Reposting of Redwood Summer chapter 8 after giving it a rewrite. It isn’t too different from earlier version, just more expanded. In this chapter, Jason, the character, is having dinner with his entire family and his girlfriend, and it’s the last truly happy moment for him in the novel. After this chapter, the downward descent begins.
A rewrite of chapter 7, not much different than earlier version, but deeper. Action is right after action in chapter 6. Jason and Christine are at her nephew’s little league game, which symbolizes his journeys from participant to spectator, and contrasts with chapter 2 in which Jason plays a game of basketball with friends.
Also in this chapter Jason begins to lose control over his life as outside forces start to move him against his will.
Erica stared out the IHOP window, deep in thought on what to do next.
“I really think this is a mistake,” Alan said from across the table.
Erica continued to look past him at the traffic on Lombard Street.
“I’ve been good to you, I’ve been there for you,” Alan pleaded. “When did I ever let you down?”
Erica remained stoic.
“Have you really thought this through?”
She finally looked back at Alan. “There just isn’t much to think about.” He was looking at her with an achingly earnest expression, and she remembered how she used to find his sincerity endearing. “We just want different things out of life.”
Alan leaned in. “Do we? We both want a long term, committed relationship. We agree on most things, we get along with each other’s friends. We don’t even fight for the remote control,” he added desperately.
Erica tried to maintain her coolness.
“Is it troubles at work?” Alan went on. “Your parents getting on you? Is it the pressure of living here? We all know how expensive it is.” His plaintive stare was beginning to affect Erica. “Please, just tell me what it is.”
Erica was conflicted as she realized breaking up was going to be more difficult than she had anticipated. “Alan, you’re a nice guy, and you’ve been good to me, but I think you want this more than I do.”
“What?” Alan appeared shocked. “When did that happen?”
Erica was unexpectedly sympathetic. “Well, I think it’s always been that way.”
“But why did you go out with me in the first place?”
Alan’s sincerity put Erica on the spot. “I don’t know,” she admitted. She thought back to the time when they first met. “I had just gone through a difficult break up, I was wondering where to go next in life, and then you showed up at the right place at the right time.” She leaned in. “But I’m just not that person anymore.”
Alan looked down in disappointment. “And all this time I thought we were on the same page.”
Guilt came over Erica. “Well, maybe you were actually hoping,” she suggested while trying to sound nice. “Sometimes it happens that way.”
Alan let out a breath. “Maybe I was.” He looked back up hopefully. “But I really think I deserve another chance.”
A server walked up to their table. “All done with that?” she asked in a friendly tone.
Erica looked down at the remains of her late lunch “Yes, thank you. I’m done.”
“Well I hope you enjoyed it,” the server said as she took her plate then Alan’s. She pulled the check out of her apron with her free hand and placed it on the table. “A beautiful weekend day. Any big plans?”
“None so far,” Alan answered, “but the day is young,” he added with superficial cheer.
“Well I hope you have a nice rest of the day,” the server said and left.
Alan looked at the check, then got his wallet and pulled out some cash. “You know, that might be a good idea.”
“We should do something today.”
“I don’t think so,” Erica replied warily.
“You don’t even know what I had in mind,” Alan pointed out.
Erica was torn. “Okay, what did you have in mind?”
“How about a nature hike?”
“Yeah, why not?”
“But I’m not wearing any hiking boots.”
“Okay, just a walk in the woods. It’ll be nice and pleasant.”
Erica was flummoxed by Alan’s sudden request and wondered if he had any ulterior motives. “It’s not going to change my mind,” she forewarned.
“One last thing to do together,” Alan beseeched. “Would that be so bad?”
Erica considered what to do. I could just walk out that door, she thought, take a bus home and get on with my life. She looked back at Alan. He was struggling to convey persuasiveness. Why does he have to stare at me like that? she thought irritably, trying so hard to tug at my heart strings, and if I say no he’ll probably give me his sad, lost little boy look. “Did you have any place in mind?”
“How about the Muir Woods?” he suggested eagerly.
“Isn’t that kind of far?”
“Just over the Bridge to Marin County. We can be there in half an hour.”
“But without hiking boots I don’t know if I can do it.”
“This won’t be a hike, more of a walk, and the trails are well maintained.” Alan pointed at a downward angle. “And you have your running shoes on, that’ll be plenty good.”
Erica looked down at the Adidas she slipped on whenever she went out. She thought some
more about doing something outdoors, and the idea of being in a natural setting began to appeal to her.
Oh, there I go again, she thought frustratingly, giving in to him. She then thought some more, and conceded that it would be nice to get out. I am feeling cooped up in this city, she admitted to herself, spending some time out in nature may be just what I need, and he’ll probably keep pestering me if I say no…and I kind of did end up hurting him. “Can we get a bottle of water on the way there?
Alan maneuvered his car out of the Valero station next to IHOP and into the westbound lanes of Lombard Street. Erica sat in the passenger seat with a half liter bottle of water from the station mini mart in her lap. They drove along with the brisk traffic, merged right onto another busy avenue, and entered the US 101 freeway. The freeway twisted through the wooded Presidio then straightened as it pointed north and left solid land. As they drove over the Golden Gate Bridge, Erica looked across San Francisco Bay toward the urban mass of Oakland and Berkeley. She was reminded of its density and felt its cramped oppression. The buildings shimmered in the sun as it began its arc away from land and over the Pacific Ocean. They drove under the second burnt orange support tower and into the greenery of Marin County. Erica was relieved to be in open space.
“I think you’ll like this,” Alan began. “You just can’t beat mother nature.”
Erica continued to look around at the scenery.
“Have you ever been up to the Muir Woods?” Alan asked.
“Hm? Yeah, my school went on a field trip there once.”
“One of the last places in California that has old growth redwoods.” They drove under the rainbow painted archway and through the lit up tunnel. “It was nice of Caltrans to rename this tunnel
after Robin Williams,” Alan remarked.
“Yes it was.” Erica agreed.
“Really too bad what happened to him,” Alan said, and seemed to want to keep the conversation going.
“Mental illness is a problem for a lot of people,” Erica replied. “Very sad.”
“Yeah,” Alan said wistfully. “A great talent, and he gave so much.”
“He did, and I respect his talent and his career, and I’m sympathetic for him, but I think you’re more more of a fan of his than I am.”
“Fair enough.” They emerged from the other end of the tunnel and drove alongside Sausalito east of the freeway and groves of evergreens to the west. The freeway veered to the northwest into Marin City then alongside the marina at Richardson Bay. Erica gazed eastward at a couple of sailboats out on the bay and found the view tranquil as they merged right onto the Highway 1 exit lane. She looked upon the bay some more then their car made a sharp turn left, went under the ramped up freeway, and into the wooded suburb of Tamalpais Valley. The highway went west, north, then meandered its way into the woods. They turned north onto another highway and drove through a green valley, then turned west onto a mountain road that twisted its way into the towering redwoods of the Northern California coast.
“When you get this far into nature you can forget that you’re near a major metropolitan area,” Alan observed as the road curved right then left as it went further west.
“You’re not going to leave me out here, are you?” Erica joked.
“Ha! You’re too funny.”
Ha! I should grab the keys and leave you out here for the mountain lions, Erica thought
mischievously, then she reminded herself that she was mean to him earlier, and resisted further devious ideas. “I have my moments.”
The road curved to the south until they arrived at the visitor center, a man made island in the middle of wild forest. They parked and Erica put her water bottle in the front pocket of her sweater as they got out. Other visitors were milling about as Erica looked all around. The tall evergreens stood proudly rigid, a wall of dense forest, and appeared imposing. They walked along a trail until they came to an old wooden building with a ticket window. Alan went to the ticket window as Erica looked around some more. The towering redwood trees blocked out part of the sunshine, and began to intimidate her.
“Got our day passes,” Alan surprised Erica. “I see you’re taking in the beauty of nature.”
“Oh, just looking around. Shall we get going?”
“Okay, let’s,” Alan replied with anticipation.
The beginning length of the Main Trail went north at a level grade and ran along the right side of a gently flowing, rocky creek with shallow banks covered in ferns and clover. The creek and the trail curved toward each other, then pulled away separately. Erica could hear its flow beyond the trees as the trail continued north and slightly veered left. Alan walked briskly as Erica followed at her own pace.
“The great outdoors!” Alan said grandly.
Erica thought his remark clichéd. “Yeah, it’s all right.”
“But nature puts us in a different mindset, away from all the trappings of civilization.”
“And all its conveniences,” Erica reminded.
Alan looked back and slowed a bit. “But leaving our man made surroundings for something more primeval helps get rid of the clutter. It clears the mind.”
“I wasn’t aware that my mind needed clearing.”
Alan chuckled. “Not what I meant. All I’m saying that excursions away from our normal
routine helps bring perspective.” He continued to lead them along the path and they came to a trail head on their right. They stopped.
“Which way?” Erica asked.
“Well,” Alan began as he pointed east, “this path curves to the left, climbs up north in the mountains, and will take us pretty far away. We’ll stay on the trail we’re on.” Alan continued on and Erica followed. The trail began to elevate slightly and curve a little more left to the west. They came to a wooden foot bridge on their left.
“Let’s cross here,” Alan suggested.
“Shouldn’t we stay on this trail?”
“It’ll just keep going to the north for quite a far distance before it turns around and comes back, but if we cross here the trail will loop around and bring us back to where we started.”
“You’re the guide.”
They went over the bridge and came to an intersection. The other length of the Main Trail loop crossed the other side of the bridge and ran north to south. To their right diagonally was another path marked Hillside Trail.
“That’s where we want to go,” Alan pointed. “Hillside Trail.”
“But isn’t this the way back?” Erica asked as she pointed south down the Main Trail.
“We’ve barely begun. Besides, that’s for tourists,” Alan said dismissively. “We’ve got more
nature to see. ”
“But how long will it take?”
“Not that long. It’s just a bigger loop. As long as we don’t dawdle we’ll back in no time.”
“Okay,” Erica relented.
The smooth, flattened trail continued to the north then curved left to the west as it slowly climbed higher. Trees rooted into the moist earth appeared one after another to Erica. Some were old and wide, others young, thin, and struggling upward into the light. Green from leaves, needles, moss, and ferns colored the landscape along with red and brown from the tree bark. Erica felt surrounded by earth tones and the cool humidity of the forest. Alan continued his brisk stride as Erica struggled to keep up.
“How long is this trail?” she asked.
“Not long, just over a mile until the next trail.”
Erica was crestfallen. “There’s another trail?”
“Well, yeah. This trail will dead end onto the next trail, and we’ll go left which will take us south, then east, and head back down to the parking lot.”
The trail wound into a clearing and they were back in the sunlight. Erica looked up and noticed
that the sun was getting closer to the horizon. “We’ll be back before dark, right?” she asked.
“Of course, as long as we keep moving.”
“Glad one of us is good at directions.” The trail continued its windy upward path then made a sharp left turn. The trail made a long U-turn around a steep ravine and Erica was careful to not look down. The trail made another left, continued to the west, and finally reached its end at a bisection. The sign read Ben Johnson Trail. Erica pulled out her water bottle from her front sweater pocket and took a drink. “So to the left?” she asked.
“Yep,” Alan answered. “You know who Ben Johnson was?”
“You mean the playwright?”
“Yes, there was a writer by that name, but this Ben Johnson was a caretaker that used to live
here long ago. He carved out this trail back in the the 1930s.”
“Well you’re very informative.”
“Yeah, maybe a little too much.” Alan seemed to expect a response as Erica silently put away her water bottle. They resumed hiking. “There was another Ben Johnson from old Hollywood,” Alan continued. “Did a lot of Westerns.”
“Also sounds like a name a man would use when he checks into a hotel with a hooker.”
“Ha! Another one of your moments.”
“I must be on a roll.”
The new trail rose at an upward angle as it curved right and to the west. Time seemed to stretch out for Erica as she tediously trudged up the meandering, escalating trail. The surrounding trees and plant life stayed in her periphery as she focused her attention to the path ahead. Occasionally they’d pass another hiker or group of hikers coming toward them. Alan would nod or say hi to them while Erica kept looking forward. Why did I agree to this again, she rued. Alan slowed down periodically until Erica caught up. She thought his encouraging smile as he waited for her was a bit too smug. As if he has me where he wants me, she suspected.
He stopped and waited for her.
“You’re just loving this, aren’t you,” Erica accused.
“I’ll love it when we get back to our car.”
“Well we better get going,” Alan encouraged and he resumed hiking.
“Hope you appreciate me joining you on this death march,” Erica called out then started hiking. “Don’t you like the climb? Good exercise.”
“I can go to a gym for that.”
The trail curved to the left and Erica assumed they were circling back to where they began. The trail then turned to the right as it climbed up, and Erica was exasperated. She noticed the sun was getting closer to the horizon and both were in her eye line.
“Will this trail finally go downhill?”
“Of course,” Alan assured.
The trail continued its meandering westward rise, bordered by phalanxes of trees and the occasional small clearing. The primeval terrain seemed a world away from civilization to Erica, and her unease was turning to apprehension. The overhead sunlight was dimming as it struggled to reach over the treetops. Erica breathed a little heavier as she tried to pace herself without getting too tired. Alan maintained his stride and appeared energized. Anticipation continued to stretch out time unbearably as Erica kept waiting for the trail to curve around to the left and back toward their car. They passed a couple of more hikers coming the other way and she envied how they were moving downhill. Gradually the trail veered south but still continued westward.
Eventually they came to a junction with another trail. “Finally!” Erica announced. “I hope we’re heading left.” She took another drink of water.
“Or we could also keep going straight ahead to Stinson Beach.”
“If you want to do that, then give me the keys,” Erica demanded. “I’m heading back to the car.”
“Okay, okay,” Alan chuckled. “Back to the car it is. Mind if I have a sip?”
Erica handed him the bottle of water.
Alan took a drink then handed it back to Erica. “Thanks.”
Erica stashed the bottle into her front pocket as they headed down the south trail. Their hike continued its upward climb as it moved straight ahead, sharply turned right, climbed up further, then switched back to the left and kept elevating. Erica looked behind her and saw the sun getting closer to the Pacific Ocean. The impending darkness made her apprehension grow. Time continued to stretch out as she tried to keep up with Alan. The trail climbed on and upward until it finally reached the ridge peak. Alan stopped and looked around.
“Quite a view,” he proclaimed.
Erica looked to the west and saw only the sun moving closer to the horizon. “How much longer before this trail ends?” she worried.
“We should be about halfway there, but at least we’ve reached the peak so it should all be downhill from here,” Alan reassured. “But it doesn’t hurt to look around and take in Mother Nature’s beauty and creation.”
“Wild animals are also Mother Nature’s creation,” Erica reminded.
“Don’t worry,” Alan assured, “I’ll protect you.”
“Can you fight off a mountain lion?”
“There have been no mountain lion sightings around here lately. We’re safe.”
“Well let’s get going in case one decides to show up,” Erica insisted.
Erica began walking down the trail and let the downward slant carry her along. The trail angled one way then another as it continued southward through the woods. Erica kept her focus on the path ahead of her and ignored the scenery. Eventually they came to a dirt road. “Now which way?”
“Well this is a fire road.” Alan pointed across the road. “And up ahead that way is the trail that will take us back to the parking lot.”
“So which way?”
“I’d like to stay on the trail, see some more woods.”
Erica looked to the west, saw the sun at the horizon, and was becoming anxious. “Which way will get us back quicker?”
“Either or, they mostly parallel each other. They’ll intersect again.”
Erica looked down the fire road, then to the other trail in the distance, and then over to the setting sun. “I guess we can go on the other trail.”
“Cool, and if we move quick we should before it gets too dark.”
They crossed the fire road and continued along the trail. It rose again as it went southeast, and the gradually dimming sunlight spurred Erica to move quicker. She felt a rush of adrenalin as she raced against the setting sun. The trail reached another peak then gradually lowered as it traversed the darkening forest. The trail came into a clearing and Erica felt relieved to be back into open space, then she saw that the sun was almost completely below the horizon. Twilight spread over the clearing and she hurried along as Alan came up next to her.
“As long as we stay on the trail we’ll be all right,” he reassured. “It’ll take us straight to the parking lot.”
Erica kept walking.
“At least we’re going downhill,” Alan added helpfully.
“Yeah, we sure are,” Erica replied as she focused on the path ahead. The trail wound through
the sloped clearing and into another thicket of trees. The forest was becoming darker and more menacing as it blocked out the disappearing twilight. The trail then emerged out of the woods and into another clearing. Erica was relieved again to be back into open space but saw that it was getting darker. The trail narrowed and ran straight along a path carved into the hillside in between grasses and shrubs. Erica was racing against the darkness careful not to fall down the hillside. The trail then intersected diagonally with the fire road. “Now which way?”
“Straight ahead.” They kept moving along the trail as it wound ahead then back into the increasing darkness of the forest. Erica’s fear grew in the encroaching presence of nature and she began to worry about wildlife. The trail then merged with the wider fire road and curved one way then the other as it kept its southeast angle.
The trail came into another clearing which was almost as dark as the forest. Erica looked toward the horizon and the sun was almost completely gone. Survival instincts took over her consciousness. She kept moving ahead and the trail branched off the fire road. “Which way?”
“We can stay on the fire road,” Alan said. “They merge together again up ahead.”
The moved along the coarse, sandy road. The forest bordered the left side of the path and imposed upon Erica threateningly. The right side of the trail sloped downward dauntingly as Erica kept looking in front of her. They came to another fork. The fire road continued on the right and the trail went to the left. “Now which way?” Erica asked nervously.
“The trail is a more direct route to the parking lot.”
Erica looked left down the trail and struggled to get a better look. She saw the tree canopies forming into a dark tunnel. “Looks scary.”
“But if we hurry we should be able to make it to when it merges back into the fire road before it’s dark.”
“Well it’s getting dark already so we better hurry,” Erica said apprehensively. They took off down the trail. Erica’s consciousness continued to alter as the light disappeared to the west displaced by blanketing darkness. She struggled against the panic that was trying to take over and sensed that Alan was also feeling some fear. Erica hurried along the trail as it came out of the trees again and into another clearing that was almost as dark as the forest. The clearing was quickly surrounded by more trees and the darkness made the trail hard to follow. The trees became thicker and Erica became confused as she tried to figure out which part of the ground was the trail “Are we going the right way?” she asked worriedly.
“Of course,” Alan assured, “we just need to keep moving ahead.”
“What the hell are we doing here anyways?” Erica bemoaned as her frustration mounted. “This was supposed to be a fun little walk in the woods!”
“Hey, it wasn’t bad.”
“What, being stuck in the woods after dark? We should have stayed in town! Why did I agree to- aaaah!” Erica suddenly lost her footing and slid down the hillside. She panicked as she quickly scraped downward along the earth, rolled a couple of times, tangled up into a large bush, and crashed into a tree.
“Are you all right?” Alan called out down the hillside.
“No! I’m not all right!”
“At least your fall was broken!”
“Are you trying to be funny?” Erica yelled. “I could have fallen to my death!” She helplessly groped around in the darkness. “And I can’t see a god damned thing!” Her arm hurt where it struck against a tree and her ankle was twisted and sore. She struggled to free herself and avoid falling further. Her heart raced and her sense of direction was obliterated. “Why did I do this?!”
“Hang on, I’ll get you!” Alan carefully stepped down the hill, and Erica saw his silhouette advance upon her. She panicked some more at the sight of the dark figure coming for her and had to remind herself in her terror that it was Alan. The looming dark form outstretched an arm. Erica hesitatingly reached upward and his hand grabbed hers. He pulled upward and Erica disentangled from the web of little branches. She scrabbled up the hillside with help from her free hand as she reoriented herself. Pain shot from her right ankle when she stepped on it. Alan helped her up back onto the trail.
“Ouch!” Erica yelled out as she walked around on her hurting ankle.
“Wanna sit down for a minute?” Alan offered.
“No! I want to get the fuck out of here!” Erica limped ahead and focused on the trail. Alan walked up alongside and tried to help her. Erica pulled away. “I can make it!” They moved ahead as Erica kept her weight off her hurt ankle. The fire road came up from the right and joined along the trail. They crossed over to the wider fire road. Erica adjusted to her limp and moved ahead quickly and felt some relief to be on a more defined route.
Their path came to another fork as the trail went to the left and the fire road to the right. “Can we stay on the fire road?” Erica demanded.
“The trail will take us to the parking lot, the fire road goes further to the south.”
“Then the trail it is,” Erica decided as she limped ahead. The trail gradually lowered as it curved through the darkened woods. Erica took advantage of downward angle and let gravity carry her as Alan kept up. Time moved a little quicker as Erica sensed the end of their journey. The trail made a couple of more sharp turns then straightened out in a downward slope. They came to a bridge that crossed over a gently flowing creek. The sound of the running water ended the brooding silence. The trail continued then gradually emerged from the trees. Erica saw the parking lot lit up by lampposts and was greatly relieved by the sight of a man made setting. As they approached the parking lot she saw their car and a park ranger vehicle. They left the earthen trail and walked across the pavement. They came to their car, then the park ranger vehicle started up and drove off. Erica took the bottle of water from her front pocket and drank the rest of it.
“Any of that left?” Alan asked hopefully.
“Nope.” Erica tossed the empty bottle into a nearby trash receptacle.
They drove through the twisty mountain roads until they got to the 101 and headed south. The lights of Sausalito glowed to the left and more lights shone across the Bay.
“How’s your ankle feeling?” Alan asked.
Erica tried to rotate her ankle and felt dull pain. “Still a little sore,” she said. “Probably wouldn’t have sprained it if I was wearing boots,” she added.
“I’m sure it’ll feel better tomorrow.”
Erica brought her foot up and massaged the ankle as she was readjusting back into civilization. “We’ll see.”
They drove into the lit up tunnel. “At least I was there to help you.”
Erica looked at Alan incredulously. “I was only on that trail because of you.”
“Well, yeah, that’s true,” Alan admitted as they emerged out of the tunnel. “But at least I didn’t abandon you,” he added hopefully.
Erica lowered her foot back down. “I didn’t know we were going to take the long way around.”
“But still, it’s good to get out and have an adventure.”
“At least one of us had fun,” Erica replied.
“Look, I’m sorry. This is my fault.” They approached the Golden Gate Bridge. “Should have
planned it out better. Next time we’ll get an earlier start.”
“That’s presumptuous,” Erica resisted.
“Next time,” she mimicked.
“I don’t think you mean that,” Alan corrected.
“I know what I meant,” Erica shot back. They drove onto the bridge.
“Well I didn’t know you felt that way,” Alan said aggrievedly.
They drove under the first, lit up support tower. “Did you plan it like this?”
“What?” Alan responded with surprise. “How could I have planned you falling down like that off the trail?”
“Getting me into an unfamiliar setting so I would be reliant upon you.”
“Now why would I do a thing like that?”
“Because you’re the kind of guy that likes to come to the rescue,” Erica pointed out as they drove under the second support tower.
Alan seemed to consider what Erica said. “Is that really such a bad thing?”
“It is if you cause the trouble.”
Alan laughed. “Am I really that diabolical?”
The roadway left the bridge and onto land as it curved through the Presidio. “I can’t tell if
you’re being deceptive or if you genuinely don’t know what I’m talking about.”
They drove back into the city. “Well I never tried to deceive you, if anything I’ve only tried to help.” Alan seemed to await a response. “I know I have my problems like everyone else, I just wish I knew what I’m doing wrong.”
They drove along Lombard Street and went past the IHOP. Erica wanted to reexplain their differences but was too tired. “I’ll make it simple for you,” she finally said. “I am not your, or anyone else’s, damsel in distress.”
“What? I never thought that.”
Erica looked at him disbelievingly.
“Honest,” Alan asserted. “Certainly not the distress part,” he added coyly.
Erica looked away wearily. “Just drop me off at home.”
©2018 Robert Kirkendall
A rewrite and expansion of Redwood Summer chapter 6. This is the beginning of the second third of the novel. It takes place about a month after chapter 5 ends, and begins the changes that will happen in Jason’s, the main character, life. Jason and his mother have a debate about the pros and cons of technology, and then she reminds him that his sister will be home from college that later that day. She is a student at Cal Poly, and this her first mention in the novel. Mother suspects Jason may be envious of his sister, though he swears he isn’t.
Rewrite of chapter 5. The scene is the morning after a glorious party, and the end of the first third of the novel. Everyone is hungover but happy, and the story reaches a peak at the end of this chapter, after which is the downward slide to its ultimate fate.
Just gave chapter 4 a rewrite, the party scene. One of the inspirations for this chapter is the party scene from The Great Gatsby. Not that I’m at that level of expertise, but learn from the best. What struck me about the party scene from Gatsby is that it’s so ethereal it almost seems unreal, and so beautiful that you know the happiness won’t last. And I think it’s a match with my party scene because it represents a deliriously happy peak for all the characters that they’ll never reach again.
Just rewrote chapter 3 of Redwood Summer. I’m going through the entire draft of the novel making final changes and improvements before I approach an agent. Redwood Summer takes place in 1990 San Jose, CA, and this chapter is set in the main character’s workplace during the early summer. All 17 chapters of Redwood Summer are posted on my site.
The parties, family gatherings, career change, leaving of school, ordeals, dispersement of friends to their separate lives, and all the other life events of the past year ran through Jason’s mind as he continued to look out the passenger side window from a work truck as Hal drove. He gazed ahead to the dry, golden hills in the distance covered with light brown grass, then another memory came to mind as he thought back to a time when he and his friends drove up to the summit of the Santa Cruz Mountains, hiked into a park of enormous rocks, and looked down across the entire valley. He peered toward the south and tried to find the spot on the mountain range where they went, but the truck turned a corner and he lost sight of it.
“I tell you, Jason, your uncle’s a good guy,” Hal said as he sped past a long row of business parks and concrete tilt-ups. “He lets me work for him when I’m not making enough at my own business. Things are kind of dicey right now, but it should pick up soon. Times like this are good for the economy.”
The cab became silent, then Jason figured Hal was waiting for a response. “Yeah, I’m sure it will,” he answered reflexively. “Uncle Ray is a good guy, saved me from a dead end job.”
“Salt of the earth,” Hal proclaimed. “Ought to be more like him.”
“Yeah, there should,” Jason responded as he recalled how welcoming Uncle Ray was when he approached him for a job. Like he was expecting me, Jason thought to himself.
“You see, what we’re doing is solid,” Hal informed. “Businesses come and go, some get bought out, others move overseas, but there’s always going to be a need for construction. All the engineers and programmers and computer nerds around here, they spend their whole day in front of computer screens, never go outside, probably never get laid. Think any of them can do what we do?”
“Maybe not,” Jason replied, “but they’re the ones who come up with the ideas that keep
everything going. So what if they don’t know how to swing a hammer, they don’t need to.”
“But you can’t run a business outdoors, or this country for that matter. Every king needs a castle, and someone has to build that castle, that’s where we come in.” Hal looked around the expanse. “Sure, this place gets more crowded every year, I remember how it used to be, but that’s what keeps us in business.”
“Yep,” Jason said, “until we run out of land.”
“I wouldn’t worry about that,” Hal reassured. “There’s still enough to keep us busy for a long while. Plus there’s all those older buildings that need to be demolished and replaced. No new real estate required for that.”
“And on it goes,” Jason said partly to himself. He contemplated the perpetually onward flow of time, and its complete indifference to the changes in his own life.
“You know what,” Hal began, “we supply a necessary demand, which gives us a chance to make a decent living in the greatest country on earth. That’s something to be thankful for.” Over the radio a news talk show was discussing a pending United States military deployment to the Mideast. “Now you take that situation between Iraq and Kuwait,” he said, “all the bleeding heart types say we should avoid war, but what choice do we have? That is a key strategic part of the world.”
Jason listened to the discussion on the radio, and thought some of the people talking sounded more agitated and enthusiastic for war than they needed to be. “I don’t know,” he countered. “You think they’re telling us everything?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well the way they’re talking about it, it just sounds too neat, like something is being left out.”
“We got the biggest and best military on earth. What’s the worse that can happen?”
“What does a war on the other side of the world have to do with us?”
“Strategy, my friend,” Hal reminded.
Jason pondered. “I thought we were friends with the Russians now.”
“All the more reason to strike, they won’t get in the way.”
“But it seems like there’s still time to work it out.”
“Well, you have to look at the big picture,” Hal advised. “If all we do is talk, which is basically doing nothing, greater problems may happen. Problems that can affect our security,” he added ominously.
“It’ll still cost some lives.”
“Sometimes sacrifices have to be made for the greater good.” Hal looked over at Jason. “You don’t like war?”
“All I’m saying we shouldn’t rush into anything until we know what’s going on over there,” Jason cautioned.
“I’ll tell you what’s going on,” Hal said confidentially. “Over there is where most of the world’s black gold is, that’s what fuels industry, the economy, pretty much all of civilization, and we got to have a foothold there if we want to get our share. It’s all a matter of survival.”
“What about the people already living there?”
Hal laughed. “Are you kidding me? A bunch of sand niggers who’ve been killing each other for centuries? We got to go in there, straighten the whole mess out, and put everyone back in their place. That’s what we do.”
Jason looked down an avenue they were crossing and in the distance noticed the building where his last job was. “Since when?”
“Okay, all kidding aside,” Hal started. “Everyone does have a right to an opinion, that’s the American way, but when the shit goes down you don’t want to be caught on the wrong side.” They drove along further. “You know what I’m saying, right?”
Jason listened closer to the talking on the radio. The debate had become heated and antagonistic as the voices rose to a higher pitch. He sensed Hal still looking at him, and he felt the push of coercion. “You know what,” he began, “I work, I pay taxes, I’m a good citizen, and I have the right to believe in what I want, when I want, how I want,” he asserted. “And no one can tell me different!” He was surprised by the righteousness of his declaration, and it dawned upon him that he was free. “Yeah,” he said to himself, “I’d fight for that.”
Hal appeared to want to respond, but silently drove on. Jason then remembered his plans for the upcoming weekend with Christine and some friends, as well as some people from their new neighborhood. Something to look forward to, he thought happily.
©2018 Robert Kirkendall
Jason drove along a Central Valley freeway through large expanses of agriculture. In the distance he saw the prison, a desolate cluster of rectangular, institutional buildings imposing upon the surrounding open space. He exited off the freeway as he approached and drove to the visitor lot. He parked and felt a little uneasy as he passed under a guard tower and entered an outer gate into the stark compound. He walked down a concrete path lined with high cyclone fencing topped with a long coil of concertina wire. He entered a building, went through a metal detector, signed a visitor log, and a guard led him to a drab room with a row of chairs lined up in front of glass partitions. He followed the guard and walked behind the other visitors. He noticed the grim looking prisoners behind glass panes out of the corner of his eye. The guard pointed him to a chair and he sat down.
Jason looked through the glass pane, then saw Randy approach. His heart sank a little when he saw him in his prison uniform. Randy sat down across him. Jason picked up the receiver, and Randy did the same. He was unsure of what to say.
“So how you been?” Randy finally asked.
“Not bad,” Jason answered. “How about you?”
“I’m settling in, getting to know the rest of the guys,” Randy said from the other side of the glass. “What choice do I have anyways, right?” he said jokingly. Jason involuntarily smiled along with him.
“Yeah,” Jason agreed. He struggled with the sight of Randy in prison.
“Some of the guys here,” Randy continued, “you should hear their stories.”
“And I thought I had it bad.”
“Seems like no matter how bad it is,” Jason realized, “somebody always has it worse.”
“Guess I had to learn that the hard way,” Randy said half kiddingly.
Jason remained serious. “So what’s it like in here?”
“It ain’t complicated. They got everybody on the same schedule, same old routine, day in, day out. So I do what they tell me to do, stay out of trouble, and count the days. I’ll be out of here someday.”
“Yeah, took some getting used to.”
“I guess it could be worse,” Jason said.
“Yeah, but it could also be a whole lot better,” Randy replied. “Bad as it is, I didn’t think I was going to miss the outside world so much. I really miss is being able to bullshit people, can’t do that here. But I’m making the best of it.”
“I suppose that’s all you can do,” Jason said resignedly. “But I can’t get used to seeing you like this.”
“At least I know where my next meal is coming from, and you can’t beat the rent,” Randy said with a smile.
Jason wanted to smile along with Randy, but couldn’t.
“I’ve also been doing some reading,” Randy continued. “Nothing too difficult, but it’s a change. Used to be I was too busy for school, but I’ve got plenty of time now.”
Jason was surprised that he was feeling slightly envious over of his own lack of free time.
“So how are things on the outside?” Randy asked.
“Everyone’s doing all right,” Jason answered. “They sure do miss you.”
“Not as much as I miss them,” Randy said longingly. “I even miss the people I didn’t like,” he added amusedly.
“How about Gina?”
Randy laughed. “I burned that bridge to a crisp.”
“You remember Terry’s little brother?” Jason asked.
“Yeah, the one who joined the Navy.”
“Looks like he might be headed to the Persian Gulf.”
“It’s not for certain yet, but if things keep on going the way they’re going…” Jason trailed off.
“I can remember when he was was just a toddler,” Randy reminisced.
“You know, he only signed up was for the college money,” Jason said. “Didn’t think he was going to see any action.”
“Yeah, he got tricked,” Randy concluded. “Hope he’s going to be all right.”
“I’m thinking he will be.” Jason said. “I don’t think this thing will drag on for too long. I’m sure they learned from all the mistakes in the last war.”
“We’ll see,” Randy said suspiciously. “I wonder if my dad knows I’m here.”
“Doesn’t your mom or your sister know where to find him?”
“I think my sister does. She said she’d try to find him and tell him.”
“Hope you hear from him.”
“Yeah,” Randy said forlornly. “Maybe he’ll write me a letter or something. So how’s Christine doing?”
“Doing well,” Jason said. “She isn’t showing yet, but she will be soon.”
“Wow, you’re going to be a dad!” Randy said happily. “That’s got to be tripping you out.”
“I’m still trying to get used to it.”
“I can’t wait to get out of here so I can see him, or her.”
“I just hope I’m up to it,” Jason admitted. “Seems only yesterday I was just a kid myself.”
“Ah, don’t worry, you’ll make a great dad,” Randy reassured. “At least you’re making more money now. How is the new job?”
“It’s more work,” Jason said, “but it is a whole lot better than the last job.”
“Good. You were really hating that other place.”
“Yeah, it was getting on my last nerve,” Jason said with recalled anger. “I have to say, this was not how I planned on changing jobs.”
“Hey, so what if your old lady had to help find a job for you. It’s all about who you know.”
“I do get to be outdoors at least,” Jason remembered, “working with my hands. If nothing else it’ll keep me in shape.”
“Yeah, you don’t want to be stuck indoors chained to a desk. How’s the pay?”
“Five bucks more an hour than the last job.”
“Yeah, and I’m going to need every penny of it raising a kid.”
“And then you’ll need a raise if you two have any more kids,” Randy added encouragingly.
“One challenge at a time,” Jason resisted.
“So are you and Chris going to tie the knot?” Randy asked.
“Looks like it. We’re practically married already,” Jason added.
“Sounds like we’re both set,” Randy said with a laugh.
Jason leaned forward toward the glass. “You know, it didn’t have to be this way. All you’re doing is protecting the wrong people,” he implored. “You think they’d do the same for you?” he tried to persuade.
“They caught me red handed,” Randy reminded. “They were going to put me away no matter what, why drag other people down.”
“What about an appeal?”
“Can’t afford it, and the public defender said I needed more grounds.”
Jason felt defeated. “Wish there was something I could do.”
“Hey, at least you came to see me,” Randy said gratefully. “That means a lot.”
A regretful memory rose to the surface of Jason conscience. “Sorry for the things I said that night…you know, after that party.”
“Don’t be,” Randy brushed aside. “I’m the one who should be apologizing.”
“I never wanted you out of my life,” Jason asserted. “It’s just that things changed.”
“Yeah they did.”
“This is all fucked up,” Jason said moodily. “You don’t deserve to be stuck in here.”
“There’s always time off for good behavior,” Randy pointed out.
Jason was struck by the Randy’s optimism. He saw no reason for it, but his gloom lightened. “You should be able to swing that,” he said humorously as he finally relaxed. “At least you’re going to be paroled someday, not me. Parenthood is a life sentence.” He leaned in confidentially. “I have to admit, you may be right about Chris taking over my life.”
“You know,” Randy began completely serious, “if I had a girl like Christine in my life, I wouldn’t be stuck in here right now.”
Jason saw a long absent clarity in Randy’s eyes as they looked at each other for a long moment. “Yeah,” he finally said. “I guess I’m the lucky one.”
“Sorry I couldn’t take care of the bachelor party.”
“It’s all right,” Jason said, “probably would’ve lead to more arrests.”
“Yeah, Darren most likely,” Randy predicted, and they shared a laugh. “Send me some pictures of the wedding.”
“You got it.” Jason wanted to make the moment last. Memories of a disappeared, happier past beckoned him, and he sensed Randy was feeling the same way. He wanted to enjoy the moment some more, but he felt the pull of the outside world. “Well, I better get going.”
“Tell everybody I said hi.”
“I’ll do that.” Jason looked to Randy one last time. “Good to see you again.”
“Likewise. Don’t be a stranger.”
“I won’t.” Jason fought back tears. “Bye, Randy.”
“See you later, brother.”
Jason slowly hung up the receiver, got up, and left the stark room. He saw Randy in his periphery still seated behind the glass partition as he was departing.
©2018 Robert Kirkendall
Jason looked over the newspaper classified want ads while sitting at the kitchen table. David was across the table doing his homework.
“Anything promising?” father asked from the living room.
“Not much,” Jason answered. “A lot of the same old stuff.”
“Budget cuts because of the Cold War ending would be my guess.”
“Yeah, that’s what I’m thinking,” Jason agreed. “We need another war to get things going again,” he added half seriously.
“Doesn’t the county building have a job center?” David asked.
“I checked it out, most of it’s part time work,” Jason said, “and nothing that pays enough.”
“What about a temp agency?” David suggested.
“I need a permanent job,” Jason replied. “Those temp jobs don’t pay dick anyhow.”
“I should look for a new job myself,” David said. “I’m getting tired of the fast food scene.”
“Then get a job at Safeway,” father said impatiently.
The telephone rang. David reached over and picked up the receiver. “Hello? Oh hi, Todd…Yeah, he’s here.” He handed the receiver to Jason. “It’s Todd.”
Jason took the receiver. “Todd. What’s up?”
“Jason, got some bad news,” Todd said.
He got a sinking feeling. “What is it?”
“Randy got busted.”
“Dammit!” Jason struck the table and David looked up. “What happened?”
“He was at the wrong place at the wrong time,” Todd said. “A SWAT team did a raid on this house where he just happened to be in the middle of a deal.”
Jason was dismayed and angry. He got up as he tried to grasp what he just heard and paced around as the coiled phone chord dangled from the receiver to the telephone. “I can’t believe this!” he said angrily. “Where is he now?”
“They got him at the city lockup. I called and they told me he’s going to be arraigned tomorrow.”
“Goddamn, this is a nightmare!” Jason became anxious as the news sank in. The dread he felt for Randy reached its conclusion, and the remaining hopes he had came crashing down. He then looked around and noticed his brother and father looking at him. He turned toward the telephone on the wall to conceal his anger. “You know, I told him a thousand goddamn times not to be careless, not to get mixed up with Darren and Tony, all those other sketchy motherfuckers, that whole scene, now look what happens!”
“I heard how he lost it at Tony’s party and got into a fight.”
“Yeah, we got him out of there just before the cops showed up.”
“I also heard from some of the guys that you and Randy almost got into it,” Todd said carefully.
Jason felt the regret of that night. “Yeah,” he admitted. “Never thought it’d come to that.”
“Don’t blame you for avoiding the party.”
“I never knew Tony all that well anyway,” Todd said
“I only went because of Randy, guess I thought I could keep him out of trouble. A lot of good that did,” Jason added with bitter irony.
“It’s all fucked up,” Todd lamented. “But I guess it isn’t a total surprise.”
“No, guess not,” Jason agreed. “So now what? It’s not like Randy or his mom can afford a
decent lawyer, or any kind of lawyer.”
“I know. He’ll probably end up with some half ass public defender.”
“Which means he’ll probably end up doing some time.”
“Most likely,” Todd said dejectedly. “It’ll all depend on the lawyer he gets stuck with, the judge, whether the DA wants to cut him a deal, and they won’t do that unless he’s willing to give up some names.”
“Can’t see Randy doing that,” Jason predicted. “Probably doesn’t know anyone important anyway.”
“I doubt he does,” Todd agreed. “He’s the low man on the totem pole.”
“So what next?”
“I’m going to call in sick tomorrow so I can go to the arraignment. I’ll be in touch with everyone as soon as I know what’s happening.”
“So how much do you think his bail will be?” Jason asked.
“No idea,” Todd answered. “I guess that’ll depend on the amount he was caught with.”
Jason leaned against the wall and rested his head on his hand. “He’s really up a creek.”
“Could be,” Todd said. “Do you know if he has any priors?”
“Nothing like this,” Jason said. He stood back up. “This sucks, this really, fucking sucks.”
“I know. Randy always was the life of the party, since he was little. Guess it finally caught up with him.”
“It’s like he ignored all the warning signs.”
“Yeah,” Tom sighed. “Well, I’ll let you go, I’ve got some more people to call. I’ll call you tomorrow and let you know how it went.”
“All right,” Jason said. “I was just about to head to Christine’s myself. Says she has important news, probably about a job somewhere.”
“That could be a good thing, I know you’re getting sick and tired of your current job.”
“We’ll see, not exactly on my mind right now.”
“Well, talk to you tomorrow,” Jason said.
“All right, bye.”
“Bye.” Jason hung up the receiver.
“What happened?” David asked.
“Randy was arrested.”
“Oh, no!” he reacted. “What for?”
“Possession,” Jason said. He grabbed his keys off the table and headed to the front door.
“What a shame,” father remarked sadly.
“Going over to Christine’s,” Jason said as he left. He got into his car and drove away quickly. The late summer twilight faded into darkness as he was driving and all his worries about Randy were recasting into new uncertainties. The story of Randy’s life played out in his mind once again, from when they first met in kindergarten, their shared times and adventures as they grew up together, and all through the years up to the present where it was culminating into a sense of finality. He then despaired that Randy was slipping out of his life.
He arrived at Christine’s and tried to straighten out his thoughts as he walked to her apartment. He knocked on the front door. It opened slowly and Christine quietly let him in. He entered and milled around in the front room. He was feeling the weight of what he was about what to tell her.
“Bad news about Randy,” he finally said.
“He got busted.”
“Oh no,” Christine said sadly and she sat down. “That’s terrible.”
“Todd just called and told me, he was arrested earlier today.”
“What did he do?”
“He was in the middle of a drug deal then the police raided the place.” Jason paced around some more. “I tried to talk some sense into him,” he said exasperatedly. “I told him not to get mixed up with the wrong people.”
“You did the best you could,” Christine reassured.
“Did I?” Jason countered as he kept pacing around the room. “Feels like I could have done more.” He came to a stop as he dwelt some more about what happened. “Shit, they’ll probably throw the book at him, because they can.”
“I know,” Christine said somewhat absently, “it’s awful.”
Jason sensed that Christine was thinking of something else. “You work for lawyers, what do you think his chances are?”
“Hmm? Oh, I don’t know, we don’t do criminal law. I guess it’s going to depend on how much he was caught with, and if he’s willing to plea bargain.”
“Well then he’s in bad shape because Randy was never one to snitch.” Jason started to move around again to release mounting stress. “Why the fuck did he have to get caught? Now he’s stuck in the gears of the system!”
“Maybe he’ll get help he needs on the inside,” Christine said hopefully.
“And he has to go behind bars to get it? That ain’t fair,” Jason said angrily. “This is all fucked
up. I know he blew it, but it’s not like he robbed a bank or killed someone, all he did was fall in with
the wrong crowd and make some mistakes! Why all this other bullshit?”
“I know, it’s terrible, I’m really sorry it all happened like this,” Christine said, “but it’s out of our hands now.”
“Yeah, just like a lot of other things in life.”
Christine stood up and walked up to Jason as he was pacing around. “Look, Jason, I know this is important, but there is something I need to tell you.”
“If it’s about another job possibility can we talk about it later?” Jason demanded. “Got a lot on my mind right now.”
“No, it’s not about a job,” Christine reassured.
“Then what?” Jason asked curtly as he stopped in front of Christine. “Is it a family emergency? Someone back in the hospital?”
“No, it’s nothing like that.”
“Then what?” Jason repeated louder.
Christine hesitated and struggled for words.
Jason wandered away. “Well I hope it’s important because I have a lot on my mind right now.”
Jason was startled. He looked back at Christine. Her expression was gravely serious. His agonizing over Randy ended abruptly and he looked searchingly into her eyes. He became apprehensive of what he was about to hear. She tried to speak. He moved closer to her. “What is it?”
Jason was suddenly numb all over. He tried to comprehend what he just heard and struggled to say something, but was too overwhelmed. He sensed his life changing beyond his control. “For real?” he asked astonishingly.
Christine nodded. “I just found out today.”
Jason remained confused. “I…I don’t know what to say.”
“I was late,” Christine revealed, “and I started to worry. So I took the test.”
Jason saw his old life disappearing for good, and a new reality of living for others began to emerge. He tried to grasp the situation but it was changing too fast. He searched for something to say in the sudden vacuum. “I guess I never figured on this happening so soon,” he finally said.
“Me neither,” Christine admitted. “Oh my god, what are my parents going to say!” She buried her face into her hands.
Jason began to think of her ordeal. “You haven’t told them yet?”
“I haven’t told anyone.”
Jason slowly put his hand onto Christine’s shoulder. She held onto his hand, and they came together. She convulsed a little as they leaned onto each other for a long moment. He held her close as he realized everything about his life was changing permanently. She sobbed a little more then wiped the tears from her eyes as she continued to hold on to him.
“Now I’m really going to have to get a new job,” Jason said. “I need to get out of my rut anyway,” he said with unexpected relief.
“I’ll work for as long as I can,” Christine offered, “at least until I get too big.”
Jason imagined Christine in the last stages of pregnancy and how she would look. “Guess I’ll have to hug you from behind when that happens.”
“When I found out, I wasn’t sure how you’d react,” Christine said as she rested her head on Jason. “I guess it’s still sinking in for me.”
“I’m still in shock myself,” Jason admitted. “Hope I’m up for it.”
Christine looked up at Jason. “I think you’ll make a great father,” she said convincingly, her eyes still wet as she smiled a little. He worried if he could live up to her faith as he saw his youth coming to its final end. He considered all his new obligations for the future as he headed irreversibly into destiny. After a long while they slowly relaxed their hold on each other.
“Sorry it happened like this,” Christine apologized.
“Nah, don’t be,” Jason consoled. “Time to move on from that soul sucking job anyhow.” He sensed himself readjusting to his new circumstances automatically without any effort. “They’re forcing everybody out so they can bring in all their own high end cronies. Whole place feels like it’s on lock down.”
“I was afraid you were going to be upset.”
“No, just surprised.”
“Same here, this changes everything.” Christine appeared concerned. “What are you going to do about school?”
“Some other time,” Jason said resignedly.
“Really sorry about that.”
“Don’t be, degrees aren’t worth what they used to be. Better to learn a skill anyhow.” Jason gave in to the transformation that he felt to be happening on its own. “Guess we’ll have to tell everyone pretty soon,”
“My family will sure be in for a surprise,” Christine said as she laughed a little.
“Same with mine,” Jason said laughing along with her. “My parents are going to be
grandparents for the first time, that’s gonna to make them feel old!” They laughed some more, then embraced each other again as their laughter subsided. The weight of their situation grounded them and Jason felt more tied to Christine than he ever had before. “So you’re ready for all this?” he finally asked.
“This is sooner than I expected.” Christine held onto Jason contentedly. She then looked up to him. “Yes, I’m ready.”
Jason paused for a moment. “Is your uncle still hiring?”
©2018 Robert Kirkendall