The Carson Springs Trilogy: Stranger in Paradise, Taste of Honey, and Wish Come True

BOOK: The Carson Springs Trilogy: Stranger in Paradise, Taste of Honey, and Wish Come True
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The Carson Springs Trilogy
Stranger in Paradise
Taste of Honey
Wish Come True
Eileen Goudge

Contents

Stranger in Paradise

Taste of Honey

Wish Come True

A Biography of Eileen Goudge

Stranger in Paradise
A Carson Springs Novel (Book One)
Eileen Goudge

To Jon,

the other man I wake up to in the morning

Contents

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Acknowledgements

Whereupon she grew round-wombed, and had indeed, sir, a son for her cradle ere she had a husband for her bed. Do you smell a fault?

—From
King Lear
by William Shakespeare

Prologue

S
HE CHOSE A SEAT
in the back of the bus so as not to draw attention to herself, a girl just shy of sixteen who could have fit the description on any one of a hundred missing person posters:
5 FEET 7 INCHES, BROWN HAIR, BROWN EYES. LAST SEEN WEARING JEANS AND NAVY SWEATSHIRT
. A girl with nails bitten to the quick and a silver stud in her nose, an army-green backpack wedged between her grubby sneakers. It contained a change of clothes, forty dollars in crumpled fives and ones, a pack of Winston Lights, and keys to an apartment on Flatbush Avenue, where at that moment a man lay dead in a pool of blood.

She sat bolt upright until the bright lights of the city had dissolved into the flickery, undersea darkness of the interstate. She was long past exhaustion, but sleep was out of the question. Tiny muscles jumped under her skin. Her eyes were like dry, hot stones pounded into her skull. She would start to drift off only to be jolted awake as if violently shaken, her head teeming with nightmare images: the dark hole in Lyle’s chest, the red circle widening across his ribbed white undershirt. It hadn’t fully registered at the time, but now, in the sluggish current of heat that rose from the vents at her feet, she couldn’t seem to stop shivering. She held herself braced against the gentle rocking of the bus, muscles tensed to the point of cramping. As if her life depended on staying alert. Which, in a way, it did.

The girl was asleep nonetheless by the time the bus reached Harrisburg. She slept straight through to Columbus, curled on her side with her nylon windbreaker pillowed under her head, unaware of the zipper that by morning would leave a row of red welts like stitches down one cheek. In the darkness, with the highway’s fractured lights flitting across her slackened face, she looked far younger than her age: a peacefully slumbering child with someone to meet her at the other end.

At the rest stop in St. Louis, she got out to stretch her legs, the sun a lurid smear along the horizon. She lit a cigarette and leaned against the cinderblock. Her eyes were empty, staring out at nothing. Smoke rose in a thin gray scrawl from the Winston Light cupped in her loosely dangling hand. When it had burned down to her fingertips she blinked and straightened. The butt made a sizzling sound as she flicked it onto the pavement. Shivering with cold and holding her thin jacket wrapped about her like an old peasant woman’s shawl, she shouldered her way inside.

After a trip to the ladies’ room she joined the line in front of the vending machine, which grudgingly coughed up a packet of beer nuts and a Mountain Dew. She wasn’t all that hungry, though she hadn’t eaten since breakfast. It was just to prevent her stomach from growling, keep others from casting curious sidelong glances. Long experience had taught her what most kids her age never had to know: how to be invisible. The rules were simple:

Don’t raise your voice when speaking around adults.

Don’t drink too much water (or your frequent trips to the bathroom will arouse suspicious looks).

Don’t linger over expensive merchandise in stores.

Don’t ask too many questions.

Don’t give any more information than necessary.

In Topeka a middle-aged lady with hair the color of a rusty pipe sat down next to her. After a few minutes, she turned to inquire, “Going far?”

The girl tensed. Did she look like someone on the run? She muttered something unintelligible and curled on her side with her face to the window, burying her head in the crook of her arm. When she finally dared lift her head the rust-haired lady had moved to an empty seat two rows up, where she was loudly extolling the virtues of Metamucil to a stout black woman with a powder-blue raincoat folded neatly across her lap.

The girl turned her face to the window. The road was an endless river banked by fields of corn. A road that seemed to be carrying her backward. She remembered when she was little. She would play this game where she’d scan the mothers on the sidewalk after school, and choose the one who looked the nicest. She’d imagine the woman taking her by the hand, even scolding her in a motherly way about some stupid little thing like leaving her shoelaces untied or forgetting her lunch box. Over the years she’d gradually outgrown the game. It made her too sad. But now she wondered what it would be like to have someone waiting at the other end. A woman with a warm smile and stories to tell of what had happened while she was away.

But there was no one to meet her in Oklahoma City or Amarillo or Albuquerque. She’d been on the road nearly three days by the time she worked up the nerve to buy a newspaper. Though the murder of a small-time drug dealer in Brooklyn wasn’t likely to make national news, she was vastly relieved even so when she found no mention of Lyle. Relief tempered by a perverse disappointment. Her name in print would have made people pay attention at least. Kids she’d gone to school with, to whom she’d never been anything other than The New Girl. Caseworkers who’d shunted her bulging file, with its ladder of crossed-out addresses, from one gray metal cabinet to the next. Even if it meant going to jail—wasn’t that better than being invisible?

By the time she reached Bakersfield the endless stretches of desert and scorched brown hills had given way to green orchards and citrus groves. Even the fast-food restaurants looked more inviting somehow. Her mouth watered at the thought of a Big Mac. But when she checked in her backpack only a few crumpled bills remained. She’d have to hold off for now. Who knew how long the money would have to last?

At a service station just east of Santa Barbara she splurged on another newspaper. She was settling back in her seat when a glossy real estate flyer slipped to the floor. The old man beside her stooped to retrieve it.

“Prettiest place in the world,” he said, peering at it.

She glanced over his shoulder at a photo of a tree-shaded ranch house. Behind it was a fenced pasture in which horses grazed. Snowcapped mountains rose in the distance. “It looks too perfect to be real,” she said.

He looked up as if he’d just noticed her sitting there. “Carson Springs? It’s just beyond those hills.” He raised a crooked finger to the window, an ancient man, his bald head flaking in spots, his body drooping like an old coat from its hanger. In the weathered ruin of his face, his blue eyes burned brightly. “I take it you’ve never seen the movie.”

“What movie?”


Stranger in Paradise.
It was shot there.” He smiled. “Course that was way before your time.”

“I think I saw it on TV.”

He brightened, and she saw that he’d once been handsome. “Well, I directed it.” He extended a hand that felt like an old baseball glove that’d been left out in the rain. “Hank Montgomery’s the name.”

“That’s where I’m going. To Carson Springs.” The words were out before she realized it.

The old man fixed his keen gaze on her. “That so?”

“My aunt lives there.”
This is crazy,
she thought. As far as she knew she didn’t have an aunt, and until just this minute she’d never even heard of Carson Springs.

“Ever been out this way before?”

“No.” That wasn’t a lie, at least.

“Well then, you’ve a real treat in store.”

The girl didn’t know what had come over her, but the idea had taken hold somehow. Besides, it wasn’t like she had anywhere else to go.

When they reached Santa Barbara, she used the last of her money to buy a ticket on the local bus to Carson Springs; two hours later she was once more en route, traveling north along a steep, winding highway. She’d just begun to doze off when they crested the ridge and a wondrous sight panned into view. A valley ringed with mountains on all sides, like a huge green bowl into which hills and pastures tumbled. Orange groves crisscrossed the floor in neatly stitched rows, and to the east a Crayola lake reflected the cloudless sky. The town itself, a cluster of red-roofed buildings in candy-heart shades, might have been a page from a storybook.

Minutes later they were cruising down the main street. Huge old trees shaded sidewalks lined with Spanish-style shops trimmed in colorful tiles. Miniature trees in clay pots dotted the curb. A red-roofed arcade stretched along one side of the street, ending in a stone arch festooned in flowers, through which she caught a glimpse of sunlit courtyard.

Several blocks down, the bus wheezed to a stop. The sun greeted her like a welcoming arm as she stepped onto the sidewalk. She saw that she was standing in front of the library, a squat adobe building framed by trees resembling tall green candles. People in short-sleeved shirts and sandals strolled past, looking tanned and well fed. With her pale skin and rumpled clothes would she stick out like a sore thumb?

She made her way back to the arcade, where she paused in front of an ice cream parlor. A little boy sat licking a cone on a wooden bench out front while his mother peered into the window of the book shop next door. Did he have any idea how lucky he was? The closest she’d had to a mother was plump, henna-haired Edna. Her earliest memory was of curling up next to Edna on the sofa, watching her leaf through a fat book filled with bird pictures. Edna knew them all by heart, and in time they became almost as familiar to the girl.

BOOK: The Carson Springs Trilogy: Stranger in Paradise, Taste of Honey, and Wish Come True
2.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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