In honor of the first Sunday of August, I’m posting a little except from my novel. The book is finished at 76,000 words, but I’m currently in the grueling editing process of this seven year project. Nonetheless, I’d like the chance to share a snippet of the beginning. Without further delay:
Chapter One–August 2, 2007
It’s hard to know exactly where November “Milly” Ray’s story begins, but it probably starts somewhere on Delatorre Drive on a hot summer afternoon in California or in a parked truck in the mountains of San Bernardino or perhaps in a hospital room in a nearby town—although chances are that’s where this one ends—but it could also begin on that same street ten years before at the bottom of a bottle of Black Velvet or the end of a piece of paper covered in the most elegant handwriting.
Whatever the case, today, her story starts on a porch before summer’s end and Milly’s final year of High School begins.
Delatorre Drive situates itself at the base of the San Gorgonio mountains where the valley accumulates the hottest wind and the driest summers. Milly’s tan skin glistens, causing her brown bangs to stick to her forehead. She slicks the sweat away and keeps her eyes forward, waiting for a red Jeep to pull up in front of her house and the boy with curly black hair to emerge from inside.
In the open window above her head, she can hear the loud swearing and slurred words of drunken man. She fidgets on the porch, causing the cement steps to dig into her thighs.
“Hurry up, Charlie,” she says under her breath. Milly looks at the bracelet on her wrist containing a variety of different beads strung together with a bright green thread. She holds a circular, translucent bead between her fingers, rolling it over and over again. Beside that bead, there’s a cheap plastic purple heart, a green, iridescent circle, a bright blue square with corners worn from time, and a white square with a black letter “N” carved out of it—its ink similarly faded—followed by more beads of varying shapes and colors all tied with a square knot, hanging loosely from Milly’s wrist. It was a necklace once, but over time, it grew too small and so became a bracelet.
From upstairs, Jonah, Milly’s dad, calls her name over and over again. Milly jolts up, her fingers still pinching the clear bead on her wrist. She skips the steps down the porch and stands against the cream stucco wall of her house, his window above her head.
Her fingers stroke the different textures of her bracelet until she feels the edges of the blue bead. Her eyes flick down at it before rising to search for similar objects—the neighbor’s hose box across the street, the garage door, a window. She looks down the street, but Charlie’s car is still no where to be seen. She sees other houses, all the same two-story, cream colored stucco as hers. At the far end, ten houses down and a good half mile, the cul-de-sac seems to form around one house that sticks out among the rest: a deep blue, two story home with horizontal boards and a wrap around porch—Charlie’s house.
The door to Jonah’s bedroom slams.
“Crap,” Milly says under her breath. She peels herself off the wall and starts down the street. Milly steps carefully down the road, avoiding uneven slabs and cracks overgrown with weeds.
The sun’s heat pricks at her skin and beads of sweat bubble from her forehead. The dry air sucks the moisture form her mouth. After passing the first couple houses, she already regrets walking, but there’s no turning back now. Suddenly, at the end of the street, Charlie’s garage door opens. Milly flops onto the sidewalk, which burns into her skin, so she gets up and takes cover under a small tree front of a neighbor’s yard.
The Jeep slows in front of her until it putters to a stop and a plum of smoke rises from the exhaust. Charlie, Milly’s best friend since childhood, is tall and lean—built for wrestling. He has brown eyes and milk chocolate skin. His face is oval shaped with sharp cheekbones and a smile that could melt the hardest heart—he’s easily one of the more attractive guys at their high school. But Milly looks at him and sees someone like her little brother and has since they were young children.
“I told you I’d come pick you up,” Charlie calls out to her.
“Well, I felt like walking.”
“It’s 104 degrees, Nova. You’re sweating like crazy.”
She shrugs. “You were taking too long.”
His eyes narrow and gaze in the direction of her house. “Is Jonah home?”
Again, she shrugs. “Let’s get going, yeah?” She yanks the door of the Jeep open.
“Sorry,” Charlie says as he grabs a half-drank gallon of water from the passenger seat and throws it into the back seat. It lands on top of his wrestling bag. Milly plops into the seat, and maneuvers her feet away from the graveyard of Red Bull on the floor. The seatbelt clicks as Charlie slams the engine into gear. Milly cranks the AC, and rests back, listening to the Van Halen CD booming from the Jeep’s speakers.
Charlie speeds out of the neighborhood past a blur of cream houses and trees and brown yards, slowing the Jeep only enough to roll through stop signs before speeding past other houses. They drive out of the track-home neighborhoods and near the half-million dollar homes where Charlie slows a little, so Milly can drool a little over her dream houses, until they reach a small strip of land and then a trailer home park. Charlie slams back on the accelerator. Eventually, they reach more trackhomes that are newer than Milly’s house and those homes unfold onto a small shopping center with a Chinese food restaraunt, an ice cream parlor—Milly’s favorite, Stater Bros. Grocery store, and a small liquor market—Jonah’s favorite.
As she and Charlie drive past Beaumont High School, Milly’s stomach flips. She takes a deep breath, only exhahling when they turn onto Cherry Valley Blvd and the school is out of sight and a long stretch of road lies before them.
Cherry Valley Blvd slices through rolling hills of yellow grass that’s freckled with resilient green bushels. The sky is a bright enough to blind her, but she keeps looking anyone. The hills seem to go on for miles, contrasting the congested neighborhoods of Beaumont.
She and Charlie remain in silence as the turn onto the I-10 Freeway, past the cities of Beaumont and Calimesa and Yucaipa, toward Redlands and their final destination: Hillside Memorial Park.