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First Pages - A Year from September/Rohrbach

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OPENING SCENE - Introduces the antagonist, protagonist, the protag’s new love interest, the contemporary setting, tone, and the primary conflict.


   Another anniversary. Eight years.

   On any other Saturday, Emily would pull her boots on and gather kindling. She’d snap a hundred branches, then come inside and light a match under all the wood. With the kitchen radio on, she’d bake something, scones or a coffee cake, all while Neil slept. But today, they were already up. No fire to start. No bread to bake.

   Keeping with tradition, they left their phones on the kitchen counter. They rode Neil’s red Harley, a model from the 80s that he kept in pristine condition. He took a main highway for a while and then got off, onto the quieter, lonelier roads, roads with fine, rustic names like Honey Hollow and Fiddlers Creek. Emily could smell the countryside, fragrant with fields of spent corn, pockets of cool forest. Ribbons of mist hovered over the ponds, but soon the full heat of the sun would warm them to obscurity.

   By midday they’d have an appetite. Maybe find ribs and cornbread from a roadside pit and some dark ale at a brewery. Or steak at an old tavern. Last year they stopped at a fieldstone inn, an unforgettable place, with pink begonias dangling plump and vigorous from all the window boxes. They’d sat near the fireplace, at a candle-lit table with white linen and a silver bud vase. Portraits of eighteenth-century gentlemen and gentlewomen peered from the walls with unwavering eyes, and that day a truckload of oysters came in, cold and briny with the ocean’s liquor. Soon enough the waiter became a storyteller, and an animated one at that, recounting tall tales of Civil War generals and novelists and infamous whores who’d once sat in that very room.


   They passed the “Welcome to Hazleton” sign. That’s when Emily’s stomach cramped. She tapped Neil on the shoulder and told him to pull over. She climbed off the Harley and headed for a thicket of trees.

   “Are you alright?” he said.

   She kept walking.

   “Please tell me you didn’t eat that old bacon,” he said. She heard in his tone a reprimand, the disorder of the house, the messy, unorganized refrigerator she really should have cleaned out a long time ago.

   She took refuge behind a shrub. Then her stomach constricted hard, uncontrollably. She bent down to relieve herself, the acid burning its way up her throat. She spat when she could, coughing between breaths, and prayed it would end. Minutes passed and she stood up, holding onto a tree. She kept her head down in case the nausea returned, and stared at the leaves on the ground, so vibrant, tie-dyed with reds and chiffon yellows, oranges and lime greens. A woolly bear caterpillar wiggled its way across the sticks and dregs of the mulch. She took note of its fuzzy, brown stripe and put a hand to her belly, wondering what it might look like when winter came.     

   Oh, God,” she whispered. “Here we go.”


   Emily hadn’t slept well. After a fitful night she got out of bed early, found her glasses and went to the bathroom to open the pregnancy kit. She turned the shower on, waiting for hot water, waiting for the stripe on the stick. The steam, like some ominous cloud, rose and fell over the shower curtain. One stripe beamed clearly, alone at first, indicating a negative. But as she watched, a second stripe followed, growing darker by the moment.  

   Neil sat on the bike waiting. He saw her coming and got off.

   “Let’s go home,” he said, rubbing his hands down her arms. 

   She shook her head. “I’m okay.”

   She almost wanted to go home. Straight home to languish under her quilt.

   “Em, you’re flushed.” He put a hand to her forehead. “We’ll go next weekend.”

   “We can’t. Or, you can’t. You have a conference.”


   She took her helmet off the back of the bike, strapped it on and waited for him to mount.

   “Are you sure? Do you want to stop for anything?”

   “I need a restroom.”   

   When Neil pulled into the gas station she went straight to the ladies room and knelt on the floor, heaving over and over again. The rumble of motorcycles outside did nothing to drown out the awful retching she made. When her stomach settled she went to the sink, and with the cup of a hand, spilled water into her mouth. She lifted her head to the mirror. Her hair was frayed, her cheeks a fiery pink. She wiped her face with a handful of paper towels and grabbed her helmet. A woman came in, who hopefully hadn’t seen or heard anything. Emily nodded a polite hello.

   Stepping outside, she watched Neil maneuver the motorcycle in reverse. She could have told him then and there, could have asked him to shut the motorcycle off and let him know about the morning sickness, about the stripes. But telling him just then. Her lips tightened. And as she considered it, she felt the sharp prick of panic move through her chest, down every last inch of her fingertips.




   Kevin could hear MaryAnne scurry around his bedroom, tossing her wallet, make-up and sketchbook into a backpack. It would be a day of firsts: taking a two-hour ride on his new Harley and introducing MaryAnne to his parents. Knowing better, he’d drank too much beer, and now last night’s inebriated bliss was this morning’s damn hangover. Making matters worse, he was stuck in the garage, grappling with his motorcycle. The bike was “new” in the broader sense, because it clearly was not as described by the previous owner. That is, he couldn’t get it started. 

   “Come on, baby,” he said. “Piece of shiiiit . . . you son of a—get in there!”

   A week ago, the Harley showed up online. He headed straight to MaryAnne’s studio and ran up the stairs.

   “You’re not going to believe this,” he said, out of breath.

   She was mid-water color on an easel. She put the paintbrush in a jar and stepped back to study her work. “Not going to believe what.”

  “Look.” He thrust a picture of the motorcycle at her and read aloud from a second page. “Twenty-four thousand miles. New intake valves and adjustable chromoly pushrods. . . the original candy red coat . . . he lives over in Pheasant Run, just over the bridge.”

   She studied the picture as he raved about it, his excitement growing with every detail listed. She brought the picture to the light of the window and turned to him, grinning. She walked up to him and ran a hand up his shirt.

   “What else does it say?” she said, bringing her lips to his neck.

   “He added new rear view mirrors and stiffer valve springs.”

   “Stiffer what?” she said with a raspy throat. She reached into his jeans.

   “Oh, baby,” he growled. “I’m calling.”

   “You are?” She tightened her embrace and kissed him, letting him hear her whisper. “You sure?”

   “Yes. I’m going to call . . . now.”

   “Now.” She pressed against him. He dropped the papers and unbuttoned her blouse.

   “In a minute,” he said, breathing into her ear.

   “Just one?”  


   He rubbed the sweat off his forehead and looked at his watch.

   “Damn it. This wire will not cooperate.”

   He tightened this and adjusted that, checking the plugs to make sure both cylinders had spark. Over and over, he’d climb on to kick-start it, then throw a string of expletives through the kitchen door.

   “We can just take the car!” MaryAnne shouted.

   “No!” he shouted back.

   Dakota’s ears were perked as she sat by his side, a sweet chocolate lab with a velvety coat and no breakfast. She’d carried her bowl into the garage and dropped it on the cement, wagging her tail as she waited for food.

   “Give me a sec, girl,” he said, petting her head with his cleaner hand.  

  “Kev. I don’t mind driving,” MaryAnne said from the doorway. 

   He wasn’t listening. He stood up to give it another try. And with a pouf of glorious, blue smoke the bike rumbled alive.

   Yeah!” He rolled the throttle, grinning at the sound of the thundering engine. He turned the bike off and swaggered into the bedroom, wrapping his arms around her waist. He kissed her, walking her backwards.

   “We’re good to go, babe.”

   Her chin twitched. “Are you sure?”

   “Just needed a little re-adjustment,” he said, and then, purring like a lion, “at the hands of a chrome genius.”



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