Andrew finally decides to show up for his business meeting sometime in the middle of the afternoon. He walks in, scans the collection of notebooks and binders on the table, and cracks his knuckles.
“Are you ready for this?” he asks seriously.
“I’m so ready for this,” I say. “Let’s do it.”
He takes a deep breath and picks up the first binder.
“These stories about your life are good,” he says. “Well-written, interesting, helpful in explaining a lot in terms of your attitude and behavior. It’s certainly helped me figure out who you really are. I’m sure you feel the same way.”
“Yes, I do. I feel like it’s definitely helped me through my quarter-life crisis. It’s been helpful in terms of figuring out what I do and don’t want out of life. I think it’s a normal thing to review one’s life when they’re at a turning point to help them figure out where they want to go.”
“Agreed. However, I don’t think that’s the real story here. Or at least, you’re not in the right place in your life where you can tell your life story as a successful one. You’ve overcome a lot, but you have more work to do before you get there. I think it’s better if you just leave this one on the shelf for now and come back to it later.”
“Okay. That’s great news, because I’m really tired of Liz and I definitely don’t want to be her anymore.”
“Great. I don’t want you to be Liz either. I want you to be Betsey Horton, Writer Extraordinaire. That’s the real one.”
I smile at Andrew as he puts the binder aside. He picks up the next one in line.
“This road trip novel. It’s not going anywhere. It just keeps ending up back at Bloody Mary’s.”
“I know. I don’t think it is a novel. I think it’s something else. A collection of short stories, maybe? I don’t know. I think I need to travel more first before I can really figure out what it is. It might not even be anything at all.”
“I think you should try to get some of them published somewhere. In a journal or magazine or blog maybe. I don’t think it works as a novel.”
“Honestly, I think I did it in an attempt to get away from my novel.”
“And how did that go?”
“I just ended up right back where I started from: Bloody Mary’s Bar.”
“Which brings me to the next one,” Andrew says, setting the binder aside and picking up the next one. “This one. What are we going to do with this one?”
“I don’t know.”
“Here’s what I think: I think you’re using this for practice. I also think you’re using it as a way to respond to negative people you should be ignoring, thus perpetuating the kind of toxic cycle all of us would rather avoid. I think the real story here is Me, and you should really start to focus on that.”
“Of course I should.”
Andrew sets the binder aside and picks up the one full of stories about my ex-boyfriends. He looks down at it in disgust and walks over to the trashcan.
“These guys,” he mutters. “Forget these fucking guys. These guys are trash.”
Andrew starts throwing the pages in the trashcan one by one.
“Trash, trash, trash, trash, and more fucking trash. Forget them. Lose them. They hurt you. It’s over. You don’t need them anymore. You have me. I’m the one that’s going to take care of you from now on. Do you understand me?”
I nod my head.
Andrew looks at the last clump of pages sourly before ripping them in half.
“Goodbye little vampire bat,” he says condescendingly, spitting on the pages as he throws them in the trash. He saunters back over to me and picks up the final binder. It is stuffed to the brim with hundreds and hundreds of notebook pages. He looks down at it and smiles brighter than I’ve ever seen in my life.
“I made this,” he coos, holding it tightly to his chest. “My little Writer Extraordinaire wrote it just for me. Me. Me, out of all the guys in the whole world. She wrote this whole book for Me. Just for Me. And no one else is ever gonna see it…”
He kisses the binder and presses it to his cheek. Then he holds it up in comparison to meager scraps on the table.
“Can’t you see?” he sings. “Oh can’t you see? What this woman been doing to me…”
I giggle at him. He walks over to me and drops it on the table in front of me, and pulls me up by the hands. He starts humming the rest of the song and dancing me around the room. Then he sits down in my office chair and sets me down on his lap. He continues humming as he opens the binder and skims through it.
“Here’s what we’re gonna do,” he says. “We’re going to take a few of my alter-egos and turn them into romance novels. Then we’re gonna put them on Amazon and sell them under a fake name. Then you can do whatever you want because you’re going to be turning out a regular profit. Got it?”
“I think you’re in a place where you can really do this now and take it seriously. It’s great that you spent so much time cleansing yourself of the negative energy from your past, but now it’s time to move on. Forget that stuff. You have a much brighter future ahead of you now.”
I sigh contentedly and rest my head on his shoulder. We stay like that for a moment before he lifts my chin up and looks down into my eyes.
“Now,” he says gently. “I want you to promise me something.”
“I don’t want to see you writing anything negative about South Dakota again. This is my home, and now it’s yours too. You need to learn to treat it with respect. I know you’ve met some shitty people here, but you’ve met plenty of good ones too. There are plenty of things you like about this state. I want to see you focus more on those things. Do you understand me?”
Andrew smiles at me and swivels around in the chair for a moment before standing up.
“Time to go,” he says, bending down and kissing me on the cheek. “I’ll see you later tonight.”
“See you later, deep-fried alligator.”
“After awhile, crocodile.”
Andrew leaves the apartment and goes off to do whatever it is he does the rest of the time he’s not there.