Saturday, November 16, 2013

Serial Saturday: NaNoWriMo Edition! "The Suggestion Box" (Part 3)

On the Greyhound Bus headed south on Interstate 5, she was barely noticeable. Just another brown-haired girl in a dark grey-green jacket with a ruffled floral mini over black leggings peeking out from under it, and a tan shoulder-bag draped across her lithe frame. Leaning against the window, letting its cool comfort her in the steaming, stuffy interior. There were a few groups traveling on the same bus, some couples, several solo travelers—nearly every seat had been taken, but a well-timed dirty look and a carefully erected aura of standoffish-ness had deterred any company on the two seats next to her. She preferred it that way; no one could know that, in her mind, those seats held the ghosts of the mother and the boyfriend she’d left behind.
She could see them in her mind’s eye; they had been following her with their disapproving stares ever since she left Los Angeles. Her fingers curled into a fist as she recalled the last time she ever saw her boyfriend.

He should have known she’d be hurt; he should have known that there are no words to fill the void left vacant by his absent common sense. She cried, she begged, she made all her promises and reminded him of the ones he had yet to fulfill, but he was through. There was nothing she could do to make him stay. He didn’t even hear her any more, over the sound of his own voice, making excuses. He talked and he talked—but he was already at the door, already leaving. He walked out without so much as a backward glance.

That’s when the last tether holding her back from everything she imagined their life could have been together, keeping her in Los Angeles—had snapped. She had nothing else in LA, if not him. She started to pack.

In the blazing orange light of the sunset outside the bus as it sped across the iconic red suspension bridge, she snorted to herself. Of course, her mother would call while she was packing; she chalked it up to a mother’s intuition to know if and when her daughter and the boyfriend have a fight, just so she could call and make her daughter even more uncomfortable.

“What happened?”
Suzannah sighed and ran a ring-laden hand through her tousled hair. “Something came up, and it just felt like the right time for me to go.”
“But you were in love, sweetie!” her mom pleaded.
“Yeah, well… Love changes.” Suzannah chewed on her lip to keep from crying. She would not cry; she wasn’t sorry; she was doing the right thing—wasn’t she?
“Oh honey!” the disappointment in her mother’s voice cut right through the sympathy. “I thought I raised you to choose better for yourself. Didn’t you swear up and down that you’d get him to stay? Didn’t you know enough to see this coming? Didn’t you learn anything when your father left?”

Too much! She’d let the memories carry too far, and now the knot in her throat made it impossible to breathe. She let the tears fall as the bus pulled into San Francisco. She was thick; too thick and too dreamy to see a failure when it walked in the door every day, when it wrapped its firm arms around her and breathed against the crook of her shoulder.
The bus jerked to a stop. Suzannah stood and reached into the overhead compartment to grab her duffel.
New city, new start, she promised herself. She alighted from the bus and paused just beyond the flow of people. She dialed the number of the only person in the city she knew, the one who could help her make that new start.
It rang twice.
“Hi Jordyn, it’s Suzannah.”
“What the heck, Suze? Why are you calling so late? I thought you’d be out with—“
“Yeah, about that,” Suzannah cut her off; it was too soon to be mentioning His name. “It’s why I called.”
“What do you mean? Geez, did something happen between you two? Don’t tell me: he proposed, didn’t he?”
“Jordyn…” Why did so many people in her life insist on talking instead of listening? “Look, I just need a ride, okay? Can you come pick me up?”
“You want me to drive all the way to LA at this hour?”
“I’m not in LA. I came here to San Francisco to see you.”
“Wait a minute… you’re here?”
“In Frisco?”
Suzannah rolled her eyes; what part of “I’m here!” was so hard for her friend to understand? “Just pulled in. I’m at the bus station across from—“ she squinted at the large, lit-up sign on the other side of the street. “Fisherman’s Wharf. Is it okay if I crash at your place till I figure out what I’m gonna do?”
Jordyn snorted, “Suze, you take all the time you need, girlfriend! Just gimme ten minutes. I’ll be there!”
“Thanks, Jord.” Suzannah hung up the phone and slipped it back into her purse. She shifted her duffel bag to a part of her shoulder that wasn’t yet sore and took her first look at San Francisco as her home.

At night, every window and storefront lit up. The city positively glittered with opportunity. She could make a fresh start here, for sure—and Suzannah was a pro at making acquaintances and connections with people who would be very pleased with her.

Jordyn’s blue Honda Acura pulled up to the curb. The smiling, dusky-skinned, raven-haired girl waved from behind the wheel. Suzannah opened the back door and tossed her bag in before climbing into the front seat. As Jordyn pulled away, Suzannah slumped in her seat. She couldn’t relax very well, not with the endless excuses of her boyfriend and the disparaging comments of her mother crowding her thoughts. She hoped that, with time, Jordyn’s sunny attitude and thirst for adventure would drive away the pain.

Jordyn glanced over at her friend as they pulled up to Jordyn’s apartment building.
“So,” she began slowly, “What’s the occasion?”
Suzannah wasn’t ready to tell the whole story just yet; the wounds she nursed were still fresh. “You said if I ever needed to get out of LA for a while, I could come stay with you,” she responded to her friend, “so here I am.”
Jordyn watched her carefully, as if she could read on Suzannah’s face the part of the story she wasn’t telling. “Do you want to talk about it?” she pressed.
“No,” Suzannah answered immediately, and climbed out of the car. She grabbed her bag and Jordyn led her up to her apartment.

It was a cozy two-room affair, with the kitchenette and the living room on one space, and the bathroom and bedroom leading off of that. Suzannah walked in and brushed the plush surface of the sofa with her fingertips.
“Here, let me just haul out the air mattress and pump,” said Jordyn. “I wasn’t expecting company, or at least I’d have the space cleared, sorry.”
Jordyn helped her spread blankets and sheets over the mattress and handed her a pillow.
“Are you hungry? I can order food,” Jordyn offered.
“I’m fine,” said Suzannah dully.
“Okay, well—“ Jordyn stretched and yawned. “I have work tomorrow, so I’m going to get back to bed. Sleep well, Snooze!” she used the nickname she’d given Suzannah when they were both in grade school.
Finally, a spark of humanity returned to the shell Suzannah was rapidly becoming, and she looked up at her friend. “Thank you, Jordan,” she whispered with genuine feeling in her voice. “You too.”
Jordyn smiled and sauntered back into her bedroom. Suzannah pulled the tee shirt and shorts from her bag and changed clothes, brushing her teeth at the sink in the kitchenette. She crawled under the blankets on the air mattress in her friend’s apartment, and briefly reflected how much her life had changed in one day. Her clothes in a suitcase, a few very personal belongings in her purse—her life had been reduced to fragments of what it once was. When would she find out how to fit them together in the new way that would make this seem like home? Could she wait that long? Was San Francisco only a step along the way of a much longer journey toward the stable life Suzannah craved? Did that life even exist?

Suzannah closed her eyes and fell asleep before she could figure out answers to her questions. That night, she dreamed of home—but it was a different home than the one she’d left. In this home, she actually belonged.

The next morning, on the east side of San Francisco, Neal Parker was getting ready for work. He dressed, grabbed breakfast in his apartment kitchenette, and walked down to the sidewalk. Two blocks down, and three across, and he arrived at Turntable Records. The chime sounded through the empty store when he entered. Sarah was already there, sorting returned records and making sure everything was in order for the day. She glanced up, her dull dark-blue eyes almost ready to accuse him of something.
Neal tried to smile disarmingly. “Hey,” he greeted her.
“Hey yourself, Crooner,” she muttered back.
Neal winced at the nickname, but tried to hide it as he moved over to the “library” side of the music store, with all the tablature books, sheet music, and fake-books.

Ever since Sarah learned from an overenthusiastic fan that he was the son of the famous “Voice of the 20’s” Cal Parker, she had never missed a chance to needle him about it. The fact was, Neal had grown up determined not to ride his famous father’s coattails; he was his own man—he could take up engineering if he wanted to. Never mind that he had actually inherited his father’s talent for music; Neal knew there wasn’t a career to be had in music, and he didn’t have much time for hobbies right now. Too much of his time was spent trying to find a decent job to cover the rent, while also trying to fit in community college classes to acquire the necessary education to move to a job that could earn him a decent living. Till then, he just had to endure or ignore the teasing of his fellow record store employees.
Thirty minutes before they were scheduled to open, the front door chimed again, and the owner of Turntable Records, Beulah Moran, entered. She was reading the newspaper when she walked in, but left that out on the counter as she threaded her way back to her tiny office. Neal glanced at it as he moved to sort the CDs on the long rack at the center of the store. Ms. Moran had apparently been reading about the death of one Elena Knight. Neal smirked; he’d heard of the woman. Her mother, Teresa Mallow, had been one of the first female archaeologists in the early 1900’s, always going out to digs and traveling to remote corners of the world and discovering places no one else knew existed. Everyone talked about what a shame it was for a girl like Elena to grow up without knowing her mother, since Teresa had died in the late 1930’s while at a dig in Upper Egypt. If there was ever someone who would understand the aversion to continuing a “family legacy”, it would be Elena Knight. She had purposed to do everything she could to avoid her mother’s fate; she married a laboratory scientist who worked mostly with numbers and computers in an office, and she had encouraged her daughter—named Teresa after the famous grandmother—to pursue interests and courses of study that would keep her close to home. So far, her methods had been effective—but only time would tell which of her ancestors young Teresa would honor after her mother’s death—Elena or her grandmother.
“Hey-o!” Sarah barked from behind the register. “Showtime, Crooner!”
Neal grit his teeth and glanced at the clock; eight AM—Turntable Records was now open for business. There would be time to fret over the state of his life later.

It took Suzannah at least ten seconds to remember where she was when she finally awoke the next morning. [...] Stumbling through Jordyn’s bedroom to the bathroom, she turned on the faucet and splashed the cold water on her face. The mirror before her gave her an opportunity to take stock of her appearance. She saw angled features, limp, tangled hair with outgrown highlights (because last summer He had told her she’d look good in them, and by the time He’d changed His mind, the deed was done and she didn’t have the money to undo it) and hazel eyes with a haunted depth to them. Not an altogether appealing picture, but it was the one she had, so she might as well make the best of it.
Jordyn had left a note on the kitchen counter, inviting Suzannah to eat her fill of whatever she wanted. Suzannah poured herself a bowl of cereal and plopped onto the couch to enjoy a luxurious breakfast without the stress of anyone worrying about her. [...] There would be time to make up for these lost moments later; for now, she needed some healing. Suzannah browsed the stack of novels on the side table next to the sofa, and decided to read one.
She was halfway through the book when she heard a key clicking in the lock of the door. Jordyn poked her head in, tapping lightly. “Hey,” she said when she saw Suzannah, “I have a break and I decided to come back here with my lunch. Are you hungry?”
After not eating much the day before, and only having the bowl of cereal that morning, Suzannah admitted that she was indeed hungry. Jordyn sat down and spread the sandwiches and chips out on the coffee table.
“So…” Jordyn began slowly, once they had started eating. “Do you—I mean, um… Are you ready to talk about it now?”
Suzannah hesitated, but the more she thought about it, the more the ache increased in her heart, desperate to be released. “Okay,” she said, and proceeded to tell Jordyn the whole situation[..]. By the time she finished, she was crying, and it was all Jordyn could do to keep herself together.
“I still don’t understand what just happened to me,” Suzannah sobbed. “Then, too, I have been kicking myself for not seeing it sooner, and—more than that—getting myself into this stupid situation in the first place!” She accepted the tissue Jordyn offered and wiped her eyes.
“Well,” Jordyn said slowly, rubbing Suzannah’s shoulder comfortingly, “I can’t tell you whether or not you did the right thing, and I know it’s not great—but you made the decision, so the best I can offer is to help you move on from it, and get that fresh start you said you wanted.”
Suzannah gave Jordyn a woebegone smile. “How can you help?”
Jordyn smiled, but not too widely. “Some friends of mine are hosting a party this weekend. You should come with me; there will be lots of people to meet.”
Suzannah fingered the crumpled tissue in her hand, and picked at the fibers of the couch next to her leg. “I don’t know…” she replied slowly.
“Just think about it,” said Jordyn. “You don’t have to give me an answer till the day of. Meanwhile, Snooze,” she checked her watch, “I have to get back to work, and I’ll be there till eight or so—so what are you going to do with yourself today?”
Suzannah shrugged, “I dunno; maybe take a walk. I’ll find someplace to have dinner, does that sound okay?”
Jordyn nodded and grinned at her friend. “That’s the spirit!” she enthused. “The spare key’s on the hook next to the phone. I’ll see you later tonight.” She stood, grabbed her purse, and left.

Suzannah was alone again. In the stillness, her curiosity over this place that might turn out to be her new home dimmed somewhat. She glanced back at the novel she had been reading; perhaps San Francisco could wait till she finished that, at least.

She finished just as the sun was beginning to set. She slipped on a cotton dress and cardigan, choosing a comfortable pair of sneakers in anticipation of much walking. With that, she picked up the spare key, slipped it into her purse, and stepped out of Jordyn’s apartment to see what she would find.

As she crossed what seemed like the umpteenth block, she heard music coming from somewhere--fresh music, not the canned stuff being pumped out of every tavern and passing car radio. She looked up, intrigued. At the end of the block, a white, old-style facade seemed to radiate welcome. She heard the warm twang of an A-frame electric guitar being strummed gently. She made for the entrance. A sign overhead proclaimed the Silver Cloud Restaurant. She slid in the door, taking advantage of the hostess' turned back to slip in the shadows.

There was a stage against the back wall, with bright floodlights aimed toward it. Sitting on a stool in front of the microphone was a tall young man with light brown, tousled hair. His eyes were closed to the crowd in front of him. She recognized the chord progression, but she couldn't recall where she'd heard it. He strummed a few more lines and then--in a strong, smooth, soulful voice--began to sing along.

Remember the moonlight,
When life sends the rain,
Remember I love you,
Till we meet again;
Look to the stars,
How they shine up above,
Forever and always,
Remember my love...”

She hadn't realized when her vision clouded over, but she had to wipe her eyes to return to the shadowy restaurant with the tousled-haired musician strumming away on the open mic.
Suzannah was spellbound. She couldn't move. She watched him as he bowed to the applause and ducked out of the spotlight. Some random chick got up and started wheezing out a drunken rendition of "I Wanna Hold Your Hand", and the spell was broken.
Suzannah flinched as someone confronted her.
“Can I help you?” The hostess—in a black pencil skirt and white starched blouse—demanded loud enough for everyone in the immediate vicinity to turn and look at the shy girl with the bad dye job standing at the front desk.
Luckily for Suzannah, there were a few people more interested in getting a table than she was.
“How long is the wait?” A heavyset man all but bowled her over as he pushed his way to the front. Suzannah took advantage of the distraction to melt into the flow of people exiting. Once outside, she paused to reflect on what she had just witnessed.

It had been years since she’d listened to Cal Parker music. He had pushed to get her into the indie-pop scene, decrying her old jazz records as “grandma music.” When she’d moved into an apartment to share with him, her embarrassment over it had caused her to leave her whole collection in the attic at her parents’ house.
Now here she was, two years later, trying to find herself in a new place—and an angel with an A-frame guitar had played one of her favorite songs from her favorite record, Moonsong. Suzannah smiled; it had to be a good omen!

Other Excerpts From "The Suggestion Box Compilation":

-Part 1: Excerpt 1 Excerpt 2
-Part 2: Excerpt 1
-Part 4: Excerpt 1
-Part 5: Excerpt 1

Would you like to see more of this part? Leave a comment and I'll post another excerpt!