This task was to look at story ideas you'd written in your notebook and choose one, then develop one character for it.
My character, Duncan Tremaine, is a former professional basketball player. After the deaths of his brother and sister-in-law five months ago left him to raise their four-year-old daughter, Duncan retired and moved from Boston to a small Georgia town that needed a high school basketball coach and history teacher. There, he is raising his niece, who is more interested in art and ballet than sports.
Here's the opening scene.
Duncan Tremaine was out of his league, out of his depth, and so far out of his comfort zone that he wasn’t even on the same continent. A confirmed jock who was also a confirmed bachelor should not be standing in the middle of the little girls’ department at the city’s largest department store. Or even its smallest one.
But Duncan was.
He was also, in addition to all the other outs, going out of his mind. His four-year-old niece, Lizzie, had been in the dressing room for more than fifteen minutes trying on a dress—a fancy, frilly dress—and the sales clerks, knowing a clueless male when they saw one, had scattered to the four winds. Or, at least, to the far reaches of the store.
Duncan was trying to decide whether it was less of a social infraction to invade the dressing room area, stand at the entrance and bellow for Lizzie to come out, or accost some poor, unsuspecting female and ask her to check on the little girl. The latter seemed the best choice, except that—natch—there were no females, unsuspecting or otherwise, in sight.
He checked his watch. Checked the dressing room doorway—no Lizzie. Looked around, just in case a sales clerk had wandered into view.
At the sound of a woman’s voice saying, “Come on, Droopy, just pick a pair. They’re gym shoes, not the crown jewels,” his head whipped around in time to see a slender blonde across the aisle in the shoe department yank up her son’s baggy, drooping jeans, despite the fact the boy towered over her.
Duncan muffled a laugh. In the three months he’d been a high school history teacher and basketball coach, he couldn’t count the number of times he’d wanted to do the same thing to the kids at school.
“Not gym shoes, Aunt Jul, basketball shoes.” The boy mimed a jump shot, and even just goofing around, the height of his jump was remarkable.
“They’re shoes, you wear them to run around the gym. That makes them gym shoes in my book.”
Hallelujah! Duncan thought, walking toward the pair. And wondering if the City Fathers had declared today Take Your Niece or Nephew Shopping Day. For him, however, for the past five months—and the next twelve or so years—every time he needed to go to the store was Take Your Niece Shopping Day.
“Aunt Jul, that’s like saying Freeds and Capezios are the same.”
“Bite your tongue, Charlie. You know better. Or you should.”
“I’m just sayin'. It’s a…whatchamacallit. A simile—I mean, an analogy.”
Duncan didn’t know what Freeds or Capezios were—some kind of fancy, high-priced ladies’ shoes, no doubt—but the kid had made his point.
The woman reached up and cupped the kid’s cheek. “I’m really proud of you for making the varsity team.”
The boy bent over until he was eye level with her. “But…?”
Oh, yeah. There was definitely a but—a big but—at the end of that sentence. Duncan glanced back toward the dressing rooms to see if Lizzie had finally emerged.
The woman hesitated, as if debating whether to answer. “But I almost wish you hadn’t because unless the games are on Mondays or Tuesdays, I won’t be able to watch you play until after the first of the year.”
Duncan wondered what the woman did that she only had two free evenings a week. And what was going to change the first of the year. A nurse on the three-to-midnight shift at the hospital, perhaps. Or maybe she worked the dinner shift at a restaurant.
“See me warm the bench, more like,” the teen said with a grin as he straightened. “But”—he pointed back and forth between himself and the woman—“the same goes, Twinkletoes.”
“It’s not the same thing, honey.”
“Yeah, it is. And some of the games are on Tuesdays.”
Now that he was closer, Duncan recognized the boy as the freshman with the incredible jump shot who’d made the varsity team. Charlie Marsden or Casden or Something-den. Tryouts ended yesterday, practice didn’t start until Monday, and learning the boys’ names was still on Duncan’s to-do list.
He looked over his shoulder to see if Lizzie had reappeared, but she hadn’t, so he interrupted, opting for an error-free greeting. “Well, if it isn’t the newest player on Dunrath High’s basketball team.”
Charlie jumped like he’d been poked with a cattle prod, then grinned. “Hey, Coach!”
The boy’s manners were better than most. Instead of launching into a conversation about basketball, he made introductions. “Aunt Jul, this is Coach Tremaine. Duncan Tremaine. Coach, this is my aunt, Julia Willoughby.”
Up close, the woman was smaller than she’d appeared. Maybe five-four and slim as a willow, she had the most regally erect posture Duncan had ever seen. With a smile, she extended a slender hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Tremaine. I’ve heard a great deal about you this week.”
“I imagine you have.” Duncan gently clasped her hand and shook it. She looked like she’d blow away in a stiff breeze, but her grip was firm. “You’ll probably hear more in the coming months.” She obviously had a good—and close—relationship with her nephew, and Duncan wanted that kind of relationship with his players and their parents, or other significant relatives.
“I imagine so.”
Without further ado he made his request. “Miss Willoughby, I wonder if I might ask a favor. My niece, Lizzie, has been in the dressing room for about twenty minutes, and I’m worried about her. The sales clerks have all disappeared. Would you go in there and check on her?”
“Yes, of course. How old is Lizzie?”
“Oh my. I’d be worried, too, in your shoes.” To the boy, she said, “Stay right here. I’ll be back in a minute.”
As she turned to leave, she inquired, “Do you and Lizzie have a secret word or phrase? So she’ll know it’s okay to talk to me.”
“Yes. It’s ‘Purple popsicles and lima beans are icky.’”
“I quite agree. Especially together.” She made a face, and the boy laughed. After a moment’s hesitation, she suggested, “Perhaps you can help Charlie find basketball shoes while I’m gone.”
Although he’d planned to go with her, Duncan stayed where he was. Basketball shoes he knew; frilly dresses were as alien as Martians.