“What are you writing?” the bartender at Atomic asks me. I’ve been camped out here for the last several hours, damn my 70 year old house and its faulty wiring. As soon as my raise comes through — if my raise comes through this year — I will absolutely have the whole place gutted.

Honestly, I’m getting real sick of losing power every time a squirrel farts outside.

Hrmmm, that might be a line I can use, I think to myself before realizing that Alan is still waiting for an answer.

“Total drivel,” I say. “It’s my Nanowrimo novel, and I just didn’t get a handle on it this year.”

“But you’re finishing?” he asks.

“Hoping to.” I sigh and shake the mostly-empty beer can in front of me, trying to decide whether I want to order another or get out of Alan’s hair. I’m not driving, and there’s still plenty of sunlight left to get he home if I decided to have one, maybe two more. “Give us another love, won’t you?”

“Why do I think your main character is English this year?” Alan gets another beer out of the fridge and cracks it open in front of me. “You know,Katie, you don’t have to finish. Nanowrimo is between you and your brain.”

“Thank you,” but I have to finish this year. I just…I haven’t finished a Nano since Doc died, and I feel like I owe it to him. So yes, as much as I hate this damn disjointed piece of crap, I am going to see it to fifty-thousand come hell or high water.” I take a swig out of the fresh beer, not even bothering to pour it into the glass I now see Alan has placed in front of me. “Also, Welsh.”

“Welsh?” Alan asks.

“My character. Well, one of them. Honestly, I’ve started and stopped so many mini-stories this year, I don’t know who’s doing what half the time. I think they’re all related though and…”

I stop talking, suddenly struck by brilliance. Of course, it didn’t have to be a cohesive narrative. I just had to tie enough threads together. Just like Richard Curtis did in Love Actually.

“Katie, hey. You okay?” I feel a warm, wet hand fold over my own but I don’t dare look at Alan. Instead, my gaze is focused on the early holiday shoppers in the bookstore portion of Atomic Books and Bar…millions of stories literally and figuratively pass through these two rooms every year, and the one thing, the one person they all have in common is the man who is quietly repeating my name in what I can only assume is an attempt to get me to “Snap out of” whatever funk I’d fallen into thinking about my first love.

It works. Shaking my head I turn my attention back to Alan and smile.

“Welcome back. Go anywhere good this time?” he asks with a smile of his own.

“Heathrow,” I murmur, looking up and locking eyes with his.

And that’s when it happens; I see Alan for the first time. Really truly see him. His long beard, his plaid shirt, and the blue backwards baseball cap that covers his bald head. He’s basically a hipster Luke Danes, and suddenly, I am here for it.

Alan slides his hand off of mine, and for the briefest of seconds I am tempted to grab it back. To tell him that this is okay. That it’s been five years since Doc died and that I didn’t lose power earlier…something he would have realized had he been paying attention to the notifications BGE wasn’t sending. I wasn’t here because I’d lost power; I was here because it was the sixth anniversary of the last night I had come close to winning Nano. The next day, Doc was dead in a motorcycle crash, and I’d never written a decent word again.

I’d walked in this afternoon determined to get out of the house and write. Distract myself and cross the finish line no matter how bad the words are. I’d been coming here a lot over the last six years, and it always seems to have been the one place I could write even a paragraph. Every time I came in, Alan always came over to refill my drinks…first coffee, then eventually he built the bar. It was his COVID project, and I watched it come alive over Facebook updates.

I take another glance at the bookstore then back at the surface of the bar. At Alan’s neat black-painted fingernails. He’s a great guy, and if I’m wrong, I could seriously ruin everything.

“Alan, what time do you close tonight?” I ask. If I’m going to pull this off, I need to do it before midnight. Just in case the curse comes through again, and I lose all my mojo.

“I can keep the bar open until 2 AM. But that’s only if you have a safe way of getting home.”

“Do you count as a safe ride?” I ask. I’d gone for neutral, but judging by his reaction, I’d accidentally flipped the switch over to full-blown sex kitten. With a cough, I add, “I mean, I always feel safe…God, I’m a dork and…”

“Yes, you are; and yes if you need me, I’ll take you home.” The door chime dinged in the front and Alan peeked around the door. “I need to go up front,” he told me. “Honor system what you’d like from the bar and we’ll settle up later.”

Okay, I say, eyeing a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. With a chuckle, Alan reaches over and grabs both it and a corkscrew.

“You’ve got that glint. You’ve figured out how to fix the book, didn’t you?” He asks.

I shrug. “Maybe not the whole thing, but I’ve got enough to pull it together. It’s actually been something that’s been festering for a while I guess. It just revelations itself tonight and considering the date…Anyway. Thanks for the wine and the use of the room.”

And he leaves,and I write…and write…and write. The words flow out of me as I pull together the story of a broken girl who stumbles into a bookshop on a rainy day two weeks after her fiance died. She’s met with tremendous kindness from the shop owner who just pulls up a chair and listens as she pours her heart out. And then, he gets up and brings her a book. And the girl begins to notice that he does that a lot; always seeming to get it right.

And that’s how she slowly falls in love with him. And two years on, she thinks she might tell him that she’s got these feelings, but before she can, the world shuts down. And that’s when they really fall in love. Because they’re writing emails and texts to each other. And they’re vaxed and back, and … nothing. No first moves on either side.

Great, I think. “Write what you know is terrible advice to a romance writer.”

I check the word count and see that I only have to write a thousand more words to make it to fifty-Kay. Suddenly, I realize that’s the choice isn’t mine to make. Maybe, if I’m creative enough, it might not even be Alan’s. It could be a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book where tens of readers year after year pick whether or not Kitty and Adam (I’ll change the names later) will end up together or if the magical powers that made Adam such an empath are directly related to the curse that permantly keeps them apart and are only revealed in the epilogue.

Hrmmmm….better not mix beer and wine next year.

But maybe I don’t need tens of readers to decide their fate. Maybe I just need one vote from the right person.

So I create one last chapter and title it: The One Where Alan Writes the Sequel…..

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