Introduction: This excerpt is from M. Earl (Martin) Smith’s novel-in-progress, Faith, Taken
Synopsis: Faced with newfound fame after a confrontation with a right-wing media blowhard, author AJ Asher finds himself in a love triangle, both with his therapist, Chloe Neon, and a pop start known simply as Trinity, who seeks to use AJ’s writing skills to take her career past simple pop stardom. 

 Chapter 2
One of the benefits of flying first class was the little extra bit of privacy it afforded. Sure, the whole philosophy of first class could be seen as elitist and bourgeois, but along the same token, AJ had not paid for the seat. His agent had been the one responsible for the added little luxury. Although he would normally be embarrassed by such extravagance, given the short notice and his rather weary mood at the moment, AJ was more than willing to be thankful for the little bonus. 
The Delta flight was nonstop to Vegas, close to six hours, yet AJ knew his time would not be spent in idle leisure. Nor would it be spent writing, at least not in the storytelling sense. There was but little doubt that such apathy for starting the new novel would bring chagrin from both his agent and publishing house; however, AJ was loathe to care too much. Besides, with Dr. Leon at a panel in Mumbai on mental health, chances to actually speak to her were few and far between, and he would be damned if he was going to miss out on an appointment, circumstances be damned. 
Their meeting and subsequent friendship had been all a matter of chance. AJ had befriended a mutual friend several years ago, one he would end up having an unceremonious falling out with a few scant weeks after AJ had been introduced. The falling out had temporarily taken Dr Leon along as well; in fact, in AJ's view, the rambling, incoherent parts of The Trials had been written in that very period. However, issues resolved themselves, as they tend to do when intelligent people are involved, and amends had been made right as AJ was moving into the more research-intensive areas of his writing. 
Kicking back in first class, loafers already off, covered in a warmed blanket with a glass of white wine at hand, AJ grinned and pulled out his tablet. Wonderful little inventions, tablets.  His first draft of The Trials had been banged out on a laptop, all eighty thousand words, and for someone who had never invested time in a typing class, AJ's thoughts often outpaced his writing. It had been an exercise in frustration. The tablet had been a costly outlay at first, but with Angus showing him how to write it off as a business expense, AJ soon found himself rationalizing and even justifying the purchase. 
The little gizmo was full of features, including file storage, a word counter, email access and full wifi connectivity. One of the bonuses of flying first class was the free wireless hookup that most premium airlines were now offering. Within a few minutes of takeoff, the first glass of wine was gone, another arrived, and AJ was logging Into the social media application that he and Dr Leon most often used for their correspondence. He grinned as he saw her online, no doubt cursing the late hour. Excitement seized him, along with a little apprehension. 
The relationship he had with Lizzy had been a deep one, dramatic and passionate and chaotic all at once. For three years, he had thought of nothing but her. And while he was sure the feeling was mutual, he knew that the disease that clung to Lizzy's being had precluded her from enjoying most of their time together. The whole sordid affair had made him apprehensive about any form of relationship. His friends had been egging him for three years to date again. He was content to bide his time and wait for something to come his way. 
For some reason, the opening salvo was usually his. He was usually apprehensive. Was he bothering her? Was he coming off as this annoying nerd who had big dreams and even bigger plans? Was she entertained by him? Bored to tears? Did he challenge her way of thinking like she often did his? Did the fact that they often agree on issues leave them with precious little to talk about? Was she humoring him? Had there been openings, signs, little verbal and nonverbal cues that he had not picked up on? His success and abilities should have bred confidence, yet given past insecurities and a desire to not seem pathetic, he dared not make a move. It was painful, but needed. He dared not guess wrong, and besides, he needed her friendship a lot more than he needed romance. He typed the first message, grinning. 
AJ ASHER: If the irritated statuses on your timeline are any clue, friend, I would say the conference is accomplishing far less than what you desired. 
CHLOE LEON: Ugh. Must you remind me? And for fucks sake, could you please stop liking every single status? Indian men are forward enough. You let a couple see my wall, and they think you've already been given a dowry from my father. They don't understand nuances at all. I appreciate the gesture, but please, offer silent support. 
AJ ASHER: Ha ha ha. A dowry? Please. My father would have demanded fifty push ups for any arrangement, along with an understanding that I was grateful for all fifty! And you should be thankful for my endorsement of your thesis! You walked into a country where women are still seen as second class citizens, and most likely to blame for when they are assaulted, and you put forth a theory that such deviants should be offered mental health counseling as opposed to jail! You would have been better off opposing the death penalty in Texas!
CHLOE LEON: I stand by my thesis. It's  a fact. These crimes, while heinous,  need to be examined at their root. And I don't care if every women's and children's rights group in India hates me. I'm not here to make friends. We invited close to sixty groups to attend the conference, to at least hear out what we had to say. The decided to decline, and act like children in the process. 
AJ ASHER: Fair enough. But you should have expected backlash. New ideas never go over well, especially in a country that has had a rough go with sexual assault lately. The whole city bus thing? Horrible. Deplorable. I'm not a supporter of the death penalty by any means, but some people deserve to suffer for what they've done. 
CHLOE LEON: Tsk. I don't care if I would have to given a speech on Religious tolerance three days after 9/11. Right is right, and everything else is subjective. I'm not saying people shouldn't be punished for their crimes, I'm just saying that comprehensive mental health treatment, including the treatment of pedophilic desires as a illness instead of some religious or societal curse, should be a part of that. And I'm disappointed with you, AJ. Given what you went through, I saw you as one of the last people to buy into all this hellfire and brimstone bullshit. An eye for an eye, and the whole world goes blind. 
AJ bit his tongue and refrained from a hasty retort. As much as he adored Chloe, there were times she could be abrasive and caustic without meaning to. He also knew she was unapologetic for things she saw in terms of black and white. A soft instrumental was the next song on his playlist, and he took a moment to indulge in his champagne before responding. 
AJ ASHER; I understand it. I'm still human, as you have helped me realize. The irony of you quoting Gandhi aside, you know how I feel about confrontation. Revolutions are never bloodless, but they're always needed. If your theory is right, and I for one think it is, it's going to be one hell of a dogfight to overcome both the rules of a culture's religious dogma and society's weird lust for revenge. Thankfully, the message has a beautiful and wise messenger to deliver it, even if the burning bush burns brighter and hotter than expected. 
CHLOE LEON: Heh. Flattery will get you everywhere, 8th Tribe. 
The teasing was fun, a little verbal sparring with someone that could keep up, and in several cases, outpace him. He bit off his usual retort to the nickname, which was to mention that the tribes were never numbered, and took another sip. Apparently, he took too long. 
CHLOE LEON: Waiting on you to reply leaves me with the same nervous anticipation that Abraham's son must have felt when his dad refused to tell him why they were going up that big hill. You would think that my time would be valued more, but alas, the dreamer is more content to dream and keep me up all hours of the night. 
AJ ASHER: Ha ha ha.  I was just stewing on a nice glass of champagne. 
CHLOE LEON: Lush. Why do your timestamps say Wichita , Kansas anyway? They said Cincinnati, OH before. Are you flying?
AJ ASHER: Indeed, I am. Viva Las Vegas. 
CHLOE LEON: Vegas, huh? Felt the need to indulge in some of the sins of the flesh? It'd probably be good for you. Much better than being holed up in frigid New York, pinning your hours away writing and being anti-social. Does Angus have another cousin?
The flight attendant came on, announcing their descent, and AJ winced. Dammit! He knew it would be a couple of days before they spoke again, and he kicked himself a little. 
AJ ASHER: No cousin. Work, believe it or not. I'll drop you an email with more details after Homeland Security gives me a cavity search. 
CHLOE LEON: It goes easier if you don't clinch. Email me the details. Ciao. 
AJ grinned and powered down the tablet.  The plane touched down without issue, and as he stood, he took care to fold his blanket and clean up his mess. Viva Las Vegas indeed. Sighing with a contentment that he dared not give source to, AJ ducked off the deplane, thanking the pilot, and stepped into the muggy terminal. 
Trinity was waiting. 


M. Earl (Martin) Smith is an instructor of English and creative writing at Somerset Community College, in Somerset, Kentucky. His scholarship includes work in the fields of rare books, material texts, the history of the book, writing for children and young adults, and local/regional history. He has authored 11 books, with volumes on local history, the history of sports, children’s nonfiction, and literary fiction. Martin holds degrees from Chatfield College, Morehead State University, Pine Manor College, and the University of Pennsylvania. He currently resides in Somerset with his two children (Nicholas and Leah) and his two Shetland Sheepdogs (Che and Berry).