A few weeks after Labor Day 2008, and the conversation I described with “Ken” in my last post, I finally published Water Signs: A Story of Love and Renewal. A while back, I discussed the evolution of the novel in great detail, explaining the unexpected event in early 2008 that ignited the creative process, but also the vision I’d had of a book I knew I’d one day write, back in 1994. Even all those years ago, I had the title in mind: Water Signs. Somewhere in the four-month frenzy of pounding away at the keyboard every weeknight and and every weekend, the subtitle, A Story of Love and Renewal, popped into my head.
Ultimately, the novel is a literal and metaphorical journey for my two main characters, who are renewed physically, spiritually, emotionally and mentally at the end of 16 long, grueling years. The word “love” applies not just to their feelings for each other, but also love of God, family and country. As my Facebook ad reads:
In this tale of first love and second chances, author Daria DiGiovanni takes readers on an inspiring journey of faith and soul renewal.
And of course, out of love springs forgiveness — something we all need as fallen human beings — which allows for the renewal of the important relationships in the book including Ken and Madeline, Ken and his father Carl, Madeline and her mother Monica, and Madeline and her first boyfriend, Jake (though for her, it’s a forgive and move on kind of experience — not an event that leads to regular communication).
When I excitedly published the finished product on the internet, I’d hoped my first novel’s many intricately woven themes, lovable characters and heart-wrenching events would resonate with my readers. I also chose a happy ending for Ken and Madeline because I wanted Water Signs to stand as a testament to the power of love, faith and belief. At the same time, I knew I was going to write a sequel and I wanted to pick up with Ken and Madeline as a newlywed couple who, although very much in love, would face even more formidable obstacles, but this time as a united front — not as individuals acting as catalysts in each other’s personal and spiritual development.
That Labor Day weekend conversation was the last one I’ve had to date with “Ken”, and as of this very moment, we’ve never discussed or mentioned Water Signs, post-publication (not even via email, though as I will explain, there have been a few of those). I can only assume he obtained the book and read it, after all of the build-up I’d given it. Speaking for myself, if I knew a writer had immortalized me in fiction, I’d sure as heck get a copy of the work as soon as it was available. And knowing he was “flattered” by the whole concept, I have no doubt he’s read it.
However, as per one of my primary motivations for contacting him, I’d hoped if he’d gone online and purchased a copy, he’d had it mailed to his office and not his home. I tried to impress upon him the fact that there were aspects of the book that would not go over well with members of his family, especially his wife — and not simply the fact that Ken divorces Erin and eventually marries Madeline.
I’ve noted that Erin is mostly based on a stereotype, not so much a real person, though an actual woman provided the initial inspiration for the character. However, in the opening chapters of Part Two, there are many factual elements put forth that — shall we say — would not go over too well with “Ken’s” spouse (and without an understanding of my motivation for turning the character into a self-absorbed princess, the Boca Babe thing wouldn’t exactly be welcome, either).
For example, in Chapter 19, Ken surprises Madeline at her apartment one Saturday morning to share some significant news, a scene that is faithful to the way it all went down in real life:
She’d just finished applying her make-up and pulling her long hair into a ponytail when a knock on the door startled her. It was only 8:30 in the morning on a Saturday. Who on earth would be stopping by so early? A moment later that question was answered dramatically when she opened the door of her Boca Del Mar residence to find Ken standing before her, dressed in his work attire; his typical smile betrayed a trace of nervousness. Maddy nearly fainted at the sight of him, though she maintained a façade of nonchalance.
“Ken! What are you doing here?”
“Hey, I’ve been wanting to talk to you. I have some news to tell you but I wanted to do it in person.”
“You’re engaged,” she stated matter-of-factly as she closed the door behind him and offered him a seat on the couch.
“Yes!” he replied, awestruck. How did she know? And why was she so calm?
Utterly defeated, Maddy nevertheless kept a sunny expression on her face while her stomach began to churn in distress. She willed it back into submission as he went on, barely able to look into her deep, brown eyes.
“Um, I finally decided that I didn’t want to live in sin any longer than I had to,” he explained. “She didn’t either, so we got engaged back in September. We went up north to share the news with our families. My parents were happy, her parents were happy. But right now she and I are having a little problem. See, she’s a bit insecure because she’s an older woman—well, not older, but she’s a few years older than me.
“Anyway, it all started on Valentine’s Day. I had to work both jobs so we never got to spend any time real time together and—Madeline I am just not good at relationships!”
Hoping his admission would act as an entrée into a profound conversation about the two of them, Ken was disappointed when his plaintive sigh was met with silence. As usual, Maddy was at a loss for words at a critical juncture. She couldn’t determine if he was seeking counsel from her as his newly minted “buddy” or trying to convey something more significant. Either way, she wasn’t willing to oblige.
“To make matters worse,” he went on, “She wasn’t happy with what I bought her. I got her a pair of rollerblades—”
“Oh, I learned how to do that!” Madeline exclaimed. “My friends from the dance studio taught me; we have the best time at the park in Pompano. It’s actually much easier than I expected. I love it!” She was hoping to take the discussion in a new direction to remove the image of Ken pledging his love and fidelity to another woman in front of God and witnesses from her mind. Besides, it was the truth. Rollerblading was second only to dancing and swimming now on her list of preferred recreation.
“Good for you,” he complimented, puzzled by her reaction. “It is fun, isn’t it?”
“And it’s great exercise,” she added. Then for effect, “Gosh I’d be thrilled with a new pair of rollerblades, whether for Valentine’s Day or any other occasion!”
She recalled the beautiful sweater she’d purchased for him on Valentine’s two years back—a gift she’d given to her brother Greg after he stood her up for their ski date. A comment Ken had made sometime prior to that about Valentine’s Day being a “Hallmark Holiday” suddenly came to mind. Slowly, anger began to replace heartbreak, though she continued to listen politely.
“Yeah well unfortunately, Erin didn’t think rollerblades were a good choice. She accused me of not caring for her, of not having time for her. Anyway, we’re just going through a tough time right now, but I’m sure we’ll be alright.”
“Yes, you will,” Maddy affirmed while the voice inside her head kept repeating the mantra, I am a tower of strength, I am a tower of strength, over and over again. Then he hit her with an unexpected query. “Now how do you feel?” he asked nervously.
How the hell do you think I feel Kenny? You were the one calling and crying on the phone for nearly two years about how much you loved me and missed me; the one who practically begged me to move here in the first place; and the one who kept your live-in girlfriend a secret until there was no turning back! How the hell do you think I feel after uprooting my entire life, hurting my family and having to face the consequences of a misinformed decision alone? How could you deceive me like that? Is this some sort of payback for hurting you?
Granted, this all happened in 1995, but still, if she’d had no knowledge of her husband’s conversation with me previously — one in which he’d confided such personal details of their relationship — would it make her angry? “We didn’t want to live in sin anymore” as a primary factor for getting married, not “I am madly in love with this woman and I can’t wait to marry her”? Wouldn’t make me feel too good.
How about this:
“She kind of depends on me,” he explained. “She has a good job and everything, but most of the people in the office have kids so they’re busy with their families. And of course, most of them live in Miami anyway. But I know you two would get along so well. You could go out shopping, go to the beach or just do whatever girls do when they get together.”
Believe me, I was sick inside just listening to him ramble on that day about the possibility of Erin and I becoming great friends, and I did my best to convey that via Madeline’s reaction. But “survival mode” had already kicked in, so I’d put on the performance of my life, pretending to be happy for him (something I’d finally admitted to him during one of our phone conversations…more on that later).
In Chapter 23, Maddy has a very real and altogether heart-shattering dream about Kenny breaking off his engagement, which is also straight out of real life:
Suddenly, a knock on the door startled her. After throwing on a short robe, she answered it to see Kenny’s smiling face. “Can I come in Maddy?” he asked. “I really have to talk to you!”
“Ken, come on now, you shouldn’t be here!” she admonished him forcefully.“Please, sweetheart? I have something really important to share with you!” His sparkling blue eyes pleaded with her earnestly.
“Oh, ok,” she agreed. “But please, make it quick; I have a busy day tomorrow.” He entered the living room and sat down on the couch before motioning for her to join him. Against her better judgment, she sat down, tightening the belt of her robe as she did so.
“Maddy I wanted you to be the first to know I broke off my engagement to Erin. There was no way I could marry her when I am in love with someone else.” Her heart jumped to her throat as she struggled to digest this shocking but welcome news. For a moment, she was speechless. That’s when Ken took her hand in his and leaned in close to her.
“I love you, Madeline Rose. You’re the woman I want. No one else comes close to you. Please forgive me for hurting you! I am so very sorry.”
“Kenny, of course I forgive you,” she cried, throwing her arms around him. “I love you, too, so much!”
“Oh my God!” he laughed. “I am the luckiest man alive! And in the very near future, I am going to make you my bride, just like I’ve always promised!”
“Oh, Kenny, I can’t wait to be your wife,” she sighed, before they melted into a passionate kiss.
And, just as it happened for real back in 1995, a few days later Ken shows up again unexpectedly at her apartment door:
By the time early afternoon rolled around, she’d finished her chores and had changed into her bathing suit and cover-up. She was busily placing a towel, a magazine and a few bottles of water into her canvas tote bag when a knock at the door took her by surprise. Her heart lurched when she opened it to find Kenny standing before her, smiling in his typical fashion, dressed in shorts and a tee shirt. It bothered her that in spite of all the pain he’d inflicted, her body still tingled at the mere sight of him. Suddenly, she remembered the dream she’d recently had about him breaking off his engagement.
“Ken! I must say, this is an unexpected surprise!” She endeavored to remain cordial and calm, while keeping her hopes in check.
“Hey, how are you doing, Maddy? Can I come in?”
“Uh, I guess there’s no harm in that,” she replied lightly, offering him a seat and a cold bottle of water. Was it her imagination or did he possess the unmistakable aura of a defeated man?
There was no sparkle, no luster in his aquamarine eyes, which appeared to be lost in thought as he stared off into the distance. And as he held the bottle of Zephyrhills in his hands, he leaned forward on the couch as if grappling with an unspoken, internal conflict.
“Is everything ok?” she inquired, settling in at a safe distance beside him. “You seem a bit preoccupied.”
“Huh? Oh yeah, everything’s fine. It’s just that—well I guess I’ve turned into my father after all,” he sighed. Madeline wasn’t quite sure what to make of that statement, though it hardly coalesced with the profile of a happily engaged man eager to exchange vows with his beloved. What exactly was he trying to convey?
“Oh,” she responded softly, recalling the difficulties he and his dad had endured in the course of their relationship. Though they’d seemed to patch things up that New Year’s Day at her house in Pennsylvania, Maddy had no idea where things stood with them at this point.
“Well is that such a bad thing?” she asked.
Kenny turned to face her, staring deeply into her amber eyes, nearly causing her to tumble to the floor.
“I hope the excitement comes back after Erin and I are married,” he confessed.
Yes, the lines uttered here are the same ones the real guy spoke to me way back when, while I remained guarded and unable to express my genuine feelings. I couldn’t believe he was admitting to a lack of excitement in his relationship with Erin to me, although something deep inside told me that “Ken” was hell-bent and determined to go through with the wedding as planned.
One thing I’m pretty sure of is that “Erin” had no knowledge of this conversation, which was yet another reason why I tried to encourage him not to share the novel with his wife. I wasn’t out to harm their marriage; just cooperating in a creative process that would not be denied.
In any case, I am certain anyone reading this post understands why — with just the few examples I’ve cited — flesh-and-blood Erin would be furious should she ever obtain a copy of Water Signs. And as with her husband, I can’t state with 100% accuracy that she did — though some very interesting things took place in December of that same year that would seem to confirm this to be so.
I just never thought she’d log onto her husband’s LinkedIn account, pretend to be him and ask me for a “reference”.
More intrigue to come involving “big johnsons”, Pennsylvania cookbooks and a photography session!