"No I don't. I can stay here and...wash out my stockings," I whined.
Cheryl's hands found their way to her hips and her eyes narrowed. "Oh, come on." She huffed out a bracing sigh.
"I could watch television." Suddenly interested in what the television had to offer, I glanced at it to see if there was some easy way to turn it on.
She grabbed my shoulders, turned me to the door and gave a not-too-gentle shove. I limped along the two and a half miles to the convention center and jabbed a finger at the elevator button. Nothing. I stabbed it again. Nothing.
Cheryl placed a dainty finger on the button and pushed. Nothing. We hauled in the sheets and changed course two points into the parking garage. We found the stairs and climbed to the second floor. An elevator hovered in the shaft with the doors open. We rode it up to the third floor and sauntered off, trying to look cool in the late afternoon heat. I fingered my finalist ribbon and contemplated ripping it off.
"Finalists enter first. Finalists, finalists, come through," members of the PNWA staff shouted from each doorway. Cheryl and I slithered through the crowd and tossed ourselves into the banquet hall. Up in the very front of the room, near a big projection screen, I found the table labeled "Mainstream". I strolled around the table to the place card with my name and sat down. An empty chair beside me indicated a relative did not show. On the other side of me, Barry Brennessel stared down at the table cloth, fingering his silverware. I had expected Barry to be larger than life--like a politician or a CEO of an American financial institution receiving federal bail-out money--because he had finaled in two categories; mainstream and mystery/thriller. I mean, you have to be great to final in two categories, right?
"How do you do?" I said.
He looked up and gave me a shy smile. "Hi, I'm Barry."
We spent the next half hour talking about our books and now I faced a dilemma. I wanted him to win. But I still wanted Jane, Steve and Ben to win. I began to chant in my head that Barry would win the mystery/thriller category. It isn't as if I didn't want Laurel Krill, George Jarecke, or David Huebner to win, it is just that I hadn't had a chance to talk with them and hear about their books.
I leaned over toward Barry. "When they make the announcements, which category do they start with?"
"Last year they started with Mainstream."
"Good. We can get this over with fast," I mumbled.
"Ladies and gentlemen," Sandy McCormack said from a raised podium, "Welcome to the fifty-fourth Pacific Northwest Writer's Association's Writer's Conference."
Sandy began announcing the categories and the third, second and first place winners. Mainstream ended up being last. By the time she announced it, I was slumped in my chair, trying to remember the signs of stroke and wondering when the last outbreak of Legionaire's Disease occurred. I felt fuzzy and my palms sweated.
"Third place is...Laurel Krill." Although I hadn't really talked much to Laurel I was happy for her because she had a nice smile and she had a twin sister named Melanie. I clapped and clapped as she sailed up to get her ribbon and certificate.
"Second place is...Melanie Sherman." Oh, dear Lord, I said aloud. To myself I continued the prayer...please don't let me trip and fall. Don't let me knock someones coffee down their shirt. Don't let me pass out. I picked my way up to the front and someone stuck a piece of paper in my hand. My heart slammed and my mouth dried and my knees wobbled. I had written these symptoms before, in my book. But they were always describing my protagonist, Jessie, when she faced a broadside from an pirate ship, or held a flintlock to an enemy's chin, or waited to hear if she would be flogged. It was never for something good.
Laurel's sister, Melanie, took pictures and they herded all the first, second and third place winners into the elevators and across the red hot parking lot, up to the third floor of the hotel and into an executive suite. A reception with agents and editors followed. Only they weren't there yet. I swallowed and mopped my forehead, terrified. I tried a glass of wine. I talked with Shelly Shellabarger, who won third place in screen writing. Last year she had won first place in the romance category. Security came and told us there'd been a complaint...from the first floor. Please keep down the noise. Sure, ask thirty-six (or so) winners of a literary contest to be quiet. Finally the agents and editors arrived and I thought it would be perfectly fine to hide behind the curtains. Darcy Carson, bless her heart, dragged me out and launched me at some poor, unsuspecting agents.
Security came again...twice. On the third visit, they 86'd us. A day in infamy. My first experience with being escorted by several security guards out of a hotel room and down the stairs (they didn't trust us to use the elevator?). They led us to a small banquet room in the hotel and stood guard over it so we could not escape.
When I was finished blubbering to all the agents (which went about as well as the one the day before) I skulked up to the door and pointed down the hall. The guard turned to look and I scooted behind him and ran the three miles to my room, panting and spreading a palm over my heart.
I have to change my name so when I send in my submission to the agents, they will not recognize it.