Archive | April, 2012

A Little Peek

19 Apr

The other day, I received a text from my aunt asking about the weather, which happened to be a little dicey at the time.  She lives many states away and I don’t get to visit her often enough, but she still watches out for me from across the miles, making sure the family and I are safe.  She loves me.  She worries about me.  She also has no qualms about giving me a little kick in the rear.  At the end of our conversation, she gave me a little stern advice:

“Quit reading, and get to writing!!”

Yes, Ma’am.

For my aunt, and for anyone else who fears I may be slacking (because, admittedly, I am), here’s a little, unedited peek at what I’m working on. 🙂

*   *   *   *

(excerpt contains strong language)



Jimmy Rogan sat on the porch steps and lifted his beer bottle to his lips as he stared out across the road at the palm trees swaying in the humid, nighttime breeze. The last swallow of beer was warm and flat and tasted like piss as it rolled across his tongue, but it was a comfort. He wanted more, needed it really, but instead of going in for another, he held the empty bottle loosely in his hands and picked at the label with his thumb.

“…So do not fear, for I am with you, do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you…”

The minister’s voice reciting Isaiah replayed relentlessly in his mind, but he found no more meaning in the words now than he had sitting in the front pew of the church hours earlier.

If he closed his eyes he could still see the vivid array of colors the sun had beamed through the stained glass window as it had slowly traveled across the afternoon sky. He had sat and watched the disjointed rainbow play across the base of the pulpit for forty-seven minutes while Reverend Pearce—a man Jimmy had never met before in his life—spoke about his father as though he had known him intimately. Everything the minister had said was accurate, but hearing James Rogan’s life story come from the mouth of a stranger had stripped away the true meaning, turning his father’s memorial into a farce.

“I will uphold you with my righteous right hand…”

“Bullshit,” he whispered aloud.

No one was holding him.



“I asked if you wanted something to eat.”

“I’m not hungry.”

Kylie Johansen stepped out onto the front porch and closed the screen door carefully behind her. He didn’t know why she didn’t just let the door slam. The noise would have been lost under the roar of voices and music coming from inside the house.

“You should still eat,” she said, her voice gentle, careful, as she came up behind him. “It’s been a long day.”

“Not right now.”

Her hand ran across his shoulders as she settled onto the step next to him. Her feet were bare, her high heels cast aside as soon as they had left the cemetery, but she was still wearing the black dress she had purchased specifically for the occasion. It looked amazing on her, but Jimmy hoped he never saw it again after tonight.

“The breeze feels good,” Kylie whispered.


“It was getting hot in there with all those people.”

“Yeah,” Jimmy agreed again.

Over a hundred people had shown up for his father’s funeral in Florida, but other than the handful of friends and family who had flown in from Nebraska, Jimmy didn’t have a clue who any of them were. He didn’t even know whose house they were at. He was surrounded by strangers on what should have been the most private day of his life.

As Kylie’s hand tucked up along his inner thigh, he slipped his arm around her slender waist, settling her body into the crook of his. They had sat the exact same way a million times before, looking up at the same stars in the same night sky, only they had been a thousand miles away, where the wind blew through the corn, and the world felt right.

“It was a nice service,” Kylie offered.

He didn’t answer her.

Pastor Tom should have presided over the service. Pastor Tom had married James and MaryAnn Rogan, and had baptized both Jimmy and his younger brother, Brent. He had coached Jimmy’s midget football team. He hunted with them every fall and they fished the same slushy waters in the spring. He had been the man sitting at James’s bedside in the ICU, praying over him continuously for four days after his first stroke three years earlier. He had continued praying for him long after James had recovered well enough to pack up and move to Florida, prematurely chasing down that elusive dream of retiring in the southern sun.

Jimmy hadn’t set foot in the little brick church on the corner of Sycamore and First in Allman Falls for anything other than weddings or funerals for over ten years, but Pastor Tom would always be family. Reverend Pearce was just a man.

James Rogan deserved better than to be put into the ground by ‘just-a-man.’ James Rogan deserved to have Pastor Tom standing at the pulpit. He deserved to be buried in the Allman Falls Cemetery, laid to rest next to someone he had shot the shit with at least once while he was still alive. He deserved a reception at the V.F.W. Social Hall with roast beef sandwiches and Nita Polinski’s kolaches. He deserved his real friends—the ones he had lived with, and worked with, and played with, and prayed with for his entire life—toasting his memory with whiskey, not the fucking red wine they were serving inside.

“For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”

Jimmy looked at the empty beer bottle in his hand and thought if God truly wanted to help him silence his fears He would refill the bottle with that whiskey that was missing from the bar inside.

Kylie’s fingers played along the inner seam of his pant leg in an absentminded, habitual motion as she looked out across the foreign, tropical horizon. “Your mom pulled out some old photo albums and was passing them around.”

“Oh, yeah?”


He waited for her to say more, but she never did. Whatever thought she had been formulating got lost somewhere along the way. He left it to lie forgotten.

Laughter from inside the house rolled out onto the porch, bouncing along the wooden floor, Brent’s laugh rising high above the others. Jimmy wished, for not the first time in his life, that he could be more like his younger brother. The ease in which Brent navigated through the highs and lows of life was a trait he had inherited in full from their mother, one that had skipped over Jimmy entirely, leaving him mired in life’s shit.

“You never told me you and your dad were born on the same day,” Kylie said.

“Yeah,” Jimmy answered. He swallowed, but the lump in his throat remained lodged tight. “We were.”

Kylie shifted in his arms and ran her fingertips through his hair above his ear in a gentle caress. Her lips pressed against his cheek, her breath sweet with wine as it blew along his skin.

“Is that why he named you after him?” she asked.

“I don’t know… Maybe. He never told me why, and I never asked.”

“He loved you so much, Jimmy.”

He closed his eyes and leaned into her kiss.

“I was thinking maybe we could come back here on your birthday… sit and visit with him for awhile.”

“Yeah… Sure.”

“We’ll bring him a piece of that chocolate cake he loved so much,” she suggested in a light whisper.

He didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. His body did both. The corners of his mouth turned up in a smile, but the noise that rose from his chest sounded like a sob. “He’d like that.”

Her lips left his skin as her hand came up to stroke his cheek. “We should go back inside.”

“In a minute.”

She turned in his arms to rest her head against his shoulder, the silk of her hair cool against his neck. His eyes remained closed, and he inhaled her scent, touched her skin, trailed his fingers across her wrist, feeling the familiar rhythm of her heartbeat in her pulse. He wished he could pretend they were anywhere but where they were, that the day had been nothing more than a dream, a false reality that would mercifully dissolve into nothingness as he gradually awakened in her arms. But when he opened his eyes, the palm trees still swayed, his father was still dead.

The screen door opened again and slammed shut, momentarily increasing the volume of Joe Walsh singing about how his “Life’s Been Good.” Jimmy turned and looked over his shoulder, but no one had come outside. The night air was warm, heavy and damp, but the sight of the empty porch behind them sent a chill rolling down his spine.

The song took him back in time, into a fuzzy, insignificant memory, one of hundreds that had played through his mind since he had received the call from his mother, her voice oddly serene as she said, “Come now, Jimmy. And hurry.” The song turned him seven-years old again, sitting on an overturned bucket in a garage, the smell of oil and paint thinner heavy in the air, watching as his father helped a guy pull the transmission out of a wrecked 1984 Ford Bronco. He couldn’t remember who the guy was, what he had looked like, or whose garage they had been in, but the scent of the memory was so strong he could almost taste it. Oil, paint thinner, a rusted, dark blue Bronco, and that song playing on the radio. It had been one of his father’s favorites.

Kylie lifted her head from his shoulder. “Are you ok?”

“Yeah,” he answered, and turned back to her. She looked tired, her eyes puffy and bloodshot from the emotion of the day. Her lipstick had worn off. Her thick hair was tangled from the afternoon wind and her worried hands running through it in nervous habit, but she was gorgeous. Her eyes, her mouth, the line of her jaw, the angle of her nose, the porcelain of her skin, the beauty mark at the corner of her eye—everything about her was perfection. She was too good for him. He’d always known it. Everyone did.

“I don’t know why the hell she loves you, Jimmy, but she does,” James had said to Jimmy the day before he died. Jimmy had been sitting at James’s bedside all morning, leaning in close as he strained to hear his father’s sometimes struggled words. They had talked construction and the business, politics. The same bullshit things they always talked about, as though it had been a normal day. But when the conversation switched to Kylie, James had motioned him in closer. His breath had felt damp, feverish against Jimmy’s skin, but his words and his mind had been clear as day as he said, “She deserves better than you, boy, but love makes even the smartest woman stupid. For her sake, and her son’s, promise me you won’t fuck this up like you do everything else…”

“We really should go back inside, Jimmy. We don’t want to worry your mom.” She moved to stand. Jimmy held her tighter, willing her to stay beside him.

“…Become the better she deserves.”

“On the morning of my eighth birthday, my dad took me to the hardware store…”

He could feel her breath catch when he started talking, and then her slow exhale as her body relaxed against his, settling in to listen. He had barely said two words to her since they had boarded the plane. Everyone else around him had done so much talking about his father in the past five days it was as though they had stolen all the words and there weren’t any left for him to thread together. But they didn’t know this story. He didn’t even want to know it.

“I was big into skateboarding back then, and I’d been begging him all summer to build me a half pipe in the backyard, but he’d never had time, you know? He was always working late, or off at the bar, out with his friends…”

She remained silent beside him, the way she studied him intense.

“It was the twenty-fifth of November. Cold as fuck. Snow all over the damn place, but it was my birthday—our birthday—and he had some downtime, so we went. We got the plywood and the nails…some two-by-fours… The cart was loaded full, and it was heavy. I remember having to push like hell to get it through the slush in the parking lot.”

Just shy of twenty years had passed since that birthday morning, but he could still feel the butterflies of anticipation dancing in his stomach, the vibration in the cart from the jittery front wheel.

“I was so excited, Ky, practically coming out of my skin, talking a mile a minute, annoying the hell outta my dad, but he was smiling. It was almost like he was excited, too. As we were loading everything into the truck, some friend of his came over and they got to talking. I don’t remember who it was. I just remember freezing my ass off, hopping around, wishing he would hurry it up. Finally, he told me to get in the truck and we headed home, but when we got there, he just pulled up along the curb to drop me off, and said he’d be back in a bit, after he helped that guy fix his heater… Shit, Ky, I must’ve sat in the living room waiting for him to come home for hours…”

Kylie’s hand tightened in his, squeezing him in reassurance.

“I think it was three or four when I finally gave up. I knew I wouldn’t see him again that night. Even if I did, it would be too dark to do anything when he got there. Or he’d be too drunk. I went up to my room and climbed out the window, onto the roof…” His eyes drifted out to the palm trees, wished they were cottonwoods. “I used to hang out there a lot when I was a kid. No one ever bothered me there… It was quiet, you know?”

“I do,” she said. He knew she would. She understood him like no one else ever could.

“I was pissed. Mostly at him, but also at myself for believing he would come through for me—just this one time… I was sitting up there, feeling sorry for myself, picking at the ice that was stuck to the shingles, and as I watched it slide down the roof, I got this stupid idea in my head that if I started at the peak and rode my skateboard down the roof I could launch off the edge like the ice was doing, and catch enough air to do a three-sixty before I landed in the snow bank next to the driveway.”

Kylie smiled the little smile that he loved. “Oh, my.”

“Yeah.” He looked down at her hand in his, her skin like soft cream, his already starting to age into leather from a lifetime of working construction in the sun. “Like I said, it was stupid. Hell, half the time I couldn’t even do an ollie, but I was going to be Tony-fucking-Hawk off the roof of my house. Dream big or go home, you know?”

“Please tell me your mom stopped you before you cracked your head open.”

“She had no clue what I was up to. If she had she would’ve whooped my ass just for being an idiot. It was a stupid, stupid idea, doomed right from the start… and in the back of my mind I must’ve known that because…” He paused as a wave of pain hit his heart, tightening his entire chest.

“Because what?”

“Because I made Brent go first.”

Kylie’s eyes grew wide in horror as she pulled out of his arms.

“He was six-years old… gullible as fuck… and I lured him out onto the roof with a piece of my birthday cake.”

“Jimmy…” she started, but she could only stare at him, her mouth open in disbelief. Disgust.

He deserved every thought he could read in her eyes. “I plopped him down on that board, and told him to hold on tight as I gave him a little shove… and away he went.”

He couldn’t remember if his brother had laughed or screamed on the way down. Maybe he had done both. But he will never forget the hollow, scraping sound the skateboard had made when it hit the concrete of the driveway below before bouncing into the snow. He looked away from Kylie, down at his hands, where he could still see his brother’s blood, bright red, warm and slick, coating his palms, his jeans, his mother shaking, her face deathly white, screaming at him as she cradled Brent in her arms, “What did you do? Oh, God, Jimmy! What did you do?”

“Broke his arm in two places… Gave him a concussion… Knocked out two of his teeth… Split his chin open… He was a fucking, bloody mess—crying so hard he wasn’t making a sound…” Jimmy closed his eyes, swallowed to force back the burning bile. “That morning, in the parking lot of the hardware store, was the very last time my father ever introduced me as James Junior… and I don’t blame him one bit.”

Kylie drew in a breath, her face a well of confusion, still searching for something to say to him.

“Marry me, Ky,” he whispered, the words sticking behind the lump expanding in his throat.

Her expression changed from worry to one of pity as she shook her head. “Oh, Jimmy, now’s not the time—”

“Damn it, Ky! Don’t say ‘no’ to me again. Not today. Forget about your sister and all her shit, and all the ways I’ve fucked us up in the past, and just say you’ll marry me. Lie to me if you have to—just please tell me you’ll marry me so I can get through this goddamn day.”

His eyes locked into hers in, refusing to allow her to look away. She stared back, motionless, unresponsive for so long it felt as though a lifetime had passed. Every breath of their lives together flickered behind her eyes as he held her captive—all of the tears he had caused, all of the love they had made, all of their arguments, all of her smiles in spite of the pain—every moment laid bare in brutal, naked honesty. He could read it all. He felt it all. He knew he had no right to ask her to entrust him with her heart. But, selfishly, he prayed for her to say yes.

Finally, she nodded. “Ok.”

He let out the breath he hadn’t realized he had been holding, and looked out onto the road. “Thank you.”

“No, Jimmy…” She turned into him and cupped his face in her hands, bringing their eyes back together. She looked deep into him, through unshed tears, past the mistakes and the heartache, and said, “I’m saying, ‘Yes.’ I will marry you… for real.”

“You will?” he asked, barely able to get the words out, his heart slamming in his chest, not daring to believe.