What happens when the writer is beyond her personal deadline? The reader receives an excerpt rather than a real blog entry.
Here’s a look into Lindsay Wells from my upcoming book, Pixie.
Pixie – Chapter Four – Monday
Minus the time spent at the Outreach Center, I spent my entire weekend studying for finals and completing papers. But even Atlas needed a rest now and then and, unlike Atlas, I didn’t need someone to shoulder the world while I stretched my legs. Guilt still nibbled at my mind as I left my apartment, but I refused to be balked. All of my assignments were complete and, according to the class syllabi, nothing else was due. I had one last week of review before finals week. It didn’t matter that my inner scaredy cat insisted I must be forgetting something.
Summer didn’t begin in Portland until after the Fourth of July, and today was the perfect example of that maxim. The day was overcast, and the breeze cooler than yesterday without enough humidity to feel chilly. It felt good against my skin. The potential for rain didn’t deter the natives, but then it rarely did. “Liquid Sunshine” was a fact of life here, and plenty of people were out and about. Too bad we hadn’t had this weather yesterday at the center. Every year at budget time we asked for air conditioning, and every year it was shot down due to lack of funds.
My feet took me to Pioneer Courthouse Square, Portland’s Living Room. I was a day too early for the weekly noontime concert, and the lower level of the small amphitheater held tourists, hacky sack players and a class of toddlers from a nearby daycare center. I passed the upper level food carts, and the aroma of roast lamb and gyros trailed after me. My stomach panged a reminder that I hadn’t had anything since breakfast. Five bucks would net me a burrito as large as my head, one that would last two or three meals. I calmed my abdomen with a few pats and promised it a burrito on the way home.
I followed the eastbound Max tracks on SW Yamhill past the Pioneer Courthouse for which the square was named. Like the square, this block was always busy. The courthouse was positioned between all four light rail tracks, making the area a public transit mecca. It was late afternoon, the time when commuters clocked out and stopped to pick up last minute items before continuing homeward, and the streets were crowded with riders, shoppers and the homeless.
It wasn’t the accordion that grabbed my attention so much as the singer.
I reached the corner intent on continuing east toward Waterfront Park but heard a bluesy type of tune to my left. The accordion was accompanied by a voice that belted out lyrics with no-holds barred. No mousy singing here, no sweet harmony, the voice bellowed and howled its sorrow at being left behind by its one true love.
Live music fascinated me. I couldn’t play an instrument or sing for shit, but watching a musician play entertained me for hours. Intrigued, I followed the music in search of the singer.
On the opposite corner of the courthouse, I found a small brunette, her head thrown back as she sang, her voice a growl of pain and loss. As I drew closer, delight filled me as I recognized her. It was the woman I’d mistaken for a child at the Outreach Center yesterday, the flirty one with the English accent. Awed by her voice, I joined the audience around her.
The English accent wasn’t noticeable now as she crowed the lyrics to her song. She expertly manipulated the keys on a small cherry-red squeezebox that vaguely resembled an accordion. The instrument sounded like one despite not having any piano-style keys on it. It seemed smaller with a single row of buttons on either side. The woman finished her song with a flourish and gave the crowd an impish grin and a bow. “Woo! That song will certainly blow the cobwebs out of your lungs!” She took a long drink from a water bottle.
The audience laughed in appreciation and several dropped money into the open accordion case at her feet. She thanked them, raising her voice to be heard over the approaching Max train. Seconds later, the majority of the crowd dashed off to make their transit connections.
As the area around her cleared, she prepared to play another song. She scanned the remainder of her audience, her gaze an almost physical thing that caressed the area until her eyes landed on me. I swear I saw sparks, a flash of blue-white in her iris when our gazes met. The flash lit a fire in my heart and on my cheeks.
I laughed, half in pleasure and half in terror that she’d discovered me, that I hadn’t gotten away before her personality cast a net over my soul. What? Where the hell did that come from? “How are you?”
“Much better with you here.” She closed the distance between us, and reached out a hand to tug me toward her impromptu stage.
I’d thought her eyes were the most electrifying thing about her. I was wrong. Her touch was exquisite, and a felt my heart literally spasm with sharp pain.
“Here. Best seat in the house.”
She urged me to perch on the low stone wall that surrounded the courthouse and released me. I was bereft in her absence.
“I’m Gillie, by the way, but most people call me Pixie.”
Gillie. The name suited her, suited me. I imagined the sound of it tripping from my tongue. Pixie, then, was her street name, the one by which most people knew her. It seemed just as appropriate. Street names were important. They freed a person to recreate themselves in their own image rather than the one forced upon them by family and society. I hadn’t chosen one for myself when I’d been homeless. Perhaps my experience was poorer because of the lack, I didn’t know. I did know that it was an honor that Gillie introduced herself with her real name rather than her street one. “It’s nice to meet you, Pixie. I’m Lindsay.”
“The pleasure is all mine.” Gillie bent low in a formal bow.
She kissed my hand!
“Do you have a favorite song?”
The unexpected intimacy followed by the change of topic left me at a momentary loss. I fumbled for something to say, some way to prove I wasn’t a stuttering idiot. “I don’t know any songs for…is that an accordion?”
Gillie hoisted the instrument for a better view. “It is indeed. It’s a…” and she paused to cultivate a stately tone, “diatonic button accordion.” She abandoned the stuffy manner with a wink. “But most call it a Cajun accordion.”
Not sure what to say, I opted for a simple, “Oh.” Smooth, Wells. Really smooth.
“Which doesn’t mean it only plays Cajun music, doncha know. Who’s your favorite musician?”
I blinked and named the first thing that came to mind. “Well, Darkstone is—”
“Darkstone! I love that band!” Gillie played a riff from one of their recent releases. Her feet moved in a quick little jig.
It was difficult not to share her exuberant glee, yet I forced myself to pause, to search her face for any indication of mental instability. Such scrutiny had become second nature, a survival mechanism when dealing with strangers. I’d learned the statistical analyses of the homeless population and knew that a large percentage of them were on the streets because of their mental illnesses rather than by choice. I was relieved to find nothing but simple childlike delight in Gillie’s manner. She seemed oblivious to my examination, for which I silently thanked whoever watched over me.
“I have just the song then.” Gillie turned back to her dissipated audience and started her next tune, the one that Joram Darkstone had sung to calm the crowd and open the doors between the dimensions. It was the love song she’d written to her European girlfriend, Naomi, the song that had ushered in irenic communication with the fey forces that had been inadvertently invited to return.
This time Gillie’s voice was less in-your-face and more melodic as she picked out the tune on her accordion. Hearing the song without the benefit of synthesizers and electronic instruments gave it a much different feel, though the power of it swelled about Gillie.
The song was a magical spell, created for a certain purpose. I’d read the magazine and newspaper articles. Every time it aired or was performed, it strengthened the connection between the worlds. Even people with rudimentary magical skills could sing Darkstone songs and achieve a modicum of control. There were a number of musician sorcerers in training that did so by covering Darkstone songs. That sucked in my opinion, because the music itself appealed to me. Despite my distaste for magic, I couldn’t help but fall thrall to the music, and, in this case, to Gillie’s performance.
Another small audience gathered as Gillie performed, all as enamored as myself. They remained quiet as Gillie sang the last lyrics and the sound of the squeezebox faded.
“My heart has turned to stone.
Take my hand,
Please help me to understand.
Soften the steel, reforge my heart
I need you.
I wish I didn’t.”
I joined the others with a round of applause. I wanted to add some money to Gillie’s accordion case, but couldn’t afford it. After a moment I wondered if that desire was my own or a reaction to the magical nature of the song. Others dropped change and bills into her case as another train came to a stop.
“Well, what did you think?”
“I thought it was awesome.” I saw a blush cross her fair skin, and I preened a little. Perhaps she wasn’t as confident as she seemed. I suddenly didn’t want our time together to end. “How long are you planning on staying here?”
“Here? At this corner?” Gillie looked up into the sky and then scanned the sidewalk. “Probably another hour or so. I’m doing well. I expect it’ll be that long before pedestrian traffic dies down.”
How to explain how I felt? My entire body hummed with agitation, and I felt a rush of blood rise from my chest to color my face. What I was about to do defied sensibility. I have finals in two weeks! My voice cracked a little as I asked, “Would you mind some company?”
Gillie looked aghast, and her expression crushed my hopes. Of course she didn’t want to be seen with me. Who was I but some schlep who volunteered at a soup kitchen. We were galaxies apart in backgrounds and experiences with no point of reference between.
“Me? Mind the company of a beautiful American woman with blue hair? What do you take me for? An idiot?”
Wait…what? My castigation stumbled as her words sank into my despair. Sweet relief cascaded through me, and I think I swayed a little. Thank goodness I was seated; I’d probably have fallen over with the shock of her acceptance.
I snorted laughter. “No. Never that. I just thought…” Words failed me. I thought you were doing what everyone eventually does. “Never mind what I thought. I over analyze things.” I reminded myself that this wasn’t a date; we were just hanging out. I wanted to spend more time with this intriguing young woman before real life called me back home and her to parts unknown. Just because I hadn’t been out with anybody in awhile didn’t mean a thing. There was still far too much for me to complete in my life to be distracted now.
Gillie waited patiently, unquestioning, as I worked through my internal intentions. I couldn’t tell whether it was kindness or amusement that held her. Tongue-tied and awkward, I shook myself and said, “I thought we could catch a bite to eat. There’s a great food cart a block away from here, but they’ll close soon.”
A slow smile grew on Gillie’s face. “I’d love to have a sup with you.”
My heart pounded at the suggestive tone she used. Heat suffused my skin for an entirely different reason, and I counted herself lucky that I didn’t have quite the pale complexion as Gillie did. This is not a date. I’m not sure where that thought came from. “Do you have any food allergies? I could go get them now before they close.”
“No. No allergies. I’m not keen on meat. Do they have a vegetarian option?”
“They do. I’ll get you one.”
Gillie turned to her accordion case. “How much are they?”
“Oh, no!” I jumped forward from my seat and waved my hands at arm’s length to deter her. “No, no. I’ve got it. You keep your money.”
“Are you certain?” Gillie raised a dark eyebrow. She brushed long bangs from her forehead. “I don’t want to put you out. I’ve plenty here.”
Both pleased at her acceptance and embarrassed by my social ineptitude, I backed away. And bumped into someone like an idiot. I caught myself from a fall and sent an apologetic look at the poor woman I’d almost trampled. When I looked back, Gillie had a smile on her face that made my head swim. “No, my treat. I’ll be right back.”
She cocked her head, eyes narrowed. “Fine, but I’ll buy us coffee afterward. All right?”
“Sounds like a plan!” I gave Gillie a short, jerky wave of goodbye and hustled away.
As soon as I was out of sight around the corner, I groaned and slumped against a no parking sign. “What is wrong with me?” I usually wasn’t the sort of person to take such interpersonal leaps. I examined my inner unrest an an attempt to pinpoint where I’d lost my composure.
It had been when our eyes had met, the flash of light in Gillie’s eyes. I couldn’t recall it happening at the outreach center yesterday. Was that because I’d been distracted by my tardiness, by her unfamiliar accent? Was it because of the different environment, the two of us meeting more as equals today than client/volunteer? I felt as raw and untested as my first night on the streets, shaky and scared and secretly awed at my audacity.
Audacity. I laughed aloud and pushed away from the sign. It wasn’t often I acted this boldly. Best to enjoy it before reality and introversion once more took hold of my common sense.
As I backtracked to the burrito cart, I received smiles from several people I passed. It took a bit before I realized that they answered the one planted on my face. My cheeks warmed and I laughed again. It had been far too long since a woman had shown me any interest. Of course the sensation would overwhelm me when it happened. That the diversion came from an adorable and personable young woman with an English accent didn’t hurt.
I fairly flew up the brick steps to the burrito cart. Despite the overcast sky, the evening seemed full of promise as I gave my order. Tomorrow I’d return to my classes and studies. Tonight I’d let that life go. Gillie wouldn’t remain in Portland long. I wanted to enjoy our new friendship no matter how fleeting.
In the immortal words of Gillie, “Well? Whaddya think?”
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