Today, we have an excerpt from one of our original writers, Erica Roberts. She shares with us a part of her novel written for the first NaNoWriMo that she participated in at the Carleton Place Public Library. Can’t wait to read more! (Get on that self-publishing, Erica!)

An excerpt from Universe Inside Your Heart, written during the April 2014 NaNoWriMo session

Waking up in someone else’s body

Clarissa’s head was pounding, her stomach ached quite a bit, and the inside of her mouth felt like it was covered in sawdust. She thought of the term she’d heard several times in the movies describing the horrible way people sometimes felt after a night at the bar: hangover. She certainly had a hangover.

Clarissa managed to yank herself out of bed, and then headed toward Heather’s closet. She couldn’t wear the same clothes she’d had on the day before, which were currently lying in a messy heap at the foot of her bed, because people at the office had likely seen Heather wearing them earlier in the day, before Clarissa had taken over her body. Instead, Clarissa selected a navy blue jacket and a navy skirt that looked almost exactly like the gray set from the previous day, and another white blouse. She figured wearing the same shoes wouldn’t hurt. However, she did remember that before she got dressed, she needed to have a shower.

Clarissa found Heather’s shower small and uncomfortable compared to the large one at the McAdams house, but she got the job done, and then found a blow-dryer to dry her hair. This was a much harder job for Clarissa than it was when she was herself, because Heather had so much more hair. After she finished, Clarissa put on the clothes she’d picked out, and wondered what to do about makeup. She didn’t think Heather wore much, but she saw a tube of lip gloss lying on Heather’s dresser, so she put some of that on, and a bit of mascara, too, applying it as best as she could. She opted to leave her hair down, because that was how Heather’s hair had been when they’d met on the bench in front of the law firm. Clarissa couldn’t believe that was just one day ago, going by time in the real world, anyway. Oh, how things had changed since then!

Clarissa wasn’t sure how she was going to pull off being a paralegal, but she was going to give it her best shot. She thought that it couldn’t be that hard, since she was quite a good student, and she believed that most of the tasks paralegals did just involved paperwork anyway. She guessed that all the papers she needed for that day were in her briefcase, so as she put her shoes on to head out the door, she made sure to grab it.

Clarissa didn’t know if Heather usually walked to the firm or took the bus partway, but she walked, since she didn’t know where Heather’s bus pass was, if she even had one. To really get into her role as Heather, she decided to stop at the Second Cup across from the office building to buy a coffee before going in, just like Heather normally did. After she purchased it, Clarissa was suddenly hit with the semi-distressing thought that she hadn’t packed a lunch, assuming paralegals even got lunch breaks, and she also realized she had no idea what her boss looked like. She looked in Heather’s purse, thinking there might be a cell phone in there, on which she could do an internet search for her firm, but she didn’t find one. Drat, she thought. I’ll just have to guess. It’s probably a man.

An epic coffee spill

Clarissa then looked at her watch and realized she was going to be late if she didn’t hurry. She sprint-walked the rest of the way to her building, darting inside the main doors and almost running toward the open elevator. She got to it just as its doors were starting to close, nearly knocking a man over as she entered. Glaring at her, the man let out a slight groaning noise. Next, to Clarissa’s horror, her coffee flew out the hole in the lid of her cup and landed all over some incredibly grouchy-looking lady’s white blouse. “Oh my God,” the wiry, auburn-haired lady almost shrieked. “I have to defend a client this morning. Someone help me get this off!”

The man passed her a tissue, and the lady started frantically wiping at her blouse. “Heather, I need to see you in my office as soon as we get up there,” she said, her teeth clenched. “We need to talk.” With that, Clarissa felt as if her stomach had dropped to her knees. This was someone who knew her. This woman could be one of her coworkers, but with the tone she was using, it sounded as if she might be her boss.

“Yes,” Clarissa replied as politely as possible, not using a name because she didn’t know the woman’s name.

After the group of three exited the elevator and the man turned down a hallway to the left, Clarissa followed the woman with the coffee on her blouse down a hallway to the right, feeling like she was headed toward the guillotine. She followed her all the way into a small office which had Lesley Kelford, Lawyer inscribed on the door. It was seeming more and more likely that this woman was her boss.

“Heather, I don’t want to get too angry with you, because you’re a good employee,” Lesley began, shuffling some papers on her desk. “But I need you to be more careful. You knew that I have to go to court later for the Hawkins case, and I cannot walk into a courtroom and successfully spare my client jail time with coffee all over the front of my brand-new blouse.” Now, there was no doubt in Clarissa’s mind that Lesley was her boss. The young girl’s knees started to feel a bit weak.

“I’m so sorry,” Clarissa said, yet again at a loss for any additional words. “It won’t happen again, I promise.”

“Okay,” Lesley said sternly. “Now, I’m going to have to go to the Rideau Centre and buy myself a new blouse, so I need you to hold down the fort until I get back. Take this, please, and if Jason Hawkins calls, tell him I’ll get back to him in a few minutes. You have the Ashbury file prepared, right? I’m meeting with Ashbury this afternoon, so I’d like it on my desk when I return. Anyway, I’ve got to run. See you in a bit.” Lesley handed Heather a thick folder and hurried out the door, leaving a faint perfume scent behind her.

A not-so-calming candle

Clarissa didn’t know where Heather’s desk was, so she just stayed in Lesley’s desk for the time being. She was actually starting to freak out a little bit. She didn’t know who this Jason Hawkins was, or even this Ashbury, and where was the latter’s file? She opened Heather’s briefcase, and found a bunch more folders. The second one from the top, fortunately, said “Kenneth Ashbury” on the front. However, after Clarissa looked at all the information within it, she still hadn’t the faintest clue who he was and what it all meant. She didn’t think Heather had finished working on the file, since Clarissa had taken over her body when the evening was still young, but she didn’t know how she would finish the work for Heather if she had to.

Interrupting Clarissa’s confusion, a call came in on Lesley’s landline. Clarissa got nervous and let it ring without answering it. She was worried that people would have legal questions for her and she would have no idea what to say. She wished she was at least a few years older, and had taken a high school law class, and then she’d be able to fake being a paralegal better. One of her old neighbours in Toronto had taken law in Grade 12, and Clarissa had seen her big, thick textbook, but she hadn’t had the chance or really, the desire, to look inside.

Clarissa noticed that there was a candle on the desk in front of her, a good few inches from the neatly stacked paperwork. It was pink, and when Clarissa held it to her nose, it smelled like flowers. She guessed that Lesley used it to calm herself down, since she appeared to be quite an uptight person. Maybe that will help me, Clarissa thought. She wondered if there were any matches nearby. She started poking around in the desk drawers, mostly finding pens, elastic bands, and extra paper, but eventually, in the back right corner of the smallest drawer, she struck gold by putting her hands on a small box of matches.

Clarissa had recently learned to use matches, so she struck one of them up to light the candle with. She assumed it was okay for her to light the candle, because if it wasn’t, why would it even be there? After she lit it, she thought the flame was a bit too high, but that was nothing a bit of water couldn’t fix. She decided to head to the bathroom to get some. She’d just drip a few drops on the candle, and then the flame would decrease in scope, she figured.

Clarissa grabbed a mug that she spotted on Lesley’s shelf and headed toward the bathroom. As she walked through the office, she noticed several women in desks facing each other, working away on their computers. One of the desks, which Clarissa supposed was likely hers, was empty. None of the ladies even turned their eyes toward her as she went by. After Clarissa ran one of the bathroom taps for about 10 seconds to fill the mug with water, she headed back in the direction she had come from. However, as she entered the open workspace again, the women were no longer tapping away. Instead, some of them had their heads up, and they looked quite alarmed. One was wrinkling her nose.

“I think there might be something burning in Lesley’s office,” a tall, thin, red-haired woman said. “I don’t know what it could be. I know she used to burn that candle, but I thought she stopped lighting it because it was a fire hazard.”

“Uh-oh,” Clarissa said in an almost inaudible tone. Her stomach dropped all the way down to her knees again. Knowing she had no other choice, she willed herself to open Lesley’s door, which she’d left ajar. What she saw stopped her dead in her tracks. Lesley’s entire desk, still covered in neat piles of important files, was on fire. It seemed that even the wood was starting to burn!

“Fire!” Clarissa screamed. “Fire!” Instead of making a mad dash out of the building as she expected they might, all the women who had been working nearby came to join her at Lesley’s door, shocked to see so many flames.

A woman with short black hair grabbed the fire extinguisher from the common room’s wall and started spraying the flames, while shielding her eyes. Luckily, the flames were extinguished quite quickly, but all that remained of Lesley’s files was a pile of charcoal rubbish, and her desk looked like it had been barbecued. However, the partially burned candle in its glass holder was still intact, and seemed to stare at Clarissa mockingly.

“You burned the candle?” the red-haired woman asked incredulously. “You knew that was a hazard. Lesley told us all at the meeting last week that she was going to quit doing it!”

“I… forgot,” Clarissa stammered. All of her colleagues gave her strange looks, and she could tell some of them didn’t believe her.

The big dismissal

As if out of nowhere, Lesley all of a sudden materialized behind the group. “What in the devil is going on here?” she asked. “Why is the fire extinguisher out?”

“Heather lit your candle and started a fire,” said another blonde, who’d been quiet up until that point.

Lesley’s eyes flashed with rage. “What?! Heather, we’ve been over this. I told all of you just last week that the candle is a hazard. I haven’t even been lighting it myself! How much damage has been done?” She stepped forward and her eyes became saucers as she looked at all her destroyed files, plus her charbroiled desk. “Heather Agnew, pack your things and get out of my office,” she said, in a tone of voice that was quiet, but still effectively communicated the rage she must have been feeling. “You’re fired!”




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