Rest Easy *Valentine's Day Entry*

*I'm submitting the first part of a novel, as it is still underway, but almost complete! I began it in January and the majority of it was written after the opening of the competition, but I had to re-upload because of the original upload date*

*Based on Prompts #1 and #2*

In Arizona, two teenagers spend a summer attempting to decrypt the life of an elderly woman with dementia, who had gone missing over forty years ago and cannot recall to anyone where and how she lived. This ongoing mission keeps the teenagers occupied all summer, bringing them closer and helping them to avoid the rough times they have been going enduring in their lives, and the pasts they just want to forget. As the pair grow a bond, it eventually appears that the world around them wishes against it. The price of overcoming the obstacles that stand ahead of them is hefty, but only they can determine whether it is worth the risk.

For those on desktop - I've added thematic songs to some of the chapters :)

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4. CHAPTER TWO | RED AND BLUE

 

 

 

Harlow was a strange town. It was initially built as a refuge for the bigwigs of Arizona: the ones running for office, the entrepreneurs, the senators, the state lawyers and doctors, the rich men. In a way, it was like one giant suburb. It was a man-made municipality that oozed  of capitalism, consumerism and ridiculously sky-high property value. People who wanted to work in the larger cities without living within the chaotic urbanity, found a home in Harlow. It was perfectly situated near desert mountains and national parks, neighbouring less well-off Native reservations, and framed by a highway that connected it straight to both Tucson and Phoenix. Over time, it didn’t just belong to the rich anymore. Like an inverted city, the poorer neighbourhoods sat on the outskirts whilst the mansions lay closer to the city centre. the South of Harlow was a bit of a confused mess, however; there was the neighbourhood of Smithson, where Mayor Robert Bailey resided with his family in the whopping castle that he called a house. He took office in the Arizona Senate for a few years before running for something more local, but still influential. Harlow loved him, and everything he stood for. And of course, his kids looked up to him. His eldest son, his youngest daughter, and his middle daughter, Vanessa.

Dudley had to drive through Smithson to get home, and depending on which way he chose to go, he’d pass by Vanessa’s house. The less rich neighbourhood of New Eden was the place he’d resided for as long as he could remember. Smithson was the only rich area that was on the outskirts, separated from New Eden Park by an abandoned concrete parking lot closed off by wired fences. The lot used to be a community centre with a swimming pool, but the building was knocked down and the emptied pool became utilised as a makeshift skate park. It was known as No Man’s Land, and though threatened as private property in Smithson, the New Eden kids claimed it theirs. It was also a shortcut into Smithson from New Eden, if anyone ever had any business there, which was hardly ever. Dudley spent the past year in No Man’s Land, not only hanging out with his friends, but cutting through to see Vanessa. As he drove past the wired fence, he suddenly realised that he no longer had a place in Smithson. He’d go back to doing switch heel-flips in the swimming pool, smoking with his friends on the benches, and wasting time in the confines of his own world.

 

“What happened back there, man?” Totem asked Dudley as he pulled up outside Totem’s house. He was dreading telling anyone, but he knew that the one person he could trust was his friend.

“I spoke to Ness.”

“Damn. Y’all broke that silent treatment mad quick. How long was that - twenty days?”

Dudley didn’t say anything. He sucked in his teeth, shifting around in his seat. Totem knew all too well what this kind of behaviour signalled. Either guilt or embarrassment. Either way, shame. “What were you speaking about?” Dudley drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. “Spit it out, bruh! My Mom’s gonna start blowin’ up my phone, asking if I’ve defrosted the damn chicken yet.”

“We slept together last night.”

Totem’s jaw dropped. Then he started laughing. A hearty, loud, stomach crunching laugh. He threw his head into his hands, still laughing. Dudley felt like a sheepish kid who just made a mortifying admission. “This is worse than I thought,” Totem said. “She’s got you cuffed, man. You’re the next light-switch couple.”

“The next what?”

“On and off, like a switch.” Totem was the king of penning new witty, yet useless phrases.

“No. No, it’s not like that.”

“Then what’s it like? No feelings? No strings?”

“It was a terrible idea. Everything’s still so raw, you know? We shouldn’t have done it.” Dudley chewed on the inside of his cheek.

Totem frowned, placing a hand on his shoulder. “I know it must be pretty whack. For the both of you. I’m pretty sure Karina’s out there somewhere-”

“Don’t bring up her name.” The air turned cold for a slither of a second. Silence ensued.

“Sorry, dude. I just mean - it’s kinda awkward. It probably wasn’t a wise idea.”

Dudley shook his head. “I was just drunk. And I was scrolling through my Instagram timeline, realising that I still followed her. Then I noticed that she’d unfollowed me, and I went through her feed, and saw that she’d taken down all the photos of us. It’s like I never existed. And my drunk ass started stalking her on everything, and… I don’t know. It didn’t feel right just staring at her from my phone screen. I told myself that I just wanted to speak to her, but I was lying. I’m not sure why I thought anything mature and sensible would come out of calling her up.”

“Well. I can’t relate, but I will say that it took a lot of willpower for Tori to get over her ex, before she got serious with me. It’s like a supernatural force, right? It’s like you’re possessed.”

“Something like that. Fuck knows what it is. But listen. I don’t want you to get another ass-whooping from Debra, so you can get out.” Dudley cracked a smile.

“Shut up. My PTSD’s got me in check. Just need a flashback and I turn into a Stepford child.”

“You got jokes. See ya tomorrow, Tote.”

Totem hopped out, slinging his backpack over his shoulder. He turned around. “You’ll get over Ness. Trust me. Summer’s coming! More free time to find some fire chicks. More parties. You know how it is!” He ran off to his front door.

But that’s not the problem, Dudley thought. I’m just not the same person I used to be. Not since that god-awful Tuesday morning, eleven weeks ago. Nobody can change that; nobody can save that. Just like I couldn’t.

 

He came home to find the house sparkling clean. There was no sign of the carnage that took place the night before; the empty cans and bottles were gone, the drinks were back in the cupboards and the fridge. As he entered the living room, he heard talking in the kitchen. Dylan was home, and so was his girlfriend, Mia. She was probably the only person who knew how to wean out Dylan’s docile side, but that was only when she was around. She lived in Phoenix, which was an hour away on the highway. Basically a long-distance relationship, according to Dylan.

 

Dudley’s older brother became his legal guardian only a couple of months ago. He moved from Phoenix down to Harlow to take care of him, at least for the next year until he went off to college. He’d left college himself, almost three years back. He departed from his engineering job in the city, getting a position as a local car mechanic for a generous wage; it helped to work alongside old high school buddies and have a former-slash-current drinking pal for a boss.

Since becoming his guardian, he had had his fair share of slip-ups. Though he had no criminal record, he had been close, many a time. Getting into brawls and coming home with bruised eyes, stumbling through the front door at three in the morning, terrorising the neighbours with loud music was weekend conduct. Or whenever he didn’t have work the next day.

He crashed Dudley’s car, the same car he spent months saving up for, the same car his mother contributed a portion of her month’s shop profits toward, a week after her funeral. He took it to the garage and promised to fix it, but when he started getting lifts from co-workers and hijacking his old rusty pick-up truck from Dudley whenever he felt like it, Dudley knew it would be a while before he got his car back. He didn’t see any other vehicle outside besides his own, so he wondered how Dylan got back home.

“Mia’s friend dropped us off. She had some dentist appointment in Central Harlow. Probably the same guy who whitens Oprah’s teeth.” Dylan said, gulping down a fresh glass of orange juice. His hangover medicine. Mia laughed, looking over at Dudley. He had to admit, she was the coolest girl he’d ever seen. She was decked out in tattoos, bold neo-traditional pieces. She had Dylan’s name written on her sternum. Her hair was dark and curly, her eyes a jarring green against her tan skin. Dudley was sure he heard that she was South American, but couldn’t remember where. Never bothered asking. Dylan met her in college, and they spent the last seven years an a light-switch relationship that would put whatever Dudley and Vanessa had to shame.

“Do you wanna smoke some weed with us?” Mia asked. “Bought an eighth for a good price.”

“Sure.” Dudley shrugged. He forgot he was supposed to come home and nap. He was running off barely any rest. None for the wicked, he figured.

 

It could be said that Dylan Warrington was probably not the best role model out there, but it was hard to be when surrounded by criminals and hippies. Dudley’s mother would always share a blunt with him. His father used to make  rails of cocaine vanish off of the dining table as he watched. It was a shock that he didn’t turn out a completely uninhibited individual, middle fingers to the world, gasoline in his backpack and a lighter in his pocket. He did realise that his upbringing had still affected his character, though. He was a little more rough around the edges, taking no bullshit and crushing any rose-tinted glasses that people tried to make him wear. He hadn’t lived with his brother since he was twelve years old, so it stirred things up a little. Dudley couldn’t tell if Dylan brought out the worst in him or turned his soul calloused, protecting him from the harsh things in life, by exposing them to him.

 

The three sat on the couch in the living room, lighting a spliff and passing it along. Something mindless and trite was playing on the TV. Within minutes, Dudley could feel himself falling.

“Shit. You look like you’re dying. You good?” Dylan asked, taking a long, filthy drag.

“I’m good. Just. Tired.”

“Fuck. Dud. Come on. It’s half four.” He could already hear his brother’s words becoming distant, fading into a void. He was asleep sitting up, propped like a mannequin. Dylan slapped him, jolting him back to reality. Mia snickered. The world around him was melting, and he could feel his heartbeat more intensely than ever. Weed sometimes did that to him - kept his body in a frenzy but slowed his mind down tenfold. He only felt the stinging pain on his cheek a few seconds later.

“Dick.”

“Go to sleep.”

“OK, OK. I will.”

Truth was, he was afraid. He sometimes had terrible dreams. They almost always included his mother. The worst ones were the good ones; the ones where she was still around, dancing in the kitchen, or spreading the smell of sage around the house. The place would be full of candles, she’d be meditating in the living room or singing to herself. He’d dream of the times where they’d drive out to the desert and watch the stars, and she’d speak about their ancestors or try to predict their future. Those were the ones that felt real, tangible. He could smell the sage like it was burning under his nose, and he’d wake up still smelling it. It was like phantom limb syndrome, and his mother was the missing arm. He still felt her in his dreams.

They had driven five hours North to the Grand Canyon to sprinkle her ashes. He always dreamed of her there. Sometimes sitting in the back of his pick-up truck, smoking or playing guitar. Sometimes with a beer, or dancing with the red and blue vista as her backdrop. Sometimes sleeping soundly in a long white dress, face painted with a line of white circles down her forehead. Always alive.

 

He woke up in a cold sweat at eight in the evening to the sound of Dylan and Mia arguing downstairs. He’d normally eavesdrop, but he had no energy to. Instead, he sauntered to the kitchen to make something to eat. Dylan forgot to make dinner again. He had a couple of missed calls from his friend, Ash. A message from Totem. A text from an unknown number, which he was too curious not to read.

 

Thank you for showing interest in our Summer Volunteer Programme at South Harlow High! We will be in touch soon.

—The Extracurricular Leadership Team.

This is an automated text. Please do not reply.

 

He sighed, remembering the short-sighted deal he agreed to in order to dash from Mr. Myer’s classroom. His contact details have been signed up. It didn’t matter - he wasn’t going to go along with it. Picking up trash from the streets of Harlow or feeding bums hot soup for three months was not his scene at all. Of course he had better things to do, like partying, drugs, finding rebounds, hanging with his friends in No Man’s Land. Of course he wasn’t going to volunteer, lose his summer to philanthropy and altruism.

 

He deleted the text and threw some leftover pizza in the microwave.

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