Saturday, September 5, 2015
1st 5 Pages September Workshop - Archer
Name: Chelsea Archer
Genre: Young Adult
Title: An Ugly Beauty
Dean Westford sat in the small diner, his feet tapping against the table legs. The local newspaper lay open before him, the headline practically screaming: “Another Hiker Missing in the Northwest Woods.” His eyes scanned the meager details. A single female hiker missing since Thursday afternoon; moderately skilled in outdoor survival; the authorities are hopeful. He sat back and ran his fingers through his hair, thinking of Kali. She would be all over this.
A steaming cup of coffee and a high-rise of pancakes plopped onto his table.
“You looked in desperate need of your usual, love,” Marjorie said.
Dean smiled despite his mood. “Perfect timing as always.” Marjorie was his favorite waitress at the Briar Rabbit, had been since he’d starting coming here when he was five.
She glanced at the paper, now half hidden by Dean’s breakfast. “Best to leave the worrying to the professionals, eh?” She smiled and turned to another table.
She was right, as usual, but he knew Kali would never leave this one alone. He thought back to all the other hikers who had gone missing over the past several years, all the ones that were never found, or worse, the ones whose bodies eventually showed up. Twelve deaths and seventeen missing hikers over the past ten years. Odds were that they were accidental, at least that’s what the park rangers and police said. Dean believed them, if not entirely, at least enough to let it go, but not Kali.
He leaned in, savoring the buttery aroma of fresh pancakes. He took a big bite of the fluffy wonder followed by a sip of coffee, then looked up as the bell over the door jingled. Kali walked towards him, today’s paper clutched in her hand.
“It’s a girl this time,” Kali said, and slapped the paper on the table.
“So I saw.”
“Well, what are you waiting for? The forest service is mounting up a search party and we’re going to be late.”
Since her brother Eric had died four years before, all Kali had thought about was finding the truth. Each missing hiker was a clue, a link to the brother who’d disappeared for six weeks before his body had been found. Cause of death a supposed heart attack, dead less than twenty-four hours–where had he been all that time? A mystery for sure, but Kali just couldn’t let it go, couldn’t move on with her life until justice had been served—or at least as much justice that could be had for a dead man.
Dean pushed his breakfast to the side, giving her room to sit down.
She sat, but she did not relax. He took the paper from her and turned it over so the headline was hidden, and did the same with his. He took in her disheveled blonde hair, the dark circles rimming her green eyes, her frayed sweatshirt resting loosely on thin shoulders. He worried she hadn’t been taking care of herself.
“Seriously, Dean. Let’s go, Lucas is already down there.”
Dean swallowed, his throat clicking. “I thought he was working today.” Lucas was her boyfriend, though Dean couldn’t understand what she saw in him.
“He took time off.” Kali hesitated. “Please Dean.”
He pulled his plate back and took another bite of his pancakes, his eyes never leaving her. “I have to work today.”
“Isn’t the search for a missing girl more important than doing inventory at the dive shop?”
Dean leaned back, putting distance between them. He resisted the urge to shake his head at her blatant ignorance, knowing it would only start a fight.
“I work for a living, Kali. I need this money if I’m ever going to get a shot at going to college, you know this. We can’t just put our lives on hold every time some stupid college kid gets lost in the woods. They’re not Eric.”
Kali’s face flushed. “You think I don’t know that? Of course they’re not Eric, but they’re still missing and they still need our help.”
"Help?” Dean looked down and leaned forward, bringing his eyes up to meet hers. “Let’s be honest here. You’re not going out into those woods to help these people, you’re going out there to find answers that you’re never going to find. It’s been four years, Kali. Four years of me watching you kill yourself and I can’t do it anymore.”
“Then don’t,” Kali said. She slide her chair back and stood. “But I won’t abandon my brother.”
As she turned to go, Dean stood and gripped her arm, stopping her retreat. “He’s dead, Kali, dead. There’s nothing left to abandon.”
She inhaled sharply and wrenched her arm out of Dean’s grasp. Her eyes glistened. “Screw you, Dean.”
He watched the door swing closed behind her, then sunk slowly back down into his seat. He knew people were staring, but at that moment he couldn’t care less. Everything about that girl drove him crazy. But why did I have say those things? He questioned, mentally berating himself. He closed his eyes trying to picture Kali’s smiling face, but was met with only that last look of hurt and betrayal.
I’ll go outside, he thought, and if she’s out there, I’ll apologize and help her with this asinine mission, but if she’s gone, I’m going to let her go. He felt some small comfort in this thought. It was only when he reached for his wallet that he realized his hands were shaking.
He exited the building half hoping Kali would still be there and half hoping she’d left to continue her little crusade without him. She was leaning against the bumper of his SUV, arms crossed, head bowed. He walked up to her, and placed the toes of his boots against the toes of her shoes.
“I hate you,” she said, her voice thick.
Dean sighed. “I know.” He opened his arms.
Kali let out a strangled sob and launched herself at him.
He held her, cheek pressed against her soft hair, until she stopped shaking. And still he held her. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled.
She wiped tears against his chest. “Does that mean you’re coming along?”
“Yeah, but you owe me.”
“Two cases of beer and a pizza coming up.”
“Make it three.” It was an old joke, and Dean felt relieved to see the ghost of a smile cross her face.
“Thank you,” she said, leaning up and placing a chaste kiss on his cheek. She pulled away and crossed the lot to her car.
He watched her pull a hiking pack out of the back, all the while his cheek burning like fire. He’d known Kali practically all his life, felt more comfortable with her than anyone else in the world. Once, it seemed that nothing could come between them but things had changed since Eric’s death. She had withdrawn, pulled into herself and focused on nothing more than figuring out what had happened to him. Dean had been patient, had helped her in any way he could, but when she finally seemed to come back, to find herself again, Lucas had stepped into the picture and everything had fallen apart.
“You’re driving,” she said, walking toward Dean’s black Chevy Tahoe.
He climbed nimbly into the SUV and slammed the door.