When I started writing in 2005, I began with a novel that I now call An Angel’s Story. About six years later, I decided to rewrite it into what I now call, Good-Willed.
Set in Syracuse, New York, 2010.
I glanced at the clock for the last time. I still had five minutes. One of the older librarians caught me looking.
“Why don’t you go home Angie, get a head start on the summer!” Tammy said “I’ll lock up. I’m sure you have a lot to think about now.”
I laughed. “You know me, Tammy, I’m always thinking. Don’t work too hard. See you Monday.” I picked up my book bag and headed for the parking lot.
I threw my bag into the back seat of my 2003 Pontiac Grand Am GT and headed for home. I was proud of my car. Jo had helped me pick it out. He had said that it was top-of-the-line in 2003. I trusted him, so I had dad cut the dealer a check.
I drove down Main Street and turned left down Prospect Avenue. I heard something intriguing on the radio. My inner-self was a force sitting beside me smacking my hand on the volume control. Be eloquent. Be unaffected. Be captivating.
Be those things… some other day.
I threw the volume control all the way to the right until the light came on. With the volume at its max, I was blown away. It was like meeting someone for the first time, and knowing that this person is going to be a big part of your life. The melody was his aura, his smile, and the lyrics were his personality, his charm. To me, a song was more than just words on the page. A good song has meaning and purpose. I bobbed my head to the beat, and drummed my fingers on the steering wheel at the stop light. I looked over at the turn-lane next to me. A lady who worked in the same office as my mother glares at me.
And we’re back to reality.
I pretended that something had gone wrong with my stereo and frantically turned down the volume. I made a right turn onto Stargate Street, and pulled into our driveway. I parked my car and headed for the house.
Our house was eerily empty, but that was normal. Even when dad wasn’t away on business, it was never, “Hi, Honey! I’m home!” when he walked through the door.
I went upstairs to my room, setting my book bag down by the door. I noticed a note on my pillow. I picked it up and sighed with annoyance upon recognizing my mother’s handwriting.
Since I know you have a tendency to forget things like this, I thought I would remind you:
Reservation for three
See you there ~
Dinner with Aunt Beth – there was little chance I would forget that. Aunt Beth was mother’s older sister, who had owned and operated her own publishing company for thirty years. She only recently sold it, making millions on top of the millions she already had.
I groaned. This was mother’s last-ditch effort to get me to nail down my future. Sure, I’d applied and got into six different schools – Yale, Duke, Dartmouth, Sarah Lawrence, N.Y.U., and Ohio State – but I hadn’t decided yet. Mother had arranged this dinner hoping that Aunt Beth would talk some sense into me.
I scoffed. Sense? What would their sense be?
They didn’t want me to have sense; they wanted me to be sensible.
Oh what a blessing a prior-engagement would have been.
I flipped through my closet looking for something appropriate for LeCuisine. It was a French restaurant in downtown Syracuse, where no one got in without a reservation, or a platinum Visa charge for that matter.
I came across a mauve colored suit and gaged. This is what mother would have me wear. Very lawyer-like. I imagined it with black alligator pumps and a French twist.
I threw it back into my closet. When I reached the back of my closet, I came across a department store garment bag. I anxiously grabbed the hanger and lifted the plastic cover. It was a white sun dress with navy polka dots and trim.
Very Mademoiselle Hilfiger.
I smiled. I’ll take it.
I zipped the dress, threw my hair into a French twist, and found my navy stilettos, and ran out the door only three minutes late. I zoomed out of our allotment, barely getting by adults with small children and children with small adults.
Two red lights later, I was in the heart of downtown. I spotted LeCuisine, and scouted out a parking spot. I went inside, and the host led me to where my mother and Aunt Beth sat. It was a secluded table right next to the kitchen door. Mother sat wearing her pale pink suit, sipping coffee. Aunt Beth was in a similar style black suit, eyeing the menu nonchalantly. I tried not to laugh. It was as if the two of them were having a contest as to who could sit up the straightest. Aunt Beth spotted me first.
“Angie, darling! Let me take a look at you!” Aunt Beth admired my dress while mother scowled at my fashion sense.
“I don’t remember that dress” mother said.
I pretended that I hadn’t heard her. “Hello, mother.” I could tell from the gilded smile on her face that I was in for quite an evening.
When the waiter came, Aunt Beth ordered canard – duck – and I ordered quail.
Mother ordered snails.
Aunt Beth and mother neatly nibbled at their entrees, while I, on the other hand, gobbled my quail as to not have to speak.
“Congratulations, Angie. High school graduation is the stepping stone for success” Aunt Beth said over her haricot verts.
“Thanks” I mumbled.
Mother leaned forward as if to whisper. “Aunt Beth has offered to pay your first year’s tuition at Dartmouth. Isn’t that kind of her?”
I almost choked on my fowl. “Aunt Beth, that is simply the most generous offer, and I thank you, but I really cannot accept –”
“– Oh certainly you can! You’ve filed the proper paperwork, and you know what Dartmouth is offering you” Mother interrupted.
“Yes, but I’m not sure if that is what I want.”
Mother’s eyebrows shot up to her hairline.
“Have you applied elsewhere?” Aunt Beth asked.
“No, she hasn’t” Mother answered for me.
The check was paid, and we said our goodbyes, but when I found myself back in the driveway, I didn’t want to get out of the car.
After a fifteen minutes internal debate, I could no longer stand the suspense. When I stepped inside the house, it was totally silent. I moved towards the staircase.
“What on earth was that?” Mother asked, standing in the kitchen doorway.
I froze on the stairs. I didn’t look at her. “What?”
“Oh you know exactly what I mean! I offer the world to you and you throw it away!”
I glared at her. The dance had begun. “You don’t know what I want!”
Mother crossed the dining room floor to the staircase and looked up at me. “Do you know what you want?”
I couldn’t answer that question. There simply wasn’t an answer. Better to give no answer then to tell my mother that she was right.
Mother smirked and walked back towards the kitchen. “I didn’t think so,” mother said “it might not be what you want, but if you’re living under my roof, you’ll learn to take my advice.”
Advice? You mean your orders. I gripped the banister. “Maybe I’ll move out.”
“You wouldn’t last one second on your own, we both know that.”
“Really? Because I think I have done a pretty good job on my own, mom. Did I even exist in your eyes before now?”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“You’re so concerned with your life, you have no idea what’s going on in mine. Then you want me to go to a school because that’s what you think is right for me? I may not have all the answers, but I’m pretty sure I know what I don’t want!” I started up the stairs. I heard her heels stomping on the staircase. Suddenly, she was standing in my bedroom doorway.
“Hey! Don’t forget who is the parent and who is the child!”
“Tell me,” I said turning around “how does that work? I’ve never experience that before.”
“Are you sure? I’m just getting started.”
“I said that’s ENOUGH!”
The sound of her voice made the locusts in the yard grow silent for a moment.
“You have two options young lady, you either sign the papers and go to Dartmouth, or you get out of my house.”
“I’m not going to Dartmouth” I said.
“Fine,” she said, her dark eyes locked on mine. “Get out of my house, and don’t bother coming back. I don’t want to see you at Thanksgiving, or Christmas, I don’t even want to see you on Mother’s day! – Do I make myself clear?”
I gripped the car keys in my hand. “Loud and clear.”
“I don’t need her” I said out loud to my reflection in my rearview mirror. “You just wait.”
I zoomed down Route 81 South, taking my brother’s shortcut to New Hampshire. My situation was simple – stay with Joe for a week or two until the argument blew over, and then everything would be fine again. The only thing standing between myself and freedom was the night sky and a couple of toll booths. I had an iron foot, and a full tank of gas – nothing would stop me. I took my phone out of my purse, still wearing my designer dress and pumps, and called Joe. It rang five times and then went to voicemail. “Hey Joe! I’m headed up to see you! I’ll be there soon! Love you. Bye.”
An hour went by. My eyelids were growing heavy. It was one o’clock in the morning. I shook my head, turned on the cruise and called Joe again. “Hey Joe, it’s me again. I’ll try not to fall asleep at the wheel. Call me!”
I set my phone in the cup holder, and focused on the road.
My eyes shot open seconds before I headed for the guard rail. I managed to get back in my lane, and shake off my lethargy. I turned on the radio. The upbeat pop music screamed through my speakers. I put my eyes on the road again.
I awakened to a close-up of the guard rail. Frustrated and fatigued, I centered myself on the road again, and called Joe for a third time. “Joe, where are you? Call me back!”
Loneliness crawled inside of me swarms of tiny spiders. Was Joe even at school? Maybe he was with dad.
There’s an idea. I thought. Call dad. I dialed.
Straight to voicemail.
I threw my phone back into the cup holder, trying not to pout. There was no sense in leaving another voicemail. No one was awake. No one was around, and even worse…
… no one cared.
Was there anyone out searching for me?
Had mom called my phone since I stormed out?
I was alone.
Alone. Singular. Without others.
So alone that if I crashed into the guard rail, no one would even think to look until morning.
The thoughts stung me, and tore at me. My eyes filled with tears, and I let them.
I continued onward down Route 81, not knowing where I was going. It didn’t matter anymore.
Around five o’clock, my gas light came on. I ignored it.
Fine, let me run out of gas. It would just make giving up that much easier.
I took the first exit to Lord knows where. I passed green signs for towns I’d never heard of. I could barely keep my eyes open long enough to read Jameson Hospital.
I laughed so hard the sound echoed off of my windshield. I was lost, completely lost.
When my gas light started blinking, I knew I was too far gone. I pulled off to the side of the road and shut off my car. I reached for the lever under my seat and scooted back all the way, pulled the lever at my left, reclined the seat, made sure my doors were locked, and went to sleep.
The next thing I knew, someone was pounding on my window. It sounded like a cement block colliding with the door frame. I jerked straight up and glared at the annoyance.
He was tan, about twenty years old, I guessed, with dark hair and a grim look on his face. He was so tall, he was almost doubled over looking down into my car.
“Are you okay?” he yelled. The sound muddled through my closed window.
I just stared at him.
“Open the door!” he grabbed the door handle.
Who did this guy think he was? I cracked my window. “I’m fine thank you.”
“Are you homeless?”
“Then why are you living in your car?”
I looked around my car. Other than my purse in the seat next me and my phone in the cup holder, I had nothing else. “Where am I?”
He smirked. “You’re lost aren’t you?”
“No, I just want to be sure.”
“You’re lost. Don’t lie.”
I unconsciously flared my nostrils. “Fine. Where am I?”
“Admit it. You’re lost.”
I gritted my teeth. Great. Of all the tour-guides, I had to get smarticus. “Look, whether I’m lost or not, I’m still sitting here with no gas and no way to get where I’m going – ”
“– which is where exactly?”
He laughed. “What’s in New Hampshire?” he leaned against my door frame.
“None of your business.”
“Fine. Fair enough. Where are you from?”
I squinted at him. “What does that matter?”
He raised his eyebrows and shook his head. “Look, I don’t know what your problem is, but I’m trying to help you. I hate to tell you, but if you’re heading to New Hampshire, you may want to turn around. You’re in Ohio, Sweetheart.”
I about collapsed onto the steering wheel. “What?! I’m in Ohio?” How did I end up in Ohio?!
“Well, if you want to get out of Ohio, I suggest you get moving. I can take you into town and get a tow truck.”
“And leave my car here?!”
He sneered. “Lock your doors, sweetheart” he walked away. I watched him in my rear-view mirror. He got into his Chevy pick-up and waited.
I glared at my own reflection in the mirror, debating as to whether or not to take him up on his offer. He leaned out the window of the truck. “Hey! Sweetheart! Can we pick up the pace?”
I grumbled, taking my purse and slamming my door. Why on earth do I trust him? I wondered.
I didn’t exactly come across the Ohio welcoming committee upon my descent from Syracuse. I saw smarticus lean over and unlock the passenger door of the truck. When he sat up straight again, he had a large grin on his face.
Great. A first-class hick.
I stepped up into the truck and slammed the door.
“Easy on the hardware, sweetheart!” he said.
“I do have a name, you know!”
Smarticus raised an eyebrow and leaned over looking me in the eye. “As do I. Where were you headed?” he asked playing with the navy blue crape that extended from the bottom of my skirt by my calf.
I smacked his hand. “Hands off, smarticus!”
“Sorry, you just look like you’re heading to the President’s dinner party” he looked back at me, with a soft look on his face. Just when I looked back at him, he turned his eyes to the road and started his truck.
“There I go… Turn the page….”
The song emanated through the speakers. It was infective. I started tapping my foot.
“My name is Jesse,” Smarticus said. “Jesse Rodini.”
I looked back at him. He didn’t seem so scary. “Angie Viviola. Thanks for picking me up.”
He nodded. “I’ll hit the gas station, and then I’ll call for you a tow.”
“That’s alright. I don’t need a tow. I just need gas. Is there any way that you can get gas to my car from where it is sitting?”
Jesse looked over at me with smirk. “You mean like a gas can?”
I squinted again. “What’s a gas can? Do you mean they sell gas in cans?” Maybe in Ohio they do things differently.
Jesse laughed out loud.
“What?!” I demanded.
Jesse just laughed, hurling the truck around the corner. The force threw me over towards the door, causing me to hit my head on the window with a low thunk. I moaned and rubbed the side of my head. “Hey Evil-Kenevil! Watch the corners, would you?!” I snapped.
Jesse just laughed. “You do know this isn’t nineteen ninety-eight, right?” he looked over at me. “Your reference is a bit dated.”
I glared at him, imagining a hole in the center of his forehead.
“Okay, okay. I’ll grab a gas can from our garage, and we’ll go back for your car. Okay?” Jesse said sincerely.
“Is there such a thing as a gas can, or is that some sort of hick joke?”
“Of course it’s a real thing! ‘Hick joke’? Good Lord, where did you come from?” Jesse laughed “really I want to know.”
I looked in the side mirror, ignoring the lump that rose in my throat. “Syracuse, New York. I was going to see my brother in New Hampshire, but I must have made a wrong turn.”
“At least one,” Jesse said pulling into a gravel driveway. He shut off the truck and took the keys out of the ignition. “I’ll be right back.”
I watched him walk over to the stand-alone garage. He punched a code into the keypad and the garage door opened. He grabbed a red container with a handle, and closed the garage door. He headed back to the truck, throwing the container in the truck bed.
Jesse came around the driver’s side and got in.
“Thank you, Jesse. I’ll pay you back” I said digging through my purse.
Jesse started the truck and backed out of the driveway. “You don’t have to do that. Keep your cash.”
“I was going to write you a check. How much is gas down here?”
Jesse glared at me. “You went west. It’s ‘over here.’ Keep your check” he grumbled getting back onto the highway.
Suddenly, we heard a siren in the distance. Jesse pulled over, and we watched a cop pass us.
“Wonder what that was all about” Jesse said.
“Do you not see cops much around here?”
“Not like that. Something is up.”
Another siren blared behind us. Jesse pulled over again as a fire engine passed us.
“This must be bad” I said.
“What? Don’t see fires in Syracuse?”
“Usually we see an ambulance too. If there isn’t one of those….” I hesitated.
“I see what you mean.”
I looked ahead in the distance. There were clouds of smoke floating up into the sky. “Aren’t you parked right over there?” Jesse pointed
My heart started to race. “I thought so.”
We crested the hill, and that is when we saw it.
Three cop cars and a fire engine surrounding a smoldering fireball. Jesse stopped the truck and jumped out. I slowly got out, holding onto the truck to steady myself, unsure as to what I was seeing. Jesse found a police officer and brought him to me. Jesse explained to the cop that the car was mine. The cop muttered something about an Impala slamming into the back of it, and the driver being asleep at the wheel.
I heard nothing but the crackling of molten metal.
“We’ll be in touch” Jesse told the cop. “Come on, Angie.”
I stood firm, not ten feet away from my car. That could have been me. Not fifteen minutes ago I was asleep inside that car. That could have been me.
I took a shallow breath. “There’s nothing left?”
“No. I’m so sorry, Angie.”
Suddenly, it was like I couldn’t breathe. “But, Jesse, I left my phone in the car!”
“You can get a new one, Angie” he said trying to turn me away from the fire. “Is there anyone you can contact? Someone at home?”
I sniffled, but I would not cry. I looked up at the sky in order to speak. “Yes, I remember my home number, but that will only get me my mother. Believe me, she wouldn’t want to hear from me.”
Jesse looked around, thinking. “Why don’t you come back to the house. We’ll get you something to eat, and think about this.”
“Back to the house?” What house? Who’s house?
“Yeah, back to the house.”
Jesse headed back to the truck. I looked back at the pile of molten metal. I bit my lip, and headed for the truck.