really big. This is the cottage they would come to in order to ‘get away from the corporate world’ as my dad liked to say.”

“Okay…so why are we having this conversation?” she asked him, more directly this time.

“All I’m saying is that I’m not impressed with the fancy ring, and the fancy guy you’re supposedly engaged to.”

“Todd,” she sat forward a little, not really meaning to, it just sort of happened. “I like you the way you are. You don’t have to be rich, or poor, or anything in between. I just like you.”

“But you love him, right?”

Gail stumbled with an answer, not really sure what he was implying. No…knowing exactly what he was implying. Her breathing quickened again, and she wasn’t thinking about Stephan at all. She was thinking about Todd. She’d been thinking about Todd for a long time. Way more than she was willing to admit to herself. She looked away from him and got up off the couch. She walked to the sliding glass door and looked out into the night, out toward the cove. She couldn’t really see much, with the lights on inside the house, and no prominant moon outside. For a minute, she stared at her own reflection and took a drink of her smoothie absentmindedly.

Suddenly, he was there behind her. He took her drink from her hand and set it down on the table. His hands wrapped around her waist and his face came down to her neck. She felt him kiss her very gently and she melted back into his arms. It was the most amazing feeling she’d ever felt.

There was that yearning inside of her that she’d been waiting for all these years. She knew it now. She felt it now. It became very clear that if she married Stephan, she was making the biggest mistake of her life, of her existence. He gently took her shoulders and turned her around. His hands reached up to her face and lifted it to his. He kissed her once, twice, very softly. She almost fell over. She closed her eyes and let him hold her like that for a long moment, his face just inches from hers. She could feel his warm breath, and knew that his breathing was faster than normal. Hers was too. When she opened her eyes, he was looking down at her, searching her eyes for the answer he knew was there. She didn’t love Stephan, and he knew it. She loved Todd, and he knew that too.

“I’m going to take you home now, okay?”

“Okay,” her voice was no more than a whisper. He let go of her shoulders and she practically stumbled to the bathroom to change. She didn’t want to give him back the clothes. They smelled like him. He drove her home in silence and she trudged up the hill, grabbing her shorts and t-shirt from where she'd left them by the seawall, and carrying her sandals. She didn’t make it to the house before she collapsed onto the grass at the edge of the lowest terrace. From there, she could look across the cove and saw the lights from his cottage. She listened for his truck as he drove along the coastline, probably going too fast for the tight curves of the road. She waited long enough that he had probably arrived home. A few minutes later, she saw a light shut off in the kitchen. The light in the living room didn’t turn off for a long time. She wondered how long she’d been sitting there.

Read the first chapter of The Cove here: Excerpt from The Cove: Chapter One

Read the next excerpt from The Cove here: The Funeral

My next novel, The Farmer's Daughter is almost complete! Check out an excerpt:
Excerpt from The Farmer's Daughter...I told you that I tip well

I recently lost 42 pounds on the Take Shape for Life program! Want to check out my weight loss transition? Click here! -Julie L. Spencer

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Disclaimer for The Cove

Note: This disclaimer may be part of my novel called The Cove. This will probably appear at the beginning of the book. I don’t know if you would call it a forward or a disclaimer or what. At just after three a.m. last night, I finally stopped writing (not that the book is done-don’t get your hopes too high, I was just tired), turned off my computer and crawled into bed. Then I laid there thinking about these words. I almost got back out of bed to write this down. At six this morning, I almost got up again. At eight, I finally couldn’t stand it any longer. I felt prompted to write this. It reflects some things I spoke to a friend about on the phone yesterday afternoon. I’m not very good about sharing my thoughts out loud, so it’s best if I write them down. This isn’t perfect, and will probably be edited many times prior to it being published alongside the novel. But it’s a start. I hope this helps my readers. Thanks, Julie

Dear Reader,

If you are not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, parts of this book may be confusing to you. So I’d like to take a moment to explain of few things. If you are a member of the church, there is information in here for you too, so keep reading.

All of the characters in this book are members of our church (commonly called Mormons). Because of this, they tend to speak to one another using phrases and nuances that are pretty exclusive to the church. One of the main themes of The Cove is centered around our temples. Throughout the book the characters will just call them the temple. What they really mean is that you could substitute any one of our temples' names in place thereof (134 temples are in operation worldwide as of December 2010). The Salt Lake City Temple in Utah is probably our most famous one, but the people in this book live in the South-Eastern United States and thus are more familiar with temples like the Atlanta or Orlando temples.

Our temples are very special for a couple of reasons. The ordinances that we perform in the temple are very sacred, and speaking about them is handled with reverence. There are two main things that I want to mention, Endowments, and Sealings. Whenever an adult member of the church is prepared, he or she will go to the temple and make covenants, or promises to obey God’s commandments in return for God’s blessings. Most of these promises and blessings are the same as what God made to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, so I encourage you to read the book of Gensesis in your Bible. Going to the temple to receive endowments is something that people are required to do before serving as full-time missionaries or before being married in the temple. The covenants and promises are sacred and special and they are not to be taken lightly. If someone breaks a promise to you, it would upset you. When you break a promise to Heavenly Father, it breaks his heart. Some of the most important promises we make to God are to stay clean, pure, and chaste. You’ll see later in the book how this comes into play.

When we are married and sealed in the temple, we are married longer than ‘till death do us part’ but for eternity. We believe, as many religions believe, that there is a heaven and that we will return to live with God. We also believe that if we are sealed to our spouse, we will be together forever. That is why we as latter-day saints make it our goal to be sealed in the temple. It’s not as easy as it sounds. There are so many pressures and temptations in the world that distract us from this goal. For many people who grow up in the church, the phrases ‘married in the temple’ and ‘sealed in the temple’ tend to be synonymous. They are not. For example, if a person is already married to their spouse and later decides to be sealed in the temple, they can go and perform that ordinance. Because of the seriousness of the commitments that we make in the temple, a couple must have been married for at least a year and be morally prepared to enter the temple. Sometimes, it’s a long process. But we feel that it is worth it. Very worth it.

One of the couples in this book makes a series of very bad choices that prevent them from being worthy to enter the temple. As you’ll see, the pain and guilt that this causes them becomes a central theme to the book. But, as Christians we believe that we can be offered forgiveness through the atoning sacrifices of our Savior Jesus Christ. Not one of us in the world is perfect. Many times we look at others and think that they have it all together; that their life runs along smoothly with no problems. It’s just not true, and I’m not going to gloss over that just for the sake of writing a book. Just because the characters in this book are fictitious, doesn’t mean that they don’t live real lives. They require repentance and forgiveness just like the rest of us.

Repentance is another huge theme in The Cove. I never meant for this book to sound ‘preachy’ and I hope that you don’t see it that way. With relation to the Gospel, the repentance process is more than just apologizing for poor choices; it’s more than just saying you’re sorry. For starters, it involves recognizing that you’ve done something wrong. For all the little things we do wrong on a daily basis, this isn’t all that difficult. Like most Christian churches, we believe that when we are baptized we are washed clean from our sins. When we take the Sacrament, or Communion, each week at church, it is like we are remembering the covenants we made at baptism and that we are once again washed clean. But when we have committed a very serious sin, it is like we are not ready to be washed clean. It is not that we are not worthy to be forgiven; Jesus promised that we would all be forgiven. It’s more like we are not ready yet to forgive ourselves. That’s where confession comes into play. We can confess our sins to Heavenly Father through prayer, but for some grievous errors we need to confess to our priesthood authorities. For a larger congregation, or Ward, this person would be known as a Bishop. In a smaller congregation, called a Branch, there would be a Branch President. Confessing our sins is like taking a load off of our shoulders and allowing Jesus to carry our burden. He’s already promised us that He will; it’s just a matter of us letting go and allowing Him that chance.

But, enough of the serious stuff. The characters in The Cove have a lot of fun also. The four main characters that start off the book are college age. There are a lot of neat programs that our church offers that a specifically geared for this age level. Our Young Single Adult (or YSA) programs are designed to give people 18-30 years old a chance to get together for dances and other activities in order to mingle and have fun in a less-formal setting. We also have Institute of Religion classes (or Institute for short) where the college kids get together once a week for a little gospel study session. It’s a more formal class with an actual lesson and manual, but still a lot of fun.

There are a few terms that you may want to familiarize yourself with. I don’t want to create a glossary for you to read, but here are some of the things you should know. We don’t have any paid ministry in the church, so every job or chore that needs to be done is handled through a series of ‘callings’. From the nursery leader, to the Bishop, and right up to the Prophet; every person coming together to do their part makes for an important connection and helps things run smoothly. The ‘Priesthood’ could take up its own paragraph to explain. I’ll suffice it to say that men and boys in the church are offered the opportunity to serve by being called to offices within the Priesthood. All men who are missionaries, Bishops, Branch Presidents, Quorum leaders, and even the guys who come around to pass the sacrament trays full of bread and water are Priesthood holders. The Relief Society is also mentioned in the book. This is a women’s organization where the ladies in the church serve one another and the people in the community in lots of ways, whether it’s providing a meal to a sick family, sewing a quilt for an orphanage, or just being there for one another as sisters. Which reminds me; in the church we call each other Brother and Sister. As in, ‘nice to meet you, I’m Sister Spencer.’ You’ll hear the characters in the book referring to one another in this way. Home and Visiting Teachers are another term that is used. We have a neat system of taking care of one another and it involves visiting one another and getting to know each other well enough that we can help out when needed. Like a Visiting Teacher would probably know that one of her sisters has a sick child and could probably use a good hot meal for her family, or a shoulder to cry on.

Many of the characters in The Cove are missionaries or returned missionaries. The church had 52,483 full-time missionaries serving throughout the world as of December 2010. They volunteer up to two years of their lives to go where they are needed and to teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Someone who is a ‘returned missionary’ is just that. A person who has served a full-time mission and has come home to go back to normal everyday life. As you’ll remember from my paragraph about temples, all missionaries have also gone through the covenants in the temple also. Spending two years of your life completely dedicating yourself to the work of the Lord tends to change a person. They tend to take those promises pretty seriously, because they’ve seen first hand how the Gospel changes lives. As you’ll be able to see from the way the characters interact, returned missionaries hold themselves to pretty high standards. The Book of Mormon is mentioned in The Cove once. This is a book of scripture that we read alongside the Bible and is another testament of Jesus Christ. Great book, by the way. Well, I’m sure that this list is not exhaustive, so ask me questions if you want more information about things that I talk about in my book. I am in no way an expert on any of this. For proper authority on these subjects, I highly recommend visiting and learning more about the church. Or you can call 1-801-240-1000 to speak with someone directly.

On a more serious note: I never intended for this to happen, but The Cove has a few sections that turned out a little, how should I word this…descriptive. I take marriage and marital relations very seriously and strongly feel that there are some things that should never be discussed outside of the bedroom of a lawfully wedded man and woman. Some of the sections in this book come dangerously close to crossing that line. I apologize for this. I have agonized over whether to remove certain parts or tame them down a bit, but it is what it is. I hope you will not be offended by them. As a whole, I am very pleased with how the story played out and I hope you will be as well. These characters have become very special to me and I hope you will love them just as much as I do. That being said…welcome to the cove. I hope you enjoy your stay. –Julie

Read a couple of excerpts from The Cove:
First Kiss...excerpt from The Cove
The Funeral...excerpt from The Cove

My next novel, The Farmer's Daughter is almost complete! Check out an excerpt:
Excerpt from The Farmer's Daughter...I told you that I tip well

I recently lost 42 pounds on the Take Shape for Life program! Want to check out my weight loss transition? Click here! -Julie L. Spencer

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Funeral...excerpt from The Cove

The funeral was held at the country club. It was a closed casket. Although no body had been found, it was obvious to everyone where Gail’s final resting place was. It was where she would have wanted it. She was in her favorite place. In the water. In the cove. She had swam these waters almost every day of her life. As only Todd knew, she had swam these waters almost every night for the past four months…to come to him. He felt sick. He felt numb. Everyone around him cried. He just stared at the lake. None of them knew that he was in love with her. No one knew that she was in love with him. No one knew what they had done. No one knew about the fight they’d had the night before she’d died. No one knew. But Todd knew.

Bishop Mackenzie said a few words. Todd didn’t hear them. Patrick cried for the girl he had loved since Primary. Stephen cried for the woman he had intended to marry. Catherine and Fred cried for their daughter. All of their friends cried. Everyone cried. Except Todd. Todd just stared out at the lake. None of them knew of his pain. None of them knew that he had just lost his eternal companion. None of them knew that he would spend the rest of his life chastising himself for the choices they had made that led him to never have the chance to marry her in the temple.

The procession drove up the street to the cemetery where her casket would be laid and her headstone placed. Todd rode with the Pedersons. They still did not know the extent to which their daughter meant to this young man. They only knew that he didn’t want to leave their sides. They knew that he was attached in a much more meaningful way than anyone else in the crowd realized. They saw it is his blank stare. They saw the hurt. They knew that if it had been one of them who had died, that same blank stare would be in the other’s eyes. They suspected that Todd was very much in love with their daughter. They let him sit beside them.

A few more words were spoken by the gravesite, and the casket was lowered. Todd just stared. At last it was time for the family to stay with the casket and the rest of the mourners to move on to go prepare the luncheon.

No one moved. Everyone was waiting to see who the “family” was going to be. Who would stay beside the Pederson’s? Patrick and his parents? Stephan and his parents? No one thought twice about Todd. No one really noticed him there.

Patrick had planned to marry Gail for years. He had loved Gail for years. He had held her in his arms on the gym floor of the high school, in a tuxedo and boutonnière. He had spent countless days with her playing in the water in the cove, going for boat rides, taking her water skiing. He had sat by the poolside countless times watching her compete, watching her win. He had written to her every week for two years. He had come home to find her engaged to someone else. He turned his head and looked across at the man who had stolen her from him.

Stephan had publicly confessed his love to Gail. He had placed a ring on her finger. He had known the woman that Patrick had only dreamed of. He had attended college classes with her, sat across from her at Institute class, planned a wedding with her. He looked across at the boy who wanted her back.

Neither of them glanced at Todd. They had both been Todd’s friend. Either of them would have thought that Todd was there to support him. Neither of them knew that their biggest competition for Gail’s affection had been Todd.

Patrick narrowed his eyes at Stephan, suddenly feeling all the anger and rage at losing Gail, and directed it towards him.

“You stole my girl,” he said in a quiet accusatory menace. “I never even had the chance to get her back. You had her wrapped around your little finger. You wouldn’t even let her see me for two minutes to determine if there was anything left between us. You kept her away from me!” Suddenly, Patrick was turned towards Stephan and his father’s hand was across his chest, holding him back. Patrick’s hands clenched into fists again and again several times, trying to calm down, but wanting to direct his pain somewhere else, anywhere else.

“She wasn’t yours to begin with,” Stephan spat back. “She was never promised to you. You never had a ring on her finger!”

“Oh, and you made sure that you did before I even got back. That’s real classy! You knew she was writing to me! You knew even after I got home that she needed more time to decide. You just pushed her and pushed her. She didn’t even come and spend any real time with me since I got home. You kept her all to yourself!”

“I never kept her away from you,” Stephan told him. “If she stayed away, it’s because she chose to stay away. I would never have done that to her. I gave her space. She was distraught over what happened, and spent plenty of time alone to think things through. I loved her. I would never try to force her into anything!”

“Well, I’ve loved her a lot longer than you’ve even known her,” Patrick cried. By then the crowds had lost all interest in leaving. They were hanging on every word the two men yelled back and forth at one another. Still, no one noticed Todd until suddenly he stood straight up; knocking over the chair he’d been sitting in.

“Shut up! Both of you!” he cried. “You don’t love her! You don’t even know her! You don’t know how much she has agonized over the two of you. You don’t know how much she sacrificed what she wanted, to do the things that everyone else wanted for her. You don’t know how she pulls her legs up underneath her sweatshirt when she’s cold. You don’t know that she’s bashful at her photo shoots or that she hates to travel, even for swim meets. You don’t know how her nose turns red when she cries, or that she goes through half a box of tissues crying over you two. You don’t know that her favorite late night snack is a chocolate protein shake with half of a banana in it. You don’t know that she throws up if she eats a hamburger, or any other junk food for that matter. You don’t know that she wears her swimsuit all the time, even under an evening gown.”

Todd looked over at Patrick, “You don’t know how many times she wrote to you trying to explain how she really felt, but then tore up the letter, because she didn’t want to hurt your feelings or distract you from the importance of the missionary work that you were doing.” Then he turned to Stephan, “You don’t know how many times she wanted to break off the engagement, but reconsidered, trying to hold on to something that was never there to begin with.”

Todd lowered his voice, and looked down at the ground. “You don’t know how her hair smells when it’s wet, how her lips feel soft against your neck, how the firelight glows in her eyes…how the morning sun makes her hair look silver.”

The crowd that had gathered looked on with wide eyes and Patrick and Stephan looked across at each other in shock. Tears ran down Catherine’s cheeks and Fred reached a hand across to place it on Todd’s shoulder. Todd looked up at Patrick, and then at Stephan. He looked over at their Bishop, pain clearly showing across his face. Bishop Mackenzie nodded his head slightly acknowledging that he understood what Todd was feeling right then, and that the pain ran deeper than most people could see because of the heaviness of his remorse. Todd turned back around as if trying to see down the hill, see the lake, see her cove.

“You’ve never envisioned what her children would look like,” he whispered. Catherine's quick intake of breath made him turn to look at her. She knew. She was Gail’s mother. She knew her daughter almost as well as he did. She knew in that moment that she had not just lost a daughter, she’d lost a grandchild. She leaned against her husband’s arm, trying to keep her balance. Todd looked at the woman who would have been his mother-in-law and touched the tears that ran down her face. “I'm so sorry,” he whispered.

As he turned to walk away, he muttered just loud enough to be heard by all who were close. “By the way, the name on the headstone is wrong.” Everyone turned their heads towards the grave, still an open hole with an empty casket inside, and looked at the stone. Gail Renae Pederson. Catherine didn’t turn her head to look. She watched as Todd walked away.

Read another excerpt from The Cove:
First Kiss...excerpt from The Cove

Disclaimer for The Cove

My next novel, The Farmer's Daughter is almost complete! Check out an excerpt:
Excerpt from The Farmer's Daughter...I told you that I tip well