The affair started early in the morning, under cover of darkness, off in a cozy corner where no one took notice.
Her name was Melanie Barrick. A great name for a strong woman.
Yeah, she had a troubled past. But, then again, so did I. Life had given her some lumps and bruises. And, well, ditto.
We bonded immediately. We would have these conversations, just the two of us, that lasted for hours. Right away, I found I could complete her sentences. We were so in sync, it was like it wasn’t possible for her to have a thought that I didn’t totally and completely empathize with, in the most profound way possible. We were soulmates.
Still, I didn’t tell anyone about our relationship. Not my agent. Not my editor. Not any of my friends.
Certainly not my wife.
It was this special thing we had, Melanie and I. Just the two of us.
As time went on, the affair continued. Thrived, even. Maybe people judged us, I don’t know. As far as I was concerned, we didn’t have anything to be ashamed of. We just had our feelings. And feelings are never wrong.
Finally, I felt strong enough in my feels I could start admitting it:
“I think I love my protagonist,” I said to my agent one day.
And then I said it to my editor.
And to my friends.
Even to my wife.
Really, how could I not love her? She had overcome so much in her life. Melanie was abandoned by her parents when she was nine years old. Nine! The social workers basically told Melanie’s mother: If you stay with your husband, the guy who has been abusing you and your kids, we’re going to take those kids from you.
And Melanie’s mother—she was hooked on pills at the time—chose the guy over the kids. (Don’t believe that? You’ve basically never met an abused woman. But I digress).
For me? That’s game over, right there. I’m pretty much quitting on life.
Not Melanie. She soldiered on. She had her books—Melanie is a big reader, this should not surprise you about a woman I love—and she was going to make it out of this horrible situation, no matter what. She was sent to a group home, then foster care. It didn’t matter. Nothing could knock Melanie’s spunk out of her.
And this stayed true once Closer Than You Know, the novel in which she lives, got going. In the first scene, I did the unthinkable to her: I had her baby taken away by social services. Because of a spurious accusation made against her—oh, that, and a little bit of cocaine that was planted in her house, where it was rather inconveniently discovered by the local Sheriff’s Office.
From there, I kept doing horrible things to her. I threw her in jail. I destroyed her reputation. I even forced her to get a job at an American institution called “Waffle House.”
(Google it. Then shiver).
Through it all, my love for her only grew. And now I feel like I’m ready to share our story with the whole world.
I’m sure Melanie likes it. Though I’m just guessing at that.
Strangely, she’s stopped returning my calls.
Brad Parks is an international bestselling author and the only writer to have won the Shamus, Nero, and Lefty Awards, three of American crime fiction’s most prestigious prizes. His latest thriller, Closer Than You Know, is published by Faber & Faber on March 15. For more visit www.BradParksBooks.com.