Welcome Ariel Tachna Today
After the “Happily Ever After” by Ariel Tachna
When you think of romance, you probably think of falling in love. That’s normal and pretty typical, but anyone who’s ever been in a relationship that lasted beyond the first blush of emotion will tell you there’s a huge difference between falling in love and staying in love, a difference that is far more rarely explored in romantic fiction. After all, we want to read about the butterflies in the stomach, the timid (or not so timid) first approach, the eyes meeting across a bar or a crowded dance floor. We don’t necessarily want to read about the tedium of paying bills and refinancing mortgages and juggling schedules around business trips and school plays, and yet, as anyone who’s been in a relationship for very long will tell you, staying in love is hard work. It requires commitment, negotiation, and above all, the choice to stay even when you’d like nothing more than to strangle your partner.
Several times over the past year and a half, I’ve chosen to write about couples who are at a crossroads in their relationship. They have to make the choice to stand by each other or go their separate ways, and those choices aren’t always easy.
Neither is telling their stories.
From a writer’s point of view, established couples present some different challenges than writing couples falling in love for the first time. First, there’s the back story. If you’ve got a couple who’ve been together a year or two years or twenty years, they’ve had time to develop habits and to have a story of their own that isn’t on the page but that informs their present. If you’ve ever watched an “old married couple” do routine things together, you see that story in their actions without knowing the details. I think about watching my parents in the kitchen. They move around each other, working together, without ever needing to say a word, although my dad will usually steal a kiss each time my mom gets close enough. He’ll be cooking the spaghetti sauce and she’ll hand him the onion salt exactly when he needs it before he asks. They fit together. (For the record, my parents will have been married 45 years in June.) It’s a beautiful thing to see, but it’s not always an easy thing to write because as an author you have to sense (and portray) those patterns without watching them develop initially. Then there’s those 45 years, or however many the couple has been together. In that time, my parents have raised three children, seen them get married, had five grandchildren, buried their parents and one of their brothers, watched their siblings marry, divorce, suffer with cancer and heart disease, and all the things that go into life. They’ve stood together and built a foundation for their lives that launched the lives of three successful daughters. So how, as an author, do you evoke all that, not to mention the beautiful story of them falling in love, if you’re telling a story after the fact? In Under the Skin, one of the stories I’ve published recently where the story picks up mid-relationship, Nicki and I chose to do a series of flashbacks to earlier, important points in Alexei and Patrick’s relationship. In Stolen Moments, I chose a different approach and had Beau and Jacob each telling their best friends parts of what had happened and how they’d gotten to where they are at the beginning of the book. Jacob’s best friend Billy already knew part of the story, but since Beau’s best friend Sean didn’t even know he was gay until Beau told him about Jacob, Beau definitely had some explaining to do.
The second challenge for an author is the story arc. In a typical romance, you’ve got boy meets boy (or girl), boy falls for boy, boys get together and live happily ever after, in all the infinite variations. For an established couple, all that meeting and falling has already happened, so what’s the plot? What’s the arc? That’s the beauty of it. It’s unlimited. It can be whatever stumbling block life throws at them as long as at the end of the book, the characters have a stronger, deeper relationship because of it, and isn’t that the way it happens in any relationship? Life throws challenges at you. You face them together and come out stronger on the other side, or you don’t face them together and go your separate ways.
They might not be traditional romances in the sense of falling in love, but the deepening of the commitment, the reaffirming of the bond still makes a beautiful love story.
About Ariel Tachna:
Ariel Tachna lives in southwestern Ohio with her husband, her daughter and son, and their cat. A native of the region, she has nonetheless lived all over the world, having fallen in love with both France, where she found her career and her husband, and India, where she dreams of retiring some day. She started writing when she was 12 and hasn't looked back since. A connoisseur of wine and horses, she's as comfortable on a farm as she is in the big cities of the world.
Stolen Moments by Ariel Tachna
Available at Dreamspinner Press
After a year apart, teacher Jacob Peters and county judge Beau Braedon decide they can’t live without each other. There are just a few small obstacles to their Alabama love story. Jacob resents Beau’s paranoia about being outed, but Beau is convinced he’ll lose his seat on the bench if he admits to their relationship, and as a teacher at a Christian school, Jacob’s job is even more at risk. They could relocate, but Beau’s mother has Alzheimer’s and can’t be moved. And then there’s the tiny issue of Jacob’s infant son, Finn, and his mother, whom Jacob wed out of duty. In short, they are stuck.
But Beau has a long-term plan, and he’s prepared to swallow his fears and compromise with Jacob, because sharing stolen moments is no longer enough.
JACOB navigated the country roads between Elliot and Prestonsburg with the ease of someone who had driven the route too many times to count. The familiarity allowed his thoughts to wander to the night ahead and back over the two years that had led them to this point. Sometimes he wondered how he’d ended up here in Elliot, closeted, married to a woman he didn’t love, with a new baby he adored and a lover who only wanted him sometimes.
That wasn’t fair to Beau. Jacob had no doubt Beau wanted him all the time, but the realities of life in a small southern town, the realities of their careers in such towns, made that difficult.
He’d sworn when he left home to go off to college that he was done with the South. He’d thought if he heard his mother’s favorite expression, “That just isn’t done,” one more time, he’d scream. And yet he’d ended up in a different southern town, but just as conservative as the one he’d left. When he signed up for Teach For America, he’d expected to end up in an urban center, dealing with underserved kids there. He hadn’t expected to end up in Elliot. He hadn’t expected to fall in love with Elliot. Sure, it was the same southern conservatism as his childhood home, but the kids were so hungry for knowledge and so in awe of his experiences. When his two-year commitment was up, he’d stayed. He hadn’t been able to remain in the same school because of funding cuts, but he’d gotten a job at the Elliot Christian Academy instead.
The kids there might be from slightly more well-off families since they had to be able to pay the tuition, but that didn’t mean they were less in need of good teachers, and Jacob was good. He had been in Elliot for six years, and every kid he’d taught, in either school, had left his fourth-grade classroom either on grade level or at least two grade levels ahead of where they had been when they came to him. And many of them were well above grade level.
It was one of the reasons he’d gone along with Beau’s crazy plan. If he came out, he’d lose his job at the Christian school for sure, and finding a job at a public school would be challenging given the financial problems that had led to so many schools cutting positions left and right in a desperate attempt to make ends meet. If he didn’t even have a recommendation because of the reasons for his dismissal, it would probably be impossible. It was unusual enough to have a man in an elementary classroom. He doubted Elliot, or even Prestonsburg, was ready for a gay man in an elementary classroom.
He sighed. Beau. Beau’s court schedule hadn’t allowed him to be as involved in the Big Brothers Big Sisters project as Jacob was—Beau still had to hear cases at the county courthouse at least part of the day during the week—but he’d been around in the evenings and on the weekends, his crazy sense of humor endearing him to the kids and adults alike. Judge Braedon presided on the bench with all the dignity one would expect of a man in his position, but once the robes came off, Beau was a little kid, more than happy to play basketball with the boys and just as willing to have a tea party with the girls (even the ones who’d already kicked his ass at basketball).
Jacob had fallen a little in love the first time he’d seen Beau make the effort to draw out Jim, the artistic autistic boy who always sat in the corner and rarely replied to anyone. Beau had sat down next to Jim and started to draw in the sand with a stick. Jacob had stopped to watch, sensing, in the way only those who work with kids can, something miraculous about to happen. It had taken Jim a few minutes to look up from his own drawing, but when he did, he spoke for the first time Jacob had ever heard. “The head is crooked.”
Beau handed the boy the stick. “Fix it for me.”
Jim had taken the stick, erased Beau’s drawing, and fixed it. The two had been fast friends for the rest of the summer. Beau had even managed to get Jim to put down his sketch pad and participate in some of the other group activities. Not all of them. Jim still refused to play basketball. But it was more than anyone else had been able to do.
It was the memories of moments like those that made it so hard for Jacob to end things with Beau. As screwed up as their relationship was, especially now, Jacob loved the man, and nothing seemed to be able to change that. Not the hiding, not the limited number of times they saw each other in the year they were together, not the anger and hurt at yet another canceled meeting that had led him to break things off with Beau, get drunk, and sleep with Melissa a year ago. Nothing.
Because no matter how angry or hurt or frustrated or sad he was at any given moment, he couldn’t deny the existence of the man he fell in love with.