The Cutting Room Floor, page 1
The Cutting Room Floor © 2013 by Dawn Klehr
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The Cutting Room Floor cast and crew are the best in the business and I’d like to take a moment to thank them here.
The writer’s support team: Sara Biren and Tanya Byrne. These two amazing writers have been with me since I started on this crazy journey and I would not be here without them. They were the first people to meet Dez and Riley and supported me every step of the way.
The incredibly talented agent: Jessica Sinsheimer, who believed in this story from the very beginning. Jessica asked the hard questions and did not stop until she got the best out of me. Her fingerprints are all over this book and I couldn’t be happier with the outcome.
The stellar editor: Brian Farrey-Latz, who made this book shine. Extra thanks to Sandy Sullivan, Alisha Bjorklund, Mallory Hayes, and the entire team at Flux for all of your hard work!
The family: My husband, Lance, who immediately jumped on board when I told him I was going to write books and gave me the time, support, and love I needed to keep going. My son, Leo, who inspires me every day—his love of stories and fantasy makes me want to be a better writer. My mom, who is my biggest fan and continues to teach me lessons in patience—without which, I would’ve given up long ago. My sister Sara, who read all my early work and said she didn’t just “like” it, she “loved” it. Way to build the confidence, sis. My sisters Julie and Libby, who are my cheerleaders and comic relief. My in-laws, Jim and Adrienne, who are never shy with their excitement and encouragement. I also have mountains of support from my brother-in-laws, nieces, nephews, and friends. Love you guys!
And finally, heartfelt gratitude goes out to the organizations that have helped me in so many ways: SCBWI, the Loft, and the MNYA writers: Liz, Ryann, Sara, Kari, Jonathan, Kitty, and Nikki. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Fade to black…
In feature films the director is God;
in documentary films God is the director.
If my life were a movie, this would be the opening scene: a guy and his friend at the mall food court waiting for their dates to get back from the bathroom. I’m the guy, seventeen, somewhat troubled, sitting at a wobbly table with a plate of soggy nachos. This is my natural habitat. My natural, depressing, stifling, lame, pathetic habitat.
The title sequence would start out like a typical high school story, but then reveal that something’s amiss. There’d be a tight shot, or piece of dialogue, or something that would make the viewer uncomfortable. Something to give them that prickly feeling. The kind that you feel deep in your gut.
Yeah, my life is that kind of story.
If I were Quentin Tarantino, I’d open the scene with all the players in my troubled life. We’d wear shades and walk down the streets of the Heights in slow motion, a gritty song playing in the background, just like in Reservoir Dogs. But I think my soundtrack would start with Chris Isaak’s “Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing.”
Or I could rip off the Coen Brothers. Start with a monologue where I wax poetic about life while showing scenes of my hometown, like in No Country for Old Men. I’d cut from shots of our old part of town with its decrepit buildings, vacant houses, and cars resting on cement blocks to the new area where homes sit on perfectly manicured yards and families ride to soccer practice in shiny SUVs. The haves and have-nots in our fourth-ring Twin Cities suburb. I’d throw in the clichéd Minnesota accent for good measure, since it worked so well in Fargo.
Or, if I were M. Night Shyamalan, I’d set up my opening scene in a creepy location—like the empty film editing suite in school—with eerie music playing in the background. But unlike in The Sixth Sense or Signs, there wouldn’t be a supernatural element. I would be the cause of all the trouble. I’d call it Desmond Brandt, since it’s my story. No. No, wait. It’d have to be about the girl. It’s always about the girl. Yes, I’d call it Riley Frost, since it’s her story too.
Most importantly, I’d have to show my character’s re-deeming qualities right away. Show that despite my narcissism, I really do care about others. That I do have a heart. This is critical, especially when they discover that I, like Chris Isaak, did a very bad thing.
Well, fuck Tarantino, and the Coens, and M. Night. And Kubrick, and Spielberg, and Coppola for that matter. No one—except film freaks like me—even cares who they are anyway. This is my show. Here goes.
Opening scene: Take one.
Jonah shoots me a warning glare when the girls leave to go to the bathroom, which, by the way, is really annoying. I’ll never understand the whole pissing-in-a-pair thing. I ignore him and pick at the heaping pile of wilted nachos—a waste of my favorite food court meal, but I’ve lost my appetite.
Spending a Saturday night on a double date at the Heights Mall is about as pitiful as it gets. The once-happening place has become a no man’s land. Over the past few years, almost half of the stores have gone out of business. Even the food court options have been whittled down to Big Burgers, Taco Bell, and a small snack shop. You can almost see the tumbleweeds blowing by.
If this were a movie, we’d be at a homecoming dance or a football game or a romantic autumn hayride. But this year’s homecoming was canceled, our football team sucks, and after a teacher was killed in our high school last month, the town is pretty much keeping to a nine p.m. curfew.
“Desmond,” Jonah says, pulling away my plate of
“Please do.” I bang my head on the table and ignore his empty threats. “Put me out of my misery.”
“That’s great, Dez,” he says on the verge of what I’d call a whine. “Real nice. I just needed you to be my wingman for one night, that’s all I asked. Just one night. When have I ever asked you for anything?”
And here comes the guilt trip. I deserve it. Jonah has never really asked me for anything. No, he’s more of a giver. Always been that way, even when we were kids.
INT. ELECTRONICS STORE—DAY
A 10-year-old JONAH and DESMOND browse the racks of video games.
You need to get this game, Dez.
I got it for my birthday and it’s sweet.
(rubs fingers together)
Can’t. No dinero.
JONAH reaches in his pocket and pulls out a wad of crumpled bills.
Well, I do. I have lots of dinero.
No. No way. That’s your birthday money.
So? It’s no fun to play Mario Brothers by yourself. You need it too. Then we can play against each other.
JONAH makes a goofy face at his friend, grabs the game, and heads to the check-out counter. DEZ chases after him …
INT. THE HEIGHTS MALL—EVENING
DEZ smiles at the memory.
Yeah, Jonah’s always been that way.
Big surprise, I kept that game—and beat Jonah at it every time we played. The least I can do for the guy is help him look good in front of his date. But I just can’t get into it.
“If you don’t put that phone away, I swear to God,” Jonah says.
“Yours is out.”
“Yeah, but I haven’t been glued to it all night like you have.”
He’s right, yet I can’t exactly tell him what I’ve been doing on my phone and why I need it tonight. Instead, I keep my transgressions to myself. Trouble is, they’re piling up like the unwanted bills Mom used to keep in the kitchen drawer—notices that meant our lights or telephone would soon be shut off. I worry what will happen to me when I can no longer close the drawer on my sins. I have no choice but to keep them hidden.
Jonah would never understand anyway. He’s one of the good guys.
Sorry sap. He’s totally flipped over his date. She’s from the other side of the river, a town about twenty minutes from here. She had to lie to her parents about coming out to the Heights. After all the shit that went down last month, our little town is not exactly the place you’d want to send your daughters.
It goes both ways. People from the Heights generally don’t care for people on the east side of the river—where the suburbs tend to be bigger, wealthier, and closer to the Twin Cities. And though her town isn’t what you’d call sophisticated by any means, it’s definitely (as Mom would say) highfalutin’ compared to the Heights.
Jonah met Ms. High Society at a youth group thing last weekend. Her name is Sage or Cinnamon or some spice. I can’t remember. I’m supposed to keep the Spice Girl’s friend, what’s-her-face, company while Jonah makes his move. But I’ve totally neglected my duties. I’m such a dick.
My phone buzzes and I practically fall out of my seat. The call I’ve been waiting for. I motion for Jonah to give me a minute. He bites his nails, cursing the day I was born.
The screen on my phone reads: All ready to go. Are you sure?
Do it! I type back.
Then I hold my breath.
If I knew then what I know now, I never would’ve sent that text. I wouldn’t have done a lot of things. Yeah, if my life were a movie, I’d go back and edit out all the bad stuff. Leave it all on the cutting room floor.
But I can’t. And now I will have to pay.
After several uncomfortable moments, Jonah clears his throat.
“Okay, my bad,” I say before checking my phone one last time. “Gimme another shot.” I’m a sucker for a guy in lust. Jonah’s date is pretty cute, and just because I’m not getting any doesn’t mean I should deny my friend the opportunity.
“Yeah?” Jonah says, looking hopeful.
“Yeah.” I pat his shoulder.
“Okay. First order of business: stop with the nails.” I swat his hand “Chicks hate that shit. It’s disgusting.”
Jonah nods and pulls his fingers from his mouth. “Check. Anything else?”
“Yeah, take this.” I hand him my tin of Altoids. “Probably not a good idea to load your burger with onions when you’re trying to impress a girl.”
“See, this is what I need.” Jonah flashes his gummy grin and pops a few mints. “My wingman is back.”
When the girls—Ginger and Nicole, thank you very much—return, I do a complete 180.
“So,” I say to Jonah, gearing up to make it a big production. “Are you getting the band together this weekend?”
He raises an eyebrow.
“You’re in a band?” Ginger squeaks.
“Guitar and lead singer,” I say.
While it’s true that Jonah can sing, he’s terrible at guitar and there hasn’t been a band since eighth grade. But I have to do something. He’s sinking over there.
“I’d love to hear you play sometime.” Ginger laughs and whispers something to Nicole.
Jonah mouths thank you when she’s not looking.
My work here is done.
Jonah and Ginger are deep in conversation the rest of the night and I work my hardest to keep Nicole entertained.
“So, Desmond Brandt, do you have a girlfriend?” she asks while twirling a clump of hair. I’m not sure if she’s trying to be cute or sexy or what. But it’s none of the above.
“Ah … not exactly,” I say.
“Well … ” She untangles her hand from the hair clump and rests it on the table, dangerously close to mine. “What is your status then? Exactly?”
“Long story. Let’s just say it’s complicated. You?” I ask, not caring to know the answer.
The next several minutes are a blur of Nicole telling me about all the guys who want her and why. I nod, smile, and do everything in my power to get through the night.
In the end, it’s not too bad. I buy everyone churros, Jonah gets another date with Ginger, and there under the fluorescent lights of the food court, I become one of the best wingmen who has ever lived.
All is right with the world.
I free my hair from the braids Mom put in this morning and fan the long locks around my face to create a barrier between me and them. By fourth period the gossip has traveled far and wide. I try to ignore the stares and snickers as we walk down the hall. Libby, on the other hand, cannot. She flips people off, hurls insults, and is basically a nightmare our entire walk to the gym. What can I say? She always has my back.
I keep my head up, ears closed, and try not to look at my classmates’ faces. This is how it goes around here. One wrong move, one bad rumor, one mistake, and it’s social death row.
I’m the latest to be sentenced.
Move out of the way, everyone.
Dead girl walking.
We pass the lockers and classrooms without saying a word. The school’s walls and floor are beginning to show their age—they’re grungy and tired with wrinkles and cracks, peeling paint and water damage. Poor old thing; it’s only going to get worse until our district can afford a face-lift. And that will come long after I graduate this spring.
In the Heights, a deteriorating high school is the least of our worries. Most people are just trying to make
And that’s only the half of it.
So far, my family’s been lucky. Dad is tenured at the community college and Mom works at a Montessori daycare, which is pretty much foolproof—bad economy or not, people
need a place to put their kids. Libby’s family hasn’t been as fortunate. Her dad lost his job a few months ago. Things must be getting tight at home because she’s always “forgetting” her lunch money, and more often than not, she’s “just not that hungry.” Not to mention she took on a job doing janitorial work at the Java House and she hates to clean. But she makes minimum wage and gets all the free coffee she can drink, so she’s not complaining.
“Are you sure you’re up for this?” Libby looks up at me when we get to the locker room.
“Does it matter? I have to face her sooner or later.”
I’d rather it be later.
Libby and I go to our lockers and pull out our standard-issue gym uniforms: navy shorts and white T-shirts. Tori and Natalie are just steps behind us. At the end of our row, they begin to change out of their designer clothes. Of course they wouldn’t be caught dead wearing anything from our ghetto mall or Target, so they go into the city for two-hundred-dollar jeans, trendy flats, and modest skirts that hang below their fingertips. Personally, I like Target and even a few shops at the mall. But who are we kidding? I have no one to impress.
Tori looks down our row and shudders. “Let’s get away from the dykes,” she says to Natalie. “I wouldn’t want to turn them on before class.”
And so it begins.
Tori Devlin is the head of the Christian brigade. She wears a purity ring and leads a group of dedicated wannabes we call the Tori Rollers. Tori’s dad is the mayor of our little rundown city and is currently running for a second term, so Tori’s been helping him preach family values and morality out on the campaign trail. Here at school, that means hating on anyone or anything deemed unchristianlike.