The Art of Love and War

A novel? Yep. Remember, if there’s hope in ALL things, why not check it out? (Read the teaser summary or if you want to dig right in, the first chapter follows.)

The Art of Love and War

When Bekka Neilson finds herself ‘sacked’ after being dumped by her ex for no apparent reason, she decides it constitutes an act of war. Armed with a copy of the world’s oldest manual on war, The Art of War, she enlists the aid of her friends, and prepares for battle.

Events rapidly escalate when a mysterious new teacher at Bekka’s school, draws her into a maelstrom of events Bekka’s dreamed of doing, but never imagined actually pulling off. Suddenly she’s taking the kind of wild risks she would never have taken on her own, winning the affection of a knight in shining armor, victoriously pulling off the greatest revenge kiss of all time, model strutting herself into utter embarrassment and repeatedly turning herself into the school’s biggest internet sensation. It seems like she’s being forced to drink through a fire hose and is drowning in the process. But by then, as far as Bekka’s concerned, it’s too late to backtrack. It’s win or die trying.

Bekka’s unique combination of military strategy and seduction gives new meaning to the phrase, ‘All’s fair in love and war.’ Is it the answer to her problems? Will she finally hook up with the man of her dreams? Does she end up peeing her pants in a tickle war? Or survive singlehandedly taking on the football team? Can a full grown girl really be mistaken for a raccoon? The answer to these and many more questions await you in The Art of Love and War.

 

CHAPTER I

“The Art of War”
Monday, August 7th, 9:00 a.m.
It’s the morning of my birthday. I’m lounging in my bed, basking in the sunlight that’s streaming through the window. This isn’t just any birthday. It’s the big one-six. Sixteen. That magical day they show in the movies when after everything has gone wrong in your world, it suddenly turns right. I’m in desperate need of that magic.

Let me explain.

For me sixteen isn’t just about getting a driver’s license. My parents decided to put my sister and I through the mortifying torture of not being able to date until this big day. I probably would have objected if my older sister, Diana, hadn’t complied. She’s a rule follower if ever there was one. I never could stand the thought of her outdoing me in any way. If she could tough out the dating rule, I sure as anything, wasn’t going to do less, at least not officially.

Unofficially I met the man of my dreams three months ago.

Nick.

We met at a school dance that he and his buddy, Troy, had crashed. When he asked me to dance I could have dropped dead from shock. He was gorgeous, with dark curly hair, brown eyes, the build of an athlete, and dimples.

After his first invitation to dance, I figured it was probably the last I’d see of him, so when he came back, I was floored. Every few songs he returned. During the slow songs we talked about his plans for senior year. He asked me about school. I stammered something about staring out the window at the lilacs during my last class of the day. But most of the time he held me close. It was perfection.

The following Monday at the end of school, I was once again staring out the window. And there he was, my Prince Charming, smelling one of the lavender blossoms, smiling straight at me.

As soon as the bell rang, I ran out the classroom door. Of course, once I was outside I changed my pace to a lazy saunter. He didn’t need to know this kind of thing wasn’t an everyday occurrence.

Later, after he’d given me a ride home, my best friend, Chelle, and my sister, Diana, noticed how this old Toyota truck kept driving past the house. I couldn’t believe it. The first time I saw that red pickup rolling down our street, I could have swooned. Instead I decided the front flowerbeds needed weeding. It wasn’t my fault Prince Charming decided to come save me from such drudgery and carry me off in his Toyota steed.

Then one night after we’d crashed another dance, Nick’s best friend, Troy, was giving Chelle and I a ride home in his van. Troy had a thing for Chelle. She sat up front with him. I was in the back with Nick. The seats were ripped up and falling apart, so Nick said his lap was the only place for me to sit. Who was I to argue? Troy pulled over to the side of the road. He asked Chelle if she wanted to go for a walk. That left Nick and I alone in the dark with me on his lap.

At first he playfully moved his legs so I started to fall. After that clever ploy I was clinging to him. Then things got silent and serious. This was it, the moment I’d been waiting for. The Kiss. His eyes were glinting in the dark, shifting from my eyes to my lips and back again. My heart was pounding out of my chest. I tilted my head slightly to make sure my lips were accessible. Slowly his head closed the distance between us until his mouth found mine. I’d never had much experience with real kissing before. He was the teacher. I was the student. In all my life I’d never had a better educational experience.

That was my summer. Me and Nick sneaking off together, kissing a lot, making plans like what we had would never end. For the first time in my life I knew I was in love.

Then he left for his Distributive Excellence Clubs of America leadership training in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Nick’s goal in life is to be an entrepreneur. That’s what Distributive Excellence Clubs of America or DECA, is about, being a success in the world of merchandising. As the new Chapter President for his school, he had the honor of spending five days at the national seminar.

The night before he left was full of promises. He’d dream about me every night, send me texts every hour, maybe even sneak in a facetime call. We were desperate lovers, torn apart by fate, soon to be reunited and more in love than we’d been before.

He promised me a lot of things.

Since that night I’ve heard nothing.

The first few days I figured he was too wrapped up in the excitement and importance of his training experience. That was understandable. He’d made it clear how essential the trip was to him. To express my support, I sent him a few texts, no pressure, just me saying ‘hi.’

Still, there was no response.

With each day my anxiety grew. The time of his return flight arrived. All day I waited for him to text, call, anything. He’d promised me I’d be informed the second he touched down.

Nothing.

I was worried he’d been in an accident, like maybe a car crash on the way home from the airport. Maybe at that very moment, he was in a state of delirium so severe he couldn’t express his desperate need for me. His mother didn’t know I existed, so how would she know to call me? I was ready to start contacting hospitals.

The next morning, however, I knew there was one way to find out if he had returned from his trip in one piece. He was scheduled to work. Nick wouldn’t miss a day on the job for anything. I rode my bike to the mall. There it was, his beloved Toyota, parked in it’s usual spot outside the electronics store where he works.

Of course, after everything we’d been through together, how much we meant to each other, I told myself there had to be a logical reason behind his abrupt lack of contact. I figured I may as well take the plunge and actually call. My first try went straight to voice mail. The second rang a number of times, but again ended up in voice mail. Two more tries later there wasn’t any question. My calls were intentionally being sent to voice mail.

Intentionally?

I couldn’t figure out why. My world was imploding. What had I done wrong? How had things changed? Why didn’t he want me any more? What was so wrong with me that I didn’t merit one iota of contact?

That’s when I came up with the birthday theory. You see, before he left he promised me in no uncertain terms, that he was going to ask me out on my first official date. So maybe, to make it an extra big surprise he decided to make me think he didn’t care. Then on my birthday he’d show up at the door and make everything okay again.

Like the movies.

And here we are! Two torturous weeks have passed since I last saw or spoke with Nick. I’m not going to let myself slip back into the depths of despair. Today I’m going to find out the silence on his part was simply an element of his plan. He’s going to tell me he’s been missing me as much as I’ve been missing him. He’s going to make everything be alright.

Right now, in my bed, with the morning light washing across my blankets, it seems as if some kind of magic is headed my way. So when the doorbell rings I freeze, hoping against hope, that maybe this is the magic moment every sixteenth birthday is supposed to bring.

I hear footsteps.

The door opens.

“Bekka!” yells Diana in a sing-song voice, “You’ve got company!”
By the inflection in her voice she’s invoked our secret code, letting me know it’s a boy at the door.

It’s a BOY!

I nearly have a heart attack. I’m out of my bed in a flash! I run a comb through my hair trying to tame my curls. It’s hopeless. There isn’t any time! I brush on some mascara so that my blond, otherwise invisible lashes at least stand out. After a quick inspection I decide the shorts and tee shirt I’ve slept in don’t look so bad. Without a second to lose, I run – no walk, lazily, like it’s no big deal, to the front door.

“Hey Bekka.”

I think I’m going to faint. Where’s Nick? Why isn’t Nick here?
Nick is nowhere to be seen. Instead my man-caller is Zack – as in Zack, my best friend Chelle’s older brother! We’ve known each other since I was five and he was six. We’ve grown up together. Chelle and I teased him. He teased us. There’s a huge lump in my throat. He’s holding out your standard grocery-store bouquet of flowers.

Don’t cry! Don’t cry! Don’t cry! I inwardly scream at myself, trying not to let my disappointment show. This must have been Chelle’s doing. If anyone knows the mental anguish Nick has caused me over the last two weeks, it’s her. She probably bought the flowers herself then paid Zack twenty bucks to come over. How mortifying.

Alright, maybe she didn’t pay him the twenty bucks. Zack is a decent guy. He’d be willing to wish me a happy birthday on his own, but the flowers? I can’t imagine him buying flowers. Basketball is all that matters to him, basketball and video games. To him it’s like girls don’t even exist.

“Hey Zack.” I barely squeak out the words.

“Happy birthday.” A crooked grin cracks across his lightly freckled face as he offers me the bouquet.

“Thanks.” I smile back weakly. His sandy colored hair, straight as straight can be, falls across his brow in a boyishly appealing way. For the first time in my reckoning his hazel eyes are hesitant.

“Wanna go for a walk?”

No. I’d rather not exist any more. I answer inside my head.

“Sure.” is what I say. After all, with or without Nick I’ve got to go back to living a somewhat normal life. If I’ve got to break myself in, taking a walk with Zack will do me good. Zack’s always good company, even if he is on a mercy mission. Maybe I could use some mercy.

For a while we walk in silence, Zack with his hands tucked into his jeans pockets. That’s one of the nice things about Zack, sometimes words aren’t necessary around him. We pass one neatly manicured lawn after another.

It’s a nice neighborhood. The homes are thirty-plus going on fifty, but they’re well kept. Almost all of them are brick, one story, in a rambler style. They all have basements. Ours is unfinished. A couple summers ago Zack helped his dad build out their lower story. Zack was a lot shorter then. He’s grown at least a foot since. At five feet, four inches, I’m practically a dwarf next to him now.

As if by silent, mutual agreement we turn into the abandoned field we’ve frequented since we were kids. The grass is brittle and yellow, grazing my naked thighs. The insect noises that were in the air before, intensify. We follow the hard-packed dirt trail.

“So I guess this is the big one-six.” Zack finally breaks our companionable silence. We’ve reached the back entrance to the orchard which runs behind our homes. He steps across the concrete irrigation ditch that’s shaped like a flat-bottomed ‘V.’ It’s about as deep as it is wide, around two and a half feet, with at least six inches of rushing water in the bottom. Not a good place to trip or fall. At worst it’s an ankle breaker, at best, you’re stuck with humiliation and wet shoes. Like always of late, Zack holds out his hand to help me across.

“You’re too tall.” I give him my best scowl. Reluctantly I take his hand so I won’t fall trying to breach a gap that is effortless for him.

“You’re too short. It’s the responsibility of those of stature, such as myself, to assist others of lesser size.”

I make the jump – barely – and end up tumbling into him to avoid falling. For a second or two I stand there clinging to him, like the threat of a fall is still impending. I notice how solid he’s become, like one long, lean piece of muscle. His shoulders are broad, his arms banded with muscle. When did he get to be so…manly? When I glance up at his face he’s looking down at me with a huge grin, barely containing his laughter. All in a huff, I push away from him.

“I hate you.”

“You’re a klutz. What am I supposed to do? Let you fall?”

“If you’re so incredible and I’m so frail, maybe you should just be carrying me around.” He knows I’m not serious which is exactly why he suddenly throws me over his shoulder like I’m nothing.

“Whatever you wish m’lady. It’s your birthday.”

Now that he doesn’t have to modify his speed for my short legs, he’s taking huge, dizzying strides. We’re flying past the short grass of the orchard. He’s trying to cheer me up and it’s working. There are apples on the trees only a few weeks away from being harvested. The smell is earthy. It’s shady and cool and beautiful. It’s one of my favorite places, but not when I’m being jostled all over the place as I helplessly hang over Zack’s shoulder.

“Put me down!”

“Make up your mind!”

Finally he stops to set me back on solid ground.

“So, you got any big plans for today?”

All of a sudden I remember Nick and how Zack isn’t him. My mind goes into a panic.

I didn’t bring my cell phone. I shouldn’t have left the house. I’m going to miss his call…

Then the other part of me argues.

If Nick’s going to call, let him wait. He’s been a jerk. If he cares so little, you shouldn’t either!

“Nope. No big plans. Just cake with the family.”

I turn on my heel before he sees how I’m on the brink of emotional collapse.

“There’s a World War II marathon running on the Military Channel. That might brighten your day.”

“Right. Watching a bunch of men kill each other is what every girl wants to watch on her birthday.” To relieve my angst, I reach out to pull a handful of leaves from a nearby branch. All I get is two measly ripped up leaves.

“Actually Sun Tzu said the art of war is of vital importance.” This is said as if Zack is sharing a morsel of highly superior knowledge.

“The art of war? Who is Sun Tzu?”

“Sun Tzu is the Chinese dude who wrote the Bible of military tactics.”

He reaches up to the highest branch on the nearest tree then rips a handful of leaves away with one hand. He smiles as the branch bounces back up to an amazing height. Next he lets his handful of leaves flutter down over my head, making sure most of them get caught in my hair. If Chelle were here she’d be getting the same treatment. He’s rubbing the whole ‘I’m taller than you’ thing in my face. After my major ‘fail’ at trying the same thing, he’s also adding an ‘I’m stronger than you’ bit into the mix. I roll my eyes at him, dismissing his ‘superior’ skills, pulling his gifted greenery from my hair.

“It’s called ‘The Art of War.’ You’d like it.”

“Me?”

“Yep. If anybody’s a fighter, it’s you, Bekka. I should know. I’ve been on the receiving end of some of your wild schemes…” I make an about face to cut him off before he can get started.

“If you’re referring to last summer’s kidnapping incident involving your favorite ball and a few transportation demands Chelle and I had…”

He’s shaking his head at me like I’m hopeless.

“Exactly! You’ve been practicing the art of war for ages.”

“When did you become a military expert? I thought your world revolved around basketball.”

“Hey, a guy can’t live on basketball alone. There’s always Nelo, Mafia Wars, Zombie Apocalypse, Call of Duty…”

“Oh, yeah, I forgot the other half of your world – video games.” I note as we resume our walk, “You actually went to the trouble of reading some military Bible?”

“Don’t dis Sun Tzu. I printed the whole book so I could use it as a reference while I’m in the middle of a game. It’s kind of beat up, but like I said, if you read it, I think you’d like it.”

“Alright. Whatever.” I shrug at him in bewilderment.

Ah yes, every girl dreams of getting ancient military bibles on their birthday… I think to myself. If the day continues like this, that miracle movie ending I need so badly can’t come soon enough.

 

3:22 p.m.

Chelle shows up with a gift card and some brownies.

My best friend, Chelle, is gorgeous. I’m not even exaggerating. We could be hiking in the Himalayas, no makeup, no showers for over a week, and she’d still look fantastic. She’s got this athletic yet feminine kind of figure, long blond hair, a cute button nose, and big brown eyes. Like Zack she’s also got the smattering of freckles which only add to her attractiveness.

Sadly, I’m distracted. It’s 15:22 hours in military time. Not that I always count things in military time, but today it’s important. Nothing has happened. The phones are silent. I’ve gotten lots of birthday wishes from my friends on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, but not him. There has been no word from Nick. Nothing. His time is running out. Eight hours thirty-eight minutes to be exact. Why doesn’t he have the decency to say something? Anything! He made a promise! Doesn’t that mean anything to him?

“That’s from Zach.” Chelle explains as she hands off a worn-out, binder-clipped stack of papers, “He said he was on his way to give it to you, so I told him I’d save him the trip.”

Yes, of course, there’s only so much mercy a guy can dole out within a twenty-four hour period. At least he was willing to come in the first place. His book talk has managed to captivate my curiosity. Besides, I am in desperate need of a diversion. Gingerly I finger the tattered pages.

SUN TZU ON THE ART OF WAR
The oldest military treatise in the world.

He hadn’t been lying about the Bible part. The manuscript is numbered in small segments like Bible verses. Chelle, being the awesome friend she is, sits next to me at the kitchen table and starts thumbing through one of my mom’s People magazines, giving me a chance to read.

I. Laying Plans
1. Sun Tzu said: The art of war is of vital importance to the state.

On the page in Zack’s tidy, capitals only handwriting, the word ‘state’ has been crossed out to be replaced with ‘me.’ The art of war is of vital importance to me. Insightful. I can see how the modification would apply to his favorite video games. But the more I think about it, the phrase carries a new degree of importance. He’s on to something. I take a stab at my own set of substitutions:

2. It is a matter of life (love) and death (loneliness), a road either to safety (happiness) or to ruin (sorrow). Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected.

Suddenly the whole thing takes on new meaning. “All’s fair in love and war” had to have come from somewhere. Maybe whoever made it up knew what they were talking about.

Over the last two weeks I have become more dead to myself each day. The pain has been impossible to escape. Everything I feared to be true about me and my unattractiveness had been validated. But I was wrong. Blaming myself isn’t the answer. Nick’s silence is a statement all it’s own. He made the choice to cut off contact. I’m not the one to blame on that account. If he doesn’t have a decent explanation, this is war. My nation, the nation of Bekka Neilson, has been gravely wounded for unknown reasons. I deserve answers. I deserve retribution!

The more I read, the stronger I feel. For the first time all day I am not checking my phone, waiting for the doorbell to ring. Inside, there’s a new Bekka awakening. The girl who has been sitting around waiting isn’t waiting any more. Now is the time for action and I’m going to take it!
Not all of the book applies to my situation. This is, after all, a very old Chinese manual on war. But most of the time, especially with my occasional substitutions, I find it remarkably applicable.

Inside my heart and soul I know, if Nick does not contact me today, he is asking for nothing less than all out war. If I conquered him once, I can conquer him again. He is the one who came to me in the first place. I didn’t hunt him down after that first dance. Something about me sparked his interest. Now in the midst of this unbearable silence, my self worth demands action. I’m alive again, fueled by a new sense of cold, hard, calculating rage.

“Brownie?” offers Chelle as she pulls one out for herself. A warrior needs sustenance. We both start emptying the plate.

“What’s so captivating about Zack’s nasty stack of papers?” inquires Chelle after more than an hour has passed.

“Nick’s not going to call me today.” I answer, ignoring her question, “He’s not going to call me ever.” The cold in my voice surprises even me.

“Pining over him is no longer an option. If anyone deserves answers, it’s me. This is war. He is going to be conquered.”

Chelle is taken back to see her friend be so frosty. She glances at the papers I’ve been perusing.

“The Art of War?”

“All’s fair in love and war. Nick broke his word. If I have any say in the matter, he’s going to come back to me begging on his knees. Are you with me?”

A huge grin breaks across Chelle’s face.

“Are you kidding? I wouldn’t miss it!”

 

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