Screenwriter in Waiting
...ups and downs, lessons learned and all things screenwriting related in my journey to sell my Oscar winning screenplay.
Once again Regal Cinemas offered a fantastic opportunity to see all of the Best Picture nominees for $35. Add in the popcorn and soda for five buck and it's the deal of a lifetime. As I settled in with my $5 popcorn and soda, plus $4.95 for a box of Rasinets, it came to me: This is a learning opportunity. Don't miss the value of this moment. I have the opportunity to experience what the Academy considers to be the 7 best motions pictures of the year, all in one week. What can I glean from them to incorporate into my own writing?
Lesson 1 - A star is born
Insert characters that people care about.
I'll admit it. I underestimated how long the box office line would be on a Saturday afternoon. And the concession line. And the fact that the 4:00 show actually started at 4:00. So I was about three minutes late for the movie. But from the moment I sat down, I was in love. I fell in love with Ally and Jack as they fell in love with each other. For me the strength of this movie was the performances of Lady GaGa and Bradley Cooper, built on the firm foundation of a well written script. I think the challenge for the modern era of love stories is that the characters are not complex. Or if they are complex, they're not very likable. Forget lovable. Another issue maybe that separately they are likable enough, but together, as a separate entity called a couple, they are not lovable. So what makes a couple lovable?
1. They have their identities of their own - Separate from each other, they have story lines that are intriguing. One doesn't exist on the screen solely for the purpose of the cinematic relationship. You could watch a movie about either one of them and they would be equally interesting and entertaining. In a Star is Born, I could sit and watch about Ally, the flawed beauty, who has always been told she's talented enough, but not pretty enough to make it in the music biz. I could watch a movie about her fight to get that big break. Just as intriguing would be a movie about Jack. Broken past, broken hearted, broken down, but yet he is a star. He is a star because of his brokenness. It's in the fabric of his music. How does he manage to stay on topic, with so many demons pulling him down. Two really good movies, rolled into one.
2. They came together in a way that's organic- Yes, there has to be some choreographing to bring them together, but it doesn't feel forced. It seems natural that this boozed-out singer would stumble into a drag bar, desperate for a drink, and find Ally performing among a see of drag queens, who adored her and accepted her as part of their family. She shines in the cloud of smoke and booze and he can't his eyes off of her. I think is one of those moments where you have to let the story tell you how they come together. You can't really force the characters into finding each other, they have to find themselves. You're role then, as the writer, it to observe and take dictation. Let them him tell you how he would approach her and she'll say how she would react. The first meeting is such a delicate moment. You can't interfere as the writer. Let it breathe. Just sit back and take notes.
3. They have passion. Yes, the bulk of that comes down to the chemistry between the actors, but as the writer you have the responsibility to cultivate the proper soil for passion to bloom. Passion doesn't have to mean sex. Passion hot. There is a concept in the law called "heat of passion." Heat can an fierce argument that is resolved with a kiss, a slow dance when everyone else is doing the electric slide, lost in each others' eyes, oblivious to what's happening around them. Passion is two singers on stage in front an stadium full of people, making love with their voices, blending in perfect harmony--with we as the audience feeling like we're intruding on a very intimate moment between lovers.
4. They are not perfect. If there were ever two flawed people is was Jack and Ally. They were drawn to each other in part because of their flaws, and it's their flaws that draw us, as the audience to them. Nobody likes perfection because we all realize that we're not perfect. We may not all have drinking problems, or struggle with our self-image, but we can relate to imperfection. I think deep down we think: "If those two flawed people can find love, then there's still hope for me." I think the trick with flaws, is there has to be balance. Too many times I've seen a male character who is near sainthood with a woman who is insanely jealous, irrational and controlling--wretched, and I think: "Why on earth would he be with her?" Of course she's not the real love interest. Somehow he manages to get out of that relationship--early in the movie--and he finds his soul mate. A woman who is witty, intelligent, quirky but in a cool way and completely sane and they fall in love. And I call BS. Because the man who would be in a relationship with Miss Wretched would never fall for a woman like Miss Cool and Quirky. Or if he did, he would quickly lose interest because she's not his type. Unless, of course he went through some counseling or read a really, really good self-help book. I'm sure there is a good movie out there that contradicts my belief her. And if someone is able to pull that off, he or she truly is an exceptional writing. All that to say, I just say, in creating your characters, don't go too overboard with flaws. And if you do, make sure it's balanced.
Character development is part research, part observation and part allowing space for the characters to grow and evolve on their own. It's one of the most fun parts of writing for me. As you develop you potential best actress, best actor quality characters, be sure to take time to sketch them out, a bare bones sketch then go back and fill them, adding shades and highlights where you see fit. Find some really good books and articles about character development and actually read them, study them. Finally, study movie performances. What is it about those characters that people liked so much? Or hated so much? For one of my plays the villain ( a really nice guy in real life) stepped on the stage to take a bow and was booed mercilessly. We both smiled, that meant he did his job as an actor and I did my job as a writer.
One final note: After the Oscar the nominations came out, there had been a lot of talk that Bradley Cooper had been snubbed in that he was not nominated for Best Director. To be honest, this movie was just the first of the Best Picture films, so I have nothing to compare him too yet. But I have to say, I agree with the talk. He did an amazing job as a director. (And I'm not just saying this because Cooper is a fellow Eagles fan) His vision. The look and pace of the film. His ability to draw out of Lady GaGa a truly memorable performance. In my humble opinion. I walked out of the theater remembering that my first experience with Bradley Cooper was as the nosey reporter, who could never win Sidney's heart in the TV show Alias. He has truly come a long way. And I believe we'll be seeing him in that Best Director category soon enough.
“You can come and have dinner with me.”
“Dinner. Seriously!” Trisha was so stunned that all she could do was laugh. “Are you seriously asking me out? In the middle of my suicide attempt?”
After thinking about it, Jared realized it did sound a little creepy. He quickly clarified. “Not on a date. Just dinner. I’m new to this town so I don’t know the hot spots. And you could probably stand a good meal. A nice steak, some lobster, some good wine. A nice big hunk of cheese cake?”
“I hate cheesecake.”
“Chocolate cake then. Whatever. It’s on me. We eat, we drink. You don’t even have to talk to me. And if after all that you still feel the same way, well at least you can leave this earth on a full stomach.” He flashed a smile that Trisha could tell had probably opened a lot of doors for him—and a lot of hearts. She did not want to be charmed though. And she certainly didn’t want any chocolate cake.
“Jared. Listen. I appreciate you being so nice to me. But honestly, the last thing I need is someone to be nice to me. All I want is for you is to leave me alone. If your conscience won’t let you do that, then fine, I’ll leave. I can always—“
A pair of headlights seemed to appear out of nowhere. They were heading right for them. Maybe they’ll just keep on going, Trisha hoped. In this cold, self-absorbed society, that’s what people did nowadays anyway. No such luck. The car slowed down and Trisha could see the words written on the door: Carlton Police Department.
“This is not happening,” she mumbled. “This is really not happening.”
The squad car came to a complete stop. Trisha could imagine how this scene must have looked to anyone passing by. Jared and her, sprawled out on the bridge, in the middle of the night, panting hard, their clothes tousled from the struggle. How could she explain this one? She could tell the officer that Jared had attacked her. The Carlton strangler had struck again. That wouldn’t work. It would be a big news story and press from all around world would want to interview her about how she escaped the clutches of death. It was the last thing she needed--to have her face plastered on Dateline as a heroine…or worse, a stone cold liar. But she had to get her story out before Jared. If he told the police the truth, she would end up in a psych ward. Or even worse, she could end up on Dr. Phil, totally humiliated as he tried to help her figure how she became such screw up.
The window glided down and a baby faced officer peered down on them. “You folks all right?”
“Uh…Hi officer…um…”Trisha tried her best to sound breezy, like it was the most normal thing in the world to form a human pretzel with a strange man on a bridge in the middle of the night. She still hadn’t figured out what she could say that wouldn’t land her in a straitjacket. Luckily, Jared did.
“It’s my fault officer…” Jared’s eyes took a quick glance at the officer’s badge and read his name. “Pinsky! Officer Pinsky....My lady and I were sitting here enjoying the stars and…well I got caught in the moment. I mean, look at her. Can you blame me?” He reached over grabbed Trisha’s hand, holding it to his mouth and kissing it. Her hand tingled a little and she was too much in shock to protest. Her eyes remained on the boy officer wondering if he was buying any of this.
“Anyway,” Jared continued. "I started kissing her and I guess we sort of lost our balance and... here we are…” He gestured at their bodies stretched out on the bridge as if it were the natural conclusion to a passionate kiss.
There was no expression in the officer’s face. He shifted his eyes to Trisha. “Is this true ma’am?”
“Huh? Yes, we just can’t get enough of each other—“ Before she could finish getting the words out of her mouth, Jared’s lips were planted on her mouth. Reflexively she pushed him away—hard. “Jared! I’m sure the nice officer doesn’t want to watch us groping all over each other,” she said, coyly.
“You’re right, Sugar Lips. Uh…We haven’t broken any laws have we, officer?”
Officer Pinsky studied the scene a moment longer before responding. On one level, something about it didn’t seem right. But at the same time, his girlfriend sometimes reacted the same way when he kissed her, so he couldn’t say it was out of the ordinary. “Uh…No, but it’s probably not a good idea to lay out on the bridge like that any longer. It could be dangerous.”
“You’re absolutely right.” Jared said then sprang to his feet and gallantly helped Trisha to hers. “By the way, would you happen to know where we could get a good steak dinner?”
“I offer you steak and all you want is a burger? I think I should be offended by that.”
“Why? It all comes from the same cow.” Actually it was the best burger Trisha had ever tasted. Thick and juicy, smothered in onions and gooey cheddar cheese. It could have also been the fact that she had basically only eaten Ramen Noodles for the past thirty days. She could’ve eaten a shoe and it would’ve tasted like filet mignon. Thankfully, she wasn’t eating a shoe. She was eating real Angus beef. And to top it all off, she wasn’t even paying for it. So even though she arrived at the restaurant with no intentions of eating, her stomach had forced her to.
Jared did go for the fancy porterhouse steak, but he didn’t seem to be enjoying his nearly as much as Trisha enjoyed her burger. In fact he had only taken a couple of bites, while Trisha had nearly demolished hers.
“Something wrong with the steak?” she asked while shoveling fries into her face.
“Nope! Just too busy watching you destroy that burger. It’s quite a show.”
With no shame in her game, Trisha, sucked ketchup from her fingers. “Well, I’m glad I’m here to entertain you,” she said, then scooped more french fries into her mouth.
Jared couldn’t help but laugh. He had sat across the table from a lot of pretty girls in his life, but never one who had seemed so comfortable in her own skin as to chow down on her meal like a three hundred pound lineman. But was she comfortable in her own skin? Or was she so comfortable with the fact she was going to die that she didn’t give a damn anymore about what people thought of her? That thought made him admire and pity her all at once. The pity side won and his face turned somber.
“I want you to know this is not entertainment for me, Trish,” he said. “I’m here because I’m concerned not because I’m bored.” He could tell by the way she shifted in her seat that his concern was making her uncomfortable. Clearly she was not a person that people showed a lot of concern for.
“That’s nice Jared, but you really don’t have to be concerned about me.” You won’t really know me long enough to be concerned about me, she wanted to say.
“I know. But, I already am. And that might not be a bad thing for you. I mean, you’re right, I don’t know you. After tonight we may never see each other again. You could tell me all your deepest darkest secrets and who could I tell? So really I’m the perfect guy to talk to about what’s going on, because I can’t use it against you. And who knows? You might actually feel better.”
“I don’t want to feel better.” As if on cue, the waitress set down the banana daiquiri that Trisha ordered. It was her third. She knew the drink wouldn’t make her feel better, but it might make her feel numb.
“Okay, that’s a good place to start,” Jared said. “Why don’t you want to feel better? It’s un-American! We spend billions of dollars each year trying to feel better.”
“Well, I don’t have billions of dollars to spend. I don’t even have one dollar to spend.”
“So it’s about money.”
Trisha shook her head, “Trust me, it would be impossible to some up all of my problems with something as simple as money.”
“But money is part of it.”
She shrugged. “Money is part of it.”
“And if you had all of the money in the world, you would still want to jump off of that bridge?”
“No, I would probably pick some place more expensive, like the Golden Gate Bridge.”
The thought of the Golden Gate Bridge and a weekend escape to San Francisco, stirred up memories in Jared, painful memories. But this was not about him. “So assuming you had a million dollars and the Golden Gate Bridge was closed, what would you—“
“I don’t want to talk about me anymore.” Trisha said abruptly, too abruptly she realized—especially for the first person who had been kind to her in months. She leaned forward and the candle light made her tired eyes sparkle. She said coyly. “Besides, mama always said it’s rude for a girl to do all the talking on a date. So, tell me about you?”
Jared's eyes lit up in surprise. “Oh, so now it’s a date, huh?”
“It is whatever you want it to be, sugar.” Trisha eased her hand under the table and stroked his knee.
This was an act. Jared didn’t know Trisha very well, but he knew she was playing a role for him. Sex kitten. Not because she wanted to jump into bed with him—though he wouldn’t have objected—but she was trying to distract him. He was getting close to something. A nice hot meal always worked wonders in pulling down walls. He knew it. Trisha knew it, and she was desperately trying to keep her walls up. To save her from having to play this vixen role for him any longer, Jared decided to let Trisha off the hook, for now.
“All right. So what do want to know about me?”
“Uh…” Trisha had to think about it for a second. She was used to men responding to her advances. She must have looked more raggedy than she felt. “…uh…I know. Why were you walking out by the bridge tonight? No one walks around there after dark…unless they have a death wish. Everyone else around here’s too afraid. Too many ghost stories.”
“I don’t believe in ghosts.” Jared said, soberly, then took a sip of his beer. “And I’m not from around here, so…”
“Where are you from?”
He was being pretty vague for someone who wanted to know all of her business, Trisha thought. “Out west as in….California… China…”
“Nice. And what brings you out to our lovely little town?”
“Uh, Iet’s just say I was helping out a friend. On a business matter.”
“Yeah? What kind of business are you in?”
“Me? I guess you could say I’m in the listening business.”
“The listening business. You mean you’re a therapist?”
“Something like that.”
“Something like that,” she echoed. “You are such a hypocrite. How do you expect me to open up to you when you won’t tell me anything about you?”
“How am I a hypocrite?," Jared said through a grin. "I’ve answered all of your questions. Not my fault you ask really bad questions."
“Oh, you want a good question. Okay, okay, I’ll think of a good question.” Trisha took a sip from her syrupy sweet daiquiri and contemplated their brief time together. What had she learned about him? What did she want to know? Then it hit her. “What was her name?”
“The girl. The one who had you wandering through the woods in the middle of the night.”
He cocked his head. “What makes you think it was—“
“It’s obvious. You go for a walk at night. That means you’ve got a lot on your mind. Either it’s a money problem or a woman problem. The way you’ve been throwing around money over dinner, I don’t think you’re having a money problem. Sooo….what’s her name?”
Jared slid back in his seat, debating how much of himself he wanted to reveal. Finally, he tossed out a name, “Janet.”
“A fake name, but I’ll work with it,” Trisha said.
“What makes you think it’s a fake?”
“I don’t know. You just don’t seem like the kind of guy that would be mixed up with a girl name Janet.”
“Why? What’s wrong with Janet?”
“Nothing. Nothing’s wrong with Janet. I’m sure she is a perfectly lovely girl. Just not a girl you would be involved with. And certainly not a girl that would have you so worked up that you’d be out walking in the woods at night.”
Jared shook his head and laughed. “I’m sorry, and just what kind of girl would I be involved with?”
“Vulnerable. In need of saving. Janet is a good girl, straight-laced, too boring to get herself in any real trouble, so she wouldn’t even make it on to your radar.”
“Unlike you,” Jared said, while nodding along.
“Unlike me.” Trisha answered, realizing the truth of what she had just said. “But whatever, we can play it your way. It’s just a name. So, what did Janet do that had you wandering in the woods tonight?”
“She uh…she didn’t do anything.”
“Well, what did you do to her?”
“Me?” Deep in thought now, Jared had been asking himself that question for that past week. He still didn’t have an answer. “I…didn’t do anything either. It was just a series of unfortunate events.”
“Unfortunate events that you couldn’t save her from?”
He didn’t answer her. Trisha waited a little longer, watching him stare into his beer like it held all the answers. “Hey! You okay?” She waived a hand in front of his face and he snapped out of it.
“Huh?” Jared sat straight up in his seat, looking like he just woke up from a nightmare. “Hey do you want dessert?”
“Do I want—no I don’t want dessert! I want to hear about Janet and the series of unfortunate events!”
“What? Oh…It’s nothing. I mean, nothing to bore you with.”
“I’ll be the judge of that, thank you!”
“Trust me. It’s nothing.” He drained the remnants of his beer from the still frosty mug. That was it. The vault was closed. He wasn’t giving up anymore juicy tidbits about himself to this girl.
“Okay, well don’t expect me to be an open book when your library is closed.”
“Oh, no worries. I’ve read your book from cover to cover. I already know what’s been bugging you.” Jared stared at her with a smug smirk on his face.
Trisha stared back. “You think so, huh?”
“I know so. “
She raised an eyebrow. “Well you sound pretty confident.”
“I’m always confident. Besides, you already told me everything I need to know.”
“Sure…” Jared took a second to dab the corner of his mouth with his napkin before proving his case. “On the bridge. You said the things that would make life better were: A million dollars, a brother who doesn’t despise you. And just for fun, to live on an island paradise with the man of your dreams,” He parroted Trisha's statement almost word for word. “That tells me that your family, financial and love life are all in the crapper. Am I right?”
He was. But Trisha was never going to give him that satisfaction. She was actually a little offended that this total stranger thought he could just show up, buy her a burger, and be able to sum up her nightmare life in ten words or less. Your family, financial and love life are all in the crapper. Regardless of the fact that she had just blatantly come on to him and he straight up ignored it, he was going to have to work a lot harder than that to get beyond her emotional walls.
One hour and two more sugary, rum filled drinks later, Trisha’s emotional walls had come crumbling down in a wave of slurred speech and sloppy tears. “I don’t know what they expect from me,” she whined. “I mean, is the recession my fault too?”
“Isn’t the recession over?” Jared asked.
“Yeah, that’s why my work dried up.”
“What kind of work?
“Ah!” He nodded.
Trisha rambled on. “Can you believe, Finance Guard, the same people who fired me, are the main ones calling me to pay my bills! I mean, really??”
“Talk about irony.”
“Yeah, ironic, huh?” Trisha, let out a light chuckle that was mixed with a burp. “Excuse me. Anyway, I’ve been trying to pay my bills, but I can’t do that if I don't have a job. I mean, it’s true what they say, you can’t get water from a stone, right?”
Trisha squinted at him, through the haze in her mind. “Huh?”
“Blood. You said water from a stone, but it’s blood,” Jared had no idea why he was being a stickler right now, but he couldn’t just leave it out there. “You can’t get blood from a stone.”
“What the hell difference doesn’t make? It’s the same thing. You can’t get water from a stone either, right?”
“Right…Well, I guess Moses was able to get water from the stone.” He could tell by the blank look on Trisha’s flushed face that the Moses thing went right over her head. He explained, “You know, from the Bible. Moses struck the rock and water poured out for the children of Israel to drink.”
She was still staring blankly at him. Then she said, “So what, you’re a pastor now, on top of being a therapist?”
“Sorry, I was just—“
“Whatever, dude! All I’m saying is. The money’s all gone.” Car’s gone. Cable’s gone. And after tomorrow, my apartment’s gone. I was evicted, so…”
“I know it looks bad right now, Trish, but there’s got to be another option. Can’t you crash on somebody’s couch for a few months until you find work? What about your parents?”
“I was on my way to go see them until you stopped me.”
Jared paused. He had to think that one over. Finally,it hit him. “Oh! You mean they’re…”
“Dead. Yup, it’s just me and my big bro now.” Trisha let out another tiny burp. “Ha! And he wants nothing to do with me. That goes for my friends too. They bailed on me years ago.”
“All of them?”
Trisha nodded. “Don’t ever become an addict, J.”
“Jared.” He hated being call J.
“Sorry. Don’t ever become an addict, Jared. It’s rough on friendships.”
“You’re an addict?” He looked around the table that was littered with empty glasses that had once been filled with booze. "Maybe we shouldn't be..."
“Don’t worry. It was pills. I was a pill head. For about a year. I’ve been clean for five years now.” She said, proudly.
“Thanks. But when I was bad, I was really bad. I burned a lot of bridges.” Her head flopped on to the table and the glasses on the table clanked. The old couple across the aisle looked concerned. From beneath the mop of hair that shrouded Trisha's face, Jared heard a whimpering sound. He thought she was crying, but when Trisha lifted her head, he realized she was snickering.
“What’s so funny?”
“Talk about irony!” Trisha was laughing near hysterically now. “I burned a lot of bridges and now I tried to jump off a bridge…” She let out a long deep sigh. “Man, life sometimes can really be…pathetic.”
To Jared’s relief, the waitress sauntered up to the table. “Can I get you folks another--”
“Water.” Jared said. “We’ll have some water.”
“And chocolate cake,” Trisha added.
“To go.” Jared interjected. “We’ll have the chocolate cake to go, please?”
Trisha looked in his eyes and saw a familiar look. Jared was ready to bail. She couldn’t blame him. Lately, she had that effect on a lot of people. “Oh, I’m sorry. I went too far, didn’t I?”
“No, it’s just—“
“And you were being so nice. I’m sorry, Jared. I swear, I wasn’t always this flakey.”
“Don’t apologize. You’re under a lot of pressure. I get it.”
“But it’s no excuse to act like a total lush.”
“Look, there’s no rule book for how to handle a crisis. Hey, maybe we should write one. Then we’d both be rich, right?”
She smiled at his lame attempt at cheering her up. “Aww! You are so sweet, trying to make me not feel like complete loser. I wish you had known me six years ago. Before the…well, before. I was fun. Had lots of friends. Artsy! I used to be artsy. I would paint, do pottery, make jewelry…”
“You can get it back again, Trish. As long as you’re alive, there’s always a chance things will get better.”
“Or worse! I tried to make it better. I paid back the friends that I stole from. None of them will speak to me. I volunteered to teach delinquent girls how to paint at the rec center. One of the girls mugged me! I’ve sent my brother and his kids Christmas and birthday presents every year for the past four years and they come back every time, unopened. When I was using, I had more friends, more attention than I could handle. Since I’ve been walking the straight and narrow, I’m a ghost. Completely invisible. I don’t exist to anyone anymore.” There was a tear in Trisha’s eye but and voice turned bitter. “Not anymore. I won’t be invisible when they fish my bloated corpse out of the river. That’ll get their attention.”
She dug into the front pocked of her jeans and pulled out a Ziploc baggie. “I left them a note, ya know?” She flipped the baggie across the table and it landed in front of Jared. He picked it up. A torn piece of loose leaf paper. She had tucked it in the baggie, apparently to keep it from getting wet when she went in the river. In big beautiful script the message was loud and clear: You did this to me! The simple message ate at him. It was her eulogy, her obituary. He could even see it chiseled on her headstone. The middle finger that Trisha intended to fire in the direction of the cold, cruel world that had turned its back on her.
Trisha knew the note would affect him. If Jared was halfway out the door, this note would chase the rest of him out of there. He thought of himself as superman, but that note would be his kryptonite. It was her truth. The reality that everyone couldn’t be saved. Everyone didn’t have a happy ending waiting for them on the other side of the rainbow. And as nice as it was to play around in his fantasy land for the past couple of hours, it was time for Trisha to get back to reality. There was a bridge out there calling her name. She just needed Jared to plop some money down on the table to cover the check and excuse himself. He had done his good deed for today. More than anyone had done for her in a long time. Not because he fed her, but because, for two hours, he actually cared about her. It was time to let him off the hook. Trisha had shown him that note because she intended it to be his get-away-from-this-lunatic-free pass.
But when the waitress returned, with the two hunks of chocolate cake in plastic containers, Jared smiled and said, “Uh, we changed our minds. We’re gonna have the cake here…and some coffee. Lots of coffee.”
The red Prius pulled up in front of the yellow Victorian with the white trim on Lavender Lane. It was in the middle of a quiet tree-lined street, illuminated by a single street lamp at the end of the block. Quaint. Just like every neighborhood in Carlton. No noise. Just the rustle of the wind and the occasional dog barking.
“This is where you live? Jared asked, looking up at the lofty three-story structure.
“On the third floor. Mr. Banks rents only artist-types. Since we’re the only ones who appreciate beauty of Queen Manor.”
“That’s what he named the house. You know, after Queen Victoria…since it’s a Victorian and all.”
“Gotcha.” Jared tore his eyes away from the house and looked at Trisha. Her eyes were half opened slits, as she leaned her head against the headrest. Maybe it was the liquor, or the fact that her stomach was full, or the cool jazz that was blowing through the stereo, but she seemed at peace. For the first time tonight, Jared had caught a glimpse of what the other Trisha must have been like. The one from six years ago. Calm, quiet, with tiny smile bending her lips. He wanted to kiss those lips. There was a time when he would have already kissed those lips and probably done more. But right now, he was content with watching her be content.
“Thank you,” she said, sleepily.
“I should be thanking you.”
Trisha let out a weary chuckle. “Thanking me for what? Not throwing up in your car.”
“What do I care? It’s a rental. No, I meant, thank you for having dinner with me. It’s been a while since I’ve had dinner with a beautiful woman.”
“You mean a crazy woman.” Trisha opened her eyes wider and studied Jared’s face. His eyes were tired. She could tell he had taken on much more than he had bargained for when he decided to go for that walk tonight. “Why did you stay?”
Jared felt her hand rest on his arm. “Huh?”
“The waitress brought dessert. You were ready to go. I wanted you to go, but you decided to stay. Why?” The sensation of her fingers brushing against his skin made him feel warm.
He thought it over and said. “I guess, because it would have been too easy. I never like things too easy.”
Trisha closed her eyes and nodded. “Yeah, that sounds about right.” Her voice purred, as she laced her fingers between Jared’s fingers. She toyed with the idea of giving him her phone number. Then she remembered her cell phone service had been shut off—which brought back a waive of other bad memories, like the broken air conditioner. It was swelteringly hot on the third floor this time of year. She had also remembered that the cable that had been disconnected, the empty fridge and oh yeah…the fact that she hadn’t shaved her legs or had a pedicure in at least six months, so a one night stand was absolutely out of the question. It figures. She finally meets superman and she was too broke to be a halfway decent Lois Lane. ©2016
The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Bridge may have been named after one of the greatest presidents in history, but it had seen its fair share of heartache in the 70 plus years that it spanned the Grey River, here in Carlton. The Grey River had seen so much death that the locals took to calling it the River Styx. By day, the Grey River was beautiful--carving its way through Laurel Valley, creating a majestic portrait of steel blue water against the backdrop of thick green foliage. But by night, the River Styx, was an oily black abyss that slithered through the shroud of trees that lined its banks.
It didn’t make sense that such a quiet, simple town could know so much death. In 1953, Jim Lowell, the mayor of Carlton, slid on a patch of black ice and drove off the bridge to his death, taking with him his wife and three children. Two years later, a school bus carrying the high school football team, followed the mayor’s path and crashed into the guardrail. It didn’t go over the edge that time, but the bus driver was killed as well as the captain of the football team. Six years later, bodies bound in duct tape, started popping up in the Grey River. Seven bodies in all. The Carlton Strangler, Carlton’s first and only serial killer, was believed to have abducted seven adolescent boys as they hitch hiked on I-47. After binding them and strangling them to death, he also tossed them over the FDR.
By then the bridge had become notorious for its morbid past. Every year, it seemed at least two distraught people would fling themselves from the ledge in a desperate attempt to end their lives. This year Trisha Michaels would be distraught person number one.
Trisha was young and single, beautiful and completely fed up with life. She rode her bike the two miles from her apartment to the bridge, knowing what needed to be done. Sunny, her cat, had a week’s worth of food to keep her fat self nice and plump until someone came and to collect her. She had made up her bed, cleaned out the fridge and even scrubbed out the coffee stain that had been enbedded in her living room carpet for the past three years. If the police showed up and did and investigation, she didn’t want them to think that she was a slob—a suicidal slob.
Trisha walked about 50 yards up the trail until she reached the bridge. It was 9:12 in the evening. The place was deserted. No one dared hang around FDR Bridge after dark. People barely liked to drive over the bridge at night--too many horror stores. Trisha was there alone. She was always alone. This time, though, she needed to be alone. She slid her legs over the railing and took a deep breath. The muggy summer air felt heavy in her lungs. Below her lay what felt like a black hole. It was too dark to see the Grey River. Trisha could hear only the water rushing by, noisily against the stillness of night, like the cry of wounded souls urging her to join them.
She didn’t cry. Trisha was surprised by that. She had cried so much these past few months, maybe she had used up all of her tears. And yet her hands trembled like a nervous cat. She took in shallow breaths, as if breathing too hard might cause her to accidently topple over into the river before she was ready.
To calm herself, Trisha tore her eyes from the inky blackness below and looked up to the sky. A moonless night. The stars glittered in the darkness, like the twinkle lights on her old family Christmas tree. A ghost from her past. It comforted her, reminding her of a simpler, more joyous time in her life. A time when she was part of a family and lived in a home full of love. Faces flashed before her: her mother humming carols as she tidied up the house. Grandma arriving at the door, plump and pretty, arms loaded down with sweet potato pies and banana pudding. Trailing behind her, Pop Pop, in his red and green, reindeer sweeter, smelling like tobacco and ranting about the holiday traffic. Her dad was the family photographer, always snapping pictures, while pretending to be surprised at all the gifts Santa had managed to sneak into the house under his nose—as if Trisha hadn’t stopped believing in Santa years ago. They were all gone now. Faded memories, almost transparent in her mind. But she would see them again soon.
She closed her eyes and said a prayer. Another face materialized. Trevor. Her older brother by two years. Every Christmas he hovered in the background keeping a mental tally of how much his gifts cost in comparison to Trisha’s. He had not crossed over to the other side with the rest of her family. He was still alive and well—last she heard. She hadn’t seen him in 10 years. She wondered how he would react when he heard the news. Would he shed a tear when he learned that things had gotten so bad in his little sister’s life that she felt she had no other choice but to end it? He probably wouldn’t throw a party. Or shed a tear. He would be indifferent, just like he was the last time she saw him. Back then it had been an addiction, a disorderly conduct then a shop lifting arrest that caused her to call on him for help. Bail money. He hung up on her. But the next day, he bailed her out then put her out of his life for good. “Lose my number,” he had told her. He meant it. And so she did.
Okay, so she had been a mess then and 10 years later she was a mess again—though no longer an addict. Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference… She chanted the prayer she had grown so familiar with in Narcotics Anonymous, over and over beneath her breath. She had enough wisdom to know that could not change the past. But she did have the courage to change her present. She didn’t have to live this way anymore. Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference…Trisha gripped the railing a little tighter and leaned into the night. God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference… The river’s wind brushed through her hair, enticing her to let go. Her gripped loosened until it was just her finger tips keeping her tethered to the bridge. Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference…
She let go.
Trisha braced herself for the smack of her body striking the water, the rush of the cold Grey River pouring into her mouth, nose, her lungs. She prepared for the pounding her body would take as it crashed into rocks and tumbled in the current. None of that happened. The only force she felt was that of her body crashing backward onto the paved road on FDR Bridge. What happened? Her eyes popped open and she saw the top chords of the bridge. She looked down and saw an arm draped around her.
“No, no, no, no!” Trisha half yelled, half sobbed.
The arm was attached to a breathless man. Trisha could tell he wanted to say something but he was panting too hard to get the words out. She made a run for it, scrambling back to her feet and racing for the railing.
The breathless man tackled her. “Are you insane?”
Trisha tried to push his hands away. “Get off of me, you freak!”
“I can’t…let you…do…it” His words were cut off because Trisha was smushing her hands in his face, willing to do whatever she needed to break free of his grasp. Kicking. Shoving. Slapping. His grip was like steel. “Man, you’re really serious about doing this are you?”
“Yes!” Trisha screamed, scratching her nails deep into his hands.
“Ouch!” He howled and finally let her go. “All right, fine! Go! Jump!”
At the release from his grasp, Trisha tumbled forward. She was exhausted from the struggle. She managed to scurry a few feet from the man then collapsed, rolled over on her back and rested on her elbows. The sweet stillness of the night had been interrupted by heavy breathing from both Trisha and the man. He was tall. Even though he was doubled over and leaning on his side, she could tell that he was a tall man, with the lean frame of a runner. His eye brown eyes, which studied her, were squinting. She assumed that he was in need of those glasses, which lay on the road beside him.
“The name’s Jared,” he said between gasps.
She didn’t answer. Trisha was concentrating on building up enough strength to make another run for the railing. But glaring didn’t require any additional energy, so she shot an evil glare in his direction. Then her eyes started to sting as the first tears emerged. She fell back on her back and felt warm tears leak out of the corners of her eyes. “The one thing,” she muttered.
She turned her eyes back to him. “This was the one thing I could change and you took it from me.”
“I’m sorry. I see someone in trouble and I have to come to the rescue.”
“So, what, you have some sort of Superman complex?”
“Superman?” He let out a dry chuckle. “Hardly. I’m just someone who knows we always have options. I try to help people find it.”
“Well, I already found my option.”
Jared slid his glasses back on. “That’s no option. Suicide is what you do when you think you have no options. But there’s always option.”
Trisha sat up and wiped the tears from her cheeks. “No offense. But you’re talking out of your ass.”
“See that? You’ve still got some fight in ya. You’re not ready to die.”
“You don’t know anything about me.”
“I watched you sit on that rail for twenty minutes. If you had wanted to jump, you would’ve done it,” Jared said, confidently. “But you didn’t. You sat there. Waiting for something. Waiting for someone to come along and save you.”
“I came this late because I didn’t want to be saved!”
“I’m sure on some level that’s true. But deep down, you don’t want to die. You just want things to be better. I get that. So what is it? What is it that you want to be better?
Trisha stared at Jared and almost answered him. He had warm brown eyes that made her think he might actually give a damn. And that was the worst thing for her. The last thing she needed was a glimmer of hope. She did not dare believe that there was another option. All that would do is prolong her suffering. If there was another option, it would just turn out to be a false hope and she would end up right back here on this bridge a week later, a month later, or even a year later.
Finally, she spoke. “You know what would make things better? A million dollars, a brother who doesn’t despise me…oh and just for fun, how about living on an island paradise with the man of my dreams. Can you make that happen Superman?”
“A million dollars, huh? You don’t want much, do ya? I mean, what would you do with it?” He wasn’t really interested in the answer. He just wanted to keep her talking. Keep her mind off of that rail.
Trisha sighed. “Screw it up. That’s what I do.”
“Hey. We’re all screw ups. I could tell you some colossal screw up tales that--"
“Don’t you think I know what you’re doing?”
“What am I doing?”
“You’re stalling for time until the police get here.”
He shook his head, adamantly--a little too adamantly. “Nah, no police. I don’t fool with police. It’s just you and me kiddo. So if you want to jump, I’m the only one here to try and stop you. I’m the only one here with another option.”
“Yeah, what’s that?”
“You can come and have dinner with me.”
“Dinner. Seriously!” Trisha tipped her head back and laughed. She had to laugh. It was so typical of her life. “Are you seriously asking me out? In the middle of my suicide attempt?”
“Not on a date. Just dinner. I’m new to this town so I don’t know the hot spots. And you could probably stand a good meal. A nice steak, some lobster, some good wine. A nice big hunk of cheese cake?”
“I hate cheesecake.”
“Chocolate cake then. Whatever. It’s on me. We eat, we drink. You don’t even have to talk to me. And if after all that you still feel the same way, well at least you can leave this earth on a full stomach.”
He flashed a smile that Trisha could tell had probably opened a lot of doors for him—and a lot of hearts. She did not want to be charmed though. And she certainly didn’t want any chocolate cake...
It’s that time of year again! The summer blockbuster movie season. I am a confessed movie junkie. In particular, I am a fan of those big budget movies bloated with special effects.
Some time in April, I create my checklist of movies that I must indulge in this summer. Those days when I will escape the summer heat, and hunker down in my local theater’s cool air conditioned facilities, armed with my popcorn, Rasinettes and cherry coke, and just escape.
Sadly this summer seems to be lacking movies that I can’t wait to plunk down my hard earned money for. Sure there are a handful that I’ll see, but not like in years past. So I decided to create my own list of Top 10 summer blockbusters. Movies that always put me in mind of summer and make me squeal with excitement no matter how times I see them.
I want to preface my list by stating that I tried to limit my list to movies that I actually saw on the big screen, not that I saw for the first time on video or on cable. So, if your favorite movie is not here, that may be reason. I based my list on The Dissolve's "50 Greatest Summer Blockbusters." See their top 10 here. Of course, some of my faves didn't make the Dissolve's list, but they are special to me nonetheless. So, here we go:
10. Pirates of the Caribbean – The Curse of the Black Pearl (June, 2003)
I loved this movie so much I saw it twice in the same day. Beautiful beaches, swashbuckling adventures, lots of laughter; and best of all Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom combo –what more could a girl ask for?
9. Ghostbusters (June, 1984)
I must have seen this movie a thousand times, but I find myself watching it whenever I stumble upon it on TV…and I crack up every time!
8. ET the Extra-Terrestrial (June 1982)
Funny, visually stunning, and all of the whimsy one would expect from a Spielberg movie. Not only that, but kids roaming the streets out on an adventure, just epitomizes summer to me (except we never found any aliens during our summer adventures).
7. Terminator 2 – Judgement Day (July 1991)
Hands down, this is the best of the Terminator series. I remember sitting in the theater being blown away by the unstoppable, molten metal version of the Terminator, who was straight up off the chain!!! (and yes, I can say “off the chain” since the movie came out in 1991)
6. Batman (June, 1989)
The Michael Keaton Batman. To me this is the one that really kicked off the phenomena of the Comic Book Hero Franchise (and that is a good thing or bad thing depending on who you ask). I loved this franchise because it was dark, but funny. And it didn’t take itself too seriously, which is my main criticism of the new generation of superhero flicks. Plus, the soundtrack was done by Prince. It’s worth the price of admission just for that.
5. Grease (June, 1978)
This one wasn’t on The Dissolve’s list, but I had to put it on my list. I saw it in the drive in movies when I was a little kid, and even though I didn’t understand it then, it made me smile. As I’ve grown up, this movie became one of my summer staples. I hear a song from the soundtrack and automatically I transported back in time to my childhood, sitting in the backseat of my mom's car, in my pj’s trying to watch the movie and listen to it through that tinny contraption that was attached to the driver’s side window. A Classic.
4. Top Gun (May, 1986)
Highway to the Danger-zone, she sings with full gusto. Talk about a movie that had it all. Hot sound track, hot guys and lots of action. How could I ever forget the volleyball scene? I remember songs from this movie dominating the radio all that summer. Take My Breath Away, she now sings, with a heartfelt anguish in her eyes.
3. Jurassic Park (June, 1993)
For some reason, I hadn’t heard of this movie until just a few days before it was set to come out. But there was so much hype about it, I just had to go. The first time the T-Rex took a step and the ground shook, I felt it vibrate in my chest, as well. I thought: “Aw shucks! It’s about to be on!” ….and it was.
2. The Empire Strikes Back (May, 1980)
This is another one of those rare times when the sequel surpassed the original (in my humble opinion). I was really young when I saw this the first time, but I remember being horrified when Hans Solo was frozen in that thing (I don’t feel like looking up the name of that thing, but I’m sure there’s a Star War’s expert who could tell me just what it’s called). And since I’m a space junkie, I fell in love with this movie from the first note of its signature soundtrack.
1. Jaws (June, 1975)
Honestly, I only vaguely remember seeing this in the drive-in. It’s possible that I didn’t see this one in the movies and I have it mixed up with something else, but this is by far, my number 1 go-to summer movie. I watch it every time it comes on. Having grown up near the beach, for me, Jaws terrified and intrigued me all at once--like a roller coaster or a really good water slide…And as an adult, it is a shining example that you don’t have to beat your audience over the head with blood and special effects to make them scream.
If I had made the list a Top 20 list, these movies would’ve definitely made the grade—either because of the level of action and adventure, the visual look of it, or for at least one, it was the movie I saw on a really memorable date: Raiders of the Lost Ark (June, 1981), The Lion King (June, 1994), The Lost Boys (July, 1987), Fast and the Furious (June 2001), Inception (July, 2010), Gremlins (June, 1984), Star Wars (May 1977), The Fugitive (August, 1993)
So that's my list. Wanna show me yours? Or feel free to challenge my Number 1 summer blockbuster--though I think it's going to hard to beat Jaws as the best summer blockbuster of all time.
I walked along the beach this weekend. This was the first beach excursion in a summer that I plan to name: Beach-fest 2015. As you know, I love the beach but for the past few summers I haven’t been able to get there as often as I would have liked (as in every day), more like 1 or 2 visits in the entire summer. It’s criminal!!!
Anyway, this weekend, as I strolled along the beach, Mozart providing the background music for an absolutely spectacular day: clear blue sky, fluffy white clouds gently easing on by. The water was chilled, at first, but my toes quickly became acclimated. I was in absolute heaven on earth!
Suddenly, 2 teenaged boys came running in my direction, pointing toward the ocean. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, since I had my headphones on, but they were excited about something. No offense to teenage boys, but when I see teenage boys pointing at something on the beach, it’s usually because some teenaged girl’s bikini top has fallen down in the water and they can see her boobies. So, I just ignored them.
However, the boys were so adamant about whatever they were pointing to that I just had to look. I followed their gaze out into the ocean and I saw it…A fin. No two fins, then three, now four…five fins. Five dolphins bobbing and splashing about in the ocean, not a care in the world. I was blown away.
I must have strolled this beach more than a hundred times, always stopping to take in all of the sights and sounds, but never had I seen a school of dolphins frolicking near my stretch of the beach. They looked so free. Jumping, leaping, dipping through the mighty Atlantic. And though they were clearly together, each seemed to be dancing to the beat of his or her own drum.
I stood there in awe, for a moment, then followed them as far as I could as I made my way down the shore. I wanted to jump in there and frolic with them, to channel my inner-mermaid. But I am not a mermaid and I would have surely drowned. Life lesson: Fear and freedom do not mix. Freedom lets you frolic. Fear kept me anchored on the shore. (But fear can also keep you alive so it does serve a purpose). So from the safety of the shore, I watched the dolphins play. Jealous that I couldn’t be out there with them but thankful for this random act of freedom God had blessed me to witness.
It made me realize how much joy it brings me when others are free--which is why I write so much about freedom. From the dolphins showing off their acrobatics; to the little boy I saw on the boardwalk getting his groove on to the techno music blasting from the speakers. They were free and my heart was full.
So I encourage you to keep your eyes open for random acts of freedom. Careful—it can be contagious. You never know when one might pop up, but if you spot one, tell me about it.
Freedom -The power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hinderance or restraint.(oxforddictionaries.com)
There is a scene in my book, Boy Toy, where the main character, Toya, is presented with the opportunity to tryout for the track team. Despite the fact that Toya has often found herself going for a run whenever she felt stressed, her first reaction is to say no. She makes a bunch of excuses: she hasschool work; she just got a perm and doesn't want her hair to get messed up; she would rather be home watching Judge Judy. Advice from a friend stays with her: “If running makes you feel free, why not feel free all the time?” Toya took that advice and ran with it (pun intended) and discovered that not only did running make her feel free but it took her to places beyond her wildest dreams.
It wasn’t until years after writing that passage, did I make the connection in my own life. I am no runner, but I am a writer and writing makes me feel free. I write about how I first discovered my passion for writing in the About Me section on this website. And ever since I opened up my heart to this new romance called writing, I found myself soaring, spreading my wings and dancing among the clouds. Free.
The funny thing is, I didn’t even realize that I wasn’t free. However, once I started writing I could see how repressed I had been: afraid to say how I felt or express my thoughts, because I was weighed down with guilt. I knew it wasn’t uncommon for survivors of sexual trauma to carry around a super-sized load of guilt and shame—and I was no different. I just didn’t realize how much it had affected me. How much I censored myself, second-guessed every decision, silenced my own feelings because it felt wrong or bad.
But when I wrote, I was free. I could say whatever I wanted without any inhibition. After all, that’s what the delete key is for, right? If I ever did write something that was out of line, I could always erase it. I could be joyful, angry, romantic, sexy, petulant, devious…free—without fear of judgement. The only judge was me. And strangely, seeing my thoughts and feelings on paper rarely stoked the fire of my inner critic. So I said more. I truly feel like God deposited this gift of writing in my spirit to unlock the door to those invisible shackles that had been holding me back, since it's neverHis will for his children to be in bondage.
Now, every chance I get, I’m sneaking off to write, or read about writing, or talk with other writers about writing. Just like any love affair, I want to be around it all the time. Writing has carried me across the country and on many amazing journeys—on paper and in my real world—and the best is yet to come.
Do me a favor and try this exercise. I just want to see what else is out there that makes people feel free. So fill in the blanks please:
If ____________ makes me feel free, why not feel free all the time?
Then answer the question. I realize that, depending on how you fill in the blank, some things you just can’t do all the time--no matter how fun it may be. But is there a way for you to do it more often?
A Flight to the Never Mind
A Flight to the Never Mind
“Everyone, meet Astrid,” Jax announced, after yanking open the door to the dusty blue van.
Astrid peered in. She saw three children, but only heard one voice reply, “Hi Astrid.”
The cheerful voice came from the little boy sitting in the back. He was about her age, small frame, with white blond hair and ocean blue eyes. “I’m Owen.”
She waived timidly.
Jax looked over his shoulder. He knew he didn’t have much time, but he didn’t want to scare Astrid any more than she already was by hurrying her along. “Go on, little one. It’s okay,” he said, kindly. “They won’t bite. I promise.” Jax held out his hands and Astrid raised her arms, allowing him to lift her into the van.
Now that she was fully inside, she could see the other two children. One, a girl—older, around ten. Painfully frail, with short bushy hair. The other, a boy Astrid’s age, round, plump with curly red hair. They looked miserably hot, like they had been riding around in that van for hours. And since neither of them had spoken to her, she decided to sit beside Owen. The only one who had said a word to her and the only one with a smile on his face.
She maneuvered her way to the back of the van, toward the boy with the beaming smile. His legs were really thin—too thin for the rest of his body. Just behind him, Astrid could see parts of a metal contraption that she assumed was his wheelchair.
As soon as Astrid sat down, Owen’s eyes turned dreamy. “You’re beautiful.”
“She looks like a boy,” the plump one said. “What’s wrong with your hair?”
“Shut up! It’s trendy,” snapped Owen. “Don’t listen to him, Astrid. That’s Grant. He’s a grouch.” He chuckled. “Grant the Grouch. That’s funny.”
“You’d be a grouch too if you’d been torn away from your family and forced to ride around in this big, dumb, stupid van.”
The bushy haired girl finally spoke, rather, she signed the words, “We’re all in the same boat.”
Astrid’s eyes lit up. She signed back. “You sign too?”
The girl nodded.
“That’s Lyric,” Owen added. “She can’t talk and she’s deaf, but she can read lips.” He looked at her purple cast. “You broke your arm?”
“Duh! No, she’s just being trendy,” said Grant.
“I meant, how…” Owen said quickly, feeling foolish for his choice of words. “How did you break your arm?”
Just then, she heard the door up front slam shut and the van grumbled to life. They lurched forward and were on their way. Astrid looked back and, through the small square window, she saw the familiar sights of Daisy Street begin to shrink from view. Waves of sadness washed over her. Already she was missing Uncle Russ, and the chickens, and the trees, and the mud pies.
A warm sensation found its way to her hand. She looked down and saw that Owen was holding her hand. “It’ll be okay, Astrid. I’m right here with you.”
Even though she didn’t know him, she felt comforted.
“Watch it, Romeo.” Jax warned, glaring at Owen through the rearview mirror. “Keep your hands to yourself.”
He quickly dropped Astrid’s hand.
“Aw! Let him hold her hand, it might shut him up,” said Grant. “I mean, he’s been flapping his lips ever since we picked him up.”
“I can’t help it if I’m friendly,” Owen said, not at all phased by Grant’s glower. “You want me to be all mean and yell at everybody?”
Grant thought it over. “Actually, yes. Yes, I would like that, Sunshine.”
The whole scene made Lyric snicker.
Grant didn’t find anything funny. He just groaned and declared, “I’m hungry!”
“Yes, child, you sang that tune to me already,” said Jax. “What happened to the fruit and crackers I put back there for ya?”
“He ate all of it,” Owen spoke up, with a little bitterness—the first note of any anger from this one.
“No way! You had some too!” said Grant.
“Yeah, me and Lyric had like four crackers between us. You ate the rest and the berries.”
Lyric signed along, emphatically agreeing with Owen. Echoing every word.
Jax sighed. “Hold on children. One more stop to go.” He made a hard right and they were are tossed to one side of the van.
The one more stop was to pick up twin boys. Blue and Teal. Born premature and blind, they had been at a facility for the past two years. Astrid would later learn that the kitchen staff had arranged for Jax to come and get them because the guards were so cruel to them. Blue and Teal weren’t identical twins, but they had the same shyness, the same quiet demeanor. The same dingy, gray, North Ward uniforms. The same scared look on their faces when Jax herded them into the van.
Owen, the social coordinator, jumped right in with the introductions, adding a little bit of backstory with each name. “…and this is the beautiful Astrid. She doesn’t talk with her mouth, but she says a lot with her eyes.”
Astrid shook her head, briskly.
“Yes, you do. See? You just did it right there. Your eyes are saying, ‘this boy is bananas.”’
Astrid started to laugh, but quickly caught it, by covering her mouth.
Grant perked up. “Bananas? I’d love a banana right about now.”
The van erupted with laughter from the other children, until they felt a subtle rocking, as Jax climbed back into the van.
“That’s it,” Jax announced. “Now, we’re ready to go.”
“Go where?” asked a very irritated Grant.
Jax bit his tongue, choosing not to answer that question again. Instead he swore and fought with the ignition until, at last, it revved up. They were on their way.
Thankfully, “where” was not too far away. Just a twenty-minute ride, over a very bumpy, twisting, narrow road.
Oceali Airfield North. Jax had to admit, he was glad to see the sign. Between the heat and the whiny kid in the back, he would be happy when this leg of the journey was over. He drove right past the gate. No need to show a badge or ID. Only a few planes used the airfield. Oceali was no longer a tourist hotspot. There were a few shipments and only a handful of medical personnel that used this field in any given week. Airfield East was slightly busier, used by the more affluent citizens of Oceali. Airfield South was exclusively for the royal family. And Airfield West closed down years ago, overrun by rising tides.
Airfield North should have been shut down too, due to lack of use. The Kassan family, one of the wealthier families on the island—and also very loyal to the Underground—bought the airfield to be used for their import-export business, which was really a cover for its true purpose. Jax only had to call them the day before, so they could fuel up the jet, falsify some documents and make the necessary arrangements to ensure safe passage.
It had always worked like clockwork. So, there was no reason to doubt it would be that way this time too. And it was.
There was a cascade of gasps and excited whispers when the children finally caught glimpses of the plane.
“Oooh! Are we going up in an airplane?” one of them yelled from the back.
“We sure are.” Jax pulled the van right up alongside the Cessna aircraft and started barking out orders. “All right, listen up little people…We just have a little further to go. Let me get us loaded up and we’ll be on our way, okay?”
They nodded in unison, hanging on his every word, just waiting for the signal. For him to say “go” and they would pile on to the magnificent machine.
“When I put you on the plane, buckle up and don’t touch anything. Ya hear me?”
“Good!” he said, sternly, then his eyes lit up when he said, “Now, who wants to go for a ride?”
The van rocked with cheers.
Blue and Teal climbed aboard first. They felt their way among the seats until they reached the last row and sat down. The plane was divided into three rows of two-seaters on the left side and three rows of single seats on the right. The twins took the two-seater in the back. Lyric took the single seat across the aisle from them. The other children waited outside for their turn to be seated, while Jax carried Owen and gently placed him in the next two-seater.
“Thanks, Mr. Jax.”
“Can you hurry up? It’s hot,” Grant complained. Now that they were out of the van, Astrid could see that his left arm was far shorter than the right. She had been wondering what his deficiency was—other than being annoying. “And this smell is making me sick.”
“It’s probably just the jet fuel,” Jax replied then mumbled, “Or all the crackers and berries you ate.” Then he turned and said sweetly, “Do you want to sit next to your new friend, Astrid?”
Astrid looked at Grant who was starting to turn green and then at Owen, whose lovey dovey grin was making her nauseous. A tough decision. She pointed to Owen.
“All right, in ya go!” He scooped her up and set her feet down on the carpeted floor of the plane.
Owen smiled and asked, “Do you want the window seat?”
That was nice of him. Astrid smiled politely and shook her head.
Last to get on board was Grant. Jax tried to help him, but the boy just brushed his hand away. “I am more than capable of climbing up three steps, thank you.”
Jax sighed, “Buckle up, everybody,” as he disappeared from sight.
Everyone seemed to manage their buckles rather easily, except Astrid. Even Grouchy Grant managed to stop complaining long enough to get buckled in. She had been able to buckle herself in Russ’ car, but, with one hand, this one seemed to be fighting against her.
“Here.” Owen reached over and managed to click it in two simple moves.
She mouthed the words, “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Have you ever been on a plane before?”
Astrid reached into the blackness of her memory and couldn’t recall ever being on a plane. She shook her head.
“I have,” Grant interjected, as if someone had asked him. “Plenty of times. We used to take vacations all over the world.”
“All over the world? Really?” said Owen, pretending to sound impressed. He leaned into Astrid and tried to keep their conversation more private this time. “I was on a plane once. When I was a baby. My mom said they took me to this special doctor to see if he could fix my legs. She said I cried the whole time. Of course, I was too little to remember.”
“My parents flew the doctors in,” Grant inserted himself into the conversation once again. “Doctors from Asia, Africa—”
“Lunch!” Jax announced and Grant’s list was cut short.
Jax handed out white cardboard boxes to each of his passengers. “Blue…Teal…” One by one the boxes found their way to their rightful owners, who greedily tore them open.
Teal took a deep breath and said, “Yes! My favorite.” Just from its scent, he could tell the box contained thick slices of ham, cheese and apples. He turned his head in his brother’s direction. “What did you get?”
Blue waived his box in Teal’s direction and let him inhale the smell of steaming hot chicken pot pie. “My favorite.” How long had it been since he had had a pot pie? Now everyone was eager to see what was in their boxes.
“Tacos!” Owen cheered. “I love tacos.” He looked back at Lyric and let her read his lips. “Is that your favorite, Lyric?”
She nodded, her face already covered in strawberry ice cream.
Why hadn’t it melted? Astrid thought. It must’ve been sitting in that hot van for hours. Why was Blue’s pie steaming hot? How was any of this possible? Then she remembered Jax and his legs stretching and a shrinking as needed. Was he a magician?
Her train of thought was broken by a weird gurgling sound. She looked over at Grant, who was shoveling mounds and mounds of chocolate candy into his mouth with his dominant hand. She assumed that was his favorite.
“Astrid.” Jax set a box on her lap. Her heart leaped, picturing a pile of Uncle Russ’ cookies waiting for her to devour them. But they weren’t there. No chunky chocolate cookies. No cookies at all. Instead she found two yellow cupcakes, glistening with white icing. She leaned in a little closer and took a sniff. Lemon.
“Is that your favorite?” Owen asked, with a mouth full of chicken tacos.
Astrid shrugged her shoulders.
Owen replied, “It has to be. Everyone else got their favorites.”
“Who cares,” said Grant. “Eat it. Or will.”
Astrid took that threat seriously. She broke off a piece of lemon cupcake and hurried to shoved it into her mouth.
Delightful. Light and moist. Tangy and sweet. A tiny piece of heaven in her mouth. How did they know she would like it? —Love it. How did they know that this would be her new favorite? How did they know that she would finish off the first cupcake in three bites? How did they know? And who were they anyway?
Jax finished putting the last of the bookbags, suitcases and shopping bags onto the plane. Finally, he slipped Owen’s wheelchair onto the small space between the passengers and the cockpit.
When they saw him again, he was climbing into the pilot’s seat.
“You’re flying the plane too?” asked Grant.
“That’s why they call me Jax Offalltrades.” He fired up the plane’s engines and they could hear the whirl of the propellers starting to turn.
“Hey! Can I sit up there with you?” Grant asked, while licking the chocolate off of his fingers.
Jax smirked. Looking at the annoying boy, with the chubby cheeks and the chocolate covered fingers, he suddenly didn’t seem so annoying anymore. But the thought of going the next hour and ten minutes with Grant as his copilot, getting chocolate all over his dials and levers? “Maybe next time, kid. Maybe next time.”
Soaring among the clouds felt like a dream—literally a dream. Astrid fell asleep in Uncle Russ’ car last night and just a few hours later she was flying in a plane, for the first time ever, with a bunch of strangers, on her way to some unknown place. It was part dream and part nightmare, because she had no idea what was waiting for her when this plane landed. But Uncle Russ assured her it would be good, and she trusted Uncle Russ. Besides, no one else seemed worried. Everyone else was just enjoying the ride. Except Grant. He was nauseous from the moment the plane lifted off. All the candy he had stuffed down his throat was trying to force its way back up. He just leaned his head against the window and groaned the whole time. “Ugh! When are we going to get there?”
“Won’t be much longer now, kid. Hang in there,” Jax yelled over his shoulder. He passed a paper bag to him. “Here ya go. Just in case.”
Grant snatched up the bag. But he didn’t throw up, thankfully. He just moaned a little longer, until he finally fell asleep. Astrid almost felt sorry for him. If he hadn’t scarfed up the last bit of her lemon cupcake when she turned her head to look out the window, she would have definitely felt sorry for him. Right now, she was feeling quiet vindication. She went back to looking out the window.
Astrid regretted turning down Owen’s offer to sit by the window. The view was amazing. A vast expanse of ocean as far as the eye could see, with the occasional dot of land. She had read about it in some books and Uncle Russ had told her all about it too. The Shift. The climate shift. When temperatures grew warm, causing the icebergs to melt. Water levels began to rise. Barely noticeable at first. But over the past one hundred years or so, huge chunks of land had been swallowed up by water. It was fascinating to hear his stories: fleeing his home in a boat, the great storms that wiped whole towns away, watching his father’s truck get swept away by a rush of water, while he, his parents and his two brothers clung to the trees for dear life.
It was one thing to hear his stories, but to see the aftermath with her own eyes was simply stunning. Astrid drifted off to sleep with her head on Owen’s shoulder, dreaming that she was floating on a sea of lemonade, in a boat made of chunky chocolate cookies.
The next words she remembered hearing were: “Wake up, sleepy heads.”
Jax was still in the cockpit, pushing nobs and levers, but occasionally looked back to say, “We’re here. Get ready for landing.”
Here. Where was here? Astrid craned her neck to see out of the front of the plane but all she saw was white. No more ocean. Thick clouds had surrounded the plane and seemed to be escorting them to their final destination. She felt a sinking in her stomach. The plane was dipping lower. Her excitement was elevating. This was an adventure. A full-on adventure. Not knowing what was going to happen next was scary, but also thrilling because she was with people she could trust. Whatever happened they were in it together.
The plane jolted, jiggled and jumped, tossing everyone from side to side. Before the panicking and crying started, Jax took charge. “Just a little turbulence. The plane is dancing on the air, little ones. Relax. No need to worry.”
Grant completely disregarded his words, “Relax? We’re about to fall out of the sky!”
“Stop being dramatic, boy! You think I’d put you on a plane that would drop you out of the sky?”
Another jolt and the plane dipped some more.
Astrid looked behind her. Lyric’s eyes were closed and she was quietly praying. Blue and Teal were gripping the arm rests, tightly, like they were trying to stabilize the plane on their own.
Astrid tried not to panic. She wanted to believe Jax. But with each jolt, that was getting harder and harder to do. She heard another voice in her ear, soothing her. “We’re safe. We’re almost there,” Owen said, softly.
Him, she did believe. Astrid reached her right hand over her broken left arm and grabbed on to his hand. Better. She felt much better. Owen was a rock. He didn’t even seem to mind how hard she was squeezing his poor hand. He had the same sweet smile on his face, which gave Astrid permission to hold on until the plane touched the ground.
The first thing Astrid noticed when she stepped off the plane was the air. Warm, but not that thick soup of pollution and humidity from back at home. All around her was green. There were lots of green trees and grass on Oceali—at least she thought they were green. Not like this green. Deep and lush shades of green, like she had never seen before. Beautiful. That was the only word she could think of.
The only thing that wasn’t beautiful was the sound of Grant’s retching, throwing up on the other side of the plane. He had been doing that for the past five minutes, bringing up lemon cake, candies, crackers and berries, along with whatever it was he had for breakfast.
From out of nowhere, came the music, startling Astrid. She turned around and saw the band. Children with their horns and drums, playing a festive song. Above them was a sign that said Welcome in purple letters trimmed in gold.
As the band hit its final note, she emerged.
A statuesque woman in navy blue, pinstriped trousers and silvery white silk blouse. She looked like one of those women in the old-fashioned magazines that used to belong to Uncle Russ’ wife that he, for some reason, refused to throw away. The woman took a few graceful steps and stood right in front of this group of children, who stared at her, wide-eyed, as if under her spell.
“Welcome children. My name is Allison French and I am the Dean of Education at the Academy. Welcome to the Isle of the Never Mind.”