Hello all, again!
This is the sequel to my story, "Miles and Miles." This, too, will have multiple chapters. I'm trying to work ahead, but the posted chapters will probably get edited and revised multiple times as I go along. I'm never satisfied with the finished product. It's fairly necessary to have read "Miles and Miles," so there's my one plug for my other story. I also am in the middle of swim season and coordinating several long-term school projects, so postings might be well-spaced. Very well-spaced.
I don't own the recognizable characters from "CSI." If I did, I could probably quit high school and not stress about calculus. I don't own The Lovely Bones, which gets mentioned in the first part, and I don't own the song "Good Riddance" which is where the title is from. I do, however, own my flip-flops, lots and lots of Diet Coke, and Jules and Grace. If you're interested in buying, my email's posted. ;-)
Enjoy! Reviews are like cookie dough without the calories!
Ever since her first plane flight, when she was three, the intense strip of blue always on the horizon had fascinated Jules. To her, this penetrating indigo line, visible only from plane windows, was the truest evidence, the clearest proof of heaven and God in the world. She fervently believed that tucked somewhere within that unreachable strip was heaven. It made sense in her mind: it was in the sky, surrounded by clouds; no live person would ever reach it. She could easily spend the whole flight, whether it was a forty-five minute commuter flight or the time her mother flew her and Grace out to New York City and Washington D.C., staring at that strip, daydreaming about all the souls residing there. In her mind, everything was fashioned out of clouds: the streets were streaky stratus clouds, those fluffy nimbus clouds that made cloud gazing so enjoyable served as buildings and temples. She had loved the book The Lovely Bones simply for the concept of the Inbetween.
Now, though, as the plane cruised from Sacramento back to Las Vegas, Jules studied the indigo strip with a new intensity. It was quickly fading with the darkening sky. Next to her, Grace dozed fitfully. Sara was next to Grace, quietly reading Glamour. Nick had already returned to Las Vegas; he had had to work Sunday evening. Jules, Sara, and Grace had stayed an extra day and had left with promises to invite Grandma and Grandpa to Christmas in Las Vegas. Jules always laughed at that statement. Christmas in Las Vegas. It sounded like a Chevy Chase movie.
Below, the deserts of eastern California and southern Nevada formed an empty wasteland. Jules was the wordsmith of the family; she crafted words and metaphors the same way Grace, the artisan, crafted three-dimensional materials and created tangible thoughts. It was very easy to find a connection between this emptiness that seemed to stretch on forever below her and the gnawing one she felt inside her chest. She didn't know what was after this desert, or how she could cross it. Most movement was emotionally painful. She had gotten through the funeral, done the speech thing, done the burial. She was parched from the journey. Jules had been mentally coaching herself for months, readying her body for the blow that would inevitably come. She had practiced living day-by-day for the last several days—these dumb, self-help book strategies had allowed her to get through the move to Vegas, the last days of her mother's life, the funeral. Each day had a specific, finite ending to it. Survival of the day was success.
Now, though, her life stretched before like an achingly long, crisp piece of loose leaf. She was essentially on her own. Most nearly-eighteen-year-olds would be thrilled at the prospect of freedom; it terrified Jules. She literally had no idea what she was going to do with herself. Every absolute she had possessed had been shattered and she didn't have any clue what was supposed to happen next. She knew the general outline that Mom would have wanted her to follow: swim this winter, apply for college, do well in the last few months of high school. She would do it, if only for her mother, since she was a dutiful daughter. But the prospect of moving on paralyzed her. Jules was both overly analytical and overly imaginative; this allowed her to plan far in to the future, complete with minute details. She liked daydreaming, visualizing. She didn't like planning in the here-and-now, though she was quite good at it. Jules loved dreaming about her perfect life in the future.
Visualizing this, though, was like trying to see clearly while on a roller coaster in a thunderstorm. She had no idea where to look, what to look for. She felt like a person who knew that she was about to drown—flailing and gulping until the blessed blackness took over.
Sara, in an unusually twitchy state, tossed the magazine into the kangaroo pouch on the seat in front of her and began tapping her fingertips together. Jules studied her out of the corner of her eye. Sara—Sara was one of the things that had complicated everything even more. The disease and death would have been painful enough, deciding to leave the girls with a little-known cousin a state away was a decision that comforted and appalled Jules. It comforted her because it was Sara; in the past two months, Sara had proved to be strong and dependable. She was relatable and there was a hint of funniness under her stressed, worried veneer. Sara was obviously kindhearted and well intentioned; she was obviously doing her best and trying her hardest to open herself up and love and be someone else's rock. It was endearing in a klutzy-puppy sort of way. It was appalling because it was yet another thing to start new, the Las Vegas landscape and skyline were harsh and foreign and utterly unlike anything Jules had ever seen. There was nothing like the lush familiarity of Sacramento. She had spent the last three years building a legacy in high school, something that would amount to excellent chances at excellent colleges. She had leadership. She had sports. She was involved and got great grades and high test scores and showed interest in the outside world and had tons of extracurricular goodness. All these connected her, grounded her and made her identifiable. Now, though, they were suddenly gone. Her family was gone. Her life was unattached. She felt like a two year old in a fun house, a coulrophobic at a circus.
However, weirdly—considering how Jules had been more opposed to the move than Grace, who took it all passively—Sara did make things a little better. Sara didn't try to pretend to understand, but she didn't pity them either. She saw everything, accepted everything, would let them make their own decision. Jules trusted her; right now, Jules trusted her more than probably any other adult. Everything just might work out.
Though Jules wasn't planning on betting on that anytime soon.
"I think we're probably about to land." Sara said. "We're only supposed to be about five or ten minutes out of McCarran. Do you want a piece of gum?"
"Winterfresh?" Jules clarified. Sara nodded. "Alright then." She accepted the piece of gum. "Do you want to wake up Grace?"
Sara nodded. "Probably. Better now than later, right?" She shook Grace gently. Grace stirred, rubbed her eyes, and understood what was going on.
Jules turned away from the two of them; she instead started searching the sky again for the indigo strip. It was harder than ever to see in the fading twilight.
She was startled away from peering at the indigo strip as the Vegas Strip jump out at her like a heart-monitor spike. She had never seen it from the air before; it looked like a Martian colony—an outpost settlement in the middle of the desert. As the plane descended cleanly, the glassy façade of McCarran's Terminal D rose suddenly from the ground.
"Is Nick picking us up?" Grace said sleepily as they began to unbuckle their seatbelts and move around the cabin.
"Yeah. I have to call him." Sara pulled her cell phone out of her purse and fingered it. "I'm sure he's at the luggage carousels already; we're actually a little late."
The next several minutes were quite busy; Jules welcomed busyness. It took her mind off—off everything. They finally arrived at the luggage carousels that had loud, large casino advertisements above them. Sara called Nick; he was actually standing by the one their luggage would trip out of. He grinned when he saw them, though it was a very shaky, unsure grin. Sara's eyes sparked with life when they connected with his. Even Jules, wry, cynical, sad, Holden Caulfield Jules, thought it was cute. They kissed—neither Jules nor Grace found it as weird or uncomfortable as Sara thought they did, it was just kissing, plus they liked Nick—and Nick put his hand on the small of Sara's back. "How was the flight?" he asked. Nick was good, too. He didn't ask dumb questions like, 'How are you feeling?' he just took things one step at a time. He was so different from Sara, who thought thirteen steps in advance and usually just skipped six of them for practicality's sake. He was good for her.
"It was—short." Sara smiled. Her smile was out of practice. It looked false and bright. "How has work been? You went in yesterday?"
"Yeah." Nick coughed nervously and took Sara's suitcase, "Grissom—he said call when you get home. Tomorrow would be fine, I think."
"Alright." Sara said. "We should get going. I think we're all really tired."
Nick just nodded, leading them out of McCarran. The gaudy neon of the Strip was visible. Jules looked up, just in case the indigo strip was still there. She knew it wouldn't be. It had been replaced by a flat, faceless darkness. She tilted her chin back to its normal position. Looking ahead, only the foreign, Martian outpost settlement of Vegas was there.
It was, indeed, Jules thought, a brave new world.