jenny_schecter: (jenny | typing)
This isn't the beginning of this novel, but a section I'm currently working on. The beginning is still in need of some work.



Even though Devon had no destination other than the elusive away, her eyes stopped, by habit, on a second story window of a gambrel yellow house.

Years ago, she had slipped at the bus stop during a rainstorm and her blue tin lunchbox had fallen open. The food her mother had wrapped in tight cellophane (including colored labels identifying each item and when it should be eaten) had been unsalvageable, drowned in gutter water. The tiny girl from the yellow house had helped her up and given Devon half of a honey and peanut butter sandwich. Devon could still remember her mop of thickly braided red hair, curls plastered to her forehead like tiny caves.

Her full name was Ashley Daisy Bell. She had large blue eyes and a permanent half smile that got her into trouble. Sporting rolled up jeans and rumpled shirts, her lilting Midwestern twang was, somehow, both whisper-sweet and boisterous.

During school they passed hastily scrawled notes under the table, followed by hot afternoons of wading in a nearby creek catching snakes. Ashley knew how to grab the tiny ones without getting bitten. Devon, much clumsier, had tried once or twice but the slimy whips had flipped and flopped out of her grasp.

They spent all their summers together, each day ending in a glass of iced fruit punch and glimmering lightning-bugs in the tepid dusk. When boys on bicycles teased them, Ashley straightened up and tossed her hair over one sunburned shoulder as if posing for a Polaroid. She ran with the same boys in the neighborhood and never returned before dark. She tied ropes to their skateboards and screamed with excitement at every bump, even when they ended in skinned knees. It was Ashley who climbed to the top of the trees and who dared anyone brave enough to race her to the end of the slow-moving river. Regardless of the victor she was always the first one to jump in, her summer dress billowing like a cloud in the water.

Once childhood gave way to adolescence the dynamics between them changed. Boys, awkward with puberty, flocked to Ashley’s brazen personality and competed for her attention with wild stories and bravado exclusive to the young and naive. Irritated and repulsed by clumsy hand-holding and nervous, sweaty palms, Devon had cherished the time she spent with Ashley alone.

Once Devon reached the end of the driveway she stopped and adjusted her grip on the leather belt to stop the throbbing in her chaffed hand. The yellow house was quiet and unassuming, incongruously peaceful after what had happened there.
If only that confrontation were pure invention born by vivid imagination, and not the tempestuous, chaotic feelings that finally erupted between them in Ashley’s large, lemon-yellow bedroom. If only those devastating consequences had never really happened and Devon’s split lip had resulted from unforgiving concrete, slick from an afternoon storm.

To stop at this house meant acknowledging the metallic taste in her mouth, the insults and the screaming finger-pointing, and the reality that had come between them – but the alternative was a dark street, empty and desolate until the dingy 7-11.

Devon turned and walked the cobblestone pathway to the door that twisted around familiar gnome statues, one of them lying forlornly on its side. For no particular reason other than to stop time, she stooped to fix it. The brightly painted smile seemed garish in the twilight.

“What are you doing here?”

Still bent, Devon didn’t look up. “Hey.”
“What?”

“I said ‘hey’.”

“I heard you.”

Shrugging, Devon left the gnome face down in the dirt. Her explanation was completely forgotten, jumbled, the mood too oppressive in the hot summer air.
Ashley never had trouble with words. “Look, I meant it when I said that I didn’t want to be friends anymore, so I don’t know why you’re here. I’ve already said everything I need to say, and we’re not right as friends. So…”
“So what? I’m not here to be your friend.” A slow, pounding headache began just behind Devon’s eyes. It beat in time with her heart, jumped in perfect coordination with Ashley’s voice and steadily grew faster.

“I don’t care why you’re here, that’s my point.”

“I get it. Look, I need a favor.”

“A favor?” Disbelief in the soft, wispy voice that Ashley saved for doting boys with unwelcome crushes. “Are you serious?”

“I need a ride to the bus station.”

“Are you going on a trip or something?”

“No.”

Silence. Ashley’s long fingers tapped on the side of the door. “Hold on.” She retreated, leaving the door open just enough for Devon to see the side of the grandfather clock. She’d hit her head on the bottom edge when she was twelve or so, after Ashley dared her to slide backwards down the banister. It had given her a lump the size of an egg that she proudly sported for nearly a month, testimony to her bravery.

There was movement beyond the illuminating stained glass door and then Ashley closed it behind her quietly, with skill that comes with plenty of practice. “Okay, come on.”

The little blue car parked behind the hedge had been a mark of independence, one that Devon had shared Ashley’s pride in, but now it felt like a prison. When Devon buckled the seatbelt over her chest, her heart stung as though it was being pierced.

Ashley said nothing as they pulled out of the driveway, but before they were even at the end of the street she was already holding her breath and biting her bottom lip, an indication that she was trying very hard not to ask something and would fail in about three sec-- “So where are you going?”

“I dunno.”

“Okay. You don’t want to tell me?”

“Not really.”

Ashley’s tanned hand slipped on the steering wheel, but then she gripped it harder. “Why won’t you tell me?”

“Why do you care?”

“I don’t.”

Devon nodded and looked out the window. She couldn’t see anything beyond the start of cornfields, but she knew that the stalks stretched for miles, waving and rustling like great giants in the dark.

“I just, you know, want to know. Do your parents know you’re gone?”

“They told me to leave.”

Unsurprised, Ashley didn’t scan for an emotional reaction. “Why?”

“You know why.”

The tension in the car felt thick, as if the glass were fogging up on all sides. Devon yanked on the window lever to lower it, but changed her mind once the hot wind hit her face and quickly rolled it up again.
The pink cupid-bow mouth in a small line, Ashley asked no more questions. A few times she tucked flyaway hairs behind her ear in stiff, quick motions, as though too much movement might draw attention.

Devon was out of the car before it even stopped. “Thanks,” she called back over her shoulder, without looking. As soon as her feet hit the pavement she thought her knees would buckle, but somehow she managed to push through aimless pedestrians crowding around blinking arrival screens. The wide station doors were open and, once inside, Devon finally stopped to breathe.

At the ticket counter she set down her suitcase and noticed, belatedly, that the identification tag had snapped off. “Fuck,” she whispered, loud enough to receive a reproachful glance from the man behind the counter. Her sister had filled out that tag for her, in loopy messy handwriting and the “i” in “Devon Dastoli” dotted with a heart.

Without a plan, Devon could only stare at the string of departure times to cities she’d never been to or even heard of. In better times she would flip through glossy magazines with Ashley and dream about places they would visit together, scenes brightly lit and busy with life, but trying to conjure up their names now only made Devon’s throat feel prickly. Her hand instinctively reached for her front shirt pocket and she lit the cigarette with routine swiftness, again ignoring the bristling man behind the counter. The sharp, stinging taste filled her in a deliciously distracting way, and Devon held in the smoke as long as she could before exhaling.

In various places she had relatives, people she’d met a few times at family reunions but never connected with, although it seemed presumptuous to just show up at someone’s front door. After reproving lectures and empty promises of reconciliation she would be sent back home until the entire affair quietly dissolved in innuendo. The remainder of Devon’s summer would be spent slinging hash and overcooked bacon grease so she could pay monthly rent to her parents, doubled as compensation for her life on the lam. She’d have a brief stint as the family rebel, but the novelty would wear off fast – there was already a black sheep who would never be knocked off her throne.

An older cousin popularized as “that Betsy” had picked up and took off for New York at a younger age than Devon was now. She’d never met Betsy before but knew her from pictures, a demure blond in cowboy boots and pigtails with her head tossed back and a commanding “look at me” glint in her eyes, a so-called “natural star”. She was mentioned offhandedly by name here and there at family gatherings, usually associated with the opening of a Broadway show or a new, rigorous dance schedule. Snippets of information about her cousin were put aside with quiet, unspoken envy; she was the symbol of defiance, a hot-headed, stubborn personality apparent from birth. “Not at all like Devon,” her aunt had once said with a cool, comforting hand on Devon’s nearly identical blond head.
Even though Devon never had any need for recognition or stardom, being “not at all” like Betsy was unacceptable. Ashley was the only constant in her life that she had actually wanted, and if it weren’t for her and Desti then Devon would have gladly uprooted her life just like her cousin had. The sluggish little town Devon lived in never changed, and New York City was in constant evolution. In a city like that she wouldn’t be expected to recite a customer’s usual order at seven in the morning, or listen to the same story for the eighteenth time with feigned curiosity, “oh? Yes, yes, oh really? Yes—”

It was the perfect place to go to disappear.

“Why do you want to leave?” Ashley had asked her once, her eyes thoughtlessly skimming romantic Venice canals on a travel brochure. “I mean, I want to go places, but I don’t want to actually move.”

“Why not?”

“I like it here.”

Fate in hand, Devon bought a one way ticket to New York.





-----------------------

SECTION TWO



The bus seats cramped together like terminal chairs, and were even more uncomfortable. Devon’s one bag slid easily under the seat and she tied the belt to the mesh pocket so it wouldn’t slide around. The other two passengers sat at the opposite end and when the shuffle died down to a murmur, Devon plucked her toothbrush from a side pocket.

The back restroom was small and roared loudly when she flipped the light switch. Devon took her time and ran her toothpaste-less toothbrush under a stream of water. Her reflection revealed someone very tired – limp and mussed hair, scattered freckles. The resemblance to Betsy was all but non-existent. Naturally their hair had started out the same white-blond, but Devon’s darkened years ago. Judging by pictures, Betsy had long given up the look.

Back at her seat, Devon tried her hardest not to fall asleep. There was only one transfer and she didn’t want to miss it. What was the name of Betsy’s job again? Her mother had named it in lieu of a threat, something like, “you don’t want to end up like Betty Jean and work at a place called High End, do you?” At the time Devon had ignored her and didn’t ask what “High End” was. It sounded like one of those restaurants that only took reservations, or shaped cloth napkins into swans and played jazzy music. She thought about Betsy and her black hair in a starched waitress uniform, taking orders from various celebrities with glittery champagne flutes. Her dreams were filled with cheerful laughter and rich, sonorous piano music that played into the lonely hours of the night.

When the cracked static announced that they had arrived in St. Louis, Devon jerked awake so suddenly that her hand struck the window. The sound was startlingly loud in the small space and she apologized to no one in particular, her mind in a stupor. The other passengers were on their way off the bus, but Devon waited until she was alone before she untied her bag and followed.
The St. Louis station was busy and smelled like moist paint. Devon found a bench hidden by passengers waiting for the same connection, fortunately unoccupied. She sat cross-legged with her bag on her lap and dug out her headphones. The ipod she’d tossed inside hours earlier was dead, but she stuck the plugs in her ears anyway so no one would initiate a conversation. The tune from her dream filled the muffled silence, the eight note melody a vicious soundtrack to flashes of old conversation, her life stripped to base emotion.

Truth or dare…?

Truth.


Giggling, the flash of ribbon and the low hum of background television – all sounds and images long dead, but resurrected to haunt old wounds with sinister vitality. Devon saw herself the way they might have seen her then, knees tight against her chest and her back pressed to the door, waiting for the already missed opportunity to flee.

She said truth, so pick something good.

I have it, I have it! I have—


“Boarding pass?”

Devon handed it over.

A loud exhale of air and the man wiped at his forehead with a soiled handkerchief. “Jiminy, is it hot enough for you?” She heard him repeat the question over and over as he moved down the line, never waiting for an answer or receiving anything but consenting hums and torn ticket stubs.

This bus was larger and hotter, bundled front to back like a tightly wrapped package about to burst. The driver, separated by glass, casually leafed through a magazine to avoid the irrefutable fact that every seat would be filled.
Devon took the space directly behind him, next to an elderly woman clutching a sequined handbag. It looked strange against her canary-yellow skirt and jacket, a small dragonfly brooch on the lapel. The woman was staring out the window, with such intensity that it seemed she saw something other than a bare brick wall. When Devon sat she straightened and looked at her quickly, as though she’d interrupted a rather important conversation.

“Sorry.”

The woman’s face suddenly animated and she leaned close, as though Devon’s apology was incentive to speak. “You may as well know my name if we’re going to be sitting together for hours on end, don’t you think so? It’s only polite. My faith, child! Are you on this bus by yourself?”

“Yes.”

“My word!” Clicking noises, rustling as the woman unzipped the little purse. It was filled with pieces of paper and peppermints and blue tissues.

“I’m eighteen.”

“Oh no, honey, you can’t be.”

A commonly shared misconception was that Devon was younger than her actual age. It might have been her awkward, lanky frame. It certainly wasn’t her height. She’d been taller than all the girls in her class since the fourth grade, and a few of the boys.

“…I don’t believe it. You don’t look a day over fifteen. Good heavens, look at that skin! I used to have a face like yours. I had freckles too, don’t you believe it, and a little beauty mark. Right here. Do you think I look my age, child? Tell me I don’t. I can stand liars but I can’t stand rudeness. Understand me?”

“Yes ma’am.” It was a terrible luck that she had chosen to sit here, but fear of basic manners eliminated all other options. “You don’t look your age at all, ma’am. I mean it.”

Bright eyes did make the woman look much younger. Her skin was wrinkled in spots that had laughed, laughed, and laughed. Not like Devon’s mother, who already had two lines right between her eyebrows.

“Now you can call me Francesca, not Franny, I can’t stand it and I’ll slap anyone who tries it. What is your name, child?”

Caught between an image of being beaten by a dainty old woman and wishful plans of bribing someone to change seats with her while she slept, Devon said the first name that came to mind, “Ashley.”

“Ashley! Have you read Gone with the Wind? There’s a character in it with the name Ashley. Mind you, a man, but nonetheless it’s a charming name. I think I have the book with me here, would you like to borrow it?”

“No thank you,” Devon answered quickly.

“Mighty fine book, mighty fine! But the worst ending! Do you know how it ends?”

“No ma’am.”

“He leaves her. Once he leaves, she finally realizes she loves him. Oh, it’s filled with irony,” Francesca said “irony” slowly, and caressed the word like someone would a brand new fur coat. “Do you know the word irony?”

“Yes ma’am.” English wasn’t Devon’s strong subject, but irony had been a term she could relate to. “For the most part, I think… ma’am.”

“It means the exact opposite of what is expected.”

Francesca continued to talk to her in an excited, almost giddy tone. Devon answered minimally, just enough so that the older woman wouldn’t think she was rude. She told Francesca that her name was Ashley, she was from Mississippi. She was going to visit a sick aunt (“Oh, dear, I’m so sorry to hear that!”) Her parents were following her on a plane. They were all right. She especially loved her sister, Desti.

Devon could not bring herself to lie about Desti.

As the conversation progressed, Francesca’s questions became few and far between. Finally she stopped speaking altogether. When Devon leaned over to make sure the woman wasn’t dead, she was relieved to hear soft, raspy breathing. The cigarette smell was overwhelming and made Devon want to smoke, but it wasn’t allowed.
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jenny_schecter: (Default)
a girl of many names

eviserated, I am

I am not too sure of who I am because there are several of me. They float up from me like phantoms and slink off to commit acts for which I may or may not be responsible.

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