Saturday, February 21, 2015

Protecting our tough, fragile hearts

When we’re young, we think our hearts are indestructible.

We throw ourselves headlong into everything, without a thought for caution, sense or what might happen next. We date the boy who dropped out of high school to become a “famous rock star,” despite the fact that he wouldn’t know the first thing about getting an agent. We date the girl who is “too good for us” and knows it, and we spend every cent we have trying desperately to keep her attention. We tell our friends all our secrets, never imagining that we won’t be speaking to each other in just a few years.

We’re just as reckless when it comes to our physical health. Heart attacks are distant, imaginary things, as impossible to comprehend as depleted energy and failing bodies. We chow down on our triple cheeseburgers with gusto, joking about how we can “hear our arteries clogging” as we eat. Heart attacks are the things that kill grandparents, not us, and though we’ve heard the term “stroke” we’re not even entirely sure what it is.

We demand all this from an unassuming little organ about the size of a human fist, a tough but fragile thing that ancient Egyptians used to believe was the seat of the soul itself. We not only ask it to keep our bodies going for generations, far longer than we’d expect any human-built engine to keep working, but we insist on such things without giving it a second thought. As if time, or those triple cheeseburgers, won’t touch it just because we believe it won’t.

But when we get older, we realize that nothing is indestructible. This is especially true of our hearts, which never entirely rid themselves of all the marks we leave on it. We’re never quite the same person we were after falling in love with entirely the wrong person, whether it’s a lesson learned or a scar that never quite heals. Sometimes, we see ourselves differently. Other times, it’s harder to fall in love again. Even if we’re stronger in the end, we don’t bounce back in quite the same way we were before.

On a physical level, though, being careless with our hearts doesn’t just “work out in the end.” It’s said that each heart only has so many beats in it, a finite amount of strength it has to push the blood through abused arteries. The more we make it do in our reckless youth, the fewer beats we’ll have when we get old enough to appreciate them more. When we realize that time won’t just spin on forever, so we have to cherish every second we have.

The problem is, we can’t go back and grab all those heartbeats we wasted when we were younger. Faithfully taking your blood pressure medication and losing weight when you’re 40 can extend your life, but think how much further you could extend it if you lost that weight at 30. If you got a nice chicken sandwich instead of that triple cheeseburger, and maybe walked to places that were nearby instead of always taking your car. Maybe you could even put down those cigarettes and give those nicotine patches another try.

Hearts can break. Hearts can stop. We should all learn to be a little more gentle with the ones we’re given.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Deleted Scenes: Beast Charming, part 2

These are two excerpts from a scene that would have served as an opening for the final version of "Beast Charming." The whole thing got cut before it got very far, but it's 100 percent canon compliant with the novel.
Excerpt 1:
As secret ballrooms went, it wasn’t very impressive. This one had clearly been built decades ago, the excessive use of candlelight making up for the fact that the paint was peeling and some of the decorative moldings were chipped. Her father had sworn that elves had used the ballroom at one point, but right now it was being split between two noble families with too many children and lives so boring that dancing seemed like a night of ultimate rebellion.
Beauty sneezed at the cloud of dust haunting one corner, wondering at how pathetic her life had become that she could actually compare the amenities in different secret ballrooms. Maybe she should write a travel guide.
The lordling she was dancing with, a square-jawed, deathly boring young man who waltzed like someone was holding a saber to his head, furrowed his brow slightly. “I didn’t want to say anything,” he said hesitantly, as if the thought had taken the last several hours to make it to the front of his brain. “But you don’t really look like any of the other princesses here.” He paused again. “Are you cousins?”
 “Of course,” she agreed automatically, the experience of crashing too many dances just like this one having made lying seem almost second nature by this point. She swallowed a spurt of annoyance that it had taken him this long to notice – her third night – or the fact that he apparently hadn’t picked up on the fact that there were two women here who looked nothing like the blond, blue-eyed daughters of the Baron of Whatever It Was. Given the fact that two of those daughters were currently stretched out in one of the coat rooms, unconscious due to the sleeping potion her father bought in bulk, left her far enough away from the moral high ground here that annoyance was probably not an option. “My sister and I are related on our mother’s side.”
The lordling’s brow stayed furrowed a minute longer, then eased into mildly troubled acceptance. “Ah,” he said finally, sending them both around into yet another turn of yet another waltz.
Beauty kept her eyes just over the man’s shoulder, hoping to catch sight of her sister and whatever idiot she’d been shackled to for the evening. There were only twelve couples, more than enough to keep within sight, but there was so much space and so few candles that it was hard to keep sight of everyone. It was a distinct step down from the handful of royal secret ballrooms she’d been into, which were normally kept better lit so that the princes and princesses could show off just how gorgeous and beautifully dressed they were.
Which, in the end, was probably why their father had stopped trying to crash the royal fairytales. He felt he’d have better luck with his daughters if they had a little less competition.
Excerpt 2:
She immediately let go of the prince’s hand and stepped back, though it took him a few more steps to realize that there had apparently been a new development in the nightly routine. Without waiting to see what his reaction would be, she turned around and headed for the exit.
Unfortunately, it was located on the other side of the ballroom. The other couples slowed to a stop as she strode past, staring at her as if she’d suddenly grown a unicorn horn, while the background sound of running feet suggested that Grace had just noticed what had happened. She had no idea where Patience had disappeared to, though if they found her dance partner unconscious and stuffed under a crystal hedge somewhere she wouldn’t be at all surprised.
When Beauty passed by the eldest princess, she poked her in the shoulder and waited until the other woman had turned around. She was being bitter, she knew, but there was something so wonderfully freeing about it that she wasn’t about to stop now. “You know that soldier your father hired to figure out where you and your sisters are sneaking off to at night?”
The princess stared at her for a minute. “Do I know you?” she asked cautiously, just now processing that there was a complete stranger in the magical ballroom that was supposedly known only to her, her sisters, and a whole bunch of elves who apparently had nothing better to do with their time.
Beauty’s eyes narrowed, suddenly exasperated by the fact that they’d been here a week and the woman had just now noticed. “Of course. I’m the sister the rest of the family doesn’t like to talk about.” When the princess’s expression only got more confused, Beauty sighed. “Who I am doesn’t matter, but I feel it’s my obligation as a woman to inform you that the guy has turned into a pest problem.”
The princess’s brow furrowed. “What in the world are you talking about? We left him sleeping unconscious back in our rooms.”
 “He’s over there,” Beauty snapped, pointing to a marble column where the rainbow shifting flowers without the aid of any wind. She normally was more than happy to cheer for a non-royal in situations like this, but this guy wasn’t even trying. The fact that he wasn’t quite as stupid as the woman he was trying to get paired off with didn’t mean he should be allowed to get away with it. “He got a hold of an invisible cloak somewhere and has been following us down here. Every. Single. Night.” As the princess made an affronted noise and stalked off in the direction of the column, Beauty turned and addressed the rest of the crowd. “And seriously, people, none of you people think that this is at least a little creepy?”
Grace had caught up to her by the time she got to the main doors, and after Beauty shoved the left one open her older sister was the one to gently shut it behind them both. “Not that I’m pressuring you or anything,” she asked with deliberate lightness, hurrying to catch up to Beauty. “But where exactly are we going?”
 “Away from here.” Beauty stopped, wishing for a moment that she could strip out of this enormous pillow of a dress and walk back home in her slip. Instead, she consoled herself with dropping to the ground and yanking off her shoes and stockings. After this, she would make a vow to only wear comfortable shoes, and if they were wildly unattractive than so much the better. “And seriously, you don’t have to follow me. I know how much you hate shouting, and I can’t see any other way this is going to end.” A thought hit her suddenly, and she looked up. “Unless you know another way out of here.”
 “You mean one that Father’s not waiting in front of?” The faint sarcasm in her sister’s voice marked them as related far more clearly than any physical resemblance. “Sadly, no – I left the blueprints for the building in my other pocket.” A moment later, though, she sighed. “And you know I’m not going to leave you. If nothing else, I’m sick of mashing a complete stranger’s toes with every other step I take.”