In a modern twist of fairy tales, what if the beast is a woman instead of a man?
I was about to find out when a mysterious job led to the secluded home of a horror novelist. I’d lost everything: my scholarship, my education, and my way. In denial of my family inheritance, I took the unusual employment as a chance out of a hole, but I found myself buried in the unknown trauma of another situation much deeper.
I had changed my name and my address to keep myself hidden, but my scars were more than physical. Living as a recluse in the woods, I was used to being alone, so I wasn’t happy when a certain someone was always in my space. Our first encounter was less than pleasant and tension continued at every attempt to tame me.
I knew she was keeping secrets and I wanted to help, but she was cutting me down and cutting me off every time she opened her mouth. Our frustration with one another grew until a misunderstanding changed everything. How can I be the next guy after something so tragic? It was a challenge I wasn’t sure I was willing to take.
“What does it take for a book to become a “Just Another Girl and Her Books Diamond in the Rough?” It takes a well-written story that sucks me in and doesn’t spit me out until after it has begun to affect my dreams. It takes a book that makes me want to shout its praises from the rooftops because I just want everyone to know how good it is. It takes a novel that leaves me satisfied but wanting more all at the same time. If a book does all these things, it becomes one of my diamonds in the rough.”
Ethan Scott and Ella Vincentia Interview (Taste Test by L.B. Dunbar)
I wake early as I often do in New York. The noises are different here, but it’s also because I’m rather excited to start each day. Ella Vincentia still sleeps next to me, her fall colored hair spilling over the pillow, and I sit up, reaching for my laptop. I have an assignment for my English class to write a personal interview. Seriously, the assignment is interview yourself. I don’t even know where to start and I stare at the spinning icon while the computer comes to life.
Ella, from beside me, mumbling into her pillow: What are you doing up so early? Again.
Ethan: You know I can’t sleep. I’ve got to get this interview paper done this morning before I have to work this afternoon.
I’m working at a restaurant, finally fulfilling my dream to be a chef. It’s a cool set-up as I take classes there during the days in food preparation, and then work at night, learning practical skills in running a restaurant. Unfortunately, when I lost my scholarship and almost flunked out of college before meeting Ella, I failed an English class and I need to make up the credits.
Ella: What are you going to write about? (Her voice is clearer as she’s rolled unto her back and I lose focus as I see her covered in my thin t-shirt. She’s thin as she originally wanted to be a model. I think she’s still the most beautiful girl in the world.)
Ella laughs: You can’t write about me. It has to be about you. Here, give me the questions. (She sits up and takes the sheet from me). You can pick any one you want, right?
Ella: Okay. Start with what was it like to grow up in a small town?
Ethan: It doesn’t say that?
Ella: It doesn’t. It says explain your childhood.
I twist my lips for a minute and begin to answer the question, typing and talking out loud so Ella can hear me.
Ethan: Growing up in a small town was tough. Everyone knows your business. You get in trouble. Everyone knows. It was also hard to live in an older brother’s shadow when he was always so perfect.
Ella: Talk about Gavin.
Ethan: Like what?
Ella: What was it like to have a “perfect” brother?
I blow out air and sigh, running my hands through the wild waves of my own thick hair, before I begin typing and speaking again.
Ethan: Growing up under my brother was difficult, but it took pressure off of me, until he wasn’t so perfect anymore. He was supposed to inherit the family cherry farm. When he left for California and that responsibility fell to me, I resented him at first. I didn’t want to be a farmer. I wanted to be creative in my own way.
Ella: Talk about that. (Here she shifted and leaned over me. As her soft skin brushed up against my arm, I was distracted and I turned to kiss her good morning. I loved waking up next to her. She interrupted my attempts to skip the paper). Ethan, paper. (She can be rather demanding at times).
Ethan, typing: I wanted to be a chef and my father disapproved. I went to school on a scholarship and let things fall apart. When I lost that scholarship I had to come home. The farm seemed destined to be my future, until I met Jacob.
Ella: You’re going to have to explain who Jacob it.
Ethan: Jacob Vincent, is the Jacob Vincent, horror author extraordinaire. He hired me to cook for him and protect his niece.
Ella: I didn’t know you were hired to protect me. Protect me from what? (Her voice was rising in question.)
Teasingly, I answered: Probably him.
Ella: Ha. Seriously? (Her tone softened).
Ethan: You can be a beast at times, Princess.
Ella: I cannot.
Ethan: Yes. You can.
She huffed. Literally, she crossed her arms and pouted. I’d seen it before. She was tough on the outside. She had good reason to be, but I no longer allowed her to be like this with me. I reached for her scarred cheek and traced down one of the gruesome lines, continuing my trail to her neck and inside the t-shirt that slipped off her shoulder. She stilled.
Ethan: You can be difficult, and you know it. But I love you all the same. (I leaned forward and kissed her angry cheek, following the line to her neck. She swallowed hard and I felt it against my lips. I was heading for the inside of that t-shirt when her hands cupped my face).
Ella: Paper, Ethan.
Ethan: What do I get if I finish it?
Ella: Hopefully an A.
I teased again: You’re no fun.
Ella, smiling slowly: Anything you’d like, but you need to finish the paper first.
Ethan: Anything? (I smiled and licked my lips. She knew what I liked to do the most to her).
She looked at me with her best warning glare, but it was lost on her eager face. She liked it when I did those things to her as well and she’d become much better about not denying it.
Ella, pointing at the computer screen: Write about coming to New York.
I sighed again, and began to type: Coming to New York saved me. I wasn’t going to make it in a small town, just like my brother couldn’t take it. I loved my family, but I didn’t plan to spend my life on the farm.
I looked over at Ella who had grown quiet.
Ella spoke softly: Maybe mention your mom?
I swallowed hard myself. My fingers numbing as I typed.
Ethan: My mother has breast cancer. She was in remission, but it struck again, and I felt obligated to help her. We are very close, but she knew I needed to live my dream. She gave me permission to leave, telling me to follow my heart.
Ella smiles weakly at me. She loves my mom, too, and I know she worries that I might be missing out on time with Mum (she’s from England), but I assure Ella that being with her is where I’m meant to be.
Ethan: Hey. Home is here, remember? (I point to her heart beneath the thin shirt and she covers my hand with her own. The bracelet I gave her dangles from her wrist and it amazes me she never takes it off, even when everything else is removed. She nods her head at me, knowing that I mean what I’ve said).
Ethan: What else should I talk about?
Ella: How you have the best girlfriend in the world?
I laugh: You are a princess, Princess.
She laughs as well and moves as if to climb over me like if she’s going to exit the bed.
Ethan: Where do you think you’re going? (I lean over the laptop to stop her once she straddles my knees).
Ella: As long as you’re up, I might as well work on my homework too.
Ethan: Oh I’m up alright, but homework is the last thing on my mind now. (Holding onto one of her hips, I shift to remove the computer from my lap and tug her closer to me).
Ella giggles: Ethan, you need to finish that interview. (Her hands reach for my shoulders to balance her over me).
Ethan: It can wait.
Ella: I’m not giving you anything until that paper is finished.
I tease: Nothing? (I lean forward and take her lips with mine. She fights me as she does at times when she’s not getting her way). Give in. (I mumble against her lips. To prove she’s in control, she takes over and I let her. Suddenly she pulls back).
Ella: Dammit. (She knows she’ll give in).
Smiling in victor, I speak: I’ve told you, quit challenging me, Princess. (My hands slip inside my t-shirt on her).
She whines: Ethan, please. The paper.
I slyly answer: I’d rather please you.
She laughs and it’s the best sound. There was time she hardly laughed or smiled, but now I take pleasure in knowing I can make her do both. She tucks a piece of her brilliant red hair behind her ear, exposing her scars to me, knowing I’m not afraid to kiss her crazy along the lines, which is what I intend to do. Interview over. I have questions to explore on this wonderful girl’s body instead.