I thought I might at add chapter 2 of my YA novel, see what you all think. I posted Chapter 1 a few days ago.
Ellie’s final soccer season was cut short for her final year since most of the people on the team were seniors and didn’t feel the need to extend their after-school activity much longer than High School. Rather than the season-ending on September 30th like it had been for the last eleven years, June 15th was their final game. There was still going to be multiple celebratory parties for the players throughout the summer, one official league send-off and countless parties that mostly consisted of the players getting drunk in the middle of the desert while kicking around a ball and reminiscing about their favorite, most vicious, plays.
“Thanksgiving,” I said with a pang of nostalgia working its way through my chest.
“Thanksgiving will be the next time we will see each other again after this summer. Maybe not even then. What if my mom wants to come see me? She’s practically never been anywhere, she would probably like to see the east coast.” I contemplated aloud trying to keep the melancholia at bay.
Lucy looked past me, toward the field but not necessarily at the game. Lucy’s disinterest in what others said was another of her tiring traits.
“That’s kind of your choice Angie. You’re the one who has been obsessed with getting out of this town since before we could cross the street by ourselves. I’d be surprised if you came back for the holidays, or even at all”. Lucy had a way of keeping me on my toes in our conversations. I was never sure if what I said was going to be slapped down as being far too theatrical for a Saturday morning chat or if she would reply with something even more maudlin.
“Why do you say that? I mean, the not coming back part?” I asked
“Because you’ve wanted it forever. You can say you just want to see what else is out there
but I have a feeling we won’t be seeing you again” Lucy said with certainty.
“Well, how do I know you won’t go off to Wellesley and leave everything behind too? I’m not the only one who has talked about leaving Manere.” I didn’t know why it mattered that I reminded her of this fact. She wasn’t altogether insulting me with the assumption, and she wasn’t entirely wrong. A large part of me contemplated ditching town for good and never looking back. Lucy took in a deep breath like she was going to dip her head into the deep end,
“I know you won’t have to worry about that with me because I decided I’m staying.”
She somehow managed to state something that was nothing more than a statement of fact for her, but a form of betrayal for me, all in one breath.
“You aren’t going to Wellesley in the fall? Or like at all?” I begged desperately wanting an explanation.
“It’s not a major deal. I just decided to save my money and go on a life education. Learn by doing. “
Once again, Lucy had found a way to make light of a poor decision. Her getting into college seemed like a bizarre fluke, but to turn it down seemed ludicrous.
“What kind of life education? Like how to bag groceries or work the fryer?” I said.
“I knew you would say something bitchy about this.”
Lucy continued,” I wasn’t even going to tell you. I was going to wait to see if you ever came back to visit and then I would break the news to you”.
Her reasoning was confusing, “What about when we talk on the phone, or if I wanted to send a letter to your dorm? Would you have just kept some elaborate lie go on forever” I asked.
Lucy shrugged and began to skate her foot back, forth, and across herself against the dirt in a bungling, disjointed movement. She knew there was no way to make any of it seem better and I was not going to accept it without a fight.
“Lucy, this is our chance. We always talked about this. Getting the hell out of this town. Leaving it behind to start fresh.”
We had never left the town. Not even once. Not for a trip to a nearby relative or to go to an amusement park. There were always rules in our town. Rules that seemed pointless most of the time, but rules that were rarely broken. It was a law that was enacted in the 1950s. The explicitly stated law that residents were unable to leave Manere until they turned eighteen. Most who became eighteen rarely left, anyhow. It was as if moving was forsaking your entire family, group of friends and the town in general. No one really knew why the law existed. There had been tall tales spread around for as long as I could remember. Whether it was that beyond the border there lived so much crime and dangerous people, it would forever scar those who experienced it, or there being a nuclear disaster, which somehow Manere avoided, and no one talked about it. Mostly, they seemed like rumors that had been altered so many times in the previous few decades that they weren’t even worth researching. My mom would probably never let me leave the town limits by myself anyway, at least not until I was going to college to do it. It seemed well worth the wait.
“Don’t you want to live in a place where the soccer fields have grass?” I said.
“Grass is overrated. You need to mow it. Dirt is easy, and it takes zero effort to keep up. It’s all about dirt, Angie.” Lucy smiled.
Lucy’s sarcasm was comforting. Though I worried there was sincerity in her love for dirt which wasn’t a good thing. When I first started spending a good amount of time with Lucy, in elementary school, I thought we were kindred spirits. She seemed to want to get out of Manere just as much as I did. Her waggishness made our weekly sleepovers all the more lively. We would watch movies or play board games while talking trash about girls from school, mostly Jessica Stafford the suck up and all-around brown-noser who would be considered a teacher’spet, but the teachers couldn’t stand her either. We would talk about boys we liked and the girls with whom we were feuding. The most memorable conversations were about our parents. Lucy lost her mom when she was ten, it was something that bonded us. This was three years before I would lose my dad, and I wanted to be there for her, and a part of me felt like I knew what she was going through even though I didn’t. At the time, I was genuinely terrified I would say the wrong thing, or that losing a parent was contagious and I, just like everyone at school, didn’t want it to rub off on them.
“What do you think they have on them?” Lucy said.
I looked at the far end of the field to see two police officers talking to a man and woman. Their aged skin would generally place them in their late thirties, maybe even their forties but knowing the town I grew up in, they were, most likely, no older than twenty-two.
“I don’t know. Drugs?”
“Totally drugs. Look at them. They have the drugged eyes, and they’re all twitchy. Probably meth.” Lucy explained.
It was usually the drug of choice for those who chose to do drugs in Manere. It was the easiest to make in a town that denied entrance and exits while simultaneously being one of the single worst climates to grow anything worth smoking.
“Nothing to see here. Always the same people. Why can’t they just kick their asses out of this place?
My cousin told me that they used to have super strict guidelines here. Criminals were basically just banished. If they refused to leave, they would, like, hang them in the middle of MainStreet or some shit like that. Talk about getting things done.”
“Lucy, when exactly was this all going down? Like in the 1600s?”
“No, this was like twenty years ago. Not long ago at all.” Lucy said with a devilish grin.
“Your cousin? Andy? That guy makes stuff up all the time.”
“It was Emily, actually.”
“Oh, Emily. Little-miss-creates-drama-out-of-boredom? I really don’t think any of that is true. It sounds completely insane.”
“I don’t know. I think it wouldn’t hurt to bring something like that back into common use. It sure
would get rid of a whole lot of nasty people.” Lucy said.
“If they shot every person down in Manere that wasn’t a worthwhile human being, there would just be rows of dead bodies lining the streets,” I suggested.
Lucy crumpled her forehead. In that single expression, the feeling I had looming over me all school year came hurtling back. Lucy and I just weren’t as much alike as I once thought. Her being resistant to leaving town was one thing. It made sense that she felt safer in the confines of a town that included her dad, stepmom, two brothers, and a handful of cousins, aunts, and uncles. This was home for Lucy. It was never quite home for me.
My parents moved to Manere when I was a baby. It was a job for my dad, nothing more. The only reason they knew anything about Manere was that my grandparents had lived there as children. It was where they had met and left together once they graduated high school. When my mom told her mother that we would be moving to Manere, there was understandable dissent. Grandma refused to accept the move, but my mom wanted to support my dad completely. They were struggling to find work. Mom had a newborn to watch over, and dad wanted to do his best to earn enough to take care of us even with his problems interacting with others. Mom always said I must have inherited his social anxieties. For years I thought she was insulting me, but I think she was, at least partly, pleased to have a daughter who questioned and feared the bizarre way people behaved toward each other. Not having any other family in Manere had made it easier to want to move. My mother becoming an absentee parent didn’t help matters.
“Look, he’s not taking shit from her either” Lucy pointed out. One of the officers, Erikson I think was his name, had cuffed his fingers around the skittish woman’s wrist pulling her closer to say something in her ear. Her boyfriend just watched helplessly. The woman’s eyes barely reacted which probably had more to do with whatever she was on than what he was saying to her. Her free arm was extended as she flicked her wrist while holding a phantom cigarette. Her pursed lips fell slack, and the glare of the sun highlighted an unmistakable tear flowing from one of her eyes. The officer returned the space between himself and the woman. Erikson gave a cursory glance to her boyfriend and released a menacing smile and what appeared to be a chuckle emanating from his immature gut. Erikson was one of the youngest officers in Manere and hadn’t achieved the comfortably inflated appearance that some of the older officers managed to attain. I was never sure if the police officers did anything considerably constructive or necessary. Perhaps, in the less crime-laden past, there was more physically fit police who held charge and order but just as the buildings and streets were becoming more decrepit, the authority figures certainly played by their own rules. Assuming there had been rules, to begin with.
“Derek’s coming over tonight. Should be interesting.” Lucy said
“Interesting? How interesting could it be with Derek? I’ve never had a decent conversation with the guy. Can’t believe that he made it out of high school.”
“That’s a bit harsh. Besides, I don’t find his conversations to be the interesting part, and you know it. “
“Lucy. I thought you guys were actually trying to be friends. If you keep hooking up whenever you hang out, I feel like that wouldn’t be defined as a friendship”.
“Luckily, I’m not that worried about maintaining our friendship.”
I rolled my eyes.
“I’m bored. Okay, Angie? Is it okay that sometimes I get bored and Derek just happens to cure that boredom from time to time? It shouldn’t affect you anyway?” Lucy stood with her hand on her hip offering a slouch with expectant eyes.
“It’s fine. I know it’s fine. You are free to do what you want.”
“Thanks, warden. Besides, if we were running the tallies, I would say you were a lot more bored than I was in the last few years. Like you were practically checking off every dude in the yearbook,”
It wasn’t true, and I didn’t have the energy to ask her why she would say it.
“Alright, well I better get going. In case Derek comes to my house, and I’m not there, and he gets confused and wanders to the neighbors”.
I hook my head incensed.
“He may have graduated high school, but it was in Manere. We’re not exactly churning out the best and the brightest” she laughed maniacally giving me a hug and skipped away with genuine schoolgirl spirit. No matter how earnest a conversation got with Lucy, her exit was always with levity.
As I walked away, I couldn’t help but feel that someone was watching me. I peeked my head over in the opposite direction of the soccer game and noticed Officer Erikson looking at me. His sunglasses giving off a reflection of cactus and chain-link fencing. What he may have been thinking under those aviators was anyone’s guess. Just like the other officers in Manere, he gave away nothing. I returned my gaze to the ground with my shadow as the only thing keeping me company as I made my way out of the park. I hurried to my busted old Chevy Nova that never locked. The blazing metal shocked my hand for only a second, and I prepared myself as I sat in the driver’s seat. Bracing for any bare skin that may come in contact with metal and pushed aside the excruciating pain of buckling up. I left my windows halfway down any time my car was in my line of vision, but even when it wasn’t, the inability to lock it made putting up the windows unnecessary. It wasn’t like I ever expected rain showers. I placed the key in the ignition and turned the car over only to see officer Erikson walking briskly toward my car.
“No, no. Don’t come over here. Please don’t come over here” I mumbled to myself.
“How are you doing today, Miss Abrams?
“Just trying not to melt,” I said jocularly hoping the conversation would be nothing more than small talk.
“Well, no luck with that one. This summer is supposed to be a scorcher. Record-breaking” he looked up at the sky like he was seeking confirmation from the sun. The way people in Manere talked about the weather was a head-scratcher. It was hot every year. Being the desert and all, it got to be more than 110 degrees. Yet each summer everyone seemed to think it was something out of the ordinary. I could never be sure if the constant discussion of the heat, or the wind in the winter time, was because of some form of amnesia. The way women forget the pain of childbirth just enough to be willing to do it again. It was the same for the residents of Manere. The unendurable heat and body-shoving wind were erased from their brains at the commencement of each season. I was one of the few who were spared the brain swipe. Whether that made me one of the lucky ones, I was never quite sure.
“Anyway, I better get going” I sighed as if it tore me up inside to end our conversation so abruptly. Erikson put his hand on my opened window.
“I heard you were packing up soon. Is that right?” he asked while still looking out into the nothingness of the desert.
“That’s the plan. Last week of August. Orientation week”
“That’s neat. You excited about being a real college girl are ya?” his tone was as confusing as ever, not sure if that was condescension in his voice or if that’s how he sincerely asked questions.
“Yes, you could say that. I’ve always wanted to live on the east coast.”
“What’s on the east coast that’s so great?” he asked with a firmer tone.
I wasn’t sure where the conversation was headed or if I was prepared for continuing it at all. There had been different reactions over the months before graduation when declaring my plans. I knew for years what I wanted for myself, but it was only the last few months of high school when I felt free to share them with others, especially anyone outside my immediate friend circle. Some teachers gave me undecipherable nods. Mr. Douglas, who was my ninth-grade biology teacher and my senior advisor always was the most outspoken authority figure who never shied away from questionable language or suggesting activities utterly inappropriate for students ‘You shouldn’t smoke cigarettes if you have weed available. Weed is always king’ he would tell us. I loved Mr. Douglas for being honest and being one of the few educators who only moved to Manere after living sixty-four years of his life in a dozen other places. It made him have the kind of perspective on things I desperately craved. When I told him my plans to go to college in Pennsylvania, he said that I should do what makes me happy and that staying in Manere would only guarantee the loss of my soul and desire to live. It was a dark thing to say, but that was why I believed it. I could also see he was proud of me which was something else I desperately needed at the time. It gave me the final push to declare a formal intent to accept admissions.
“I guess I just always wanted to live there. The grass, giant trees. The weather sounds like a welcome change.” I made a list of all the generic enticements that seemed to appease a surprising amount of people.
“You know. If you leave, it’s going to be mighty difficult coming back.” Erickson said.
“I know. My friends are always ragging on me about that. I’m sure I’ll come back for holidays and stuff. I’m not going to just disappear” I assured him. Erikson gave out a single chuckle. His eyes continued fixed on the empty desert.
“No. You know what I mean.” He finally looked directly at me.
“Um, I’m not sure exactly what you mean,” I said
“Well. You know the drill. You leave Manere, and that’s pretty much your prerogative but don’t expect us to welcome you back with open arms.”
“I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t really expect you to be welcoming me back with open arms. I’m sure my mom and friends wouldn’t mind seeing me though”.
“I thought this sort of thing would have been explained to you by your mother or teachers.”
There was an unexpected silence between us. I began to speak but decided it wasn’t necessary. It wasn’t the first time I was reminded of the Manere ultimatum.
“I guess, I will just have to decide to go away forever then. I’ll be sure to give everyone I have ever known a nice long hug before I ride off into the sunset” I acerbically informed him. Erikson made an indecipherable grunt.
“Are we all done here?” I asked
“You have a good summer kid. Don’t go getting into any trouble. I know you aren’t one of those kids who likes to get drunk over at the dry lake bed.” Erikson leaned over pulling his shades a hair lower for effect, “one of these days something bad may happen out there in the middle of the desert and then how will all them friends feel about that? Not so good”.
The smell of cinnamon gum masking his cigarette-breath engulfed my car.
“I’m not sure I am really friends with those types of people but if I run into anyone with any plans like that I’ll surely tell them that it would be very bad. Are we done here, officer?”
“Yeah, we’re done here. You can calm that saucy tone with me. You got the same saucy tongue as that dad of yours. He didn’t seem to know when to nod and say yes sir, too.”
I put my car in reverse and stomped on the gas not worried about where the officer’s feet were. As I exited the parking lot, Erikson remained in my rearview mirror fixated on the spot that my car had just been parked as if he was waiting for me to return.