Yippee, I felt like sharing. This is the first chapter of the first segment of that novel I’m working on. I’d love feedback, and if all you want to say is “Hey, I enjoyed that,” that’s fine – but I’d really love it if you commented with questions or things that confused you or things that didn’t make sense. Think of this as your chance to critique, and know that I’m grateful.
From Bright as Day:
Part One: Home for the Summer
Monday, July 4, 2011
Meredith hadn’t seen him coming. But then, she never did, not even when they’d been kids. You looked down at your ice cream pop, or your bike on the grass, or the baseball in your glove, and then when you looked up, there was Day Donovan. Mostly, you were glad to see him, never mind that he’d snuck up on you. More often, it was annoying, as it was now.
“Hi,” somebody said to Meredith’s dad, in a voice she thought was familiar but couldn’t place. The somebody was wearing khaki shorts and white sneakers, she saw out of the corner of her eye. “Can I sit with you, Mr. Harper?” And then she had it, she knew it was Day, and it had been nearly three years since she’d seen him last but she knew the sound of him.
“Don’t bother to ask me,” she murmured to herself, deliberately not looking up, and then her dad ruined everything by exclaiming with pleasure and inviting Day to sit down, of course, Day, howareya, buddy, saw your dad last week but he didn’t mention you were in town.
“Fine, thanks. Hey, Mere,” Day said, leaning around her dad to greet her before sitting down and starting a conversation with Mr. Harper about what a dismal year it was likely to be for the Royals, and how he’d be spending the summer working at Tanner’s Pharmacy, and how were Mrs. Harper and Tess? And would they be watching the Independence Day fireworks at the fairgrounds, or at the lake beach? Meredith pulled her hat down a little farther onto her head and tried not to remember how bright a green Day’s eyes were, with all that gold in them.
Day sat with them and they talked about this season’s Royals (dreadful: they couldn’t hit, they couldn’t field, and they only had one decent pitcher, so of course he’d be snatched up out of the rookie league as soon as some minor league manager got wind of him) and watched the game. Mr. Harper handed over two of their six hot dogs to Day, insisting that he take them, and Meredith watched them change hands with a strange feeling in her throat, like she couldn’t eat one now where ten minutes before, she’d been hungry for the chili-and-mustard dogs. Day leaned around and said to Meredith, smiling, “You still look like a gymnast; do you still eat like a linebacker?”
Still annoying. “Yep,” she said and turned back to the (dismal) game.
“Then I’ll buy you another hot dog,” Day said, and bit into his, sitting back on the bleachers where she couldn’t really see him. So then it was okay to eat her own hot dogs and wish that her dad had gotten pickle relish on them.
The Royals’ opponent scored a run on a single and a sacrifice fly. CharlieHarper got up to visit the men’s room. Meredith could feel Day’s eyes on her, and she nudged herself. This was her friend, so how could she be so unfriendly to him? That was so high school. Middle school, really, and she was beyond that, or should be. Never mind the prom.
“Want a drink?” he asked. “I need one. You like Dr. Pepper, right?” She nodded, and he was up and heading for the concession stand before she could say she didn’t need anything. But that was Day – if he saw somebody needed something, he’d take care of it. Stray puppies in the street came to him willingly, to be tenderly gathered up and carried to the animal shelter. They never bit Day. Girls took advantage of his affability in high school. He was always changing somebody’s flat tire in the school parking lot, or carrying somebody’s science project. Eight years of looking after Jackson had stuck, a permanent piece of his personality. Or maybe it had always been there, and taking care of Jackson had just cemented it, Meredith reflected.
Just as suddenly as he’d left, Day was back, with two drinks and two more hot dogs, dressed up exactly the way Meredith liked them, with chili and evenly-drizzled mustard and one tiny mound of pickle relish right in the middle of the bun, like a little treasure. “They just refilled the relish bottle,” he told her as he handed her a stadium cup. “And your dad got waylaid by Andy Cooper, I saw him over by the barbecue pit. They’ll be talking politics for another three innings.”
“True,” Meredith said. “Thanks for the hot dog.” She was touched. He’d remembered her pickle relish. And her drink order. Good old reliable Day Donovan. So she turned to look at him straight on, and he didn’t look the same at all.
He’d been a chubby kid and a chunky teenager, but now he looked fit and solid. His hair was a little too long and blonder than it should have been, his face was clear and tanned, and the sleeves on his turquoise t-shirt were rolled up to display nice biceps. Instead of his old olive twill cap with the fishhook on the bill, he was wearing Ray-Bans. Meredith blinked.
She could think of nothing to say other than Wow, you look different, which would have been rude under the circumstances. She tried for the obvious instead. “So,” she said. “You’re home for the summer, then?”
“Yes. Usually am.” Then he frowned, and took off the sunglasses, squinting in the sun. “You cut your hair?” He reached over and whipped the cap off her head. “I liked it the way it was.”
“Yes. Well.” She shrugged. So what if Day Donovan had turned into a hottie. All the more reason to avoid him. “It got to be a pain.” Cutting her hair had been something of an agony, even if she’d finally gotten sick of her hair to the point of wanting a different style. She still wasn’t sure she’d done the right thing. Well, the cut had not been an utter disaster, but the color job had clearly been a bad choice. “Gimme my hat back.”
Instead, he ran his hand up through the back of her hair where it was sweaty from the cap, fluffing it loose. “The red is pretty,” he said, “but it’s not you.” He leaned around to look at her from the front, his hand still cupping the back of her head. “Short hair looks good on you, actually. It suits your face. And you have a little head, so it works okay. I just miss your old hair.”
She did, too. She missed the weight of it, the swish of it against her back. “You just miss yanking on my ponytail. Now gimme my hat back.” She made a grab for it and he held it out to his side.
“I’ll give it back in a minute. I’m not done looking.” Then he laughed almost ruefully, shaking his head a little. “It’s such a dramatic change.”
“I was going for dramatic.” The pixie haircut had looked cool, almost edgy, on its own. With the auburn glaze, it looked arty and iconoclastic, and it made a statement. It was certainly unusual among her classmates in the Bioengineering department at Princeton, most of whom were either guys or intensely scholarly girls with workmanlike shoulder-length hair. It was actually more low-maintenance than it seemed, which was essential, and it looked good in a college town. It fit in with who she wanted to be at school.
But it didn’t fit in at home. So she’d dug through her closet to find an old Cougars cap before coming to the game with her dad. Nothing was the same: her mother hadn’t wanted to go to the game, Tess had wanted to spend the Fourth with her friends instead, Day Donovan was touching her head and she liked it too much for her own comfort.
“Do you miss your hair?” Day asked. He sounded genuinely curious. “Hey, your drink is spilling. Watch out.”
“Sometimes,” she admitted. “But this is much cooler for summer. And it doesn’t get tangled when I sleep.” He smiled at her then, a sweet smile with so much affection in it that her shoulders went up in alert. She was not a stray puppy. She set down her cup, ready for battle, and snarled, “Now gimme my hat back.”
The smile disappeared and he handed back the hat without comment before turning back to watch the baseball game. The Royals went three up and three down in the next inning. Meredith crammed the hat back on her head and shrunk down as far as she could on a bleacher seat, wishing for her dad to come back. Or anybody to come by and talk, really. She’d even take Andy Cooper’s calling her “little lady,” emphasis on the little, and making fun of her five-foot-even height. Such a pain being short, she thought, and for the millionth time thought jealously of the genes allocated to her sister Tess, secure in her average five-feet, four-inches. A player for the other team, the Hillcats, got a hit, aided by a throwing error on the shortstop. Beside her, Day took a deep breath and sighed it out. Really, anybody would do, just to break the silence.
At that moment, a girl walked in front of Meredith, in the next row of seats in front. She was tall and her glossy beige hair was long and straight, just like her slender legs, and Meredith’s eyes narrowed in pure sick envy. The girl turned and she was Caitlin McRae, who’d been a cheerleader in the class behind hers and Day’s. Caitlin’s eyes, lined and mascaraed and shadowed in green, skittered over Meredith and slid right to Day. She said in fake surprise, “Well, hey there, Day! How are you?”
“Hey, Caitlin,” Day said, easy and unsurprised himself. “Fine, thanks. You?”
“I’m good,” she said, and tilted her head in a flirty manner, smiling sidelong at Day. “You look great these days. You must be mowing yards again this summer.”
“No, I’m interning at the Pharmacy,” he said, totally unconcerned. “You remember Meredith Hunter?”
“Are you lifeguarding at Randolph Park?” Caitlin said to Day, thrusting her hip out in that Hot Girl way. “I know you’re not at the Franklin pool, I’d have noticed. I’m there every day. You got those muscles somewhere. And you’re tan,” she added. “You must be outside a lot.”
“I’m lifting a little bit,” he said, with a little hint of pride in his voice. “I run some, too.” He flipped half a glance over at Meredith. “But I’m tan because I just got back from a week at Myrtle Beach with some friends.”
The hot dogs in Meredith’s stomach contracted into a ball, and her eyes narrowed further. She debated getting up to leave, since she wasn’t interested in the company, and she had sure as heck been dismissed from the conversation. Worse, she thought, the Hillcats had just scored two more runs on a homer.
“I thought that was you I saw at the beach,” Caitlin said. “You have a red swimsuit, right? I see you at Radford U sometimes. Are you in a fraternity?” Her eyes raked over Meredith again, sitting there with her ball cap and her red pixie hair and her purple Chuck Taylors and her pallor, clearly wondering what on earth Day was sitting with her for.
“I’m not in a frat,” Day said. “A couple of the guys are – Zach Dodson and Drew Shedd. Buddies from my dorm.” He threw another half a glance at Meredith. “Mere, you know Caitlin, right?”
“Yes,” Meredith said, biting off the S. She and Caitlin had never spoken in their lives.
“Oh,” Caitlin said, and then flipped some of her hair around to the front of her shoulder. “Well, I’m working on my tan this summer. I thought I’d take time off for myself and relax – it’s much better than working at Wendy’s. See you at the pool sometime?”
Day shrugged. “Maybe. I usually swim in the lake, though.”
“There’s a party at Justin’s house on Friday. You know Justin. Wanna go?” She combed her hands through her hair. This motion exposed part of her tanned stomach, and Meredith thought she might just turn around and throw up, right there on the bleachers.
“I’m not really a party kind of guy,” Day said apologetically. “But say hi to people for me.”
“Oh. Well. Okay. Well, tell Zach I said hi. Good to see you.” She left, wiggling down the bleacher steps in case Day was watching her butt.
Or maybe, Meredith thought, she does it without even thinking. Just in case anybody’s watching her butt. She felt depressed. She wished for her dad again, and then suddenly he was there, sitting on the other side of Day this time, apologizing for the delay and asking about how things were going for Day at college and at the pharmacy. She tuned out their conversation and got into her thoughts, tucking her legs up into the seat with her. That was one good thing about being short, you could curl into a ball pretty much anywhere. She kicked her shoes off, which she was pretty sure she wasn’t supposed to do in the ballpark but wanted to do anyway, and her shoe fell against Day’s leg.
He turned to look at her but didn’t say anything. Reached down and picked up her right shoe and placed it on the bleacher step, next to the left one in front of her. She couldn’t help noticing: his calf looked strong and muscled and hairy, a man’s leg, and that was a man’s hand holding her size-five purple shoe, a man’s hand on the end of a strong, muscled, hairy man’s arm, and the whole thing was creeping her out, Day suddenly walking around in a man’s body. Like a kid playing dress-up, but not. It was giving her a strange sensation in her stomach.
She jumped when he said her name. “Hey, Mere – you didn’t say what you’re doing in town this summer. You’re never home for the summer.”
“Nope,” she said. It was true. She’d spent the summer after her freshman year of college taking some basic classes, trying to get a jump on her sophomore year credits. The next summer she’d spent working at a grocery store and making crap pay so she could snag one of the good apartments as soon as the graduating seniors moved out to free them up. But this summer should have been a good productive one, and the way it had gone sour had been just her luck: i.e., messed up, nobody’s fault, but nothing to be done to fix it.
“My internship fell through,” she said, still feeling the sick, sad, heart slide she’d known since she got the phone call. “I was working with a professor in the Bio-Eng department, helping him with some research for a paper, and we were making progress on the experiments. I was learning a lot. And then about ten days ago, he had a heart attack and had to take the rest of the summer off to recuperate. That left me with a partially completed internship, for which I cannot receive credit, and nobody else available in the department to take on another intern, because everybody already had one. And it sucks.” She sighed. “ I mean, I’m glad he’s going to be okay, but that pretty much blew my summer.”
“I insisted that she come home,” Mr. Hunter said to Day. “She hasn’t been home for the summer since she graduated, and her mother and I both felt she needed a break.” Meredith rolled her eyes. “And don’t you roll your eyes at me, young lady. You need a little time to just be frivolous. For once.”
“I need a job,” she muttered. “For spending money, if nothing else.”
“Pharmacy’s hiring cashiers,” Day said, encouragingly. “Part-time, of course, but… you know. Spending-money wages.”
“I’ll think about it,” Meredith said, not intending to. I don’t think so.
And she sat silent and withdrawn for the rest of the game, not budging even when Day nearly invited himself to watch fireworks with the Hunters at the lake. At the last minute, just as Mr. Hunter was saying to Day, “Come on and ride home with us so we can pick up Lisa to go see fireworks,” Day looked at Meredith. She was looking at the shoes she had just put back on her feet, but she could feel his gaze on her like a laser, burning a hole in her hat, so she looked up and met his eyes. They were intense and he wasn’t smiling, so she didn’t smile either, and then the hot burning thing in them went away, and he just looked sad.
“I think I’ll just be getting along,” he said, and gave them a tight-lipped smile. “Good night. Glad you’re home, Mere.” He turned and went down the bleachers, leaving Mr. Hunter nonplussed and Meredith unsettled for no reason she could name.