So I received not one, not two, but three Liebster Awards, all from amazing people. Brooke, Kelley, and Isis all sent me some love, as per the rules outlined in this post, I must now pay it forward to other blogs.
So let's see who receives it this time around, shall we?
1. Reabookreview always has some neat reviews on books that I would normally never look at or even hear about. The reviews are also very nice, even, and unbiased, so you should check them out!
2. Elspeth of wandering sights is such a sweetheart, I needed to send this her way. Her blog posts are always fun to read, even when you think you don't have time to read them. You will.
3. Ju Dimello was referred to me by Nas Dean (who is awesome by the way), and I couldn't be happier. Ju is lovely and always has something neat to look at on her blog, so you should all poke at hers.
4. LoveCats Down Under is a meeting place for several romance authors, which means this blog is hotter than hot and if you want some excerpts from romance novels, this is your place!
5. Chiseled in Rock is another meeting place for Colorado writers and always something funny and interesting up. There's also drawings, which make it even better. And Patricia Stoltey is there too, and that means you know it's incredible.
And now on to the Saturday Night Special that has a hangover! (I forgot yesterday was Saturday.)
Length: 1704 words. There's payoff for the long word count.
Rating: TV-14 for language and hitchhiking
History: If you didn't read the previous SNS, then you're going to be a bit confused. This scene follows right after where I left out before, and I'd like to point out very quickly that there's no chapter break between the two excerpts. They follow one another in the same chapter. Once again, only Other read this over, so there's some rough edges to it that need to be filed down.
I eyed him, eyed the car, then turned back and looked at the distant hotel. I could spend the rest of my money there, trying to find a job and wasting time, or I could go with this John C. Winston and do what I had planned. I bit my lip. Behind me, John C. Winston snorted and spit onto the melting asphalt. Oh, what the hell.
He helped me lug my sagging suitcase into the backseat of the car. “I’d put it in the trunk, but that catch has been broken since 1981 and I haven’t gotten around to fixing it yet.” He ran his sleeve against his nose. “I don’t reckon I have enough money to fix it.” He slid into the driver’s side door and leaned across, reaching with one skinny arm to open up the passenger door. “It don’t open from the outside anymore. Don’t know why.”
The car smelled like tobacco and some other filth I didn’t want to think about. Doritos bags crinkled under my feet, and a sad little pine tree air freshener dangled from a broken rear-view mirror. John C. Winston pulled out into traffic without looking and honked at the motorists who weren’t smart enough to get out of his way. The man was like a maniac on the road. He dived through openings between cars that didn’t seem big enough to fit a skinny person through, never mind a shabby vehicle like his, and he was never in the same lane for long. His theory seemed to consist of getting to his destination as quick as possible, everybody else be damned. I found myself clinging to the seat in terror and wondering if my last view on earth was going to be the brake lights of an unfortunate car.
After one particularly graceful and horrifying flit through three lanes of traffic and a yellow light, John began to talk again and told me his entire life story.
He was born and raised here in North Carolina, he said, growing up in Virgilina and making regular trips out into Raleigh and Oxford for work and for fun, whatever that meant. I had the feeling that fun for John C. Winston was something that other people would not find pleasing at all.
“I went to school here too, graduated from high school, went to college,” he told me. “Chapel Hill. Good times, girl, good times.”
I was surprised. I had pegged him for a country bumpkin, but he was more educated than I was. I guess it goes to show me not to judge people too harshly, but honestly, with that beard, he was asking to be judged.
“What’s college like?” I asked.
“Hmm, well you see that, girl, is a loaded question. It’s not like anything. It is its own ecosystem, its own place. It’s different for everyone you talk to. What I tell you will not necessarily be what you experience.”
“I’m not going to college.”
“You don’t know that, girl. Someday you might. Hell, you need to go college nowadays to do anything. Want to breathe oxygen? Gotta go to college.” He choked out a laugh, coughed, and took a swill of something vaguely orange from a reused water bottle. I knew it was reused because the label was nowhere to be seen. “Of course, college isn’t really that bad. Not when you have fun with it.”
“I’m afraid to know what you did.”
“Girl, you don’t want to know and I’m not going to tell you.” He looked over at me and grinned and then screeched across a lane to take an exit, still looking at me. I thought the car would flip and hung on for dear life. The handle above the window snapped off in my hand.
“Did you learn to drive in college?” I asked through clenched teeth.
He let out a yelp of laughter. “Naw, girl, I learned to drive out in the open, with only trees to keep my company. There’s a many a tree around these parts that have the scars of John C. Winston!”
That wasn’t very reassuring.
He asked me eventually about my story and I gave him a glossed over account of it. I told him that I was from Pennsylvania and that I had wanted to see the open country.
“But don’t you have a lot of that in Pennsylvania? Heard it’s mighty nice up there. And mighty cold too.”
“I got tired of the mountains.”
“This right here is mountains.”
“These are malevolent hills.”
“I like you, girl. You’re damn funny.”
I didn’t bother telling him about my criminal mother and all that other nonsense. There wasn’t a point. But he did finally remember to ask me my name.
“Named for your mother?”
“Gotta last name?”
“Yeah, but that’s for me to know and you to not.” He must have liked that too because he snorted so loud he inadvertently turned his signal light on. Cursing, he had to jerk at the stick until it finally fell down again, but the clicking didn't stop and continued on for another ten minutes. I closed my eyes against the onslaught of blurring red lights and waited for the ride to be over.
I must have either fallen asleep or passed out because before I knew it, John was shaking me awake and we were in Oxford. It was pretty much like he had told me. Oxford was, and probably still is, a very sleepy little town with not much going on in it, not even many people walking out on the streets. We passed the Episcopalian bookstore, and John snorted at it and said there wasn’t much worth reading in there unless I wanted the love of God shoved down my throat. There were a few other stores that I couldn’t really tell what they were, and then we were out in the open country on a single lane road, passing tractors and trying not to get too close to the ditches on either side of us. I saw a big lanky dog walking nonchalantly through the grass, paying no mind to the car at all, and then a puppy trying to catch rabbits in a storm pipe, its stubby tail wagging up a fury. Fences lined long expanses of pastures, and cows grazed with melancholy stillness at the weeds. A horse stood just outside its stable, swishing its tail at the cloud of flies hovering around its body.
John rolled down the windows and sweet fresh air blew in. I leaned back in my seat. As nice as the landscape was, I had seen it all before in Pennsylvania, and I was more in the mindset of how I was going to survive on my own out there. I needed to find a place hidden enough so that I could live unmolested and also a place relatively sheltered so the elements wouldn’t get me. Forest space would be ideal, I thought, as we drove through an especially heavily wooded area. Yes, it could work out perfectly. Even in the winter, I would be more or less safe from the snow. I could set up camp deep enough in the woods so as not to be noticed but close enough to the road to be able to grab supplies if I needed them. It would be a long walk into town, but hopefully no one would question me too closely. There had to be plenty of farm kids who wandered in and out of town on a daily basis without identities.
It was perfect. Or as perfect as broken things could be.
Maybe I could get a job in town somewhere, give a fake address, say I was staying with relatives. I could work at the Episcopalian bookstore, like a stock person or something, putting up books in shelves and keeping everything generally in order. I wouldn’t mind doing it, not much anyway. They could try to indoctrinate me into anything so long as they paid me, that was my motto. As long as I had money enough to survive, I didn’t really care much about anything else.
John jerked across the road with enough force to topple the car, and I yelped as the force pushed me against the open window. I dangled half out of the car as he sped down a steep hill, and then caught myself against the frame as he screeched to a stop three quarters of the way down, the brakes squealing out in protest and my voice joining in with them. The back of the car fishtailed a bit, and bits of gravel and dirt spewed up behind us in a cloud clanging rocks.
“Welp,” John said, “this is my first stop. You can either stay in the car or go wherever you please. You’re not beholden to stay with me, and I won’t sit around waiting for you to come back.” He smiled at me. “Best of luck there, girl. Just don’t bite off more than you can chew. It’s rough out here.”
I leaned back and hauled my suitcase onto my lap, then kicked open the door and dropped everything out. “Don’t worry about me.”
“I won’t, girl.”
“I hope you get your job.”
“I probably won’t. Not here. She don’t farm much.”
“The lady that lives down here. Mean old witch. She hates me.”
“Then why ask?”
He shrugged, picked at his teeth. “The question is, why not? Maybe she’ll give me a job this time around.”
“Seems like a pipe dream.” I forced the handle of my suitcase out and kicked it right side up. “Something that’ll never pan out.”
“Pipe dreams can explode without warning. Someday everything might just work out. You never know.” He gestured to my suitcase. “You have your own pipe dream right there.”
I resented that a bit, but ignored it and held out my hand. “It was nice to get to know you, Mr. John C. Winston.”
He shook it. “And it was nice to get to know you too, Ms. Alexis.” He pulled me in suddenly for a quick hug. “I’ll tell you a secret,” he whispered. “John C. Winston isn’t my real name.”
“Don’t worry,” I whispered back. “Alexis isn’t mine either.”