Wonder Boi Writes

The Long Way Home – Excerpt and Weekend Play

Here we are, inching up on a moment that’s over two years in the making. This will be my last weekend blog before the release of The Long Way Home on September 1.   Most of my blog readers have been with me from the beginning of this project.  You’ve met the characters, explored the setting, and been privy to all the ups and downs of my writing process.  There’s not much else I can say to get you interested in this book.  We’ve reached the point where the story has to speak for itself.  So here, for the loyal Wonderboi readers, is a sneak peak of the opening scenes of The Long Way Home.

August 1

Ali was sexy as hell, but she was awfully high maintenance for a sometimes lover. Now she wanted to go downtown to the theater.

Raine said, “For the fifth time, I’m broke and out of energy. And I told you I don’t want to go anywhere right now. I’m staying in and trying to find a way not to get evicted.”

Ali rolled her eyes. “You won’t get evicted. No one in Boystown would evict their Little Orphan Annie. You’ve spent ten years playing the disowned teenager. Why stop now?”

“I’m not seventeen anymore. Eventually I’ll have to—”

The phone rang, mercifully saving Raine from having to come up with an end to that sentence. How could she get her life back on track? Change her act? Find a new career? She didn’t like to think about either of those options. She glanced at the caller ID and saw the number of her agent, Edmond Carpenter. “I have to take this.”

“We’re already late,” Ali whined.

“We’re done, Ali.” Raine turned her back to the living room and answered the phone. “Edmond, please say you’ve found me a job.”

“Who loves you, baby?” Edmond asked a second before Raine’s front door slammed shut. Ali had recognized her cue to exit. Raine chuckled. “I hope you do, because I’m pretty sure Ali doesn’t.”

“Another one bites the dust. Good riddance to bad trash, there’re other bitches in the sea, and all those standard breakup clichés that are supposed to offer comfort.”

“I don’t need comfort. I need a job.”

“How about a job, room and board, and a chance to get published again?”

Raine flopped onto her couch, dizzy with relief. “Oh my goddess, you’re shitting me.”

“Ugh, you can’t be that vulgar if you accept an academic position at a liberal arts college, especially since they’ve offered to put you up on campus as their guest lecturer for the year.”

“A lecturer position?” Raine felt giddy. “That’s exactly what we wanted. Could it be more perfect?”

“Now before you get all excited, it’s not totally perfect. It’s four hours away from Chicago.” Edmond’s voice pitched a little higher, a sure sign he was tense.

“That’s not necessarily a bad thing. This place is starting to wear on me.”

“It’s at a small college. You’d be their first guest lecturer.”

“I’m a trendsetter.”

“You’d have to start in two weeks.”

“Edmond, I’m out of options and my rent was due yesterday. I’ll take anything.”

“I hoped that’s what you’d say.” Edmond didn’t sound relieved.

“The job’s in Darlington.”

“That’s not funny.” Raine struggled not to let the mention of her hometown dampen her mood.

“Seriously, where is it?”

“I’m serious. It’s at Bramble College in Darlington, Illinois.”

“Are you out of your fucking mind? I’ve spent my entire life getting away from that place. I’m Raine St. James, the one who survived.” Raine needed to remind herself that she’d made it out alive.

“Exactly. You made it, you beat the odds, you made something of yourself, and now you’re a local celebrity ready to return triumphantly. Think about the articles you could write. Hell, maybe even a book. You’d be a hero.”

“No, I wouldn’t. In Darlington I’m just Rory, a dyke who disgraced her parents and snuck out one night, forever. Those people have no idea who I’ve become. They don’t read The Advocate. They’ve never seen any of my articles or heard any of my public speeches.”

“Well, somebody at Bramble knows who you are, because the dean’s office contacted me. They want you there. They’re offering you a prime job with a place to live, two classes of your choice. . .”

Raine didn’t hear any of it. Her chest ached and her head throbbed as memories of her youth rushed back. The angst, the fear, the selfloathing— she could summon it all so easily even after a decade. No way could she take that job. She wasn’t that desperate, was she?

August 14

Raine didn’t need the GPS in her Toyota Prius to tell her which exit to take off I-55. She’d learned how to drive on these roads. The four-lane highway had been her way out, her path to freedom,though she’d been heading in the other direction back then. The only time she’d driven toward her hometown in the past ten years had been in her dreams.

Her memories of them had faded to black and white over time,but they never disappeared. If not for the vivid colors around her now,she could convince herself that what she was seeing was nothing more than a memory. The cornfields still rose in every direction as if attempting to swallow her whole. The August heat was every bit as oppressive as it’d always been. The only sign of life was the occasional truck, tractor, or freight train, all of them old, run- down, and covered in rust, like the people who drove them.

The shrill ring of Raine’s cell phone interrupted her thoughts. She glanced down at the caller ID display and hesitated. If she hadn’t been alone in the car for four hours, she wouldn’t be speaking to her agent, but Raine was an extrovert by nature. She gave in and answered.

“I hate you, Edmond Carpenter.”

“Oh, good, you’re speaking to me again.” Edmond had been her agent for almost as long as she’d been in Chicago, and though Raine currently wanted to hate him, she had to admit he was her closest friend. “Are you there yet?”

“I can still turn around if you’ve found me another job.”

“We’ve been through this, Raine.” They’d reviewed her options every day for the past two weeks, and Raine had wrestled with the decision until she received her eviction notice. She didn’t have a choice.

“I don’t have to like it, or you.” Raine pouted.

“Don’t kid yourself, honey. You love me more than pussy.”

“Fuck off.”

“Seriously, Raine, you have to learn to control your mouth. You’re about to become a college teacher. You have to play your cards right. This job could revive your career.”

“I know how to behave.” Raine sighed as she drove into town.

“I went to college, you know?”

“I know, cupcake. I got you the scholarship.”

“Yeah, and you would’ve skimmed ten percent off the top of that, if you could’ve figured out a way to.” Raine knew she was acting like a petulant child, but she couldn’t help it. She felt like a child again. Returning to Darlington made her revert to her teenage mentality. “I’m sorry. I’m in town now, and I don’t have the energy for witty banter.”

“I understand.” Edmond’s voice softened. “If you need someone to talk to tonight, you know my number.”

“Thanks.” Raine flipped her phone shut and focused on the road ahead. The cornfields gave way to homes that became increasingly closer together as she approached a large green sign proclaiming Darlington City Limits, Population 5,000. City, my ass. I’ve lived in apartment complexes that housed more than five thousand people.

She slowed to thirty-five miles per hour and scanned her surroundings. The gas station had a new neon sign, but it still didn’t stay open twenty-four hours a day. The high school looked exactly like it had the day she graduated. All of the little houses still had their perfectly manicured lawns and patriotic bunting strewn on porches. The grocery store still used the same weather-worn banners to advertise double-coupon day. The town square was ringed with American flags and yellow ribbons probably left up since the first Gulf War. In fact, the only significant change was that the Walmart had been super-sized. To anyone else this ride would’ve been a nostalgic peek into small-town America, but Raine fought to swallow the bile that rose in her throat.

Perfect. That’s what they want, perfection. White picket fences and brightly colored flowers lined each walkway. The women she saw through store-front windows wore dresses, and the men wore ties. Everyone was clean-cut, clean-shaven, and clearly gendered. That’s why she’d never belonged. She wasn’t the perfect all-American girl to fit in the perfect all-American town. She was an outsider and an outlaw. Homo, dyke, faggot—she knew all the names people here called people like her, but she also knew the worst one. Queer. It didn’t just mean gay. It meant different, strange. It meant not like us. It was the antithesis of Darlington, where team play and conformity were valued above all else.

How could this be happening? She’d vowed that she’d never come back, and she had no idea what she’d do now that she’d returned. Just a few years earlier she’d been the toast of Boystown, a hero in her own small circle, a disowned gay teenager who’d shown the world what she was made of. She’d spoken at colleges and community centers across the country. Everyone had wanted to hear her story, a young woman who had beaten the odds. Her audiences had been so impressed when she was seventeen. Few people had met a more resilient twenty-year-old. Even when she was twenty-five, most college students saw her as one of them, part of a new generation of out-and-proud lesbians. When had that changed? At first she’d had only a few less speaking engagements each year, but then her articles began to be rejected. Editors had asked her if she had anything new, as if being disowned once wasn’t enough. At twenty-seven she was still gay, and she still had the same message. Why was a story about running away from home less interesting when someone nearing thirty told it? Yes, the events that had shaped her might have happened a decade ago, but they still felt real. The memories flooded Raine’s mind so thoroughly that she worried she wouldn’t be able to drive.

Mercifully, Raine saw the sign for the college entrance and turned onto campus. She had no memories here. Local girls weren’t encouraged to go anywhere near Bramble’s campus, and the college students and faculty rarely ventured farther than the string of taverns directly across from its well-tended grounds. While Darlington was a town with a college, it wasn’t a college town. The only area where the two interacted was sports, and even then the interactions were more competitive than conversational.

The college was small, with large trees shading the winding lane that bisected the campus. All the buildings were brick, most with long strands of ivy wandering up their outer walls. Raine passed several small dorms, the library, and the gym before she stopped in front of a building different from the others only because it had a large sign labeling it the Department of Academic Affairs.

Once inside, Raine had expected to have to ask around to find the dean’s office, but a young man behind a large mahogany desk immediately jumped up. “You must be Raine.”

“Yeah, Raine St. James. I’m the new guest lecturer.”

“I know who you are.” The man gave her a little wink that caused her to inspect him more closely, from his Kenneth Cole loafers to his immaculately pressed suit and his perfectly coiffed blond hair. Raine finally recognized the welcome. He’s as gay as a field full of daises.

“I’m Miles Braden, Director of Financial Aid.” He extended a well-manicured hand.

“Nice to meet you, Miles.” Raine returned the handshake with a genuine smile. A gay man with an administrative position in Darlington. Maybe some things had changed. “Could you point me toward the dean’s office?”

“She’s in a meeting, but I’ll let her know you’re here.” Miles stretched over the desk and pressed a few buttons on his phone. “She’ll want to see you.”

“Flores, Raine St. James is here.”

Not thirty seconds later a door off the entryway opened and a striking Latino woman in a brown pantsuit smiled broadly at Raine. She had short black hair and wore no makeup. “Raine, I can’t tell you how happy we are to see you. I’m Flores Molina, the dean of academic affairs and a big fan of your writing.”

“Really?” The warm welcome surprised Raine and made her wonder if she was getting the same kind of vibes from Flores that she had from Miles, but when she discreetly raised an eyebrow in his direction she received an equally discreet shake of his head. Raine didn’t let her disappointment show. A gay man and a lesbian would be too much to hope for.

“I’d love to show you around, but I’m in the middle of a meeting, and I’m sure you’d like to settle in.”

Raine forced a nod but couldn’t bring herself to make peace with the idea of getting settled in Darlington. “Why don’t I walk you to the library and introduce you to Beth Devoroux. She’s made your housing arrangements.”

“That would be great,” Raine said, but Flores was already headed out the door. Raine barely had time to wave good-bye to Miles before she jogged to catch up with the dean. Between her angst caused by her drive through town, her surprise at meeting a gay man in Darlington, and her race to keep up with Flores, Raine didn’t have time to process the notion that the name Beth Devoroux sounded awfully familiar.

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August 27, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

1 Comment »

  1. […] Spangler posted an excerpt from her upcoming book The Long Way […]

    Pingback by Weekly Link Round Up « The Lesbrary | September 1, 2010 | Reply


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