All wonderful stories have the same basic elements, and one is the “inciting event.” This is the plot twist where things must change for the character. Once it happens, there is no going back. In a romance novel, one inciting event is The Fight. The budding lovers experience a conflict that drives them apart. They spend the rest of the story finding their way back to love. Cue the hearts and music as we all sigh with pleasure and enjoy the happily-ever-after ending.
Readers identify with this inciting event because all of us who have been in love have endured one in real life. Mine started with a summer romance before my senior year of high school. I worked as a lifeguard, and the teen I believed to be my future love-of-my-life appeared at the pool one afternoon with his friends. He caught my eye, and I caught his. The next few months were romantic bliss as we learned about each other through conversations, hanging over a big yellow float in the pool, toes bumping into each other in the water underneath. The inciting event? My summer love crashed down around my feet as the beginning of school neared, and he confessed he had a girlfriend who went to my school. Anguish! Tears! Heartache! The next month was misery as I put the pieces of my poor broken heart together.
The “other woman” didn’t care for the fact her boyfriend spent the summer courting someone else, so she released him from his contract. As a free agent, he picked up where he left off with me. He had badly bruised my feelings, but my traitorous heart had no shame. When he came through the drive-thru at the small burger joint where I worked, a hard, excited thump in my chest told me I would eventually forgive him and take him back. And so began the dance of forgiveness and reunion.
We’ve all been there. Every love adventure has bumps. Including Abby and Manny’s. Here is an excerpt from PROTECTED, my novel. We pick up with the two lovers a few weeks after their own inciting event. They are feeling their way through the hurt feelings, but missing each other’s company. Jump into a Texas summer in 1855. I hope you enjoy it.
One day after lunch, Yaideli sent her to the barn for the mop. Her heart bumped high in her throat when she walked around the corner for water and stumbled upon Manny working. A deerskin stretched out on the ground before him. A small wooden bucket filled with liquid sat by the skin.
“What’re you doing?” Her nonchalant voice disguised her racing pulse.
“I’m tanning this hide for leather.” His normal ponytail caught his hair back, and the same strand that would never stay put blew across his face.
Abby longed to reach over and tuck it behind his ear. She stuck her hands into her pockets instead.
“Want to help?” His eyes challenged her.
The look he gave her said more than his words. She was tempted to walk away. He clearly had a hidden agenda. However, this was something else she needed to learn. They used leather for so many things on the farm. Rope, bindings, hinges, boots, clothes. She came closer.
“Sure.” She rose to the unspoken dare. “What do you want me to do?”
Manny gestured at the small bucket. “Mix this together. I was about to do it, but you can instead while I get this skin pegged to the ground.”
Abby peered into the bucket. A lump of pinkish-gray material sat in the water. She cut her eyes sideways at Manny. “What is this?” Her voice was guarded.
“It’s just animal fat. I’ll rub it into the skin to prevent it from drying and cracking. Mix it together with your fingers while I hammer these pegs in.”
Abby knelt and gingerly stuck her hands into the warm water. The lump of matter was gelatinous. It looked like the fatty strips on bacon. Sort of. She squished the material through her fingers, stirring and mashing it into smaller and smaller bits. An unpleasant odor wafted up. It didn’t smell like bacon.
“What is this?” Her nostrils flared, mouth pulling down in a grimace. The water turned a milky color.
“Brains.” His expressionless face matched his bland tone.
Abby flicked her hands away from her, casting the clinging bits from her fingers. “Ewww!” Disgust flashed across her face. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Manny’s mouth pressed into a straight line. She felt him suppressing his laugh.
“Quit being such a baby, Abby-girl. What did you think it was?”
Abby’s hackles flared at the hated nickname, but she hid her annoyance. If he knew it bothered her, he would only say it more.
“I thought you were using bacon or something.”
“What difference does it make what it is? It’s still a body part from a dead animal, either way. Brains are greasy—lot of fat in them, as you’ve probably noticed.”
“Where did you get it?” Abby was reluctant to put her slippery hands back into the water.
“From the deer. Every animal has the right-sized brain to tan its skin. Keep mixing it. All the stringy parts need to break down. Are you afraid?” His voice mocked her hesitation.
Abby gritted her teeth and took a deep breath. Trying to keep her mouth from pulling down at the corners, she plunged her hands in the bucket and continued mashing and mixing the smelly concoction. Manny chuckled as he went back to pegging the hide.
Once Manny had the hide stretched out, he reached for the bucket. “That’s good enough. Now, help me splash it onto the skin and start rubbing it in.”
He cupped a large brown hand and scooped some of the watery mixture, splashing it into the center of the deer hide. Swallowing hard, Abby knelt at the opposite end and copied his motions. The grease collected in white globs between her fingers and underneath her nails. She breathed with her mouth closed. The smell was potent enough she could almost taste it. She didn’t want brain-infested air in her mouth.
Together, they knelt on the ground, splashing and rubbing the brain mixture. Abby replicated the movements Manny made as he rubbed. They worked silently, the sounds of the barnyard keeping them company. Chickens clucked just around the corner, punctuated now and then by a rooster crowing. The love songs of crickets pulsed rhythmically from the shadows. The wind rustled the leaves of a nearby cottonwood, sounding like a gentle rain falling.
I wish! Abby thought discontentedly. The heat. . .it never went away.
A buzzing sound caught her attention. She glanced up, then ducked her head away from a yellow jacket drawn by the smell of the brains.
“Shoo!” She leaned out of its way. It buzzed and bobbed over toward Manny, its long legs dangling ridiculously from its yellow-and-black-striped body.
Manny concentrated on spreading the brains to the edge of the skin and didn’t notice the insect until it flew near his face. With a muffled exclamation, he jerked backwards so suddenly he lost his balance and tipped over onto his bottom.
“Tarnation!” He scrambled up and took several steps back. Abby looked on, astonished.
“Don’t tell me you’re afraid of a yellow jacket!”
Manny avoided making eye contact. “I’m not afraid. I just—” Whatever he planned to say next was cut off abruptly as he danced a few quick steps to the left, avoiding the flying critter’s arbitrary flight plan.
Abby laughed delightedly. “You were saying?” She sat back on her heels, watching him with amusement.
Manny scowled. “I just don’t like them, O.K.?” He reached for the mop she carried from the barn, brandishing it like a baseball bat to swat the insect.
“Don’t make it mad!” She jumped to her feet and snatched the mop away. “Just ignore it. Maybe yellow jackets like the smell of brains.”
The insect alighted on an edge of the skin, and Manny positioned himself as far away from it as he could. She laughed again, enjoying the fact she had something to hold over him, something she could tease him with as unmercifully as he teased her with the stupid Abby-girl nickname. He shot her a dark look.
“Don’t worry.” Abby spoke in a sing-song voice. “I’ll protect you.”
They finished rubbing the mixture into the deerskin, all the while in the company of the lurking yellow jacket, picking its way delicately around the edges.
Finally, Manny stood. “I’m gonna roll the hide up so the oils can soak in for a day.” He eyed the yellow jacket with annoyance. “Don’t you have anywhere else to be?”
Abby gently shooed the insect off of the deerskin with a wave from her foot. It buzzed away, then landed again on the edge of the bucket. Long, segmented legs tiptoed over the edge, and the insect disappeared inside.
She cocked a challenging eyebrow at Manny, then helped him fold the skin on itself. He finished by folding it in fourths.
“I’ll set this in the barn until tomorrow.” He walked away without a backward glance.
Abby laughed again, not caring if he heard her, and went to wash the disgusting smell from her hands. She left the bucket where it sat, guarded by the yellow jacket. Let Manny figure out how to rid it of the unwanted guest.