IF YOU KNEW is the working title for a work in progress starring Devonny Campbell who leaves her life in LA to begin anew in tiny Red Bud, Iowa. Below is Chapter One.
Joy’s Story (Chapter One posted on this blog on March 11, 2018) is the story of Devonny Campbell’s mother. Devonny’s story will be book one and Joy’s will be book two in a series featuring small towns and new beginnings.
Devonny Campbell pulled into the parking lot of a roadside diner and turned off the car’s engine. She sat for a moment taking deep breaths, willing the cramps and the lightheadedness away. She peered through the windshield at the two-lane blacktop she’d just exited. There were a few cars and pickup trucks in the diner’s gravel lot.
Not feeling any better after a minute, she opened the car door and forced herself out. She dreaded stepping into a restroom stall, afraid of what she might find. Was she losing something she hadn’t even realized she wanted?
No. She refused to give up her unborn baby that easily. It was the last piece she had of Jack. His final gift to her. She wasn’t ready to let go.
She pulled open the glass door to the diner and glanced around. Her entrance was barely acknowledged by the few patrons. A sign invited diners to seat themselves. A long counter ran along one side. Round red stools right out of the fifties offered single diners a place to sit. A line of booths with the same red vinyl seats took up the front and offered a view of the parking lot and the two-lane. Tables and chairs were crowded into the open space between the counter and the booths.
Devonny spotted a sign for the restrooms. The ladies room was tiny and dingy and had one of everything: toilet, paper towel holder, soap dispenser, sink.
She wasn’t spotting, as she’d feared. The discomfort she’d felt earlier seemed to ease somewhat once her bladder was empty. She didn’t feel like herself, but she felt marginally better than when she’d pulled off the interstate in a moment of panic. Maybe, she thought, staring at her reflection, she needed to give herself a break.
She’d been driving for two days. She hadn’t slept well at the motel she’d stopped in last night. She was in Iowa for God’s sake which was about as foreign to her as LA was familiar.
“You look like hell,” she told the mirror. Tears surged into her eyes which helped to relieve the dry grittiness. Jack would be so upset with her if he was here. He’d never let her get this rundown, this exhausted. He’d be fussing over her, making sure she ate right, rubbing her feet at night. She imagined him talking to her tummy even though her baby was barely even formed at this stage.
You’re going to be okay.
There it was. That unpredictable voice again. It was in her head. Sometimes it seemed to be all around her. At first she thought it was Jack. Encouraging her. Calming her down. But all it was was her subconcious, right? It wasn’t Jack. No matter how much she wished that it was.
“Stop it,” she warned herself. Jack was gone. It was up to her to take care of herself now. To do what was best for her baby. Jack’s baby. She desperately longed for a nap. A bed with clean sheets and heavy drapes to block out the light. Some place where she wouldn’t have to think for awhile. Some place she could just sleep.
“Everything okay, hon?” asked a chubby waitress with overly-bleached blond hair and too-thin eyebrows as Devonny made her way toward the door.
“Fine,” she choked out. She pushed at the door and ran straight into the man who was about to open it. Devonny stumbled and he steadied her, his fingers lightly gripping her upper arms.
“Whoa, there. You okay?”
She barely looked at him. Just enough to register kind concern in brown eyes, sandy brown hair. And just enough facial scruff to qualify as a beard. “Fine. I’m fine.” She pushed away from him and got into her car. She backed out with a screech of tires and turned away from the interstate she’d been traveling earlier. Moments later, she passed a sign. “Welcome to Red Bud, Iowa.”
“Well, Dorothy,” she muttered. “We’re definitely not in Kansas any more.”
The tree-lined two-lane led to a prosperous-looking downtown. She drove around the town square. Shops and offices lined the perimeter and a stately old courthouse surrounded by a grassy lawn took up the middle.
“So this is what the Midwest looks like.”
Slightly enchanted with the view of the park where children played while mothers chatted, Devonny continued to meander. She took note of an ice cream store on one corner and a coffee shop on another. She drove down a few of the streets that branched off the town square and circled back. This was America personified. Houses that had likely withstood everything that had been thrown at them for the past fifty or hundred years. Bikes abandoned in front yards. Kids shooting hoops at an over-the garage backboard. Lawn mowers buzzing. Red Bud, Iowa had a kind of sturdy innocence about it, Devonny decided. A solid place where families had likely been neighbors with each other for decades. Without a fixed destination, she simply kept driving, taking in the town, until she saw a sign pointing to Twelve Forks Inn. She gazed at the Victorian-style mansion with its wide front porch and peaked roof.
She parked and approached the steps feeling like Cinderella who’d arrived much too early for the ball.
Wicker furniture and a swing and ferns in hanging pots gave the porch a certain dated charm. A small sign near the door said, “Come on in,” so Devonny did.
Inside was a hallway with a polished wood floor that creaked with age and an old crystal chandelier. A small registration desk sat to one side. Another sign said, “Ring bell.” So Devonny did.
In seconds footsteps sounded approaching from the rear of the house. A middle-aged woman appeared. “Hello. Need a room?”
“Yes. If you have one available.”
“This time of year, they’re all available. Take your pick. Just you?”
“How about the green room? It’s at the back. Nicest bathroom.”
“Just for the night?”
“I’m not sure.”
The woman slid a registration form toward her. “You can stay all summer if you want. Need help with your bags?”
“No. It’s fine. I can get it.”
“I’m Pat, by the way. Pat Callahan. Place belongs to me and my husband. His grandmother thought she was doing us a favor leaving it to us. But it eats up money like nobody’s business.”
Devonny smiled politely, hoping she had the energy to drag her overnight bag up the stairs. She slid the registration card back across the desk.
“Just need a credit card. Or cash. It’s sixty for the night.”
Devonny handed over her credit card and signed the slip. Pat gave her a keen appraisal. “You look done in, hon. Sure you don’t need help with your luggage?”
Let her help you. That had to be Jack telling her what to do. Devonny swayed. She gripped the edge of the desk.
“All right. That’s it.” Pat plucked the car keys from Devonny’s hand. “Just tell me what you need and I’ll get it.”
“It’s the red carry-on in the backseat. Thank you.”
Pat returned with it. “I locked your car,” she said, handing Devonny the keys. “Not that it’s necessary around here. But then you’re not from around here. Come on.” She indicated the staircase at one side of the hall. “You first. So I can catch you if you fall.”
“I won’t fall,” Devonny assured her as they started to climb. It didn’t seem right that Pat, who looked to be in her fifties, would be more capable of hefting a suitcase than someone in her twenties.
“Uh huh.” Pat appeared unconvinced. At the top of the stairs she pulled up the handle on the wheelie bag. “Keep on going, straight down the hall. Last door on the right.” Devonny wondered exactly how old the house was. The stairs were coved with a cushioned red runner, but they creaked and groaned just as the entry floor had. Obviously the structure was old, although someone had attempted to update the interior probably twenty or so years ago if the striped silver and taupe wallpaper and beige carpet were any indication.
Devonny opened the door and was immediately charmed by the big bedroom with its lacy curtains and moss green walls. The trim was painted bright white. An intricately patterned green and white quilt covered the bed.
“Bathroom’s through there,” Pat said, pointing to a partially open door. “I don’t serve dinner, but you can order takeout from the Chinese place or there’s always Petrovanni’s. They’ll deliver a pizza or anything else you want. Menus are in the nightstand drawer.”
“Breakfast’s at eight. It’s included in the room price. But if you don’t show up by nine, I’ll clear it away.”
“Thank you,” Devonny said again. She wondered if she should tip the woman. Somehow, she thought that would probably be inappropriate.
“You need anything else, just press zero on the phone there, all right?” She indicated a push-button landline on the nightstand.
“Yes, thank you.”
Pat backed out and closed the door.
Devonny wiggled out of her jeans and kicked off her shoes. She yanked the quilt back and dived into the clean white sheets. She closed her eyes and dreamed she was in heaven.
Jack was there. But he wasn’t the vivid Jack of her waking memory. The Jack with the black hair and laughing eyes. Not the larger-than-life Jack who’d swept her off her feet when she’d been a naïve eighteen-year-old, the one she’d married, the one who’d been her whole world.
This Jack was fuzzy as if he was behind layers of gauze. She couldn’t see him clearly. Yet she knew he was there.
He showed her things. A house on a quiet tree-lined street. The house had a metal roof and forest green siding and a covered stoop at the front. In the back was an old-fashioned metal swing set. The swings squeaked, especially one where a little girl pumped her legs, dark hair flying out behind her. Is that me? Devonny wondered in her dream.
There was a school and a park. She followed the little girl and watched her enter the school and slide down the slide at the park.