At long last, as promised, here is the first Flesh and Blood post. I invited Ben and Jesse over for a day of fun in the sun, and have recorded the events below. Buckle up!
My fingers tingle as I grip the steering wheel tighter. My mind buzzes with excitement, and… well, alright, a little bit of nerves too. I’ve longed to do this for so long, but after everything I’ve done to my poor characters… planning to spend a day with them might not have been such a wonderful idea. After all, as their author, I’m responsible not only for them, but everything that’s happened to them – good and bad.
I turn on my left turn signal, the entrance to the barn parking lot dead ahead. Well, too late to turn back now. I make a mental note to keep an eraser in my pocket, just in case. They’re your characters Hannah. If anyone can control them, it’s you. I think to myself. I know I can control them, even if it comes down to threats. No character would dare hurt their author. But the purpose of this is to hang out without controlling, forcing, or threatening them. And as strange as it sounds, part of me is worried they’ll be disappointed.
I quickly park the car, steel myself against the heat, and walk down the hill to the barn entrance. No one’s around, just as I’d hoped. Even our stable guy, Juan, is out for lunch. Perfect. I walk briskly down the aisle, whispering hello to each fuzzy muzzle as I walk past and kiss my boy through the bars before unlocking the tack room door and stepping inside. My purse is slung over my shoulder, and in it, my pencil and notebook containing Ben and Jesse’s story. How strange it is, having entire worlds, hundreds of lives resting in your purse, frozen, just waiting for you to open them and give them life. The great burden placed on an author… we literally carry worlds on our shoulders. Or at least, those of us with purses do.
I pull it out, set it on the counter, and turn to the last page. My pencil quickly scrawls across the page, and I pray that the plan we’ve hatched up works. I write a short scene into their story, in which I give them a transportation device, and schedule a meeting here in my world for noon. One last period, and I set the notebook on the floor before me, glancing at the clock. Just a couple seconds more, and they should be here. My fingers cross behind my back, and I send up a silent prayer. Please let this work… I don’t want to have raised our hopes for nothing! As the clock strikes noon, my book begins to quiver, the pages fluttering as if a breeze had reached out its fingers to ruffle the edges. The words swim and twirl across the pages, as though riding waves of water. My eyes widen, and a small smile flickers across my lips. It’s working! I blink, and then they’re there, standing before me. They’re just as I imagined them! …. DUH! I nearly smack my forehead at the thought. Of course they are. I made them.
For a split second, the three of us stand there, quietly gawking at each other. And then, at the same moment, Jesse and I let out an excited squeal and lunge for each other, wrapping our arms about each other in a giant bear hug.
“I can’t believe I finally get to see you! Feel you! Touch you! Smell you!” I bubble, giggling with glee.
“Ah! I know! This is so cool! I can’t believe it worked!!” She laughs back, smiling from ear to ear. When we’ve calmed a bit – or at least stopped jumping up and down like school girls – I look to Ben. He steps forward, smiling broadly, his eyes dancing like stars in the night sky.
“Ben!” I shout, throwing myself at him in a hug. He returns it softly, and I’m struck most by his smell… like gunpowder, rain, paper, ink, sweat, and campfire. I like it. It’s strong, reassuring. Safe. And everything I love. Well, except horses of course. But that won’t soon be a problem.
“Hello, Hannah. Lovely to see you again!” He says calmly, as Ben does. Again? OH! Right, the interview. How could I have forgotten that?
As I pull back from our hug, I feel a blush coming on. Yes, yes, even writers get crushes on their characters. Cut it out! I kick myself. If he finds out you have a soft spot for him, he’ll connive you into erasing some rather unfortunate parts of his story. And then where will you be? Stuck with a skin-deep character that is forgotten the moment you turn the page, that’s where!
“Alright, you two, first thing’s first. Let’s get you into some more era-appropriate clothing, eh?” I say with a smile, pulling out 2 brightly colored tee shirts and pairs of jeans. Jesse lights up and grabs them like a child, curiosity trumping any caution or confusion she may have. Ben, on the other hand, holds them out at arm’s length, watching them suspiciously and looking at me like I’m crazy.
“They won’t bite, Ben. I promise.” I say teasingly, sticking my tongue out at him. I show them the bathroom, and after a bit of coaxing, they’ve both changed. I must say, looking at them in normal clothes is pretty weird. Their time is so different from ours… I bet they’ve never worn clean, well-fitting clothes. They both look slightly uncomfortable, and I realize they have no idea what much of the clutter in here is.
“So… what are we doing first?” Jesse asks, breaking the silence. It strikes me again how much they look and act like they do in my head, and I chide myself for thinking it could be any other way. You made them. The characters in your head and these before you are one and the same!
“Well, first I’ll show you around here a little bit. Then I’ll introduce you to the horses, and we can get ready for a ride!” I can’t hide my excitement. Any ride makes me excited. But with Ben and Jesse astride with me? I’ll treasure every moment.
“A ride? Really? I’ve only ever heard about people doing that!” Jesse gives another jump of excitement, and Ben smiles, watching her. He’ll always be the best big brother ever.
“Of course Jesse! I couldn’t bring you guys here without sharing one of the best parts of my life with you!”
“Is it safe?” Ben asks quietly, looking at Jesse’s head from behind, a sudden glimmer of worry in his eyes.
“As long as you pay attention to what I tell you.” I laugh reassuringly. I would never let anything happen to them, at least not here. Jesse glares at him, and he raises his hands in surrender, making me laugh even harder.
I lead them around the room, explaining the saddles, bridles, and other various pieces of equipment. Jesse is fraught with questions, intrigued and excited by everything the real world has to offer. Not even Ben can contain his amazement at the electronic devices, such as the microwave, refrigerator, freezer, washer, dryer, and so on.
“Our parents had told us stories of devices like this… but I always thought they were some fantasy, a story for children!” he exclaims, transfixed by the leg wraps and saddle pads tumbling behind the glass door of the dryer. Even hot water running from a faucet is a joy to them. And watching their glee moves me, touches my heart. As though God Himself is reminding me how amazing our society is, to have created all of these things. Amazing, how these characters I’ve invented can make even the most mundane objects of daily life things of wonder in my own eyes. But, that’s one of many reasons I write, is it not? To put myself in the shoes of far less fortunate, and upon returning from my visit to the tip of my pen be grateful for the things I do have?
“Alright you two, ready to go for a ride?” I ask, pulling their attention away from the sink. They nod as one, and Jesse breaks out in another smile.
“Hannah, I can’t believe you’re letting us do this. It’s so cool! Your world is just… just… amazing! And that you picked us as the first of your characters to come and experience it with you… you cannot possibly comprehend our astonishment!” She exclaims, wrapping me in a hug. It takes me by surprise, and as I return the hug, I know I have nothing to worry about. Ben smiles at me from behind her, and after a moment, gives in and joins the hug. I savor the moment, knowing I probably wont have many like it.
I break off and start gathering tack, loading up first Jesse, then Ben, with a saddle, bridle, girth, pads, and tub of grooming supplies. Good thing they’re strong and used to hard work. This would be a lot more difficult if they weren’t. Before grabbing my own equipment, I fit them both with helmets from our collection of extras hanging from the walls. I bid them follow me out the door and down the aisle, help them hang their loads on Dixie and Phantom’s doors, and lead them to Moose’s stall. Better teach them on Moose, then help them get the others ready. It’ll be easier on everyone, and I wont risk having Phantom spook with all the people in his stall or Dixie sizing them up while I’m distracted with my teaching.
Jesse gasps when I open his stall door. “Wait, we get to meet Moose? Like, THE Moose? The dancing horse?” Her excitement is contagious, and Ben crowds the door with her as I explain how to halter and tie.
“Can we come in?” He asks in a surprisingly childish voice. I nod, giving Moose a reassuring pat on the neck as they stride up.
“Now, before you start fondling him, hold out your hand so he can smell you. It’s how horses shake hands, or greet each other. When you’re all acquainted, I’ll teach you how to groom.” Ben beats Jesse in, and when Moose’s muzzle touches his hand, it’s like magic. It brings a tear to my eye. A light bit of laughter falls from his lips, and Moose playfully nibbles the tip of his hair. He lights up like the sunrise, light spreading throughout his features as he rubs Moose’s forelock. I haven’t seen him this happy since… He clears his throat and gathers himself, cutting off my train of thought and taking on his mature, serious appearance again. Jesse squeezes past him as he strokes my horse’s neck, and introduces herself in the same manner. She looks somehow younger, freer than ever, probably because for the first time she can remember, she doesn’t have to watch her back or worry about who’s covering her. For at least a few hours, they’re free.
While they caress him like children, I grab my grooming box and lay out the tools for them to see. When I’m ready, I turn back to them and call for their attention. I carefully teach them how to groom, showing them where to be careful, how to get out the manure stains, and so on, letting them try each step before moving on to the next. They both eagerly focus on the task, clearly enjoying every second.
In no time, Moose is so clean, his coat bears a gentle shine. I give him a pat, untie him, and leave him loose in the stall. He’s being good today… I’ll just ride him bareback. Besides, I already have to work down Dix and Phantom before they can even mount up. It’ll get us moving faster.
“So, who are we riding?” Jesse asks, already covered in little bay horse hairs.
“Well, Jesse, you’re going to ride Dixie. That’s her, right there. Now, watch her when you’re grooming, she can be a bit testy in the stall sometimes. Especially when you’re new. So watch your back, make sure she’s tied securely, and move confidently. Ben, you’ll ride Phantom. Yep, just one stall further. The white one. He’s really nice, but very spooky. So move calmly, confidently, and slowly, especially around his face, so that you don’t scare him. And he doesn’t need to be tied up.” They trade a glance, Ben looking a bit worried about Jesse, then slip into the stalls. I stand between them, watching both and making sure they do it how I showed them. A couple times I have to step in and show Jesse a spot she’s missed or remind her that she’ll have plenty of time to pat Dixie later, and Ben is so cautious about doing it perfectly that I have to hurry him along a bit, but they both seem to get along with their mounts well, and we talk a bit as they work.
“So, how did you get into horses Hannah? Did you grow up with them, like Jude?” Ben groans audibly at the mention of Jude, and I stifle a laugh.
“No, actually. My Grandpa used to train racehorses when I was little. I’ve always loved animals, but horses especially. When I was old enough, he taught me how to handicap a horse race. That’s trying to pick the winner before the race, based on their record, breeding, and how they look that day. I guess I inherited my love of them from him. But I’ve always wanted to work with them, and when my grandpa passed away, my dad set aside some of his inheritance money for riding lessons for me. That was when I lived in New York. I learned the basics there, how to stay on mostly, and to lead, things like that.” I stop when I notice both of them looking at me, and Jesse steps closer. What are they looking at? Why do they look so… surprised?
“You… lost your grandpa? What happened?” Jesse asks gently, Ben setting his brush down and stepping out of Phantom’s stall to place his hand on my shoulder comfortingly. They’re trying to comfort me… even after what I did to their parents? But… They… How… They must have far larger hearts than I. I could never bring myself to be a comforter to someone who had the power to do anything, and used that power to bring such horrible things about.
“Well…” I choke on my words a bit. How do I even start? It’s not exactly an easy subject for me to talk about. “Um… he had heart issues. For a long time. But he was a strong man… the doctors told us on 3 or 4 separate occasions that we needed to get the family down there to say goodbye, because he didn’t have much time left. It took 3 years, six times what they’d said he had. And we were grateful for every second. He lived in Arizona, and we were still in New York. My dad and I, and some times the rest of us, made frequent trips down to spend time with him, and every time we thought it would be our last. But…” I cough to cover up my sniffle. I can see misty tears and painful grimaces on both of their faces, and a bit of shock mixed in. What, do they think nothing bad ever happens to authors? I clear my throat to finish. “It still somehow came as a surprise when we got the call from my uncle. He was alone when it happened… he had a heart attack in his sleep. I still remember the last thing he said to me our last visit, how I wrote it down on the back of a pack of gum when we got in the car. Something told me to remember those words, to lock them away that night. And I’m so glad I did. ‘I love you Hannah. You come back soon and see me, alright? I love you honey, I’ll miss you!’ He was giving me a big, warm hug when he said it. He was always so good at those, and he always smelled like smoke. You know, the good kind of smoke that makes you feel cozy and safe. We flew down for his funeral, and that trip ended up being the last time I got to see my uncle before a heart attack took him, too. No one expected it, and just four months after we buried grandpa we flew down to bury him. Needless to say, that was not a great year.” I try to chuckle, but it comes out as more of a strangled cough.
I find myself encircled by Ben’s strong arms in a hug, and Jesse just stands beside me, a sympathetic hand on my back, tears in her eyes, and an incredulous look on her face. After a moment, I pull back, swatting a tear from my cheek and watching them in awe. They genuinely look crestfallen for me!
“But… Jesse… Ben… I … and you… and… please don’t take this the wrong way but… How can you care so much? How can you bring yourselves to pity me? And after everything I’ve done to both of you!” I just have to know. Ben looks helplessly to Jesse to explain, both of them surprised by my reaction.
“Well… I mean… of course part of it is because we are a part of you, born from your mind, and whatever emotions you’re feeling affect us a little bit. But that’s more our way of reading you, it doesn’t entirely control our emotions. We care because… or, rather, we aren’t mad because… Gosh, how can I explain this? Um… hmm… Oh! Okay, here. You believe in God, right? That there is one, and that He’s in control of everything?” She prompts. Where is she going with this? I look to Ben, and he shrugs his shoulders.
“Yes, of course!” I nod, and she continues.
“And even though you know He lets bad things happen to you and your loved ones, you still trust Him. You know that He loves you, and feels your pain with all the intensity that you do. Maybe even more. And you know that He has a plan, a perfect one, that you’re just a small part of. Whatever happens to you, you know that somehow, good will come of it. You know that your only purpose in life is to glorify Him. Well, we know the same thing. You aren’t God, but you have the same intentions of glorifying Him in all that you write. Everything you do is necessary, both for our development as characters, and for your ultimate goal of glorifying God.” She carefully guides me through it, and my eyes widen. I never would have thought about it like that! Ben nods in agreement, and turns to me.
“Besides, we know you hurt just as much as we do. You don’t write like you’re some omniscient deity. You write as us. You crawl inside our shoes and live the story through our eyes. When we cry, you cry. When we hurt, you hurt. And I think it’s even worse for the authors, because us characters may feel the pain of a situation, but the author must not only feel the pain, but the added weight of knowing it’s their fault, as well as the horrible knowledge that it’s necessary and cannot be changed.” He adds, resting a hand on my shoulder. “And you know, it’s funny… I’ve always thought of you as being like a little sister to me. Probably because for a very long time, you’ve written as her.” Again, I force myself to suppress the blush coming to my cheeks, and push back the squeal trying to slip from my throat. Me? Ben’s little sister? Now I know I must be dreaming.
“Wow I… I never, ever would have thought of it like that. Oh, come ‘ere you two!” I pull them into a group hug, and suddenly we’re all laughing again. They go back to getting their horses ready, and I walk back and forth between them, helping them saddle and bridle the horses. When both mounts are ready, I show them how to lead them by the reigns and have them follow me to the arena. I ride Dixie and Phantom one at a time, directing Jesse and Ben respectively to stand in the center and watch, showing them how to deal with each horse’s individual habits. They’re both a bit fresh, but settle in after a few minutes of light work and I nod, satisfied. I give them both legs up, and quickly adjust their stirrups, showing them how to hold their reigns, use their legs properly, and keep a good center of balance.
“This is so cool!” Jesse beams. Ben pats Phantom’s neck, a soft smile on his lips. I knew those two would get along.
“Alright you two, take them out to the rail and walk around me in a 20 meter circle. I want you to get used to the horses before we get out on the trail. I have to hurt you in your world, but there’s no way I’m letting anything happen to you in mine.” I say seriously. They smile, but I can see a hint of confusion in their eyes.
“Aw, gee, thanks Hannah.” Jesse says, sticking her tongue out at me.
“Sounds wonderful… just one question though. What ‘rail’ are you talking about? I don’t see a ‘rail’, I see a wall.” Ben says. I slap my forehead. Moron. You can’t use equestrian terms with them yet! They have no idea what you’re talking about!
“I’m sorry! I’m so used to using equestrian terms, they just slip out. We call the path closest to the wall the rail. See the little dip in the ground, where it looks most heavily traveled? That’s where I want you to take them. Then walk in a circle around me. If you look at the wall, there are big black letters. Don’t go past the B, and don’t go back into the bullpen, that area behind the bench.” I explain. They nod, laughing a bit, and cue the horses forward.
“Okay, Ben, keep Phantom a little further back. You want at least a full horse’s length between the you and Jesse. Better. Jesse, release your elbows a little more. Let them follow the forward and backward motion her neck makes when she walks. It’ll feel better for her, and she’ll stop tossing her head. Good! There you go guys!” I help them fix their little problems, tweaking their position in the saddle to keep them balanced and in charge. “You’re both doing a remarkable job! Most people have a lot more trouble their first time up.” They smile. I have them turn around and walk the other way, walk figure eights, halt, and give various other commands, until I know they’re in control of their mounts.
“Okay you two, just a little at the trot, and I’ll go get Moose. Jesse, be sure to keep your shoulders back. Dixie likes to pull you forward. Ben, use a lot of leg to keep Phantom forward. Just like I showed you when I was up, you’re going to give a squeeze with your legs, and a cluck if they need more encouragement. When they pick it up, you’re going to rise and fall with the rhythm. Got it?” They nod, both smiling so hard, I’m worried their faces will be sore.
Jesse quickly kicks Dixie forward. Too forward. Dixie takes off in a canter, dragging Jesse forward towards her neck in the process. Shoot! Dang it Jesse, you’ve always gotta rush into things!
“Jesse! Get your shoulders back! Ben line up in the center. Jesse, throw your shoulders back NOW. Sit down and pull back! Don’t let her drag you around! Sit down! Now shoulders back! That’s it! Now, rock the bit in her mouth!” Jesse’s face has drained of color, and she struggles to get herself back in the saddle as Dixie drags her forward. My heart drops to my stomach as they round the turn, Jesse barely hanging on. As they straighten out, she finally gets herself back, beginning to move with the horse and slow her down. When they finally get back down to a fast walk, I stride quickly towards the horse, angling my body to tell her to stop.
“Jesse, I love your eager approach, but you’ve got to be more careful! Horses are sensitive. They aren’t point and shoot like a gun. They take finesse. You have to think, not just go for it. It’s a gentle touch, not a thump in the side.” I tell her sternly as I gently press her leg into Dixie’s side, showing her again how to apply the correct pressure to cue the horse forward. Once she’s calmed down, I step aside, allowing her to walk forward again. I turn to Ben, who’s still a bit pale and shaky on Phantom in the center, and walk over calmly. “It’s all right Ben. She wont do it again. Don’t worry.” I whisper.
“Are you sure?” He asks, a slight quiver in his voice. Always worried about his little sister. Maybe I should have had her ride Fred after all. But then we would have had a whole different set of problems.
“Yes, I’m sure. First, Dixie tests you like that. Because Jesse stayed on, she wont try anything again this time. And second, once you’ve made a mistake like that, you never do it again. If I were a betting person, I’d say we’ll have trouble getting her to keep Dixie moving period the rest of the day.” I reply. He nods, and I send him out. I have them pick up the trot again, and as I suspected, Jesse takes much longer to get going. They circle around me in both directions, and at last I’m satisfied.
“All right, hop off and line up in the center. I’ll be right back.” I tell them with a smile. Both of them have returned to their previous happy state, the accident forgotten. I walk quickly to Moose’s stall, quickly slip his bridle on, and lead him back to the arena.
“Why doesn’t Moose have a saddle?” Jesse asks when I’ve shut the doors. Ben stands beside her, looking just as confused.
“Well, he’s been really good today, and I prefer to ride bareback when I can. A saddle is kind of like training wheels…” they probably don’t know what training wheels are. “… or, for you guys, they’re like the blanks you use when you teach rookies how to handle a gun. You don’t need them when you’re experienced enough.” I correct my example, and while it’s not perfect, they nod their heads in understanding. I step onto the mounting block and throw my leg over his broad back, almost having to vault up onto him because he’s so tall. I have him stand a moment as I adjust my seat, finding my balance point and organizing myself, then cue him to walk on. It only takes a few minutes to get him worked down, and we move in complete harmony at a smooth, collected trot. I smile at Ben and Jesse as we pass, and they watch, entirely mesmerized. I love it when he shows off his obedient side! Once I’m certain he’s fine to go out, I line up and slide off.
Ben and Jesse silently applaud, and I laugh. “Oh, it’s not that impressive. Besides, he did all the work.” I say, patting Moose’s forehead.
“Before we head out, do you want to see why we call him the dancing horse?” I ask suddenly. Jesse’s face breaks out in a smile.
“Of course!” She squeaks. Ben nods excitedly as well, and I laugh again. I lead Moose to the bench, grab the long lunge whip, and detach the reigns from his bridle so that they don’t hang loose. Then we walk to the far end of the arena, so that I have room to work him in. He follows closely, with his nose at my elbow like a giant dog, until I stop and point to the wall. He goes into a broad circle around me, keeping about 25 feet between my shoulder and his consistently.
Once we’ve established the circle, I nod to him and begin singing a slow, soft song. His footfalls quickly change to match the beat of it, and a soft smile dances over my lips. He’s going to nail it today. After a circle or two, I change songs so that the beat is faster and bouncier, a little louder and more energetic. Moose quickly picks up a trot, continuing the circle around me. I change the song a number of times, and then have him do it the other way as well, all the while with him dancing to the music on his circle. At last, my voice gives out, and I laugh and motion him in. I rub his neck heartily as we walk back to Ben and Jesse.
“That was so cool!” Jesse gushes, and I smile with her.
“It sounds like some kind of fairy tale! Are we sure she didn’t just plop us into another story?” Ben kids, winking at me and sending me into a new fit of laughter. Moose nudges my arm, and I pat him again. Attention hog I laugh to myself.
At last, we’re ready to hit the trails. The three of us lead our horses outside, down the hill, and mount up just outside the arena. I take point, and for the next few hours we talk and laugh and ride the beautiful trails around our paddocks.
“What a perfect day!” I breath, leaning back on Moose’s rump to look at the two of them. They nod breathlessly in agreement, and I close my eyes for a moment to revel in the cooling breeze that gently brushes my cheeks and fondles Moose’s main. Snap! From somewhere beside us a branch cracks, and I’m instantly sitting up straight, looking back at Ben. Oh boy! Phantom slams on the breaks, spinning away from the sound. Ben is unprepared, and before he knows what’s happened, he’s in the dirt. I quickly reach forward and grab Phantom’s reigns to keep him from running off, and whisper sweet nothings to him to calm him down.
“Ben, are you alright?” I call once Phantom’s stopped backing up. He stands and brushes himself off, a bit dazed, but no worse for the wear.
“Yeah, I’m fine. My bad. I got too relaxed.” He mumbles, stretching a kink from his back. Jesse is trying hard to keep from laughing at the whole thing, and I know my eyes must be dancing. He steps over, and I hand him the reigns. He carefully mounts up again, just barely managing to hurl himself onto Phantom’s back. Finally, Jesse and I lose it, laughing as quietly as we can to avoid spooking Phantom again. He glares at the two of us, but the dirt streak on his cheek only makes it all the more comical, and our laughter bubbles forth anew.
“Alright, alright, we’d better head back. I’ve still got a lot planned.” I get out between spurts of laughter. We turn around and they follow me back to the barn, thankfully without any further mishaps. I quickly show them how to take off their horses’ tack, put the halters and lead lines back on, pick out their hooves, and get their horses out to the hose for a quick wash down. I hold the horses as they take turns spraying them with the cool water, and show them how to scrape the excess water from their hair before leading them back inside. Then it’s Moose’s turn.
Ben and Jesse stand on either side of me, laughing at Moose playing with the mist like he loves to do. (Note: Below I have included a video for your own entertainment.)
After a few minutes, I move on to the rest of his body, letting the water cleanse and cool him. As I train the stream on one of his hind legs, he suddenly swings his head around, shoving it into the hose again. Water splashes me from head to toe, making me sputter and jump back. By the time I realize what happened, Ben and Jesse are holding their midsections, gasping for air in a fit of laughter.
“Oh, so you think this is funny?” I ask mischievously. They’re both laughing too hard to catch my play full tone, and nod soundlessly as they laugh so hard, that not a sound comes from their throats. Suddenly, I turn the hose on them, splattering them with cold water. They jump back, and I crack up, laughing just as hard as them. I chase them around, spraying them with the water, and Moose continually juts his nose out in front of the nozzle, soaking me as well. By the time I put the hose away, we’re all gasping for breath, crying tears of joy, and soaked to the bone. Moose shakes like a dog, and I quickly scrape him down, letting him graze a moment as I do.
It only takes a few minutes to put the horses away, clean the tack, and dry ourselves off a bit. Once we’ve ceased dripping, I grab my bag and lead them to the Jeep. This aught to be interesting. They’ve only ever been in a flying car, and that was a short story disaster. They both look at me with slightly worried eyes, moving cautiously around the giant hunk of metal.
“It’s okay Ben. I promise, I wont make you drive it.” I wink at him, and they laugh hesitantly. I have to stop traumatizing my characters. “Really, though, I promise nothing will happen. It’s much safer than that crazy flying car the scribes had me put you in. I drive it all the time, and I’ve never had an accident or even been pulled over.” I assure them. Oh boy. I really hope I didn’t just jinx myself…
They nod and get in, but I can’t help noticing how stiffly they move. I start it up, and Ben winces noticeably in the passenger side seat beside me, Jesse leaning forward to hold on to his seat back.
“Alright, buckle up you two. It’s the law, you know.” I try to lighten the mood again, but they just glance at each other uneasily. I turn and place my hands on their shoulders gently. “Hey, it’s okay. I promise. I’m not letting anything happen to you here, remember?” I whisper soothingly. They relax slightly, but I know they wont truly settle down until we’re out of the car. So funny, how I accidentally caused my characters to have the same strange phobia as I do. Good thing I hide it well.
“Okay, give me just one second. I have to call my parents and let them know we’re on our way.” I tell them.
“Call them? But, how will they hear you?” Ben asks with a quizzical look on his face.
“Oh, not call them like shout their names, call them on my phone.” I pull out my smooth black iPhone with its shattered screen. “It’s kind of like the radios that the army uses in your time. Only a little more advanced.” Ironic, since you’re from the future. I add in my mind. Ben probably knows a little about them from his dad, but they would just be fantasies to him. They both nod their understanding, and Jesse’s eyes widen. How I wish I could give them these things in their world! It would make their lives so much easier. Imagine, Chapter 13 of “Bold” if they’d had cell phones…
I quickly dial my mom’s number, and let her know I’m on my way as Jesse stares at me, intrigued by the whole thing. Then I plug it into the charger, flip the car into reverse, and back out. Ben’s knuckles turn white as he grips the door handle, and they’ve both gone a bit pale. Better keep it slow, for their sake.
Once I’ve hit the road, I smile at them. “Now, I’ve got a surprise for you two. I know you love music, and you don’t get to hear it that often. I love it too, but in my time, it’s everywhere. Check this out!” I turn on the car radio, and Jesse lets out a little squeak. My smile broadens, and even Ben can’t help but smile and stare wide-eyed at the stereo panel. It relaxes them a bit, and I flip to my favorite country station. One of my favorite things about having characters… I know almost everything about them, what they like and dislike. I know I can turn on the country with these two, just like I know Jude likes mint chocolate ice cream even though he’s never had it. If only gift shopping for my friends and family was as easy as it would be for these two!
We sing the songs they know and talk through the others the rest of the way to my parents’ shop, and I actually coax a few laughs out of them. However, they still appear quite relieved when I park and remove the keys from the ignition. We all step out and stretch our backs and legs, then I let them in the back door of the building. I wave at one of the employees from the coffee bar next door in the hall, and then lead them to the side door of the shop.
“Okay, go through that door and turn right. I’ll meet you there.” I direct, opening a second door to the kitchen and quickly striding to the front counter. I step quietly, like the “ninja” the other employees believe me to be, and stand in my coworker’s blind spot as she waits for Ben and Jesse to place an order. They see me and try to contain their laughter, and finally I can’t wait any longer.
“I’ll take care of them, Jessica!” I say, much louder than I have to, right beside her ear. She jumps straight up and flips around, and all three of us crack up. We’re laughing so hard that I can hardly catch my breath, and can’t defend myself.
“AH! Hannah, why do you do that! I hate it when you do that!” She squeals indignantly, only causing us to laugh harder.
“You were right when you said it was so funny, Hannah!” Jesse gasps, and Ben can only nod his agreement as he laughs. I love making them laugh. They don’t get to do so very often. Every single time is precious. Jesse’s laugh is bubbly and almost musical, while Ben’s is softer, a bit hoarse and awkward. Probably from having used it so little. He laughs even less than Jesse does!
Eventually we pull it together, and I tell them to sit at one of the tables out front while I make them something to eat. They might not get much to eat in their story, but while they’re here, they eat like kings. I whip together two giant sandwiches, salads, a couple different sides, and some biscuits for them, and grab a small sandwich for myself, then carry them out front. We eat together, and I’ve never seen them so excited. They’ve probably never seen this much food at once. I realize. They can’t stop grunting in pleasure, and as much as I can tell they’re trying to slow down and savor it, they’ve shoved it all down before I can finish my little sandwich.
I quickly polish it off, and slip back behind the counter to get them some ice cream. When I open the door, Jessica is standing there, trying to scare me.
I laugh and wave.
“Nice try Jessica!” I laugh, and she growls.
“Wait! Hannah, who’s your friend?” She asks, clearly indicating Ben.
“Uhm…” How can I put this plainly? “That’s Ben and Jesse. They’re… close friends of mine. But don’t get any ideas. They both live very, very far away and this is the only time they’ll be around for a while.” I state carefully. She sticks her tongue out at me and I laugh, hurrying back to my task. I get Ben a scoop of butter pecan, and Jesse a scoop of salty caramel truffle, and evade Jessica to get back to the table.
“Here you go, guys. Hope you like it!” I say, a bit too happily, as I set the bowls in front of them. They eagerly dig in, and instantly I can tell I picked the right flavors for them. Ben suddenly looks up at me, a question in his eyes.
“Hannah, aren’t you going to have some?” Jesse looks up at his words, as if just realizing I didn’t serve myself any. I chuckle softly and shake my head, waving my hand nonchalantly.
“No, I’m fine. Really. I’m here all day every day. I don’t eat much of it anymore.” I reply carefully. How stuck-up that must seem, to these two that have to scrounge around and steal what they can for what they call a meal, and Americans today would hardly deem a healthy portion for a snack!
“How could you possibly get tired of this stuff? It’s so good!” Jesse pipes up.
“Well, it’s not that I’m sick of it per say. I just don’t eat much of it anymore so that I wont get sick of it.” I reply. And it’s true, though there are often flavors I have to take a break from. They both shrug, and go back to finishing their dessert. I clean up once they’re done, and the smile on my face doesn’t escape their notice.
“What do you look so happy about?” Ben asks curiously.
“Well… I just was wondering… Would you two like to see where most of your story was written?” I ask, letting my smile grow wider. They look at each other, and Jesse bounces on her toes in excitement a bit as they nod their consent. I finish tossing the trash away, take them eagerly by the hands, and lead them back into the kitchen. Jessica watches us with a raised eyebrow, but some customers walk in and she has to go help them before she can ask me what I’m doing. Not like she’s never brought her friends back here, we all do it! The employees always seem to forget that I have friends too… guess that’s what working all the time, writing, and being eSchooled will do to you. I release their hands and march past the food line before turning sharply to the right and opening the door to a little room.
“Here she is! My humble little ‘cloffice’. We call it my office, because that’s what I use it for, but it’s actually just a closet with a couple books, a printer, and a computer in it.” Good thing I explained my writing process to them in the car, or they wouldn’t understand a thing I just said. They smile, and step inside with me. I show them the file on my computer containing their book, but refuse to let them open it.
“Nope! No sneak peeks for you two!” I stick my tongue out playfully, and they feign sadness. “But,” I draw out the word tantalizingly. “if you want, I can show you the cover for it, since that wont give anything away, and you wont see it once you’re back inside.” They look intently at the screen as I bring it up, and Jesse claps when it pops up. I knew she would like it. She loves storm clouds and rainstorms, just like me. I smile.
“I’m so glad you like it! I would feel awful if you didn’t.” I grin. I stand to head back out, and Jesse hugs me again.
“This is so cool! It’s almost like seeing where your parents first met!” She says with a giggle. Ben and I join in, and then I see Matt at the door, looking at all of us like we’re crazy.
“Oh, uh, Matt, this is Ben and Jesse. They’re really good friends of mine, only in town for the day. Thought I’d show them around before they leave.” I explain, again trying to cover the fact that they’re my characters. He just nods, gives us one more suspicious glance, and gets back to work, tossing a towel over his shoulder.
The two of them are so happy, they almost don’t seem to realize we’re in the car again, and I’m pulling into the driveway of my house before they have a chance to worry again. I open the front door for them, ask them to take their shoes off just inside, and close the door behind us. They look around in wonder, taking in how sturdy the walls are and how big the place is. The only sturdy building they’ve ever seen is the Raven Falls prison, until today. Oh, wait, there was that castle I stuck them in too. But this is the only happy sturdy place they’ve been other than today.
“Hello? Hannah, is that you?” A slightly rusty, hesitant voice calls. Oh no. I forgot about Grandma and Grandpa! Too late now… Oh boy. Ben and Jesse look at me for reassurance, and I give a halfhearted smile.
“Hi Grandma! Yeah, it’s me.” I step through the second doorway, and look into their TV room. “Um, Grandma, Grandpa, this is Ben and Jesse. They’re friends of mine, just hanging out for a little while. Ben, Jesse, these are my grandparents. They live with my family here.” I say nervously. Here it comes.
“Oh! Hello there! I didn’t know we were having anyone over, I would have cleaned up!” Grandma frets, getting out of her chair and making a beeline for the kitchen. I refuse the urge to face palm. And then, Grandpa speaks up.
“Your ‘good friend Ben’ huh? Come on over here, pup! Lemme have a talk with you, squirt!” He speaks in a sarcastic voice hardly above a growl. A blush rises to my face, and I hardly keep myself from slamming my head repeatedly into the wall. Why didn’t you go through the garage? Why Hannah? WHY? Ben looks at me nervously, feeling trapped, but obediently steps into the small room with my not-so-menacing Grandpa, slouched back in his chair. He waves Ben closer, until he’s leaning over my Grandpa. Then Grandpa puts a firm-ish hand on Ben’s shoulder, and speaks, clearly not even attempting to keep his voice down.
“Now, sonny, ya know that’s my granddaughter yer with over there. She’s my pride and joy. Yer messin’ with her, yer messin’ with me. And I’ll beatcha’ senseless with this here cane of mine if you so much as lay a finger on her.” He growls. Then he releases Ben’s shoulder, and goes back to watching his show on the television. Ben looks stunned, more taken aback than I’ve ever seen him, and all but sprints back to us. Jesse makes a kind of strangled sound, and then I realize she’s hardly holding back her laughter. Stupid, stupid, stupid! I chide myself. Well, might as well show them your room now, since he’s already seen you. No sense putting it off until later and having to walk by and go through the whole show again.
“Follow me, let me show you my room.” I squeak out, my voice cracking in my embarrassment. We hurry past Grandpa’s door and into my room, then shut the door behind us. It’s hardly clicked when Jesse bursts out, laughing so hard I’m afraid she’ll choke on her own lung. Ben glares at her, and I try to hide behind my hands as I sink to the floor. I quickly try to pull myself back together, mortified by how my Grandpa treated him.
“I’m so sorry about them! Ugh, I completely forgot they would be here. Don’t listen to him, he’s harmless. And Grandma… well… just let her clean. She’ll be fine. I love them, and I’m so glad they live with us now, but sometimes they can really drive me crazy.” I explain. Jesse’s still trying to catch her breath, but Ben turns and gives me a big hug.
“Don’t worry about it Hannah! Hey, I’d almost feel worse if he didn’t care.” He replies, finally laughing at the situation. I join in, a picture popping into my head.
“Hey Ben, you better not try this in front of him… he’d ‘beatcha senseless’!” I mimic my Grandpa’s drawl almost perfectly, and we all go into a new fit of laughter. At least they’re understanding. I’d be worried if Jude was here though. I shudder at the thought.
I quickly show them my reading and writing nook, then poke into my bathroom to grab our swimsuits. At least I thought to put all three of them in here. Before I can catch her, my little lap dog rushes out the door and straight to a beaming Jesse. I laugh along with her as Libby licks her cheeks, tail wagging up a storm. Ben reaches down to pat the squirming little puffball, and I let them play a moment longer before scooping her back up and putting her back in the bathroom. Goofy little thing!
Finally, we sneak past my Grandpa’s door again, moving quickly and silently so that he doesn’t notice us. We try unsuccessfully to repeat the process in the kitchen, and I kindly refuse Grandma’s offer of lunch. Southern hospitality: extreme edition! I think to myself. I love her with all my heart, but she’s not the only one that knows how to use or clean a kitchen. At last, we cross through the last room and out onto the back deck. I lead them to the cabana out back, and we take turns changing into the swimsuits in the little changing room there.
As soon as we’ve changed, we sprint for the pool, diving into the delightfully cool water. For the next hour, we splash around, swimming to our hearts’ content. I’m more comfortable underwater than either of them, and when I come up right behind Jesse, shout “Boo!” and duck her under as she squeals, I realize my mistake before I see them coming. As soon as she’s back up, they chase after me, swimming around the pool and finally catching me and shoving me down playfully. I resurface and Ben splashes Jesse. While my vision is nearly nonexistent without my glasses, I can still see Jesse’s scheming glance, and without exchanging a word we team up against Ben, jumping on him until he goes down.
We eventually climb back out and collapse at the table in the cabana, exhausted and breathless from the laughing and swimming. We sit in silence a while, just enjoying the time together. The only sound is our panting as it returns to it’s regular rhythmic cadence, and the water dripping from our bodies to the weathered wood floor. Time’s almost up. I’m really going to miss this. Just writing about them wont be the same after this.
“Alright guys, we have time for one more game. And the fan club requested truth or dare.” I say finally. They raise their eyebrows, so I explain. “We go around one at a time in a circle, and choose either truth or dare. Then the other two people will either dare them to do something, or ask them a question and they have to tell the truth. Jesse, you first.” I say. She smiles and thinks a moment.
“Uhm… okay, truth. I’m too tired for a dare.” She laughs. Ben and I exchange a wicked glance, and ask in the same breath. “How many times have you and Jude kissed?” We burst into laughter, and I’m glad that for once, he’s taking their relationship lightly. Jesse squirms a bit in her chair, and I can see a blush creeping up. Can’t lie in truth or dare, especially with your author around!
“Only 3 times!” She finally squeaks out, and I laugh with relief when Ben continues laughing. She sticks her tongue at him good-naturedly. “Okay, your turn Ben!”
She pounces on him, ruffling his already messy hair.
“Okay, um, truth I guess.” He grunts, tickling her until she flops off of him.
This time, it’s Jesse and I that trade the mischievous glare.
“How many times did you and Sasha kiss?” We ask together, already laughing. But this time, Ben doesn’t join in. Shoot. That was a low blow. We should know better than that. We both quickly stop laughing, the air suddenly heavy.
“Sorry Ben.” We whisper together, trading penitent sidelong glances. He sniffs a bit, but tries to play it off.
“It’s… it’s okay. We only…” he coughs, as though to clear his throat, but I know he’s choking back tears. “We only kissed once.” He gets out finally. We sit in silence a moment, all regretting this game choice a bit. When I look up from my twiddling thumbs, I’m surprised to find them watching me. They both have entirely vicious looks on their faces, and for a split moment I fear for my life. But then I realize the sudden brightness of the air around us, and I slap my forehead in a face palm. Of course! How could I not have realized it? They know they’ve got me trapped now. Of course I can’t choose a truth, they’ll ask about the future. And frankly, I’m rather concerned about what these two might be planning as a dare. I feign dread, and they laugh again at my realization.
“Alright, alright, you’ve got me cornered. So, what do I have to do? Throw myself off a bridge? Hijack the next plane to New York?” I laugh along.
“Oh no. We were thinking something much more unique.” Ben states in a rather creepy voice. I let my eyes grow wide, causing them to laugh again.
“We dare you, Hannah Stewart, to spend a day with us again sometime soon…” Jesse starts, looking about as wicked as a 13 year old trying not to laugh possibly can.
“But this time, you have to come to our world.” They smirk, and I dramatically clutch a hand to my chest, resting the other against my forehead as though about to faint, until we can no longer keep from laughing. I glance at my watch, and my heart sinks.
They can feel my disappointment, and the air is once more heavy around us.
Without a word, we embrace in a big group hug, holding each other tight in friendship.
None of us can trust our tight throats to say goodbye, so we just hold each other close, breathing in each others’ scents one last time, until we can’t wait any longer. I struggle to hold back tears as I open their notebook, and I can see their eyes glimmering with them as well. I salute them as they disappear back into the pages in a swirl of words, and just as suddenly as they came, they were gone again. Not really gone. I remind myself. Just, back where they belong. Where they’re needed. Where their stories are still waiting to unfold beneath the tip of my pen.
The feeling of loneliness presses in around me, gliding on the gentle breeze, pounding my ears in the soft bird songs wafting from the trees. I’m really going to miss them.
“‘Tis almost morning, I would have thee gone—
And yet no farther than a wan-ton’s bird,
That lets it hop a little from his hand,
Like a poor prisoner in his twisted gyves,
And with a silken thread plucks it back again,
So loving-jealous of his liberty.”
“I would I were thy bird.”
“Sweet, so would I,
Yet I should kill thee with much cherishing.
Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow,
That I shall say good night till it be morrow.”
-William Shakespeare, “Romeo and Juliet“