Here it is – the final rough draft of chapter 1.2. (I am sure you are tired of reading it by now!) Note, I’ve made a few more changes (especially after reading more of the VOICES comments and reviewing SKD’s edit notes again!)
Now comes the hard work. We have to write chapter 2!
So, what considerations go into writing chapter 2? First – we’ll probably open back in Mackenzie’s pov. We want to catch up with her and figure what happens next.
How do we do that?
First, we know it is a REACTION scene – because she had a strong ACTION scene in the first chapter. Which means we have to figure out her current DILEMMA, as raised in the last chapter. Then, we determine what CHOICES are before her, and then she should make a DECISION. That decision is based on her motivations…so, whatever decision she makes needs to have a strong enough motivation to carry her. I often call it the “Push-Pull” of a decision – meaning, something should PUSH her into it, and something about that option should PULL her as well. (I discuss this more in the On The Couch newsletter from MBT – if you haven’t already signed up for this monthly Therapy Gram, then do so at the right).
So, let’s start brainstorming over on VOICES – Go to the Chapter 2 Discussion, and start noodling on her current DILEMMA, her CHOICES, and finally her DECISION! Every Voice counts!
Chapter 1.2 : Final Rough Draft
Luke took one look at his father and wished he’d never come down from the mountain.
“Pastor Alexander is having a good day today,” said Nursing Assistant Missy Guinn as she wheeled William Alexander III into the community room. She set the brakes on his wheelchair, adjusted his soiled bib, and patted him on the shoulder before leaving him to celebrate his seventy-second birthday with a family he only sometimes recognized.
Really? A good day? Luke ran his gaze over his father, his chest tightening as he took in his glazed eyes, the soggy dress shirt, his big, arthritic hands positioned on the tray attached to his chair, the way he listed to one side. Because this didn’t look like a good day for a man who once stood six-two and practically knew the Bible by heart.
Luke tightened his hold on his lukewarm, stomach-rot coffee, hoping to shore up his courage. He’d promised Ruthann he’d stay. At least until the cake. Especially since this was the old man’s first birthday without their mother.
“Hey Daddy.” Ruthann pressed a kiss to the old man’s tissue-paper cheek and wiped the corner of his mouth. “Happy Birthday.”
She stepped away, and it seemed to Luke that maybe the old man followed her with his eyes. Maybe that was just wishful thinking.
He knew he should greet his father, but he couldn’t move from his post by the wide picture windows overlooking the grounds—a few barren picnic tables, the grass yellow and crunchy under the crisp Tennessee air, the oaks still, their bare arms reaching up to the murky gray sky as if in supplication for spring.
“Uncle Luke, look at me!”
Luke looked down just in time to see his six-year-old nephew, Trevor, sail by in an unoccupied wheelchair. He caught the back handle, arresting the forward motion.
“Whoa there, Andretti. Whose wheels did you boost?”
Trevor grinned, revealing a gap where his two front teeth should be. “I found it over there.” He pointed to a gathering of the elderly watching Jeopardy. Or, appearing to watch Jeopardy. Luke pinpointed the victim of the lost wheels as the tiny woman snoozing in the recliner.
“Return the hotrod, pal.” Luke gave him a slight push. “And keep it under the speed limit.”
“Always a cop, even when you’re out of the park,” Ruthann said, shooting a glance at her son. Clearly she didn’t see the problem with him tooling around the nursing home. Then again, they spent a lot more time here than Luke.
“I’m not a cop, Ruth. I’m a park ranger. There’s a difference.” Although, admittedly, up on the mountain, in the backwoods of the Appalachian Trail, not much of one. At least not this weekend.
“Then what’s with the shiner?”
Luke’s mind flicked back to the so-called hunters he’d happened upon, the ones on the ATVs who’d managed to double team him before getting away. He still had a warrant out on them for poaching.
“I had a run in with a Siberian tiger.”
Ruthann’s jaw tightened. “Funny.” She pushed their father to the table where she’d already lit the chocolate layer cake, smoke curling from the chunky number seven and two candles.
Seventy-two short years. Most men at this age should be on the golf course, touring Scotland, or fishing with their grandson. Especially a decorated Vietnam vet, a faithful husband of thirty-five years, and long-time pastor of the Normandy Ridge Community church.
Alzheimer’s was a cruel thief.
“Come over here and blow out these candles with us.” Ruthann shot him an undisguised, Help make this good for Daddy expression.
Hey, he’d wanted to do this outside, maybe bundle up his father, wheel him out to a picnic table, let him smell anything other than the trapped, piped-in air that probably sucked the life out of his father with each breath.
His judgment wasn’t fair, and he knew it. The residence house had kind aids, and he’d never seen his father neglected. Yet, with everything inside him, he wished his stomach didn’t turn to knots, his palms slick with cold sweat, his legs quivering with an almost Pavlovian urge to bolt every time he saw his father
Like now. Luke pried himself away from the windowsill and forced his body over to the table in obedience to his sister’s request.
He managed to set down his coffee without spilling it and leaned over to his father. “Happy birthday.”
Ruthann was straightening his father’s bib, trying to prop him upright. “For a guy who’s not a cop, you certainly get in enough scrapes. I’m just saying that it doesn’t look like the Appalachian Trail is any safer than the jungles of Columbia.”
Yes, probably it seemed the same to her—a woman who had her life tucked neatly together with her beloved son, her own business, her accountant husband, her three-bedroom house with the front porch attired in rocking chairs, as if already preparing for their retirement years.
“Let’s blow out the candles, Pop.” He crouched beside him and, to his surprise, when he looked over at his father, he saw someone there. Someone who knew him, who had nursed him through his nightmares when he’d arrived home six years ago broken and jumping at his own shadow.
Most of all, Luke saw the soldier who understood the difference between Columbian drug lords and a couple of illegal hunters on the top of Roan Mountain.
And then, just as Ruthann dove in and blew out the melting candles for all of them, his father moved his hand off his tray.
Luke stared at the hand, once strong and firm, now warm and soft on his. His breath hiccupped, and suddenly he could only hear the whirring inside. Faster, louder, drowning him, filling his throat—he couldn’t breathe—
“I think I’m just going to get some more coffee,” he said, jerking his hand away, standing. Somehow he managed to sound normal. As if his world hadn’t blown apart, right then, into a thousand bloody pieces.
His sister caught him on the way to the door.
“Stick around, Luke.” He looked down at her, and the gentle look on her face stopped him from yanking his arm from her hand. “It’ll be okay.”
No, it wouldn’t. Because regret had teeth, and when he wasn’t looking could gnaw right through him, tear him apart piece by piece. One touch, one memory at a time.
He stepped away from her, probably harder than he should have, and started for the hallway, his breaths coming fast. Too fast. He just needed to make it outside. Where. . .there. . .was. . .air—
Antiseptic hit his nose, burning his eyes. Striding down the hall, he kicked a cart of half-eaten food, turned and caught the a bowl of cold chicken noodle soup overturning on his hands. It splashed, sticky between his fingers, down his pants.
Setting it right, he grabbed a napkin, whirled, and crumpling it in his fist, headed for the door, his jaw on fire as he held in his breath, his chest about…to…explode –
He slammed through the doors, gulping the cold air, one breath lapping another. Bending over, he gripped his knees, closed his eyes.
And for a long second, he could taste the past—the tinny acid of own fear, his body, sweaty and rank, the grimy feel of starvation in his teeth. The surreal shriek of his own screams.
He jumped at her voice, whirled to face her, his breath caught, his fists tight. Ruthann recoiled fast. “It’s just me.”
Luke clenched his jaw, breathed out hard, forcibly opened his hands. Just his kid sister. Not a couple of thugs dragging him out for a beating.
Ruthann held out a wad of napkins, her gaze flicking to the dribble of noodles down his jeans.
He took them from her without a word, but instead of wiping himself off, he turned back and listened to the snarling Watauga River, just past the grove of trees. The breeze raised gooseflesh on his bare arms, but he drew it into his lungs, glad for its brain-clearing bite.
“Why didn’t I come home earlier?”
His voice was so soft, he wasn’t even sure he spoke—it could have been more of a moan inside. But he had because Ruthann stepped up beside her, her arms crossed over her chest. “Because you needed to be away.”
“I needed to be here.”
“You needed to get well. To get your life together. And start over. We all understood that. Especially Dad. He didn’t want you to know—”
“You should have told me how bad he was getting.” He tried to keep the edge out of his tone, but it hit her anyway, and she flinched.
“I did. You didn’t answer my e-mail. Besides, it came one so fast, no one would have predicted how quickly he’d go downhill. It’s nobody’s fault, Luke. You were who you were, and you can’t go back.”
And that was the problem, wasn’t it? He couldn’t ever go back, fix it, make it right. Not for his father, not for himself . . .
Luke closed his eyes; moisture pooled under them. The wind dried it to an icy glacier.
“I wish . . .”
“You’d been here? Of course you do. But you were here for the good parts.”
He couldn’t look at her. She said that a lot—a coping mechanism he supposed, something she gleaned from her support groups. Of course, it made sense. Yes, he’d grown up happy, with parents who loved him. Believed in him.
Even when he hadn’t believed in himself.
But his wishes went further back than just six years ago, when he was leaving town in a cloud of smoke. And that was the problem . . . his father was forgetting the wrong things, hanging onto the ones Luke wished time might erase from the old man’s addled mind.
“Come inside, Luke. Have some cake.”
“Miss Ruthann?” Missy Guinn stuck her head out of the door behind them. “Have you seen Trevor?”
“He’s not inside?”
“No ma’am. I came back to fetch your father, and one of the aides said she saw him pushing a wheelchair down the hall.”
“I told him to put that back—“
Luke held open the door.
Ruthann pushed past Missy. “Why didn’t she stop him?”
“She was busy with a patient—”
Ruthann had already taken off down the hall in a jog. “Trevor!”
For crying out loud, the kid was probably pilfering someone’s candy supply. Luke hotfooted it down the hall, peering into rooms, wincing now and again at the inhabitants. Please God, he never wanted to be that helpless again.
His sister’s voice echoed down the halls. Perfect. Maybe they could make the newspaper. The Normandy Voice was always looking for juicy stories.
Especially if they involved Luke Alexander.
He passed by the side double doors leading out to the parking lot and out of his periphery, he glimpsed a gray blur. Oh…no—
Turning, he sprinted to the door, banged it open.
Sure enough, Trevor-the-Terror Andretti was making for the parking lot on his stolen wheels.
The kid paid him no mind, wheeling fast as he sailed off the handicap access into the lot. He shot past the few cars at the curb and was out into the smooth pavement, wheeling along with abandon.
Luke broke into a run. “Trevor!”
Because it wasn’t enough that Trevor was joyriding with the property of the Normandy Ridge Residence Center, but of course, was heading straight for trouble in the inclined drive toward the highway.
“Trevor, stop –”
But no, as Trevor put out his hand to stop the chair, it ripped at his arm, and he let out a howl. And of course, now he’d lost control of the wheels, set on a careening trajectory straight into death.
A scream behind him—Ruthann had found them.
Luke peeled out into a full-run, his heart already ten lengths ahead of him as Trevor turned, holding onto the back of the chair, his big eyes now full of terror. “Help, Uncle Luke!”
Luke lunged for the chair, managed to bang it.
It shot out of his reach.
Brakes squealed, horns, the sound of metal crunching—
Just as the wheelchair hit the barrier between pavement and asphalt, Luke hooked Trevor around the chest and dove.
Skin peeled from his arms, embedding gravel as he skidded into the ditch along the highway, grinding mud into his pores, his hair, his back. He clutched Trevor to his chest.
Ten feet away, two cars had collided, the wheelchair crumpled beneath the bumper of a third.
Trevor struggled in his arms, but Luke held him tight, staring at the gray, sunless sky. Breathing. Alive.
And, at the end of the day, that was probably the most important part, right?