I started a novel last November and wrote about 35,000 words. This November, I aim to finish it. Of course, I haven't been dormant in the months since November. I worked on finishing a different
novel, a sequel to The Summer of France which I call Autumn in Aix. That one is out for revisions right now.
When I returned to my novel in progress, I was surprised to find that I like it a lot. I don't always feel that way about my writing. The current title is The Wedding-Dress Theory. It's a mother daughter story.
Ironically, as I'm preparing to move to France, I'm writing a book about a couple who decide to travel to all 50 states in the U.S. But things go awry, as you might imagine.
I'm going to share the first chapter here and hope that you like it so I'm encouraged to continue.
Tucking a clutch of maps under her arm and transferring a loaded purse to her shoulder, Tess Wright Thompson reached for the doorknob, hoping she could open the door and step inside before all of her belongings fell onto the front porch.
“I got your maps, but these better be the last of them,” Tess called out to her husband, Rick. Even from the living room as she dumped her bag onto the black leather couch, she could see through to the dining room and the white board he had set up there. His handwriting in blue marker scrawled across it with dates, places and reservations for their upcoming cross-country trip. It’s what he had always wanted to do – travel to every state in the U.S. in one big journey. So they were doing it, with an Alaskan cruise at the end and then a flight to Hawaii where they would lie on the beach for a week to recover from so much adventure.
Rick, 10 years older than Tess, had retired just the month before. Today was Tess’ last day at the Things Remembered shop where she worked helping people pick personal gifts then having them engraved or embroidered with names. The store had found a college student to take her place for the summer, so she was free to travel and then return to work in the fall.
“If you even want to come back,” laughed Charles, her 28-year-old manager, who was meticulous about the merchandise, but couldn’t figure out why Tess would want to work if she could have a husband support her.
“What else am I going to do?” she had asked Charles. “Stay home and watch Rick be retired? I suppose he’ll take up hobbies, like wood working or tinkering on old cars, or whatever cliché retired husbands do.” She had sighed.
Tess liked routine, and this trip, Rick’s retirement, would definitely shake up the routine. Ever since her mother died 24 years before and she’d had her “episode” as she liked to call it – clinical depression her doctors called it – she’d lived by routine. She returned from the psychiatric hospital a zombie marching through a fog with strict timelines for feeding the children, getting them to school, picking them up, feeding them dinner – her hectic life as an assistant district attorney thrown aside as she muddled to get through every day. She wouldn’t have survived without Rick’s support, his nightly backrubs, the times he’d come in from work and say, “Let me make dinner; you go read a book and relax.” And he had agreed that getting a small job at a shop might be good for her as the kids finished high school. He never pushed her to go back to being a lawyer, just held a hand at the small of her back, figuratively, whenever she threatened to stumble.
Oh, she groused about Rick’s retiring but she felt closest to her real self with just the two of them, walking for coffee, their hands entwined. Ambling through the farmer’s market and picking out a few zucchinis, a bunch of strawberries, some local honey, and guiltily adding a cinnamon roll loaded with cream cheese icing to their healthy purchases. They would split the pastry at home as she sipped tea and he tipped back strong coffee.
Maybe the entire cross-country trip would feel like their weekly trips to the farmer’s market.
She leaned over to save her overloaded purse from spilling out onto the couch, settling it upright. She’d brought home all of her belongings from Things Remembered today. She was going to be gone for three months – no sense leaving an extra cardigan hanging on the hook in the backroom next to the time clock. She’d also grabbed her deep-purple travel mug, engraved with her name and a blossoming iris. Tess loved all things flowered and all things purple. She pulled the mug from her purse and set it on the side table.
Open maps dotted with post-it notes and stacks of maps yet to be unfolded and notated covered the dining room table, and she would add this latest set of maps. She had stopped by AAA on her drive home. She knew that Rick had already planned every step of the trip, so she wondered why he continued to pour over the maps and order new ones.
They had two weeks yet before the journey, and the next step was to buy supplies.
“We can get supplies anywhere along the route,” Tess had reminded him. “We’re not going to the Australian Outback. There are CVS drug stores around the whole country,” or at least she figured there were.
Tess had put her foot down at the idea of renting an RV. “If we’re going to do this, we’re staying in hotels, and decent hotels.”
So they didn’t need to stock up on road food or plan meals. They’d be eating in diners and restaurants, maybe grabbing Subway sandwiches for picnics. They only needed to pack clothes and toiletries, plus their credit cards.
Tess had a vision of the old days when they would get travelers’ checks before a long trip and chuckled to herself.
“Hey, Rick,” she called as she walked toward the dining room with the maps. “Remember when we used to buy travelers’ checks and then we’d have to search everywhere for someplace that would accept them? That time in the Blue Ridge Mountains when –”
She halted as she rounded the corner of the narrow wall to the dining room and saw Rick slumped over the table, the back of his head toward her. A plate with a few crumbs of cake and an empty coffee cup sat beside him.
“Rick?” Tess called tentatively. Had he fallen asleep?
She moved beside him and touched his shoulder, beginning to shake him but her hand recoiled. His shoulder felt cold and stiff. Not warm and yielding with the bones and muscles resisting beneath.
“Oh, my God! Rick! Rick!”
Avoiding contact with him, Tess scooted his chair in enough so that she could get around the table to see his face. Partially open, his eyes stared straight ahead at the table and the skin above his eyelids looked blue as if he’d applied eye shadow. His mouth hung open, and a little puddle of drool rested on the table beneath him.
“Rick! Noooooo.” Tess didn’t know how long she howled the word as she fell to her knees and covered her face.
Well? What do you think so far? Would you keep reading?