Saturday, July 19, 2008

Crossroads, Chapter 2

Back in November, you may recall that I posted an entry about National Novel Writing Month. I had intended to participate, and even posted the first draft of Chapter 1 of my novel, Crossroads. But too many things came up that month, and I ended up not having the time to continue.

Since then, several of my readers have asked whether I ever wrote any more of the novel, and whether I would post some more of it here.

Things have been busy, so I have had almost no time for writing, but I do have a little bit more done. It may be months between excerpts, but if you readers continue to nag me every now and then, I'll try to keep posting them from time to time.

If you want to read from the beginning, Chapter 1 is posted here.

Below is the first draft of Chapter 2.


The next thing I remember, I was waking up in a hospital room. Even before I opened my eyes, I knew I wasn’t in my own bed. The room smelled of disinfectant and, in some peculiar way, sunshine. Distantly, I heard the sound of an intercom paging doctor somebody and the whisper of footsteps passing in the hall. A faint, almost-inaudible electronic hum hissed from the room’s fluorescent lights. Near the head of my bed, some kind of medical device beeped regularly.

The first thing I saw when I opened my eyes was a cheerful ceramic pot of yellow chrysanthemums blooming on a small table by the window. I smiled faintly. Flowers. That explained the summery smell. But the bright wash of afternoon sunlight hurt my eyes, so I turned away from the window.

There, her long, lean limbs folded to fit into the confines of a hideous rose-colored paisley armchair, a young black woman sat flipping through the pages of Vogue. Her hair was tightly braided in a crown across the top of her head. Her high, smooth cheekbones and angular jaw made her look as if she had just stepped out of a magazine cover or emerged from an engraving on an ancient coin.

My smile widened. “Eb!” My throat felt strange, and my voice came out as a cracked whisper.

She dropped the magazine and rushed to my side. “Keri? Oh my god, you’re awake!”

I licked my lips and tried again to speak. “You look like an African princess with your hair like that. Trust you to be perfectly coiffed even at my deathbed.”

To my surprise, her eyes welled up with tears. “Don’t say that. You’re going to be fine. The doctors all say—”

Clumsily, I petted her hand. “Joking, Eb. I was joking. What the hell happened? I have a headache the size of Alaska.”

Before she could answer, a broad-shouldered man appeared in the doorway behind her. “Hey babe. It’s three o’clock. Ready to go?”

She didn’t even turn. “Devon, get the doctor. She’s awake!” Obediently, his broad shoulders disappeared into the hall.

“A new man in your life?” I raised an eyebrow. “Do tell.”

She dragged the ugly pink chair closer so she could sit next to the bed. “What, Devon? No, he’s not new. We’ve been going out for—” She stopped suddenly, covering her pause by fumbling with a pitcher that was sitting on the bedside table. “Are you thirsty? I can get you some water.” Pouring too quickly, she spilled a little on the table, then thumped the pitcher back into place and stretched the brimming glass in my direction.

I tried to sit up, but a sudden blaze of pain roared through my limbs and I sank back again, gasping. “Ebony Clara Matthews, what is going on? I know I’m in the hospital, but how did I get here? What happened to me?”

She let the proffered glass sink slowly to her lap, where she gazed into it as if it contained the answers to my questions. “I was about to say that Devon and I have been going out for a month and a half. I met him at that party I went to the night you had your accident. Keri, you’ve been in a coma for six weeks.”

A posse of doctors and nurses charged into the room, and for the next few minutes I was surrounded by strangers poking, prodding, shining lights in my eyes, and asking me things like who was president and could I wiggle my toes. My body was full of mysterious aches that everyone seemed more familiar with than I, judging by how accurately they prodded in just those exact places.

I bore it for as long as I could, but eventually I’d had enough. “Look, I’m fine. I remember my name. I know what year it is. My fingers and toes are all fully functional. Can you give me some privacy to talk with my friend, and do the rest of this later?”

In the six weeks I’d been unconscious, they’d apparently gotten used to me being pliable and inanimate, because now when I resisted, they goggled at me as if they didn’t understand.

“Get out,” I suggested, as helpfully as possible.

It was Devon who came to my rescue. Six foot three and broad as a quarterback in a stylish suit, he tucked his hands beneath the elbows of a couple of the doctors and ushered them out of the room. “Thank you all so much, but this is Miss Cook’s roommate and I’m Miss Cook’s lawyer. We need a few moments to speak with my client, if you don’t mind.”

When they were gone, a blissful quiet settled on the room once more. Devon shut the door, and both he and Ebony came and sat next to my bed, somehow managing to look happy and worried at the same time.

“Lawyer?” I surveyed Devon from the top of his conservative, hundred-dollar haircut to his tasteful designer shoes. His dark eyes were inscrutable and his too-straight teeth impossibly white against his cafĂ©-au-lait skin, but the hint of a dimple that flashed beside his mouth when he smiled suggested there might be a warm personality beneath the power-suit exterior. “I have a lawyer now?”

Ebony leaned forward. “He’s just been helping out while you were… gone. I asked him to. There’s been a lot of paperwork, between the medical forms, the accident reports from the crash, the insurance claims, and now the settlement offer from the railroad.”

“I am sorry.” Devon’s voice was smooth as dark chocolate, his elocution clearly honed by years of practice. A voice trained to wring the heartstrings of juries and judges alike. “If you would prefer to be represented by someone else now that you are… yourself again, I will be glad to turn over all the paperwork.”

“But there’s no need to think about any of that today,” Eb added. “We’re just so happy you’re okay.”

“Wait. Go back a second.” Everything was moving so quickly, and my mind was having a hard time keeping up. “What crash? What settlement? What does the railroad have to do with anything? I lost control and skidded into the ditch, that’s all. I was trying to find a phone to call a tow truck. How did I end up here?”

They glanced at each other. Ebony frowned and took my hand. “Honey, your car is totaled. I saw it. There’s nothing left but a twisted wreck of metal. They’re mostly healed now, so maybe you can’t tell, but you had seventeen broken bones and a punctured lung. They say you died three times in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. You had four surgeries before they would even let me in to see you, and when they finally did, I didn’t recognize you. I thought they’d brought me to the wrong room, that it was all some kind of mistake, that’s how badly you were banged up.”

“I don’t understand. What happened to me?”

Ebony drew her hand back and laid it beside the other one in her lap. Fingers slightly curved, palms turned upwards, they looked like two small, helpless animals. When she spoke, she had to force the words out. “You drove your car into an oncoming train. The engineer who was driving the train said you accelerated into him, there was nothing he could do. He said it looked like you did it on purpose.”

The color seemed to drain out of the room. “That’s impossible,” I whispered. “Why would I do something so idiotic?” Neither of them replied and neither of them would look me in the eye. Finally, the answer dawned on my. “Oh my god. You think I tried to kill myself. Why? Ebony, why would you think that?”

“I don’t know. You were so sad lately, so closed off. I just thought—”

“My parents died, Eb. I’m allowed to be sad about it. That doesn’t mean I want to kill myself.”

“I just thought there must have been something else going on,” she said miserably. “You were preoccupied all the time, talking to yourself, staying up until all hours of the night. I thought I was a bad friend not to have seen the signs.”

“You weren’t a bad friend. There were no signs. I was just working on trying to find my birth parents, and I didn’t want to say anything because I didn’t want to get my hopes up until I found a lead.” This time, despite my protesting body, I did sit up in bed. “Oh crap! While I was unconscious, did I get any phone calls or messages from someone named Margery Greenacre?”

Ebony shook her head. “I don’t think so. Why? Is it important?”

“She was the lady I was on my way to see that night. She said she knows who my parents are, but she wouldn’t tell me anything more over the phone. She sounded really urgent that I come see her right away, and I never showed up. She’s going to think I blew her off.”

“Take it easy, I'm sure she'll understand. If you like, I'll call her for you and explain. And when you're feeling better, you can—”

But my mind was already wrestling with the next memory. This one was blurrier, less certain, but I forced it to the surface. As it came clear, a hot splinter of pain darted like a flicker of lightning behind my right eye. “The girl! That night, there was a little girl with long red hair, she saw the whole thing.”

Ebony's brows puckered, and she glanced at Devon, but he just gave a little shrug. Her lips tightened, and when she turned back to me, her eyes brimmed with pity. “There was no one, Keri. No witnesses except for the guy driving the train. Believe me, the police investigated. And then the railroad company investigated. Everyone was hoping for a witness they could question. But it's a pretty rural area, with no houses nearby. It was late at night and pouring rain. There was no one out there.”

Why was she arguing with me about this? “I'm telling you, there was. She was standing in the road, in the rain. I think there was a dog. I almost didn't see her. I swerved, and that's how I ended up in the ditch.”

She stroked my hand, her touch light and cool. “Honey, it's all right. We don't have to talk about this now. We're not judging you, and we're here for you, whatever you need. We only want to help.”

I blinked stupidly at her, uncomprehending. It took several seconds before I understood: She thought I had made up the little girl, either consciously or unconsciously, so I wouldn't have to admit that I had attempted suicide. Every word I said to the contrary would just support her theory that I was deep in denial.

I sighed. If even Ebony, the friend who knew me best in all the world, believed such a thing, I had a feeling my recovery period was going to be a lot more painful and tedious than just rebuilding my atrophied muscles and re-knitting broken bones.

I couldn't imagine what she had gone through, these past six weeks, thinking that I had crashed the car on purpose and wondering if she could somehow have done something to prevent it. All those weeks of guilt and worry---and anger too, I'm sure, wondering how I could do such a thing instead of just coming to her for help. Somehow, I would have to rebuild her trust in me and re-knit the bond we'd shared. Somehow I'd have to convince her I was telling the truth.

It never occurred to me for a second that she might be right.


Anonymous said...

Well, I'm hooked. I'll be waiting to find out what happens next. You've still got the touch (not that I had any doubts about that). I hope you find the time to continue writing.

Nancy Chase said...

Thanks Mark! You know, I'm still waiting to read a novel by you someday too. I always love reading what you write.

heather said...

you cliffhanger writer you!
thanks! This is fab! Where are the other 300+ pages?
tee hee