Boldly, Sort Of

Melanie finds writing stories of far-away worlds and adventurous travelers easy. Meeting people? The complete opposite!

Determined to change she attends Spec-Con, a gathering of science fiction and fantasy writers where she plans to come out of her shell and meet people. And who knows? Maybe even find her muse along the way!

1

Spec-Con Welcomes Writers!

The welcome poster board stood to one side of the Davenport’s spacious lobby, as if the hotel staff were subtly trying to hide it, but at least Melanie was out of the heat. August in Spokane, what had the convention organizers been thinking?

She knew she had to look a mess after two hours stuck in traffic on I-5 trying to get to SeaTac, a full pat-down by an overly attentive TSA agent, and then the mercifully short flight sitting next to a hefty man in a blue business suit. Chuck. Insurance. And the heat was stuck on too high in the plane so she still probably smelled like Chuck’s sweat and Axe cologne.

Melanie wanted her room, a shower and a clean change of clothes. Then she’d worry about registration. Or at least that was the plan until a middle aged woman with her sandy brown hair up in a bun, wearing a tight red t-shirt and a name tag with a red border appeared at Melanie’s elbow.

“Hi there!” The woman stuck out her hand. Her palm was damp. Melanie let go quickly. “I’m Nancy, with the writer’s convention? You looked like you might be a writer.”

“I am?” What did writers look like, anyway? Was it a comment that she needed to hit the gym, or just her general disarray? Besides, it felt weird to claim she was a writer, but wasn’t that why she was here? “I am. Melanie Cline, thanks.”

“I thought so.” Nancy pointed past the registration desk. “The convention registration is past the desk, down the hall past the restaurant. It’s in salon three. We’ve got signs out, you can’t miss it.”

“Thank you.”

“Sure. Where’d you come in from, anyway?”

“Tenino.” When Nancy’s face stayed blank, Melanie added, “It’s south of Olympia.” Still a blank look. “That’s south of Seattle, on the other side of the state.”

“Oh!” Nancy laughed. “That’s close to Forks, isn’t it?”

Not really, but Melanie nodded. “We have fewer vampires.”

Nancy rolled her eyes. “I know, right? Anyway, if there’s anything you need just let me know, or anyone with a gold cord.” She touched the string on her name tag.

“Not the red shirts?” Melanie asked.

“No.” Nancy laughed. “Those are for the new writers. Are you professionally published?”

“No.”

“Oh, then you’ll get one too in your registration packet. All of the new writers get red shirts. The pros get a choice of blue or gold.” Nancy laughed. “Isn’t that cute?”

“Yeah.” At least they weren’t requiring miniskirts to go with the red shirts.

The door opened behind Melanie. Two young guys struggled to get their bags inside. She used the distraction as her chance to escape. “Looks like you’ve got more guests, I’ll go check in.”

“Okay, bye!” Nancy waved her fingers and hurried over to the guys.

Glad to be free, Melanie hurried to the registration desk.

 

2

An hour later she was clean, dressed in clothes that didn’t smell like an insurance salesman, and didn’t know what to do.

Actually, that wasn’t true. She knew exactly what she should do. Go downstairs and meet other writers. The thought made her stomach clench. Who was she even kidding? Coming here? If she went downstairs she’d probably end up sitting in one of those chairs the hotel had along the sides of the corridors, with her Kindle in her hand, reading someone else’s book. Someone wearing a blue or gold shirt if they were at this convention.

That’s not why she came all this way. That wasn’t who she wanted to be, one of these days she wanted to come back to this convention and be one of the writers in blue or gold.

Melanie picked up the convention t-shirt. Large, she wished that she could have gone for a medium — it had been on the tip of her tongue — but she could tell just looking at those shirts that it would be too tight and make her boobs look huge. A large red shirt. It didn’t have a target on the back, but it might as well.

Tough. She wasn’t going to hide in her room and she wasn’t going to lurk in one of those chairs like a wallflower. She was going to put on this shirt and go downstairs and actually meet people even if it killed her!

Five minutes later she was back down in the lobby where red shirts wandered around like ghosts, hardly daring to meet each other’s eyes. No sign anywhere of anyone in a blue or gold shirt. She had the bag they had given her at registration with the program booklet, cover art post cards, book marks, e-book gift cards, pens printed with the convention name, and a water bottle with a Pocket Books logo printed on the side. Pocket Books, the official sponsor of this year’s con.

Melanie wondered what color of shirt they would wear. None, probably.

Feeling self-conscious she evaluated her options. Intense-looking guy over near the doors with the top hat and bushy beard? No. Not a chance. What about the woman that looked like she might be in her forties, on the heavy side, but with pretty brown hair, that was sitting by herself in one of the chairs along the corridor? That could have been Melanie sitting there in ten years, except the woman was reading on a Nook. And wearing a red shirt, like the rest of them.

Melanie so did not want to still be a red shirt writer in ten years. She’d go indie before then. How many of these writers were self-publishing? No, the woman looked nice but if she was sitting there and Melanie introduced herself then she’d probably get stuck like a fly on fly paper. They’d end up bonded at the hip the rest of the convention, stuck to the sides of the room watching everything happen around them.

No. No! She wasn’t going to do that. There, a the man coming out of the registration salon. Somewhere around her age, not too tall, with dark hair. He stopped right there in the middle of the corridor and put his registration bag between his knees.

What is he doing? she wondered.

He was wearing a long sleeve green shirt, nice, but he unbuttoned it right there in front of everyone. She saw writers throwing him startled glances but he didn’t act like he noticed. He finished unbuttoning his shirt and pulled it off!

Oh my. The man had a nice chest, very well-defined, and six pack abs that she just wanted to lick all over! She flushed. She never responded like that, but the image was strong in her mind.

And with it the other thought she had had about coming to a convention. A chance to meet someone like her, not that it was the main reason at all, but she had considered the possibility.

Whoever this guy was, he wasn’t shy.

With his shirt off he pulled a red shirt out of his bag and pulled it over his head. He had to struggle to get his arms in the sleeves a bit. It looked like he could have gone with a bigger size but once he got it on the red shirt did a really good job of showing off his biceps. The green shirt disappeared into his bag. He straightened up and only then looked around the corridor.

His eyes met hers and stayed. That was it. Her chance. She was going to go right over there and introduce herself to him. Even if nothing else, she wanted to know how someone could be that uninhibited that he could just change his shirt like that in the middle of the corridor.

But then two guys, the same two guys that had followed her into the hotel, walked past him and her eye contact with the man was broken. She started to move forward, but by then he was already walking away down the corridor.

Melanie took a step, but seriously? Chasing after him? Wouldn’t that look desperate or something? Before she could make up her mind he was gone around the corner.

She’d missed her chance with the not-shy guy. She had blown it, no doubt about it. So when she saw a pretty normal woman walking down the center of the corridor she wasn’t going to make the same mistake. She went right over there and introduced herself.

Darla, turned out to be the woman’s name. Thirties, pretty but not too much so, on the fat side of thin. She looked good. Very curvy and she had a great smile. And she was published!

“So why don’t you have on a blue or gold shirt?” Melanie asked.

“The organizers are only recognizing markets considered professional by the writer’s guild. The magazines I’ve sold to are all smaller markets, but some of those are tougher to get into than the big markets.”

Melanie nodded as if she knew what Darla was talking about. “This is my first time at something like this, I don’t want to hog your time, but I just wondered what we do until the reception tonight?”

Darla laughed. “That all depends. I guess the really dedicated writers are up in their rooms writing.”

Melanie shook her head. “I do that all the time. I don’t have trouble getting words down. It’s more meeting people that I have a problem with.”

“You’re doing fine,” Darla said. “I was going to take a walk on the river front, would you like to come along? I’m sure we can find some other writers to meet on the way.”

It was either that or end up lurking here trying to get up the nerve to introduce herself to someone else. Melanie nodded. “Okay! Sounds good. I’ve been meaning to start walking more.”

“Great, let’s go. We can take the side exit back this way.” Darla started walking. “I walk each morning, and usually after dinner in the evening. Unless I’m on a date or something.”

“That’s great.”

“Writing’s sedentary enough, you have to do something.”

3

Melanie stood alone in the big reception room, surrounded by people. The place was standing room only, literally, they had those little stand-up round tables for people to rest their drinks but no chairs. Even the wallflowers were going to have to stand for this. There were two bars running on each side of the room and the tables were scattered around the edges. Mostly it was a sea of red shirts except for the pro guests. Each stood surrounded by a group of red shirts, obvious in their blue and gold.

The program even promised dancing later, something that sent her stomach fluttering.

But after the afternoon she’d had with Darla she was determined to meet more writers. They had walked along the river and had stopped to talk to several other attendees but now she couldn’t recognize a single face in the sea of eager new writers. Darla had begged off attending with a headache.

Except then she recognized his face. And more.

It was the man that had taken off his shirt in the corridor. He was standing in profile, an untouched drink in his hand. With his tight red t-shirt, blue jeans and cowboy boots he looked like a cross between a sensitive, geeky sort of guy, and a cowboy who modeled underwear.

Melanie took a deep breath. And she was going to meet him. Why not? He was probably perfectly nice.

She walked straight to him. He must have noticed her coming because he turned and gave her the biggest smile, one that crinkled his eyes at the corner, as if he had been standing there looking just for her.

His reaction surprised her so much that she turned around to look behind her, because there was no way that his smile was for her.

But there wasn’t anyone behind her smiling back and when she looked back at him, he was still grinning at her.

“Hello,” he said. His voice was rich, gravelly and laced with warm humor. He also had a bit of an accent, Irish, maybe? A geeky, Irish cowboy writer? Such things didn’t seem possible.

He was acting like he knew her and was really glad to see her, both things she had a hard time understanding.

Melanie picked the path of least resistance. She ignored it. Instead she stuck out her hand. “Hi, I’m Melanie.”

Her pulse raced just thinking about shaking his hand but she was going to play it cool. Hopefully her palm wasn’t sticky. Of course there were other things she wouldn’t mind him doing than just shaking her hand.

“I know.” He paused. “Oh, right.”

He took her fingers and raised them slightly as he bent and his lips found the soft skin on the back of her hand. It was only the lightest of touches, dry, just a caress with his warm breath and lips. Then he rose and looked into her eyes with that same impish smile as if they were playing a game, only pretending not to know each other.

Her brain pretty much hit tilt. Her hand tingled as he released it. It was ridiculous but suddenly she could understand how women used to swoon in books. If he could do that much with a kiss on the back of her hand, what else could he do?

He stepped close and his right arm slid smoothly around her hips. His eyebrows raised in a look of concern.

Melanie shook her head and made herself step out of his embrace and away from him. “What the hell?”

His smile came back. “You’re not going to swoon? I didn’t want you to injure yourself falling to the floor.”

Not going to swoon? “What are you talking about? Why would you think I was going to swoon? I mean the kiss was nice and all, but really?”

Now his eyebrows drew together. “But you were thinking about it. You wanted to know what else I could do beside kissing your hand.”

“How would you know what I was thinking?” She raised a finger. “Don’t say you read my mind!”

“Then I won’t say it.” He looked down at his drink, then tilted his head and gave her a long look.

She saw it in his eyes. No. Way. There was no way that he was reading —

He nodded. His smile broadened.

Okay, she thought. If you’re reading my mind then tell me that I’m beautiful.

He smiled really wide then. “You are beautiful.”

The words came out of his perfect mouth with complete sincerity. Melanie found it hard to draw a breath, but she did, and followed it with another.

“What’s your name?” She asked.

“Caleb, I think. I picked that one out but there’s so many names. Do you like it?”

Melanie stepped closer and looked around. No one was listening to them, everyone was busy with their own conversations.

“Yes, they aren’t paying any attention to us, except the one woman over by the bar. She hates you for having the courage to talk to me. You’re the only person who has talked to me tonight.”

“Well, if you keep doing that mind-reading thing, it might put people off.”

He didn’t say anything, just kept looking at her as if she really was beautiful. His lips parted. Melanie raised a finger. “Don’t say it again. It was sweet the first time, but it isn’t true.”

“It is!” He protested with complete conviction.

Which made him either an accomplished, perfect liar, or she didn’t know what. But a mind-reader?

He nodded.

“Stop that. Even if you can read my mind you can wait until I say something to respond to it!”

“Okay.”

Melanie sipped her drink and swirled the taste of the champagne around in her mouth, fizzing against her tongue. The things they could —

No. She stopped herself from thinking about that, for right now there’d be no thoughts in that direction. “So you’re a telepath at a convention full of people who write science fiction and fantasy? Are you a writer too?”

“Yes, and yes. I hope to write stories about your world.”

“Okay, the strangeness meter just dialed itself up another notch. You say that like this isn’t your world.” Melanie shook her head and covered her smile with her hand. “Seriously? That’s what you’re going with?”

Caleb batted his eyes at her and pouted. He looked so wrongfully accused that it wasn’t even funny.

“How are you doing that?”

“Am I doing something incorrect with the expressions?” he asked.

“No, they’re perfect, but too perfect. It’s like if I said make a happy face and you did this.” Melanie smiled her biggest, brightest smile, trying to punch it all the way up to her eyes. “Only on you it doesn’t look fake like it would if I did it.”

Caleb nodded, his face smooth and thoughtful. “I see what you mean.” He winked at her. “Tone it down a notch, right?”

“Perfect.” And it was. Now he didn’t seem like an excellent actor, but an actual real person.

“I am a person.” His tone had the right amount of grievance laced with humor. “Caleb, remember?”

“Oh, I remember.” Melanie took a deep breath. “Okay. So you’re some sort of alien telepath, Irish cowboy, geek writer visiting our world?”

“That about sums it up.” Music started to play, a bouncy dance song. Caleb gestured to the center of the room where people were starting to dance. “Would you like to dance?”

Melanie laughed. “Why not?”

They found a table for their drinks and then Caleb took her hand in his big, strong and perfect hand, and they danced. He danced as well as he made his expressions or did anything else. He was uninhibited but matched her move for move. When the first song ended Melanie suddenly realized that a bunch of people had made room for them and clapped as they finished.

The next song was a slow one and Melanie pulled Caleb away from the center of the attention into the crowd. His hands found her lower back and held her close, but not too tight, just enough so that she could feel his body without being plastered all up against him. Not, she thought at him, that she would mind that if he wanted to go up to her room.

Caleb bent close, his lips brushing her ear in a way that sent delicious tickles down her neck. “If that’s what you want, it’s what I’ve always dreamed of, I even took this form for you.”

Melanie pulled back. “What are you talking about?”

Their heads were so close together his bright green eyes were just about all she could see.

“I came here looking for you, Melanie. A chance to meet you, before all the world speaks your name? It was always my destiny, to be your paradox, your muse. You said it yourself many times.”

She buried her face in his shoulder and breathed in his scent. Soap and something that just screamed maleness that she couldn’t quite place. She could feel his muscles moving like a caged tiger beneath the shirt and remembered suddenly how he had looked in the hallway, putting on this red shirt.

“So you’re what? Adding time traveler to what you are now?”

“Time and space are linked, you can’t travel in one without the other. And we are linked, too, Melanie. From this point forward in the timeline there can’t be one without the other.”

It should have sounded scary. The whole time-traveling alien telepath who looked like an Irish cowboy crossed with a science fiction geek thing should have been too much.

But it wasn’t. “Okay. Let’s go upstairs.”

Melanie led the way, boldly. Sort of.

<<<<>>>>

3,322 words

Author’s Note

This story is the 16th weekly short story release.

I’m releasing each of these stories, one per week, here on my website. Eventually I’ll do standard e-book releases when I am satisfied that I can create the cover art that I want for the books. In the meantime I’m enjoying these weekly releases. Stories will remain until I get up the e-book versions and at that point I’ll take the story down.

If you’re interested in longer works, feel free to check out my novels through the links at the top of the page or on the Books page. Check back next week for another story. Next up is Magic is Life, a fantasy story I hope you’ll check out.

Author: Ryan M. Williams

Writer and artist, Ryan M. Williams, author of more than twenty novels, writes across a range of genres including fantasy, science fiction, romance, paranormal, and mystery. He holds a Master of Arts from Seton Hill University in writing popular fiction. His short fiction has appeared in anthologies from Pocket Books, WMG Publishing, and in On Spec Magazine. He currently attends San Jose State University, pursuing a Master of Information and Library Science degree.