Word Count: 2925
“Switch” is a rewrite of a scene that I wrote for a creative writing class that I took in 2007. I wanted to return to it as a way to revisit my old chick-lit/romance roots I hadn’t planned to do much revising to the 2007 version of this scene, but once I started to tweak, I couldn’t manage to stop. I managed to cut over 300 words in this revision (mostly dialogue tags and some awkward phrases), and add in a few things that I thought were missing. All in all, I’m pretty pleased with the final product, and would actually consider going back to the chick-lit/romance genre one day in the future.
“Brilliant!” Jade proclaimed in a loud voice as the curtain fell upon the stage, signaling the beginning of intermission. She clapped her hands together in glee and faced her friends as the house lights came on. “Absolutely brilliant and awe-inspiring! Andrew Lloyd Webber is a complete genius. Philip, Maggie, thank you so much for tonight.”
“Anytime, Jade,” Philip said in a deep, rich baritone. Lean and sandy-haired with keen green eyes, a large, distinctive nose and an expressive mouth, he cut an elegant figure in his tuxedo. “It’s not every day that you turn twenty-five, you know.”
“We haven’t seen in you in forever,” Maggie added, leaning against Philip comfortably. “Besides, you’re totally part of the family. We couldn’t do any less.”
Jade hid a smile as she watched Philip playfully tugged at one of Maggie’s auburn corkscrew curls, though a snicker did leave her mouth when Maggie swatted his hand away. Even after three years of marriage, she and Philip seemed as much in love as ever.
The two women had been best friends since high school and nearly inseparable in college. At first glance, they seemed to be complete opposites. Maggie was tall and athletic, porcelain-skinned and freckled, her hair a mass of riotous auburn curls. Jade, on the other hand, was petite and rounded with almond-shaped amethyst eyes that contrasted strikingly with her black hair and caramel complexion. They shared a great deal in common, however, including a love of literature, classic Hollywood films, shopping, and cocktails. Though they also had other friends, they knew they could trust each other with their deepest and most precious secrets.
After graduation, Maggie got married and moved to England. Jade made her way across the pond soon after, having been accepted into a forensic profiling graduate program at Kings College. Her two friends generously allowed her to live with them for a term, providing her with warm, home-cooked meals and a place to live free of charge until she could find a job and a home of her own. Though she had been living on her own for the better part of three years, the trio still met regularly for dinners, parties, and the occasional night out.
Jade cast a sidelong glance at the man sitting silently beside her, looking uncomfortable and ill at ease. Ian was her date for the evening, and though they had been dating for a few months, he didn’t seem to mesh with her two closest friends. It was a troubling warning sign, but she enjoyed his company – when he behaved himself, at any rate. She offered him a flirtatious smile, sliding her hand in his.
“And what did you think of the first act, Ian? I can’t believe that you’ve never seen ‘The Phantom of the Opera.’ You’ve been completely deprived!”
Ian hesitated a moment before answering, but Jade’s exuberance was contagious. “It was wonderful, Jade,” he said with a warm smile. “Thank you for bringing me along.”
“Shall we go for a bit of a stroll?” Philip asked, rising and pulling Maggie up beside him. “I think I could use a stretch.”
“I fear that I’ll have to steal my best friend away from you, Philip,” Jade said with a mock sigh, hooking arms with Maggie and gently tugging her out of the tall man’s grasp. “We’ve got to visit the ladies’ room and powder our noses.”
Maggie hid a smile and shook her head in dismay at her friend’s antics. Philip and Jade behaved like brother and sister whenever possible, joking, teasing, and taunting each other at every possible occasion. In response to Jade’s words, Philip did his best to affect a displeased, brooding scowl.
“And engage in vile gossip, you scandalmongers!” He wagged a finger at them. “Off with you, then.”
“Try to amuse yourselves,” Jade laughed. “We’ll be back soon.” The glare of open distaste that Philip cast in Ian’s direct, however, did not look promising.
“Does he really have to do that?” she asked plaintively, burying her face in her hands, her cheeks red with embarrassment.
“Do what?” Maggie asked in confusion.
“Treat every single one of my boyfriends like they’ve got the plague or something,” she retorted, flopping down onto one of the cushioned benches in front of an empty vanity table. “I mean, really – what does he have against Ian?”
Maggie snorted unceremoniously as she fished out a tube of lipstick from her tiny gold-beaded evening clutch. “Where do I start?” she muttered under her breath.
“What?” Jade rounded on her best friend with accusing eyes. “What did you say?”
“Hey, you asked! Don’t jump down my throat just because I’m actually honest enough to tell you what I think. Isn’t that what friends are supposed to do? Always tell the truth, even if it burns?”
Jade frowned, her dark brows knitting together. She couldn’t fault Maggie’s logic. “Yeah, I suppose. And don’t you dare rub it in! I see that smug look of yours!”
“Ian is nice, I suppose.” Her dubious expression belied her words. “Still, when you come down to it, he’s really an insufferable idiot.”
“A direct quote from your charming husband, I take it.”
“Stop interrupting.” Jade closed her mouth, but it didn’t stop her from rolling her eyes. “You asked for my opinion and I’m going to give it to you.” She paused, anticipating another flippant remark from her friend. When none came, she took a breath and continued.
“Ian is nice, but he’s altogether wrong for you. He’s boring, dull, irritating, doesn’t have any sense of adventure, not to mention a sense of humour…” She trailed off and forced the other woman to face her.
“He’s getting really serious about you, Jade,” she said softly, “and I know you enjoy stockpiling men as if they were your own personal stamp collection, but you might want to take it easy with this one. I think he might like you more than all the others combined.”
Jade frowned at Maggie’s words and turned back to the mirror. Her expression peered back at her, worried and anxious. Irritated, she pulled out a small hairbrush and quickly ran it through her glossy black hair, trying in vain to distract herself.
“I think you’re being too hard on him, Maggie,” she said at last. “He’s a fine man –
successful, stable, financially secure. Isn’t that what I’m supposed to be looking for?”
“Clearly you haven’t heard a single word that I’ve said! What about passion, Jade? Fervent ardour and zeal? An instant connection heralded by choirs of sweetly singing angels? Isn’t that what you’ve always talked about since we were girls?”
Jade snapped her purse shut with an abrupt click. “You and Philip got lucky. You met in the most ridiculous, storybook way possible. I mean, he rescued you from a runaway cable car of all things, and you’ve been joined at the hip ever since.” She shook her head despondently. “I don’t think it’s that easy for the rest of us. As a matter of fact, I don’t even know if something like that can even happen for the rest of us.”
She fell silent, brooding for a moment before forcing a smile on her face. It wasn’t the time or the place for such dark thoughts.
“Come on,” she said gaily, smoothing down the front of her slim-fitting black halter dress. “We’d better get back out there before Philip and Ian completely destroy British-American diplomatic relations.”
Arm-in-arm, she and Maggie sauntered back out into the crowded corridor, searching around for the two men. They found them standing off to the side, hostile expressions fixed upon each man’s face as they glared at one another impossibly.
“Did you miss me?” Maggie asked as she sidled up to Philip and wriggled into the circle of his arms. He offered her a grateful smile and a kiss.
“Immensely.” He cradled her close, an eyebrow raised as he glanced in Jade’s direction. “Did you and your friend have enough time to form your diabolical schemes? Should we be frightened by what you’ve planned?”
“Yes,” Jade called flippantly. “Our blueprints for world domination are practically complete. You’re welcome to join us, if you like.”
Philip chuckled at this, though he wisely chose not to respond. “Shall we return to our seats? I’m sure intermission will be over in a few minutes, and I’d hate to miss the beginning of the second act –” He broke off as Jade suddenly walked away, drifting off into the crowd. “Where is she going? Jade, don’t go wandering off!”
“She probably saw something sparkly, Philip,” Maggie said in amusement. “You know how easily distracted she gets.”
“I’ll just be a minute,” Jade called back over her shoulder, an abstracted expression on her face. “There’s just a painting that I’d like to see over here. It’s by one of the Romantics. Caspar David Friedrich, if I’m not mistaken…”
Whatever snide remark Philip offered in response was lost on Jade as she drew closer to the painting, her attention fixed upon the sweeping landscape. She had all but lost herself in the vivid brushstrokes and detail when something brushed her bare shoulder, sending shivers up her spine.
“I believe this belongs to you,” a low voice said in her ear.
She turned and stepped back to find herself trapped in the intense grey eyes of the tall man standing behind her. “I – I’m sorry?”
“Your glove, Lady.” He placed the elbow-length black silk glove into her open hand. “You dropped it as you walked down the corridor.”
“Oh, yes.” Her mouth opened and closed stupidly as she attempted to regain some control over her faculties. His mere presence wrought havoc with her senses, and it was all she could do to keep from swooning at his feet.
“I… Thank you, sir,” she said finally. His hand, however, did not leave hers, and it was clear that he had no intention of leaving. “May I have the pleasure of knowing to whom I am indebted?” She should have felt ridiculous, speaking like a character out of an Austen novel, but something about him made her want to hover on the edge of formality.
“Pierce Somerset-Grant,” he replied. His voice was smooth, dark and sinful, and she swallowed hard to keep from visibly trembling. “And you are…?”
“Jade,” she returned, blushing slightly as he raised her bare hand to his lips. “Jade Villanueva.”
There was absolutely no way this man could be real, but here he was, solid and standing before her. He was somewhere around his mid-thirties, with broad shoulders and a stalwart, athletic build that radiated power and authority. His thick, dark brown hair was brushed away from his brow, revealing a widow’s peak and a faintly creased forehead. His features were chiselled and finely hewn – a hawk-like, aquiline nose, strong jaw, wide sensuous mouth – but it was his grey gaze, filled with all the wisdom and sadness and joy and pain of a lifetime, that drew her attention.
The world around them faded and disappeared as they faced each other. Silence stretched out for a long moment before he opened his mouth and spoke. “Have you – have you ever considered the music of the spheres?”
She should have been alarmed by his strange words, but there was something so earnest and honest about him that she couldn’t avoid being helplessly drawn in. “The celestial music of the heavens,” she said after a moment’s thought, “conceived of by Pythagoras, and later revived by the thinkers of the Renaissance.”
He nodded for her to continue, and she swallowed hard, unable to tear her gaze away from his. “They believed that it plays when two souls, drawn by destiny, meet for the first time.”
“Yes,” he murmured, the ghost of a smile hovering upon his lips. “That’s right.”
“I’ve considered it.” She held her breath, afraid to exhale, in anticipation of his next question.
“What do you think it sounds like?”
Her voice was a whisper, her heart thudding thunderously. “Like an orchestra tuning.” She spoke without thinking, stepping closer to him. “An orchestra, at the moment when every instrument plays their rightful notes in perfect pitch and perfect harmony. In that moment, for a single heartbeat, the sound is so exquisite that divine light illuminates the world. That is the music of the spheres.”
The faint smile broadened into a grin at her words. “Exactly,” he said. “That is precisely what it sounds like.”
She exhaled at last, feeling as though she passed some sort of integral test or challenge, but before she could articulate her thoughts, Ian’s voice brought her crashing back to reality.
“What is this?” His voice was loud and displeased at the sight of Jade and Pierce standing together, hands clasped. “What the hell is going on here?”
The two parted awkwardly, their inexplicable connection severed. Reluctantly, Jade met Ian’s accusatory gaze, frantically trying to think up a plausible explanation. “I, um, dropped my glove,” she offered lamely, holding up the one that had fallen before sliding it back on to her hand, her skin still burning from where Pierce’s lips had grazed it, “and this gentleman returned it to me.” She tentatively lifted her eyes towards Pierce and was startled by the fierce expression he wore on his face. He was clearly taking Ian’s measure, trying to determine what manner of man he was. From the disdainful sneer on his lips, it was evident that Ian was found wanting.
“Well, isn’t that nice of him?” Ian said in a voice that suggested precisely the opposite, stealing an arm about Jade’s waist in a proprietary gesture. “Now then, dear, we’ve got to get back to our seats – the show will be starting soon, and I know that you’d hate to miss any of it.”
Jade scowled up at him, not appreciating his condescending mannerisms or his patronizing tone of voice. “Not yet, Ian,” she said through clenched teeth, trying to tug away from him, but he was holding on fast. Before she could resort to more drastic measures, Philip’s irritated voice cut through the din of the crowd.
“Dammit, Ian, are you so ineffectual that you can’t manage to drag Jade away from a bloody painting?” he demanded in exasperation. “Hurry up!”
Ian huffed at the insult. “If you really want to know, you’ll have to ask her yourself. She’s clearly not in the mood to cooperate with me.”
Her eyes flashed dangerously. “Not cooperating? You’re the one who’s interrupting my conversations and trying to manhandle me!”
Philip glanced at Maggie helplessly but she merely shrugged, clearly entertained by the disagreement. With a growl, he whirled back to the arguing couple. “What the hell are you two talking about?”
“Philip?” The four of them froze at the sight of Pierce peering inquisitively at the other man. “Philip Elliot, is that really you?”
“Pierce?” Jade had never seen Philip look so shocked and speechless in her life. “My God, man, I can’t believe it’s you!”
The two met in a warm embrace, then stepped back to barrage one another with endless questions: “What are you doing here? How long has it been? What are you doing with yourself? Where are you living?” At last, Philip recalled that he was not alone, and turned to his wife and friend.
“This is Pierce Somerset-Grant,” he explained as he clapped the other man on the back and presented him to the others. “We’ve been friends practically since birth. Our parents are old chums from university.” He beckoned Maggie to his side. “Pierce, meet my wife, Maggie.”
“She’s beautiful!’ Pierce shook Maggie’s hand warmly before elbowing his friend, a sly smile on his face. “But Philip – how in the world did you convince her to marry you?”
He laughed, though his shrewd eyes easily caught the blush heightening Jade’s cheeks as she surreptitiously eyed Pierce. It was too clear that something had passed between them.
“I would introduce you to our friend Jade,” he said innocently, “but I think it’s safe to say that you’ve already met.”
Jade managed to extract herself from the iron prison of Ian’s arms to stand before Pierce. “Yes, we have. How extraordinary, that the two of you are friends.” They exchanged secret smiles, but before he could respond, the bell signalling the end of intermission sounded.
Philip groaned, clearly more interested in catching up with his old friend than returning to the performance. “Do you have plans for after the show? We’ve got so much to talk about. What do you say to drinks and dessert?”
“I’m completely free,” he replied. “I’ll meet you out front when the play is over.”
Moving with the crowd, the five headed down the corridor towards their seats. Ian walked slightly ahead of everyone else, his jaw clenched in obvious irritation. Jade hesitated, torn between hurrying after her date and lingering behind to exchange a few words with Pierce. When the dark-haired man placed a gentle hand on her shoulder, however, she instantly slowed.
“Jade,” he murmured loud enough so that only she could hear, “what are the chances that you can lose that guy between now and the end of the show?”
“‘That guy’?” She lifted her brows, lips twisting in an arch grin. “Don’t you mean my boyfriend?”
“Not if I have anything to do with it.”
The seriousness in his voice made her tingle from head to toe, and in an instant, her decision was clear. “Give me twenty minutes. After that, I’m all yours.”