Hey babes–here’s part of the rough draft I’m still working my way through, Chasing Dandelions. Thought I’d share a little bit of the part where Charlie’s adventure begins. Basically what happens in these partial chapters is Charlie and his girlfriend are chilling out, maxing out, relaxing all cool….and then he gets in a life-changing accident and meets a metaphorical person who represents misplaced grief that’s turned into bitterness. CASUAL. It’s an everyday sort of event.
sidenote: all names, dialogue, descriptions subject to change.
“There’s this movie that I think you’ll like;This guy decides to quit his job and heads to New York City; This cowboy’s running from himself;And she’s been living on the highest shelf.” -Vance Joy
Our back-and-forth was really like a round of poker. She knew it and I knew it. We both were betting high, waiting for one to call the other out. Unfortunately for her, I had a poker face straight from hell, and sometimes I didn’t even know if I was bluffing or being real. That’s what we were there talking about, that night over vegetable lasagna and spaghetti, but neither of us wanted to spell it out. This deep part of me knew what she only suspected: I wasn’t really the sort of guy she needed. I didn’t really do this. Whatever this was. No one belonged to me and I didn’t belong to anyone either. Not that it was particularly what I wanted, but it was how I understood life and it was an easy formula to understand—business, really. Here’s how it works:
If you want to get hurt, belong to someone. If you want to live free and uninhibited, belong to no one.
But the thing is, life is one hell of a business man: it’s an even trade. You belong to no one, but in return you can never have someone. It’s cold and it’s cruel, but that’s what you accept when you’re afraid to lose control.
Our love story wasn’t quite what I expected out of love stories. It wasn’t kissing in the middle of a road, you know…in the rain. At night. After a blow-out fight. Or whatever it was that Nicholas Sparks inflicted upon the entire American population. Our love story was quiet. It looked a lot like coming home at the end of a long day, passing smiles and catching up with the person on the other side of the door. It was star-gazing and talking about everything—everything that hurt, everything that pulsed, everything that hoped. I was four weeks in when I knew it was official. I was four months in when I knew it was love.
As for Victoria, she probably knew the whole time. She’s always had a way of knowing these things.
The night it happened, well. . .it was late March and the whole world was holding its breath, like something big was about to happen and we were all just in the middle of the page-turn, waiting for something, anything, to happen. I’ve found that as a character in a story, we see more of the white spaces than we do the actual lettering and it’s beautiful, maddening, heart-stopping, breath-taking, all-of-the-above story-telling. It was a mad hatter sort of night—the moon dipped in gold and tilted to one side, the corners tipped into a mischievous grin. I swear the Cheshire cat was back there somewhere, daring me to dream. I was hand-in-hand with Victoria, beachside, watching the tide pool in and out. She was leaned into me, my arms wrapped tightly around her, neither of us saying much of anything. It was a “beautiful night” here and an “mhm” there, the sort of night where the sky does all the talking for you. I hadn’t meant to leave that night so wordless, but it seemed to be the only thing to do. Had I known what was about to happen, I would’ve filled the moments with words. I would’ve told her what she meant to me. Had I known how many moments were about to be empty, wordless, hopeless, I would’ve restored all faith. If only I’d known.
But I didn’t. In life, that’s the hand you’re dealt sometimes. The future, mysterious though it may be, isn’t ours to own, which is why we’re always reaching for it, always pressing into it. If we knew everything life would send our way, there would be no future, no passion, no hope, no game. On one hand, I wish I could go back and provide more closure for the following two weeks in Victoria’s life but on the other hand, I wouldn’t change a thing. What happened grew our relationship and how could I regret that? How does anyone regret growth, even if it hurts for a time?
So I sat there wordless, thinking through cognitive theories and mapping out what I had left to do for my exam Monday morning. Laced together, we watched the waves dance under the stars. I don’t know how many wordless hours passed, but eventually they were gone and we were left with the decision to stay or go. She elbowed me slightly in the ribs, “Hey Charlie?”
“Yeah?” I smiled to the dark.
“I have a pretty early morning tomorrow,” she began, trailing off.
“And…so do you…”she continued.
“So…maybe…we should start towards the car…” she tilted her head towards me.
“Charlie!” she grabbed her phone and smacked me with it.
“What?” I laughed, shielding myself playfully.
“All right, you lose your privileges. I’m making an executive decision,” she rose and grabbed her bag and my keys, “I’m leaving with or without you.”
I feigned a sad face, “How will I get home?”
“You’ve got legs, sir,” she said, starting to run towards the car. I caught up to her in a moment and grabbed the keys from her hand, “I call shotgun!”
“Charlie!” she tried to catch up to me, but I was faster. I reached the car first and hauled myself inside, “Sucker.”
“CHARLIE,” she was fighting laughter, pulling at the door handle, “Unlock the door!”
I rolled down the window, cocking my head to the side, “I’m sorry, ma’am. But hitchhiking is not a victimless crime. Might I suggest an Uber?”
“No thanks, I’m already driving home with one creep for free.”
“Who said this was a free ride? A guy’s gotta have his standards.”
She stopped, folded her arms, and gave me a death-glare, “Fine.”
Uh oh. I grinned at her, “All right, all right, hop in,” I leaned over and unlocked the door but as soon as she opened the door I shot off into the dark, with her running behind me.
“I am so done!” she yelled, “You’re such an idiot!”
I laughed, “Okay, I’m sorry. I won’t do it again.”
She stopped, “You promise?”
“On your life,” I said sincerely, giving her a puppy dog face.
Giving me a stern look, she finally blew out an exasperated breath, muttering,“Okay,” as she tossed her bag in through the window and started for the door. I took off again.
She ran after me, “I’m going to kill you!” I slowed down and she caught up, gripping the door handle and swinging herself in. Instantly I was being smacked, “You big jerk!” she laughed and gave me a final swat.
“I thought you were in!”
“Bull, Charlie. BULL,” she turned to the window with her nose up high, “None for you, buster.”
“Aw, don’t be like that,” I grinned mischievously, “You know you love me.”
“Yeah, yeah, love is patient, blah, blah, blah.”
I blinked, “Are you…quoting the Bible to me?”
“It gets me through the hard times.”
And that was the last moment I remember before it happened. I was laughing, looking over at her as I merged onto the highway. It was a truck in the far right lane that hit us and I didn’t even see it coming. I saw her face, mid-sentence, paused in shock, and turned to witness the bright lights as horns blared and darkness took me. Looking back, the scariest thing was I didn’t even have time to stop. It scares me how life works that way sometimes.
Slipping into darkness, I heard outlines of my own name, “Charlie! Charlie! Charlie, wake up!” But it was too late; I couldn’t pull myself to consciousness no matter how much I struggled.
“People say that I am heartless; I’ve just learned to use my heart less.” -Neon Jungle
I was riding a wave, hardcore, running my hand against the shield of water that was taking me somewhere. It was like I was lucid dreaming, that sensation where you know you’re not dealing in reality but something else. But I couldn’t wake up to save my life. At times it was like I heard hushed whispers, someone saying, “Charlie! Charlie!” But I couldn’t make it to the surface to save my life. Instead I went deeper in, following the rhythm of the waves, my board under my feet. But it wasn’t my board. I couldn’t feel anything. I was there, but I wasn’t. I was alive, but this wasn’t real. Something was happening and I could feel it pulsing in every vein. I closed my eyes for a minute, praying I woke up when they opened.
I opened my eyes and the pipeline was coming to an end. I came to the end and was quite literally spit out onto shore. I leaned onto my elbows, sprawled on wet sand, and looked around, “What,” I muttered, “the hell?”
Dusting myself off, I saw a gangly girl sprawled out on the sand several yards away. Facedown, she didn’t move a muscle as I cautiously approached her and nudged her with my foot, “Hello? Ma’am?”
She didn’t move.
Something had happened here. I surveyed my surroundings, carefully—wreckage was all around me in heaping piles of storm-torn pieces of wood, glass bottles, torn pieces of yellowed-cloth like from the mast of a ship. A ship? I strained my eyes, searching the horizon for any clues but the fog was too thick.
Turning my attention back to the slender girl laid across the sand, I sighed and rubbed the back of my neck, “Look,” I might as well have been talking to a brick wall, “I don’t know if you’re playing possum or if you’re actually listening, but…”
She woke up suddenly and stood to her feet, “Gone,” she said, “Where?” She turned and looked at me, her eyes growing wide in recognition, “No,” she said, “No.”
I took a few steps back, completely confused, “Uh…hi,” I extended my hand because what else was I supposed to do in this situation? “I’m Charlie.”
She stared at my extended hand and looked back up at me quickly, her gray eyes looking a bit familiar, “Not how things are done here. Wrong timing.”
“I…uh,” I didn’t know what to say, “I’m not from here.”
“Can you tell me where I am exactly?”
She picked up her bag that had been tossed, scattering scraps of paper everywhere, and I took a minute to glance over her. She was brunette, pale, tall, skinny, hardly any flicker of life behind a blank face, and dressed in all black. She dusted off her black jeans, dug her heeled-boots into the sand, and gathered the scraps of paper and placed them back in her bag, turned to me and folded her arms, “What?”
Stunned, I grasped at more words, “I…uh…”
“You said that already. Please just leave.”
As if I could. “Wait. What’s your name?”
She looked at me, “Penthos.”
Blinking, I asked as nicely as I could, “Penthos?”
“Yes. That’s who I am.”
“Well…I’m Charlie…” I trailed off, “Can you just point me in—”
She held up a hand, quickly running out of patience, “Look. I have things to do.”
“Believe me, I get it. I just need—“
“Go away,” she turned on her heel and stomped away.
I’d had enough of her nonsense already. “Hey!” I yelled, “I’m not exactly asking for much here. Just tell me how to get out of here and I’ll leave. Or did you forget the part where I’m not from here?”
She turned back to me and coldly responded, “There is no way out, okay? You’re in the subconscious, Chelsea, and whatever it is that brought you here is the only thing that can take you out. Got it?”
“First off, my name is Charlie and I think you know that. Secondly, what do you mean subconscious?”
She ran a hand over her face, “Look, Chad. I don’t have the time or the patience to run through all the inner workings of the human brain with you.”
At least she’d gotten the correct gender this time. “It’s Charlie and thank you for insulting my intelligence.”
“Well, Chuck, I just make observations. But I suggest you just suck it up, buttercup. Because life just dealt you a bad hand,” she made a small bow, “Welcome to the club.”
“Any club you’re part of I’m sure would be a real peach, but no thanks. I’ll just find my own way out.”
“Good luck and all, but I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
I turned back to her for a minute, “What makes you say that?”
She turned coy, “You’ll see.”
I really hated Penthos. “See what?”
Penthos smirked and turned on her heel, “I have a feeling we’ll all know when you do.”
“Do what?”I ran after her and grabbed her elbow, “You have no idea what I’ve been through.”
She stopped and turned to face me, eyes darkening by the second, “What you’ve been through? What. you’ve. been. through,” she spoke darkly, placing emphasis on each syllable, “What do you know about grief? About pain? Tell me what you know.”
Her rage startled me and I took a step back, still indignant, “About as much as you, I’d guess.”
“Grief,” she snarled, “is all I am. Tell me you know it like I do.”
The familiarity I’d once seen in her eyes was clouded over by rage, “I mean…I’m sorry. I didn’t know…what do you mean it’s all you are?”
“Penthos…” she stared at me in disbelief as if she couldn’t imagine someone not knowing all the meanings to all the names in the world.
I stared back, “Y…yes?”
“It’s Greek, you idiot.”
“Oh. For grief? I mean, it’s just a shot in the dark but I mean…”
“For the love of all that’s good and holy,” she muttered, rubbing the bridge of her nose.
“For the love of all that’s good and holy? Huh. That’s a funny name, but if you say so…” I grinned, watching her light up with anger.
“No, you idiot!” she snapped, “Penthos does mean grief. I just couldn’t believe your idiocy.”
“Well forgive me for not being fluent in an ancient language.”
Shaking her head, she looked me over, “Charlie…it means free man, huh?”
“I don’t really know to be honest with you.”
“Free man,” she sounded it out like she was examining it carefully, before tossing me a look, “It’s really all you are too, isn’t it?”
“Sure, whatever,” I rolled my eyes for the first time in years, “When I said I don’t really know, I guess I should have added that I don’t really care either.”
“Ah, I know,” she was looking at me like I had two heads, her gray eyes turning cold, “You never did.”
At the flicker of her eyes, I started putting pieces together—the face was distant, but the eyes were somehow familiar. Realization was hitting me hard and I looked deeper into her eyes, studying any signs of familiarity. “I’m sorry…do I know you?”
-Chasing Dandelions, Amanda Russell