Over the last few weeks, I’ve participated in three chain writing games that resulted in some fascinating stories create collectively by talented writers. You can read each of these full stories on the blog of Kerrie Ann Salsac
For this week’s challenge, we have been asked to write a full story of our own for up to 2,000 words that is somehow connected to one of the previous stories. In the Chain Writing Game Week 2: Have you Seen Helen? We met Dennis. He was a husband desperately trying to find his missing wife, Helen. Dennis was swept up into an ordeal that he never expected but a long the way, we were treated to a glimpse of a side of Dennis that had been long dormant. Today, in Before Helen I tell the coming of age story of our Dennis.
Every morning, Marilyn Jones poured Frank Poster a cup of black coffee and placed the cup and his daily agenda on his desk.
“Frank, the student files for this morning’s first three appointments are there on your desk. The first appointment is Dennis Warner,” said Marilyn making no further comment.
“I should have read these files before today. I don’t know this first student very well,” said Guidance Counselor Poster. “Let me put on my career counseling hat. When he arrives, send him right in.”
Marilyn smiled and left his office. As she returned to her desk, the outer office door opened and a tall student, with shoulder length brown hair entered. He was dressed in blue jeans, black converse sneakers and wore a black t-shirt with the Rolling Stones big red lips and tongue logo. He didn’t appear happy.
“I was told to come to Mr. Poster’s office this morning,” said Dennis.
“Go right in,” said Mrs. Jones gesturing towards Mr. Poster’s door.
Mr. Poster looked up when he heard the door opening. He rose and greeted his visitor. “Thank you for coming in, Dennis. Please take a seat.”
Dennis said nothing. He walked to one of the chairs near the desk and sat down in a slouched position. His body language communicating that he did not want to be at this meeting. Mr. Poster sat down and looked at Dennis. Dennis slouched down even more and waited for Mr. Poster to say something.
“As you know, I meet with all seniors during the year to discuss their career goals. I haven’t seen you or your parents at any of the college application sessions, so I scheduled this meeting today,” said Mr. Poster. Dennis just looked at him.
“Have you and your parents discussed your college plans?”
“I don’t have p-a-r-e-n-t-s,” answered Dennis.
Mr. Poster looked down at the file and noted that Dennis had been in foster homes his entire life and the current home just six months.
“I see. Why don’t we discuss your interests?” “What do you think you want to do for a living?”
“Motorcycles,” grunted Dennis.
“There are some excellent schools for auto mechanics in the state. Let me give you some catalogs, the applications and financial aid forms. We can schedule another appointment to complete them,” said Mr. Poster. This career counseling session was going better than he had expected.
“I don’t want to fix cars. I am sure I’ll fix my own motorcycle but I just want to ride my motorcycle not fix other people’s cars.”
There was a pregnant pause. The silence was uncomfortable, so Mr. Poster said, “I am not sure I fully understand. How can you make a living riding a motorcycle?”
Dennis just shrugged. “I have one more payment and I’ll be riding my Harley off the lot. I turn 18 on June 12th,so the day after graduation, I plan to hit the open road and leave this town behind for good.” Dennis became very animated when he told of his plans.
“I’ve known students that took time off before continuing their education. I strongly advise against it. I have an idea. Why don’t you take this pamphlet containing a career ideas survey? Fill in the inserted scan-tron sheet using a No. 2 pencil and return it to me later in the week. I’ll run it through the computer and we’ll see how to plan your future.
“Sure Mr. Poster. Can I return to class now?
“You can go.”
Dennis left the office and went out into the hall. He dropped the papers that Mr. Poster gave him into the trashcan on his way back to class.
Six months later, with high school graduation behind him, Dennis packed all he owned into a duffle bag, climbed on his motorcycle and rode away from the people who never made him feel that he belonged. The sky was clear and the warmth of June made Dennis feel optimistic about his future.
Dennis had spent his youth in foster care because he had been orphaned at age 3. His parents died in a car crash and he had no known relatives. They had not left him without means. The foster parents hadn’t wanted him but they sure wanted the fees they received for taking him in. Now he was free. Most of his trust fund would come to him when he turned twenty-one but he had a monthly allowance that was sufficient for the lifestyle he planned. This monthly allowance provided the funds needed to buy the motorcycle.
Although Dennis’ plans were very loose, he thought that he would make his way to California. Traveling mostly on Interstate 40, if he drove straight through, the trip would take over 2,600 miles; however Dennis had no idea what he would encounter and where the road may lead him along the way.
Most nights Dennis would find a motel for the night or pitch a tent at a campground. His favorite activity was striking up a conversation with fellow bikers he met along the way. He had been traveling for three weeks when he rode into Albuquerque, New Mexico. Stopping for breakfast at the Standard Diner on Route 66, a digital time and temperature sign at a nearby bank was flashing 89 degrees at 8:00 am. It was hot because it was New Mexico in the middle of July. The diner was busy but he quickly found a seat at the counter.
“You’ll order what I tell you to order, BITCH,” yelled a large man sitting in the booth just behind Dennis.
“I’m not that hungry. I just want some fruit and yogurt, “ whisper his frightened companion.
“You want! You want! You don’t get a say! I control you!”
The young woman had tears running down her face. “Please Richie, stop. You’ll get us thrown out.”
“You don’t tell me to stop, Sarah. If we get thrown out, it will be your fault.”
Dennis had enough. He stood up and approached the booth where the couple argued.
“I think you should quiet down and treat this young woman with respect,” reasoned Dennis.
Richie left the booth and pushed Dennis in the chest. “I supposed you think you’ll be able to stop me kid.” Richie pushed Dennis again building up momentum.
“I think you are upsetting this young lady and you need to stop,” answered Dennis.
When Richie put out his hands to push Dennis again, Dennis stepped sideways. Richie lost his balance and flew across the counter area. His head slammed into the commercial coffee maker and a hot pot of coffee toppled, scalding his face. His scream was like the squeal of a slaughtered pig.
Sarah ran out of the diner and Dennis ran after her. He found her in the parking lot.
“Will you be ok? Can I call someone for you?” asked Dennis.
“My mom is in California but I don’t know how I’ll get home. I followed one loser after high school and ended up alone and broke here in Albuquerque. When I met Richie, he was so nice to me and kept promising that we’d go to California. I don’t know why he changed,” said Sarah.
“If you don’t mind riding on the back of a Harley, I’m going to California,” said Dennis. “I’m Dennis Warner and I promise I am not a loser.”
“Please to meet you. I’m Sarah Kincaid. I really appreciate your help,” said Sarah smiling for the first time in weeks.
“Where do we need to go for your stuff?”
“No need. Richie burned all my stuff last week when I told him I was leaving. I thought he’d give me bus fare.”
“What a guy. Put on this helmet and climb on. It’s California or bust.”
For the next week, Dennis and Sarah became close friends as they shared the road. Sarah told him all about California where she lived her entire life and Dennis described what it was like growing up on the east coast. Even though they had lived on opposite coasts, the friends discovered that they had a lot in common. Dennis began to think of Sarah like the sister he never had. For Sarah, Dennis was also like a brother but more importantly he became the role model that she would use to find boyfriends and eventually a husband that she could love and respect and that would give her the same love and respect.
At the end of their journey, Sarah was reunited with her mother. After staying with them for a few days, Dennis left to continue the life of a free spirit. Dennis and Sarah never became romantically involved but became lifelong friends. Years later after Dennis met and married his true love, Helen; they named their first-born daughter, Sarah.