Today I put the final #### to mark the completion of the first draft of my second book. It is the sequel to my first book and as of yet the working title is THE CONDUIT: Embrace of the Call. Before certain people, and you know who you are, come bust down my door for the continuing adventures of Celeste and her gang please note that the book is still no where near done. There is a rigorous editing process it must endure before I let eyes other than my own gaze upon it. I haven't even let my dear husband sneak a peak. I close my laptop if he comes in the room. Seriously. I'm crazy strict about that. However I still feel this is a huge accomplishment and one that I believe deserves a celebratory WOOHOO!!
Writing the first book, like running the first mile, was the hardest part. Now I have established my grove and can go with it. EMBRACE OF THE CALL is a little darker than it's predecessor, a little saucier, but still holds true to the humor of the series. I am very proud of how it is coming together. Can't wait to share it with you all...eventually.
In fact I am so happy I have decided to be generous and attach the next chapter of my original novel THE CONDUIT for your reading pleasure. (My decision to add another sneak peak was only mildly effected by a certain mother of six threatening to "beat the rest of the story out of me." She juggles six kids!! I'm not messing with her!! So here you go Kel, enjoy!!)
For the most part the trip was uneventful. We all seemed to be absorbed in our own thoughts. There was of course the inevitable fight over the radio between my brother and sister that ended with me turning it off and telling them both to shut up. We sat in an uncomfortable silence for a while until I relented and turned it back on. I settled on a talk radio station that none of us really wanted to listen to. It was noise to sulk by.
Gabe and Kendall got into it once more, when he could stand it no longer and had to ask her about earlier comment.
“Did Abby really see Laura with Brian?” He abruptly blurted out. Obviously he had been stewing over it.
“You broke up with her, what does it matter?“ Kendall antagonized.
“It doesn’t matter, I’m just curious.”
“Do you still love her?” Kendall asked casually.
My brother’s face turned beat red. “What?! I don’t know!”
“Then why did you end things?” She pushed. I was sending her subconscious ‘shut up’ vibes that she clearly was not getting. The throbbing vein in Gabe’s temple had me worried.
“Because.” He snorted, feeling that was answer enough.
“None of your business.”
“Because why? Because why? Because why? Because why?”
Gabe spun in his seat. “Because she’s at MSU! Embracing the life of the Spartans and making something of herself! And I’m on my way to middle-of-no-where Tennessee to do exactly nothing! We’re on different paths! Now drop it!” Gabe turned back around and crossed his arms firmly over his chest to punctuate that the conversation was definitely over.
A moment passed before Kendall piped up again. “Laura was at the movies with a group of people. Brian was just part of the group.”
With wide eyes I glanced over at my brother, fully expecting him to reach into the backseat and pummel our sister. To my surprise all I saw there was acceptance and relief.
The elevated tension caused us to lapse back into silence after that. Until what appeared to be a big, glowing orb whizzed past my driver’s side window.
“Whoa! Holy crap! Did you see that?!” I exclaimed.
“What?” Gabe asked with little interest.
“It was like a giant, mutant lightening bug! Just flew by!”
“Or it was the headlight of a car passing you because you drive like a little old lady.” He grumbled. “You could let me drive you know.”
“I’m not letting you drive and I did see something.” Didn’t I?
It was ten o’clock when I found our exit to Gainesboro. Gabe and Kendall had both dozed off, so I was free to take in all the town had to offer in solitude. Not much to see. Gainesboro, Tennessee; blink and you’ll miss it. Kendall would probably hate it; she thrived on crowds. But as I drove down Gore Avenue, the main street through town, I had to admit that the miniature town really was cute.
The hub of the city only took up about a mile and a half. Two story red brick buildings lined the street, filled with Ma and Pa style businesses. The library was the crown jewel of Gore Avenue. Standing three stories tall, it was sunshine yellow stucco with elaborate white moldings. It had obviously been built and maintained with painstaking detail. Since my last visit they had added a Victorian style clock tower to the top of it. It was the cherry on top, a perfect fit.
The ornate building might have looked out of place in this minute town if it wasn’t for the scenery around it. Even at night I could see the shadowed outlines of the peaks and valleys. The tiny community was nestled into the mountains, completely surrounded by their splendor. No matter where you stood in town, the view was breathtaking. No wonder Grams loved it here.
I found the side street that lead to our grandmother’s house and turned. It was easy to spot her house. She had every light on in anticipation of our arrival. With a story and a half, it wasn’t a huge house. But the robin’s egg blue siding and gingerbread style white trim made it extra homey and inviting.
I parked the truck and nudged my brother to let him know we were there. I stepped out of the truck and stretched up on to my toes arching my arms up over my head. I had let Kendall drive for all of two hours. That lasted until I got tired of white knuckling the dash board because of her lead foot. Then I demanded she pull into a rest area and give me back the seat of power.
I took a deep breath of the rich mountain air. It smelled clean and fresh. Hints of pine trees and wild flowers mingled in the breeze. Gabe stretched in his seat and then reached over to gently shake Keni awake.
She had fallen asleep with her face pressed up against the angular side window. As her heavy lids struggled open, she sat up. Her body ready to move before her brain had caught up. “What? We…here?”
“Yeah, we’re here. I think Grams waited up.”
As I finished my sentence the door opened and my grandmother bounded out on to the covered porch clad in her fuzzy blue robe and slippers. She had looked exactly the same for as long as I could remember. Her wavy grey hair was worn in the short, standard old lady ‘do. I got my petite stature from her, she measured in at about 4’11 and probably weighed about 90 lbs soaking wet. But she was a feisty little fire cracker. My dad once told me a story of her standing on a chair just so she could smack him in the head.
“Hey kids!” She shouted. “Celeste pull the truck into the garage, we’ll unload all that in the morning! Gabe,Kendall get your butts in here and kiss your Grams!” Even my brother had to smile at Grandma’s barked orders. They both climbed out and scurried inside.
I walked over to the old garage, grabbed the handle and tried to slide the door up. It scoffed at my attempt by moving about an inch.
No problem, I’ll just put a little muscle behind it.
I squatted down and hooked my fingers underneath the door. Grunting and straining, I put all my strength into the effort. The rusted rollers squealed their disapproval and reluctantly slid open…a grand total of a foot.
If only my truck had a limbo feature.
I tried again. Heaving, pulling, cursing and just trying to wrench the uncooperative object into submission. Nothing.
“How’s it going, Supergirl?” My brother teased from behind me. “Grams said you might need some help. Apparently the door sticks.”
“No kidding.” I said bitterly. “It won’t budge. We need to talk her into getting a new garage door, complete with one of those new fangled door openers.”
He gave me one of his infuriating token smirks. “Well, before we book the contractor, how about if I give it a try?” Gabe stepped around me and with one hand yanked the door open. “Wow, that was tough! I think I may need to lie down.”
“I still need to pull the truck in. Why don’t you stay right here, in front of the door? I think it would do the world a lot of good.”
He grinned widely. “I’ll pass. Thanks.”
“I’m gonna head inside. Grams ordered a pizza. Think you can handle things from here?”
“I got it, thanks.” Someday someone was going to knock that grin off his face and I really hoped I’d be there to see it.
The pizza arrived just as I was heading inside. My brother, sister and I all swarmed to the tasty treat. We didn’t bothering grabbing plates or taking it to the kitchen table, just ate it from the box where we stood. Mom would never have let us get away with that, Grams was another matter. She’s cool like that. She just hung back, a safe distance from the feeding frenzy.
“Want a slice Grams?” I asked.
“No thanks, I already ate.”
“More for us.” My brother muttered between mouthfuls.
We were well on our way to consuming our individual body weights in the cheesy goodness, when Grams rose from her recliner. The determined look in her eye should have been our first clue something was up. It probably would have been, had she not lured us into a false sense of security with food. Wiley minx.
“While you’re busy stuffing your faces, and therefore can’t argue, let’s go over some ground rules for while you’re here.” She began. Our chewing slowed tentatively. Rules? At Grandma’s house? What kind of backward, twisted dimension had we slipped into? “First of all, I am not your maid. So, as long as you are here, you will pick up after yourselves. Are we clear on that?” We nodded dumbly. “Secondly, Grandma has a life. I have lots of activities that I’m involved in. Like tonight, I had to skip my Salsa class so I could be here when you arrived.”
Grandma doing Salsa? Brain, if you would please skip visualizing that traumatizing image, I would appreciate it.
Beside me, my brother gagged on his pizza. The image must have crept in. Poor guy.
“I am telling you this because it means I will not be here constantly to entertain you. I expect each of you to keep yourselves busy and out of trouble. That brings me to you, young man.” Grandma focused on Gabe with a disapproving gaze. “Julia tells me that you have made no plans to go back to college after your little incident last year.”
My sister and I both froze. The incident she mentioned was a taboo topic with Gabe. It normally made him go from annoying jokester to snorting buffalo in the blink of an eye.
Gabe had been on the road to success before our Dad died. He was at Michigan State, right alongside Laura. There on a full ride football scholarship. He was living his dream. Then Dad had his accident. Not even six months later Gabe decided to cope with his mourning by indulging in a little underage drinking. The result was a DUI, the loss of his scholarship, his license getting revoked and him getting kicked out of school. He moved back home, and had refused to think or talk about his future since then. No job, no school, nothing.
He became unbearable to live with. Grumbling, huffing and throwing temper tantrums like an overgrown two year old. Frustrated with his constant state of grouchiness, I suggested that he get involved in some local athletic leagues. He had always loved playing sports. Football, baseball, swimming, wrestling, rugby, soccer, he had tried and excelled at all of them. I figured doing something he enjoyed would at least get him out of the house for a while.
Sports became his escape. He signed up for whatever he could, and completely submersed himself in all of them. And for a while he was tolerable again. Unfortunately, in preparation for our move, he had quit all the teams he was on. He went right back to being a fish out of water. It was like he needed someone to beat the snot out of him on a daily basis to keep him mellow.
So, when Grams dared to mention the unmentionable, Kendall and I braced ourselves for yet another blow up.
To our surprise, “Not yet” was his only response.
“Do you plan to get a job?” Grams pressed.
“Don’t know.” He shrugged.
Grams pursed her lips, clearly not happy with how this conversation was progressing. “Well, how did you occupy your time back in Michigan?”
“I see. And did you become a professional athlete with one of those million dollar contracts?”
“Hmmmm. Guess you should probably get a job then, huh?” She raised her eyebrows, daring him to argue. Or even to attempt an excuse. Surprisingly, he did neither.
“Probably.” He answered.
“If you want, I can talk to Will Burke for you.” She stated. “He’s the athletic director at Gainesboro High. Maybe there’s a coach or assistant coach position he could set you up with.”
Gabe seemed genuinely interested. “Really? Wow, Grams that’s great. I think I would really like that.”
We’d been there less than an hour and Grams had already succeeded where the rest of us had failed for a full year. This lady was good.
Satisfied with her work on Gabe, Grams turned to Kendall. “I had no problem figuring out how to keep you busy Missy.” She grabbed a fluorescent pink piece of paper off the coffee table and handed it to Kendall.
I watched as Keni’s eyes scanned the sheet, widening the further she read. “Auditions for the community players production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof!” Her voice bubbled with enthusiasm. “I would looooooove the chance to play Maggie the Cat!” She hugged the paper to her chest.
A community play in a town of eight hundred people? How does that even work? I pictured a performance in someone’s garage with a guy in the back shining a flashlight on them. It would undoubtedly be a far cry from the big, spacious stage complete with light and sound boards that my sister was accustomed to. But she seemed so excited it would be cruel to burst her bubble.
“Now then, Celeste.” Grams turned to me with narrowed, pondering eyes. “I know you have a hard time even chewing gum and walking. So what the heck do you do for fun?”
Ahh, nothing like the loving banter of family. Just gives me warm fuzzy feelings.
“Until fall I thought I’d just help you around the house.” I shrugged. “I’m sure there are things you need to get done. Fixing the garage door for example.”
“Oh- pish!” Grandma scoffed, her hand flipping side to side as if to bat my words away. “The Johnson boy takes care of odds and ends around here for me. Don’t you worry about that. Your mother put me under strict orders to make sure you have some fun before school starts. So, what would you like to do? If I wasn’t worried about you tripping over your own feet and breaking your neck, I’d drag you to Salsa with me!”
Occasionally, being known as a klutz has its advantages.
However, Grams comment did get me thinking. What did I do for fun? It had been so long since I had even thought about my own likes and dislikes, an idea didn’t immediately pop into my head. A sad statement in itself. I had to think back to when I was the shy girl in school, content to blend into the background with my few close knit friends. I vaguely remembered being that girl. If I recall she had liked to read, listen to music, and dabble in art.
“I guess I like to draw.” I said sheepishly. Both Gabe and Kendall whipped their heads in my direction. Slow smiles spread across their faces that made me instantly self-conscious. “What?”
“You haven’t even mentioned your drawing since, like, FOREVER.” My sister grinned warmly.
“Yeah, but I don’t have any supplies.”
“Not a problem!” Grams interjected. “There’s a hobby shop in town that will have everything that you need. And, if you like to sketch nature scenes, I even know of the perfect spot.”
“Well, that’s…convenient.” Looked like I was going to be drawing again, whether I actually wanted to or not. Truth be told, outdoor drawings had been my favorite. Smelling the fresh air always seemed to whisper subtle nuances about my surroundings that I felt made my sketches more authentic. Of course, seeing as I had never showed them to another living soul, I couldn’t be sure if that was true or some crap I had convinced myself of.
“Where?” I asked, warily gaining enthusiasm about the prospect.
“Just outside of town there is a public walking trail that leads into the mountains. It’s a nice cleared path, so if you stay on it you won’t get lost. But along the way you will see some of the most beautiful sights! There is one spot in particular, right next to a little brook that I just love to go. If I had any kind of artistic abilities, that’s what I would draw.”
It did sound tempting. Plus, I liked the idea of giving Grams a portrait of her ‘favorite spot’. A small token of our appreciation for letting us stay with her. It had been a while since I had dusted off my canvas so I would be pretty rusty. But it couldn’t hurt to try. Heck, she used to put our crayon drawings on her fridge, so she couldn’t be that hard to please.
Before the sun had set on our first day in Gainesboro we each had plans or ideas for what our summer would hold. But like even the best laid plans, they often go awry.