|For my second submission to Britain's Woman's Weekly magazine, I wanted to see if I could write a real 'chick lit' story, something that would read like a woman's point of view. At one time, women's magazines like Woman's Weekly would publish stories by men only under a pseudonymous, woman's name. That changed a few years ago. The style of their fiction also changed and it is no longer always the 'boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy marries girl' formula. They now offer more substantial fare, and the quality of writing is very high. That said, I was aiming for a traditional, Harlequin Romance type of story. Well, they published it, now you can judge:|
When a Girl Gets rattled
“You know,” said Nicola, as she rolled lazily onto her front, “You should put more lotion on now, you being so fair-skinned.”
Yes, thank you, thought Jenny, I know I’m fair-skinned. You remind me often enough. You get tanned, I get bleached. And freckled, of course.
Jenny kept her thoughts to herself and sat up, to apply some more factor twenty. As she rubbed the lotion onto her thighs she had the unkind thought that, pale though they were, these thighs were firm and solid, unlike some other people's she could mention.
"I suppose you'll be ready to eat soon," she said, almost voicing her thoughts.
"I can wait. I'm not obsessed with food, you know," protested Nicola, but then decided quickly to change the subject. "While you've got the bottle, put some on me, please."
As she applied the lotion to her friend's back, Jenny looked around. Sharing the beach with them were families, surfers, the occasional lifeguard. A couple of miles to the east, Santa Monica pier jutted out into the Pacific, its Ferris wheel glittering in the California sun. To the west, toward Malibu, the beach was separated from the road by a line of low, colourful houses.
The two girls were sunbathing on a stretch of sand at the foot of a steep path that wound down through rocks and shrubbery from the sidewalk.
"Hunk alert," said Jenny suddenly.
Nicola turned her head to look.
"What are they doing?" she said, after regarding the two men for a while. They were, like almost every other male on the beach, dressed in T-shirt, shorts, baseball cap and sunglasses. It was a kind of uniform. What was different about these two was that they were in working boots rather than the usual sandals or bare feet.
They were advancing along the beach, at the foot of the slope and appeared to be examining the bushes that grew there.
“Beachcombers,” decided Nicola.
"Maybe." Jenny was not convinced. "What are they carrying?"
Nicola put her sunglasses on to block the glare of the sun, so she could see the two more clearly.
"Fishing rods? Nets? No, I don't know," she finally decided, letting her head drop on to the beach towel. It was too hot to think, even about hunks.
Meanwhile, the two men continued to advance slowly, peering into the undergrowth, occasionally disturbing it with lengths of wood, until finally they were quite close to where the girls were. Jenny finished Nicola's back, then lay down again and closed her eyes against the sun.
"Excuse me, ladies."
Jenny opened her eyes and saw one of the men, the taller one, standing over her. He had thoughtfully stood so as to cast his shadow over her eyes so that she was not dazzled when she opened them. At least, she was not dazzled by the sun. His smile was something else. She had noticed before what nice teeth American men had. His deep tan showed them off nicely. She wondered what his pick-up line was going to be.
"Can I ask you ladies to stand up, please?"
She had not expected that. Nicola rolled over onto her front to see what was going on.
"What is it?" she asked.
"We'd like a little space," he answered, still smiling broadly, "You see, there's a rattlesnake just behind you."
Now, lazing in the sun for long periods can make a person very drowsy, so the speed with which the two girls leapt to their feet was quite remarkable. The second man, shorter and stockier than his companion, with a darker, Hispanic complexion, pointed to a spot on the slope. Jenny stared. It took a little time to make out what they were supposed to be looking at but she finally discerned a large, yellowish-brown snake, patterned with lighter patches, well camouflaged against the sand.
Jenny emitted a brief but ear-splitting scream. It must have taken Nicola a little longer to see the snake, because her scream followed a couple of seconds later.
"Isn't it beautiful?" the taller man said.
“I dare say,” agreed Jenny, “but can’t it go and be beautiful somewhere else?”
"There's no danger, you should just keep your distance."
Really? thought Jenny, good job you told me that -- I was just about to go over and cuddle it, wasn’t I?.
"We'd better move fast, Jon," said the second man, with a serious note to his voice, "It'll go to ground." He opened up a small sack that he was carrying and held it up.
The first man, Jon, was carrying a short wooden pole with a forked end-piece. He worked his way warily around in front of the slithering snake and, with a quick, deft movement, thrust the pole down so that the forked end trapped it, just below the head.
With the animal now wriggling furiously, Jon moved with great care and deliberation to a position where he could grab hold of it from behind, close enough to its head so that it could not bite him. His companion was alongside him with the open bag. Jon dropped the snake in and the other man swiftly tied the neck of the bag.
"There," said Jon, turning to the girls and smiling broadly, "Safely bagged. You're British aren't you?" he added.
The girls started breathing again.
"Yes,” Jenny answered. They had heard that American men found British accents very attractive. Jenny was also aware that the bikinis -- which they had spent a lot of time choosing and a lot of money buying -- didn't hurt, either.
"My name's Jon. This is Raoul."
"And I'm Nicola. Thanks for rescuing us."
That's a bit dramatic, thought Jenny. Nicola directed her thanks at Raoul and shook his hand briskly when he offered it. His broad smile rivalled his friend's.
"What will you do with the snake?" asked Jenny.
Jon pointed toward the beach houses.
"We'll take him home, keep him in a holding tank for a few days, then we'll take him and any others we catch out to the Mojave Desert and release them."
"We're with Wildlife Control," explained Raoul. "We had reports of rattlers here on the beach. It happens from time to time."
"We don't get many rattlesnakes in Rochdale," volunteered Nicola.
Raoul, guessing that this was meant to be a joke, laughed loudly. A little too loudly, in Jenny's opinion but Nicola seemed to appreciate it.
"Listen..." began Jon, a little nervously.
Here it comes, thought Jenny.
"...if you two ladies would like to check on the little fella," here he indicated the sack holding the snake, "You could come along this evening and take a look at him."
Well, that's a new one. He wants us to come up and see his little fella. Jenny was unable to suppress her giggles. Nicola gave her a stern look.
"We live just down there," Jon continued, undaunted. "You see, the one with the pale blue walls." He pointed at the row of single-storey beachside houses to the west.
"I don't think so," said Jenny, balking at the idea of agreeing to go to the home of strangers, however nice they seemed.
"You like Mexican food?" asked Raoul.
"Raoul's a great cook," said Jon.
"Homemade Mexican food," said Raoul, grinning broadly.
Jenny knew then that the invitation would be accepted. Nicola rarely refused an offer of food, especially exotic foreign cuisine.
So it was, that at seven o'clock that evening, the two friends were walking along Santa Monica's promenade toward the beach houses.
"This is silly," said Jenny, not for the first time, “Here we are accepting the invitation of a complete stranger, to go up and ‘see his snake’ for Heaven’s sake. I ask you.”
"No, they're fine. I think they deserve credit too, the way they went to all that trouble."
"Yes, you know, setting it all up, with the snake and everything."
"What? We just happened to be there, where the snake was."
Nicola laughed loudly. "Just happened? Oh Jen, you're so naive!"
"What do you mean?"
"Jen, think about it. What are the chances? Two girls they want to chat up -- there's a convenient snake to rescue them from. Whoever heard of rattlesnakes on a beach anyway?"
"You're saying they faked the whole thing? That's ridiculous! Go to all that trouble, when they could just have come up to us and chatted?"
"It worked, didn't it?"
"It's too elaborate. All that gear they carried, and a poisonous snake, too. Who'd go through all that?"
Nicola laughed louder than ever.
"Poisonous? Do you really think that was a rattlesnake? It was probably a slow-worm or something. I tell you Jen, it was all a big act. This is California, home of Hollywood." She searched for another, more telling phrase. "Nothing is what it seems," was the best she could come up with.
Jenny was silent for a while as they continued their way past the seafront shops and cafes, which were still bustling. Nicola had planted a seed of doubt in her mind.
"But it could have been a rattlesnake," she said finally.
"Look," said Nicola, "There's a bookshop. They'll have guidebooks, maybe a picture of a rattlesnake."
They entered the shop and found the travel section. After they had scanned through the indexes of a few guidebooks, Nicola found what they were looking for.
"There!" she announced triumphantly.
Sure enough, there was a picture of a rattlesnake, looking nothing like the creature they had seen on the beach. It was much darker in color, with a very distinctive diamond pattern along its back.
"That does it," said Jenny, as they left the shop, "We're not going."
"Of course we are."
"But they lied to us, tricked us."
"They put on a show for us, made an effort. It was wonderful, really romantic."
"Like being rescued from a dragon," Nicola gushed. "We were damsels in distress."
"They caused the distress," Jenny reminded her, "And the dragon was a slow-worm."
"You've no romance, Jen. They deserve credit for going to all that trouble. Besides, we're almost there now."
Because they had continued in the same direction after leaving the shop, they were indeed nearing the part of the beach where the beach houses began.
Although she said nothing, Jenny was growing steadily angrier about the trick that had been played on them. By the time they reached the house, she was positively fuming.
The two men were lounging on the verandah, drinking beer and watching the sun go down. They greeted the girls with broad smiles.
"Hiya," said Jon, "Come on in, ladies. The door's open." He motioned toward the front door.
Jenny gave him a long, hard look, without replying. He colored slightly and averted his gaze.
That clinches it, thought Jenny, Guilt written all over his face.
She would have turned and walked away right then if Nicola had not already been halfway through the door, lured by the aroma of chili and Mexican beans.
Following her friend into the front room, the first thing Jenny noticed, among the clutter and disorder of a California dude's bachelor home, was a large glass tank, occupying a corner space. In it was the poor creature that the two men had used in their elaborate pick-up plot. Her anger now more than enough to overcome her natural fear, Jenny went over to the tank, removed the cover and, in one quick movement, reached in and plucked out the snake, grabbing it around its neck.
Nicola meanwhile, had joined the two hosts on the verandah. They were exchanging pleasantries when Jenny strode into their midst.
"What," she demanded, holding the snake aloft in her right hand, "Is this, really?"
The expression on the men's faces answered her question. The two of them froze, turned pale beneath their tans, and stared. Jenny knew then that she had made a terrible mistake.
The silence that ensued was the sort in which one can hear the proverbial pin drop. But it was another sound that Jenny heard as she stood there, stock-still. It was a loud rattle. Her gaze shifted to the tail of the wriggling snake. It was quivering furiously.
Jon finally answered her question.
"It's a Southern Pacific Rattlesnake," he said mechanically, still staring wide-eyed. "Crotalus viridis helleri."
"But we looked in a book," protested Nicola. "The one in the picture had a diamond pattern."
"Probably a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake," suggested Raoul, "Crotalus atrox."
"Can we skip the biology lecture?" pleaded Jenny, finally finding the strength to speak.
"Don't move," said Jon, quite unnecessarily, as Jenny was incapable of moving. He got to his feet and walked around to her side. He placed his left hand on her wrist and moved his fingers down until he could grasp the snake's neck in his thumb and forefinger.
"Right," he said, "You can let go now."
No she couldn't. Her fingers refused to move. With his free right hand, Jon gently but firmly prized her fingers free, one by one. When he finally gained sole possession of the still-rattling snake, he quickly returned it to its tank and replaced the lid. Jenny had followed him into the room, leaving Nicola and Raoul out on the verandah discussing recipes, as if nothing had happened. She realized that she owed Jon an apology.
"Listen, I'm sorry. I thought you were lying to us, you know, to pick us up."
"Don't worry about it. I'm just glad I had the heat turned down in this vivarium. It made the rattler real slow."
"Well, I feel rather silly. But I was so sure -- I mean, why did you look so guilty earlier?"
The sheepish look returned to his face.
"We were kinda dishonest."
"What do you mean?"
"You smell that Mexican food? That's from the microwave. We bought frozen meals. You see, Raoul's actually a rotten cook."