So today, before I post my prompts for you and writing podcast later about characters and creating your characters, I decided I would be brave and share my first two chapters of the sequel to Inn Significant, my third novel. I’m dabbling with the idea of a sequel, so I thought I’d share what DRAFTING looks like. This is my FIRST DRAFT. I haven’t really edited much yet at all.
My approach is to just tell the story first. Editing comes later. But I know these characters pretty well at this point (though I am introducing some new ones), but for me, it’s about getting in their heads and telling their story.
Here, then, are the first two chapters of what a sequel might look like if I pursue this. And, if you’re counting words, these two chapters are roughly 4,000 words. #nanowrimo
T h e S e q u e l t o I n n S i g n i f i c a n t (maybe)
C h a p t e r 1
The wind whipped, bending the trees in half, as the storm began to wreak havoc on our small town. The river looked angry, as it tossed the white caps into the air and pummeled the shoreline. We had just spent the previous weekend planting vibrant crepe myrtles, miniature Cypress trees, and a variety of shrubs and flowers around the perimeter of our new, bright white structure with a light grey tin roof. The long, curvy, slate walkway was completed just two days prior, and the lights that lined it were supposed to be installed today.
No such luck.
We were down to the wire with our first wedding scheduled in two weeks, and the storm was certainly going to set back our timeline—by days. All of the tables and chairs were scheduled to be delivered this week, the chandeliers needed to be installed as they had arrived late from our vendor, and the remaining final touches of paint and sinks for both the men’s and women’s bathrooms were on the docket to be finished over the next seven days.
And while all this might sound a bit desperate and chaotic at the last minute, the construction had gone swimmingly. The barn had been built in record time; its soaring, vaulted ceilings and windows allowed natural light to flow inside it—and it turned out exactly as our architect, Simone, had designed it. She was instrumental in planning a venue that suited the land, matched the feel of the existing Inn, and offered a picturesque setting for weddings and other special events. The sliding doors on the river side of the barn were crafted to open fully to a covered patio with waterfront views, and they were dreamy to say the least. We had decorated the patio with potted boxwoods and cascading flowers planted in urns, which we had moved inside last night before the storm hit to preserve them.
This behemoth of a tropical storm, as it was now being referred to by weatherpersons on every news channel, was churning up a lot of debris, and I’d never witnessed the Tred Avon River looking so violent. The Chesapeake Bay was thrashing even more than the river, and pictures of flooded downtown Annapolis had made the news highlights earlier this morning. The images of the storm reminded me of what had happened to Nana’s dear Ferio as he endured that fateful hurricane so long ago. The thought of it all sent a chill up my spine, and I couldn’t help but worry about some folks who may not have taken proper precautions and made their way to safety.
Mother Nature did not mess around. When she had something to say, she tended to say it in a big way, just to make sure we were all paying attention, and we were humbly reminded that we must respect her authority.
I stood on the porch of Inn Significant in my rain boots and red raincoat and watched as Oxford was pummeled. My mother was inside making a huge pot of soup for all of us and wanted us to eat it quickly in case we lost electricity, which was certainly a possibility, but hadn’t happened yet. Despite the deluge from the sky and raindrops the size of small pancakes, it was still warm out. John and I had scurried over in our SUV, crawling at about five miles per hour, but my new house—the one I bought impetuously—was only about three quarters of a mile away. We had secured that property—the one that we would soon live in together—and decided to weather the storm at the Inn. There were no guests booked, as everyone had cancelled when the latest weather report concluded that treacherous weather was indeed imminent.
While the renovation on our new place was being done, John had remained living on the grounds in his cottage on my parents’ property. I looked down and touched the diamond he had given me after we had committed to each other and our relationship. Sometimes it felt surreal.
The ring was stunning—and much bigger than the one Gil had given me during our humble beginnings when we were very young and didn’t have two nickels to rub together. John had a lot of money saved up over the years, and he prided himself on being able to give me a ring that, as he said, “was as beautiful as I was, inside and out.”
Those are the kinds of words you could get used to hearing for the rest of your life.
A bolt of lightning flashed in the distance, and seconds later, the boom of thunder sounded and echoed across the river. I felt the porch tremble, and I must admit, I did as well. It also must have startled the seagull that was perched under a tree, for he took off flying against the torrential rain, battling the wind that offered tremendous resistance. And yet, the seagull somehow prevailed and made it safely to another perch.
I stood on the porch and watched as the river sang a much different tune today than it did on most days in our town; I wanted it all to be over.
There was something ominous about it, and I didn’t care for it at all.
“Emilia—soup’s ready!” I heard my mother call from inside.
My father and John were just coming down the steps, tools in hand, as they were making some minor repairs to the Inn while it was empty. A squeaky floorboard, a leaky faucet, and a screen door that was askew—those were some of the things that needed attention. John had purchased cans of paint two days prior for touch ups and repainting that needed to be done in some of the guest rooms. My mother was meticulous about the upkeep and decorating of all the guest rooms and common rooms at the Inn; likewise, my father was in-tune to scratches on the walls and handles that needed tightening. The tropical storm was keeping us from being outside, so the agenda for the day called for indoor repairs, at least until we potentially lost power.
“Our punch list is almost complete,” my dad said proudly as he took the lid off the pot of soup and inhaled as the steam tickled his nose. My mother gave him a whack, and he laughed.
“Off the goods,” she said.
I know my dad was anxious about our first booked event on-site that would take place in a couple of weeks, and he wanted to make his contributions so that things could run smoothly as we hosted our first wedding with as little drama as possible. Inn Significant’s guest rooms would be full with the immediate family and the bride and groom, and we helped book other guests at the Robert Morris House across the road and at hotels and inns in Easton and St. Michaels. The wedding—the first one we would host on the grounds—was smaller in size with only eighty guests, so we were thankful it wasn’t the full one-hundred and twenty we could seat.
“Look at those sheets of rain,” my mother said. “Are you worried we might have flooding? I hope the plants and mulch don’t wash away.”
“It looks like the storm is taking a turn and will be out of here by tonight,” my dad replied, peeking at his weather app on his phone. “I think this may be the worst of it. Just a lot of rain, but I don’t think we need to worry.”
“That’s a relief,” she said.
I was setting the table and John came up to me and gave me a little peck on the cheek.
“What were you up to?” he asked me.
“Truthfully, not much. I was watching the storm from the front porch until that bolt of lightening and crack of thunder happened, and then I worried about the safety of my friend, the seagull. Then I came back inside and dried off. There’s something eerie about how dark and gloomy it is out there—and the wind! So unbelievable!” I said.
We sat at the kitchen table—the same one that John and I used to make the muffins back when I first arrived at the Inn. So much had changed for me, and yet so little had changed, too. I realized I was full of contradictions at that moment and decided to just eat my soup and stop thinking.
Thinking too much and too deeply always got the better of me, and I’d vowed to give up too much deep thinking altogether. It had a tendency to churn up old feelings and guilt, feelings of love and regret, along with a whole host of “what ifs.” If I were to be completely honest, the hopefulness you feel when you finally realize that you have the capacity to move on with someone else is euphoric at first, but at the same time you never lose feelings for someone who was dead and gone. And that made love a uniquely complicated animal altogether. So it was best not to think too much about it and just—live.
When I mentioned these complex feelings to my mother in the strictest of confidences one night when she could tell something wasn’t right with me, she offered the best advice.
“As Teddy Roosevelt once said, ‘Comparison is the thief of joy,’ you know,” she said. “You can’t compare John to Gil. It’s simply not fair. They are both wonderful men in their own right, but to pit one against the other, that’s just not a kind thing to do. How would you feel if someone did that to you? And let us not remember: Gil is no longer with us, God rest his soul. And so you are left with a man who adores and loves you, and you must allow yourself to move on, Mills, in every sense of the word.” She was right, and I knew it.
Emotional breakdowns often caused people to do the most extraordinarily stupid things.
Of course I shouldn’t have compared John to Gil. Sometimes with an unexpected death, a degree of selective memory and knighthood went along with it. It’s human nature’s rule that we only tend to remember the wonderful and noble things about our love and our relationship when it is no longer viable. We tend not to dwell upon the bad aspects of our relationships. Nevertheless, when someone died young, it was easy to remember them so fondly as to put them on a pedestal, and unfortunately,it had the potential to hinder the building of a new, quality romantic relationship. Why? Because there remained a cruel posturing and it could be summed up with one question: How could someone else ever live up to the fond memory of a dead lover?
This was the question that left me perplexed, and incredibly inane. In the beginning of my relationship with John, as we began to acknowledge that we had a fond and growing romance, it wasn’t entirely easy for me. I still held on to baggage. And the word baggage certainly has a negative connotation. When I look back upon the events of last year and a half, I know that everything happened for a reason, albeit with a little push and strategy from my parents. I was delighted that they got involved in trying to foster a relationship between John and me. They were looking out for my best interests. And as a bonus, they adored John.
Getting close to another person again takes courage, and perhaps I didn’t fully have that courage, not to its fullest extent. I wondered if I needed more time alone—not another year spent wallowing in my misery, but another year of running the Inn, getting back to myself, writing more and finding my independence instead of forging ahead into another relationship, where always in the back of my mind was the possibility that I could lose him. To what, exactly, I wasn’t sure. All sorts of things loomed inside my head. At the time, I didn’t look at this fear as being selfish, but they were certainly grounded in fear. I found myself continually second-guessing whether or not I had completely healed.
And then John said something to me that made me wake up and snap out of it when I finally had the courage to share the feelings I was having with him, honestly and in an open manner.
“Time isn’t always the answer, Milly. Sometimes the answer is just deep down in there—either you feel it or you don’t. And if I’m not the answer that’s deep down in there, then I need you to just tell me. I’m a big boy, and I can take it. I don’t ever want to be the person you are settling for because you lost your husband. I want to be the man you love and want to share the rest of your days with from here on out as you move forward. Settling for me? That would kill me.”
And, quite frankly, hearing him say those words killed me a little.
The fear I had of allowing myself to become closer and emotionally connected to him ricocheted back to me. I regretted everything I had said and did and second-guessed. My heart knew what was right, but my head continued to play tricks on me. My life had become full again, and I couldn’t imagine John not in it.
That was when I knew for sure. I apologized, I cried, but I know I hurt John that day. We pushed back our wedding date several months because he needed to be sure I loved him the way he needed—and deserved—to be loved. Since then, I’ve spent the last six months assuring him that he had my heart. Fully.
There were things you said and did sometimes that you wished you could retract, like an unfounded and misguided story in The New York Times, and yet, just like that story, the ideas, unfortunately, already had legs and had been read and interpreted, and taking them back was not an easy endeavor.
But I was fighting my way back. And I was fighting for him.
C h a p t e r T w o
Two days later, the sky turned a bright blue without a cloud in the sky. I was at the Inn early that morning, and John was already tending to the lawn. I straightened up the Adirondack chairs and cleaned them off with a rag. Inn guests would be arriving later that morning, the first bunch to check in after the storm.
We had ten days remaining until we hosted Inn Significant’s first wedding. The delivery truck appeared with all of our chandeliers and the electrician was on his way with a crew to do the installation. I couldn’t wait to see how the lighting would affect the ambiance of the room. My mother and I had been the interior designers, having spent countless hours researching other venues and picking and choosing aspects we liked from each of those we admired and folding them into our design. Our architect helped us incorporate those features into the structure.
John peeked his head into the office.
“I’m heading over to Home Depot to get some things to finish up the kitchen area in the barn. Do you need anything, Love?” he said. He called me Love a lot, and honestly, I adored it.
“I think I’m good for now,” I said.
“I’m off then,” he said. “And don’t forget about dinner.”
“I won’t,” I yelled back.
I opened up the website and checked to make sure there were no inquiries or questions that needed attention. I continued to blog once a week from Inn Significant, and enjoyed telling the stories of the Inn through our site. Occasionally, I’d receive comments, and I loved responding to people as they asked questions or just said they enjoyed reading the blog. I also enjoyed reading reviews people posted after they had stayed at the Inn. For the most part, they were very, very good, and we all took them seriously.
Next, I checked my emails. Carolanne, the bride who would be our first to host her wedding at the Inn sent me a quick email.
Thank you so much for always answering my questions and getting back to me so promptly, Milly. And thanks for arranging those last minute bouquets for our moms. I am so excited to host our guests at your lovely location. I can only imagine how gorgeous the barn will look. See you next week.
The next email was from someone named Marco DiBlanco. My heart skipped a beat. I opened the email.
We have never met, but I found your website when I was doing a search for my uncle, Ferio DiBlanco. My father passed away at the age of ninety a few years ago, and Ferio was his older and only brother. My father suffered from dementia for the last fifteen years of his life, and it was difficult to get coherent stories out of him during that time. Despite their age difference and Ferio being in America while my father stayed in Italy as a young boy during America’s depression, Ferio and my father kept in good touch and appeared to be very fond of one another. I found some letters after my father’s death that were sent from Ferio to my father, all written in Italian. When I searched online for Ferio several years ago, there was nothing that led me to anything about his life. I had almost given up doing any research at all. That was until I did another search a few days ago and miraculously found your website and your stories. I was intrigued to read about your grandmother and Ferio on your blog, as my father had mentioned Ferio’s American wife when I was younger and he told me stories about their house and Ferio’s job in Maryland. Unfortunately, my father never actually met your grandmother; he only knew of her through the letters Ferio would send home to his family. So all of this to say, I guess the Internet is truly good for some things, no? It has led me to you and to some family history.
I am sure you are surprised to read this email from me, especially in that we are not related by blood. However, we are related by wonderful circumstances. I live in Italy in Orvieto, and I own an art gallerie (or as you may write, gallery). I went to the Rhode Island School of Design and studied art, which is why my English is not so bad (and we were taught it here a little in Italy, too). Ferio was from Orvieto, as well. I am writing to you, Milly, as it is my intention to come and see the place where my Uncle Ferio lived after he left Italy and paint it. I have also read that the Eastern Shore has a vibrant community of artists, and I would like to spend some time in town. I would very much love to meet you and get to know you, as your grandmother was such a meaningful part of my uncle’s life, and I imagine he loved her very much. I feel we are connected through that relationship. As well, three years ago (and two years after the passing of my father), I lost my wife of thirty years to cancer. Sad as it is to say, from what I have read on your Inn’s blog, it seems we also share a loss of beloved spouses.
Would it be possible for me to reserve two weeks at the Inn, so that I might come and stay and meet you and take in the scenery that looks so welcoming on your website? I am not looking for anything free from you as I have the means to pay for my trip and my lodgings. Please let me know if this is possible. I am longing to come back to America for a visit and to reconnect with my family’s history.
Owner, Gallerie Storie Di Vita
Via Santo Stefano, 7, Orvieto, Italy
My mother popped open the door holding an enormous disco ball in her hand.
“Too much?” she asked, holding it up for me to see. Then she took a closer look at me sitting frozen behind the computer. “What’s wrong? You look like you’ve just seen a ghost.”
“I think I may have,” I said.
“So, wait a minute. This guy is Ferio’s nephew? He’s probably my age.”
“I don’t know how old he is, but he is definitely claiming he is Ferio’s nephew,” I said.
“This is getting really interesting,” my mother said, placing the disco ball on the floor. It tried to roll away from her, but she wasn’t having any of that. She pushed it into the corner and then sat down next to me on the white chair. “Honestly, I’m still getting used to the idea that my mother was married before and never told anyone about it. Never told me, her only daughter! Now I have to meet Ferio’s relative, having never known of Ferio before you came to the Inn and discovered our family’s little secret. I mean, who knew? The world is a small one, Emilia Foster. It’s a good thing you’re grabbing hold of it, because my head is spinning, especially after having read my own mother’s journal. Talk about it getting weirder. You better call someone at the networks and tell them the Kardashians are passe. We just might have a reality show brewing right here in Oxford.”
I loved when my mother was funny and dramatic and on top of current entertainment events. She looked at the world in almost the same way Miles did—never too far into the future and with a glint of fascination in her eye. Through all of my dark times after Gil’s death, I needed her, even when I thought I couldn’t take one more day of her trying to cheer me up with a stupid joke or a funny looking stuffed animal. And I actually felt sorry for her even when I was at my lowest, because she, unfortunately, still had the energy to deal with me.
We read through Marco’s email again together, and then looked over the bookings for the next month. We penciled Marco into a room and blocked it off for two weeks so that he could come to America and we could meet him.
He would be our adopted cousin, even if he wasn’t a cousin by blood.
We drafted our email back to Marco and offered the dates that were available for a two-week stay. We would wait for his reply.
In the meantime, there was work to be done, emails to return, a wedding to get in order, and lights that needed lighting. My mother grabbed the disco ball and headed for the door so Ernie could put it in its place. She glanced at me before she walked out, and we grinned at each other as we both shook our heads in disbelief. It was barely ten in the morning, and already, the day’s excitement was percolating. I decided that I would credit the tropical storm for churning up this strange new development that had occurred since its visit. The winds of Oxford were swirling.
I took a deep breath and continued on to the next task. My fingers started typing.
Dear Carolanne—My mother and I cannot wait to help make your wedding magical. The chandeliers are being installed today, and you will make the most beautiful inaugural bride the Inn and barn have ever seen…
—END CHAPTER TWO—
–Copyright 2017/Stephanie Verni/All Rights Reserved
Stephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of Inn Significant, Baseball Girl, and Beneath the Mimosa Tree. Along with her colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse, she is a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt.