Write what you know, they said . . .
You gotta write what you know, they told me . . .

Lavanna
by Thelma Peers ©2015

"Layla, I'm on my knees, darling please bring me a coffee and a muffin," sang a familiar voice.

Layla turned to face her singing customer, Geoffrey, of course. He chuckled at his old joke about her name. It wasn't the first time he sang Eric Clapton's song, Layla to her.

"You're tone deaf," Layla replied, trying and failing to keep a straight face.

Geoffrey held up his hands in an 'I surrender position'. "Ease my worried mind about you insulting more customers," he sang.

"Don't worry, you're the only one."

Layla shook her head and took an oatmeal raisin muffin from the display case and put it on a plate with a knife and a couple of butter packets. Her job was simple, unchallenging. It was far from her dream job, but sometimes you just have to grow up, realize you'll never write that one great story. She took a china mug, positioned it under the cream dispenser, hit the appropriate button and a dollop of cream fell into the mug. Then she filled it with coffee. She loved how the cream rose up and swirled around before it became one with the coffee; there was something harmonic about the process. She placed the plate and mug before Geoffrey.

"That'll be two seventy-five," she said.

"I would like a free smile with that," Geoffrey said, taking a sip of his coffee.

Layla shook her head, frown squarely in place. "Not until you get some new jokes about my name."

"I will tomorrow." Geoffrey handed Layla a five. "Keep fifty cents for the tip jar."

Layla opened the till, gave Geoffrey his change and dropped two quarters into the jar by the cash register. She smiled and greeted the woman behind Geoffrey, thankful that their transaction had concluded. It was hard to focus with him around, so close yet so far away from being hers. He asked her out on her first day at work, two years ago, she turned him down, worried she'd gain a reputation for dating customers. A year ago he stopped asking, so now their relationship was purely customer and server. It hurt but that's the way things were meant to be. As she was pouring the woman's coffee, Geoffrey checked his I-Phone and flinched. He raced to the counter.

"Layla, could you put my coffee in a paper cup?" He handed her his plate and china mug.

Layla handed the woman her coffee and transferred Geoffrey's coffee into a take-out cup.

"What's wrong?"

"I'm running late."

"But I thought you started work at eight? Isn't your office is just across the street?" Layla handed Geoffrey his coffee and a bag to carry his muffin.

"Well, it's just one of those days." Geoffrey took a sip of his coffee. "Perfect as usual." He handed her a twenty. "Thanks for always brightening up my mornings with your sense of humour." He winked. "Hide it before anyone sees it."

Blushing, Layla took the twenty and stuffed it into her apron pocket. She desperately needed the money. As much as she wanted to thank him, she worried she'd burst into tears.

Geoffrey saluted her and left the restaurant.

The day wore on, Layla did her best to keep Geoffrey out of her thoughts. She did like his toothy grin, his dimples, the sparkle in his blue eyes and his chestnut brown hair. Most of all she liked his sense of humour; no matter how silly his remarks were they always made her laugh. Too bad they'd always be customer and server. She just had to learn to accept it.

Before she knew it, it was three in the afternoon, time to go home. She signed off on the cash register and went into the back room. She took off her hairnet, hung her apron on the hook and Abby, her best friend hung up hers. Layla put on her denim jacket.

"Any big plans for tonight?" asked Abby. She slipped on her coat.

"Nope, just sitting at home, watching my soaps."

Abby put her hands on her sizeable hips. "You mean you're not going to finish writing your hot, steamy romance novel? I can't wait to see what's going to happen next with Dermont and Lucinda." Abby took off her apron and hung it up.

"You'll wait forever. I'm burnt out, I have nothing left in the tank. What's the point in writing if no one wants to publish my work?"

Without waiting for a response, Layla stalked away. Though she felt bad for doing that to Abby, she had no choice. Abby couldn't possibly understand what giving up writing meant to her. It meant giving up on her dreams.

The thought of her work transforming from hobby into a career was an endless track of disappointment after disappointment. Two years ago, she'd written what she thought was a great novel about a girl and her love interest battling vampires together in a post-apocalyptic world. After spending over a year writing it, and $1500 to have it professionally edited, she wound up with thirty rejection slips from both publishers and agents alike.

It would be wrong to drag Geoffrey into her mess; that's why she had to forget about him. She'd just be a financial and emotional burden on him. Her anguish over tying to get published had cost her more relationships than she'd like to count.

Two months ago, she'd received her last rejection slip via e-mail. As much as she enjoyed writing, it was hard to stay motivated knowing her book might never see the light of day. After deleting the e-mail, she couldn't bring herself to write a single word. The thirty impersonal rejection slips, none offering constructive criticism, haunted her so.

'I'm not the right agent for this project, not accepting new clients as this time, we don't represent this genre, this isn't for me...' All those words rang in her ears whenever she turned on her laptop.

Layla boarded the bus home. She dropped the appropriate change into the slot and the bus lumbered off. Layla took her seat. Thanks to Abby, she was now dreading the night ahead of her. A night at home, where her laptop would be begging her to waste her time. No, she wouldn't fall for it, never would she write again. Her job, her soaps, that's all she needed. The pursuit of publication just led to heartache. It would be no different if she tried to pursue a relationship with Geoffrey. Why bother putting herself out there for her heart or her novel?

As the bus closed in on her intersection, Layla pulled the stop cord and the bus screeched to a stop. With a wave to the driver, Layla disembarked. She walked down the street, holding her breath against the thick smog of the big city. She entered her apartment building, and walked up to her floor. Her apartment's hall had peeling wallpaper and a musty odour that had been steadily grown worse during the two years she'd lived there, but it was home.

Layla let herself into her apartment. She took off her jacket, her uniform and let the items drop to the floor, along with her underwear. She breathed a sigh of relief, getting her uniform off was always a relief. Under the pillow of her convertible sofa she withdrew her frilly white linen nightgown and put it on. The nightgown always made her feel like a princess in the days of old. With a dinner of yogurt and a cup of tea, Layla watched her beloved soaps, then the eight o'clock and eight-thirty sitcoms, then her nine and ten o'clock dramas. She fell asleep as David Lettermen introduced his first guest. This was all she needed out of life, she thought as a single tear rolled down her cheek.

***

Sunlight stabbed through Layla's partially open lids. Instead of the familiar mildewy smell of her apartment, she smelled grass, soil, and apple blossoms. A shadow passed over the golden sunlight. Layla opened her eyes. A shadowy shape of a man loomed over her. The shadow closed in, then hard masculine lips pressed against hers. Layla was too stunned to even scream; instead she surrendered to the kiss. As the stranger kissed her, he drew her up to her feet, her toes curled into the damp soil. His lips were soft and firm, his tongue magic as it moved against hers. Slowly the stranger drew his lips back from hers. Layla let out a deep breath as the stranger backed away from her. That was the most wonderful kiss, she thought. Layla opened her eyes to take in the owner of those lips. He was tall, blond and blue eyed, white shirt with lace cuffs, tight black pants, tall boots, with a sword attached to his belt.

"Milady, Prince Gawain at your service." He bowed low to her.

Layla looked down, her lovely linen nightgown was covered in mud and her feet were bare. She looked up. Braches of sparkling apple blossoms hung above her head. A flock of birds of every colour of the rainbow flew in the sky in a fluttering ribbon. What had happened last night? How did she wind up here? This had to be a dream. There was no other explanation. Layla decided to play along. She already she had an idea where this dream might lead.

"My name's Layla. Where am I?"

"No, it isn't. You're Lorelei, and I've been waiting my whole life for you, as has this entire kingdom. You're in the Land of Levana. You've come here from the Utherworld to unite our world with yours."

Layla laughed, this was new. She hoped she'd remember this when she awoke. Perhaps there was hope for her, yet. Could this be the great novel she'd been waiting for? Just like any damsel in distress she took the young prince's hand.

"Climb aboard my noble steed."

Layla winced at the trite drivel of Gawain. Was she really that bad a writer? She had to try harder than that when it came to dialogue. If this was her newest story, she wouldn't stand a chance of gaining a readership.

Gawain stepped aside, revealing a white pegasus, with golden feathered wings. He knelt beside the horse and laced his fingers together, Layla took the hint and put her foot into his hands. With ease he hoisted her up onto the creature's bare back. With the same ease he took a seat behind her. The horse flapped its wings and soon they were flying through the air. Layla laughed not feeling in the least bit frightened. This was her dream, after all, nothing could happen to her here. Layla looked down, the wind blew up her nightgown, through her tangled brown hair, it all felt too real. Below them she saw a grey stone castle with many turrets. Flags bearing a lion on a red background festooned the spires of each turret. The pegasus circled around, then landed before the front gate. The gate lowered so they could cross the castle's moat. The pegasus walked across. Never once did Gawain prod the horse to heed his commands, which mystified Layla. Gawain's silent ability to direct the pegasus would be hard to explain if she attempted to write it. What was she saying? Didn't she just tell Abby she wouldn't write?

Gawain dismounted and held open his arms; Layla leapt from the creatures back, right into his embrace. He backed away and made a clucking sound in the back of his throat. The pegasus loped away.

'Good, that's better,' thought Layla.

"How did you know to find me? What did you mean earlier?"

Gawain chuckled and took her arm. "All in good time, milady."

'Stop with the milady, it's much too formal to say to a love interest,' thought Layla.

As he escorted her through the castle, Layla was struck by how bare the walls were. No artwork, tapestries, suits of armour or sconces adorned the walls. How could she dream something so devoid of details? Was this how empty her head was, how empty her imagination was? No, she couldn't accept it. Once she'd believed in her work, until agents and publishers rejected it. Perhaps it was time to believe in it again. This dream offered groundwork she could build on.

Gawain stopped and opened a door, revealing an empty room. Quickly Layla envisioned a four-poster bed, with a white lace canopy, white sheets, piles of pillows. In a puff of smoke they appeared. Layla nodded her head in approval, perfect. A mahogany chest appeared at the foot of the bed. A matching mahogany dresser materialized between two windows, along with heavy purple velvet drapes. Across from the bed a vanity magically appeared, festooned with bottles of perfumes, make-up and brushes. A mirror made of polished metal appeared above it.

Gawain nodded approvingly. "You're understanding your role here."

Layla turned to face Gawain. "What did you call me, earlier?"

"Lorelei, why?"

That was the name of the girl from the book she had tried and failed to publish. It felt like a slap in the face for that name pop up here in another tale. The world around her began to wobble. Layla shook her head. No, she couldn't allow the mistakes of the past to interfere with this intriguing dream. Everything stabilized.

Layla turned to Gawain and wrapped her arms around his waist.

Gawain pushed back. "I kissed you to wake you. I mustn't go further until we're properly married. Not until you've declared your love for the other me from Utherworld."

'Utherworld, that's been used before, hasn't it? I'll have to come up with a better name if I write this down.' Layla felt warm all over, she would write this down. How could she not? It had mystery, romance, and it just needed conflict. Perhaps bandits could attack her when she awoke, no that's so cliché. No, the world starts materializing around her.

"But, but this is my dream, you should do what I want."

Gawain raised an eyebrow. "What if I'm not a dream?"

"If it isn't a dream, what is it?"

Gawain chuckled and slipped from her embrace. He left the room and shut the door. Layla placed her hand upon the heavy wood. What kind of dream was this? In most of her dreams the handsome prince would throw her to the bed and make wild, passionate love to her. Maybe this isn't a dream? It's unlike any dream she's ever had.

"Milady," squeaked a tiny voice.

Layla jumped and looked down, a tiny girl was at her side. The girl curtsied.

"I am to bathe and clothe you. I've been waiting many a year for this."

"Really, why?"

The girl smiled. "Yes, of course. You wouldn't believe how many of us volunteered for this."

"Why?"

"Who wouldn't want to help the woman destined to save our world?"

"I suppose."

Layla liked where this story was leading, still she'd have to work on the dialogue, right now she had no idea what to say in response to the girl. No, if Lavana was born of her imagination there should be no hint of what life was like before she showed up.

As of this moment, Layla imagined there was going to be a lovely dinner and dance. Afterwards, the handsome prince would make love to her.

She took the girl's hand, allowing her to lead her behind a dressing screen. There was a metal tub filled with soapy water. Layla gladly removed her soiled nightgown and sat in the tub. She winced at the scalding heat of the water, then wished for it to be cooler, instantly the water cooled, perfect. The girl scrubbed her skin with a scrubbing brush until it felt raw. If this were a dream, shouldn't this feel more pleasant? The girl was merciless with the brush, scrubbing every nook and cranny of Layla's body.

It filled her with shame that the girl was doing this. Should she feel shame in a dream? That seemed unlikely to Layla, yes she'd felt desire, fear, and sadness, but never shame. The girl dried her; then helped her dress.

First went on the undergarments, then the corset. Layla winced as the girl pulled the strings tight, just when she was certain she felt a rib snap, the girl tied up the corset. Then a lovely white dress went over her head. Layla turned to look at herself in the mirror, she'd become an eighteenth century beauty, which almost made the torture the girl put her through worthwhile.

"Are you decent, love?" called a voice.

'A little better, but not enough,' thought Layla.

Layla looked to the girl, she bowed and went through a tiny door behind the now cooling tub.

"Yes," Layla said.

Gawain stepped through the door. "Mother and father should be here soon. They're looking forward to meeting you." He looked her up and down approvingly, but made no comment.

Layla's heart sank. 'I look beautiful, why aren't you complementing me? If this were Geoffrey he'd be whistling or making some silly reference to something.'

Gawain looked over his shoulder. "Here they come."

Layla felt her heart pounding, why was she so nervous, it wasn't like these were real people.

"They're going to love you," Gawain assured her.

"What are they like?"

Gawain smiled. "You tell me. You're here, to make our kingdom whole."

Layla stared back at Gawain, uncertain what to think. Deciding Gawain wasn't going to answer her, she answered her own question.

"Well, your father holds you at a distance. He does love you but won't show it because he's shaping you to rule the kingdom when he's gone. Your mother loves the man you've become, yet she mourns the loss of the little boy you once were."

Gawain smiled. "Yes, that sounds right."

Just then the door opened, and everything melted away, Garwain's castle had become her drab apartment. The sound of birds singing out the window was replaced by the familiar buzz of her clock radio. Disappointed, Layla sighed and threw the covers aside. Another glorious day was here and she hadn't gotten to make love to the prince. Tears blurred her vision as she stumbled off to the bathroom. Already she was mourning the loss of another beautiful dream to the drudgery of her workaday life.

On autopilot Layla showered, dressed and shoved a piece of toast into her mouth, chased by a swallow of orange juice. Picking up her purse, shoving her feet into shoes, Layla was out the door. During the fifteen-minute bus ride, Layla felt more and more depressed, this wasn't the life she wanted. Living in this dark grey urban squalor, waiting for something better to come along. No, she couldn't do it anymore, not after seeing the beauty of Lavana. It was not up to agents and publishers to choose her fate, she had to work to change it herself. She'd go back to school, study creative writing, join a writer's group and get decent feedback. She reached work and standing right in front of the coffee shop door was Geoffrey.

Layla swallowed, Geoffrey looked just like Gawain. Why hadn't she realized that in her dream? Was her subconscious trying to tell her something? Then Gawain's words echoed in her head, 'Not until you love the me that exists in the Utherworld'. Before her dream she would've laughed at that, but not now.

"Hey you, this is a pleasant surprise." Layla said, her usual sarcasm in place, not wanting to give up her armour just yet. Many men before him had offered her the moon only to leave her when the going got tough.

Geoffrey fixed her with a serious look. "Layla, I know I tease you a lot, but just hear me out."

Layla nodded, afraid of where this was leading, but hopeful all the same. Was this it, the day Geoffrey became the man she always hoped and dreamed for? She remembered the day he'd first walked in, tanned from a recent trip to the beach, wide friendly dimpled smile, blue eyes sparkling with good humour. It took everything within her not to accept his dinner invitation back then.

"I was transferred to the Toronto office, your shop is no longer on my way to work. Yet, I come in every day because I have to see you." Geoffrey reached out and took Layla's hand.

Layla smiled, how adorable Geoffrey looked, as adorable as Gawain. She was wrong about him, as she'd been wrong to give up her dreams. There would be many bumps along the road, but determination and hope would pave the way from now on. Just like love writing required patience and hard work.

Layla brought his hand up to her lips and kissed it. "I can't start my day without your smile. I just never realized it until now."

Geoffrey took a few steps forward and kissed her. His kiss was even better than Gawain's, his lips were moister, his tongue much more magical, his hands traversing up her spine. Layla wrapped her arms around his waist, never wanting to let him go. It was going to be a long and hard road only this time she had the will to keep going.

x x x

The first Editor's Extra in a while, I added this one because June's first story was so short. Stories are as long as they need to be, but I have no problem adding another--especially one as good as this. Tell me what you think on our BBS - GM

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