Justin Tadlock

Independent, Free, & Wild

What a night! Let me tell you! I have been writing on my novel for the most part of it. I rewrote Chapter one into a first-person point of view. I completely erased half of Chapter 2 and finished it up. Then, I capped off a good 2,500 words on Chapter 3. I finally got my steam back. I went back to my original idea of writing a comedy and things just took off. Of course, it’s not so much a comedy anymore. It may turn out to be a romantic tragedy. My characters, by the end of the novel, may take a spaceship into outer space. I don’t know. It’s all up in the air now! And I’m excited about it! I feel the full force of motivation behind me right now.

6,181 Words.

And a little more than half of it came tonight. I’m ready to embark on 3 more weeks of this seemingly endless journey. I know I’ll lose steam again in a few days, maybe even tomorrow. But, my mind is set to finish this thing. I will have written my own novel, even if it is total crap, by the end of November. I’ll at least have a rough draft to work from.

I ordered No Plot? No Problem! from Amazon last night. The book should be in by Monday. Maybe I’ll catch it just when my steam runs out. I’ve read that Chris Baty’s, the founder of National Novel Writing Month, book is a great motivational tool. It has gotten, for the most part, great reviews.

I’ve attached the first 3 chapters to this post. The newly finished Chapter 3 is entitled Independent, Free, and Wild. I hope you enjoy!

CHAPTER 1
OKAY MR. PUDGY, WE CAN GO NOW

It was staring back at him. Pudgy, round. Almost smiling at the six-foot-two frame of Jude Taylor, if such a thing could smile. It overlapped his gold belt buckle just a bit. It was smiling at him. “All these years of improper health and diet. This is your fault,” it would say. Who cares, 27 year old men don’t have rock-solid six-packs.

Except they did.

At least Tim Rosenbaum did. That sorry SOB neighbor of Jude’s. That “Body-for-Life” finalist. He’d stayed with the program now 5 years. Bastard, with his bulging biceps, and his veins that wrapped like vines around the giant trees of the Amazon. Mr. the-whole-town-kisses-my-ass. He didn’t care. Screw him. He was doing alright.

Sure, Jude didn’t own his own collection Porsches, but he managed. Who needed that many cars anyway? He was doing alright. He still got to live on the white-picket fence street, Hillhock Lane. White, yellow, light brown, and brick houses lined the street in perfect-parallel rows down the street rounding off in a cul-de-sac, where his small two-story sat just at the corner. He had a two-car garage, big open windows (enough for his aunts, uncles, little cousins, parents, and grandparent to climb through at the same time), and a pool and hot tub in the backyard. He even had a security system put in. Yes, he was doing alright.

It was still staring at him. He buttoned up his shirt to hide away its smirk. He had to go to lunch with Isabella Moretti-Jones today. God, she was beautiful. Not that high-school-crush kind of beautiful, but that 27-year-old woman kind of beautiful. She didn’t have the shape of a woman who had already popped out two kids, at least as her outward appearance showed. Smooth skin. A nice mixture of Italian and Southern Alabama Caucasian saw to that. God, she was beautiful, with those just-right long legs and almost Coke-bottle curves.

It had been one year since they last met. He was sure she hasn’t changed that much. Maybe she has? No. She couldn’t have. This was his once-a-year meeting with her. All the bad karma that he’d built up in the last year won’t take this one day away from him.

It doesn’t really matter though he thought. It’s not like Isabella and he are going to go sneak back into the band room closet and make out, like they did on a daily-basis 10 years ago. He was married. She was married. Was he happy? Was she happy? Who cares? At least he’d get to see her. His year would be complete. Why’d he let her get away all those years ago?

He knew how to answer that question. Because he couldn’t resist aggressive women, that’s why. One, mainly being, Angela. Angela Bach. She never had that hour-glass figure. She was thick. No, not thick-fat, but thick with a big round bottom that was complimented by more-than-a-handful-sized breasts. She had the most beautiful face in all of his high school. And that hasn’t changed. Not in 10 years. At least the face hasn’t. Her thick has turned into something that isn’t quite as eye-pleasing these days. And she is always, still, the aggressor, just as she had been all those years ago. Angela was the first girl to kiss him like a teenage boy wants to be kissed. She just crawled onto him and gave the 13 year old the make-out session of his life. But, more on Jude’s high school make-out sessions later.

Now, it was time to spray on his Curve, a cologne he had been overusing 10 years now. Maybe it was time for a change. Maybe not, Jude didn’t like change. He had a certain routine that he went through every day. He got up every morning at 6:00. He took a leak. He ate breakfast. He sat at his computer and browsed the internet for 30 minutes. He took a crap. Then he got dressed, brushed his teeth, and headed off to work at 7:30 on the dot. Never fails. Routine is the only way for him to get anything done. So, change is bad. There’s a certain order of things. A certain order to the universe, and he didn’t want to screw with order.

Tie.

He had to find one. Which one? That’s one thing that he desperately needed to organize, or better yet, clean out the rack they droop from. Why did he need 7 different blues, 9 reds, 5 greens, 3 Christmas, 6 Valentine’s Day, or even that Thanksgiving tie? What in the Hell did he have a Thanksgiving tie for? Must’ve been a gift. At least that what he’ll tell people. No way in Hell he was he going to say he had bought it himself. Wait, there’s a magenta. He’d go with that, feeling magenta-esque today. There’s also a pink. He’d have to throw that out when he got around to his reorganizing of the tie rack. Every single tie Jude owned is left hanging in its tied position. He was too lazy to tie them every morning, so he just left them like that.

There it is. A Skittles box. You know, that candy they make you sell for high school clubs and organizations. Those bastard high school teachers could never come up with anything to sell other than Skittles, candy bars, and candles. So, you lugged around chocolate and Skittles all day, selling, or carried around a catalogue with more candles than a person ever knew existed door-to-door, to your grandmothers, aunts and uncles, and other relatives that you only saw for those particular occasions.

A Skittles Box.

But this was a special Skittles box. It no longer held 50 packets of all the colors of the rainbow. It didn’t even have the faint scent of the candy left in it any more. All it held was continuously browning, aging paper, folded in only a way that high school girls can fold. The kind of folds that is beyond the comprehension of high school boys when they try to fold it back up after reading it. Most of the time they were just stuffed into back packs or lockers, but not Jude’s. He managed to fold them back together, to preserve them, in their [un]natural state. He couldn’t look at them now.

What’s up,

N-2-M-H. You know what! You’re a really good kisser. Just thought you should know. I had fun Friday night. Anyways, I’ll talk to you later.

Love,
Angela

ps. Sorry So Sloppy

B(oys) B(ounce) B(etter) B(eneath) B(lankets)

S(afe) S(ex) S(ucks) S(o) S(crew) S(omeone) S(pecial)

He could still remember it by heart. Angela’s first letter. They were in ninth grade. Sure, she wasn’t going to be a great Literature major, but she knew how to write the high school letter. You have your basics, “What’s up,” the header. “N-2-M-H” starting the body. And for all you who don’t get the late 90’s reference, maybe, is it still used today? “Not Too Much Here.” And the multiple postscripts with the single “ps.” It was the standard. And you had to follow the rules. Jude did, however, get a few not-so-standard letters back then. We’ll go through those sometime.

Cappuccino.

Angela and he had bought their first cappucino machine when they first got married, and went through at least ten more since then. He was never a coffee drinker. He couldn’t stand the crap. He had to go with the cappuccino. Of course, they still had to get her a coffee machine. Since then, Jude gradually converted her to the cappuccino-drinking club.

He was going to be late. Too much looking back at Mr. Pudgy. “But he was staring. Smiling. And an evil smile at that.” That’s a good excuse. Jude thought about using the excuse and laughed. Iz’ll understand. Sure she will. She only lives two hours away, and makes the drive down here every fall. He’s just glad she’s moved past the years of bringing her kids. Daddy’s finally got a job in the city, and can keep the kids for a day or two.

Angela and he never had kids. It was part of their arrangement. They both lived much too busy lives. But, the real truth is, they knew they would never be good parents. Hell, they knew they’d never pass as decent parents. Both of them were too self-absorbed and way too materialistic. Not having kids was the only way they’d ever get to stay self-absorbed and materialistic. It’s the only way they’d ever get to have the things they wanted in life. They both had good jobs. She was a manager at a fashion-design company in Montgomery. He was a free-lance writer. He never could hold down a steady job at any one place, other than the local newspaper, which paid next to nothing. That’s the only reason he got up in the mornings, to go to the office. He had been working on the Great American Novel though. But, we won’t get into that just now.

He was going to meet Isabella Moretti-Jones today. If fate had taken a different road she’d be Isabella Moretti-Taylor. She was the type of woman who had to keep her last name. She was proud of her heritage. Her roots. Jude wondered what Wesley thought about that. He wondered if he felt like a smaller man when they were introduced in formal settings. “Mr. Jones and Mrs. Moretti-Jones.” “Mr. and Mrs. Moretti-Jones.” How does a married couple introduce themselves with different last names? It was beyond Jude.

9:45.

There’s no way he could make it. Fifteen minutes to get down to the local “Sandwich House.” Mr. Pudgy was ready to leave, reassuring with a slight moan. It was either that, or he was ready to set Jude back another 15 minutes or so. To be so consistent in his weekday routine, he couldn’t figure out how to get himself going on a Saturday. The whole routine is screwed up. And as stated earlier, he doesn’t want to screw with the order of things. The universe does not take lightly people screwing with her balance.

“Okay Mr. Pudgy, we can go now.” They had to go. They had to go meet those long legs and that smooth skin. It’s only once a year. He needed to get in all the minutes that he could. God knows, they might not be able to keep this up for another 10 years. Old age. “It catches up with you,” is what they say. They were almost hitting thirty and in another ten years, they’ll be hitting that halfway mark. Jude was planning on making it. Screw them. And screw the universe if she doesn’t agree.

CHAPTER 2
THE TATER CREEK INTERSECTION

Jude turned right off of Hillhock Lane onto Sweetwater. He didn’t usually drive this direction since the biggest attraction there was Creek Hill High School. Actually, the high school held all grade levels, kindergarten through the 12th grade. There wasn’t enough people in the town to account for separate schools for elementary, middle, and high school. There were, maybe, 800 students that filled the seats in the compact classrooms.

The reason he didn’t go there was mostly his lack of spawn spilling off into the seats. He went there, once a year, and had been for almost 10 years now, to see a varsity football game.

Another right on Tater Creek.

Jude was grinding the petal to the floor, between quick jerks and sudden brakes, grinding to get to Isabella. Jerking to get to that smooth skin. Braking around the curves to see those perfect legs. What is it with men and legs? A man would fall off a building, 7-stories up, peeking around the corner to get a glimpse of a set of great legs. And Isabella Morreti-Jones was no different, except that a man might splat from 14 stories.

The brake lights flashed and then held, still moving forward as the black Nissan Maxima slid across the old pavement, sending pieces of gravel in any direction. Why was there a stop sign here? It made no logical since to Jude, as he always rubbed precious rubber from his tires at the barren intersection.

There were a few things that held some townspeople’s attention down the desolate road that led past the high school. It sat on the corner, adjacent to the sputtering Maxima. That car that hadn’t had an oil change in over a year or a full tank of gas in several years needed badly a little attention from the maniac behind the wheel. It needed passionate warmth from a man who was unwilling to cough up more than a crinkled ten-dollar bill to add to its life expectancy. She moaned as the cheapskate pulled her out farther across the pavement, and sighed before giving way to a few more inches of faded black before coming to a complete halt.

“Damnit!” Jude shoved the gear back into park and turned the key.

Nothing.

Not even the faintest sound was uttered from the lifeless machine. She then let go a pillar of smoke from under her belly, releasing thirteen years worth of an unhealthy, unsteady diet. The gods were cursing him. He flailed his arms up to heaven and then slammed a fist down onto the horn.

The orange-tinted trees echoed the fury of the last solitary cry the Maxima had left in her. In his rush to get to those long legs and that smooth skin he knew, before scrambling around the inside of the car and swimming in his pockets, he had left his cell phone at home. The wind blew the first brown leaves of the season onto that thing adjacent to the car.

That Driveway.

Trees arched over it, running parallel in unison until the light no longer peeked through its dark path. The TATER CREEK CABIN. It was usually rented out to vacationers who thought it’d be relaxing to stay in the serenity of the country for a week or two during the summer. Aside from summer tourists it was typically rented to high schoolers for a night of unadulterated debauchery. He knew the history behind the shabby walls and underneath the creaking floors better than anyone else. This place meant everything to him, more than it ever could to a Yankee sightseer and more than the drunken boys that filled the corners, halls, and staircases, ready to get under a skirt before curfew. It meant heartache, happiness, pain, pleasure. It meant history.

What was he going to do? Not a soul would drive down this road on a Saturday. He knew that because he decided to take a short-cut to get to Isabella on time, and most people avoided the road because of its unevenness and fondness for potholes. Looking at his watch, it was 10:07, he was already late. He had to get a glimpse of those legs. He had to feel the wind and the sudden gasp of air the 14th story diver felt.

He gave way to thoughts of walking down that path that seemed it could suck a man’s soul from his body. He knew the real truth. He couldn’t walk down that path alone. There was no way. Too much history. There were no ghosts, no closet-monsters, no vampiresses, no legends of baby-snatchers, no killer wasps, no man who’d blow your head off for walking in his front yard. There was something worse, something worse than evil itself. History. Nearly ten years of history stood in that house. Another ten years of history like that can almost kill a man. And when I say kill a man, I’m not talking about in the physical sense. I’m talking about in the psychological sense. It’ll make a man think he’s been down to the depths of Hell and then spat back up to lie amongst God’s children.

He and that place had a history.

Jude turned the key once again. Not a sound. The smoke had already died away from under the belly. He should have taken better care of her. He should have gotten the oiled changed this year. He should have bought a new car. He shouldhaveshouldhaveshouldhave…

He stepped out of the car and decided to pop open the hood. Why was he opening the hood? He didn’t know a single thing about a car outside of the mechanics of driving and putting that nozzle in to feed her every now and then. Well, he managed to prop the hood up properly. Staring down her, the black beauty decided to spurt out its last breath of toxins into his face.

Jumping back and raising his hands, once again, “You couldn’t come up with something better than this? I mean, come on! A broke-down car! It’s a bit clichéd don’t you think?”

He kicked the air. There was nothing else to do. He was going to lose precious minutes with a woman he was still secretly in love with. A woman he had only seen once a year for the last ten years now, except on a few rare occasions. A woman he really didn’t know at all. He knew he loved her skin, her legs, and her smile. He remembered he used to love her scent, but even that had faded from his memory. He remembered that he loved her touch and he loved the way she leaned her head on his shoulder sitting on her front porch swing. Ten years. She could’ve been his. He could’ve been hers. But, he couldn’t resist that other girl, that other girl who wouldn’t let him go. Yes, he loved Angela, but the thought of being with Isabella was just too enticing.

Maybe it’s that love that he never had, that makes Isabella all the more alluring, because he never really had her. They dated. They made out. They got drunk together a few times. They had a good time. He was just too scared to do all the right things. He had been corrupted by Angela. He was accustomed to the girl making all the moves. He was used to a girl who would hop on top of him and pressure him into doing things he’d never tell his grandmother. Some of them he wouldn’t even tell his best friend. Isabella was a challenge. She didn’t straddle him on the porch swing. She didn’t whisper dirty-little-nothings in his ear. She might have leaned against him, held his hand, or kiss him (after the first kiss had finally occurred), but she wouldn’t be Angela in a dark-haired, smooth skinned body. She was just Isabella. She knew what she wanted in a man, and Jude wasn’t up for the challenge back then. Ten years.

“Is this punishment for having lustful thoughts?” Jude was on a rage against God.

No answer. No surprise, he thought.

“Fine then! I’ll walk there! I’ll walk to see those long legs and that oh-so-silky smooth skin!”

Jude paused to gather his thoughts, in order to piss off the man upstairs.

“You know what it reminds me of? Do you? That Werther’s Original candy. I’d like to stick one of those in my mouth right now!”

That was the best he could come up with. A writer, ready to write the Great American Novel, and all he could come up with was “that Werther’s Original candy.” He was a little frustrated.

There was no way he was going to miss that meeting with Isabella. He had to walk down that driveway and make it to the Tater Creek Cabin. Hopefully, there were a couple of those tourists still occupying it, so he wouldn’t have to think of what he would do if it was vacant. He would step into that place that held his heartache, his happiness, his pain, and his pleasure. He would travel beneath those arches and let the damned thing take his soul.

CHAPTER 3
INDEPENDENT, FREE, AND WILD

She knew he would be thinking about her. She wrapped her slender tendrils tighter around the steering wheel of her Jeep Grande Cherokee, brand spanking new, right off the lot with seven and a half miles on it. Red and shiny and worth a little bit of money, the kind of thing a woman needs to feel good about herself. Well, maybe not every woman, but Isabella Moretti-Jones needed it. She turned her head to let the air fling her hair back just enough to remind her that this was her reward for leaving her husband, Wesley Jones. Drove right off the lot with his last paycheck, and quite a few before that. Paid for in full. Owner: Isabella Moretti-Jones. Iz.

She felt now more powerful than she had ever felt, those tendrils revealing a tan line so liberating. She thought she might change her name back to Isabella Moretti. Powerful. Independent, but weeping inside. What had she done? Left Wesley? Left little Jack and Antonio. Oh, Antonio was getting so big now. He was in second grade and little Jack just started Kindergarten. She wept, but she had no other choice. She had to leave.

She had already tuned out the Britney Spears songs, and threw on some real music, Alanis Morrisette. She slid the old CD in the player. She needed to feel angry. She needed to feel strong. She needed to feel like that independent rocker chick who could say, “Screw the world,” and get away with it.

She used to be independent and strong. What had happened to her? The last ten years had dwindled away at her. It made her less of a woman. He made her less of a woman. It was 2005. Women were independent now. They were equal now.

Sure, she had stuck to a traditional female role in her career, elementary school teacher. Her life belonged to those kids though. Dean Road Elementary School in Auburn, Alabama, was part of her. She woke up every day with a gloomy brow, but her eyes widened when she drove up to her space in the parking lot. Seeing those skateboarder shoes (which had just recently came in style in Alabama), those flowered dresses, and the ripped jeans on the little bodies of people who have yet became corrupt gave her her only joy. Even her little crumb-snatchers at home couldn’t compare. She didn’t understand this. She wanted to love her children, she did love them, but living in that house…

It made her regret having them, at least with the man she married. No, not the man she married, but the man he had became.

Creek Hill: 13 miles.

Yes, he would be thinking about her, she knew it. What would she tell him? Jude Taylor. She never gave him much thought, except around this time of the year. November 11, was just three weeks away, minus a day. They had to make plans. But what would she say to him? He would ask about Wesley and how the kids are doing. He would look forward to seeing them when they made the trip down with her in three weeks. Would they be with her? Does she want them with her? It was too much to think about now. Well, she had 12 miles now to come up with an answer. Or a cover-up.

The truth could only stay hidden for so long, it always comes out. She decided she’d be up front with him.

What was is about Jude that made her want to be so open with him? Maybe it was that love that never was. No. It couldn’t be that. He was just a really good friend. He had always been someone she could confide in. But, they were not that close. Could she open up to him the way she used to? Would he feel real sympathy for her, or would he be ready to…

No. He he’s not that kind of man.

Isabella was confused. She was confused about her unstable marriage, if there was even a shred of that left. She was confused about her career. How could she teach there every day with her kids there, knowing that she left their father? She was confused about life. Why did it have to be so complicated? Nearing thirty, divorce papers in the mail, white tan line on her dark finger, what kind of a life was that?

9 Miles.

God, what was she doing with her life? It was much simpler back in high school. There, she knew where she stood. She would bring home her report card every six weeks with A’s across the sheet. She would date a few guys, but not get too attached. She didn’t want to be someone’s. She belonged only to herself. She would be class President. She would lead the school Bible club, but not be anti-teenage life. She would be in the Future Business Leaders of America, the Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta, and every other club the school had. She would sell Skittles, chocolate, and candles. That perfect all-American high school girl. She’d grow up and live in a big house with the perfect husband with lots of perfect children in the suburbs of a toxin-free city and she would present knowledge to small children in just the right amount so as to not overload their minds and they would love her for it. She would have the life she always wanted.

Life doesn’t work like that. It’s funny like that, isn’t it, she thought.

No, life didn’t offer her the perfect husband. His career playing the stock market was failing. What was he thinking, playing the market in Alabama? She didn’t feel loved any longer, not since the downslide in his career. Her children were not perfect either. The little eggs had sprouted into window-breaking-food-dropping-cuss-word-learning-brats. Mostly, they were the run-of-the-mill offspring. The air wasn’t all toxin-free, but it would do. She didn’t get her dream house. Wesley, “saving up,” decided it would be better to rent out an apartment for a few years so they could buy a bigger house than she wanted. She felt that only a few of her elementary school children actually came out a better, brighter student when she shoveled them up to the next grade level.

No. Life didn’t work out like she planned it. Five more miles, and where would she go after that? The hotel she was staying in was becoming expensive. Her sick days at Dean Road Elementary were running out. She’d have to go back to teaching. She’d have to go back to dealing with life. Life, that funny thing. It was that thing that kicked her in the ass and then dropped with an elbow to her rib cage while she was still lying there. Sometimes, it dropped a hand to help her back up, but usually it let go halfway back up. Then it laughed, teasing her. Life, it’s a funny thing isn’t it?

Life wasn’t working on her side. Fate wasn’t. God wasn’t. She needed a reevaluation on that funny thing. She needed to get up herself and kick it in its backside and rub its face in the dirt. Isabella Moretti, an independent woman, kicking life in the ass. Self-determination would be her new motto. There was no reevaluation needed. Right then and there, she decided fate had no part in her life. She wasn’t going to deal with the randomness it threw at her. She would control all consequences in her life from here on in. But, wasn’t she already doing that? Did she not already control her consequences? No, she controlled the choices. She had let fate take care of the rest. No more of that.

Creek Hill exit nearing, the exit ahead sign was glistening from the morning sun. Turning up Alanis, sticking her head out of the window, and a fist in the air, she let out a whoop loud enough for the bypassing interstaters to feel the reverberant tone of an independent woman. Horns honked from two passing cars and a double honk tooted from an 18-wheeler. She let her hair feel the wind long enough for her eyes to water up and brought her head back in.

What was she thinking? A 27 year old woman acting like she was headed down to Panama City for Spring Break. Spring Break, that’s a nice thought. Maybe she’d go next year. It might be liberating. Isabella was in sync with the world again. She was getting back to being Iz. Izzy. Isabella Adriana Moretti.

She rolled up her window and turned the AC to high on the dial. She was giving up her freedom, her independence, her oneness with the world, but the late October heat was still lingering and her back had started to stick to the seat. At least Alanis was still blasting full tune. She might want to turn that down to. She couldn’t be too un-cool rolling into Creek Hill listening to music that died out in the mid-nineties. Well, that, and the fact that near thirty year old women didn’t ride through rattling windows of their old home town. She was still glad she got the entire package with her Jeep, stereo and all.

Creek Hill, home sweet home. All she could think about was high school, the most memorable years of her life. Then, she didn’t have to struggle through homework, eight and a half months pregnant preparing for finals. Then, she didn’t have to grade tests until two in the morning and get back up at six. Maybe she did have to get up at six back then, she had to look presentable by eight o’clock. She thought of the sweet smell of the trees, the burnt smell of the lunchroom cafeteria, her neatly organized locker, and the toilet paper lining the floor of the girl’s restroom. It was all the same to her. It was the best years of her life. She’d give anything to just go back. For one day, she’d give, at least, a finger. Maybe more than that. In high school, she was the queen. She made boys cry and girls talk trash. Teachers loved her. Parents loved her. Guys loved her. Some girls loved her. A lot didn’t. But that was high school. The greatest years of her life.

Jude loved her, but she didn’t know it then. She thought it was just another teen male infatuation, especially since he ran right back to Angela when things got tough.

The first stop light, the only stop light came into view, dangling from the line with a couple of rolls worth of toilet paper flung over it. The light shone through the thin paper just enough let traffic know its color.

Green.

She ripped the pavement with new rubber, just to get the day’s wild thoughts out of her system. She felt like a teen again. Free and wild. Independent. She wore her ripped DKNY’s today. The legs were faded and had a hole over both knees, one small rip and one that hung out and opened like the mouth of Hell. Tattered strings scattered over her sandals, showing her faint orange toenails that complimented her pedal-pushers. She had a tight orange shirt that simply had one line on it, “life is good.” Her dark black hair was let loose and a few strands dangled over her face. She was ready for the world, white-striped finger and all.

The Sandwich House, old Martha would be excited to see her. Benji, the cook, Caroline the head waitress (the only waitress on most days), and Martha’s wild grandchildren would all run straight to her and give her a hug. Okay, maybe not Benji, he wasn’t much for hugging. Plus, he’d be stained with grease from baseball cap down. Isabella could smell the turkey, ham, cheese, and the fries in her nostrils. Just a few miles down the road, she could smell it. Her nostrils were triggered by a lifetime of evenings spent with friends chatting away at the outside picnic tables, by years of horny boys glancing her way and smiling, by Martha stopping from table to table to gossip on the town’s current scandal. She could remember Ed sitting in his corner booth just finishing his three-hour lunch just as the local teens scattered in after seven hours of mind-numbing torture. She thought of the windy afternoons blowing the napkins across the parking lot from the tables. There were so many memories there. So much history.

Jude Taylor asked her out for the first time there. She remembered it like it was yesterday.

“Isabella.”

“Oh, hey Jude.”

“How’s it goin’?”

And all the trivial stuff that came along after that led him up to the question, all the talk of teachers, school, sports, clubs, music, movies, and everything else the frightened 16 year old boy could think of. Until, he finally ran out of trivial stuff to talk about.

“Okay, I’m just going to go ahead and ask you…”

“Ask me what?” She knew what he was going to ask, but she couldn’t help but make it worse for him.

“Do you wanna go out with me sometime?” He lingered over the question and told his knee to stop bouncing.

“I don’t know,” she was just being a bit cruel, but she had to make sure he was really ready to take on the challenge. She wanted to see if he was man enough to take it. “It depends.”

“It depends?”

“Yes. Like, where would you take me? What time would you have me home?” And she drilled him with all the questions that an overprotective father would ask a lustful teen male who stepped in his house ready to take out his little girl.

“I see, you just wanna tease me. Is that it?” He had caught on after a few of the overprotective father lines.

“Okay, I’ll go out with you. Friday night at seven. Be there on time. And practice your answers for the questions I just gave you.” Jude looked a little bewildered at the last statement.

“You’ll have to be prepared for my father.”

Yes, she remembered it just like it was yesterday. She controlled the fate of boys. She controlled the fate of Jude Taylor as he got up from that table and walked back over to his friends.

She knew that he was no longer the boy who asked her out that Tuesday afternoon. He had now become a man. But, they weren’t as close any more. Each year, for the last ten years, he seemed to grow more distant, but that’s life. People grow apart. They had grown apart. She thought that they needed to rekindle their friendship. She needed to renew that lost friendship with a lot of people. She only saw them this one time a year, and they were no longer friends. They were old friends. They were old acquaintances, merely passing by each other, once a year, in the road of life.

Martha was already making her rounds with the Saturday crowd when Isabella pulled up to the Sandwich House, table to table. Ed was peering out of the window in the corner from inside as he always did. He was still on still on his breakfast, two hours now. A few teens had managed to get out of bed early enough to get their bacon sandwiches and coffee, an important remedy for their previous night’s leftovers. Caroline’s shirt was already damp. She had began her shift at six a.m., and leaving the kids at home to watch football with their dad. Martha’s grandchildren, were circling tables with sticks in hand, while one sat sheltered inside with his Game Boy, the other two had now moved up to the early morning teen crowd, too cool to run around any more.

Isabella thought how nice it would be to see Jude sitting there, just like he used to sit and wait for her. She had already decided to let him on her secret of the separation, probable divorce, or whatever it was. She was going to let him know that she was an independent woman now, and she had a shiny new red Jeep to show it. She thought about letting the whole town know. She wouldn’t have to see them for another year anyway. Just hop out of the car and shout it, let the world know. Let the world know that she was, once again, Isabella Adriana Moretti, an independent woman who was free from the conventions of society. She could shout it, “I’M ISABELLA ADRIANA MORETTI! INDEPENDENT! FREE! AND WILD!” Let the whole world know. She could do it, but instead she shut off the engine of her new toy, and stared out at the best years of her life. She was stepping out into the great unknown for the second time in her life. The first time was leaving this place. Now, it was coming back to it, Creek Hill.