A few years ago I wrote a novel which I started during a Nanowrimo (Nat'l Novel Writing Month) contest. I am starting it's revision. Here is chapter one, in case you feel like reading it. If you do, I'd appreciate any feedback you want to give.
October, a novel.
Octavia poured a second cup of coffee as she sat waiting for morning.
The pinkish light started in the sky. She felt calm, despite the excitement of the day. She opened the AAA atlas, and looked again at the route she was going to take for a trip out to Colorado to visit her old friend, Jeanne. They had not seen each other since 1975, and here it was five years later already. It was time. She closed the atlas and put it aside. They’d known each other since their early teens, and Jeanne was always like a big sister to Octavia. She missed being with her.
The Chevy Nova Coupe sat in the driveway, all buffed up for its first big adventure. The ashtrays were cleaned out, and more maps were in the glove compartment.
Octavia drank her coffee; just slightly sweet with a touch of light cream.
She was quiet, not wanting to wake Michael, knowing he must’ve worked hard through the night. Her brother was a sculptor, and he’d been drawing up plans for a new installation.
The trees were growing light in her vision. She felt the breeze coming in the kitchen window, and saw it sway through the trees. It was mid September, and Fall was clearly in the air. Octavia imagined there would be an Indian Summer somewhere along her drive out West.
She was hungry, and wanted a big breakfast. She wished Michael would wake up even if he was tired, so she could start making something. Taking some dishes from the cabinet, she placed them quietly on the table. She needed food, and definitely more coffee.
She took the eggs out of the refrigerator, and the bacon too; put on pot of new potatoes so she could make home fries. It was going to be a real diner breakfast. Orange or grapefruit juice available.
Octavia poured the remainder of the coffee into a thermal carafe, and put on a new pot. Just as the coffee began to perk, she could hear Michael stirring in his room upstairs. The smell of coffee woke him from his slumber.
Her brother could be a bear in the morning until he'd had his first cup of black coffee. She could hear him washing up in the bathroom.
Walking into the kitchen, his hair stood in a shock upon his head, slightly wet from the water he'd thrown on his face.
"Mornin' Michael." she smiled, and kissed him on the cheek. He looked forlorn, and Octavia could see him eyeing the atlas at one end of the table.
"I'm making us a big breakfast, I hope you're hungry."
"Tav, are you sure you don't want to fly out there? You could leave today since you're so set on it ... but it would be so much easier."
This was the hundredth time he'd asked about the plane versus the car.
"Michael, I'm all set to drive there....... it's going to be okay, really. I really want to see the country, you know?"
She may as well open the atlas, she thought, and spread it out in the middle of the table. Triple AAA had mapped out her route from here to Tempest, CO. She didn't want too many stops along the way, figuring she could drive long distances, but as the morning wore on, she imagined she'd be staying overnight a lot sooner than Cleveland, which seemed quite far away. Nevertheless, it was her first designated stop for an overnighter.
"You know I'm hating this, right?" Michael said.
"I'm going to be careful, Michael. I'll call you whenever I stop. You'll get sick of hearing from me!" Octavia wanted this morning to be light, and didn't want to talk about the benefits of a plane ride. She wanted to see the country. She wanted to go beyond her little world.
"The bacon smells good, Tav... when do we eat?"
He smiled the smile that made his face break into a whole new man.
"Coming up soon, Mr. Lindauer, who should have been making breakfast for me this morning!" she joked.
"You know I can't cook... Another reason you shouldn't be going. Sorry, I have lots of reasons."
"Well, you know how to make coffee, at least. And you're so lying that you don't know how to cook!"
They were light over breakfast, basking in the goodness of food as a common ground.
Michael began to clear the table of the morning dishes. His movements were slow, and Octavia could tell that this one not one of his favorite days by a long shot.
“I made a list of all your contacts and posted it on the corkboard in the office”, she told Michael, ‘There’s not much I do around here to begin with so you should be able to handle that stuff’. ‘Grant said he’d hire you an assistant, remember.”
Michael just looked at her, barely hearing a word she said. Already he was worried about her, the car, the places she’d be going.
“I’m going to get myself together, I want to be on the road by 9.” Octavia told him.
Michael stood at the sink washing the dishes. Octavia knew he’d heard what she said, but still he was silent.
She went to the bedroom and dressed in the clothes that she had laid out. Her favorite pair of jeans, a carpenter shirt, and her trusty Keds® sneakers.
She gathered up the candies and goodies she’d munch on during her drive. Chips and chocolate bars. Coffee would be gotten at rest stops along the way.
“Tav! Come down here.” Michael called.
“In a minute, Michael” She wondered what he wanted.
When Octavia went back downstairs, she saw Michael standing in the light of the window. He was no less beautiful than the night he came to her, as if out of a dream, sixteen years ago. Octavia remembered those first days in her fathers’ house. He always smelled like a mix of body odor and beer, and she cried at night, wanting her mama back, and the soft fragrance of baby powder and vanilla that wrapped around her.
In her twelve years she did not remember him visiting her mother. She had seen pictures of him, but was sure it was a different man, because that one was handsome, and had kind eyes.
Octavia looked at him through swollen eyes, searching for the kindness, but too young to see that it was really there, in his face that seemed so ancient to her. Maybe he’s really my grandpa, she thought. Then she remembered her other grandpa, in heaven with mommy, and she cried harder, sure that this man wasn’t anything like that.
“Your brother’s coming home today, Tavy.” he said, putting down the newspaper he’d glanced at briefly.
“Octavia.” she corrected. “I don’t have any brothers.” She hated him, and knew she would hate him forever, because he was stupid and crazy and didn’t even know her name.
“Not your full brother, Tavy... this boy’s my son.. borne of a different mama than yours... but still half your blood.”
The day passed, and Octavia added Liar to the list of her father’s faults, when her “brother” did not return home.
Then one night Octavia dreamt that tigers were chasing her. She woke screaming. “Mommyyyy!”
His figure came rushing into the room, silhouetted against the dim hallway light. In her fright, she allowed him to wrap his arms around her,
“It’s all right, little one,’ he said in a gentle voice, ‘it’s all right.”
He stroked her hair, and rocked her in his arms until she was fast asleep once more.
Octavia lay in bed with her eyes open that morning, thinking about her night dreams of flashing red tigers, and the man who saved her in the dream.
Suddenly there was a stranger peeking through the doorway, his brown hair shimmering like a wave against his eyes. Octavia pulled her legs up against her chest, grabbing the blanket to her neck. She wanted to scream, but her throat wouldn’t let out the sound.
“Hey, little one! No more bad dreams, I hope.”
Octavia could not close her eyes in this dream.
He was beautiful. A guardian angel! Octavia thought... Her mother must have sent him, because he looked just like the father in the pictures.
“You have your mother’s beautiful hair, little one, I’ve seen pictures... brown as an oak in autumn. May I call you October?” he smiled.
Octavia didn’t look at him directly, but a smile blushed her face as she twirled her hair between her fingers, and looked at it. She pinched herself under the covers, but still she didn’t wake up.
“O.K.” she said.
“OK!’ he said in a morning voice, “Now, what do you say we have some breakfast? I want to hear all about my beautiful sister...”
He held out his hand. She was not afraid to take it.
Slipping out of the bed, she stepped into her slippers, still holding his hand.
“He wasn’t lying,” she said softly.
“What’s that, October?”
She looked into his eyes. They were kind, and as blue as the robin’s egg she’d found in a field one summer day.
“Oh…. nothing,” she said, and they headed towards the kitchen for breakfast.
Today his crystal blue eyes showed age around the edges, but this made him only more appealing, Octavia thought. His face was still strong, with classic lines. She envied his fine straight nose, self-consciously touching the bump on her own. His lips were narrow, and when he wasn’t speaking, it looked as though there was a scar drawn across his face. They did not look alike. Octavia’s features nearly mirroring her mothers, and Michael resembling their father. Their natures were not un-alike. Although Michael’s temper had a shorter fuse, Octavia’s slow erupting way was no less passionate.
His eyes looked sad, eyeing the open atlas. Octavia wished she had not put it on the table.
“You’ve got an extra set of keys, right? And that safety kit I bought you? I still don’t see why you can’t just take a plane, Octavia… say the word right now, and I’ll make the arrangements for you.”
“Michael.’ She said quietly, ‘we’ve done this already. I want to drive; I want to see some of the country. I’m a big girl, I’ll be all right.” She tried sounding light, hoping he would smile.
“I can’t help it, Octavia. You’re my little one. You know that.”
Octavia felt a lump in her throat when he said it. She didn’t want this to be a sad morning, and she didn’t want Michael to sense her apprehension to leave. Living under his roof was always a safe haven for her. She didn’t want for anything he could not provide, as he provided much, even in the leaner years when few knew the name Lindauer. Leaving him for even a few weeks was not something she had ever done before.
“I can’t wait to see Jeanne.” She said.
Michael’s face went suddenly light, his eyes looking far away, and he smiled. “My God, you two loved driving me crazy!”
Octavia and Jeanne had met soon after Octavia arrived in Hopewell, at the ages of twelve and fourteen, respectively. They often took particular delight in taunting Michael as he worked. They would run through his studio without regard for his concentration, squealing and laughing, until he arose from his stool threatening to cook them in the kiln, or some equally horrific fate. His mouth would curl, and he would bare his teeth. Sometimes he would just flick a brush full of oil paint in their direction, but careful its spray was just short of reaching them; his eyes twinkling and his smile evident despite trying his best to appear the ogre.
Octavia poured more coffee, and they studied the map together, after Michael opened it again. She ran her finger across the Highway 90 to a stop in Ohio, where she would stay overnight. Michael complained, saying she should stop much sooner than that. She appeased him by saying she would stop if the driving was too much.
Octavia closed the atlas, and shoved it into an overstuffed leather satchel.
“You’d better take good care of yourself, Michael.’ She said, smoothing his hair a bit. ‘Don’t work for days without sleeping, I know how you get… and you won’t forget to eat, will you?” She felt the words choking in her throat.
“Now who’s being the worry wart?” he smiled. “Wait, I have something for you.”
Michael went to the living room and returned with a pastel drawing, which he placed on the table where the atlas had been.
“Oh, Michael! It’s so beautiful.” She said, blushing, because it was a portrait of her. She looked at it for a long while, feeling a chill run up her back when she met her own eyes in the drawing. She saw that Michael had signed his name on a wisp of her hair, which was wild, and dramatically red, waving out past the corners of the paper.
She could no longer hold back her tears, and she hugged Michael close to her.
“I’m going to miss you so much!”
“So don’t go.” There was a crack in his voice, and a resigned sigh… “I’ll have this mounted and framed for you before you return.”
Octavia smiled and thanked him. She wondered how long he had the piece, or if it was a creation from the night before. He had never before depicted her with such fire.
She felt a whole new sensation come over her… like she was really free, and ready to soar.
Everything was set. Now only ‘farewell’s’ were in order.
She hugged Michael as he sat on the kitchen chair. He stood up and hugged her back; one of his best bear hugs that made her feel so safe since she was a child.
“I don’t know how I’ll fare without you, Octavia… you’re my right arm, you know.”
Octavia put her satchel in the passenger seat.
“I’ll stop before I reach route 90, and call you… that’s not too far ahead.”
She got in the car and turned the engine. Michael stood on the porch of the old house, waving at her. It was hard pulling away.