So, I am starting a new fiction project. I am going to do a 100 Prompt challenge and write a chapter for each prompt. The chapters will be intersecting character pieces all about the same small town and the people in it. They will all be part of one narrative, if I can pull it off. The prompt will be the title, and they will relate as directly or indirectly as seems appropriate.
We’ll see how it goes! I’m going to give it a try, anyway. First chapter is down below:
Bethany inhaled a few times outside the small pub, steeling herself for what was about to happen. She could already see the entire scene unfolding in her mind’s eye, just as real to her now as it was sure to be in about forty-five seconds.
She would open the pub door and that stupid bell over the door would tingle far too loudly, alerting everyone inside to her grand entrance. There was no way around it. She couldn’t just sidle in and vanish into the small crowd before anyone saw her. All eyes would be on her, and she would be able to hear the whispers immediately diffusing through the acrid-smelling room.
“Beth came? How brave of her!”
“Look at her!”
“That poor, poor girl.”
To the people who were already gathered in that pub, no matter what she did, she would always just be a poor, poor girl.
Why the hell did she come to her stupid high school reunion, anyway?
She hadn’t even liked high school. What kind of sociopath actually enjoyed their teenage years? Not that hers had been particularly bad. All things considered, she had gotten off fairly easy. She had always had a group of friends hanging around, though she was never part of the “popular group” that went off and got hammered in the woods off of Evans Road every weekend. She had been in the drama club, but never gotten a lead role in the school play, and she had written for the school newspaper and helped out with planning the school dances, though she had never been voted a homecoming queen or prom queen or anything like that.
Yes, until Senior Year, high school had been just a normal, third-circle-of-Hell teenage experience. Senior Year pushed it over the edge and into Complete Shitshow territory. And now, ten years later, here she was. Standing outside the stupid town pub, waiting to be scrutinized by people she hadn’t even friended on Facebook or spoken to since graduation.
Hell, she hadn’t even gone to graduation.
“What am I doing here?” she groaned, realizing too late she was actually speaking out loud and not just in her own head. “I don’t have to do this. I don’t have to prove anything to anyone.”
She spun around, now determined to just leave without even going inside, and bumped into a tall, just-starting-to-bald-ever-so-slightly man, nearly causing both of them to tumble off the flimsy half-step.
“Whoa!” the man grunted, equal parts surprised and trying to appear suave. “Careful, there.”
He reached out a hand to steady her before she fell, resting it on her shoulder.
Normally, that would have sent a cold chill through her spine. Normally, she would have pulled away or told him to get his mitts off her. But, something about his touch seemed… familiar.
“Hey!” he grinned broadly at her. “Beth! You made it! I didn’t think we’d see you tonight!”
That was all it took, seeing that doofy grin rip across his face, for her to immediately recognize him. She looked into his eyes, and he smiled at her, his own pale blue eyes flashing with a moment of recognition.
“Alex?” she asked.
“In the flesh.”
His grin faded into a warm smile, then he suddenly realized his hand was still lingering on her shoulder and immediately dropped it. “Sorry,” he mumbled, eyes cast down at the ground. “I didn’t mean to startle you or anything. I thought you heard me walking up.”
“I wasn’t paying attention,” she admitted. “I was… in my own world. Sorry. I was just leaving, actually.”
“Leaving?” He looked confused, almost hurt. “Why would you leave? You haven’t even gone in yet, have you?”
“No. I changed my mind. I thought I could do it, but I can’t.”
Alex nodded slowly, his mind chugging through the entire thought process she had gone through just a few minutes before. “Yeah, I guess I get it. I mean, it won’t be the same without him.”
Bethany smiled, sad but not broken. “He hasn’t been here for ten years. I’m used to him not being here by now. I’ve accepted that.” She nodded firmly at the pub door. “What I’m not used to anymore is being the poor little girl whose boyfriend was murdered. No one knows about it in Philly. I don’t have to answer the questions. I don’t have to deal with the stupid, goddamn patronizing looks–”
“Hey,” he raised his hands in the air in a don’t-shoot-the-messenger gesture. “I totally get it. It was my first thought when I saw you, too. You’re going to be the topic of conversation all night, guaranteed. Hell, Harlan dying like that was the biggest thing that happened in this podunk town in decades.”
“Of course it was. Why do you think I haven’t been back?”
“Same reason no one comes back after graduation,” he shrugged. “You got out.”
“So did you,” she pointed out. “New York, right? The big Broadway actor.”
“Yeah,” he mumbled, running one hand over the back of his neck. “That’s me. The big Broadway actor.”
He said it flatly, without any sense of pride or accomplishment.
“You came all the way back here from New York just for this stupid thing?” She asked, prodding just a little. It would be nice to get the subject off of her and onto something else. Anything else.
He laughed and shook his head. “God, no. I moved back six months ago. My dad needs help running the store. He’s not as young as he used to be… you know how it is.”
There was something behind his words. Not dishonesty, exactly, but he was holding something back. She could feel it in her bones. It was the same feeling she used to get when Harlan would promise he wasn’t going to actually kill anything when he went hunting with his buddies.
She didn’t get a chance to call him on it, though, because he was grinning again. That same grin as when they were in high school and he would intentionally gross her out during the frog dissection just because he could.
“We don’t have to go in there,” he told her, gesturing over his shoulder with his thumb. “The only people who go to these lame-ass things are the townies who never left.”
“That’s not us.”
She said it so adamantly, she almost believed it.
Alex wasn’t the only one who could lie.
“No,” he agreed, just as eager for the raw denial as she was. “That’s not us. We got out.”
Neither of them mentioned the fact that they were standing there, in the same town they had both vowed to escape someday. The town they had both stayed away from until now.
They hadn’t seen each other in ten years, hadn’t spoken in ten years. It was almost like meeting a stranger for the first time. They knew nothing about each other’s lives anymore, they knew nothing at all apart from, in that moment, they had a connection. A mutual agreement.
They both got out.
They had to agree on that.
“You wanna ditch this place and grab a creamy at the Dairy Shack?” he asked, his pale eyes meeting hers.
God, neither of them could help it. He still called a soft serve ice cream cone a creamy, just like they all did. Just like she still did.
No one else in the world called them creamies.
It was this town.
Even when you left, you were never really gone.
She smiled, brushing the stray strands of hair off her forehead. “That sounds better than going to a reunion right now.”
She let her hand brushed past his as they stepped off of the half-step of the pub and started up the sidewalk together towards the Dairy Shack.
She didn’t tell him the truth about why she was there.
She didn’t tell him the truth about Harlan.
Not the whole truth, anyway.
After all, Alex wasn’t the only one who could lie.