Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Running Home Cover Reveal by T.A. Hardenbrook

Carmen always had a wild streak about her while growing up in this small town. Everyone use to say her only saving grace in this world was her best friend Walker who tried to keep the flighty girl grounded. But life was too big for her to live in this one stop light kind of town; she had dreams and wants that could take her anywhere but staying there. Anything was better than being stuck in the perpetuating cycle of being born and dying in this hell hole she called the reality of a small town girl.
Walker was the only anchor that could hold her home, she lived for that boy. So how do you explain to someone that staying there would only suffocate the possibilities of making a better life for oneself? Running away was the only option, and leaving a piece of her heart with him would keep her strong out in the real world, at least she hoped it would.
After years of trying to make it on her own, struggling through life and trying to stay clean, the only reality she sees at surviving now is going back to the place she tried so hard to break free from. Unsure if her old life is willing to accept the choices she has made, the lone thought that matters to her is hoping she still has the only man she has counted on her entire life in her corner. You can always go home, but will they be willing take you back?

                                                           CHAPTER ONE

“Second Chance” Shinedown

Carmen, June 2007
“Carmen get down from there!” Walker shouted as I sauntered across the concrete railing on the old train bridge. “You need to calm down, nothing is going to happen.” I lowered myself to sit and face the moon shining on the pond below. Nothing was ever going to happen to me, I was invisible to everything. No matter how hard I tried to break the cycle of mediocrity, this small town smacked me back in the face. I could jump off this bridge into a pool filled with piranhas and not a single one would bite me. I had the best of luck when it came to safety; however the sanity issue is where the problem was. I couldn’t break free of my mind; it was always swirling with useless information. A release was what I craved, an escape into the world unknown. Glancing over at Walker as he meandered over to the railing, I pushed myself off the edge and fall into the darkness below.
The cool water rushed around my body as I tumbled into the pond below the bridge. It felt like a million little needles piercing my skin, reminding my brain that I was still alive. I broke the surface and felt the hot sticky air fill my lungs as I took a breath. The difference between the two temperatures was amazing, awakening my soul and calming my mind. It was like being in two different places at once, and in reality I was just dying to get out of one.

“Carmen!” Walker screamed from the bridge. It’s not like it was the first time I’ve done this. It was liberating to just close my eyes and jump, and each time I did it, Walker panicked like it would be the last. “Are you okay?” my best friend screamed down at me. I flashed him a thumbs up as he shook his head and muttered something to himself. I’m betting it contained curse words; he was going to lay into me again for the millionth time for this little stunt. It’s not that I didn’t care; it was just the same thing every time. I was being irresponsible with my life, there was so much more to do and see that doing something so careless as jumping off the bridge into a small pond was the dumbest idea I could possibly do in his eyes. Swimming over to the edge of the bank I knew I could rattle off several more idiotic things I’ve done in the past more dangerous than this, but I know it would only break his heart.  He was the only person in this world that actually cared about me, and it was like a punch in the gut every time I let him down.
Pulling myself up on the embankment I caught his eyes as he walked down the small hill. Too late I’ve done it again, as I noticed the hurt written all over his beautiful face.
“Calm down Walker, I slipped,” I mentioned while ringing the water out of my hair. Walker didn’t say anything once he reached the rocks; I knew he was pissed and was about to find out exactly the level of anger I managed to hit tonight. “Why in the hell do you do that? You’re not going to live forever Carmen, one day it’s not going to end well. I refuse to be there when that happens; I love you way too much to watch you self-destruct.” His eyes bored into mine, laced with heartache and pain I managed to hand deliver to him tonight.  I broke the contact and rolled my eyes at my best friend; it’s the same story I’ve heard from him a million and one times, basically the shortened version claims that I’m crazy. Hell I might just be a little off my rocker, I act on impulse and normally that resulted in something dumb happening.

I’ve always been a little different; from the first day on the playground of third grade when I went up to the most popular girl at school and pushed her down because she wouldn’t include me in her group, Walker was the only kid who would stand by my side after that. Who would have known he would grow up to be an all-star athlete and that everyone in our small town loved, and I would be the girl who people pitied. Well I’m betting everyone knew that; considering that my parents were both druggies who dropped me off with my grandparents when I was eight. My grandmother always said I was a free bird like my mom; the only difference between mom and me is the drugs. Now I love a good beer and hand me a shot of whiskey and I’ll be your best friend, but I was not going to ruin my life like they did with the hard stuff.  Maybe it’s because my parents left me alone that I’m this way, it always seemed easier to blame someone else for my problems. No one expected me to do anything with my life anyhow, might as well live up to their expectations right?

“Let’s go home Carmen,” Walker shook his head and held out his hand to help me up the steep embankment.
“But it’s still early Walker, look the sun isn’t even out yet.”
“That’s the point; your grandparents are going to be mad for you being out this late already.”
“When are they not angry Walker, I’m like a living reminder of their failure at parenthood.”  He got behind me and pushed my body up the last little bit to the level ground. I stood there sopping wet as I watched him stalk back to his truck, I wasn’t ready to head home yet. Going back to my small room in the little farm house on the old dirt road from the first left outside of the tiny town we lived in; my own personal hell. I refused to die in this one stop light kind of town, there had to be more in life then getting married and raising two-point-five kids and joining the PTA.
Looking at the millions of stars in the sky I knew I was destined for more, no one was going to stop me from achieving my dreams. Even if I had no clue what they were yet.

“Carmen,” my grandmother yelled down the hall. I slowly opened my eyes to read the clock sitting beside my bed; the fact that it flashed seven-fifteen made me want to hurl it across the room. I only had to endure getting up at this hour through the next week till graduation, which was IF I could pass that last test in US History. Why anyone needed to know about the stupid wars and presidents was beyond me, considering I couldn’t even tell you who was in charge of our country now let alone a hundred years ago.
“Carmen are you up yet? You know Walker will be here in twenty minutes to collect you.”
“I’m up I swear,” I yelled as I threw the covers back over my head. “We don’t swear in this house young lady,” as Grams ripped the comforter off my bed, leaving me cold and almost naked. “I know,” I snapped while rolling out of bed. Grams gave me a stern look as she tossed the bedding back on the bed. “Manners Carmen, a lady needs to watch her tongue,” she lectured me while leaving the room. “Sorry,” I muttered, dragging myself to the closet to find something clean to wear, just four more days till I could get the hell out of here.

“Morning Mrs. Montgomery,” Walker’s southern drawl floated around the kitchen. Why Walker ever put up with my ass was a million dollar question, that boy had a heart of gold while mine was the consistency of coal. “Alright let’s get this done,” I barked while glancing at Walker as he waited in the doorway. “Carmen can’t you ever dress like a lady?” Grams scoffed as she pulled a tray of muffins out of the oven.
“At least my ass isn’t hanging out.”
“Language, I don’t want to have to remind you again.” Grams scolded while handing Walker a brown sack filled with home cooked goodies. “Thanks Mrs. Montgomery,” he tipped his hat and flashed a smile. “Well if we are done playing nice this morning, I’ve got to figure out how in the hell I’m going to pass this test today.” I placed a quick kiss to Gram’s cheek and drug Walker out the door. I slipped my sunglasses on my face and walked over to the Bronco, I couldn’t wait to be done with school, just four more days and I was going to be free from the awful place. I couldn’t fucking wait.

I tossed my hair up in a messy bun and flipped the dial on the radio to find anything but country. “That crap you listen to is going to rot your brain,” Walker mumbled as he flew down the old country road to the high school. “Can’t destroy my brain, it’s been gone for a long time,” I winked at him and kicked my feet up on the dash.
“Are you going to be able to graduate Saturday? I swear I will drag your ass across that stage, all you have to do is pass this test.”
“Yeah genius, I’m completely prepared for this exam,” I mock, knowing damn well it was going to be a miracle if I scored anything over a sixty percent. I only needed a sixty-two on this test to graduate, nothing like flying by the seat of my pants with the future unknown. Walker just shook his head with a look of pity on his face, I needed to pass this test and prove everyone in this damn town wrong.
“I don’t need your sorrow Walker; you know I’m going to be just fine once I get the hell out of here.”
“That’s what I’m scared about Carmen; I keep hoping you are going to realize that life here isn’t that bad.”
I rolled my eyes under my dark glasses, this boy was crazy. I am so close to packing up my shit and heading out west. The land of glamor and opportunity was just screaming my name and nothing was going to stand in my way of it. Not graduating, not my family, and for sure not this town.

“How did it go?” Walker hurried to catch up to me in the hallway after fifth period. “I don’t really know, I mean I answered all the questions,” I shrug.
“Carmen it was a multiple choice test, I hope you at least filled in all the bubbles?”
“Oh shit, I knew I missed something,” I sneered while turning the dial on the lock attached to my locker. After several failed attempts Walker pushed me out of the way and spun it till it clicked. I sent him a loving glare; it was almost a year now that I’ve been stuck with the same combo that apparently I would never remember. “Oh my savior, what am I ever going to do without you?” I teased while batting my eyelashes and pouted my lips.
“Knock it off Carmen; you know I hate the idea of you leaving.”
“Well get used to it champ, this chick is going to see her name in lights!” I slap him on the ass while I closed my locker. “What am I going to do without you?” Walker expressed as he grabbed my bag and headed down the hallway for our government class. “Enjoy life? I don’t know maybe date someone?” Instantly my mouth went dry and my stomach plummeted when I mentioned dating someone. I know I can’t keep him forever, but I hated the thought of him with anyone else but me. It’s not like we ever took that step from our friendship but I still thought of him as my soul mate. Dating someone else just made me angry and bitter, maybe I was meant to stick around this lonely little town after all. Finding love was meant to be everything in life, I just wasn’t so sure it was the life for me.

I waited on the top of the Bronco for Walker to finish with baseball practice. Stripping off my t-shirt I laid back on the roof in just my black lacy bra, closing my eyes and soaking up the rays. The hot metal of the truck was scorching on my exposed skin, but it was worth it as I developed a darker complexion to my naturally tan body. “Carmen put your clothes on,” Walker sighed as he slipped his bag into the back and stripped off his shirt. I couldn’t help but drool over his body. The years of sports and working in his father’s fields have done this man good. His abs were ripped to the point where they looked unreal, and his chiseled pecks were something that no eighteen year old should have. If he was a tall drink of water I wanted to bathe in it, hell I would drown in the liquid of him. “You don’t have a shirt on,” I replied while resting my body up on my elbows.
“Carmen my dear you are absolutely stunning!” a team member of Walker’s shouted out as he climbed into his truck. I smiled and gave him a wave as Walker stood down on the concrete crossing his arms looking like he was about to murder someone. “Seriously Walker, you’ve seen me in less,” I grumbled as I tossed my shirt over my head and slid down the front windshield. “Yeah well you’re my best friend Carmen, the whole world doesn’t need to see you naked.”
“It’s a bra; my swimsuit covers less than this!” I grabbed my boobs and gave them a squeeze, for gosh sakes it’s just extra flaps of skin attached to my chest. I don’t know what his problem was; it wasn’t like he liked me in that way. I knew I was a little slutty; hey I might even be called the town whore. It’s not like I’ve slept with the entire senior class, just maybe a quarter of them. “Maybe I’m practicing for my big porn debut,” as I smacked his rock hard abs and walked around to climb in the passenger side of the truck.
“You’re not doing porn Carmen.”
“Oh come on, two chicks one guy staring the fabulous Carmen Westin!” I gave him a wink. It’s not like I’d do porn, well I might if the money was right. Never say never right?

“So when will we know if you passed?” Walker asked as he turned off the Bronco in my driveway. “I hope tomorrow, but who knows. I think they have to have the list to the principal on Wednesday so he can sign off on the ceremony. How about we intercept it before it reaches him, we can dress like ninjas and show off our karate moves. Then slip my name on that bad boy and deliver it with a smile,” as I wiggled my eyebrows with the crazy idea.
“First you’re going to pass that stupid test. Second what ninja skills are we talking about?”
“The ones I’ve been practicing for the last ten years, duh Walker,” I laughed as I flung the door open and hopped out. “You did dance for a couple weeks when you were like ten. That was the last time you did anything that resembled working out,” He replied as we walked up to the kitchen door.
“You don’t know everything about me Walker, I do have some secrets.”
“Don’t give me that, you are about as open as a twenty-four hour drive thru McDonalds.”
“I hear we are getting one of those,” quickly trying to change the subject. “Nice try, but I know you Carmen. I’m starting to believe I know you better than you know yourself,” Walker mentioned while he opened a cabinet and grabbed two glasses. Walking over to the fridge I seized the milk and poured the ice cold liquid into the cups. Handing one to him we both took a seat at the table, letting the silence from our awkward conversation fill the air.
I don’t know what I would do without this man sitting across from me. He had been there through thick and thin; sitting with me in detention because he wouldn’t let me take the full blame on something I always messed up on, breaking curfew with my grandparents and having them ground me for weeks so we would spend every Friday night watching movies until they set me free again. This was the man who would pick me up and brought me home from school, always made sure I had eaten a meal, held my hair back when I partook in too much alcohol, and loved me unconditionally. How was I going to make it without him watching over my dumbass self, why couldn’t he just come with me? Oh that’s right; he is already stuck in this trap of a small town. Local sports hero who would join the sheriff’s department after he graduates, basically a parade should be thrown for how fricken’ fantastic he is. I quickly gulped down the remainder of my milk in jealousy; all I wanted was to feel free from the constrictions this town placed on me. I was Carmen the screw up, the girl who would never be good enough for Walker the town prince. Some messed up Cinderella story my life has turned out to be.

“Walker sweet boy, would you go grab Henry from the barn? I’ve got dinner on the table,” as Grams handed the plates over to me to set out. “Sure thing Mrs. Montgomery,” Walker responded while walking out the back door in search of my grandpa.
“That boy is something special, why can’t you two just go steady?”
“Grams it’s not like that between us. Besides no one goes steady anymore when it’s just a matter of heading to Vegas and stopping by the drive-thru chapel of love then a quick jaunt over to the local court house to void the papers.”
“Life isn’t as negative as you paint it to be Carmen.”
“Really because my parents are junkies, I can barely pass high school, and am dying to get out of here!” I refused to cry over the shitty deals my life has been given. Yes my parents are drug addicts, shit happen. They don’t deserve a single tear to fall from my eyes. The best thing they ever did was leave me here, and that says a lot considering I’m counting down the seconds till I get on a Greyhound out of here. There is nothing but a big ass black sucking hole in this town, just waiting for the new graduates to step out into their future at the local Dairy Queen and Quickie Mart. No one ever leaves this hell hole, it’s like an invisible force field that blocks people from moving on, however I’m about to shake up that electrical current. I wasn’t going to die in this one horse town, I wasn’t made to have lots of babies and teach Sunday school. I was meant to travel the world, bare my soul to anyone willing to listen, and show that there is life after high school. It was about time for someone to kick this town in the ass; I refused to get stuck here.

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