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Torn - Chapter 1

by joannaxx 

Posted: 03 October 2004
Word Count: 2721

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“You remind me of my dead brother,” were her first words. Kind of screwed, huh? Maybe I shouldn’t have gone there. Allowed this person to worm herself into my life. But then again, did I have a choice?

It was an August eve when we first met. The last Thursday of August to be precise. Not that I have a photographic memory or am good with dates or anything. It’s just that the previous Thursday wasn’t spent playing pool down The Oak as usual. Instead I was celebrating. Big time. The end of educational life. Forever. My A level results weren’t particularly brilliant. They were okay like. But it no longer mattered. In fact they were of no importance whatsoever as everything had been finalised and I was free. Totally free. To dream of those good times ahead. After all, this time next year Dan and I would be who knows where. It didn’t really matter so long as it wasn’t here.

Dan was my best mate. We’d known each other for seven years. He was more than a best mate in fact. To me he was family. We were blood brothers in the truest sense of the word.

Unlike myself he never went to college. He’s dyslexic you see. Has problems with reading and writing. That’s not to say he’s thick though. Far from it. As a matter of fact he’s the brightest guy I’ve ever met. I admire him so much. Regardless of the upbringing he’s had, he takes everything in his stride.

So, whilst I spent two years cooped up in a classroom, Dan went and got himself a job. Or more accurately, a series of jobs – labouring, courier work, stuff like that. A lot of it cash in hand too. He was making a packet.

And now I was on the same route. Save, save, save with one thing in mind. January 1st and Thailand here we come!

In the meantime life was fine. More than fine. There I was, just chilling out with Dan, playing pool, no responsibilities and not a care in the world. Freedom, pure freedom.

Anyway, I was trying to concentrate, embarrassingly being two games down, when, “Don’t look up, but I think you’ve got yourself an admirer.”

“Huh, yeah.”

“Yeah, over there.” I continued with my aim yet missed miserably. “Aren’t you going to look?”

“Ha, ha.” After all, with Dan being the looker he was either mistaken or it was a cruel trick to help me lose whatever focus I had that night.

“Well, you decide.”

I glanced over and well there was certainly some girl staring. And it looked like it was at me. It was quite unsettling actually. Her gaze didn’t move. Nor did she smile.

Out of the two of us Dan is the more handsome. With his blonde locks, blue eyes and chilled manner he could attract the girls through a slight nod. The Golden Boy I’d heard others refer to him as. Whereas I was different. The same height as Dan, but lanky. I ‘spose, at a push, I’m okay looking. Dan says I wouldn’t be his pulling partner if I weren’t. But my eyes are more grey than blue and I have inherited my mother’s uncontrollable black frizz for hair. At any rate, I certainly wouldn’t turn heads. Although Dan would agree to differ. Says I have a unique look and should learn to embrace it. Whatever. It doesn’t really matter what I look like though as I’m not much of a people person. Well, not at first anyway. It takes me a while to get to know someone. I’m much more of an observer. Like Dan in a way. But unlike Dan, who carries it off, I can appear nervous, some would even say shy. Not a very attractive trait. Therefore this girl’s stare was unsettling.


“Wait a sec,” he potted yet another ball. “What?”

“Do I look okay?”

“Whaddya mean?”

“I mean that girl you…”

“She still staring?”

“Well,” I looked back. “Yeah, I think so.”


“And what?”

Dan finished the game. “Three up man. What’s wrong with you tonight?”

“Lost my touch?”

“You never had it.”

“’Spose I’m buying then.”

“You bet.”

After I paid for our drinks we strolled back and observed two other guys we knew playing.

“And I thought you were bad Jamie. Maybe you should play either of these losers. Make you feel good.”

“Watch it mate.”

“You sure you haven’t forgotten the rules Dal?”

“We don’t play to an audience,”

“You don’t play you mean,” and the harmless banter
continued before Dan nudged me, rather hard.

“What?! That hurt.”

And then there she was, right in front of me, the girl with the piercing emerald stare.

“You remind me of my dead brother,” were her first words.

“Sorry?” Well, what can you say. Was she being serious? But before I had a chance to consider the implications of those first words she was off.

“I’m Charlie by the way,” she offered her hand.

“Jamie. I had a cat called Charlie.” the words spilled out.

“Cheers. Well, I’ll let you in on a secret.”

“Go on then.”

“It’s rather embarrassing. My real name’s not Charlotte, after Charlotte Bronte, but Charlie, and no I wasn’t named after a cat, but after my mum’s favourite dog.”

“You’re kidding?”

“Do I look like I am?”

“Em. Well, now that you mention it. I spose it’s a …”

And then she burst out laughing. “Gottya. Yeah, yeah, I’m named after boring Charlotte Bronte, but no one calls me Charlotte never.”

“All right then Charlie Brown.”

“Aaargh, I could kill you.” She laughed. Then, “So, how did Jamie get his name.”

“As a matter of fact…”


“I don’t think I really know. Although my granddad’s called James, so maybe….”



“You should make something up. ”

”Like what?”

“I don’t know. It’s your name! Where d’you live by the way?”

“Em, why?”

“Only asking! No need to get so paranoid!”

“Sorry. Just off Tudor Road, 10 minutes or so from here.”

“I think I know it. I’m not from round these parts you see.”


“Really. I originate from boring Buckinghamshire. Dull, dull, dull!”

“You seem to be a person who’s easily bored.”

“Yeah, I am. Have a short attention span. I’m going to be a nurse one day. Work in a hospice. What about you?”

“Em, don’t know really.”

“What do you mean you don’t know?” she seemed shocked.

“Well, I don’t. Can’t help that can I.”

“I’m going to be a nurse, one because I want to wear a sexy uniform….”

“You could always go to a fancy dress shop for…”

“Shut up you,” she nudged me in the arm. “Now where was I? Oh yes, I’m going to work in a hospice because two I want to help dying people fulfil their dreams. Aren’t I a good girl?”

I’m not sure about that but she was certainly unreal. And that’s saying something. Words tripped off her tongue. In fact, you never knew what she was going to say next. And although she complained of being bored most of the time, she was anything but dull. And she didn’t talk about herself all the time either. She was interested in knowing about me. My dreams and aspirations. Which was quite embarrassing really as up until then all I had ever really thought about was living one day at time. But I felt comfortable in her presence and was able to divulge in conversation. About anything and nothing.

And as we chatted away I noticed she was a rather attractive girl. Fairly tall, slim, with quite short brown hair, silver grips all over the place. Kinda a mess to be honest. Messy but cute nonetheless. But most of all I remember her eyes. And I’m not really an eye type of person. But they were piercing emerald and sometimes, when she was speaking to you, you couldn’t help but get the impression she could see into your soul. I know that sounds stupid. What I ‘spose I’m trying to say is there was something a little bit intense about her.

Dan, in case you’re wondering, had by this time conveniently excused himself and was in the process of demonstrating to Darren how pool should really be played.

“Hiya mate! How’s it going?”

“George! Hi.”

“And…?” Charlie was quick on the action

“George, Charlie, Charlie, George,”

“How you doing?” Charlie offered her hand once again which George warmly shook before enveloping her in a bear hug. Over familiar some might say. But that was just George. He was that type of guy.

“You from Oz?”

“How’d you guess? Don’t suppose it’s the accent by any chance? Listen you guys, am just on the way to the bar. Wanna drink?”

“I’m okay thanks.”

“A vodka cheers.”


“I’m a drink it straight kinda girl.”

“Dangerous. You better watch that one Jamie,” and off he went to the bar.

“God I hate Australians!” Looking back this was yet another sign not to touch. But what benefit’s hindsight? At the time, even though it was a rather unsettling remark, especially after the initial friendliness of the encounter, I just took it in my stride.

“Hey, George is all right.”

“That accent, yuk!”

“He’s buying you a drink you know.”

“But they’re all so boring.” She seemed to have an obsession here.


“Australians. All they ever do is get pissed.”


“And it’s boring. Dull, dull, dull!”

“That’s not fair now.”

“What, you’re telling me if I ask him what he’s been doing for the last week he’s not going to mention the word drunk at all?”

“No, but…”

“Uh, oh. Uh oh, I think that look you’re giving me means I better get off my soap box. Aaargh, I can be such a, a, arrgh,” she pulled at her hair in frustration, “At times even I can hate myself. Sorry.” She grabbed my arm and sidled up against me.

“I’m sorry.”

“Hey, what’s there to be sorry about.” After all, I didn’t know her.

“Sorry, sorry, sorry,” the little girl voice in full flow. Then, “Why don’t you tell me about you?” sidling up even more.

“I’m a secretive kinda guy.” The flirtation back.

“Well, you could start with you phone number.”


“Now, where were we? Yes, that’s it. Tell me what you wanted to be when you were little! An astronaut, dustman whatever!” she had by this time let go and was off again. Firing weird and wonderful questions. Like what would I do if I saw say, and she pointed to one of the hardest looking men in the room, that guy beat someone to a pulp outside. That a knife was involved. And you could see blood from the victim’s stomach. Warped I know. But fun at the same time. And well that’s how the evening went. Friendly, useless exchanges of info, with George soon joining in on the game.

That night I learnt that Charlie was 16 years of age, living with her aunt and aunt’s boyfriend and, although originally from Buckinghamshire, was helping her uncle part time with his photographic business before she went into nursing when she turned 17, adored animals oh and yes, how could I forget, had a dead brother. Who apparently looked like me. But, apart from the initial exchange, that fact was never brought up again. And its weirdness I somehow chose to ignore.

Before I knew it the evening had drawn to a close and everyone began to assemble into their little groups, preparing to face the night air. “Wait there a sec.” Charlie rushed up to the bar, had a quick word in the barman’s ear, and was back, piece of paper in hand. “My number. Now don’t forget to call,” and with a wink and peck on the cheek she was gone. Literally. Out of the door. All alone. I’m not even sure whom she came with that night.

“Hey Jamie, you coming or what.” It was Dan.


“So, what?”

“Did that bird just give you her number?”

“Em, yeah.”

“Right on Jamie boy. Looks like you’ve pulled!”

“Oh, I dunno.”

“What’s her name then?”

“Charlie.” George piped up, “And she was pretty hot. I’d give her one if you won’t.”

“Yeah, well, are we going or what guys?” I could feel my cheeks redden.

“Ooh touchy.”

“Oh shut up.”

“My place?” the ever hospitable Ozzie was forever inviting us to his.

“Can’t mate, gotta be up early tomorrow.” Dan

“Oh come on. Don’t be old.”

“I’m not. I’ve gotta be up for 5.”


“Why not,” and the three of us continued to walk down the street in companiable silence, just experiencing the moment. Looking back, that was one of the things I appreciated about George and Dan, Dan in particular. You didn’t have to say anything if you didn’t want, no offence taken.

“See you later Dan,”

“Yeah, see you George,”


Dan walked straight on, whereas we took a left towards the Frost Estate then ventured up eight flight of stairs as the lifts were out. No surprise there. The Frost Estate had a reputation. It weren’t too bad though. Although having said that I sure was glad I didn’t live there. As long as you kept your head down, said nothing, you were fine. And besides, George resided in a squat so it was a bargain for him. It was an all right place actually. Luke, some English cousin of his, was a real pro, and they had water, electricity, the works. It was a pretty cool place actually and whenever I went over there were all types of characters just chilling out.

“Mmmmhhhhmmmmm,” George’s nose screwed up and he sniffed the air as he opened the door, “I smell something good,” before exclaiming, “Spike me man!” to an immobile figure in the corner.

“Hey, George,”

“Ben!” Spike’s dog was all over us. “How’s it going dog? Hey? Hey?” George then galloped across the room to give the guy one of his legendary hugs, whereas Ben decided to make my acquaintance. Dogs always seemed to like me.

“Spike me man, I could smell it was you. You remember Jamie don’t you?”

“Um, nah, nah. But how’s it going mate?”

“Good, good thanks,”

“That’s what I like to hear. He likes you.”

“Yeah,” I reddened.

“Any friend of Ben’s a friend of mine.”

“Where you been man, where you been?”

“Here… there…. everywhere… nowhere.”

“God, it’s good to see you mate,” and George enveloped him in another one of his hugs. If he wasn’t 6ft 4 then I swear he wouldn’t get away with it. “This man, Jamie, he walks on air and floats through life.”

“Well so would you mate, so would you if you knew the right people. Hey Ben, over here.” he passed George the remains of his joint and expertly began rolling another.

“So, who are you?” George asked a spaced out girl by Spike’s side.


“Me other half.”

“Really?” her eyes bright.

“Yeah, me bird like.” And they exchanged a kiss before Spike turned his attention to Ben, and Becky curled up on his lap.

I took the spliff offered and closed my eyes, allowing the beat of the music and events of the day to float by. And that’s how, after the initial exchange of greetings, we stayed. Words kept to a bare minimum. Happy in our own thoughts. Just chilling.

Some time later I woke from a half daze and made to get up, hands automatically in pockets, where I came across a piece of paper. And as my eyes adjusted I noted a series of digits and the word Charlie J written in bold underneath.

“Oh Charlie, Charlie, Charlie,” it made me chuckle. What was she like. Oh Charlie. And I crumpled up the paper and threw it half heartedly across the room.

Maybe it could have been. In another life. But not now. Total freedom was what I had. And no way was I gonna sacrifice that.

I said my goodbyes to the guys and, as I made my way out of the Frost Estate into a new day, I smiled. Life. I’d never had it so good.

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Comments by other Members

Terry Edge at 20:37 on 04 October 2004  Report this post

Welcome to the group and to WriteWords. You'll find it's a very supportive place to be.

Great opening line! Always good to grab the reader's attention right from the start – this tells us a lot about the character and of course we want to know how her brother died.

You obviously have an ear for dialogue and the interplay between the male characters comes across very naturally. I did find, however, that by the end of the Chapter, I'd lost track of all the characters – Jamie, Dan, Charlie, George, Spike, Becky and was there a Darren in there somewhere, too? A golden rule, especially in children's/Young Adult fiction is, never introduce a character unless they are integral to the plot. This means that every character must be important which leads to not so much another rule as to good author housekeeping: don't throw all your people at the reader right at the start. Introduce them gradually, so we can get to know them. This Chapter would have worked fine with just Jamie, Dan and Charlie – they are each distinctive and interesting, but by throwing in others, their impact on us is lessened.

Your dialogue sounds natural, and that's possibly its problem. You're writing the way people speak in real life, with lots of 'er's and 'um's, 'okay's, etc. The trouble with this is three-fold: 1) all the characters end up sounding the same (as in fact a lot of people in life do), 2) it slows down the story-drive, and 3) it's disjointing and sometimes dull to read. Try cutting every word of dialogue that doesn't tell us something we don't already know, either about the character or the story. Then, you can add just the odd 'well', 'hmmm', etc, to give it authenticity. When you've stripped out the common filler speech words from your characters, they'll take on more individual form.

Have a look at the work of some good Young Adult writers, like Philip Pullman. He uses dialogue to push the story on. And if you can find any of their books, US Young Adult writers such as M E Kerr, Katherine Paterson and Barbara Wersba are very good at getting the reader to think he or she is reading 'natural' teen voices when in fact the dialogue is moving them rapidly through the story.

In my first YA novel, I had a character called Taff who had a particular kind of laugh. In the first draft, I wrote this as 'Heh-heh-heh!' every time he laughed. My editor said this was extremely irritating (she was right) and suggested I try to describe the laugh instead. So, through the book, I came up with different ways of describing it – one was 'his famous Dick Dastardly laugh' and I think another was something like 'he tucked his chin into his left shoulder and made a sound something like a kitchen sink being plungered'. This makes the story more interesting to read and, crucially, it made me work harder to find different analogies.

So far, you've introduced some attractive characters in a realistic setting and hinted that there is some dark/strange/interesting stuff ahead. However, I think the pace will really speed up if you give us, right up front, a strong indication of what at least one of your characters (preferably Jamie) really needs. Plot is basically that: the journey a character makes to what he desperately needs – him not getting it, getting close but moving even further away, and then finally getting it. But we need the drive of this right from the start. This chapter captures well the aimlessness of young people who don't know what they want to do with their lives – the pub, pool, meaningless chat – but to sustain our interest you need to give us a dose of what the story-driver is going to be. Then, the micro and the macro of your story will spiral around each other, tightening our interest – micro being the dialogue and small scenes between people, and macro being the plot.

There's the makings of a good story in here. Don't be afraid to cut stuff – I'm convinced the writing will really start to zing along if you do.


joannaxx at 23:26 on 04 October 2004  Report this post
Many thanks for your comments Terry. All very appreciated. I will particulary take on board your notes re dialogue and the constant ems, ahs, mate etc and also the fact that maybe I have introduced too many characters in this first chapter.


Sue H at 06:41 on 12 October 2004  Report this post

This is a great start - I like your characters very much but, like Terry, found so many of them at once confusing. It was only after they'd left the pub that I got lost though. Your dialogue is really good, leaving us with lots of possibilities - who is Charlie and what has happened to her / is going to happen to Jamie. Looking forward to reading more.


joannaxx at 10:45 on 14 October 2004  Report this post
Many thanks for your comments Sue. They are very helpful and will certainly look again at the amount of characters I have in my first chapter.

Thanks again!


HelenM at 21:53 on 14 May 2009  Report this post
Just read your first chapter. How did you get on with it? It's great. Really draws the reader in and wanting to know more about Jamie, Dan and Charlie. But as Sue said, you get lost with all the characters after they leave the pub. All great characters just brought into the story too quickly but hey who am I to know... Good dialogue though. I find it to hard to write conversations. I listen to people on the bus & at work and I'm laughing at some of the stuff I hear but I lose the joke when I try and write it down.

So what's happens next?

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