Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sunday Stories - Elizabeth (Part VII)

Another busy week, but here's the final part of the Elizabeth story. Hope you enjoy it. Next week begins a new story. Can't wait. If you need to catch up, just click on the stories link at the top of the page. Happy reading. 

She had hardly opened her eyes in three days. He hadn’t closed his. Even the sharp sounds of the hospital equipment began to drone like a lullaby. The wait was difficult, but Will thought the sterile hospital lighting was the worst. The overbright rays illuminated everything in the room except his mother’s hollow face. He had already lost a sister. Losing his mother would break him.
She woke while he slept. She liked it that way. When the nurse entered the room, their soft murmurs caused him to stir in his chair. They were only a couple hundred miles from California, but with no car, she didn’t know how they were going to make the trip.
Will gave her his forearm for balance as they walked through the parking lot. The pavement blistered under the afternoon sun, and the heat made his mother lightheaded. What money they had, they needed for starting a life in California, and there was none to spare for a new car.

It took eleven days and three drivers before they made it to Palo Alto. The stucco buildings jutted out of the ground like oversized boulders. Every inch of grass seemed precision cut.
            “Do you know where to go?” Will asked as he examined the labyrinth of off-red roofs surrounding them.
            “No,” she responded, overwhelmed by the gravity of the campus.
            “Excuse me,” Will flashed his hand in front of a young man who looked to be a few years older.
            “Yeah?” the boy pulled out one of his earphones.
            “Do you know where I could find a list of people who go to school here?”
            “Uh, yeah. You could try the registrar’s office” the boy replied with a quizzical glance.
            “Where’s that?”
            “It’s the tall building just past the intersection two lights up. With the big windows.”
            “Thanks,” Will added, his feet whisking him away faster than he could end the conversation. The building was two blocks away, but Will and Laura couldn’t decide if they wanted to enter. Their hopes could be validated or nullified in minutes, and neither was optimistic.
            The sun was already sliding down the sky, and grabbing the door handle, Will was pleased to find it still unlocked. The tile floor squeaked under his sandaled feet as he approached a woman sitting behind the desk inside the doorway.
            “Excuse me,” Laura glanced at the woman’s nametag. “Miss Tanner?”
            “I was hoping you might have some information about a girl who goes here?”
            “What’s the name?” the woman asked, her fingers darting across the keyboard for a moment before looking up again.
            “Elizabeth Campbell.”
            “From New York or from Washington?”
            “Neither,” Laura’s voice dropped as her chest deflated like an untied balloon. “What about Elizabeth Akers? Do you have anyone by that name?”
            “No. We don’t have anyone here by that name.” Laura’s hand gripped her son’s wrist tightly as Miss Tanner spoke. Her single thread connecting her with her daughter unraveled with one question. The last tie to her own daughter disintegrated.
            “We’ll keep looking,” Will added as they walked back to the car. “She may not be at Stanford, but we knew that. She couldn’t pay, but she’s probably nearby. We’ll find her.” The last remaining traces of daylight were creeping toward the horizon as they walked down the street.
            “We’ll find a hotel and then look for a new place tomorrow,” Laura suggested. She could see a motel a few blocks away and started walking toward it. Brakes squealed as a green GMC truck nearly clipped them as they crossed the street. She turned and yelled as the truck sped past. “Some people just shouldn’t be allowed to drive,” she turned back toward the motel and continued to walk. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sunday Stories - Elizabeth (Part VI)

     Ok, I know I've been gone for the past week or so, but I'm jumping back in on the next part of the Sunday Stories. This is part six, the second to last section. Hopefully you enjoy it. If you'd like to catch up with the other sections, I've posted the links below or you can go to the stories tab at the top of the page. Have a great Sunday everyone.

        The green GMC pulled into an aggregate stone driveway at 4:45. She raised her arms over her head and let out a soft, involuntary sigh as she stretched the long drive from her muscles. Helen was waiting for them on the porch. The temperature had dropped twenty degrees since they left Salina, and goosebumps prickled up on her arms and legs. She rubbed her forearms as she watched Jim walk hurriedly over to the porch and hug his wife. Elizabeth thought she looked pretty. Maybe pretty wasn’t the right word, but she definitely looked happy, and since she left home, Elizabeth was beginning to think that the two words were becoming more and more similar.
            “Elizabeth, this is my wife, Helen.”
           “Nice to meet you, Elizabeth,” Helen’s voice was sweet, and Elizabeth could almost taste the words as they billowed from her mouth.
            “Nice to meet you, too.”
            “Come on in and sit, I bet you are exhausted after that drive. Dinner’s almost ready, so I’ll bring it in a moment.” Elizabeth followed her to kitchen and washed her hands before sitting at the table and waiting for them to join. After three or four minutes, Jim helped Helen carry the plates in from the kitchen and set them down in the middle of the wooden table.
            “I don’t know if you say grace where you’re from, Elizabeth, but if you want to say it you can, or I can, or we can skip it all together.”
            “I can say it. We used to say it at home, we just didn’t say it out loud.” Jim kept his eyes open as he bowed his head, watching the muscles twitch in her face as she began to speak. “Dear, God, pleased be with Mom and Will. They need you more than anyone. Thank you for Jim and Helen, too. Please make sure they’re always happy. Keep everybody happy and watch over everyone who isn’t. Amen.”
            “That was nice of you,” Helen said once they had all lifted their heads.
            “Thank you,” Jim reiterated.
            “So where are you from, dear? Jim hasn’t told me much about you.”
            “That’s in Georgia, right? And you made it all the way out to Denver? That’s quite a long trip.”
            “I didn’t come straight here.”
            “Where’d you say you picked her up again?” Helen asked, turning to Jim.
            “Right outside of Memphis.”
            “How’d you get to Memphis, dear?” Despite Helen’s inquisition, her gentle tone conveyed the love with which she asked each word.
            “I wasn’t trying to go there,” Elizabeth paused. Jim and Helen watched a shadow dance across her eyes and waited for her to continue.
            “Did you run away?” Jim mustered the nerve to ask in hesitant desperation.
            Elizabeth blinked four times in quick succession to clear some newly forming tears from her eyes. The blue that seemed to have been slowly returning to her eyes had all but faded, leaving them a coarse gray. “We crashed. Outside of Nashville. He picked me up in Atlanta. Brandon,” she labored over the words, having to draw an extra breath before repeating his name. “He was going to take me to California. He told me I could go to sleep because I was tired. I woke up when he slammed on the brakes. There was a tree right in front of us. I can still see it sometimes when I close my eyes. Like it’s burned on the inside of my eyelids.” She brought the back of her hand to her cheek. “I didn’t know what to do. I just walked.”
            “It wasn’t your fault,” Helen offered, her voice gentle, but no longer as tangible as it seemed earlier.
            “It wasn’t his,” Elizabeth’s response cut through the air like razorblades.
            “It doesn’t have to be anybody’s,” Helen’s words lingered in the air like a fog that had set in around the table. Nobody spoke until it dissipated.
            “Why didn’t you go back home?” Jim asked. “Your family probably misses you.”
            “No,” her voice fell back into its hushed discordance.
            Unsure of which sentence prompted her concise denial, Jim changed the subject. “Where are you going, then?”
            “What’s in California?”
            “I don’t know. Stanford,” she said, but the word was more of a question than a statement. “I got in, but I could never pay. I thought I’d see what it’s like anyway.”
            “You can’t go hitchhiking through the mountains, dear. You’ll freeze to death. And the desert’s just on the other side.”
            “I made it this far.”
            “Well you won’t be able to get anywhere without a good night of sleep,” Jim added. “Why don’t you finish up and we can talk about it in the morning. We’ve had a long day. Some rest will help us decide.”
            Helen rose from her seat and gathered the plates from the table.
            “Do you need any help?” Elizabeth offered.
            “No, sweetie, but thank you. Jim will show you where you can sleep tonight and you can rest up.”
            “Catherine’s room is right down the hall on the left. You can stay here as long as you want,” Jim said, more of a suggestion than an offer. “The bathroom is right across the hall. If it’s cold, there are blankets in the closet and sweats in the drawers.”
            “Thanks,” Elizabeth replied. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
            The bedroom was cold and smelled of potpourri and nostalgia. Elizabeth found an oversized, gray hooded sweatshirt and a pair of black sweatpants whose legs dragged the ground under her heel when she walked.
            As she examined the room, Elizabeth noticed three pictures on the bedside table. One had Jim and Helen with a baby, only a few months old. Their smiles seemed to have dulled since the picture. Maybe not dulled but definitely heavier. Catharine was older in the second picture, closer to ten, but Elizabeth was surprised how similarly they looked. Catharine had her eyes, her cheekbones, even the small hitch in the side of her smile. Her hair was a bit darker, but otherwise the image felt more mirror than picture. The biggest picture was behind the other two, but appeared much more recent. Catharine was her age, her height, her unique blend of turbulence and placidity. And in the same sweatshirt, the two girls looked all but identical. She stopped to glance in the mirror before deciding to see if Jim and Helen were still awake.
Opening the door, Elizabeth saw the couple sitting at the kitchen table. Their eyes fixated on her when she emerged and didn’t move until she spoke.
            “I know. They’re too big,” Elizabeth pulled the bottom of the sweatshirt out to show the extra fabric, then crossed her arms and hugged them close to her chest.
            “You look very pretty,” Helen felt simultaneously connected to and detached from the girl in her daughter’s clothes.
            “Thank you again. For everything.”
            “You’re welcome, dear.”
            Goodnight, Elizabeth.

            “Jim? Helen?” Elizabeth poked her head out the door when she woke up.
            “We’re in the kitchen,” she heard Jim’s voice come from around the corner. “Breakfast is on the table when you’re ready.” When she walked into the room, Elizabeth’s hood was pulled over her head and her hands were each in the other arm’s sleeve. “How’d you sleep?”
            “Pretty good.”
            “Eat up. You’ll never make it to California on an empty stomach.”
            “Speaking of which,” Helen chimed in as she set a plate of breakfast potatoes and eggs in front of Elizabeth, “Jim and I were talking last night. We want to drive you.
            “But--” Elizabeth began a quick retort.
            “No buts, it’s not up for debate,” Helen smiled at her. “It’s only a two day drive, and we are more than happy to do it.”
            When she finally comprehended the validity of the offer, Elizabeth accepted with blushed appreciation, “Thank you.”
            “You’re more than welcome, dear,” Helen replied. “Finish eating and we can leave whenever you want.”
            The food on Elizabeth’s plate disappeared as quickly as it had arrived, and after a quick shower, Elizabeth felt as if Jim and Helen had nearly sanded her ragged edges smooth. She found a bag on the floor packed with several pair of Catherine’s clothes, a toothbrush, toothpaste, a couple of snacks and pillow on the floor next to the bag. Changing into a clean outfit, Elizabeth picked up the bag and pillow, crawled into the car with Jim and Helen and the green truck rolled out of the driveway and toward the mountains.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Friends are Good People

       In the past few days I’ve talked to more of my friends than in the past several weeks combined. In two days one of my college roommates is coming to visit, and later this week another is joining him. I feel incredibly blessed by how much contact I’ve had with my closest friends recently. Having lots of my high school friends move away and going to college in a different part of the country, I don’t really get much access to those who are most important. And there are more to good times coming soon!
      I’ve always walked a fine line between being an introvert and an extrovert. I really enjoy time to myself because I am an artistic type, but at the same time, I also have grown accustomed to having my friends around me at all times and never being alone. It’s a fine line to walk.
       I’ve had a busy day and several busier to come, but here’s to all my friends. Thank you for keeping me in mind despite my busy schedule. Y’all are the best. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sunday Stories - Elizabeth (Part V)

Part five of the Elizabeth series. This is one of my favorite sections, so hopefully you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it. If you want to go back and read any of the other sections, you can do that by following the links below or by going to the stories tab at the top of the page. Have a great Sunday, everyone!

David scraped the glass door of the shower open, grabbed his towel, and snatched his glass from the counter. The number 12:00 still blazed on the inside of his eyelids when he shut his eyes, but he figured it was closer to five p.m. and he had overslept. If he had woken up on time he might have been able to make Happy Hour, or Forget Why You’re Sad Hour if he had chosen to title it more accurately. He grabbed his jeans from the bathroom floor, sat down on the toilet and pulled the legs up before standing again. Leaving his bedroom, David threw a wrinkled, long-sleeve shirt over his head and dropped his glass in the sink where it clattered noisily to rest.
The empty house felt foreign to him, like he was squatting on his own property. He hurriedly swigged from a diet coke bottle before topping it off with whiskey, jittered his hand to mix the two together, then walked out the door, tucking the bottle into his jacket pocket.
The pink building tarnished the surrounding land, a Pepto-Bismol stain on a once beautiful canvas. The sign flared pink and purple against the sunset. One second it read “PINK,” and the next it changed to “PONY.” The club was no more than three-quarters of a mile from his house and nestled just to the side of the highway.  As he walked to the door, David bobbed his head to acknowledge the bouncer’s presence.
“David,” the bouncer returned the greeting. “You can’t bring that in here. You know that. I don’t want to have to keep telling you every day,” he gestured to David’s pocket.
“Can’t you let it slide this once, man? I’m here every day,” he hissed in frustration.
“Not my rule. You’ll have to leave it outside. I can hold it until you leave, but it can’t go in with you.” David begrudgingly relinquished the bottle, took it back for a last sip, and returned it to the bouncer’s waiting hand before entering.
As he walked in, David realized that they were still serving dinner and sat down at the bar, the stage to his left.
“What can I get for you, Dave?” the bartender asked.
“Just the burger.”
"No drink? You going dry on us now?” she chuckled.
“Yeah, I’ll take the drink, too,” he turned in his chair to face the stage. A short, platinum blond girl was dancing, but there were too many lights on, and it was easy to see why they kept them dimmed once they stopped serving dinner. As he scanned the room, he spotted only three other people. Two of the men sat at the bar and the third looked older than the other two combined, and his eyes had not wandered from the girl on stage since she began.
“David,” a hand clasped on his shoulder from behind.
“John,” David greeted the club owner. “I’ve got some money for you right here,” David said, pulling a twenty from his wallet and extending it to him.
“We both know that’s not enough, Dave,” John muttered. “Just give it to me all at once.” He reached out and closed David’s fingers back around the bill.
“You always were nice to me, John. I mean that.”
“Just take care of yourself, you hear?” David nodded in hesitant affirmation as John stood and retreated through a door behind him.
The ceramic plate clinked as the bartender set it down in front of him. Sliding a napkin toward him, she set his drink down next to it. The music changed as he drained the glass and a dark haired girl stepped onstage. David turned away indifferently when he recognized her.
“There’s a new girl working tonight,” the girl behind the bar chirped. “She’ll be on at eight.”
“What’s her name?”
“Sarah. Just starting today. Pretty girl,” the bartender validated her statement with a wink before disappearing behind the counter.

The lights dimmed as the clock turned seven-thirty. David’s head swirled as he stood, and clinging to the back of his chair for support, he regained balance before walking over to the stage and sitting in front of one of the four poles. If it had not been for the practically free visits, he might have switched clubs by now, but a new girl offered a cure from the monotony, and he sank into his chair motionless, but boiling with anticipation.
The music changed again, and Def Leppard’s heavy bass drum jolted the club to life. The soft clicking of high-heels marching up the stairs was barely audible, but reeled David’s attention nonetheless. Ladies and gentlemen, tonight we have a new dancer. Right out of Northern Atlanta, put your hands together for Artemis. The sporadic smacking of hands together filled the room and David realized that he hadn’t noticed how many people had filed through the pink doors. As Artemis took the stage, her hair absorbed the light from the room, and tumbled behind her with startling vivacity. He had seen that color before. David’s eyes squinted in the dim light and followed her unblinkingly across the stage as she toed around. He squeezed the armrests of his chair until his knuckles seared white. She swung around the pole in front of him and flicked her hair out of her face to reveal two captivating blue-gray eyes.
David lurched backward and stumbled out of his chair. Artemis jumped in surprise and the once lively buzz of the room evaporated instantaneously as she stopped dancing.
“John,” David called as he staggered to the bar. “John!”
“Be quiet, Dave. You’re scaring everybody. Calm down.”
“Where was she? How did you find her?
“Elizabeth, John! Where did you find her?”
“Dave, Elizabeth left a month ago. I haven’t seen her.”
“She’s right there! What the hell do you mean you haven’t seen her?”
“That girl’s name is Sarah. She’s from Atlanta, Dave. You don’t know her.”
“No, that’s her,” he shouted. Besides the roving lights, the room had ceased moving, and David’s sudden rush toward the stage sparked the stagnant room to life again. Placing one shaky foot on the stage, David reached up and grabbed the girl by the wrist.
            “Elizabeth, I’m sorry,” he spoke too loudly for the short distance between them.
“Who?” she vainly attempted to pry away his constricting fingers.
            “I’m taking you home. You don’t belong here. Get down from there.”
            “David, let her go. You’re drunk. You need to go home,” John grabbed him by the shoulder with more urgency than his tone conveyed.
            “Elizabeth, I’m sorry. Just come home. Stop, John!” he tried to shrug the hand away.
            “Nick, help, please,” John beckoned, between intermittent sounds of discomfort emanating from the crowd.
            “Your mother misses you,” a large hand grabbed David by the back of the jacket and pulled his shirt taut, muffling the last word. “Stop! John, make him stop! John, please,” he muttered, trying his best to make his eyes focus on the silhouetted figure on the stage.
            “Go home, David. Go home and go to sleep. You’ll feel better tomorrow.”
            The door slammed shut behind him. Rain had started to drizzle softly since he arrived, but the cold drops met his skin unnoticed. Sitting down on the steps, he rested his arms on his knees. His bottle rested behind the bush next to the door. He picked it up and unscrewed the top. As long as he was getting soaked outside, he might as well soak his insides again, too. Once the bottle was gone, he pushed himself to his feet. He didn’t want to be outside anymore. He slowly made his way back to the house, taking almost as many steps sideways as he did forward. Shutting the bedroom door behind him, he crawled into bed and closed his eyes, but all he could see was blue-gray.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Belated Veterans' Day

My Grandfather

            So I know I’m a day late to be posting about Veterans’ Day, but I didn’t have much time yesterday.

            Veterans’ Day is a bit of an odd holiday in our family. My grandfather on my dad’s side was in the army as a paratrooper. While he was at war, my grandmother was pregnant with my father. Unfortunately he got spinal meningitis before my dad was ever born. For those who aren’t familiar with the disease, it made him process thoughts on a very elementary level. Consequently his mother was the only person allowed to see him while he was hospitalized. Not his wife or his child.
            In fact, we didn’t even know he was alive until we got a call when I was in high school letting us know that he had passed away. It’s an awfully sad story.
            Fortunately the sad story has a truly amazing story that has resulted. My dad grew up without a father. I don’t know what that would be like, but I have to imagine it’s incredibly difficult. Despite his upbringing, my father has become one of the most incredible fathers I have ever had the privilege of meeting. Without any personal frame of reference, he has been the guiding force in my life and the strength that has kept me grounded during my most difficult times.

            Here’s to you, dad. Thank you for always being the for me. Thank you for being the best father I could ever imagine. Thank you for everything you have done for me. I can’t imagine life without you and will never be able to thank you enough.