Continuing from my last post, the following is a snippet from On Hallowed Lanes that I wanted to keep and share. Again, spoilers ahead for Band of Fallen Princes, so read that first.
On Hallowed Lanes suffered from a bit of an identity crisis. I meant to set out with it actually containing a minimal amount of violence, as it was meant to be primarily a road trip novel first, a bit of a “what comes after?” romance novel second, and at a distant third was a bit of the supernatural. Unfortunately, a rickety side story derailed most of the flow of the novel, and dragged it down from mediocre to just plain bad. That said, there are still elements of the novel I wanted it to be, and none so much defines that as this scene, when our heroes are making their exit from Calgary after a four or five day stay. Enjoy!
* * *
They passed out together in a heap of sheets and blankets, Garrett’s arm draped over her. This time, it was his snoring that kept her awake for a very long time, but she didn’t mind. Lord knew he endured it enough times for her.
The story had made her giggle, and she whispered to him all the reasons she loved him, and there were many. Sometime early in the morning, Brianna finally fell asleep, only to wake once to a vision of him standing at the window, nude, muttering to himself. It sounded as though he was having a conversation with someone. Tibaldo or Virgil, she assumed, come back with something they’d forgotten to tell him. She mumbled for him to come back to bed, but sleep washed back over her before she knew if he did or didn’t, and in the morning, she’d forgotten the whole thing.
* * *
Their morning was dominated by a pair of titanic hangovers, but after a simple breakfast of eggs, hash browns, and what seemed like a few pounds of bacon, they both felt marginally better. Armed with travel mugs of a dark roast, they made their way to their last stop in Calgary, the Olympic Park.
Both of them were fans of mini-golf, and were surprised to find there was an eighteen hole course overlooking the Rockies. Garrett said, “Bri, I’m happy to do whatever you want, but the way I feel, could we do that first? I think if I went ziplining right now, my head would explode.” Since she’d just taken two more aspirin for her own splitting headache, Brianna agreed.
They wound up playing just behind a family from Calgary, who made the trip up to the Olympic Park every year. The couple – the woman about the same age as Brianna, the man maybe twenty-two or twenty three – tried to let them play through when their rambunctious little ones started dueling with their putters, but Brianna and Garrett were so amused by their antics that they just wound up playing together.
The father – Lorne – looked as exhausted as Garrett felt, and kept stealing unhappy glances at his children. A couple of times, the wife – Jenna – took his hand and whispered something in his ear. Lorne would nod, smile tersely, and return to his cheerful self, never once letting his children see the worry or doubt in his eyes.
Lorne and Jenna’s children told Garrett and Brianna they had to go to “Dumbbeller” (or Drumheller, as Jenna corrected them gently) to see the dinosaurs. Their plans weren’t firmed up yet, though they’d been thinking of heading west to Banff instead of east. But the children’s enthusiasm was so infectious that Garrett grinned at Brianna, shrugged his shoulders, and she responded in kind. What the heck, those glances said. Brianna exchanged numbers with Jenna so they could send the kids a picture of the dinosaurs.
Unexpectedly, Garrett said as they prepared to part, “You mind if we all got a picture together? The four of us? And your kids?” Brianna raised an eyebrow at this. Garrett liked having his picture taken with anyone but her as much as he liked a colonoscopy. The others agreed cheerfully, though the strain in Lorne’s voice was audible. This was not a man who’d been expecting kindness today, and it was weighing him down.
They roped in a passerby into taking their pictures with their cellphones. Garrett wrapped an arm around Lorne’s shoulders like they were old friends, drawing a real look of surprise from Brianna until she saw the flicker of his hand after the shot, slipping the bills into Lorne’s back pocket with ease. The couple glanced back bemusedly over their shoulders as they headed for a rundown sedan.
Brianna linked arms with him as they watched the family take off. “You’re the best man I know.”
“That guy was in a hard spot,” Garrett said quietly. “Might have just fed an addiction. But those kids’ clothes were a size too small, Jenna was wearing yesterday’s jeans, and given the way Lorne’s stomach was growling, I’m guessing he hasn’t eaten since yesterday at least. They were saving pennies in every way possible. You don’t come to a place like this with your kids if you’re doing that. Something was wrong. Really wrong.” He turned to Brianna. “When I borrowed your purse to dig for gum, I borrowed what you had in cash. We’ll hit up an ATM later and-”
She dropped her purse on the ground and whipped her arms around his shoulders, kissing him hard for a good long minute, her eyes open as she studied his face. When she pulled back a little, she said quietly, “I love you.”
“I’m pretty fond of you too.”
* * *
After a quick zipline down the mountain, they were both ready to pack it in and head east. They passed back through the edge of Calgary, stopping for gas, snacks, and a lengthy tour of a bookstore’s sidewalk sale, where Brianna stocked up on a few trashy romance novels and a new thriller from Emily Carpenter.
Brianna stowed her books in the rapidly dwindling space behind their seats, and shut the door. Garrett was on the other side, taking in the sign for a Tim Hortons on the other side of the street. “Okay,” Brianna said, and thumped the top of the SUV. “To Dumbbeller we go.”
But Garrett didn’t move. It took her a moment to realize it, but he was shaking. It was so minute that she thought at first it was a trick of her eyes. Blurriness caused by the day’s heat, perhaps. But no, he was shaking. “Garrett?” she asked. He didn’t answer, and she came around the side of the car. “Hey, what’s up?”
“I…” He turned to her, pale, his forehead glossy with sweat. “I don’t want to leave.” His voice was small, a child crying for a sweet, and her heart rose and broke and rose again, all in the space of time it took to grasp his hands. There were no words to say. Their time there in Calgary was past. After a while, his chin dipped just a little, an acknowledgement that they had to go, had to leave this bubble in time behind.
Brianna expected the call days later, perhaps when one of the couple was emptying their pockets while doing laundry. But they were only an hour away from Calgary, Garrett’s mood still fixated on the fast-coming future.
“Hello?” Brianna said, tucking her book under her armpit.
“How did you know?” Jenna asked, her voice thick as syrup. Crying. She was crying.
“Don’t tell me this wasn’t you. The photograph, right?”
There was a long pause, and Jenna breathed so quietly she could hardly hear, “We were going to have to go to a shelter. Just for a little while, until Lorne could land on his feet or I could find something better than temp work.”
Garrett glanced at Brianna and she nodded imperceptibly. He focused back on the road again, though his eyes flickered occasionally to the back seat. His hallucinations, she thought. “I hope you find what you’re looking for.”
“I know what it must seem like, us going to the park like that-”
“No. You don’t explain anything to me. Your lives are your lives. You gave your kids a good memory to hang onto. That’s not…” Brianna was crying now. “You just don’t explain yourself to me, that’s all.”
Jenna was silent for a much longer period of time, and Brianna thought she’d hung up. “If you’re really serious about heading for Drumheller, will you do it? Send them a picture? When we’re okay again, I want to have it developed. So they have something to remember you by.”
“Of course,” Brianna whispered. “Goodbye, Jenna. God bless.”
* * *
Among the hills of Drumheller, Brianna and Garrett cozied up under an enormous dinosaur, its jaws wide. Together, they smiled at the camera as though the world wasn’t a broken place, as though the kids they were posing for would live beautiful, rich lives full of happiness, never wanting for anything, that the cash they gave their parents would sprout and grow and solve all their problems. They smiled for the lie all youth are told – that kindness and goodness are enough to change the world.
Five minutes later, as they held each other sitting on the edge of a nearby fountain, a text came through, the last one they’d ever get from Lorne or Jenna. “Angels.”