Part one of a new story

Okay – I talked about posting some fiction the other day, so here goes – the first 2,000 words or so of a new story (no title yet).  Would love to hear feedback.

***************

Darren O’Reilly has had a tough day.  At least that’s what he’d tell you if you asked him.  But no one’s asking him anything right now, sitting alone as he is in a bus depot outside of one of San Diego’s many suburbs.  He wouldn’t be inclined to share much more than the rough outline of things.  “The details, man, the details,” he might say – those he keeps to himself.

            More than once, Darren’s checked his watch only to remember that along with his bass guitar, Marshall amp, and half a dozen other items, he’d hocked it so he could buy his bus ticket.  So Darren waits, hoping that the local Greyhound bus is a timely one.

            Like most days in San Diego, it’s sunny, a good day for hanging out, skipping work or school.  Darren sits inside the bus depot and takes one last look at this town that he’s leaving behind – that’s his plan, anyway – giving it an arm’s length treatment, observing it more like a stop along the way, or even a layover on a longer trip, and not his hometown.

            It’s Easter Monday.  Darren heard something on the radio this morning about the 15th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, but was packing his few things and paid it little attention.  He was a kid when that happened; he’d heard his parents talk about the man – this was before they’d moved to San Diego – and their words had a strange edge to them.

            “Sure, speaking up is fine,” his dad would say.

            “Everyone has a right to their opinion,” his mom would offer.

            But Darren wondered if there were something else going on – at least he did when he was younger.  Now?  Well, things were a lot more complicated now.

            The Greyhound finally pulls up and Darren realizes that he’s been holding his breath.  He quickly exhales, steps outside the depot, approaches the bus and prepares to board, ticket in one hand, small duffel in the other.  The day remains shiny, seventy degrees, perfect.  The driver takes his ticket and Darren steps onto the bus, finding his way to the back.  He figures he’ll be the only passenger for the first part of the trip.

            “Five minutes ‘til departure,” the driver bellows, as if perhaps there are dozens of people who need to be updated, and not just one.

            He settles in a seat in the back, determining how much leg room he’ll need for such a long trip.

            The driver lingers inside the depot and out of Darren’s vision for the full five minutes, and just as he steps back onto the bus and gets set to leave, another passenger follows him and Darren sighs, disappointed that he won’t have the bus to himself.  The young woman, probably his age, maybe a little younger, walks towards the back of the bus, as if perhaps she thinks the other seats are reserved, and proceeds to sit catty-corner from Darren in the next-to-last seat on the left.

            “Hi,” she says, unbidden, and the bus lurches out of the depot and onto the service road that leads to the interstate.

            “Hi,” Darren responds, and he looks away, pretending indifference, but he can’t deny that this is one pretty girl – maybe not one he’d date, but hey – and he’s going to have a long trip on a bus with her.  Maybe things are looking up, he thinks.

            Before he can think any more, though, she reaches across with her hand out.  “I’m Naomi.  I figure we’re on this bus for the next, what, 60 hours?  We should at least get to know each other a little.”  He extends his hand and shakes hers – she’s clearly worked hard jobs, the calluses built up on the fingers and palm, a couple scars on the knuckles.

            “I’m Darren,” he says, now wondering how much information will satisfy this woman.  After all, he thinks, I didn’t get on this bus to socialize – I got on it to get away.

            “Nice to meet you.”  She pauses, looks him over for a second, sees his California standard blonde hair and tan, the ratty t-shirt and worn jeans.  Not a whole lot different from the guys in any neighborhood in San Diego.  Keeps watching for something out the window, though.  What?

            “Likewise.”  Darren doesn’t need to look her over – he took everything in as soon as she sat down.  Long dark hair, past her shoulders, slightly dark skin, but he can’t place her ethnicity – maybe Latina, maybe Mediterranean – and a funky white t-shirt/sundress combo that makes him think it was the last thing she had on her mind when she left for the bus depot this morning.  But one thing has piqued his curiosity.  “So why’d you say 60 hours?”

            She laughs, taps her fingers on the seat in front of her.  “Oh that.  Just joking – well, sort of.  See, my trip is supposed to be about that long, but for all I know you’re just going to Las Vegas or Phoenix.”

            “Nah.  Not going to either of those places.”

            “Well then.  Good to know.  As for me,” and she makes a dramatic gesture, pointing to herself, “I am headed to the capital of the fine state of New York.”

            Darren feels his blood run cold for a moment.  No, he’s not headed for Albany, and he doesn’t think he’d tell this stranger if he were.  But the state of New York?  Well, that’s on his ticket – and maybe that’s why they are the only two on this particular bus, going coast to coast on this Monday morning.

            “Wow.  That’s a long trip.”  Before he can stifle his curiosity further, he blurts out, “So what could possibly make you go that far?  On a bus no less?”

            “Off to go to school,” she says, patting a bag that’s bursting with books.

            He smirks.  “You know they have schools out here, too.”

            She doesn’t miss a beat.  “I’ve heard.  But sometimes, you gotta get away.  Y’know?”

            Darren nods, remembers his earlier promise to himself to keep his fool mouth shut.

            “Yeah.  Besides, I got a scholarship deal, couldn’t pass it up.”  She digs in her bag for a moment as if searching for something essential.  “How ‘bout you?  You look like you’re about college age.”

            “Age?  Yeah, I guess so.”  Darren is twenty, but for some reason he’s not willing to part with this knowledge.  “But college isn’t for me.”

            “Oh?  What is?”  She looks serious, and Darren feels that cold front in his veins again.  Is she ever going to shut up?  Can’t he just sleep or do his own thing on this trip?

            “Just . . . just doing my own thing.”

            “Oh.”  She doesn’t say anything more for a moment, but he can feel something – disapproval? dismissal? – and he’s sure it’s nothing good.  But why should her opinion matter?  She’s just some stranger he just met on a bus going across the country.

            “Well, good luck with that,” she says, as she pulls a dog-eared book out of her bag and proceeds to read, legs extended to rest on the chair opposite her.

            And sure enough, the first thought that runs through his head is that he wants to defend what he’s doing, even explain why he’s leaving.  But no.  That’s the whole point of his getting on a bus without having told anyone, leaving behind not just his hometown but the events of the last few days, events he’d like to forget but never will.

            As for the college comment, he meant it – he doesn’t want to go, never did, never will, doesn’t think he needs to explain himself to anyone about that.  Problem is, he doesn’t have any clear alternative that he’s pursuing, either – and leaving your past behind isn’t much of a long-term strategy.

            Naomi reads for the next hour – or so Darren guesses, watchless as he is – and does not give even a hint of her earlier interest.  Darren gazes out the window for the whole time, occasionally glancing at his bag and wondering about going through his things.  Did he bring a book with him? he wonders.  He can’t stop thinking about this girl – okay, woman – and how she’s gotten under his skin so easily.  Maybe it’s just nerves, he tells himself; it was a bad weekend, after all.

            As the bus hums along the highway, he starts guessing in his head who this woman might be.  A Salvadoran looking to get away from SoCal and start over?  A second-generation Mexican eager to go to school as far from her parents as humanly possible?  Maybe just an exotic Greek/Italian/Moroccan who likes to travel (and read)?

            Naomi looks up for a moment from her book and locks eyes with Darren.  “I’d offer you something, but I know how you feel about college and all.”  She returns his smirk from earlier.

            He nods his head as if accepting his due, then breaks his promise again.  “So what school will you be going to?”

            “College of Saint Rose.  You probably never heard of it.”

            “No.”

            “Yeah, just a small, Catholic school, right in Albany.”

            “And they gave you a scholarship.”

            “Uh huh.”

            “But no transportation money.”

            “Well, I can’t get too picky.”  She brings her legs close to her body, forming a little ball on her seat, hugging her knees for a moment.  “Getting out is worth the price.”

            “Amen to that.”  He pauses, seeing how his comment might not fit.  “Minus the school part, I mean.”

            “Sure.”  She rocks forward slightly.  “Didn’t mean to be a bitch earlier – sometimes I come across that way, though.  Sorry.”

            “Aw, no, it’s cool,” he says, waving off her apology.

            “I can be a little too curious.  You ever get that way?”

            “Oh yeah.”  He thinks back to Saturday night – way too curious, and now there’s no way to go back and change what he did.

            “Good.  So you can relate.”  She pauses, reaches her hand out again.  “Let’s start over.  I’m Naomi Flores.”

            He responds as before, shaking her hand.  “I’m Darren O’Reilly.  Pleased to meet you.”

            “Likewise,” she says.

            They both drift in and out of sleep for the next few hours, the exhaustion of travel overtaking them in cycles.  Darren begins to feel more at ease, certainly more so than before, but is that because of this young woman’s good-will offering, or is it because he can feel himself getting farther and farther away from San Diego, that place where, if he were there now, he’d most likely be a celebrity of sorts?  He isn’t sure.  He reminds himself to keep a better guard on his thoughts, though, no matter how pleasant this Naomi Flores is.  After all, who is she anyway?  How does he know that he can trust her?  Truth is, he can’t afford to trust anyone right now – that’s the only idea that makes a shred of sense to him as he stares at the long stretch of country, nothing but this past weekend’s disaster behind him, and nothing specific to look forward to once this trip is over.

            During one of Naomi’s intermittent naps, he notices something sticking out of her bag, the corner of a newspaper.  From just a brief glance he can tell it’s the San Diego Union Tribune, the biggest paper in the city.  Nothing particularly notable about that, he thinks, but then he pauses when he sees one of the headlines: ‘Police Suspect Arson.’  He swallows hard, and then questions race through his mind:

            Has she read this article?

            How much do the police really know?

            Was he wearing gloves that night or had he already taken them off when he walked into the building?

            How far away are they from San Diego at this point?

            Could the bus driver maybe pick up the speed a little?

            A tiny bead of sweat forms at the base of his neck, slowly dripping down the back of his t-shirt.  This is going to be one long ride, he thinks.

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Published in: on August 17, 2010 at 7:25 pm  Comments (6)  
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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Woah! Certainly not what I was expecting … which is great! I love surprises in writing 🙂

    The present tense is very good and the conversation (or lack there of) is very awkward theway a first meeting really would be between two college aged kids who realize that there might be potential or even a sort of social obligation to talk to each other. The “leave me alone but I’m kind of a little intrigued vibe is very obvious and then with the revelation that he’s a criminal it really drives it home and gives the whole thing new perspective.

    I really enjoyed the dnew beginnings and staring over theme, especially in light of the surprise ending.

    Over all, a very nice short peice and I’m adding you to my blogroll to hopefully read more soon 🙂

    • Many thanks – for reading and for commenting.

  2. First – Tom, I love your new design. It is much better than the previous one (no offense, please). I am adding you to my blogroll. Your blog is becoming a very good and interesting writing blog. I am really enjoying it.

    Secodn – I am interested to find out what happens next in your story. 🙂 I liked it a lot: it flows; it keeps your attention; it makes you wonder “what’s next?” I am a huge fan of Present Tense. I could see characters, I could relate. I like where it is going! Now, that said – it feels to me that this piece needs a little bit of editing. There were a few places (in the beginning) where I had to re-read just to make sure that you were talking about past and not present. Maybe it’s just me.

    Third – I loved it!

    • Aloysa,

      Thanks for the feedback.

      I wasn’t happy with the design I had earlier, either – I think I finally feel comfortable with this one.

      Glad to hear it’s keeping you intrigued – but also glad to hear your observations on the editing front. This piece is by no means finished, and now I’m eager to go back over the intro to make sure it’s clearer.

      And one more thanks for adding me to your blogroll – best wishes with your writing, too.

  3. Tom, I loved this. I liked the narrator’s tone, and could clearly see the story play out in my mind. The unexpected bits are lovely.

    • Thanks for the feedback – glad to hear it’s keeping you interested!


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