Here’s another bit of the YA novel I’m working on—pieces from chapters 8 and 9.
Pulling ourselves out of the sewers we found ourselves on a quiet side street. It looked vaguely familiar, and I recalled that this was a section of the original town square that I’d seen when Lucas was younger. I held him up while he steadied himself on his crutches. He pointed to a building at the end of this block, away from the main street. “We’re almost there.”
“We’re almost where,” I asked. I was no longer clean from my bath. “Somewhere where I won’t notice you smell like rotting garbage?”
“I would almost say you’re not appreciative of my efforts.”
I put my hands on my hips. “I would almost say you just dragged me through a hill for the sport of it.” He made an expression I couldn’t quite place, and before I had time to recognize it, he was off toward the wood structure. We ducked inside and I saw it had once been a bank. A long counter ran the length of the room, protected with dark brass bars that every so often were interrupted with sections that were mounted on hinges so the tellers could open them when needed. Dust covered every surface, including the tables that customers had used to fill out deposit and withdrawal requests, and which had been pushed up against the teller windows to make room for something large and bulky in the center of the building. Whatever it was, Lucas was pulling off the canvas that covered it. A cloud of dust flew up into the air and we both coughed trying to get it out of our lungs.
He’d revealed a car, or a sort of automobile. It was unlike anything I’d seen, even in my father’s hot rod and antique car magazines. Front to back, it was a dull gun metal gray, with running boards under the doors and three headlamps protecting a tall front grill. The low windshield wouldn’t provide any protection against the wind, bugs, or birds, but at least nobody had wasted the effort on installing windshield wipers. I walked around it and ran my hand over the metal as if I were examining it for a heartbeat. A brown box sat behind the black leather back seat, dark brown straps buckled tightly to keep whatever was in it safely inside. I forgot about the men chasing us and took in the beauty of this jury rigged vehicle.
“Jacqueline, help me with the doors,” said Lucas, heading to the rear of the bank. We unlatched two wide doors that had been bolted into the floorboards, and brought in a twirling wind of leaves and other outside debris. He headed over to the car’s passenger side and waved at me.
“We have to hurry.”
He expected me to drive.
My driving experience wasn’t as limited as most of my friends’ because my father had put me behind the wheel many times before, starting with go carts when I was seven. But this car had knobs and levers and buttons I’d never seen on anything else, and I wasn’t certain if I could operate it. Lucas saw my hesitation and ran a hand through his hair. If I was nervous I might make him nervous. I jogged to the driver’s seat and jumped over the door, into the car.
There was no key, but this wasn’t my primary problem. I couldn’t find an ignition. Lucas held up his hands in question.
“Pray tell, why aren’t we moving?”
“Well, I don’t know how to start it.”
“You crank it.”
Images from old mechanic’s manuals flashed through my mind, but I hadn’t seen a crank on the front of the car. Lucas pointed to a box that looked like a nut grinder, sticking out of the dash. I turned it for several rotations and then Lucas slapped a hand on a push-button set next to the crank handle. The engine roared to life and quickly filled the space with exhaust. In one instant I released the brake at my hip and pressed the accelerator, and we roared off, up a road made of packed gravel. We had no shocks so every pot hole rattled us and the car. Lucas tapped me on the shoulder; in his hand he held a pair of goggles.
“Don’t forget these,” he said, yelling over the noise of the engine. I fumbled with the strap as I kept one hand on the steering wheel.
“Where are we going?” I hoped I would hear his answer.
“To your mother’s.”
Too bad I didn’t recall where that was. And then it hit me. She was the tired woman with the chicken. The woman who kept her hair in a tight bun but who, by the end of the day, found that most of it had sneaked out of her hair pins.
The woman who needed me and thought I was dead.
Lucas had me take a circuitous route to the farm house to make sure nobody followed us, and I knew for certain that people must have indeed believed me dead, otherwise someone would have gotten it into their head to watch the house for signs of my reappearance.
“What is she going to say when she sees me?”
“We’ll find out in a few minutes,” he said, scanning the road behind us. So much had been built up between the farm and the town that now most of the city streets were obscured by outlying buildings. There remained no more straight shot road from the valley to the hilltop, except for the birds who cared to fly from one to the other.
At first, only a flock of chickens were there to greet us, clucking at the ground and scattering to get away from the dust cloud the tires kicked up. The engine cut out roughly as if it didn’t want to stop chugging. We lumbered out of the car and an older woman came out from behind the house, with a basket of laundry in her sun-weathered arms. Her mouth opened, looking surprised, but she refused to drop the garments, instead setting them on a tree stump. She brushed her house dress as she walked over to me. I thought I could see a resemblance in her jaw and eyes.
She gripped my elbows, holding me in a way that suggested she’d sized me up many times before.
“Jacqueline? My Jacqueline?”
“Hello, mother,” I said, for want of anything smarter.
Her expression turned sour, and she looked around at the line of trees that sprouted up on one side of the long driveway. “Get inside,” she said, pushing me toward the house. “You too, Lucas.” As we hurried away, I saw her brush aside a tear.
“I knew you weren’t gone,” she said, and she followed us in.
In the small foyer, she wrapped her arms around me and rocked me. There was no stemming the flow of tears now. After some time, I realized I was crying, too. Lucas went to the back of the house and I heard the clatter of plates and cutlery. My mother pulled away from me, holding my shoulders this time and inspecting me.
“You’re a grown woman now,” she said, and then she laughed a little. “And you still insist on wearing men’s clothes. You silly thing.”
“They’re comfortable,” I said, happy to deliver anything that wasn’t a lie.
“You need to eat something, I’m sure. I hear your friend has already made it to the kitchen.” With that, she put her arm around me and we joined Lucas.
The years had not been kind to her, carving deep lines next to her eyes that dove down her cheeks, making her knuckles knobby and her back slouched from osteoporosis. But she walked in a way that telegraphed her pride, that was stubborn in its defiance of her hard-fought age. It occurred to me that I had not heard mention nor had seen my father in all of this time. I made a mental note to look for any pictures or portraits that would give me a glimpse of Jacqueline’s history.
Each room I’d seen had been decorated with a meticulous eye; where there was wallpaper, it was lined up perfectly, even though the print was of small flowers and vines. The floorboards creaked, but someone had taken care to put up floorboards, chair railings, and crown molding, and nowhere did I notice any nail holes in the finish work. Here in the kitchen, the many windows with small panes were painted white, but none of the glass showed any stray paint marks. It was once a very proud house, but it was too much for her, at her age, to continue to maintain.
Lucas swiveled a hinge on a dark wood cabinet and opened a small door. He grinned and pulled out a small amount of ham. Of course, this was an ice box, the appliance before people had refrigerators. Each of us had a plate with ham and buttered sourdough bread, and as we sat at the table in the kitchen, we talked about how life had changed in town under the control of Dr. Traver and his associates.