A few months ago, I got really discouraged about The Clearing and decided that a few rejections meant it would never be published. Eventually I realized this was ridiculous and jumped back into my editing, but not before taking a month off and working on another project.
The short story below is actually a chapter from the manuscript I started during my hiatus from The Clearing. Since nothing will probably happen with this other book, I thought I would at least let this one chapter see the light of day. Hope you enjoy!
I mean really. What have I done? What am I doing?
I’m loitering outside a wrought-iron gate with red brick columns on either side of it and ivy growing all over the place. There is a sign on the gate that reads:
“No,” I say out loud. “I’ve come this far. I can’t turn around now.”
A pre-teen boy who happens to be passing me on the sidewalk furrows his eyebrows at me. “Who you talkin’ to?”
I glare at him. “Certainly not you.” Stupid Manhattan adolescents.
He blinks at me and accelerates into a trot. It’s only as he is bounding up a set of stairs on the side of the
building that I notice the Highgate Academy crest on his jacket. He could be one of Charlie’s students, although he looks a bit young. I’m fairly certain Charlie teaches the older ones.
I want to follow the kid into the less-intimidating side door, but there is a sign on one of the brick columns stating that visitors must enter through the front entrance and go to the main office. I puff my cheeks out, my breath rushing through my lips with a soft whoosh.
The gate squeaks as I push through it and examine the distance between myself and the door. It’s not far, which is good, but I’ll have to walk across the courtyard which is bordered by classrooms on three sides. I scurry across the open space like a cockroach caught in the light until I reach the front entrance and burst through the mahogany doors, wishing I could collapse onto the lobby floors and collect myself before doing what I know I have to do next.
“Hello,” calls a girl from the desk across the room. She’s sitting behind what looks like a pane of bulletproof glass, talking to me through a little slot in the window. “Can I help you?”
“Ah – y-yes,” I stammer, sidling up to the glass. The girl flips her silky blonde hair over her shoulder and looks at me in a way that makes me feel like she’s sizing me up. Her green cowl-neck sweater looks like cashmere and highlights my general jeans-and-hoodie frumpiness. Suddenly I wonder if it’s just my clothes that are frumpy, or if maybe my whole life is heading in a Bag Lady direction. Scary thought. “Uh, I’m looking for someone,” I say to the girl’s expectant face.
She nods as if I am a child who has lost her parents. “And does this someone have a name?”
“His name is Charlie.” My voice breaks at the end of the sentence, so I try again. “Charlie Dearing. Could you tell me what room he’s in? I would like to surprise him, if I could.”
“Oh, I’m afraid I can’t do that,” she says, her eyes wide. “But I can call him down for you, as long as he’s not teaching right now.”
“It’s lunchtime, isn’t it?” I practically shout at her, attacked by a sudden fit of panic that I am interrupting Charlie and he’ll think it’s an emergency or something. That would be so awkward.
“Uh – yeah, it is, actually,” the girl confirms after consulting a bell schedule. I can tell she’s wondering if I’m some kind of stalker. “Let me just call him, okay? If he’s not busy, he’ll come down. You can sit over there.” She waves her hand in the vague direction of a white leather sofa that’s worth more than my car.
I manage to shuffle over to the waiting area and plop down on the couch, which doesn’t give an inch beneath my weight. A clear, square vase of white tulips sits on the black lacquer table next to me. I try to breathe normally, but every second brings a fresh wave of anxiety.
The cashmere-covered girl behind the glass panel is laughing and smiling into the phone, presumably telling Charlie that there is some strange woman here to see him. She looks over at me and I shift my eyes away. I’m really wishing I hadn’t dressed like a college student when I am about to see Charlie for the first time in four years. Why didn’t I try to look a little cuter? I rub my face with my hands and cross my legs.
The clock on the wall in front of me ticks too loudly. I watch the seconds pass – seconds in which Charlie is trying to figure out who’s here to surprise him, probably never considering that it might be me. After all, what would I be doing here? He probably thinks his mom has brought him lunch or something. The thought of Pamela Dearing makes me unexpectedly emotional, and I realize that I miss not just Charlie, but his
parents as well. In fact, I miss New York. I miss the life I had here, the one glorious year I spent bashing around Times Square and Greenwich Village….
No. The memories are coming too hard and too fast, like a barrage of poison tipped darts. I have to get out of here. Charlie will never know the difference. I’ll go outside and get in the first cab I see and –
My heart freezes. I look up, slowly, almost unable to focus on the image standing alone in the lobby. I can’t move. I try to smile, but all I can do is bite my bottom lip.