My third novel. Manuscript completed, 2016.
Claire is a smart, sane fifteen year old who has never caused her parents any trouble. She lives in a small, northeastern town in the 1950s.
Before spring 1953, Claire joked that her biggest worry was keeping herself from murdering her older sister, Angela. (“15 y.o. Solid B+ Student and All Around Good Egg Charged in Grisly Crime! ‘She wouldn’t stop talking about her hair!’ Sobbed Unrepentant Murderess”), but after a chance encounter with the most popular boy in school, Tommy Delano, leads to an unusual friendship, Claire’s humdrum existence turns upside down. Her egghead best friend suddenly starts acting jealous, Angela’s seems ready to blow a gasket over her little sister’s new-found popularity, and Claire’s parents are very worried about her hanging around with ‘that type’ of boy.
But that’s nothing compared to when Claire starts falling for Tommy Delano’s friend, Native American John Rainhorse. This surprising connection reveals just how bigoted the world can be and tests how much one young girl can change the hearts and minds of a small town.
Fall Street is a light romance and coming-of-age story set against a backdrop of the social and racial politics of the 1950s. Claire loses her naivety as she begins to understand the world around her and must make tough decisions about what kind of person she wants to become.
Nothing was as simple as it seemed in that time and Claire experiences firsthand what kind of complicated emotional turmoil can exist beneath the surface of small town Americana, but she never loses her dedication to protecting her friends — or her sense of humor.
Below is an excerpt from one of my favorite chapters —
The night of the dance arrived and, after all the horrors getting ready for it, I hardly knew what to expect — what I got was unexpected magic.
Angela’s date picked her up about the same time Tommy arrived. There was a slight Cinderella-to-the-ball effect of having us both float out of the house at the same time, kissing and waving to our parents. Because, oh my yes, I did float.
I’m not saying I would want to do it all the time, but dressing up was fun. My dress looked really nice and I’d managed to go twenty minutes without getting a hideous stain on it, probably a new record. I called my look ’fairy princess chic’. And Angela had relented and taken pity on me and done my hair, which rose in a little ‘bouffant’ she had read about in a French magazine and in smooth little waves along the side that didn’t look anything like a part of me should. And mother had let me borrow her pretty blue topaz pendent, which had been a gift from her parents when I was born (topaz is my birthstone) and, if you thought about it, maybe we should share more often since it was for my birth. On the other hand, she did all the work that day.
Anyway, looking very unlike myself I climbed into Tommy’s car. Usually, the boys would have waited for us in the house, and they’d started that way, but mother and Angela took so long with everyone’s final touches that dad and the boys started talking cars and ended up outside to compare engines and things.
Tommy (looking very nice, if slightly unlike himself in a gray suit and black tie) glanced over and grinned. “Wow, you’re a knockout.” I wondered if that was something he’d learned to always say to a girl on a date, but then I decided to stop being paranoid and over-thoughtful — at least for tonight. Of course I’m always over-thoughtful, even when telling myself not to me.
Tommy started the car and said, “You look so nice. Makes me reconsider where I’m about to take you.”
“Aren’t you taking me to the dance? At the gymnasium?”
“No, not yet. I’ve learned, parents always worry about their daughter at the end of the date, never at the beginning. We wouldn’t have a chance of doing what we’re about to do after we left the dance and not get in trouble, but who cares? If anyone notices we’re late getting there, I’ll say I forgot your corsage and stopped off to buy you one.” He used one hand to push a little box on the seat between us toward me. I opened it, admired the white flower, and pinned it to my dress. I couldn’t help commenting, “So, you’re like a super genius about dates and lying to parents, but you stink at algebra?”
Tommy laughed. “I guess I have more practice at one, and I can see the payoff in the real world.” He drove on, perhaps thoughtful.
It made me wonder, where was he taking me, alone, that my parents would so strongly disapprove? What did he want? Surely he didn’t think I’d — what was John’s phrase? — have full, naked love with him? Be risky? Was that why John had been upset, seeing how Tommy ruined the life and reputation of the girl next door?
In spite of myself, I felt a little panicky. I was sure I could say no to Tommy (right?) but still, what if he abandoned me to walk miles home? Or told horrible stories about me? Or wouldn’t take no for an answer?
My fears were not allayed when he turned off the main road and onto a wooded dirt one. Then finally, I saw a bunch of things at once. He had brought us back to the clearing with the fire pit in it, and there were a bunch of candles sitting around across the ground, joining the light from a fire and magicalizing the growing evening tide. Tommy pulled the car to a stop and I hopped out to look around without even waiting for Tommy to come around to get the door. And as I surveyed the dark, I saw the most magical thing of all —
John Rainhorse standing there in the dark. He did look like a spirit then, so beautiful and still. I took a step forward; he was dressed up also, in a light blue suit with slightly too-short sleeves. His dark blue tie was gently loosened. He held his hand out to me but I pretty much missed it because I came forward and straight-out hugged him instead. All those talks about people and their ‘place’ had just over run me with, I think, wanting to prove to him the world was different, not everyone was like that. He laughed and embraced me.
After a second I pulled away and stepped back toward Tommy, mock mad. “This is where we were going? And you didn’t tell me?”
Tommy’s white teeth flashed in the darkness. “It was a surprise.”
John was beside me. “You didn’t tell her? What was she supposed to think?”
As someone who’d told me a little about the ways of men, I spoke to John in the voice of a private joke. “You know what I thought.” I included Tommy in my joy. “I was half-way to kicking him in the shins and running home.”
John said, smiling, “Oh you poor dear.”
Tommy said, “Yeah you poor little thing. I guess I’m the one who should be frightened, being out here with you — you’re bloodthirsty. Well, we better get this show on the road, so to speak. We don’t have all night.”
Tommy smiled again, all grace. “I’m going for a walk. Ten minutes?”
John said, “Better make it fifteen,” and took my hand.
Tommy turned the radio on, turned it up, and disappeared into the darkness. The announcer was talking and I didn’t catch anything clearly until he said, “This is for all the lovers out there,” and I shivered.
The song was slow, and beautiful. Something called ‘You, You, You’ I think, and John started dancing close to me, possibility because it was cold in the forest in the night — but probably not.
He pointed out a glass jar near a large candle on the ground. “I’ll have you know there’s three fireflies in there.”
“A whole three?”
“Yes. I had some idea of ton of jars and fireflies, but both were in short supply. But Tommy and I did raid our parents’ houses and find a lot of candles. Impressive, right?”
“But why?” I asked suddenly. Why were they making my fantasy come true? What did two boys care? “Why did you go to all the trouble?”
“For you; I thought you’d like it.”
And I did, especially this dance, so close and slow, hardly caring if there was music to carry us. I was only sorry it was growing so dark I couldn’t see his face.
John said, “Plus, I thought, you might still want that kiss, and you might want it to be special. Unless your mother changed your—”
“No!” And we both laughed at my furor.
“But,” I said, “I don’t know. I didn’t really want a brother/sister kiss.” The music played on, but we’d stopped moving. His arm was still around my waist, not just the hand, the arm, and I felt his warm breath on my chilled skin. It really was little cold to be out in the middle of the woods. But he was so warm.
John said, “What do you mean brother/sister?”
“You said you felt the same way about your neighbor Dolores as you did about me, like a big brother.”
John laughed. And I thought it was beautiful, like a running brook high in a mountain pass. I hoped that wasn’t bigoted, always thinking of him and nature — it’s just I liked nature so much. John said, “Claire, you’re so good with words, but you— I said I felt protective of you in the same way, not in any other way. And I’m starting to think you’re stronger than I am.”
I thought he meant physically, continuing the joke about me kicking Tommy in the shins. “I’m not that tough and dangerous—”
“Not in that way.” He let go of my hand and for a second I wondered if I’d done something wrong, but then I felt his fingers on my neck, in my hair — probably messing it up but I didn’t care.
“Do you like my outfit?” Life ages of the Earth could pass without me ever figuring out why I said that.
“I think you’re always beautiful.”
I wanted to ask ‘Since when?’ but I managed to hold off. I also wanted to say something, something to show I cared and understood him, in case I never got the chance to again. “You’re beautiful.” I had been thinking it for weeks, I said it, and then I realized he had just said it to me — and you’re not supposed to say that to a man. What a world-class idiot. “Sorry, I—”
“Why be sorry? It’s so true.” I believe he fluttered his eyes in the darkness. We laughed. Why did he always do that? Made me feel better — instead of worse — about myself. I spend my whole life feeling awkward, and then now, in this moment, I feel beautiful, perfect.
His hand was still on my throat, my neck. I said, “Can we just stay here forever? I’ll cook you s’mores every day.”
“In a just world. But Tommy will be back any minute to whist you away. I wish I was taking you to the dance; I’d be the proudest man there.”
I really, really wanted to say ‘What’s stopping us?’ But I knew all too well. I sighed.
John said, “No, don’t be sad. I’m still proud. Even if you only picked me because I wouldn’t tell, and I won’t.”
“It wasn’t that! I mean, in the beginning maybe, but now . . .” I couldn’t express the enormity of what I was feeling.
“So you like me? For real?” He sounded very surprised. I couldn’t tell if that was maddening or endearing.
Everything I wanted to say sounded dumb. I was running out of time. What to do? Give him a flower, tell him I was crazy about him? Everything seemed weird, over the top, like something out of a melodrama. So in the end, like water running through a riverbed, I followed the simplest course of action and leaned in, nearer and nearer, closer and closer, until he leaned down and put his lips on mine.
And then he lifted me off the ground, and both his hands were round me, and he was kissing me, and I suddenly saw what everyone had been talking about my whole life. He set me back down and we continued kissing, and his hand rubbing my neck. This was what people risked everything for, cheated for, died for. From the outside, you saw movies, you saw mooshed-up faces, and thought ‘What idiots.’ But it was amazing, perfect — and all too brief.
After a moment more he pulled away, standing back a little, holding my hand and smiling in the last of the light. “Anyway, that’s a taste, at least. Other people probably do it better.”
“It was the best thing I ever experienced in the history of my life.”
He laughed and pulled me into a kind of sideways hug, and left his arm upon my shoulders. Something of the slow, romantic moment had changed, but left in its place pure joy. “Well maybe, maybe . . .” He couldn’t think of whatever witticism he wanted to say and so settled for a joyful exclamation, “Oh God.”
A voice out of the darkness, grinning. “Are you two about done?”
John moved happily in toward me, put his arm to around my waist, and kissed the top of my head which, to be honest, probably tasted like hairspray. John said, “And just how long have you been here, Mr. Delano?”
Tommy stepped forward. “Long enough. You crazy kids, off in the woods, dancing, drinkin’ — Lord knows what. You ought to be ashamed.” Still muttering to himself in his mock-parental tone, he slipped back inside the car. I realized then Tommy was funny, and I never saw him be funny at school, or around girls. Then I realized they probably wouldn’t worship him as ‘Tommy Delano’ if he did. Sometimes girls sucked eggs.
John opened my door for me, and I slid inside. He then stooped down to the ground, hunted around for a second, and stood back up. He caught my hand and placed a round pebble in it. “I didn’t bring you anything to remember me by.”
I heard slight gagging noises off my other side. Tommy said, “I think I’m going to be sick.” Without looking, I slapped my hand toward the driver to shut him up.
John said, “Thanks,” and leaned down to kiss me goodbye. The only words I could think of for it were ‘resuscitating a butterfly’, if you can think of something that sweet and caring and wonderful.
I said, “You’re perfect,” as he closed the car door. And then we were away.
Tommy sounded thoughtful again. “Perfect, aye? No one’s ever called me perfect.”
“Nor me.” I leapt across the wide car seat and kissed Tommy on the cheek as he tried to keep us from getting killed on these curving back roads. I was feeling generous with the world. “You are perfect though, perfect for planning all this.” I scooted back a little; I didn’t know how much friendliness Tommy could take from a fifteen-year-old.
Tommy said, “I didn’t plan it when I ask you. But then he got upset, and you seemed upset, and so — I just put you together to shut you up.”
I smiled. “I wish he and I could be together, but that’s impossible isn’t it?”
Tommy pulled back onto the main road and headed for the school. “It is here, and now. He said there was white women living on the reservation, and my dad said when he was in Europe — he was in the army — he said pretty much anything went over there.”
“So you don’t think it’s wrong that he kissed me?”
“Wrong? No. Gross, degusting, a crime against nature? Probably. But somebody was probably goin’ta dare to kiss you someday. Evet Capor, is it? Buyer be aware.”
I realized his jest was against me and I mock-attacked him, and he put his arm around me to settle me down and we were laughing. I said, “You are so bad.”
We’d pulled to a stop in the parking lot and I saw several couples had witnessed our coltish tête-à-tête. Whatever — they were going to believe whatever they wanted to, and suddenly I didn’t care. I pulled away and tried to rearrange my hair. I still felt John’s hand upon my neck. I asked again, “So you really don’t think it’s wrong?”
Tommy was slicking back his hair. He shook his head, seemingly a little puzzled. “He’s been my best friend for three years. I don’t know why it doesn’t bother me, his skin. I just kind of stopped seeing it. You know, this one time in church, the preacher told a story about these two women who did everything alike — breakfast at the same thing, eggs, everything. And they both loved gardening. Same . . . Shovels, everything. The times they liked to work— It went on like this. But they liked different petunia colors or something. And so they were bitter enemies, and they fought all the time, and then one day God came down to them — ‘cause God can do that in stories — and God came down to them and said ’If you have everything else in the world in common, why are you fighting over this one thing? And they became best friends. I guess I’m kind of like that petunia woman. What’s color matter in the end?”
Oh my God, did Tommy Delano just make my parents look like idiots?