Sample Sunday – Excerpt From Highway 90

I noticed I never gave more than a synopsis of this story, so thought I’d share an excerpt. Enjoy!

The sky is pitch black as we hum down the two-lane highway, the only car on the road for long stretches as we make our way through the desert. I’m nervous, but comforted at the same time. More cars means a better chance of someone finding us if we break down and in Molly that possibility is greater than seventy percent. On the other hand, less cars reduces the chance we’ll be hit by drunk drivers headed east. It’s too easy, too accessible. Forty minutes to the west, no I.D. required and no one to squeal to your parents. Sounds strange, but we’re getting used to a funeral every month.

“Hey, can you grab that CD for me?” Paige’s thumb is pointed over her shoulder.

“You’re not seriously gonna turn off one of my favorite songs are you?” It’s Soundgarden for God’s sake.

“Brooke, you know this song is so blasphemous.” Her look reminds me of my Sunday School teacher from third grade, lips pursed, face twisted like I’ve committed the ultimate sin.

“Jesus Christ Pose is blasphemous? Have you even watched the video?” I knew better than to ask. If it didn’t have 90210 in the title, she wasn’t watching.

“Headbangers’ Ball isn’t exactly award winning TV.” She’s such a smart-ass. I think that’s why we get along so well. In every situation she has a comment that smacks of cynicism and, if not, I do.

“Oh my God.” I can’t believe she knows the name of the show.

“Besides, my church did a whole exposé on rock music and this one definitely goes against what the Bible says about impersonating Jesus. Did you know there are eighty-six rock songs that talk about hating Jesus? You should be careful, you might start to believe it too.” She’s channeling The Church Lady. I imagine any minute now she’s going to mention Satan. I break into hysterical laughter expecting her to join me, but her face is solemn. I wonder how many ‘Hail Mary’s’ she’ll do just for hearing a piece of this song, a ritual I still don’t understand, but somehow makes her feel squared away with God.

“Seriously, your sermon couldn’t wait until the song was over?” Fine if she doesn’t like the song, but she has to appreciate the fact that Chris Cornell’s voice is hot, which compliments his sexy face. Turning it off would be a sin, but talking over it, cruel.

“Brooke, c’mon.” Clearly she’s not in the mood for my musical taste tonight and I’m not in the mood for another lecture on how her priest views my life choices.

I reach my arm back, but my fingertips don’t even graze the seat. Dang station wagons. I unbuckle myself and lean through the middle. It looks like someone dumped the contents of a locker complete with a blanket waded up on the floor. I grab the only CD and push myself back to the front before falling over the console.

“Here.” I hand the case to Paige. She pops it open and slides the disc into the radio then jacks up the volume. R.E.M.’s Out of Time blares through the speakers. Her ex-boyfriend gave her a copy before breaking up with her this summer. Like a CD was going to make the pain any easier to digest. It wouldn’t have been so intense if he hadn’t been her first, real boyfriend. One she thought cared, but ended up not so much. I didn’t think a long distance relationship was a good idea even if it was for a year until she graduated, but a girl gets a little screwed up watching movies that say otherwise. At least he came all the way here to break it off, which I found admirable and pompous at the same time. She said it was mutual, but I didn’t believe her. Not after hearing all of the plans they’d made together since ninth grade when they started dating. Plus, her face was red and puffy for months after he left. Allergies don’t last that long, that is, if you have them.

Track one was our favorite. Kind of an ode to her break-up and songs that reminded us of certain people. All you can do when they come on the radio is change the station.

We sing together as loud as possible, our bond made stronger by their split. I guess because she isn’t dividing her time between me and writing, calling or swooning over him anymore. Not that I demand a lot of her time, but after Pax made me look like a fool I needed to hear something other than, “I hope he calls tonight, I hope I got a letter, I can’t wait ’til we get back together!”

“By the way, what’s the blanket for?” I’m unsure if I want to hear the answer.

“I use it to change.” She glances at me, my eyebrows bent in confusion. “You know, change clothes, like between work and classes.” Her explanation doesn’t make sense.

“Why don’t you change at work?” It isn’t the classiest, but I know the bar and grill has a bathroom.

“Holes, that’s why.” Her expression is serious as she stares at the road.

“Holes? You mean those tiny things in the wall that look like something’s been ripped off?”

“Yeah, holes in the walls.” I look at her, waiting. She must think I’m thick.

“You know, holes they use to look at you from another room?” Our eyes meet. I can tell she’s not kidding. I feel sick. I’ve been in that bathroom more than a dozen times and never noticed any holes. Not that I was looking. I mean, who does? When you gotta go, you just go, right?

She must have noticed my face fall and the color disappear. “Don’t worry about it. I’m sure they didn’t see much. At least you weren’t fully naked.” She shot me a reassuring smile. I’m stuck on the word ‘much.’ I look out the window trying to remember exactly how much I had exposed, but more than that, who would have seen me? I remember a few creepy guys hanging around the bar once or twice, but wrote it off as too many drinks.

“Why didn’t you ever say anything?” This information would have been good to know a long time ago like before I used the toilet.

“Sorry, I thought you knew. It’s kinda common in a lot of places especially bars.” Her answer makes me feel stupid. Like a country hick none the wiser to the ways of the big city. Except this isn’t the big city. It’s a stupid little town in the middle of nowhere Texas. A town unlike the big city in many ways including the lack of a mall. That’s why people move here. To get away from all of the big city crap although I read a Wal-Mart is set to open in a few months. Now I find out, of all of the big city influences, the hole in the bathroom wall has made it’s arrival.

“Well, why don’t you go home then?” I snap out of my self pity long enough to ask another question, one I already know the answer to.

“Girl, you know how far my house is from the rest of the world. It’s a waste of gas.” She punches fast forward on the CD player skipping three tracks until the last one. I’m glad. I don’t like the slow songs, not tonight. We bob our heads and sing along. I don’t know why, but this song makes me wish I was standing in the back of a truck going fifty miles an hour. So, I do the next best thing, stick my head out the window. The warm air blows my long curls away from my face. I close my eyes and breathe in the smell of the desert. For a few minutes I dream I’m somewhere else, someone else, a person who matters.

“You’re gonna fall out the window!” Paige pulls the edge of my dress so hard I think it might rip. I fall back on my seat smiling.

“I swear, you’re so careless sometimes. You’re gonna give me a heart attack.” She scolds me as if I’m her irresponsible teenager. Funny since she was the one busted last year for standing through the sun roof of our limo as it sailed down the main drag. It was probably more what she was doing instead of the fact she was standing.

In her rage about being dumped by said D.C. boyfart, as I call him, and going to prom alone, she pulled down her spaghetti straps and flashed every guy on the boulevard while yelling, “Would you give these up!” No amount of coaxing could get her back in the limo and the one time I pulled her down she slapped me so hard tears stung my eyes. I couldn’t blame her, hopped up on Jolt since she hardly slept, writing letter after letter hoping to strike some sense into boyfart. He never answered even one.

It wasn’t long after that I found out about Pax, the quiet, smart, all American wrestler. Perfect everything – teeth, hair, clothes, parents – all of the time. I thought he was cute and liked how he wasn’t on a pedestal like my jock boyfriend before him. Maybe not being the popular jock, teacher’s pet and all around high school celebrity would be a good change of pace for me or at least safe. From what I wasn’t sure. Maybe the constant harem that followed jock boy like entranced zombies or the rumors that jock boy was cheating, which is one reason we broke up, but never proven. I couldn’t take the stress always having to look and act perfect like a wind up toy repeating the same words, same tone, same gestures. I began to feel as if I were losing myself, the thoughts I had were someone else’s, the person I really wanted to be, envisioned myself being, was becoming a dream. So, instead of become a product of my peers, I got out. Like Julia Roberts in ‘Sleeping With The Enemy’ I decided to leave it all behind while I still had some sense and an ounce of dignity.

It wasn’t hard to slip out of the jock spotlight. I quit the cheer team, which conveniently got me dropped from the circle of airheads I once called my friends. Then I made sure I wasn’t involved with any activities which put me in close contact with them for long periods of time like decorating floats for homecoming, Prom planning committee or eating off campus at Pizza Palace or Deli Delight.

When I met Pax I knew it would be different. He’d be the one I would call my high school sweetheart, the one I’d go off to college to forget, but our love would be so intense we would find each other after our first year and get married, have kids, then look back at our photo album when we were eighty and say, “I couldn’t imagine being with anyone else.” I heard the needle drag the record on the day I knew that would never happen.

Days after prom, when all of us were back in our right minds or at least some of us, it was brought to my attention that Pax had attended an after party. An after, after party because my parents threw one for us at my house. He must have been bored out of his mind hanging out with my family on a night he should have been doing something else, but we weren’t quite there in our relationship. We’d talked about it and both knew we wanted to, I think his body more than mine, but I just couldn’t go through with it, not after overhearing stories by the girls who did. How they just gave in to shut the guy up, that it was no big deal and how they used it to get what they wanted. To them, sex was a tool, an idea this hopeless romantic could never accept.

I think my grandmother pinching Pax’s butt was the last straw and the point at which he told me he was tired. I didn’t think much about it since it was already close to midnight plus it was Pax, Paxton Charles Edmonton III, upstanding catholic boy, debate team leader, Food Pantry volunteer. What did I have to be concerned about?

There was no way to keep it secret for very long, particularly when the girl he fell onto was freaked out she might be pregnant. I should have known when she followed him all over campus a desperate expression on her puffy eyed face. I recognized her from the debate team, a freshman, wide eyes, eager to please, open to anything and everything anyone would teach her, show her. It scared me to think I was just like her at that age, except for the obsession with someone else’s boyfriend. She finally cornered him one day, so full of panic she didn’t care if anyone else might be around.

“Pax, I think I am.” Her voice trembled, eyes brimming with tears.

“How can you be sure? It’s only been like a week.” His tone was disbelieving, but gentle. Not at all like this news might ruin is life plans to go to Stanford and study law.

“We didn’t use anything and my cycle was due three days ago.” She sobbed putting her hand over her nose covering the snot she couldn’t sniff back anymore.

Pax just looked at her considering what she’d said, maybe trying to reason it away with the knowledge from his AP science and physics classes. He stroked the side of her face wiping away the tears staining her cheeks black. My heart fell into my stomach as the blood left my face. If they could see me above them, eavesdropping from the senior locker quad, they’d probably think I was a vampire.

I watched him kiss her, the same way he kissed me. Slow, gentle, top lip, bottom lip then full mouth. Anger raced to my head. “That two timing piece of….” I felt sick and dizzy at the same time. I wanted this to be over, but I couldn’t leave. I didn’t want to find out from anyone else what I already knew, but more than that I didn’t want anyone to know I’d been made a fool, again. So, I did the only thing that might save a shred of my already lacerated honor. I marched down to both of them and laid it on the line.

“Look, I’m not exactly sure what happened here, but I’ve heard enough to know I don’t want any part of it. I’m sure you don’t either, but sounds too late for that. So, this is what we’re gonna do. Pax, you and I are broken up, obviously. It happened prom night, but we’ve been hanging out to see if we could patch it up, but, alas, you’re just a jerk. Don’t worry I won’t tell anyone. Now, when asked, it would be cool if you guys acted like nothing happened between you two for a few weeks just so the dogs we call friends won’t have another rumor to run with and our high school reunion won’t sound like, ‘Hey I wonder if Pax will show up and get punched by his ex?’ Anyway, hope that works for you guys.”

Their expressions went from deer in headlights to one of relief. I could see I had made the bigger move by letting them off the hook, but it didn’t make me feel any better. They nodded their agreement. I expected Pax to protest, maybe offer some sort of explanation, but he didn’t. Just stood there with a pathetic expression of failure on his face. I turned and walked away before I punched him. “Pax,” I looked over my shoulder and waited for him to look at me before I told him what a piece of crap he was, a lie, just like all the others, but I felt my throat tighten up. I knew my voice would crack and sounding heartbroken wasn’t a satisfaction I was going to give him. Instead, I shot him my best “I feel sorry for you” smirk and walked away.

If you’d like to read the entire story, buy it here!