New! The Story of JESS and AVER: Giving Love a Chance by K A Neeson
On April 1, 2019 | 0 Comments

Amanda's BVS Book BLOG

New out from Black Velvet Seductions, The Story of JESS and AVER: Giving Love a Chance by K A Neeson.  I love this story and it is available now. I want to share the opening chapter with you I know you will love it too.

Preface

How many people break up with their boyfriend, not talk for three months, then wake up one day and marry them right off the bat before they officially get back together again? Yes, that’s right. Married! Hell, I know it sounds crazy, but the conventional way of getting back together to work things out first doesn’t usually work. We’ve seen that fail too many times. As nonsensical as it sounds, it could actually work.

Within a short timeframe, I experienced love, loss, reconciliation, and heartbreak. This is the story of my revelation, how I almost single-handedly destroyed the best thing that had ever befallen me, and the incidents and events that followed. My name is Aver, and this is my story.

Chapter One

New York City, 2016

How many people have been swept off their feet in New York City?

I’ll bet many have. I’ll bet many people have loved and lost and loved again in this city. However, I don’t think anyone experienced a love story such as mine.

It was epic in all proportions.

My name is Avlene, otherwise known as ‘Aver.’ I suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or GAD. Basically, that means I get these persistent, overblown worries about normal things and I can’t really control it. I often expect the worst, even when there’s no cause for concern. Living in New York City is perfect for me; I can find whatever I need when I need it, but when I need to hide, I can disappear without anyone noticing.

However, I haven’t allowed my anxiety to ruin my dream of being an actress. I admit, one can’t help feeling judged during an audition, and standing up in front of people is nerve-wracking, but I have faith in my skills. Being able to shed my skin and morph into someone else is an amazing experience, especially when it allowed me to live as an entirely different person. I can be someone who’s free of anxiety and self-doubt. When I act, I can envision an existence different from my own. The opportunity led to those rare moments when I let myself shine.

It was my burgeoning acting career, in fact, that led to the greatest shake-up of my life.

***

One fateful spring day, my agent called to say that she had an audition lined up for me. It was for a part in a play. I had acted in many off-Broadway productions, so I was confident in that zone, but I tempered my expectations by reminding myself that getting selected is rare. I joked about adding one more rejection to my list of cast calls.

The audition was being held clear across Midtown, so I needed to hurry. I arrived on time and anxiously waited until my name was called.

“Avlene, you’re up next!”

Entering the boardroom, I found the casting agent, the producer, and the playwright all sitting in cushy chairs.

“Hello, Avlene,” the casting agent greeted. “My name is Jon. I’m in charge of casting. This is Jim, the producer, and Jesse MacGregor, the playwright.”

I gave an awkward curtsy. “Nice to meet you.”

“Now, you’re reading for Sally,” he said. “Here are the lines. Take a minute to read through them. Remember, Sally is a nervous, timid individual.”

“That sounds familiar,” I said. “Indeed. Think of her as a skittish cat.”

“Oh, that won’t be a problem,” I grinned, feeling a bolster of courage rush through me. “You just described my whole existence: nervous and skittish.”

I can do this, I thought.

Oddly enough, the distracted writer of the play put down what he was doing and made eye contact with me. As I went over the lines, he watched my performance intently.

Personally, I thought I killed it. The team showed no inclination one way or the other. They thanked me for coming out, assuring me that, if they were interested, my agent would hear from them. I left feeling half-hopeful, half-sad, but I consoled myself with the fact that I had given it my all. Now, it was just a waiting game.

That was the first time I ever saw Jesse MacGregor’s piercing blue eyes. What struck me the most about him—besides his good looks— was the sound of his voice. He had a gentle, calming voice. Very soothing to the soul.

Three days later my agent called.

“Avlene,” she said, “Jesse Macgregor would like to meet with you.”

“MacGregor?” I replied. “You mean the playwright I auditioned for on Friday?”

“That’s him. It didn’t sound like the usual call-back, but he would very much like to speak with you in person.”

My curiosity was piqued. “Okay. When?”

“Today, at his office today in Midtown. One o’clock. Can you make it?”

“Are you kidding? Of course, I can!”

I went about my day wondering what on Earth Jesse MacGregor wanted to talk to me about. At the time, I worked at the Daily Gazette, a Manhattan-based newspaper. Andrew, Alex and I—the Three Musketeers, we call ourselves—were stationed in the basement offices, which are more commonly referred to as “the bowels” of the newspaper. We wrote the obituaries and lovingly refer to them as “The

Dispatch Column.” Not the greatest job in the world, but it paid the bills and kept me afloat in between acting gigs.

A good sense of humor was a must in that department, and between the three of us, humor was never lacking. Andrew and Alex were not just my coworkers, but also good friends. When we weren’t writing missives for the dearly departed, we were meeting for drinks after work to congratulate ourselves on a job well done.

That day was just like any other Monday. Mondays and Fridays were our busiest days. We had the usual mountain of work to get through, but our teamwork ensured we always submitted on time.

Andrew and Alex strolled in together.

“Avlene? “Andrew asked. “You’re here already?”

“Just trying to get a head start,” I said. “Oh, I hope you two don’t mind, but I need to take lunch a few minutes before one o’clock today.”

“Sure, I don’t see why not,” he said. “What’s going on?” Alex asked.

“Remember that audition I went to last week?” I said. “My agent called today and asked if I could meet with the playwright. His office is in Midtown, so I need to leave a few minutes earlier to get there. Been wracking my brain all morning trying to figure out what he wants to see me for.”

“Well, maybe you got the part!” Andrew said. “What else could the guy want?”

“I thought that might be it,” I said, “but rumor has it that the role of Sally has already been cast.”

“Maybe he has you in mind for another part;” Alex said reassuringly. “Whatever it is, it’ll be good news, right?

“Only time will tell, guys.” I gave them a bright smile to let them know I was going to be okay either way.

As the lunch hour approached, I found myself losing focus on the task at hand. The prospect of meeting Jesse MacGregor filled me with apprehension. “All right, I’m heading out now,” I told the guys. “Don’t want to keep him waiting.”

“Good luck, Avlene,” Alex returned.

“Look, I’m not sure how long this is going to take,” I said. “Can you cover for me? If the boss lady comes downstairs, tell her I had a doctor’s appointment. I’ll take time off in lieu.”

“Will do,” Andrew said. “Hey, I hope this is good news. You really deserve a break.”

They offered a few more encouraging statements and I bid them farewell.

Heartened by the guys’ comments, I felt hopeful as I walked through the busy streets, heading to Midtown. When I arrived at the address my agent had relayed to me, I took a moment to revel in the building’s structure. It was a massive skyscraper that must stand at least 40 floors tall, composed of beautiful mirrors and ornate embellishments. The doorways were decorated with crown moldings. Taking a deep breath to steady my nerves, I walked inside.

I felt out of place in the pristine high-rise, and I struggled to control my breathing when the receptionist buzzed me into the suite. Arriving at the desk, I introduced myself.

She met me with a sullen glare. “Yes, I’m aware of who you are. Have a seat. It may be a while. Mr. MacGregor is very busy this afternoon.”

There is something about waiting rooms that puts me on edge. No matter what the appointment is about, waiting rooms and I do not agree with one other. There is no other way to explain it: waiting rooms are hell for people who have anxiety. The receptionist’s cold welcome made it worse. I tried to sit still but found myself trembling. I could feel my diaphragm quivering, but I tried to focus on my breathing. My feet were restless, my legs shaking. I was contemplating fleeing the room out when Jesse finally appeared.

“Avlene!” He greeted, smiling down at me from his confident six-foot posture. “Thank you for coming. Please follow me.”

He led me down a long corridor and into an office at the end of the hall. The room was spectacular: huge, almost a loft-style space. The usual office furnishings were all there: a desk, two chairs, a computer, a filing cabinet, and the expected supplies. What intrigued me, however, was that he also had a fireplace installed, a pool table at the back half of the office and a mini-bar stocked with drinks, cookies, muffins, and other assorted snacks. I’d never seen anything like it. It made me wonder: did he live in his office? Of course, I refrained from asking. The last thing I wanted was to look naive.

Jesse noticed my preoccupation with his office and smiled. “I like my guests to feel comfortable. Can I get you anything, Avlene?”

“No.” I cleared my throat. “No, thank you.”

I planted myself in the seat he offered me, fighting to steady my hands as he sat down in the other chair. Then, taking a deep breath, I spoke honestly. “Mr. MacGregor, I don’t mind telling you that I’m anything but comfortable right now. I… I’m very confused as to why you arranged this meeting. I heard that the role of Sally has already been cast.”

“I meet a great many people in the run of a day,” he said, “and very few surprise me. When you walked into the audition room last week, your humor and charisma drew me in. I found it endearing when you said you could play Sally because her traits characterized your existence. That showed terrific empathy with the character. It seemed to me that her struggles were something you could relate to on a personal level.”

“Yes,” I said. “From what I read of the script, she’s a lot like me.” “Most actresses will say anything to land a part,” he said, “but you seem… honest. Genuine. To be frank, you really stayed in my thoughts, and I knew I had to talk to you again.”

The more he spoke, the more I became confused. “Oh… I see. So, Avlene’s not good enough for my play, but what the hell? Bring her in, make her all nervous and wish her well?”

“No… No, that’s not what I’m doing.” His confident demeanor slipped. “Avlene, look, maybe I’m being a little too forward, but… I would like to get to know you, perhaps take you out to dinner.” His voice took on a pleading tone, urging me to believe him as he made his intentions known.

“Oh, my God…” I could feel the color draining from my face. “You… You’re actually…” Feeling waves of self-conscious heat overtake me, I began to plan my escape. “I need a glass of water.”

“Avlene, I’m so sorry.”

I wasn’t sure why he apologized, but I was certain he didn’t know either. He poured me some Perrier with a slice of lemon.

“Thank you,” I muttered. “Just in a wee bit of shock. I’ll be all right in a moment.” I took a sip of water, concentrating until my heart rate to slow down.

“Are you in shock because I asked you to dinner, or is this the standard reaction everyone gets?” The question seemed rude, but I could detect the humor in his voice.

“Oh, this would be my natural reaction, so don’t go thinking you’re special.” His face drooped, and I laughed at him before continuing, “You’re not that great, you know.”

Then, I did something totally out of character.

I winked at him.

A cute smirk appeared on his face. “Feisty. That’s the girl that caught my attention last week. Feisty with an odd sense of humor. I like you, Avlene.”

“Oh, there is a lot more to me than just a bundle of nerves,” I assured him.

He scooted his chair closer to mine. “I had to call your agent because I had no idea how else to find you. Do you have any free time? We could get out of here, go for a coffee or take a walk.”

“I’d like that,” I smiled. “However, I do have to get back to work. This was my lunch hour. Technically, I am AWOL right now. My co-workers are covering for me.”

“Where do you work?” he wondered.

“I work at The Daily Gazette.”

His eyes lit up. “Are you a writer as well?”

“Oh no, my job is nowhere near as creative. Not on your scale by any means. I write obituaries.”

“Writing eulogies for people you’ve never met?” he said. “Hell, that must take all kinds of creativity! Do you enjoy it?”

“You know,” I said, giving my job more consideration than usual, “it really is fascinating. Yeah, I do like it. We’re given facts about these poor, departed people, and we piece together their lives in a few lines. Their loves, their achievements. Their stories. We write about their dance with life.” It was as passionate as I’d felt about my job in a long time.

“Avlene, that was beautifully worded,” he said sincerely.

“Thank you,” I responded, a hint of pride in my voice. “Coming from a writer, that’s a genuine compliment.”

“Well, as much as I hate to see you go, I guess I better let you get back to work.” He sighed. “How about we meet tonight? Nothing scary. I’ll meet you in Central Park near the mall. We’ll go for a walk and just talk.”

“That sounds…” I fought back the first wave of an anxiety attack. “That sounds nice. I’m usually done with work around four thirty. How about I meet you there around five?”

“Sounds perfect,” he smiled. “See you then, Avlene.”

“Have a lovely afternoon, Jesse.” With a wave goodbye, I took off. As I hurried through the streets of Midtown, Jesse’s voice echoed in my ears. That soft, calming quality I had detected at the audition was still detectable. He was unlike anyone I had ever met.

I had surprised myself by using sarcasm with him. That was not a normal occurrence for me; around attractive men, I was usually so nervous that I could hardly speak. Something about Jesse made me feel different, more relaxed—that is, of course, after I got over the initial shock of him wanting to have dinner with me. I found myself reluctant to return to work. My thoughts kept drifting back to him.

As soon as I reached the office, I was bombarded with questions from Andrew and Alex.

“How did it go?” Andrew asked.

Alex was less composed. He couldn’t get the words out fast enough. “Did you get the part? Tell me you got the part. When do you go in for rehearsal?”

I laughed at his eagerness. “No, Alex, it was quite out of the ordinary.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s tough to describe,” I said. “Jesse MacGregor led me into his upscale office and asked me if I would consider having dinner with him.”

“Wait,” Andrew said. “He asked you out?”

“He said he meets ‘a great many people’ in his profession. Somehow, I caught his attention in such a way that he ended up calling my agent and rigging up this meeting just so he could meet me again. Andrew, that’s a little weird, isn’t it?” I turned to him, anxiously awaiting his response. My doubts started creeping in again.

“I’m not sure if ‘weird’ is the right word here,” he said. “Maybe

‘determined?’ ”

I exhaled with relief. “Well, as you can imagine, I was so shocked that I turned a lethal shade of white. He ran, got me some water, and kept apologizing. Quite honestly, guys, I would be too nervous to have dinner with him. Coffee or a walk is fine, but dinner in a restaurant? Nope, can’t do it. At the best of times, I’m a bundle of nerves. It would be a disaster if I actually fell for someone.”

Alex grinned like a child; Andrew’s skeptical grimace appeared.

“Sooo, you’re saying you like him?” Alex said.

I felt myself starting to blush. “Yes, I’m saying I like him. He went to a lot of trouble to arrange another meeting between us, so I agreed to meet him after work in the park for a walk.”

“He was okay with the no dinner thing?” Andrew asked.

“Oddly enough, yes.”

“Wow, you must have made quite an impression,” Alex said, his face splitting into an enormous grin.

“I hope we get to meet this guy,” Andrew said. “I mean, if this goes anywhere…”

“Well, of course, you will,” I said. “I already told Jesse about you two and the fine art of obituary writing.” They seemed pleased by that fact. “He thinks the work we do here is important.”

“Well, remember: he’s trying to make a good impression on you,” Andrew said.

“No, I think he’s sincere. No pretenses. He seems like a straight shooter, which is what I like about him.”

“Well okay, princess, but you’re like our little sis, so we’ll be checking him out,” Andrew warned, going into Big Brother mode.

Alex nodded in agreement.

A rush of affection swept over me. Their protectiveness warmed my heart. “I can always count on you two.”

Four thirty P.M.

Finally.

All the obituaries were written, and it was time to go home. “Avlene, have fun and try to relax,” Andrew said, giving his usual dose of encouragement. “You’ve already got his attention. The hard part is over.”

“So true!” Alex exclaimed. “Congrats on breaking routine! Tonight is going to be almost as fun as dinner while watching Jeopardy on TV!” “Real funny,” I huffed, rolling my eyes. “You guys are making me sound like a loser! I’m not that pathetic, I’ll have you know! Trivia from game shows will come in handy one day.” I gave them a good-natured grin.

“Avlene,” Andrew said. “Remember, if this guy does anything out of line…”

“Oh, don’t scare her!” Alex interrupted. “She’s already a bundle of nerves.”

Andrew spread his arms. “I’m just saying, it happens! Remember what we talked about, Avlene: foot to the groin.”

“I remember,” I said, throwing my purse over my shoulder. “It’s worked in the past, hasn’t it?”

Although Andrew and Alex liked to tease me, they knew how difficult it was for me to leave my comfort zone. Stepping into a strange situation created a lot of anxiety for me. But somehow, in just a couple of short meetings, Jesse made the risk seem worthwhile.

He would be worth it. I could sense it.

Thank goodness I was wearing makeup. That was just luck, of course; when I had left the house, I had no idea what the day would bring. I suppose it didn’t really matter, as Jess had been somehow entranced with me on our first fleeting encounter.

I hurried to the park and chose a bench near the mall, where I sat for what felt like an eternity. Watching people go by helped pass the time. I observed an older couple in their mid-seventies holding hands, and they looked so in love. I often wondered how people could be happy for so many years. I guessed it was about finding that one who could make you happy forever.

When I beheld Jesse walking toward me, my stomach instantly filled with butterflies. My heart was racing, but not with the usual panic I was prone to. This time, it felt good.

I waved to get his attention. He smiled and strolled over, greeting me with a huge grin and a hug.

“I’m so glad you came, Avlene. I’ve been thinking about you all afternoon.”

“Oh, right,” I joked. “I’m sure a writer-novelist-producer like you has more important things to think about.”

“You are a welcome distraction to my day.” It was a smooth enough line, but he seemed sheepish in the face of his own honesty.

Mine as well, Jesse.

My heart skipped another beat.

Come on, Avlene. Keep your head on straight. Take it slowly, or you’ll screw this up.

Jesse cleared his throat. “Things can be busy, but sometimes it’s so slow. That’s what makes me envious of people like you, who have full-time jobs. I don’t mean to sound presumptuous, but you know your work will always be there and your paychecks are stable. My job is great when things are going well, but it’s scary when business is slow.”

“It can be comforting to have secure employment,” I said, “but there are times when I wish I didn’t have to get up to go to work, that I could just take a vacation between plays and have a week or two to myself. No one leads a perfect life, but we make do with what we have.”

A companionable silence ensued, and then Jesse stood up, reaching for my hand. “C’mon Avlene, let’s go to Shake Shack. I’m starving!”

“Sounds good.” I took his hand, only to be pulled right out of my chair.

I jumped a mile.

“Everything okay?” he asked, quickly dropping my hand.

“Y-Yes, I’ll be okay,” I assured him. “I startle easily from sudden movements. I have this… this social anxiety, so I’m not used to being around new people, or outside my routine. This is something new for me.”

“I don’t want to force you into something uncomfortable,” he said. “Do you want to try again some other night?”

That familiar voice inside my mind begged me to take him up on his offer, to run for that escape route while it was in view.

No.

Not today.

I took his hand. Today I would be brave. Brave, for him.

He smiled at me.

And there went the butterflies again.

We ambled across the park, hand in hand.

“Social anxiety,” Jesse mused. “Is that why you turned white when I asked you out for dinner?”

“Yes,” I answered. “That whole situation caught me off guard, and I am not a big fan of surprises. I’m different from most women. I need time to get to know someone and then I start to relax, slowly. An ideal date for me would be this: a walk in the park and chats over some coffee and dessert.”

The natural beauty of Central Park put me at ease. All that vibrant greenery in the middle of the bustling city gave me cheerful vibes. This was one of my favorite places.

I cleared my throat again and continued. “I have no idea how some women go out to dinner with a man they hardly know and end up spending the night with him. Dear Lord, that would never be me! Seriously, I’m the shyest girl you’ll ever meet. If I had to, you know, take my clothes off, I would have to get you to close your eyes, and it would have to be very dark in the room.”

It took me a few seconds to realize what I had just said. Once it settled in, my eyes opened wide in horror.

Jesse issued a cute laugh, clearly enjoying my rambling. “Okay, note to self: if Avlene and I get married, bring a blindfold to the honeymoon.”

Oh, my God.

My face caught fire.

Kill me now. Please, God, kill me now.

“Umm…” I chuckled. “I can’t believe I just told you all that. Sometimes I forget how I can ramble when I’m nervous. It’s like… if I don’t know what to say, I just say whatever comes out.”

“Ah, don’t worry about it. We all have our quirks.”

“Out of curiosity, is running away and hiding from you an option?”

“Nope,” Jesse laughed. “I’m not letting you out of my sight. You’re way too pretty.”

My face turned an even deeper shade of red. I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me whole. My hands were sweaty. I’m sure Jesse noticed.

 

“Jess, if I happen to say the wrong thing and offend you, let me know, okay?” I requested. “I don’t mean it. It just happens.”

“Avlene!” He said, turning to me with a satisfied grin. “You just called me ‘Jess.’ ”

“So?”

“I think you’re feeling more comfortable with me already. People use nicknames as a sign that they like someone and feel comfortable with them.”

“Yes, you’re right,” I replied, mirroring his smile.

“You see, you think you say the wrong things, but I see them as positives. Don’t be so hard on yourself! I can tell the difference. I don’t see you as the sort of person who says malicious things for no reason.” “Thank you. Not everyone is so understanding. And you don’t mind me calling you ‘Jess,’ do you?”

“No, of course not,” he said. “I prefer it. Makes me feel more grown-up than ‘Jesse.’ What about you? Do you have a nickname?”

“It used to be ‘Avey,’ but I can’t stand it. It makes me feel like a little kid.”

“Tell you what,” he said. “I’ll think it over and come up with a good nickname for you. If you like it, great, and if you don’t like it, Avlene it is.”

“Deal!”

We walked and talked for hours.

After stopping at Shake Shack for milkshakes, we took a little tour of the neighborhood. We passed all kinds of landmarks. We talked about art. I told him that MOMA is one of my all-time favorite museums.

“I used to dream about living in the Museum Towers,” I said. “Of course, dreams are just dreams, and I could never afford to live there. I’m afraid I’m a princess without a castle. I live on the Lower East Side, close to Lenox Hill Hospital. I enjoy the East Side—lots of restaurants and bars, always something to do—yet I hardly go out. Still, there’s comfort in knowing that if I wanted to, I could.”

Jess found all this amusing for some reason. “I can relate. My life is similar. Writing requires me to work alone, so I don’t go out much either. I’m something of a workaholic.”

“Perhaps we can work on this together, Jess. Maybe you can try to be less of a workaholic, and I can try to be a little less anxious and more outgoing. Although that may prove more difficult; telling myself not to worry is like telling water not to be wet.”

We both laughed.

“I don’t need you to change,” he assured me. “I like you just as you are.”

“I like you as you are, too,” I replied, flashing him a shy smile.

“I’m curious about something,” Jesse stated, “and I hope you don’t mind me asking this question. If it’s too personal, you can tell me to mind my own business.”

“Go ahead.”

“Well, being that you have social anxiety—GAD, I presume—how is it that you can act? I mean, if it’s not a rude question.”

“No, it’s okay,” I said. “I’m glad you asked. Most people are afraid of anything they don’t understand. But as soon as you try to understand, to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, the fear starts to fade. Acting for me is an incredible outlet. To take on the persona of someone entirely different than yourself is liberating. There is terrific power in leaving myself behind; I rarely feel anxious when I am acting. If anything, it’s just the opposite. I can concentrate and filter everything out, channel the very essence of the character I’m playing. At times, I wish I could act 24 hours a day, but then I can’t help but wonder how that would work. The mental focus would be exhausting.”

“Wow!” Jess’s voice was full of admiration. “Playing different roles and assuming different personas is almost cathartic for you.”

“Exactly, Jess. It truly is!”

As we made our way through town, a pair of young men hurried past us. “Damn,” one of them said, “It’s almost ten o’clock. Better head back.”

“Did you hear that?” I said to Jess. “Is it really that late?” I checked my watch. The kid was right.

“Well, the night has flown by,” Jess answered. “I’ve really enjoyed this evening.”

“Me too,” I said. “I’m finding it very easy to speak to you, Jess, which is not always the case.”

“I’m sure being in neutral territory helped.”

“I really need to be getting home. I have an early start at the newspaper tomorrow.”

“Come on, I’ll walk you.”

I did not want to leave him.

Standing outside my apartment, I realized that in such a short time, Jesse MacGregor had added a new spark to my life. He leaned in and hugged me. I returned the embrace.

And as I looked up at his face, he softly kissed my lips and then respectfully backed away.

My heart started screaming for him to come back. There was something very special about this man. It was as if his soul could speak to mine.

As he started off, he looked back and said: “I’ll talk to you tomorrow, Aver!”

I returned a huge grin and a thumbs-up.

He thought for a moment, then turned back again. “Do you like it?” “What?”

“Your new nickname.”

“I love it!”

“It has a certain ring to it, doesn’t it?”

Jess and Aver, I thought. Forever and ever. Yes, it does.

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