Novel Excerpt: Damned if They Don’t

After their early morning dance practice for the College of Charleston’s presentation of Cabaret, Cleo and Alessa stepped into the October sun.

“Ah.” Cleo sang the word like the first note in Act Two. “Now, this is what I’m talking about. Crisp and cool.”

They were both chorus members, which had at first been a blow to Alessa’s experienced ego. Then, as the graduate school workload steadily increased, she saw the casting snafu as a blessing in disguise.

“Where are we meeting Emily for brunch?”

Of course, Cleo and Emily were practically in love. As soon as they met over drinks at Social Wine Bar on East Bay, the friendship was cemented. Together they bemoaned the dating scene in Charleston, because although there were plenty of eligible bachelors, most of them turned out to be untrustworthy asshats. They thoroughly disagreed on the topic of Graydon. Emily still found his persona deplorable, while Cleo was charmed down to her toes by the tall, brooding musician. Alessa, of course, fell somewhere in between.

She reached for her phone. “Emily was going to text me when she woke up.” She looked at the screen. “Why do I have three missed calls from Graydon?”

“It’s ten AM on a Saturday. Shouldn’t he be hung-over somewhere?”

“One would think.” Just as she was about to call him back, her phone rang again. “Graydon?”

“Hello.” He sounded out of breath.

“Are you okay?”

“No. Yes. Where are you?”

“Just leaving the theater.”

“I’ll be there in five minutes.”

“Wait. Cleo and I are going to …” She held the phone away from her ear and stared. “He hung up on me.” Alessa looked back at her phone. “Emily says to meet her at Virginia’s on King. Apparently they have a mimosa special today.”

“Well, what are you going to do?”

“Graydon said he’d be here in five minutes.” She shrugged.

“What, is he gonna propose or something?”


“I’m waiting until he gets here.”

“You don’t have to. Emily is probably already at Virginia’s.”

“No. I want to see what’s going on.”
The stern look on Cleo’s face told Alessa not to press any further. It wouldn’t have mattered. Graydon showed up across the street in three minutes flat.

Cleo scoffed. “Does his hair always look that perfect?”

“Yes. It’s disgusting.”

“He’s carrying red roses.”

“I can see that.”

He almost got hit by a car crossing the street, which made both the girls scream at him, and of course, he took a moment to cuss out the driver. He arrived on the sidewalk, and despite their hours of dance practice, he was actually covered in more sweat than either of the two women. Alessa pulled a hand towel from her gym bag and dabbed at his forehead and cheeks.

“Thank you.” He nodded.

“Flowers?” Cleo smirked. “What’d you do now?”

He gave his familiar glare, complete with lowered brows and strong set jaw.

“Cleo, why don’t I just meet you and Emily at Virginia’s?” Alessa opened her eyes wide, giving the expressive equivalent of, “Get the hell out of here. Please.”

“Fine.” She winked at Graydon. “You look sexy covered in sweat.”

Alessa agreed, but she wasn’t going to say it—not with the way he was behaving. Obviously he had screwed up, but what was there to screw up anyway? After four months of dating, they still didn’t use titles, no boyfriend-girlfriend. He still slept with other women, and sometimes they didn’t speak for days at a time, despite the fact that they worked in the same restaurant. She’d given up on anything normal with Graydon a month earlier, when another woman kissed him right in front of her. Now this? What, had he gotten someone pregnant?

“Graydon. What’s going on?”

He cleared his throat. “These are for you.”

She took the extended roses. “Thank you.”

“I woke up this morning in the bed of another woman.”

Alessa glanced away down St. George Street.

“I was disappointed when I realized she wasn’t you.”

Alessa mirrored his usual glare.

“Look. You annoy the shit out of me sometimes. Your thigh muscles are much too big for the rest of your body. You make strange little grunting noises in your sleep. You do this thing when we walk together where you rub your hand against my wrist. If you want to hold my bloody hand, hold my bloody hand, Lessa.”

“Are you trying to piss me off?”

He sighed. “The things that annoy me about you have become things I miss when you’re not with me.” She watched him search for the right words—things he rarely got his fingers on. “I won’t be sleeping with other women anymore.”

“You won’t?”

“No. I’ll be a proper boyfriend.”

She couldn’t help but laugh a little. “Graydon, you’re not a good boyfriend.”

“You don’t know that. I’ve never been one before.”

“Right, that might be part of the problem.”

“Lessa. I woke up this morning and for the first time in my life realized I love someone other than myself. And my mum.”

Okay, that made the smirk leave her face. In fact, she felt like she might faint.

“Are you going to be ill?”

“I need to si-i-i-t down …” She dropped the roses and reached for a bench behind her that wasn’t there. Graydon caught her in his arms. Soon, she felt cold wrought iron against the back of her spandex dance pants, but the street in front of her kept going back and forth like the bow of a ship in a storm.

“My God, I’ve killed you.”

She felt his hands on her face.

“Have you had a stroke?”

“No. Have you?” Her vision stopped shaking, and she found his eyes, floating in front of her.

He sighed and leaned back on the park bench, apparently relieved her brain was not bleeding. “Never mind.” He then stood up and looked both ways, prepared to cross the road.


He turned slowly and dug his hands into his pockets. “What?”

“Come here.”

“Don’t want to.”


He made a show of staring at the passing clouds before rejoining her on the bench but looking nowhere near the direction of her face.

“I’m to assume that when you said you love someone other than yourself, that person is me.”

“No. My imaginary poodle.”

“So say it.”


She smiled and rolled her eyes. “Say it to me.”

He finally brought his blue eyes around to face her. “I love you.”

She put her hand on his cheek and rubbed her thumb back and forth. “That wasn’t so hard.”

He made a sound like a low rumble: a Graydon chuckle.

“I love you, too.”

“Really?” His expression was one of distrust.

“Really. Poor me.”

“Yes.” He put his arm around her shoulders, and she leaned against him.

“You smell like another woman.”

“I told you I woke up this morning with another woman.”

“How about we go take a shower and wash the bitch off?”

“Weren’t you supposed to go somewhere with Cleo and Emily?”

“They can wait. Graydon Kelly is in love. We only have so much time before the apocalypse.”

A creative writing graduate of Ohio University, Sara Dobie Bauer is currently working on a Creative Writing Certificate at Glendale Community College, Arizona, where she attends as a scholarship student. Her writing has appeared in The Gila River Review and ASU West’s Canyon Voices and earned first place in The Traveler non-fiction contest. She has written two novels this year. Follow her blog at