Sometimes a story is more personal than you expect it to be.
I read an article in an online newspaper that talked about the YA books coming out that year which dealt with abusive relationships.
I'd part mapped one out a while back, and thought maybe I'd work on it - all evidence that the market had just gotten an influx of them didn't sway me the way it should have…
The more I wrote in the story, the more personal it became.
I was not ever hit by my boyfriend in high school. He never screamed and yelled at me - though I heard him trashing his room a few times when I left after an argument, and he didn't hesitate to show me when he was pissed about something.
He'd pick fights with me over the phone and hang up, knowing it meant I'd sneak out to "straighten things out."
There was one really horrible night with him that I'd blocked from my mind for a long time, that I remembered when I was writing, so I used it.
I see these cases my husband talks about with women who are beaten and bruised and making up excuses and going back over and over. One ended in murder a couple of weeks ago. A case my husband will be prosecuting when it goes to trial.
The abuse story I told is nowhere near that dramatic, but so much of Ronnie's story was mine. WAY more than I realized while I was writing it. When I got to the end, and started writing down the parts of her story that were real (I always do this for my author site), I realized more and more how much of me was in that girl.
I stared at my computer screen in shock.
I had one of my best friends, who was a guy, who I shared more with than I probably did to most of my girlfriends - (like Luke from Knee Deep) and a boyfriend I'd known since I was a kid (like Shawn from Knee Deep) And I felt this draw to my boyfriend, only because I'd known him for so long, not because we really had anything left in common.
I felt more like I was stuck in this relationship, and didn't even realize I didn't want to be there until I visited a friend in college and saw how much more LIFE was out there. It was just that the idea of this one person had been in my head for way too long.
And where did I end up? Married to the best friend.
People talk about writing what you know, and then talk about keeping yourself out of your books. But you know what? I KNEW that situation - and I know I'll get some bad reviews (like you always do - ESPECIALLY when you tackle a tough topic) that are going to say that Ronnie's actions weren't believable.
But here's the thing - I told her story, the best way I knew how. Ronnie's reactions with pieces of my truth. And there are some drastic differences, but there are also some startling similarities. So, to me, Ronnie's actions were completely and totally understandable.
And that's the story of how Knee Deep came to be.
My front door opens. “Hello?” Shawn calls.
“In here!” I say back. Suddenly this feels weird. Why would this feel weird? This is just what happens when one of us is stuck at home. Why would today be any different? But my heart’s beating against the inside of my ribs, trying to tell me this is different.
Luke scoots away from the couch. Does he feel it too? That maybe him and me hanging out alone for the day might not have been the best idea?
Shawn steps through the hallway and scowls when his eyes meet mine and then pass to Luke. This shouldn’t be a big deal. Except...I’m so stupid. I was just thinking how I needed to make Shawn’s life outside of his house less stressful, and part of me knew it was weird that Luke was here without Shawn. I thought it, and did nothing. But again, it is just Luke.
“What’re you doing here?” Shawn asks. His dark eyes fix on Luke.
“I figured you’d be here, man.” Luke stands up. “It’s like we always ditch together, right?”
Romeo and Juliet kissing in the pool on the TV screen probably isn’t helping anything. Maybe Shawn won’t notice, or maybe it’s just sending my heart into crazy flutters because this tension between Shawn and Luke and, I guess, me, is happening during the most romantic scene of the movie.
“Uh, I don’t know.” Shawn’s still scowling, his brows pulled low and his jaw tight.
“You would’ve hated it,” I say. My eyes catch his, but his are as black as his mood seems to be. I’m so stupid. Why did I have to let Luke stay?
“Yeah, maybe.” Shawn’s narrowed eyes go from Luke to me, back and forth, as if judging the situation. Really? What did he think could possibly happen between Luke and I? Even if this is suddenly on my top three ‘most awkward moments’ ever. I can’t even think about what the other two might be. Maybe I’ve just found number one.
“Romeo and Juliet all day.” Luke laughs, but I know him well enough to see he’s trying really hard to be relaxed. His shoulders are too stiff, and his normal stance is too rigid. I wonder if Shawn sees it too. “Guess I’ll leave you two alone.” Luke’s trying hard to keep his voice light.
“Yeah.” Shawn has yet to return Luke’s smile. “I almost never see my girl anymore.”
It’s like I’m on the edge of my seat, tension pinpricking every part of me. I’ve never seen Shawn like this.
“Well, I should get my ass to rehearsal anyway.” Luke gives Shawn a friendly pat on the shoulder before heading outside.
I don’t watch him go. My eyes are on Shawn, trying to figure out what to expect next.
“What the hell was that?” His sharp gaze is now pointed directly at me.
I stand up and lean to the side, trying to be relaxed. “It didn’t seem like a big deal this morning.” Maybe if I play it off as nothing Shawn won’t be so mad. He knows Luke and I are friends. No big deal, I tell myself again. But I don’t know if I’m trying to convince myself or Shawn.
“Was he here when we were texting?” he asks. His voice may be low, but not in a good way. It’s low in a way that makes him sound like he’s past the edge of reasonable anger.
My body’s screaming for me to take a step back, which makes no sense. This is Shawn. My Shawn. “No.” But I’m weakening by the second, almost shaking inside. His jaw tightens again.
My eyes close as I remember, and dread fills my chest. “He got here as I sent my last one.” Is that bad? Good?
“And you didn’t think to tell me? What the hell is that?”
I jump at the sharpness of his voice. Shawn doesn’t need this stress. I know this. I reach forward to put my arms around him. We just need to hold one another for a minute, then it’ll all be fine.
He stops me, grabbing my arm—hard—just above my wrist.
“This is not okay.” His jaw is set.
“Hey.” My voice shakes. My body shakes. I’m actually scared of Shawn for the first time ever. I jerk my hand once, but he tightens his grip...impossibly tight. My lungs can’t pull in a breath; there’s just not enough air in the room anymore. “Shawn, you’re hurting me.” He can’t mean to hurt me. He can’t.
His face is stuck in a sharp scowl.
“He’s your friend.” My voice is crying. I want to try and pull my shaky arm out of his grasp again, but I’m afraid to; he’s squeezing so hard. Tears are hot against the back of my eyes, threatening to spill over.
“How would you feel if I spent all day with some chick?” The words come out as angry spit from between his teeth.
I open my mouth to answer but can’t, the lump in my throat has taken over. All I can think about is that I need to find something to say so he’ll let me go. Some way to get the air through my throat to form words. “It’s just Luke,” I plead, sucking in a breath.
“Whatever.” He throws my arm back at me, turns, and walks out the door, slamming it hard behind him. My body jumps at the sound.
I stumble backward onto the couch. I’m like a leaf battered about in the wind. Nothing’s working right. I need to sit. Normally I’d run after him, but I have no idea what to expect. And I’m afraid. Of Shawn.
He’s never been that way before. Ever. He’s moody and particular, but this seems...extreme. I’m cradling my wrist with my other hand, afraid to look at any possible damage. It hurts to move it. What just happened here? How did it happen?
It’s like there suddenly must be something fundamentally wrong with the universe. But the TV’s still on. My house looks normal and quiet. I’m still breathing, but Shawn, my Shawn, just hurt me. Lying down seems so anti-climactic, but I can’t bring myself to do anything else.
When Juliet realizes Romeo’s dying the sobs take over, and I pull my knees to my chest as if making myself smaller will somehow dull the pain.
About the Author:
After living in Washington, Utah and Las Vegas, she now resides in Alaska with her husband, and two children. Aside from writing, Jolene sews, plays the guitar, sings when forced, and spends as much time outside as possible.
She is also the author of Night Sky and The Next Door Boys.
Find the author online:
Jolene Perry's Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002038196677
Jolene Perry's Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/JoleneBPerry
Jolene Perry's Website: http://www.jolenebperry.com/
Jolene Perry's Blog: http://www.jolenesbeenwriting.blogspot.com/
Shawn is the guy Ronnie Bird promised her life to at the age of fourteen. He's her soul mate. He's more uptight every day, but it's not his fault. His family life is stressful, and she's adding to it. She just needs to be more understanding, and he'll start to be the boy she fell in love with. She won’t give up on someone she’s loved for so long.
Luke is her best friend, and the guy she hangs with to watch girlie movies in her large blanketopias. He's the guy she can confide in before she even goes to her girlfriends, and the guy who she's playing opposite in Romeo and Juliet. Now her chest flutters every time he gets too close. This is new. Is Ronnie falling for him? Or is Juliet? The lines are getting blurry, but leaving one guy for another is not something that a girl like Ronnie does.
Shawn’s outbursts are starting to give her bruises, and Luke’s heart breaks as Ronnie remains torn. While her thoughts and feelings swirl around the lines between friendship and forever, she’s about to lose them both.