I am gearing up for Camp NaNo and wrote a short story to give some background for my main character, Lillian. These events happen just before her senior year of high school – I’ll be writing about her during her second year of college.
Let me know what you think – is Lillian a character you could get invested in and read a whole novel about?
The Phone Call
Lillian stared at the phone in her hand. Hot tears sprang to her eyes and she took a deep breath, hoping the world would stop spinning if she stood still for a minute. She made her way to the door on stiff legs.
A voice came from her right shoulder. She stopped and turned, willing her eyes to focus on the short woman in the green apron.
“Hon? You gonna’ pay for those?” The woman tilted her head toward the books Lillian held against her heaving chest.
“Um, yes. I-I mean no. I have to go.” Lillian stepped forward and dumped the books into the arms of the woman and stepped out through the door into the blistering July sun. She dodged across the parking lot to her car and fumbled with the door, yanking it open and folding herself behind the wheel.
It would take twenty minutes to get there. She started the car and pointed it toward the highway, wiping at the sweat pouring down her temples. She shoved the button in and blissful cold air sputtered out of the vents, blowing her hair from her face.
Maybe it’s not as bad as I think, she thought, passing a big rig and pushing the little car’s speedometer to eighty-five. I mean, Aunt Sandy wasn’t crying on the phone. Surely if it was really bad, she would have been crying, right?
Lillian stared straight ahead at the road, the white lines of the highway beating staccato as she raced toward the hospital. By the time she squealed into the parking lot, her hands were stiff from gripping the steering wheel and she rubbed them as she loped across the lot toward the front doors. The doors slid open and her aunt came out, a long white sweater billowing out behind her as she ran to Lillian.
“Oh, honey,” she said, gathering Lillian into a hug. Her aunt felt small and frail beneath Lillian’s arms and she choked back a sob.
“Where are they?” Lillian heard herself ask, but her voice sounded far away and small.
“Your dad’s in there waiting to be transferred.”
“They can’t treat him here. They don’t have the equipment to deal with his injuries. They’re taking him down to St. Louis.”
Lillian swallowed hard.
Aunt Sandy looked at her through her glasses, her dark eyes enormous through the bifocals.
“Honey,” she said softly, “Your mama didn’t make it.”
All of the light was sucked out of the day and Lillian felt her knees buckle.
“Harvey!” she heard her aunt yell. Her uncle’s heavy boots pounded out the door and Lillian focused on them as they stopped near her.
“Lily?” he said, his voice wavering. “Come on, girl. Get up now.” He grunted as he lifted her to her feet and she leaned against him as they walked inside. “Your daddy needs you,” he said, his voice gruff.
“I can’t,” Lillian said. “I can’t do this!”
“Yes, you can,” he said. He pushed a button near the door and held her out at arm’s length. “You can because you have to.”
A nurse appeared at the door, holding it open for Lillian. She held a clipboard in her hand. Her nails were clipped and even. Lillian focused on those nails as the nurse leaned out to put her hand on Lillian’s shoulder.
“Come on, dear. He’s down here.”
Lillian barely heard her as she walked down the corridor. Nurses were gathered at the nurse station to her left and they glanced her way as she walked by.
“He’s here, dear. He’s had a lot of medicine to lessen the pain, but he’s been able to talk a bit.”
Lillian forced her body to turn to the right and she took a deep breath. Her hand tightened around her purse strap, her knuckles turning white as she gripped it. She took a tentative step toward the mass of white on the bed.
Her dad was laying there, his legs covered by a white blanket pulled up to his chest. His right arm was elevated and wrapped. His fingers poked out the end, three times their normal size. Lillian stepped forward and looked down at her dad’s face. It was swollen and had nasty purple bulges around his left eye.
“Daddy?” she squeaked, wanting to touch him, but afraid to reach out.
His right eye opened and looked around the room for a moment before focusing on her face. He smiled a half grin.
“Hey, Daddy,” she said, smiling and reaching out to touch his arm. “I’m here.”
He tried to smile again and then winced.
“This sucks,” he said, his speech slurred and quiet.
“Yeah, it sucks,” Lillian said, the tears threatening to spill over. She felt cold and hot at the same time and her knees felt weak again.
“Where’s your mom?” he asked.
“Don’t worry, Daddy. Just focus on getting better, okay?” Lillian said, trying to smile encouragingly.
Her dad’s smile faltered and his eyes filled with tears.
He knows, Lillian thought.
His eye closed and he took a deep breath.
The curtain was pulled back and Lillian jumped.
“He’s going now,” the nurse said. “We have to get him ready to transport.”
“Can I go with him?” Lillian asked, her voice coming out shriller than she had intended.
“Your aunt and uncle are going to drive you down to the hospital to meet him in the Emergency Room there. They’ll take good care of him.” The nurse put a reassuring arm around Lillian’s shoulders and began guiding her out of the room. The room had become a center of chaos as nurses and orderlies buzzed around Dad’s bed.
“I’ll see you at the hospital, Daddy!” Lillian said, trying to make her voice sound bright. “I’ll see you there, okay?”
He gave her a thumbs up sign and Lillian turned the corner.
He never made it to the hospital.