The Altering Of Love

Lucinda turned off her computer with a contented sigh and stretched her arms over her head, luxuriating in the movement. She'd been typing for almost ten hours straight without stopping, and she knew her back would give her hell tomorrow morning, but for now she was simply happy.

It was worth the discomfort she knew to expect tomorrow, because her book, or The Book, as she'd dubbed it these past nine months, was finally finished. All 432 pages of it. Sure, it was probably still rough around the edges and she would certainly have some editing to do, but nothing major. She was confident her agent would love the book, and this knowledge shimmered in her mind, diamond-bright and just as firm.

As Lucinda stood up from her desk, she gazed around her home office as if truly seeing it for the first time. Half-empty coffee cups and dirty plates littered every visible surface. There were piles of paper scattered about, both marked and unmarked. Some pages were torn in shreds, others crumpled into disconsolate piles. It was, in short, a disaster area. Her ex-husband Peter used to joke that Lucinda didn't write stories, she fought with them, every act of writing a battle waged against paper and ink.

She stared at the mess in her office, wondering (and worrying) about the state of her kitchen. She dimly remembered there being a pile of unwashed plates in the sink, and she couldn't remember the last time she'd bought groceries. "Great. I'll have a lot of cleaning to do tomorrow. I wonder if there's enough money left over this month to hire a maid," Lucinda mused aloud. She'd taken to speaking to herself ever since the divorce. It was a great source of comfort to her.

"But first things first -- a bath. Hmm, now where did I put those bath salts Mom gave me for Christmas..." Lucinda walked out of the office and towards the linen closet, the circular echo of her voice ringing in the cavernous hall. Did the house always feel this empty? she wondered. Strange. She pushed all uncomfortable thoughts out of her head, focusing only on the victory of having completed her novel.

It was a romance, like all her previous novels. Lucinda, who wrote under the pseudonym Davinia Murray, had been hailed as the successor to Danielle Steel. "Only with infinitely more talent," her agent assured her. But Lucinda didn't kid herself -- she knew romance was barely a genre. She wasn't expecting any prizes or lofty recognition for her work, just a steady paycheck.

Though if she had to be honest with herself, Lucinda knew she didn't write for the money. Even if she didn't make a penny for her work, she could never stop doing it. Even if nobody were to read her books, she would continue writing them.

Writing was a selfish pleasure for Lucinda -- she wrote for the sheer feeling of escape it gave her. Her characters were never separate from her -- they were like shells she inhabited for a brief while, and they filled her every waking thought while she wrote their story. Strangely, they always departed after she completed the novel, but while she was in the midst of writing their account, Lucinda lived and breathed her characters.

One of the reasons why her ex-husband had become so disenchanted with her was because he was jealous of her fictional characters. Lucinda recognized this, even if Peter would rather be caught dead than ever admit it. The way he would fly into the boughs whenever she wanted to discuss a particular snag she was having about a particular character's development, the manner in which he took to ironically referring to her books as her "babies," this was all ultimately a result of his unrelenting envy. He was jealous of the fact that the characters took up so much of her time, leaving him only the crumbs of her attention.

Well, he was certainly getting attention now, from his new wife. Lucinda had read the wedding announcement in the paper, seen the picture of the happily married couple. She was surprised, despite herself. She knew this was irrational of her -- it had been three years, why shouldn't he remarry? It's not as though he'd rushed back to the altar. But still, it irked her for some reason. His new wife was blonde, petite, and pretty, and utterly unlike Lucinda in every possible way. Seeing her once husband's smiling face, smiling down at his new wife in a way she'd never seen him smile at her, gave her a twinge in the pit of her stomach that lasted for days.

But it went away, eventually. Writing took care of that.

Having successfully located the smelling salts, Lucinda made her way to the master bedroom, which housed the indoor jacuzzi. She hadn't used it in a while, and it did waste a lot of hot water, but she felt she was entitled to a bit of a celebration. On a sudden whim, she checked the pantry to see if she had any wine left and cheered when she discovered not one but two bottles of Chianti.

A half hour later, Lucinda was ensconced amid piles of bubbles, sipping daintily at a glass of wine. For some reason, she was still within the world of her recently completed novel. It didn't seem to want to leave her consciousness, and the characters -- one, really, in particular -- had dug their heels into her memory, refusing to leave.

Her novel was called The Altering of Love, and it concerned a devious rake of a man called Alastair De Vain who used women and never gave his heart to any of them, until (of course) he met the love of his life, Isabella Mountebank. Naturally, at first she did not want anything to do with him, but their lives kept intertwining, and slowly but surely they found themselves turning towards each other, unable to resist the charms of their beloved.

This character, Alastair, was one that resonated with her for some reason. She found herself suddenly thinking of him during her days, no matter what she was doing, even if she was away from the computer. She could be buying a loaf of bread, and she would suddenly see his devilish green eyes, a waggish smirk turning up the corner of his perfectly sculpted mouth. She would see a black-haired man in the subway, and it would remind her of Alastair's raven curls. This sometimes happened with certain characters that Lucinda created, more often than not male, but Alastair was a particularly clingy character; he wouldn't leave her mind alone.

Just as Lucinda was deciding whether or not to have another glass of wine, she heard the doorbell ring. The clock on the wall read 11 PM. Now who could be here at this time of night?

Lucinda hastily robed herself and walked barefoot to the door, distractedly trailing soap suds in her wake. She hoped nothing was the matter with any of her loved ones, like her mother or even Peter.

She opened the door, the greeting bubbling up at her lips ... and promptly dying prematurely. For there, in the half-light of her porch, stood Alastair, her Alastair, his devilish green eyes sparkling at her, a waggish smirk turning up the corner of his perfectly sculpted mouth. She stared at him, aware that her mouth was hanging open in what was probably a very unattractive way. But she couldn't help it. Oh my God, I've gone insane, she said, inwardly or outwardly, she couldn't be sure. She wondered if perhaps the wine had gone off and considered pinching herself, but then he opened his mouth to speak and she struggled to catch up with his words --

"Hello, love. Aren't you going to let me in?" he said and smiled.


The End

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