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The Rules of Half
By Jenna Patrick
BookSparksCopyright © 2017 Jenna Patrick
All rights reserved.
Seven hours and two hundred cornfields after hitching a ride out of Chicago, Regan Whitmer could finally see the light. It was the same old-timey traffic light she'd memorized from the pictures online, blinking just over the questionable, wooden bridge that crossed a shallow creek. In the distance, she could make out the silhouette of a town — striped awnings and tall, brick buildings with the occasional banner strung from one side of the street to the other. The moment Regan saw it, she knew Half Moon Hollow was a place she could get lost in.
"You can let me out here," she shouted over the gospel music to Betty Lou.
Her plump getaway driver stopped the Buick inches before the bridge and pushed her rhinestone-lined glasses into her white curls. "Honey, are you sure? I feel just awful leaving you here by yourself."
"I'll be fine," Regan said, climbing from the car. She lugged her scramble-packed bag of clothes across her shoulder, closed the door, and leaned into the window. "Thanks for the ride."
"Oh sweetie, I only did what Jesus would do." Betty Lou smiled and held out the purple WWJD bracelet she'd given Regan around the state line, and Regan had covertly shoved into the valley of the seats a few counties later. "Remember, if you get lost —"
"He has the map ... I know." Regan rolled her eyes and slid the bracelet over her wrist as she backed away from the car. "Have fun in Atlantic City. Hope you hit it big."
As soon as the Buick's rattle faded in the distance, Regan threw the bracelet far into the cornfield that bordered the road. It wasn't anything personal against Jesus; Regan figured he helped a lot of people who were in trouble, even if she'd never been one of them. The bracelet just felt more like a pair of handcuffs after living in her stepfather's religious jail.
She crossed the wooden bridge and headed toward town, the sour smell of dirt and old straw a harsh contrast to the exhaust fumes she was used to. No hum from the L train muffled the crunch of her feet against the gravel road, nor sirens reminded her someone was worse off than she was. The only sounds were the birds chirping in the air and the rustling of cornfields. It made Regan uncomfortable, lonely. It made her question coming here to find her father.
She still hadn't decided how to break the news to him. Perhaps: Knock, Knock. Who's there? The daughter you never knew you had. Or maybe: Nice to meet you. I'm your kid. And there were the bigger questions that tugged at her brain too. Was her father everything her mother had described? Did he have a family of his own — a beautiful wife and kids and a dog that fetched the morning newspaper? Was there any room in his perfect life for her?
Would he even want her if there was?
Reaching the edge of town, she shook the uncertainty from her head and examined the streetscape before her. So this was Half Moon Hollow — the population just under fifteen hundred, according to the weathered, wooden sign hanging from one rusty nail. Where those fifteen hundred people were, she did not know. If not for the banner advertising an upcoming festival, she'd have thought Half Moon Hollow abandoned long ago.
She set off down the vacant street, glancing in each window she passed. A hardware store, a pharmacy, a bank — all closed — each with blue and yellow garlands draped around the windows. There was nothing to help her, no one to ask for directions, nowhere to turn. Only one rusty Jeep without any doors parked in the road up ahead. She sank to the sidewalk with her head in her hands, defeated.
Get up, Regan.
She stiffened at her mother's voice. Not this again. Regan hadn't heard her since climbing out the window last night, had hoped she'd left her behind with the rest of her ghosts.
Go. Find a map, her mother pressed.
"Uh, in case you haven't noticed, there's no visitor's center here in Half Moon Hollow."
We need to keep going.
"What do you mean we? There's no we anymore. There stopped being a we the day you left me with Steven. Now, get lost!" Regan threw a handful of gravel into the air toward the invisible ghost of her mother, or whatever it was. The first time she'd heard it, a few months back, she'd blamed it on a gas station burrito she'd eaten. The second time, a severe case of survivor's guilt. By the third, Regan had stopped explaining and started thinking up ways to get rid of her.
Hearing her mother stirred up all the anger again, anger that always led back to sadness. And Regan had no more tears left to waste.
"Pardon my meddling, but are you lost, Miss?"
Regan turned toward the strange voice. A tall man in cut-off overalls and a white T-shirt stared back with a toothy grin. Any other time, she'd have found him creepy, but, lost and sweating in the August heat, he looked like her hero.
His grin started to slide, and his bushy brow rose. "You must be one o' them Hawkins High kids from the city, huh?"
She brushed the bangs from her eyes and nodded, though she had no idea where Hawkins High was. Right now, she'd tell him she was from Mars if he'd help her.
"Well, the new high school's about a mile up the road that way," the man continued, tossing a navy-blue bag into the back of the rusted Jeep. "If you hurry, you can still make it."
"The football scrimmage. Where else you think everyone is today? A tractor pull?"
"Right. Football." Regan hopped to her feet and tossed her bag across her shoulder, not entirely sure what a tractor pull was. "This might be a stretch, but is there a bus I could take?"
He blinked. "Nah, no buses 'round here. But I can take ya, if you want."
"No, but thank you." Regan spun on her heels and headed in the direction he'd pointed, hoping her father lived somewhere near the new high school.
"Mmm-kay," he said suggestively. "But I am heading that way on my route today."
Regan paused. Route? She spun back toward the Jeep, eyes landing on the faded U.S. Postal Service sticker she hadn't noticed before. "Who needs a map when you have a mailman?"
She shook her head. "I said I think I'll take that ride after all."
"All right then." He waited at the passenger's side as she approached, then helped her inside. "Name's George."
"Regan. Nice to meet you."
George tilted his head. "Well that's a funny name. Regan like the president?"
"Yep. Just like the president," she said, because explaining her mother's obsession with King Lear was a long-winded conversation she didn't want to have twice in twenty-four hours. Explaining it to Betty Lou had been enough.
George walked around the Jeep and climbed into the driver's seat. "Shouldn't take but just a few minutes to get to the high school."
"Yeah, about that ... you mind if we make a pit stop first, George?"
He shrugged. "Sure thing. Where to?"
Regan pulled the crumbled piece of paper from her pocket. "One twenty-four Baxter Street?"
"One twenty-four Baxter Street? Well, that's the old Fletcher place."
"That's right. Fletcher. Will Fletcher." She pulled her seatbelt across her chest and looked straight ahead, but he didn't start the car. "Something wrong?"
"Nope," George stated, turning the key. "But I can't say the same about Will Fletcher."
"Mr. Fletcher, there is something seriously wrong with you."
Will's grin faded. This wasn't the first time someone had told him that, and it for certain wouldn't be the last, but it still stung. "Wrong is a relative term, Your Honor."
"Not in my courtroom, it isn't." The judge removed her glasses and pinched the bridge of her nose. "Would you mind telling me what, exactly, would provoke you to think it would be okay to play a guitar naked in the new town fountain?"
"That the piano would be a pain in the ass to get in there?" The courtroom erupted with laughter, and Will turned for his customary bow. He'd managed to draw quite the crowd today. Not his biggest, but he was up against the first football scrimmage of the season. And, above all else, this town loved its Howlers' football.
He finished bowing to the crowd and turned to offer one to Judge Riddick, but of course she didn't laugh. And neither did his sister or Dr. Granger, who stood beside him.
"I was kidding," he whispered, and then looked toward the judge. "I was just kidding, Your Honor. I think it's clear I wasn't thinking."
Truth be told, Will didn't know why he'd climbed into that fountain or how many police officers it had taken to pull him out. One minute, he'd been getting a haircut at the barbershop, and the next, he'd woke up with his wrists tied down to a bed and a severe case of cottonmouth. Maybe he'd remember someday, maybe he wouldn't. That was how his mania worked.
"Your Honor, please excuse my patient," Dr. Granger said. "He's still adjusting to the new medications."
"I understand that, Dr. Granger, but the question still remains — why wasn't Mr. Fletcher on medication to control his illness in the first place?"
The answer was simple — because Will hated the medication. He felt groggy and irritable and lackadaisical all at the same time. Like he wanted to scratch out someone's eyes, with no idea why, no inkling how to do it, and no desire to get started any time soon. Off the medication, Will felt free. He could do anything, be anyone.
He could forget everything.
"Your Honor," Janey piped in, "My brother has a long ..."
And complicated past.
Will turned his eyes to the floor, pushing his mind to better places as he always did when Dr. Granger and Janey summed up his life into a series of misunderstandings and tragic circumstances. It didn't hurt to hear their words, nor did Will deny any of it. He simply didn't approve of the way they explained it, like he was the victim of his sad story. He'd ruined his career. He'd destroyed his marriage. He'd shattered his family. Perhaps his illness played a role, but that illness inhabited the blood and cells and neurons inside him.
Will was his Bipolar Disorder.
But it was easier not to argue over a technicality, so instead Will thought of happier times. He thought of swimming in Half Moon Creek and picnics afterword at the dam. He thought of his mother's homemade, blueberry pie and his father's old transistor radio crackling in the background. He thought of a time when he was just little Will Fletcher — future wide receiver for the Half Moon Howlers. Not crazy Will Fletcher — the example parents cite to their children when explaining the meaning of stranger danger.
"Mr. Fletcher, do you understand?"
Damn, were they finished already? He'd just gotten to the good part: when he'd met Ellie on the playground at school. "Sorry, Your Honor, I wasn't listening," he said, slightly irritated.
"Apparently." Judge Riddick tossed a Tic Tac into her mouth and rolled her eyes. "I'm turning you over to the care of your sister and your doctor and sentencing you to six months of community service, in addition to the six years you've already racked up."
Will smiled. "Excellent, Your Honor."
"And ..." the judge continued. "You have to serve it in some fashion other than volunteering at the animal shelter."
"What?" Will and Janey both exclaimed.
"You heard me. No dogs, no cats, no hamsters. I don't even want you helping a turtle cross the road into Half Moon Creek. This time you're going to use your sentence to help out humans. Do you understand?"
Will sighed. "Yes, Your Honor."
She beat her gavel against the wood block, the sound a sledgehammer against Will's foggy head, and exited the courtroom to an eruption of laughter. Even the audience knew how ridiculous her punishment was.
Dr. Granger patted Will on the back, as if offering his condolences, then gathered Will's stack of medical records. "Hang in there. The side effects will go away with time," he said.
Sure it will. Just like all the other things you promised would go away.
"Janey, you got a minute to chat?" Dr. Granger asked. "Outside?"
"Uh, sure. Will, I'll be right back."
Will waved her off, still staring at the leather chair Judge Riddick had vacated. No one in this town wanted his help. No one even liked being in the same room with him. They scattered like ants hiding from a thunderstorm when he came around, unless of course he did something crazy; then they brought the popcorn bucket. And back on his meds, what were the odds of that? This would land him right back in jail.
Or worse yet — Creedmoor Institute.
A shudder ran down Will's spine just thinking of that place. The crying. The howling. The screaming. Time swallowed by a perpetual dream state of days spent staring at the open canvas of a blank wall, as he ached for a storybook life much different than the one he'd created. The torture of waking up only to remember he was the villain of this story, not the hero.
He'd never go back to that place. He'd die first.
"You ready?" Janey asked.
Will turned with a start. Boy, was he ever.
Janey led and Will followed down the dark corridor toward the glass doors of the courthouse. As always, she waited to comment until they were alone outside, where no one could hear them. "Well, this should be interesting."
"Hey, I got this. I'll just volunteer at the cemetery."
Janey barreled down the stone steps, shaking her head.
"What?" Will said. "The judge didn't say the humans couldn't be dead."
"You're missing the point. It's supposed to be a punishment. Something to teach you a lesson and help the people you so often offend. And you just find another way to insult them."
He hurried to catch her. For a little thing, his sister walked fast. Will had trouble keeping up, even at six feet tall. "Hey, you know as well as I do that no one wants the town crazy anywhere near them."
"You're not the town crazy." Janey unlocked his car door and met his gaze. "You're sick. I don't know why everyone can see that but you."
"Because no one has to live inside my head day in and day out." He grinned. "Well, at least not everyone. There are a few strange characters that keep showing up."
"Damn it, Will!" Janey punched his arm and then stomped around the car, her short, blonde hair a wild mess. "Not funny. Not funny at all."
"What?" he asked, climbing inside. "Now I can't make a joke?"
"Not one that'll have you thrown in Creedmoor." She got in the car and turned the engine over. "Dr. Granger said you're down to your last chance as it is. The court wouldn't hesitate to throw you in there if you were hearing voices like him."
Will frowned. He knew Janey was referring to their father just by the way she'd said him. It was a disconnected, bitter, empty word. Will didn't blame her, really. His sister may not have inherited their father's illness as Will had, but she'd certainly taken the brunt of it.
"I need to drop the sketches for the fall issue in the mail on the way back," she said, backing out of the parking space. "Need anything else before we go home?"
Well, if she was offering ... "Mind if I stop by and see Emma?"
Janey hit the brakes. "Would it matter if I did?"
The question clearly rhetorical, Will didn't bother responding. It had been a week since he'd last visited Emma. He would go, with or without his sister.
"Of course not," Janey conceded, retrieving a bouquet of flowers from the backseat. The stems were joined together by a bright-purple ribbon. "Here. Picked these from the garden this morning."
Will placed the daisies in his lap, the aroma filling the air around him. "Thanks," he said, rubbing the ribbon between his thumb and finger. "She loves purple."
Janey pulled the sunglasses from her head to the bridge of her nose and watched anxiously as Will walked back down the path toward the car. Visiting Emma did something to him, spun a wheel of emotions inside him and Janey never knew where the arrow would land. Fun Will. Annoying Will. Sad Will. I-Hate-The-World Will. Janey felt like an eight-year-old on the way home from the bank, holding a mystery lollipop. Was it sour apple or root beer?
Would Will be her sweet, older brother or the bitter bastard she hated so much?
She took a deep breath as he climbed into the car, his expression sober. Like all other days, she wouldn't speak first. She'd wait for a sign from him then choose her response wisely. It could be a smile or a sigh, uncrossed legs or a nervous twitch, a humble thank you or a teeth-gritted fuck you. Today it was a simple flip of the radio to the oldies station. Oldies were good. Had he turned it to the heavy metal station, that would've been bad, and love songs disastrous.
Excerpted from The Rules of Half by Jenna Patrick. Copyright © 2017 Jenna Patrick. Excerpted by permission of BookSparks.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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