This is a picture of me and my sister Amy. She has been asking when I am going to write a story with her in it. I decided to surprise her and stick a short story on here with, you guessed it, Amy in all her glory as the main character's older sister of four years. (Sound familiar Amy?)
Now I need to explain a little about this story. It is not a comedy. Far from it actually. It is about three people effected by one event that not only changes their lives, but sends them in very different directions looking for peace and purpose.
I really enjoyed writing this. I was determined to write a short story and keep it to around 4,000 words and well, I didn't quite make it, but I was only a thousand over, and believe me that is pretty good self control considering my first story has about 84,000 words and my second story has around 119,000 words. I don't know if you can blame it on being wordy, or if it's just that I love to tell a story.
So here it is, my debut for all of you to see, a short story, or rather a first chapter to a future novel. I'd love to know what you all think.
Thanks for reading.
Hay Fields in Spring
My toes were numb, legs stiff and aching, throbbing actually to be removed from their cramped position. Crouched under an old cracked and burnt smelling tractor tire for nearly an hour- the heat from the rubber searing into my bare skin, my only respite was that I would be branded the most brilliant hide and seek player of this century. But this brilliant spot was fast becoming my own Grant’s tomb. Still I stayed in this fetal position, peering just over the edge of the massive tire, craning my neck to steal a peak as they passed by, unsuspecting of my most simple and yet clever location. Something sharp pulled in my back as the weighty chunk of rubber and weathered slab of plywood pressed against me.
There were voices hovering nearby. Of course I recognized them. One was the reason I was playing this stupid kid game in the first place. His name was James Maughn. The heart throb of the neighborhood with eyes of sapphire that could go from blissful to brooding in seconds. His eyes told it all. And I had felt them fall on me more than once, and when they did, every bone in my body turned all noodley. Every hair on my arm, raised, aware of his stare, while a strange emotion deep in my gut, churned me like butter.
As he passed by, unsuspecting of my hiding place, I felt my stomach lurch. A pang of jealousy and spite rip through me. He was walking shoulder to shoulder with the brunette, their arms swaying playfully, shoulders bumping. Elbow touching. My face colored red as the tomato I realized I was.
They weren’t looking for me.
They had conjured up this false game of hide and seek to get rid of me, and give them time to talk. Well those sobs didn’t realize I was anything but a kid. I’d been fourteen for a whole month. I wasn’t a child anymore. I had even grown me some breasts, well nothing to brag of unless I wore just the right shirt, which I had today, in hopes that James might notice, but as Amy turned sideways I could see by her own ample curves that I was never going to measure up.
She used to be my best friend, one I could tell every secret to, but now she was the KGB. A stranger. A traitor and I hated her. She was my sister.
Four years is a big gap, the Grand Canyon in ones youth. Seventeen and beautiful, with flowing milk chocolate hair and hazel eyes, my sister was something to be reckoned with. And what made it all work was she had no idea. Honestly didn’t realize how she was like honeysuckle to delirious bees the way she swayed through life. Lovely voice, supple rose lips. A laugh that rolled like flowing water across a brook, she was un-phased by their attention. Maybe scared them even in a sexually charged way by the way she looked boys in the eye, like she could see through their souls, sending shivers of elation through them, just by her smile.
She was sexy without having to flaunt it. And with a body like hers it dripped off her like coconut oil.
I on the other hand, hadn't any need for boys. That was until James started working at my dad's farm. Since that time something inside me had been awakened. He was sixteen and rugged looking. Not harlequin romance rugged, but still boyish, a fuller face, nose not perfect, but with sweet full lips and sparkling wide eyes. Watching him throw hay bales onto the truck with his massive russet arms, his brown skin gleaming, his tousled dirty blond hair unkempt and in his eyes— something inside me came alive; a strange new sensation stoking my fire whenever he smiled and especially when he winked at me.
Even though he was several grades older and I had absolutely zero chance with him I’d literally become obsessed with the guy. Setting my alarm before the sun even rose, just so I could spy through my father’s hunting binoculars as James climbed onto the old John Deere, his silhouette outlined by the soft amber grey of morning. Granted I couldn't’t see his face as he plowed through the fields, cutting down the sweet smelling green hay that amply grew behind our house, but I knew it was him and that was enough.
The sound of the old tractor idling in the field was a serenade to my ears, and when work was over for the day I’d sneak into the cab and breath in his scent: sweat mixed with old spice,while touching the steering wheel where the heat of his hands still lingered. I’d dream of the time when we might actually be together. When our hands might join and lips might touch.
And the most amazing thing about him? He noticed me. Honest to goodness. He listened to what I said, even laughed sometimes, commenting on what a riot I was. Every day he sought me out at lunch time and we’d sit under the big apple tree and drink straight from his thermos of ice water. I’d bring his lunch along with mine from the fridge and we’d eat together. His consisting of turkey or ham on white homemade bread, chips, an apple and some kind of candy bar that we passed back and forth until there was only one bite remaining, of which he’d insist I finish. I never knew what I was eating. My mouth was unable to register taste. Food tasted like cardboard when he was around. This new sense I was experiencing overwhelming any other.
It took all my effort just to swallow, for food was only a prop in my pursuit to satisfy this craving.
With each interaction I’d fallen more for him. And today had been a bonus. He’d finished the fields early and while my friends and I were hanging out in the yard, jumping on the trampoline and swinging on the swings (all carefully crafted of course to have a bird’s eye view of him), he’d pulled the tractor up, hopped out and plopped down on the grass, teasing us for having nothing to do this early June day but play. He then sighed, laid back in the grass and closed his eyes. My heart had gone into a frenzy of pounding beats, hard enough to explode through my shirt. My reaction to his sudden appearance was not alone. My two girlfriends Gretchen and Sadie turned giddy, covering his body with grass. Mark my boy cousin from down the lane was coaxing him to throw the football with him.
That's how it was. Everyone was attracted to him, boys and girls alike, but for different reasons. Somehow he had this ability to make you feel important, and the way his eyes sparkled when he smiled at me, that quick side-wink, I felt sure that he had quit early just for me.
Then my sister had shown up unannounced, carrying a glass of ice water for James so cold that the condensation dripped like a fast moving waterfall over her long fingers, which he took appreciatively from her feminine supple hands and quickly chugged. He’d handed the empty glass back, wiped his mouth and then thanked her for being so thoughtful. My heart had burned with rage. I would have had a drink for him if I’d known he was going to be finished an hour early! How had she known? Had she been watching from the kitchen window? Was she in love with him too? Granted I hadn’t told her how I felt about James, but that didn’t matter, she had enough boys calling on her, did she really need him too? He was the only boy I had ever cared about and here she was sidling up to him like a coy deer, her hair long partly hiding her beautiful creamy complexion, her sailor striped tank top, embellishing her voluptuousness, and her cut-off shorts exposing her long lean legs. She was a pig. And she was now the enemy.
“Let’s play a game!” I had called out, hatching a plan. Everyone gathered. James and Amy agreed, but it was Amy who chose.
“Let’s play hide and seek. You all hide and James and I will try to find you.”
Again, the enemy was quicker than I. I was careful not to show how angry I really felt towards her and determined to use her strategy against her. Isn’t that what the best secret agents did? Fraternize with the enemy? They’d began counting, turning their backs to us and leaning against the massive trunk of the old apple tree as we scattered through the farm yard.
It was a fantastic place to hide: rusted and weathered machinery, trucks and pieces of abandoned equipment littered the yard between the house and barn. Scraps long rejected, waiting to be recycled, or buried deep into the earth: old tires, parts of wagons, yellow, rusted out hay balers gave us plenty of places to squeeze behind. I felt too old to play,like she'd conjured up the game to put us in our youthful place, but I’d be danged to be left out, or appear the spoiled little sister.
Now nearly an hour later they seemed to be in no more hurry to find me then they’d been the first go around. I was beginning to perspire under my arms and between my small A cup sized breasts. This was not how it was suppose to work. By the time he found me I would be a stinking sponge of sweat mixed with layers of dirt. A mop of dripping tangled hair. The smell of the burning rubber and old dung, stung my nostrils. The weight was becoming unbearable. A mighty elephant on my head. I couldn’t stand the stench, the heat, the pressure, the space that was encroaching on me. I knew the minute I tried to stand my wobbly legs would give out and riddle me with sharp pins and needles; a human voodoo doll. The pain would be unbearable, but I couldn’t lay here trapped in this position for one more minute.
Miraculously James rounded the corner just then, and he seemed to be alone. It was now or never. I pushed with my arms, scootching across the dirt and pulled myself midway out of the tire in hopes to catch his attention before Amy caught up to him. The sun was blinding. I squeezed my eyes shut and took a deep breath. The fresh hot air, a relief from the stifling hiding place I'd stuffed myself in. Sure enough, my legs were dead weight. But not completely numb as tingling sensations began to course through my legs and feet and down to my toes. I squeezed my eyes shut to block out the pain that was now searing through my extremities. Why did something so dumb hurt so bad? A shadow passed over me. Hung more like. I kept my eyes shut, hoping against all else that it was James minus his looser other half. I was the sleeping princess ready and waiting.
“Look what we have here.” He breathed, so quietly I could barely make out the words. He leaned over my quiescent face.
“Cass. Are you sleeping?” He wondered in a whisper that brushed against my skin like tickling feathers. I kept my eyes shut, deciding how to react to this moment. Contemplating what he might do next if he really thought I was asleep.
“Cassidy.” He called to me in a sing song tone. My skin turned to goose flesh. I prayed that this moment might not be ruined by someone’s witchy sister before he might have the courage to kiss me.
“She’s faking.” A voice accused.
Ding dong, the witch was not dead. I felt so annoyed I wanted to smack her sweet lips for ruining what could have been the best moment in my life. Instead I focused on what he was saying before completely blowing it.
“I don’t know, she looks pretty rested to me.” He answered as he softly nudged my arm. I played along, stirring gently and eventually lifting my eyelids and then blinking in reaction to the light.
“What happened? Did I fall asleep?” I tried, whispering and yawning to complete the effect.
“You are such a liar!” She accused.
“I am not!”
“You were not sleeping and you know it. What a drama queen.” She pegged , while rolling her eyes. She straightened up and with a hand on her hip sang out-
“One, two three on Cassidy!” Then she hunkered over me and with a smug grin whispered, “Now you and your friends are it while we go hide!” she turned to leave, but stopped when she realized that James had taken my hand and was helping me out of my hiding place, my legs all but jelly as I tried to stand on them. A mermaid with new legs.
“Spot on hiding place Cass.” He whispered as I worked the dust off my yellow shorts. He slapped my back, causing a smoky spray of dirt to fly off my already grey tank top.
It was at that moment my mother came around the corner. “Have you guys seen Coop?” Her face was scrunched in a wrinkle of concern.
Coop was my little brother. Almost five and nearly as big a pain as my sister.
“I saw him pass by a while ago.” I remembered guiltily.
“I didn’t even know he was out here.” Amy conveniently exonerated herself.
I only bit my lip, embarrassed that I had been so unconcerned.
We began searching for him. Calling his name. No sign of him, which wasn’t a surprise as he was the most curious kid I knew. Gretchen and I made our way to the old abandoned barn. I could barely squeeze through the sliding door that had been stuck in the same position for years. I hollered through the nearly empty barn. No answer. I peered into the darkness. Dust caked the tops of the old worn out bicycles, and old black and white stove that once belonged to my Grandparents. Besides the hanging rusted metal chains and other animal bits that had hung on the wall for decades without being moved it appeared to be empty.
My mother met me in the yard, her face perspiring, her thin lips set in worry, her eyebrows furrowed. A look of distress I hadn’t seen before burned into her face.
“How long ago did you see him Cass?” She demanded, hopeful that I had some kind of answer.
I shrugged, trying to remember how long it had really been. “I don’t know. Thirty, forty minutes ago maybe.”
“And what direction did he head?” I turned to see what she was staring at. My eyes were immediately drawn to the swift moving canal that ran along the side of our property.
I didn’t know. I hadn’t paid him any attention. I just wanted him to bug off before James came around. Guilt gripped me. Coop was harmless. Such a cute guy with wide blue eyes and white hair and freckles that dotted his sun kissed face.
“He wouldn’t go to the canal Mom, he knows better.”
“I’m not so sure.” She said, as panic crept into her already wavering voice. She and James shot off towards the canal with Mark trailing behind. Gretchen, Sadie and I circled the yard again, this time peering under tires, sheets of scrap metal, old boards, anything that he might have gotten under. We yelled his name over and over, but heard no answer.
“I’ll go check the house again.” Amy yelled as she ran past my friends and I who were now standing forlornly by, unsure of where else to check. I had never seen my mother like this. She was usually so calm and never assumed the worst in any situation, but now, seeing her so upset, something deep inside me began to thud a dull aching warning in my stomach. He’s fine, he’s fine. I kept telling myself as I wiped the sweat off my glistening forehead. Standing in the full sun was turning me into a melting candle. My mouth was suddenly dry, parched even. My lips were glued together with some kind of gunk, but taking a break to get a drink seemed incredibly selfish. I suppressed the need and instead wiped the white substance off my lips with the back of my hand.
Soon my mother returned. Tears glistening in her eyes.
“Cassidy, please think. We can’t find him anywhere. I don’t see him near the canal, but the run off is heavy. Please, do you remember anything?” she was begging me for an answer I did not have. The guilt was nearly consuming. Why hadn’t I paid any more attention to him?
James’s voice cut into the silence as he yelled across the yard, “I FOUND HIM!” Relief flooded over me. James had come to the rescue!
I ran to where his voice had called from.
“Call 911.” He suddenly yelled. He was climbing down the side of the old hay baler with a limp lifeless Coop in his arms. My mother ran towards them while screaming for me to get the phone and call 911. I hesitated briefly, too afraid to turn away from the horror as James lay my little brother in the tall grass and began doing CPR on him. Briefly he looked up and noticed I was still standing there frozen, fear stretched over me like a paralyzing parasite.
“Get an ambulance here!” He yelled in frustration. His disappointment stinging like a sharp slap across my face. I turned on my heels and ran as fast as I could back to the house, tears blinding me as I ran.
That was six years ago.
Sitting in the infamous Baler that my little brother got trapped in and died of heat exhaustion, the rain poured down in buckets against the glass, blurring the outside world into unrecognizable blobs of gray and blue. It seems like it had happened only yesterday. The coroner said he probably became so hot that he laid down and fell asleep. Everyone bought it. It sounded better that way.
Something chilled me to the bone and I buried my hands deep into my jean jacket. Heat exhaustion wouldn’t have been an issue today. I couldn’t help but think.
The last six years had been pure hell. Sure I managed to squeak by. Faked my way through a miserable existence called High School. Hid my guilt and shame until I couldn’t stand to see myself in the mirror. Found a way out of it called alcohol and managed to get myself kicked out of college near the end of my Freshman year. It was then and only then that my parents became aware of my addiction and I couldn’t bring myself to face them. So I didn’t go home right away. Instead I roamed the campus globe, mooching off my drinking friends until I knew they’d had enough of me sleeping on their couch and drinking all their beer. Everything I had valued in my life became of not in that dark place I buried myself in. I did things that shamed me in ways I’d never share with anyone and the drinking spiraled to an all new low, until I was arrested for drunk driving and put in jail. My parents had to come and bail me out. Total humiliation for them. This sort of thing doesn’t happen to good parents like mine. And especially does not happen to good girls like me, but hell, I wasn’t good anymore and I was done being their little princess.
I remember the drive we took after the police station. My parents had remained silent for several minutes, until I noticed the car was going south instead of north towards home. Upon my confronting them with this strange anomaly my father had pulled off to the side of the road and informed me that we weren’t going home after all, but that they were taking me to a rehabilitation home for people like me. I was so angry I would have jumped out of the car if he hadn’t had the foresight to lock the doors. I added them to the list of traitors that I hated. My sister being on the top of the list, followed closely by James, my one and only love, who had gone on to be Mr. Wonderful to everyone he came in contact with. Last I’d heard he was headed to medical school. Maybe even engaged. Well, la-de Freekin- da, Wish we could all be so great and wonderful.
Now after eight months I was home and alcohol free going on one hundred days. I’d slipped up once, got a pass to go to dinner with an old friend, who had only meant to get me totally plowed, just so he could have his way with me. It had worked and I no longer called him a friend. I have no friends now.
It’s weird. My life had been such a charmed one at one point. And then everything was turned on its head. And here I was a recovering alcoholic, at the scene of the worst day of my life and I wanted a drink so bad I could taste it on my tongue, My head longed for it, my skin crawled for it and I craved it so much that I feel like crying. I know why I wanted it. Therapy has helped me understand my desire to numb the pain and crushing guilt I have bottled up inside. I drank to ease the horrific memories and recognition that I alone was responsible for my little brother’s death. And now I was home and feeling completely incapable of overcoming this addiction. I’d only been home three days and I was already planning my escape to oblivion land.
The tears began to pour down my face. My blurry eyes matched the blur of the rain drenched windshield and my head began to ache from the rising pressure. I could see a dark figure coming from the house. It would be my mother, worried about me. Watching me like a hawk, looking for signs that I was falling off the wagon. But what she didn’t understand was if and when I did fall off, she wouldn’t become aware for quite some time. Hell, I had made it through high School without her even knowing I drank. I’d become quite an expert at deceit.
I wiped my tears away and took a deep breath. As theshadow came closer, it was clear that it was not my mother. This person was much taller than my mother’s petite frame of 5’2”, and they were wearing a cowboy hat, which canceled out Amy, and by his youthful brisk walk, also canceled out my father. Suddenly he was standing on the kick plate and knocking on the old metal door. I remained still, wishing to vanquish myself into the old ratty torn and sun stained vinyl upholstery. The door slowly creaked open. I held my breath.
Standing with rain dripping off his hat was James, looking grown up and amazing all in one full swoop. His face was long and square, thinned out. His body strong and lean, his eyes, still had that happy spark that had sent my heart palpitating wildly when I was young. Only now it pained me deep inside, as he was completely unattainable. I would never be good enough for the likes of him. I blushed at the realization that he must know where I’ve been. How he knew I was home was a mystery, but the word of my whereabouts, most assuredly had gotten out to all the concerned neighbors.
“Hey.” He stated simply.
I felt something sting in my nose, like I might start to cry any minute.
“Hey.” I answered flatly, pretending not to care.
“Thought I might find you here. Do you mind if I join you?” His face shined pure and happy as the rain dripped off the edge of his cowboy hat. I glanced around the cab. There wasn’t much room for two, but I simply nodded and slid over to give him room to sit on the old rickety seat beside me. He pulled off his wet hat and sat it on top of what remained of the giant old dash. I threw my hand through my hair, realizing I was a mess. No make up, wet hair from the rain, facing James for the first time in three years. This sucked. But good impressions were a thing of the past for me. I was ruined.
We sat in silence for several minutes. I had no idea what to say to him. Every time I stole a glance at him I felt another piece of my heart shatter, thinking of what I would never have because of who I had become. Finally he spoke.
“I’m sorry Cass.”
His words were a complete shock. Why was he apologizing?
“You have nothing to be sorry for.” I reassured him. What did he think my wild ways were really his fault?
“I tried Cass. I really tried.” He bit his lip. His voice suddenly quivering.
“I don’t blame you.” It was all I could choke out.
“Still, it’s my fault. The whole thing. Six years. And it still is as fresh as if it was yesterday.” That was it. My throat swelled, my eyes blurred with tears. My head hurt.
“We both know it wasn’t your fault.” I managed to squeak out. “There was nothing anyone could do at that point.” I felt suddenly angry. My lips pursed, my eyes narrowed as I stared out at the unrelenting rain. “We know whose fault it really was. So let’s not play games.”
He turned with a start. His eyes forcing mine to meet his. His liquid blues swimming in confusion. “You don’t hold yourself responsible do you?”
“Please James, this is too difficult.”
“No, I want to know how it was your fault?”
“I saw him.”
“I know that, but that doesn’t mean it was your fault.
“He wanted to hide with me. I told him to beat it and go find his own hiding place. Okay? Everything nice and clear for you?” There it was, my most painful secret spilled like blood in front of James.
He was suddenly silent. So was I. I really didn’t want to talk about it anymore. Nothing I could say would change the past.
“So is that why you’ve been so hard on yourself?”
Why was he doing this? I remained silent, staring out the side window, hoping he wouldn’t notice the tears flowing down my face. My chest felt so heavy with pain, guilt and sadness I was sure it might explode if I didn’t let go of the choking cry I was suppressing. Finally a sob broke through. My hands flew over my mouth to silence it. I held my breath until I felt I might drown in my own tears. I had to let go and breathe. My head was pounding like a bomb about to go off. I couldn’t hold it back. All hell broke loose. I was sobbing in front of James. What could be worse?
He tucked his arm behind me and pulled me in close. I buried my head into his canvas barn jacket. I could smell his aftershave, he smelled like leather and spice. It was all rather surreal. I had not even talked to him in years. We had maintained a distant friendship, a wave and hello in passing, mostly because I chose a very different crowd then he did, and then he went to college. And now all these years later and I was bawling into his jacket, his arms loose around me, like he wasn’t sure what to do with them, or me.
As sudden as it had come on it was over. I wiped away my tears and sniffed repeatedly, wishing I had remembered a tissue. I could feel my eyes had turned red and puffy. I kept my face turned away from his. My head pounding worse than ever.
“Well, I probably should get going.” He offered shortly obviously embarrassed. “Did you know I’ll be working for your dad this summer? ”
“I thought you were headed to medical school.” I said in between sniffs.
“I took a few months off. I’ll go back in the fall. This is probably my last summer here. After that it’s summer school and internships and then residency. You know how it goes.”
“No, I don’t. I didn’t even make it through my freshman year.” I offered, choking back a laugh/cry. Feeling humiliated to admit that I have become a failure.
“Whata ya’ say we pray for some sunshine so I can get this hay cut before it’s totally ruined.” He offered, lightly changing the subject.
“Sure, don’t want to see you get too bored with all that free time.” I offered, wishing he wouldn’t leave, but not knowing what we could possibly have in common anymore.
“You heard anything from Amy lately?”
There it was. Our something in common.
“Working in Springfield right now. I haven’t seen her yet, but I hear she is doing well. Not married of course.” I hedged.
“Wouldn’t it be great if we could all get back together again?” he reminisced.
Yeah, that would be really great. I thought flatly, not wanting to be a part of that party. The pain of seeing my beautiful successful sister flirt with James could well lead me off the wagon sooner than later.
“It would be great.” I lied, not wanting to ruin his daydream.
“I guess I’ll see you soon then. Tell Amy hi.”
“Soon as that sun starts shining again. And I’ll tell her.” The big squeaky door opened wide and then he jumped down onto the wet grass. He replaced his hat on his head as I held the door open. We stood in awkward silence, neither able to face the other, instead looking up at the grey sky. The rain was beginning to lighten. The smell of the sweet, wet hay thick in my nostrils. Without another word he turned and started up the yard. I watched him until he had disappeared around the front of the house. He had been friendly. Hadn’t even mentioned my trip to rehab, but I knew he knew. Maybe he was trying to get in good with me, for Amy’s sake, but it wasn’t necessary. Heavens knew that Amy had adored him for years, and unlike me she hadn’t turned to drugs or alcohol to clear her conscience of my brother’s death. Instead she had taken her pain and worked through it, achieving great things, honor society, full-ride scholarships, graduating Magna cum laude, a great achievement that I missed witnessing due to being on some kind of binge. Now she was working as a lab technician in the hospital.
Come to think of it, they really would make a lovely couple. I needed to rid myself of any unfounded jealousy. My days of hoping to land a Mr. Wonderful were way, way over. All I could hope for was someone who maybe at one time had been as screwed up as I had been so that he could understand my struggles and we could help each other get through it.
But I had been wrong about one thing. I did have a friend. And his name was James Maughn.