An excerpt from the opening of my current National Novel Writing Project, Come Back Song. In my perfect world, Leighton Meester (have you seen her Country Strong performance?!) would star in the big Hollywood adaptation as Lee.
“’Cause someday maybe somebody will love me like I need, & someday I won’t have to prove. ‘Cause somebody will see all my worth, but until then I’ll do just fine on my own with my cigarettes, & this old dirt road,” Lee sang quietly to herself and tapped on her steering wheel in time with the country song, a cigarette jutting from her left fingers, ashing out the cracked window in time with the music. The gig had run late and she was only just getting back into the city from a little town called Spencer, in central Massachusetts. She’d been drafted by a karaoke-singing friend, last minute of course, to sing back-up at a wedding at a beautiful little barn set on a hill over looking the fall colors of New England. The crowd had frozen throughout the ceremony, but the couple had seemed so truly in love that Lee couldn’t help but enjoy the evening.
Lee didn’t normally sing professionally, but she did frequent the karaoke circuit throughout Boston, and every so often a friend or a friend of a friend would seek her out for small gigs like this one – she’d had the pleasure of singing along at a bar mitzvah just three weeks earlier – and she liked to think they asked her because maybe she was the smallest bit talented. Tonight, however, she wished she’d turned down the two hundred dollars and gotten to bed early like she’d originally planned. 6am was going to come very quickly, she groaned to herself as the winding roads turned into Route 93 and rain splattered her windshield in the cold night.
Cold autumn nights, even after 5 years, she didn’t think she’d ever adjust to those. Snow in October. There’s no such thing as sitting out on the porch, a glass of wine, a guitar, up here in New England. It was moments like this, alone with a lit cigarette and a country song, that she missed the South the most. Carolina had felt nothing but too small to a teenager with too much enthusiasm and a mild case of OCD, but after years of Boston, with it’s art districts and colonial history, she didn’t see the smallness of Columbia, rather the warmth – literally and figuratively.
Her last night in South Carolina had been quiet. She and her mom had shared a bottle of shiraz. She’d been seventeen, chain smoking with her dad on their front porch, mom and dad sitting in the swing, gently moving back and forth. The breeze was warm, she remembers. Her high school sweetheart, a good guy named James, had come by later in the night, to drive around town together and just be out of the house. She’d asked him to take her to their high school football field, and they sat on the hood of his truck. Lee was wrapped in his sweatshirt (in the morning before she got in her Cavalier to drive 16 hours north, he’d tell her to keep it, but she’d refuse). He’d ask her again why she needed to go, why they couldn’t stay together even if she did leave. She told him it was better, to have a full fresh start, not half of one, and as to why she needed to go in the first place… She just felt it in her bones, it was time. Everyone has that moment, she said. Her accent was thicker then, she remembers now, 22 and mostly alone in life. She could imagine sitting on that porch with her parents, and lying on that truck hood, just far enough outside the city to count the stars.