For complete disclaimers see part 1.
If you’d like to tell me what a wonderful writer I am or that I royally suck, feel free at: XenaNut@hotmail.com
Mia chewed on her bottom lip, flipping the page to make sure she was working on the right practice problem. She felt a hand run through her hair, and immediately leaned her head against her mother’s side. Gloria wrapped a casual arm around the girl’s shoulders.
“How’s it going?”
Gloria slid her hand along her daughter’s shoulder as she sat down at the small table, leaning on her palm. She watched the yellow #2 race across the provided work space, Mia’s tongue barely peeking out from the corner of her mouth. The older Vinzetti couldn’t take her eyes off her daughter. Ever since they’d been returned to each other, their bond had grown stronger than Gloria ever thought it could be. Before they’d left for Milan, Mia had begun to show all signs of a typical teenager- apathetic and filled with attitude. Since she’d been back, Mia was filled with a focus, a determination to live a full life, learning what was important and how to survive.
Mia had decided two months ago to take her GED and leave high school. She said it was petty and stupid, and she felt she was beyond that. Gloria was not thrilled to say the least, but after listening to Mia’s argument for it- she could start college early, graduate by twenty-one, or even twenty if she went to summer school- she was convinced that it would be the right decision for the girl.
“What?” Mia asked, feeling her mother’s dark, penetrating eyes on her. Again.
Gloria shook her head. “Nothing. I’m just so proud of you, honey, working on your college entrance exams.”
“Yeah, well be proud when I get in.”
“You will, sweetheart. I have absolutely no doubt about that.”
Mia smiled. She truly was a beautiful young woman. “Thanks, Ma.” Mia turned back to her studied, knowing full well that her mother was still watching her, but she didn’t care. They had clung to each other after her return, both faced with the ultimate loss of losing mother or daughter, and determined to see it as a new start, a second chance, not to be squandered. Gloria could get a bit clingy at times, always having to know where Mia was going, and when she’d be back, but the girl understood, and was often the same way with her mother.
She was applying locally, figuring community college was probably a good way to start. She wasn’t sure what she wanted to do, exactly, but was somewhat leaning toward law. Dean had made a huge impact on her. One thing she knew for sure- she wanted to get her and her mom out of the tenement they were in, out of the Bronx, and for her mom to quit her jobs.
Gloria pushed back from the table at the sound of the knocker. Looking through the fisheye, she was confused. Taking a second look, she gasped, quickly working to unchain and unbolt the many locks. The door opened to a grinning Denny.
“Oh my gosh,” the dark-eyed woman grinned back. She pulled the tall woman into a warm, welcoming embrace, Denny careful to not dump her offering.
“Is she here?” she asked as the hug ended. Gloria nodded.
“Yeah. Follow me.” Gloria led their guest through the living room toward the kitchen. “Mia, honey. It’s for you.”
The girl looked up, pencil poised over the page, frozen as her eyes widened. She was stunned, struck dumb, frozen to the spot.
“I got your note,” the brunette said with a smirk, holding up the paper Mia had left for her at Duke’s. “Told you I’d bring you a mocha breve,” Denny said, holding up the paper cup she held.
“Oh my god,” Mia breathed, nearly knocking the chair over backward in her haste to get out of it. “Denny!” She ran to the tall woman, Gloria barely managing to snag the cup out of her hands before the brunette was engulfed by a very excited seventeen year old.
“Hey, kiddo,” Denny whispered, holding the teenager. She pushed her away just long enough to look at her, take in her flushed features, beautiful long hair, casual dress and bare feet. “You look so good.” She smiled, beaming from ear to ear. She felt like a small piece of her puzzle had clicked into place.
“So do you. You’re so thin, Denny,” Mia said with drawn brows, taking in the beauty before her. She was beside herself with excitement to have Denny standing in her kitchen. “I can’t believe you’re here!”
“Well, I’m on my way out of town, so figured I’d drop by and say hello.”
“On your way out of town?” Dark brows drew. “Where are you going?”
Realizing she no longer existed in the world of two of the Island Six, Gloria slipped away to her bedroom for some even television and to read Rachel Holt’s novel she was re-reading.
Denny sighed, running a hand through her hair as she followed Mia’s lead, taking a seat at the kitchen table. She watched as the girl closed a large, floppy paper text book and shove it aside.
“So where are you going? Is Hannah waiting for you?” Mia grabbed the paper coffee cup that her mother had placed on the table, lifting the lid and inhaling the strong, mocha fragrance. “I can’t believe you remembered.” Her grin was huge.
“I never forget a promise to a friend.” Denny squeezed the girl’s hand, then entwined her own fingers in front of her on the table. “No, Mia, she’s not.”
Mia sensed something had gone terribly wrong. Denny looked too thin, and like she hadn’t slept well in far too long. “What happened? Are you okay?”
“Can I ask you something, Mia? Kind of a strange question.”
“When you came back, you know, back into your life, here, was it easy? I mean, did you feel…,” Denny chewed on her lip for a moment, trying to find the words. She didn’t have to. A soft touch on her arm stopped her, blue eyes meeting understanding brown.
“I didn’t know if I was coming or going, Denny. At school, it all seemed so foolish, somehow, like all these kids could worry about was what color lipstick to wear, when there was such a bigger picture out there. Nothing felt right, tasted right, or even smelled right. I think my mom was really worried for awhile.”
“Yeah,” Denny said, relieved to hear that she wasn’t the only one. “I don’t know, Mia, I just felt so out of place, like I was a stranger in my own life.”
“But you were, Denny. I don’t think any of us came back the same people we were when we left. I know I didn’t.”
“No. Me, neither.” Denny’s eyes dropped, catching Mia sip from her drink out of the corner of her eye.
“Denny, where’s Hannah? You wanted to get home to her.” Mia wondered if maybe she had the answer to her question before she even answered it, the pain in the brunette’s eyes so powerfully expressive.
“I,” Denny swallowed, not even admitting what she was about to say to herself. “I moved on, Mia. I got back here, and I’d look at her, yes I cared, and yes I still loved her. But, my heart wasn’t there anymore.” Denny ran her hands through her hair. “I feel like I left some part of me back on that island.”
“More likely you gave that part of yourself away, and it’s probably in Oregon somewhere.” Denny was stunned as she looked into dark eyes, far too wise and aged for the youthful face they looked out of. “We all knew,” Mia continued. “Everyone saw it. But you, two.”
Denny looked at her, a smile beginning to grow. “Who made you so smart?”
“Born that way.” Mia grinned and sipped her coffee. Denny chuckled at the whipped cream mustache, grabbing a napkin from the dispenser in the middle of the table and wiping it away. For all of Mia’s too adult nature, there was still a young girl under there. “Thanks. So where are you going?”
“Not sure. I just need some new scenery, a new start somewhere.”
Mia studied the beautiful woman for a woman, looking into the tired eyes and too thin body. “I think that’s a great idea, Denny. I really hope you can find happiness. You’re such an amazing person, you deserve nothing less.”
Denny was touched by the girl’s words, and squeezed her hand in gratitude.
November 30- Denny DiRisio’s diary:
I’m not entirely sure how to do this, never writing in a journal before. Do I write to this… diary, itself? Am I writing to myself? To someone in the future? Hell, I don’t know. Guess I’ll just start.
Well, I left Mia and Gloria Vinzetti’s place today. After talking pretty late, Mia talked me into crashing on their couch, then Gloria made us the most amazing breakfast this morning. It was nice to spend some time with Mia and her mom- good people. They wished me well on my journey, which I’ve begun. I had no real direction in mind, just got on the road and drove. Right now I’m in Cherry Hill, NJ, sitting in a Barnes & Nobel, drinking a caramel macchiato. I was just chatting with the woman behind the counter. Her nametag said Debbie. Nice lady. Lived here for about 30 years, she said. Nice gal.
I have absolutely no idea where I’m headed from here- thinking Philly. Deb said I’m not too far from it, like half hour or something. Why not? Maybe I’ll stay there tonight, or keep going.
December 13- Denny DiRisio’s diary:
Guess I’ve been a little remiss about writing. Not used to this whole diary thing. I’ve been wandering randomly. I hit the City of Brotherly love, always liked Philadelphia. Wandered around the streets a bit, visited the Liberty Bell and a few other historic sites. Did you know Philadelphia has some friggin’ awesome cemeteries in them, Diary?? Wow.
December 24- Denny DiRisio’s diary:
It’s Christmas Eve. To be honest, I’m extremely sad, very lonely. I don’t even really want to write tonight, but it seems, Diary, you are my only companion at the moment. I’ve looked at my cell phone I don’t know how many times tonight. But who would I call? Joni? Make her worry, nah. Besides, knowing her, she’s put a tracking device in my van, and will march her ass up here to Huron, Ohio.
Earlier today I was standing at the shore of Lake Erie. Man, it was cooooold! I bet it’s beautiful during the fall. A woman there, I think she said her name was Laura, told me that during the summer, spring and fall you can watch the ships coming in, carrying iron ore. I bet that’s pretty cool to see. Sometimes, with the way technology is today, I’m surprised ships and trains are still used.
I can’t help but think to this time last year, last Christmas on the island. Rachel was making soap for all of us, and it was a difficult time, but a good one. I still feel lost, but what makes it easier this time is at least I actually am alone. It’s pretty painful to be lonely when you’re surrounded.
Alright, I’m depressing myself even worse. I’m going to bed. Night, Diary.
February 5- Denny DiRisio’s diary:
Winter has definitely hit the mid-west. I’ve been stuck here in Oronogo, Missouri for a month. They got hit hard this year, so I’m stuck. Somehow I don’t think a VW van was made trudging through waist-high snow. A nice lady named Vicki has actually given me some temporary work, shoveling her walk and drive when it’s possible, in exchange for a warm bed and food. I was staying in my van, but for some reason, she didn’t like that very much. Maybe it was because I got stuck in a drift in front of her house. *snicker*
I had absolutely no idea there were a bunch of mines dotting the Missouri landscape! Go figure. Vicki has been telling me all about them, and something locals call the “circle cave”. She told me I should stick around until spring and see for myself, but I think I’ll be gone by then. This just doesn’t feel like home for me. I’m actually starting to get a bit of cabin fever. I’ve been on the road for over two months, and am enjoying the trip. The holidays were tough, but they’re over now, so I’m ready to move on, see what else lay ahead.
I truly had no idea what a cool country I live in. The people I’ve met are amazing. I’m glad I bought that disposable camera back in Hershey, PA. I can’t wait to get the pictures developed and see what I got!
February 26- Denny DiRisio’s diary:
The snow has broken! I am so outta here. Vicki, it’s been great, but I just gotta move! I can’t even begin to tell you how much snow I shoveled in the past month. But I must admit- it’s gorgeous. I love snow, but am anxious to move into a little warmer climates, or at least different ones. I’ve never lived in any other state other than New York. Well, and some random island in the middle of the Caribbean.
I’ve figure out that people are never happy. On the island, I prayed daily for snow, knowing damn well it would never happen. Now, I’m in the middle of a winter wonderland, and I’d love to have the sun beating down on my skin.
I think I’ll head west.
March 3- Denny DiRisio’s diary:
You know, I haven’t quite decided yet why I keep writing that it’s Denny DiRisio’s diary. Who the hell else’s would it be??
March 7- Denny DiRisio’s (no shit!) diary:
Okay, so I mean absolutely no offense to the fine people of Kansas, but JESUS! The longest eight hours of my life sitting behind the wheel of my van. Even singing show tunes didn’t help the time pass any quicker. I’ve been counting shrubbery as pass it, giggling at the little tufts atop some of the hills, thinking how much they look like nipples atop breasts. Told you I’m bored. I’m not sure where I’m headed, but I’m thinking Colorado sounds good. I’ve always wanted to see the Rockies.
So today I allowed myself to indulge a bit. I bought Willing To Conquer on audio. As it was read, the man’s voice smooth and velvety, I couldn’t help but think back to that night on our ledge, when I had my migraine, listening to Rachel talk about her story. Knowing how she sounded, her reverence for her characters and their situations, it wasn’t hard to insert her voice, allowing it to fill me, her words, her thoughts, the wonderful way her mind works.
I’m a little ashamed to admit I ended up in tears. Now that I’m totally removed from Hannah and my guilt over leaving, guilt over falling out of love with her, and guilt for falling for another woman, I’m allowing myself to think about that other woman. It hurts, but at the same time, it puts a smile on my face. I’m surprised that after all these months I’m still able to see Rachel’s face so clearly in my mind. I can still hear her voice- soft and unbelievably comforting. You know, sometimes as I lay in my van, or when I decide to indulge in a hotel room, I lay there and have the strangest thoughts: what would it be like to have coffee with her? You know, like go to some outdoor café or something, just us, sitting at one of those small, round wrought iron tables with the matching wrought iron chairs. What kinds of things would we talk about? What would be in her eyes?
Even now, sitting here in my hotel (too damn cold for the van tonight) in Sterling, Colorado, I’m staring up at the ceiling, hands behind my head. I’ve got you, dear diary, lying face down on my stomach, waiting there so I can write down all of my wonderful pearls of wisdom… er… something. I wonder what would have happened if Rachel and I had met under different circumstances- a book signing, or just in some random elevator. Would we have started to talk? Would we have noticed each other? Like, if she weren’t some famous author, and were just two regular people doing regular things. No doubt I would have noticed her. She’s gorgeous! Would I have spoken to her? Had the courage to? Would she have spoken to me?
I had caught on the radio one day while flipping through that she had basically disappeared off the radar. Rumor had it she’d moved to Europe. Did she continue on with that trip to Milan after all? What was she doing right now at… 9:37 p.m. mountain time? If she were still in Oregon, it would be, what, 8:37? Doubtful she was in bed. Was she up, fingers racing across a keyboard, working on her latest masterpiece? Was she curled up on the couch, watching TV? Did she ever think of me?
I was so grateful for the Polaroid’s we were given. Mine was still in my bag- I hadn’t dug it out tonight yet. Thought about getting up now to grab it, but I’m too tired. My butt hurts from so much sitting, but I wanted to make it through Kansas before stopping. Time for bed, I think. At least time for my brain to go to bed. Maybe I’ll watch some meaningless hours of TV. Maybe take a hot bath.
Either way, goodnight.
March 20- Denny DiRisio’s diary:
Man, that’s high! Today I walked across the Royal Gorge Bridge in Canon City, Colorado. It’s the tallest extension bridge in the world, at 1,053 feet. When you’re standing on those wooden planks, which I swear will break in half at any second! you can’t help but look down, seeing the itty bitty Arkansas River below, like really far below, and think morbid thoughts.
Apparently the bridge is quite the suicide spot for folks in Fremont County, or not even in the county. Some guy told me that a few years back a guy from England jumped off the bridge. Turned out he was wanted in Oklahoma for child molestation charges. Poof! He was gone, leaving his girlfriend standing there, stunned to turn around and see he was gone.
Canon City is an interesting place. I’ve been here for about three weeks. Small town, twenty thousand or so. Kind of creeped out, however, as I sit here in Mr. Ed’s- local greasy spoon. This place was the headquarters for the KKK years back. Lovely. It sure has some beautiful cathedrals, though. The one with the copper roof is gorgeous, especially when the sun hits it just right… Oh, another creep-o-meter fact- this town hosts like nine prisons! What the hell?! Think I may have to pull up stakes.
The other day I went into the prison museum, which was the old women’s prison. The cells are all still there, though each cell tells a different historical fact about a specific inmate or lynching or something. The museum is right next to Territorial Correctional Facility, which is the oldest prison in the state, and still very much in use. It was strange hearing the men talking and laughing, or the radio of a guard, when you’re at the prison museum. I keep expecting a scene from Shawshank Redemption or Bad Boys with Sean Penn, looking at those high, stucco walls, the towers, all of it. I wonder if my license plates came from there?
And what the hell is it with these western states, where it takes an entire day just to get out of the state? And where are the trees?! It’s beautiful here, but wow, so different. The dirt, rocks, and… holy shit! That was an actual tumbleweed! I thought those were just in old John Wayne movies! How crazy is that? Joni would never believe me. Wish I’d gotten a picture of it.
I’m sitting here looking at a map of this great country as I sip my very strong coffee, deciding where I want to go next. I’ve been moving a pretty general westerly route. Maybe I should shoot up north, check out Idaho, or maybe even Washington state. Hmmmm. California?
Carrie Tillman glanced up, not appreciative of the interruption. “Yes, Tom?”
“I brought this for you to look at, annnnd,” her assistant drawled, tossing the first test copy onto her desk, then leaning on the VP’s desk, waiting until she looked up at him again. “I’ve got an incredible idea.”
“Do you?” Carrie said, leaning back in her chair, taking the novel in hand. She examined the cover, running a finger over the raised letters f Rachel Holt’s name.
“I do.” The assistant grinned, flopping down in the chair across from his boss. “You are going to love this!”
Will stood in the corner, champagne flute twisting in his fingers. He couldn’t take his eyes off Dean, who was involved in an animated discussion with one of the partners in Will’s architectural firm.
“He’s changed,” a voice said from his left. Will hummed an agreement then turned to see Martin Budd, an attorney who worked in another part of Will’s building, also watching Dean. The only difference was, Martin’s nose was slightly wrinkled and a busy salt and pepper brow was raised in disdain. Will was surprised. He and Dean had spent many dinner parties with Martin and his wife. Confused, he turned to the older man, arms crossed over his suited chest.
“What do you mean by that, Martin?”
“What? Well, look at him! He leaves here a well respected attorney with one of the most prestigious firms in the city, a man on the rise in his career. And now look at him,” again, that look of disapproval. “He looks like a clown in that red jacket, and what happened to him on that island, Will? He comes back some sort of liberal tree-hugger.”
Will felt Martin’s comments hit him in the gut. He’d sensed that perhaps their friends weren’t approving of Dean’s choices and new attitude since returning, but no one had said a thing to him. He wasn’t sure what to say, instead left standing there, hand clutching the crystal flute in a steel grip.
“Listen, Will, I didn’t mean to upset-“
“Enjoy your evening, Martin.” Will handed the stunned attorney his glass and headed over to Dean. Grabbing his arm to get his attention. “Are you ready to go?”
Dean was stunned, looking around to see if there was someone around chasing his partner. Looking back into Will’s handsome face. “Uh, sure. I guess.”
“Excuse us,” Will said to the small group Dean had been talking to, and grabbed Dean’s hand, weaving their way through the crowd until they hit the cool, April night air.
“Will, where’s the fire?” Dean gushed, trying to keep up. He’d never seen the architect like that before, and was getting worried. Will didn’t answer, instead holding the door of the taxi open for Dean, then climbing in behind him. Dean remained silent, glancing over at his partner from time to time, Will staring out at the traffic they passed on their way home.
The architect stood out on the balcony off their bedroom, sipping from his beer. Suit jacket thrown over the armchair it the living room, and tie loosened, he leaned on the railing, looking down at the city below and around him. Martin had hit a nerve with him that he couldn’t shake. He hadn’t wanted to admit it to himself, but Dean’s behavior and drastic change in career had also been making Will wonder. So much had changed since last summer, when Dean had returned to him.
Will was torn. The Dean he saw now was the Dean he’d fallen in love with almost fifteen years ago- loving, carefree and true to himself. Will had always been the sensible one, the one to keep Dean’s wild whims under wraps. Then somewhere along the way, Dean had bought into the world they’d found themselves in, a world of high-priced living and pomp and pretension. Eventually all that Dean had been had died, leaving an ambitious, pompous ass in its stead. Will was swimming in the same waters with the same high-powered sharks, so hadn’t seen the beach for the grains of sand. Now, Dean had returned to his true self, the man who loved the law and it could do for people, and who loved to enjoy life, and Will was still stuck in that world of surface judgments and expensive expectations.
Martin had made Will see something within himself that night that made the architect very uncomfortable. Had he been responsible for the same judgments against Dean? Had he supported him as much as he should, in his decision to change his life?
“You okay?” Dean asked, stepping up beside the architect, wrapping chilled fingers around his coffee mug. Will was silent for a long time. “Something happened at the party, didn’t it?” Will nodded, looking down at his hands, still wrapped around the nearly empty beer bottle. “Tell me.”
Will tossed it around his brain, not sure whether to say anything or not. Looking into Dean’s concerned eyes, he diced to be honest. “People are talking. About you.”
“Okay. And what are they saying?”
“They don’t agree with what you’re doing. Your work with WorldWin, they don’t understand the drastic changes in you.” Will tipped the bottle back, draining the rest of the liquid.
“Okay,” Dean let that sink in, trying to keep his own emotions out of it. Despite the fact he didn’t agree anymore with the life he’d been leading before the crash, he had still once considered those people his friends, and it hurt. But what mattered the most, and what bothered him the most, was Will. Very little bothered the architect as he was obviously bothered tonight. “And what do you think?”
“I think I don’t understand you, either.” He held up a hand to forestall anything Dean might say, so he could explain. “What I mean by that is, how do you turn your back on all that you know? Knew? How can you look these guys in the face and raise your head high, saying you don’t give a damn what they think? I don’t understand.”
“Will, while on that island, everything was stripped from me- Gucci, Prada, 5th Avenue, all of it. It was gone,” he snapped his fingers, “just like that. I had to watch my fine, expensive clothing deteriorate, my belt and other things used for simple implements of survival. I had to find that good conversation and company meant more to me than some silly, pretentious party, where what you were wearing or the deal you’d made that week, meant whether you were the guest of honor or not. I hate to simplify things, but basically I was living with the salt of the earth over there, the bare necessities to live with and eat, and you know what one thing out of that huge closet I missed?” Will shook his head. “Not one thing. Nothing. The only thing I missed on that island was you. All of this,” Dean waved his arm out over the city. “it’s an illusion, Will. If you lost your job tomorrow, and we had to get ourselves a hovel in Queens, which one of those bastards would be there for us? To help us?”
“None of them,” Will supplied. Dean nodded.
“That’s right. Not a single one. My priorities have changed, honey. All we have is this one shot at life, and if we blow it on the stupid things, well,” Dean shrugged, “at the end of the day, we haven’t really lived at all. So you ask me, how doesn’t it bother me, how do I turn my back on the life I knew. It’s easy, Will. None of it matters. The only thing that matters is you, and what you think of me. But even if,” Dean swallowed, not even wanting to think of what he’d say next, but knowing it needed to be said. “if you didn’t approve, it would hurt like hell, but even then, I won’t change who I am, not anymore, not for anyone. I learned that I need to be true to myself first. The world can be damned.”
Will felt himself falling in love with Dean all over again. He took the shorter man in his arms, sighing in contented relief. “Let’s go to bed.” As they headed inside, they heard the ringing of the phone.
“Luke, run that into my bedroom,” Pam called out, noting her grandson running past the kitchen, arms loaded with a quilt that was almost as big as he was.
“Okay, grandma!” he called from further into the house.
Pam smiled. After talking late into the night over the Christmas holiday, Pam and Tracy had decided it would be best if the veterinarian- newly licensed in Montana, got her own space. She’d bought a pre-fabricated house and had it built on Tracy’s property. This way she was close enough for Luke, who had become a grandma’s boy, to spend time back and forth between the two houses if he wished, as well as for Pam and Tracy to see each other on a regular basis without being on top of each other.
Looking around the spacious three-bedroom, Pam couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride. The modular was more space than she’d ever had all to herself. The apartment back in New York had been tiny, but it was what she’d always had, so hadn’t seemed out of the ordinary. Now, she felt like she could have Luke and all his friends play a game of football in her living room!
“Grandma, can I stay over tonight?” Luke asked, suddenly standing next to his grandmother, who was making some finishing touches on her paintjob in the kitchen.
“Of course you can, sweetie. You need to ask your mom though, okay?” The boy nodded vigorously, then was gone like a shot. Pam chuckled. Returning to the detail work near the counter, she couldn’t help but smile at what her life had become. She never, ever thought she’d be happy in the open, cold spaces of Montana, so far from what she’d known her whole life. But now, she had her own three-bedroom home, and twelve hundred square feet all to herself. She had a relationship with her daughter, the likes of which she hadn’t had since Tracy had been in her early teens. And, most importantly, she had her grandson, who she thanked God every day for. He made her life so much better, almost as though she were given a second chance with him to do right what’s she’d done wring with Tracy. She adored the boy, and would are say he felt the same about her. Hearing his sweet little voice telling her he loved her, or asking if he could stay the night brightened her whole day.
Life was good. Pam turned when Luke burst through the front door.
“Grandma, mom says you have a phone call at our house.”
“Okay, honey.” Pam laid her hand on the boy’s shoulder, walking back across the large yard to Tracy’s house.
“Welcome to Lone Pine, California,” Denny read, her van passing by on its way down 395. The highway stretched out into what looked to be a small town, sprawling about six blocks in one direction and five in the other. Tiny! She had to admit, it was a nice change from the craziness that was Los Angeles. “What the hell?” Denny glanced in her rearview mirror to make sure she’d seen what she thought she’d seen. An anatomically correct horse stood sentinel on a place called Lloyd’s Shoe Store. Chuckling, she kept driving, slowing to take in her surroundings. She pulled off into Dow Villa Motel parking lot, opting to give her van a break for the day. The engine had been overheating lately, and Denny didn’t want to push it.
Walking into the office, she was greeted by the smiling face of the woman behind the counter.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
Denny noticed her nametag said her name was Dani. “Yeah, I need a room for the night.”
Denny looked around the small area as the woman did what she needed to do, noticing a couple framed pictures of John Wayne. “What’s with pictures of the Duke?” she asked, leaning against the counter.
“Back in the 40s and 50s, a lot of westerns were made around here. This is where John Wayne stayed when he was in town,” Dani explained.
“No kidding? Hmm.” Denny handed over the requested amount of money, taking her room key and directions to it in exchange. “Any good places to eat?”
“Yeah. We’ve got the Mt. Whitney diner down that way, Lauten’s that way,” she offered pointing, “or Bo-Bo’s Bonanza over there.”
Denny stared at the woman, making sure she was actually serious. Not a crack of a smile. “Alright. Thank you.” With a smile, Denny shrugged her overnight bag higher onto her shoulder and headed in the direction the woman had told her the room would be.
The small room was like any of the other hundred hotel and motels Denny had stayed in throughout the winter. The single bed was covered in the typical motel-ware, TV bolted to the long dresser, and the small bathroom with a flickering light bulb. Reaching up, she screwed it in a little tighter, ridding the small space of the disco feel.
Denny was tired, she was very, very tired. Tired of driving and sitting for hours on end, tired of living out of a suitcase and cooler on the front seat. She was tired of being alone, and felt ready to start rejoining the human race once more. The heavy burden of loss and grief had slowly lifted over the months she’d been traveling, and for the first time since boarding 1049, Denny felt like there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and like her whole self was on the other side. Maybe it was time to find a place to put down some roots, to start over.
“Hey, sweetie. How was your day?” Gloria asked, wiping down one of the tables at the diner.
“Hey, mom. It was good.” She gave her mother a quick kiss on the cheek then sat down in a nearby booth. Like magic, a Coke and piece of apple pie appeared before the girl. “Ohhhh, you are all that is good and holy!”
Gloria chuckled. “I don’t know about that, but just for saying it, I’ll put a dollop of ice cream on top.” Returning with the promised treat, Gloria slid in the booth across from her daughter. “How’re classes going?”
Mia shrugged, unzipping her backpack and bringing out her biology text. “Good. I kicked butt on the test last week. We got our grades back today.”
“Figured you would. You studied long enough.” With a quick squeeze to the girl’s hand, Gloria got to her feet and back to work.
Mia chewed happily on her dessert, tapping a pencil against the Formica table. She had started the spring semester at Bronx Community College for the spring semester and loved it. It had been the smartest move she’d ever made. The semester would be over in less than a month and a half, and she had aced all her classes thus far. She couldn’t be happier. Her mother had gone back to work at the diner she’d been working at when Mia had returned. Gloria insisted on paying for at least part, if not all, of Mia’s tuition at the community college, not wanting the girl to start out her life with bills.
Grabbing for the workbook that went with the class, Mia stopped, unzipping a side pocket to retrieve the cell phone her mother had given her when Gloria got a new one.
“Hello?” She listened to the voice at the other end, eyes growing wide.
“Run!” Michael was on his feet, cheering along with his daughter, both laughing as Conrad fell ass over appetite, landing on his back. The boy held onto the ball, his friends gathering around him, helping the fourteen year old to his feet.
“Oh man, that was funny,” Jennifer chuckled, leaning back on her hands. Her boyfriend, Toby sat on one side, her father on the other.
“Kid needs to grow into those boats on the end of his legs,” Michael chuckled. He couldn’t believe his youngest would be fifteen that summer, Jennifer almost finished with high school. It was almost May, and the days were definitely heating up, indicative of the summer that was on its way.
“Dad, your phone’s ringing,” Jenny said, glancing back to their truck, parked at the curb of the park. The mechanic groaned slightly as he got to his feet, hurrying over to the open drivers side door, snatching the small phone from the car charger.
“Hey, Den, you need some help?” Foster Phelps asked, sitting at the counter of the new espresso shop that had opened in Lone Pine.
“Yeah, Foster. That’d be great,” the brunette said, almost breathless a she tried to keep up with the orders coming in. The kids from one of the Bishop high schools were in town to play against the local high school, and Bishop, being a larger town with more to offer, brought in the business. A lot of the locals wasn’t sure about the new coffee, or about that espresso stuff. The shop’s business depended mainly on the tourists passing through, or high school athletic events.
Denny had made Lone Pine home for the past two months, and for the most part had enjoyed it. No, it wasn’t where she wanted to stay. A closed, conservative town with more churches than taverns, and more pairs of eyes watching Denny’s every move than if she’d been a rat in a cage. She wasn’t trusted, an outsider, come to invade their number. What had finally made the decision for her was when her van officially died, coughing its last breath, three days after Denny had arrived in town.
She had decided to get a job and stay just long enough to raise the money to buy another car and move on. She was thinking perhaps of heading to the northern part of the state, maybe near San Francisco or maybe southern Oregon. Hell, maybe even Seattle. Wherever she went, she needed a bigger place, and perhaps somewhere she could settle down, buy a house and start a new career.
Lone Pine had jumped at her extensive knowledge of the coffee industry, and against the local opinion, had hired her on at the espresso shop. Denny knew that coffee and food wasn’t in her future career plans, but for the time being, it got her a quick job with a few bucks to save.
Denny flopped down on her bed, the same room she’d rented the night she arrived in town. Her cell phone was placed beside the lamp, 1 NEW VOICE MESSAGE blinked in the window. Picking up the small device, dark brows drawn as she rarely got calls. Listening to the message left, Denny felt her heart begin to pound.
Rachel sat in the chair, trying to be as still as possible as the girl put the last touches on her face, the blonde’s hair already coiffed to perfection. The young makeup artist took a step back, admiring her handy work.
“Are you ready, Miss Holt?” the production assistant asked, clipboard in hand.
The author nodded, feeling her palms beginning to sweat. “I’m ready.”