Launch for January’s Paradigm is tentatively Monday, February 15.
What started in 1990 as therapy for a bruised and bloodied heart soon turned into a passion to see it published. It took eight years to achieve that desire, well worth the wait.
Like most of my novels, January’s Paradigm is a very non-traditional romance. Or as Current Entertainment Monthly, Ann Arbor, Michigan, wrote: “J. Conrad Guest has taken the heartbreak of sexual betrayal and turned it into a romance-fantasy.” Current Entertainment Monthly also wrote, “Readers will not be able to put it down.”
Below appears another excerpt.
I arrived at The Oasis at eight-forty. Two of the three members of The Tri-Stars—Shauna was not one of them—were onstage doing a sound check. I’d hoped to arrange a chance meeting with the dark-eyed beauty before the first set. A quick reconnaissance of the establishment, already near-capacity, merely served to disappoint; she was nowhere to be found.
I paid the doorman the cover charge.
Porter’s bankcard had come in handy. From whence my knowledge of ATMs came, like my inherent ability to operate the computer, I ignored. The access code to the bank machine was something I attributed to a lucky guess. Porter and I shared the same date of birth forty-six years apart, so stated the driver’s license tucked away in the wallet in my back pocket. I simply punched in the number “10” and, adding forty-six to my own birth year, “56”, and walked away from the ATM a hundred dollars richer, taking comfort in the fact that Porter was going to finance this little vacation in 1992.
I pushed my way through the crowd toward the bar.
My fruitless attempts at locating Porter had increased my thirst. I needed to unwind with a good, stiff shot of bourbon chased by a beer.
Suddenly the populace surrounding me parted, and I came face-to-face with Shauna. She was shorter than I imagined she would be. What last night I’d taken to be stage makeup turned out to be natural; her complexion was dark and flawless. Her jaw was square; her high cheekbones were tinged with rouge. Beneath the finely-arched twin prosceniums of her eyebrows, her eyelids were shaded green; and they highlighted to perfection the fathomless brown eyes now studying me as intently as I was studying her.
The moment seemed long; it was long, I dimly noted, and threatening to go on even longer. If I didn’t find something to say, the moment would be lost.
Fortunately she came to my rescue.
“Don’t let me get in your way.” Her tone was husky, the measure playful.
My heart beat rapidly, but I managed to blurt, “Aren’t you the lead singer?”
Smooth, real smooth—like a kid meeting his idol for the first time.
“Shauna.” Her smile was as white as it was wide. And genuine, I was pleased to note.
“Joe January.” I offered my hand and was delighted when she took it. “Can I buy you a drink?”
“No thanks, I don’t drink.” And then, perhaps in response to the hurt look I was certain she couldn’t help but notice, she added, “How about a cola?”
I smiled and led the way through the crowd to the bar, where I ordered and paid for the soft drink. Shauna, accepting the glass I proffered, smiled her dazzling smile and I reflected, for the mere price of a cola. I’d gladly pay a thousand times that amount to bask in the warmth of that smile in a more secluded place.
“You going to be here awhile?”
The question at once both surprised and pleased me. “Actually I just got here.”
“Wait here. I’ve got to finish the sound check. It shouldn’t take but a minute or two, and I’ll be back to visit a while before our first set.”
As if to prove her probity, she left her glass on the bar in front of me.
I watched her departure, fascinated by the gentle motion of her hips, snug inside the leather pants that perfectly accentuated her perfect figure. I couldn’t help but be taken aback by the way she’d so completely managed to disarm me in so brief a time.
I watched her on stage, her manner supremely confident, her voice clear and resonant in its purity. Her interpretation of the lyrics, even though it was just a sound check, was genuine. She sang from the heart.
I suspected that her contentment stemmed from being on stage and that getting paid was simply the icing on the cake.
What served to perplex me was my sudden intrinsic capacity to decipher this. Never before had I cared or taken the time to perceive anything beyond the superficial. Yet now I was mystified by the warm and comfortable feeling, the security that accompanied the very pleasant discovery that something beyond exterior could entice me.
Typically a woman of such depth would only intimidate me. Now, however, something inside of me thrilled at the expectation that she could somehow appease the malaise I’d recognized last night while in the embrace of another; and that instead of providing the comfort I so desperately sought, last night’s encounter had afforded the catalyst that had resulted in my encore appearance here tonight.
Shauna finished her sound check and, true to her word, was making her way back through the crowd to where I waited at the bar, nervously turning my shot glass around and around in my hand. My heart rate picked up as she approached.
“You sound terrific.” I’d never been any good at making small talk, but I spoke the truth.
“Thanks.” Her tone was sincere.
But then she probably accepted the same compliment dozens of times nightly in the same affable way. Talented as she was, it hadn’t gone to her head.
“I’m surprised to see you back tonight.” No accusation, just an observation. “You left after our second number last night. I was afraid my singing had been an affront to your musical palate.”
She was teasing me now, and that was something I wasn’t used to. I had no idea how to respond to her jest. When I failed to reply, she pushed her advantage further.
“I’m surprised at the company you keep. She didn’t look to be your type.”
Feeling totally outclassed and outmaneuvered, I stammered something about my friend having taken ill and requested that I take her home early. If Shauna saw through my smoke screen, she gave no indication.
“Well, you’re back tonight,” she said. “And my confidence in my singing has been restored.”
In the span of a heartbeat, she’d managed to break and then restore my self-assurance. She looked at her watch.
“You going to be here after the first set?” She sounded accusatory.
I smiled and nodded my acquiescence, ecstatic at the prospect of her return.
“Oooh,” she purred, setting down her empty glass. When had she time to finish it? So lost in the depths of a gaze that was at once innocuous yet mischievous, I hadn’t even noticed her drinking it. “He can smile,” she playfully provoked. “Now if I can just get you to loosen up and talk, you might be able to help me pass an otherwise long and boring night on stage. And as long as you’re buying, I’ll need another of these.” She indicated the empty glass. Her smile positively beamed, and I felt my heart leap into my throat. She winked and was gone.
The first set ran nearly an hour. Near the end I found myself squirming in anticipation. Several times I’d refused the advances that a man alone in a singles bar in 1992 seemed to invite. Finally they stopped, my propensity toward the barstool duly noted by the female patrons who’d hoped to lure me into tending to their lonely needs.
I watched as Shauna manipulated the crowd. Instinctively she sensed their mood and knew what they wanted to hear, providing respite, usually in the form of something she and the band wanted to play, at just the right moment. Her movements were sensual, yet not vulgar. And her voice was magnificent in its range and flexibility. She rocked, finding somewhere within the raw power to rattle the chandeliers. Her interpretation of the two blues tunes that provided a reprieve from the intensity of the rock-and-roll intonated the pain of the lyrics, while the sole ballad of the set was sung with the pure innocence of an altar boy during Sunday morning service. She had a natural affinity for people.
I didn’t think for a minute that she was bored with performing.
The breaks between sets, I suspected, were from her point of view a chance for the band to catch their breath and slake their thirst, but more for the sake of the dance floor patrons who discovered the ten or fifteen minutes between sets enabled them to recharge their batteries.
Feeling that I’d simply serve as a diversion until the next set got underway, I felt the ego that Shauna had managed to build up nearly an hour ago deflate.
Shauna was just now telling everyone to sit tight. The band would be back in a few minutes to rock down the rafters. Those on the dance floor shouted their approval.
I signaled the bartender for a refill for me and a fresh cola. I’d just finished paying for the refreshments when Shauna slid up onto the stool beside me. I was startled; the thought that she might seek company elsewhere had briefly crossed my mind.
“Thanks,” she said, slightly out of breath as she took the soft drink and downed nearly a third of it. “How’d you manage to keep this stool empty?”
“It wasn’t difficult.” I’d never found difficulty in maintaining my distance when I wanted to.
“Not with a scowl like that, I imagine it wasn’t.”
I felt the heat rise in my cheeks. Her eyes sparkled as she laughed and my embarrassment turned to ire. I didn’t like being the butt of someone’s jest.
Shauna placed her hand on my knee in reassurance. I was amazed at the lightness of her touch; and just that quickly, my anger was defused.
“We sound okay?”
I was grateful for the change in direction to another topic. Perhaps now I could maintain control of the conversation for a while. I nodded and queried, “You do any original material?”
“One or two.” Then, in response to my raised eyebrows, she added, “People come to hear what’s popular, and popular is what gets air play; and unfortunately, since we get no air play, we aren’t popular.”
“I find that hard to believe.”
“Hard to argue with statistics. We play anymore than we do, and the dance floor tends to thin out.”
I decided to take a risk. “Don’t tell me; the ballad was yours.”
It was her turn to look surprised.
“Yes. How did you know?”
“It seemed your style.” I was beginning to regain my balance; but before I could pose my next question, Shauna once again changed tack.
“How come you weren’t out on the dance floor?”
And just that quickly, my advantage was lost.
“There’s no one here I care to dance with.”
She bestowed her laugh upon me for the second time, a wonderfully-melodic sound.
“You weren’t so choosy last night.”
My face burned with embarrassment.
She didn’t call my earlier bluff, I thought, helpless. Just my luck she now thinks I’m lying.
I wanted to say, “That was before I met you,” but my discomfiture held me in check. In the end I settled for a shrug that said, What can I say? She laughed again. I felt myself redden further; and then, just in time, she put an arm around my shoulders and apologized.
“I’m sorry, Joe.” It was the first time she’d used my name, and I marveled at the mellifluous way she said it. “It’s just that you’re so easy.”
I waved my empty glass at the bartender. I hadn’t been aware that I’d even been sipping it since she’d joined me, let alone that I’d finished it. Shauna checked her watch.
“Listen, buy me another cola.” She laid her hand on my arm. “I’ve got to go backstage and freshen up. You know, do the things we women have to do to keep guys like you watching us.” I doubted she had to work very hard at it. “Be right back.”
I was struck by the energy level she was able to maintain.
Adrenaline, fueled by caffeine, I guessed as I held up her empty glass. It certainly isn’t alcohol.
During her absence I tried to think of some way I could arrange to meet with her in a more neutral setting without seeming like I was coming on too hard, something with which she was probably quite adept at dealing. My efforts frustrated me.
I can’t hold an intelligent conversation with her. How can I land a date?
Suddenly I feared her motives.
What makes you think she’s even interested in you? More than likely she picks someone out of the crowd nightly just to keep that caffeine high going.
I felt compelled to leave.
Here I was a man out of time twice removed, sitting calmly in a bar without a clue as to how I got here. I sat, a man in doubt of the actual authenticity of his own reality, trying to deal some broad who gets her kicks out of watching me squirm in discomfort. No one had ever been able to do that before, which only added to my feeling of inadequacy.
Without a doubt, I should be back at Porter’s trying to figure a solution to the equation, not how to get this self-styled rock queen between the sheets. I can get sex anytime without having to go through this.
And then I remembered last night, how lonely and unfulfilled I’d felt, despite the level of physical gratification I’d attained.
Well, I rationalized, settling myself back down onto the stool. Maybe there are answers to my questions that can be ascertained through an association with her.
Any chance to argue myself out of staying disappeared with Shauna’s reappearance; her smile immediately convinced me that I’d made the right choice.
“I’m delighted to see you haven’t abandoned me.”
“To be easily replaced, I’m sure.”
She took my sarcasm for humor and leaned over to whisper, “Save a dance for me?”
Then she was gone, leaving me with an uncomfortable sensation of comfort.
My thoughts swam. I was experiencing emotions and input to those emotions never before encountered. I was attracted to this Shauna, but not in the usual sexual sense. Not that I didn’t find her alluring. There was a time, in another century perhaps, when all that I would care to concern myself with would be the exploration of the dark, deep secrets concealed beneath the sexy attire that served to promote the image of a rock star. But that image spoke in terms of a rather warped reality.
Here I am, it said, on stage for the adulation of one and all. Welcome to my fantasy. A fantasy that guarantees stimulus to senses of sight and sound; listen to my voice, watch me move. Now, if you dare, try to emulate my undulations. You are all a part of my fantasy, for without you I am nothing. Yet I remain apart from your fantasy. Here I stand, symbol of your want, your hunger, your desire and your lust—one and all, male and female—but rest assured you can never have me.
But equally disturbing since my arrival in 1992 was my troubled sleep, dreams plagued by a demon and haunting images of another, alternate self. One that was weaker, more emotional than I.
Yet even in my conscious state, I was being tormented by uncertainty, accosted by unfamiliar feelings of denial, distrust and betrayal. And now I’d discovered that a new passion had been awakened—a passion heretofore unknown—a passion for emotional intimacy.
Yes, I had to admit that my attraction to Shauna went far beyond the superficial. It exceeded my rather curt allegation that perhaps it was she who held secret the knowledge that would empower me to see past the barriers that had so surreptitiously been placed before me.
To be sure, she fascinated me. Certainly the package she came in was enough to turn the head and raise the blood pressure of any red-blooded American male, but there was more. Something mysterious—and God knew I loved a good mystery, almost as much as I loved endeavoring to sate the needs of my sexual appetite.
Part of the enigma was the simple fact that I found her to be a puzzle; and that was something I’d never before equated with the fairer sex, preferring instead to imagine them as merely an end to a need.
I couldn’t deny that Shauna had awakened in me two needs: a need to be in her company—for in that company, I presumed to find comfort to ease a loneliness that until last night, in the lazy afterglow of sex, I hadn’t been aware even existed—as well as a need to discover more about the conflicting passions she seemed to have brought to the surface.
I felt unguarded, helplessly open to her scrutiny, and I found that threatening. Something inside me told me that in order to more fully understand these new sensibilities, as well as my attraction to Shauna, I would have to become more open and vulnerable. That insight served to further threaten me; yet my instinct seemed to promise an end result that could prove more gratifying in more ways than any other result I’d previously sought as an end.
But what of her needs? What if I were simply a diversion? Her interest in me, the way she looked at me and the interest I purported to be in that look, seemed to be genuine; yet she was a performer.
I tried to picture her nightly selecting a different paladin to keep her supplied with caffeine while amusing herself with small talk at their expense and couldn’t.
I took note of the dance floor, filled to capacity with dancers, most perspiring profusely as a result of their exertions while the empty stools down the length of the bar confirmed that I was among the scant few who weren’t out on the dance floor.
On stage Shauna was also perspiring heavily, the result of her aerobic efforts as she and her band mates rocked vehemently. I watched, entranced, as she worked the dancers, feeding off them and then, almost as if in grateful acknowledgment, gave it back to them. The energy she emitted was then caught by the dancers, where it was held for a moment as they basked in its warmth, before being sent back magnified a hundred-fold.
No doubt about it, I thought. She’s in her element.
Suddenly I knew. And just as suddenly, I knew that Shauna knew.
This was her fantasy, her escape from whatever trials and tribulations that defined her own personal reality. Her sincere congeniality simply mirrored that reality. She was completely at peace with herself, and her contentedness grew from within. Her self-assurance came not from performing, as I’d originally imagined, but instead from the serenity that comes with being totally quiescent with oneself.
I breathed a sigh of relief. I now knew that whatever doubts I’d had concerning Shauna’s integrity were now unwarranted. While she seemed to enjoy teasing me incessantly, I knew she would never knowingly hurt me. She was honest, a rare commodity even in 1947, as well as trustworthy. Perhaps it was seeing mirrored in another my own strong ethics that had attracted me to Shauna.
Suddenly that name didn’t fit her, and I knew it was assumed. I was now more than ever driven to find out more about her.
I regained my composure and confidence. I could only hope she wouldn’t knock me flat on my ass ten seconds after she seated herself on the stool next to me. She had a way of keeping me off-balance, and I couldn’t deny that I enjoyed her playful ridicule. I couldn’t help but find myself amused by it, as well as challenged.
She evidently felt comfortable in my company, despite the ponderous disposition I’d displayed. Maybe she was just trying to get me to loosen up. The idea of her playful affection warmed me.
Well, I concluded, two can play at that game. I’ll just have to even the score.
On stage Shauna was introducing the next song, a ballad to be sung by her backup singer, a knockout blonde named Melody, in whom I wasn’t the least bit interested.
Shauna locked eyes with me as she put the microphone back into its cradle and, with a slight motion of her head, invited me to join her on the dance floor.
A moment later she slipped into my arms and nestled herself comfortably into my embrace, nothing vulgar, just comfortable. I led, marveling at the soft texture of her hand.
Is it really that small?
My heartbeat quickened as she moved her other hand up around my neck, her head now resting on my chest; my own head was aswirl with myriad sensations, all of them pleasant. I contented myself with the moment, knowing it would be over all too soon, finding solace in the hope that there would be many more such moments. If I never found a way back to my own time, I could think of worse places with less desirable people to spend the rest of my life.
I inhaled the sweet fragrance of her hair; somehow, miraculously, it had managed to escape the fate to which Chrissie’s had succumbed. I sighed and tightened my hand around hers.
In response she gazed up into my pale green eyes with her own brown ones, alive with mischief, and accused, “Boring you to pieces, am I?”
I only smiled my pleasure at her and pushed her head back down to its rightful place.
A moment later the song came to an end and with it the moment.
Her eyes alive with mirth, she promised to join me at the bar in just a few minutes, where she would proceed to “drink you under the table.”
“No mean feat,” I countered. “Considering the alcoholic content of cola.”
She left for the stage, while I, feeling ten feet tall, headed for the barstool I’d been keeping warm all night. The envious glances from the other male patrons in the establishment did nothing save to inflate an already-swelling ego.
While I waited for the set to end, I tried to think of a way to arrange a more intimate meeting with Shauna. I didn’t wish to come on too strong, too desperate; yet playing it too insouciant would risk looking like I was simply coming on.
As a result of this new dilemma, I became aware of the delicate nature of what I was contemplating. Never before had the consequences of rejection weighed so heavily. In the past, rejection simply meant moving on to the next most likely candidate; my needs had always been easy enough to accommodate. Never before had I been faced with the perils associated with the failure to attain that which I so desperately aspired.
I was beginning to sound like a man smitten. And the implication that I affiliated with that malady left me with a feeling of mounting inadequacy.
Needs: I needed to find out who I was and why, for the first time in my life, I was being harassed by moments of anxious apprehension. Furthermore, I needed to explore the uncertainty of the reality of my existence.
I should catch a flight to Michigan, if that’s what it took, and try to locate this Robert Porter character. I was convinced more than ever that he could better provide answers to the list of questions that seemed to lengthen of its own volition than Shauna could. But I seemed paralyzed by fear, a never-before faced debility because until now I’d never encountered it. And it was safe to say that the basis for that fear was the revelation of that which my endeavors might unearth.
Wants: I wanted to explore my uncharacteristic fascination with the mystery girl on stage. I’d initially thought that she might possess answers to questions and I still thought that, but to which questions?
I began to reassess the nature of those questions. I wanted her but for more than just her body.
Through her, I felt certain I could learn something of myself; yet what that lesson might be, I had no clue.