Dark Bowers, Ch. 1, Pt. 1

So. It’s National Novel Writing Month, and because I hate free time and love the threat of public failure, I’m going to attempt it on my blog. The goal is 1,700-ish words a day for the entirety of November. Undoubtedly I’ll go over some days and under others. I’ll likely miss a few days completely. But damnit, I have every intention of having a novel written by the end of the month. I’d say more, but I’m a bundle of caffeinated, nervous energy, so it’s probably best if I just let the writing speak for itself. Or mumble for itself. Or make raspberries for itself. Whatever. Here we go. Enjoy!

Madison

 

The drive was always the worst part.

Madison had learned this particular lesson again and again with her sisters. No matter who else was in the car with you, no matter how excited you all were, no matter where you were going, if the drive was longer than a few hours, you were going to run out of things to talk about.

There was a pattern to it, really, an obvious one. First you talked about where you were going and all the awesome and exciting things you would do once you got there. Then you talked about the things you wouldn’t do. You shared stories of mistakes you’d made and wouldn’t make again, the bad experiences you’d had and the lessons you learned. You teased each other it and laughed about it. You moved on to small talk after that.

“Alright, girls! What’s new?”

“Oh, my God! Did I tell you about so and so?”

“No, you didn’t!”

“Yeah, we blah blah blah!”

“Oh, my God! That’s so great! I’m so happy for you!”

And so on and so forth. The drive from Phoenix to Las Vegas was perfect for this. You could go through the whole cycle, and by the time you ran out of new material to discuss, you were close enough to your destination that you could start getting excited about that instead. The silences that filled the car then became moments of nervous anticipation and excitement instead of empty space where everyone slowly realized they had nothing to say to each other. The drives from San Francisco to Vegas weren’t as fun for that reason; when you hit that wall of silence at the fourth hour you had four more to go before the excitement would kick in. Oh, certainly it would, and then the awkwardness and the tension would all be forgotten, but those four hours of silence became an eternity.

And there was no Las Vegas at the end of this trip. Just a six hour drive and a cabin in the woods that Lawrence’s family owned. The whole thing had been his and Teddy’s idea. Get the old gang back together, waste away a good chunk of their summer like they used to. Why not, right? They were done with school, they hadn’t moved on to real jobs yet. They could certainly afford to spend a week out in the woods, drinking and laughing and getting high and hiking and swimming and catching up with each other and doing the things they hadn’t really done in years. It’d be fun. It’d be good.

Even if the drive was one hour of concrete, one hour of grassy fields, and four hours of trees.

Even if the drive was a damn eternity, and an eternity spent with people you had barely spoken to in nine months, people you hadn’t really been close to in four years, was so much worse than one with your sisters. You couldn’t talk about the parties you’d been to, the events you’d planned, the boys you’d loved and lusted after and ignored. Everything carried with it the unspoken brevity of a story only half-told or else the weight of an entire history that needed to be explained.

“So… How has everyone been?”

“Oh, okay. I was dating this guy for a while, and I thought things were getting pretty serious, but then he cheated on me.”

“Oh, my God! That’s horrible!”

“Yeah. We broke up and everything, and I’m not happy about it, but he had a really rough childhood and I think that…” and so on, until it all became a sort of impossible, overwhelming buzzing. Until you were nearly ready to cry from heartbreak for the girl who had been your best friend back in high school, nearly ready to cry from boredom over the soap opera drama of people whose names you couldn’t keep track of and whose lives you had no stake in. Nearly ready to cry from despair over the sense that life was like an engine that just sort of wound itself up and took off without you.

Not that Madison’s life had taken off without her. Oh, no. Far from it. But she’d seen and done so many amazing things over the past four years, over the last year in particular, that it was hard to imagine what other people’s lives had been like. She’d spent the fall semester in England, seen France and Spain and Italy on long weekends. Two weeks on a whirlwind tour of Brussels, Amsterdam, Berlin, and then back home just in time for Christmas and New Year’s. The classes, the parties, the flings, the pictures, the videos. She’d been a fixture of the club scene in London, practically a celebrity, just like she’d always said she’d be. Coming home was almost like a vacation, a breath of air before the rest of her life of networking and marketing herself and establishing her personal brand. Of being discovered and putting herself out there.

There was so much Madison could say about everything she’d seen and done and learned, and here she was listening to Kore go on about her mess of a love life, and she was nearly in tears. Tears for Kore’s pain, tears for the brave face that Kore tried to put up to distance herself from that same pain, tears for Kore thinking that any of this mattered in the long run. Boys came and went. It was best not to get attached.

“I mean, I don’t hold it against him, you know? I really don’t.”

“I know, sweetie.”

“I mean, he’s a product of his environment. We all are, of course, but his environment was just… Just so shitty, you know? When your home and your childhood are a mess, you can’t kind of help but be a mess, too.”

“Still–”

“Oh, I know. I mean, I forgive him and I understand him, but it’s still his fault. He doesn’t get a pass just because the world shit on him. He just gets a little bit of understanding before and after I kick him out on his ass.”

Madison’s eyes darted over to the passenger seat where Kore sat smiling sadly and looking at her with a sort of good-natured exhaustion that was every bit as practiced and rehearsed as a movie star’s grin. She was valedictorian four years ago, Madison thought. Her eyes ran up and down her friend’s body, her face staying neutral but her mind analyzing and dissecting what she found there. She was so smart and quiet and maybe a little too plain, but put together. And now her hair’s cut all crazy and five different colors and she’s all piercings and tattoos and mismatched clothes and shitty boyfriends.

“An individual’s got to understand and own what they’re bringing into the world. Anyone who doesn’t is just making it a less beautiful place,” Anna said from the back. Madisons’ eyes darted to the rear-view mirror and she saw Anna with her head down, her dark hair hanging limp like vines growing over face, and her pen moving recklessly across her notebook, sketching God only knew what drug-inspired hellscape.

“Right,” Kore said with a nod. “People have to take responsibility for their actions. What kind of world would this be if people didn’t take responsibility? I mean, if we don’t expect people to take responsibility for themselves, how are we supposed to make corporations and governments take responsibility for their actions, you know?”

“Exactly,” Anna said, never looking up from her sketch. “It’s about the individual and what they’re contributing, not the collective.”

Madison looked out the driver said window at all the trees and the hills, away from Kore and Anna. God, how did these girls get so far away from me?

The silence set in after that. The car cycled pop and hip-hop and R&B and a few alternative tracks through speaker system. Both Anna and Kore had rolled their eyes and sighed in playful exasperation when they’d seen the playlist Madison had chosen for their drive. Madison had just stuck her tongue out and told them both, “My car, my music.” She tried to imagine what kind of music these two listened to now, what concerts they went to. Probably bands that no one had ever heard of, shows where everyone just stood around with their arms folded, or else maybe a cheap beer or whiskey in their hands, nodding their heads in the music and trying to look like they’d just happened to find themselves in a place where a band was playing for them, and whatever, it was cool, they guessed.

Madison’s eyes darted towards the clock on the dash. Two in the afternoon. Another three hours still left in the drive, and they were already out of things to talk about.

Kore rested with her head on the seatbelt and the door frame, her face locked on the valley below them, an evergreen blanket that rose and fell with the land. Maybe she was asleep. It was pretty peaceful, all things considered, and she couldn’t possibly be as okay with her stupid ex-boyfriend having cheated on her as she said she was. Madison wondered how many men Kore had let herself get involved with at college, how many sullen boys with dark, soulful eyes and troubled backgrounds and free-floating anger that could be confused with passion had broken her heart over the years. Probably too many. And how many hearts had she broken? Probably not enough.

Madison had learned years back not to let your heart get broken, to not even show most people that there was a heart they could break. She’d learned that from her sisters at the beginning, that the best thing you could do when something went wrong was to have poise and grace. Live and laugh and let the world see that you weren’t down and out. And sure, that could mean recognizing that someone who had hurt you didn’t know any better, but it also meant recognizing when someone had lost out. Screw any man who cheated on you. They weren’t worth the tolerance and the understanding. They weren’t worth anything.

Madison looked back at the clock. Only five minutes had passed. She sighed and tried to think of all the fun that her and Kore and Anna and Teddy and Lawrence would have at the cabin, but her mind kept going back to trips to Vegas with the girls, making out with a caramel-skinned boy in the bathroom of a Madrid nightclub, walking the streets of Amsterdam at night, of cameras and flashing lights, of music so loud you could feel it in your bones and free drinks, of the drive and the anticipation and the sound of the silence that filled the car.

Word Count this Post: 1,807

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