Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A misunderstanding that creates a serious rift

Here’s my example of a misunderstanding based on someone making assumptions or, as we would say, putting two and two together and making six!

Background: Lisa, a translator at the State Department, has been living for the past year with Paul, a geologist. Paul has been offered the chance of a lifetime, a three-year expedition to Peru. He wants Lisa to go with him, but she has just discovered that she is pregnant. This scene takes place when she returns from an official visit to Berlin where she acted as a translator for Senator Ralph Gregory.

As she went up the stairs to the apartment on the second floor, she tried to ignore the sick feeling at the pit of her stomach. Before Paul got home that evening, she had to make a decision. She could tell him she was pregnant and then let him decide what he wanted to do. But she knew already what that would be, knew beyond any doubt that Paul wouldn’t go to Peru if he knew about the baby.
Or she could decide to go ahead with a termination and then tell him that everything was okay, that she was as excited as he was about going to South America. She’d told Ralph she needed time but time was a luxury she didn’t have. She had to make a decision and knew that, whatever it was it, it would have a profound effect on both of them, maybe for the rest of their lives.
She opened the door, heaved a sigh as she dropped her suitcase on the floor, and went through to the living room. Then she stopped in surprise. “Paul!” she gasped, seeing him standing by the window, looking out on to the street. “Why are you here? Are you sick?”
He didn’t move. “How long has it been going on?” he asked without looking around at her.
Lisa frowned. “What are you talking about?” She took a step towards him. “How long has
what - ?”
He turned abruptly. “You and him – how long?”
“What? What do you mean?”
“Oh, don’t give me that!”
She saw the look in his eyes, a look she’d never seen before. Hurt? Anger? Hatred? She didn’t know. All she knew was that she was suddenly terribly afraid. “Paul, please - ”
“Oh, for God’s sake!” He turned back to the window again and drew in a deep breath. “I saw you.” he said evenly. “I was standing here. I saw you kiss him. And I heard everything. See, the window’s open – your voices carried.” He spun around, his blue eyes like ice.. “So what do you need to think about? What isn’t going to be easy? No – no, don’t answer,” he said bitterly. “I know. I’ve known since last night. I guess I knew before that but like an idiot I wouldn’t let myself believe it.”
“Paul, you’re not making any sense,” Lisa said helplessly. Everything was going desperately wrong and she didn’t know why. This Paul was like a stranger.
“You’re gonna leave me, aren’t you? It’s him you want.” His voice was flat, expressionless.
“No! No – why on earth do you think - ?”
“He was in your room last night.”
Lisa’s forehead creased in bewilderment. Then she remembered the phone ringing and Ralph answering it. “Oh God!” she whispered involuntarily.
“I tried your cell phone but couldn’t get through. So I tried your room – twice, and you weren’t there. And then he answered it.”
“Look, I can explain - ”
“Oh, sure! Just as you can explain this?”
He picked up a tabloid newspaper from the chair and threw it on to the table. Lisa looked down. There was a photograph of herself and Ralph, dancing together at the American Embassy in Berlin earlier in the week. The camera had caught them as they were looking at each other and laughing. She remembered how Ralph had been making wry comments about some of the Embassy staff. But even to her eyes, the photo suggested more than that and her heart sank at the headline above the photo – ‘A New Love for the Senator?’
“Paul, this was nothing. I was laughing at some silly comments he was making.”
“It doesn’t look like nothing to me, and whoever wrote that headline didn’t think so either.”
“And if there’d been a photo of me dancing with the President, which I did, by the way, would you be thinking the same about me and him?”
“That’s different,” Paul retorted. “The President doesn’t call you at ten o’clock in the evening, asking you to go into work there and then. Documents to translate? That was a good excuse, wasn’t it?”
Lisa heaved a sigh as she remembered how that had happened the night before the Berlin trip. “Paul, I told you at the time - two new documents had come in on the wires and he needed them translating before we left for Germany.” She’d known that Paul had been annoyed but had thought that it was because it was the last night before her week away. Now she wondered just what he had been thinking. He’d been asleep when she’d got home at one o’clock and she hadn’t woken him, either then or when she’d had to leave early the next morning. She’d been in such a hurry that morning that she hadn’t even left him her usual note saying ‘I’ll miss you so much’. So what was he reading into that, she wondered.
Then she stopped, as another thought occurred to her. She looked at him wide-eyed. “Why were you calling me so late last night? Were you checking up on me?”
“No, I was calling to tell you – oh, what does it matter? You don’t want to go to South America anyway. I knew that the night I told you I’d been selected.”
“That’s not true. I – I do want to go.” Even as she said it, Lisa knew that it sounded empty, unconvincing. But she couldn’t think straight, her head was all over the place.
Paul was watching her. “It’s written all over your face,” he said, resentment dripping from every word. “You don’t want to go. You want to stay here. With him.”
Suddenly Lisa felt angry. “If that’s what you think, it doesn’t say much for our relationship, does it?”
“And whose fault is that?” he lashed back. “God, I must have been blind. All those trips to Europe, him asking for you every time he had to go, you coming back with all the exciting tales of the places you’d been to. Did you ever listen to yourself? It was always Ralph this, Ralph that, the receptions and galas you went to with him, all the heads of state and foreign diplomats that you’d met, travelling on Air Force One a couple of times with the President. Must have been quite a let-down coming back to this boring life here.”
“You know that’s not true,” Lisa said, more steadily now.
“Do I? I’m not sure what I know or don’t know any more. Except that you made it pretty obvious that you don’t want to go to South America. When Fletcher first announced the expedition six months ago, you were as excited as I was at the possibility of going out there. ‘It’d be a real adventure,’ you said. So what changed, Lisa?”
Lisa stared at him. For one wild moment, she thought of blurting out, ‘I’m pregnant.’ But even now, something stopped her. They could work this out somehow, once she’d had time to sort it all out in her mind. “Look,” she said quietly as she sank down on to the couch, “can we talk about this when we’ve both calmed down? I just can’t think straight at the moment. It’s been a long day and I’m tired.”
It was the wrong thing to say. Paul simply raised his eyebrows and said coolly, “Then maybe you shouldn’t let your lover stay in your hotel room until the early hours of the morning.” He walked past her and out of the room.
“Paul!” she cried. She jumped up but by the time she reached the hallway, he was coming out of the bedroom, carrying a large backpack. “What – what are you doing?”
“Didn’t I tell you?” he said. “Oh no, of course I didn’t manage to speak to you last night, did I? John Fletcher’s asked me to organise the supplies for the base camp so I’m flying out to Lima tonight. That’s what I was calling to tell you.” He shouldered the backpack and headed for the front door, then looked back at her. “So go call your boyfriend and tell him that you’ve got your freedom sooner than you expected.”
Lisa stared unbelievingly at him. She watched, almost as if in some sort of nightmare, as he opened the door of the apartment and then slammed it behind him. The sound of his footsteps echoed harshly on the stars, and she wrenched the door open again.
“Paul! - Paul!”
The door to the street slammed with equal force and numbly she leant back against the door frame. ‘He’s gone,’ she thought, ‘He’s left me.”


  1. It's pretty hard to fix a misunderstanding when one of you is half a world away. Just what was she doing with the Senator last night....

  2. He was helping her to talk through her dilemma - nothing more than that. Her relationship with the Senator was (and continued to be) a brother/sister relationship. Which Paul compltely misunderstood.

  3. This is well-written. What story does it belong to?

  4. It's my first novel which Mills and Boon have had for NINE months - yes, nine. In Feb I emailed them asking for an upsdate and they said I should have a response 'within the next month'. I'm still waiting! And actually,I'm itching to get back with this novel and do a lot of editing, based on what I have learnt from my CPs :-)

  5. Wow, terrific piece of writing. I can't wait to read the rest. M and B must be mad to reject this. It has everything going for it.