The new book has begun!
Everyone loved Stella from Baby Dust so much that I decided to tell her backstory. So much happens to her in the 44 years prior to her arrival in my novel.
Stella is one step from leaving her honky tonk town when bad-boy Dane arrives. Their dangerous romance keeps the town talking, but when Dane is sent to prison for manslaughter after a bar fight, the couple discovers their love runs deeper than their reputations.
When Stella’s pink plastic shoe slipped off a rung one-third of the way up the side of the water tower, she realized she probably should have thought through her choice of footwear for the task.
Her knee banged the cold metal as she scrambled to hang on and secure her position. “Damn. That’s going to bruise,” she called down. “And don’t scream.”
Janine covered her mouth to keep from crying out. From this height, her friend resembled a Rainbow Brite doll in purple tights with yellow leg warmers. She cupped her hands and shouted, “You shouldn’t be up there in jellies and a mini skirt.”
Stella twisted around to face out on the ladder, the flimsy shoes curling around the rung as she grasped the bar and leaned forward. “You coming?”
Janine covered her eyes. “Please don’t hang like that.”
“I’m not going to fall at this late date. I’ve done this drunk at midnight.”
Her friend peeked between her fingers. “I know. I watched you then.”
“It’s not so scary in daylight.”
The sun blasted off the aluminum roof of the shed at the base of the water tower. High noon, and she was late for work. But walking along the block, Stella just had the urge to climb the tower.
Twenty-one years in this po-dunk town, and scaling the only tall structure in the middle of the day was one thing she’d never done. Seemed like something to do before she left for good. Should’ve had Janine bring a camera. Get a shot of her underneath the giant black letters that read “Holly,” the town’s ridiculous name.
“Sheriff’s gonna catch you,” Janine called.
“Only if you keep yelling at me.” She whipped back around on the ladder and climbed to the next level. Just one ladder left until she reached the platform that encircled the massive silver tank.
“Hey! I’m going to get docked. My boss ain’t like yours.” Janine backed away from the base of the tower, crouching down to duck through the section of the chain-link fence that had been cut and pulled back decades ago by high school seniors seeking to spray paint the broad side of the tower. Stella herself had added a blood-red “Senior ’81” just a few years back.
Stella waved down at her and scurried up the last segment of the ladder. She reached the platform and pushed through the narrow opening, grasping the bar that served as an ineffectual rail. As far as she knew, nobody had ever fallen off the darn thing, and she wasn’t going to today. She wouldn’t get caught either.
Plenty of people had been up there before her. The entire circumference of the tower was defaced with “Mark loves Ellen” and hundreds of other couplings, many crossed out and amended. Stella had warned the boys never to put her name up there. That was a deal breaker, certain to seal the doom of whatever short-lived fling she was having.
But one of them had disobeyed, Carter something-or-another, a Texas boy, who moved up to Missouri when his dad started working at the bank. Full of himself and his shiny Camero. He’d been after her, thinking he was doing something romantic by scaling the tower with an eight-foot ladder to inscribe “Carter & Stella” higher than any of the other graffiti.
Stella followed the platform to the other side, facing downtown, where a huge black splotch covered his transgression. Being on the short side, she’d had to drag a TEN-foot ladder up the damn tower to get rid of it. And after blotting out his mistake, she emptied the rest of the spray can on his little red hotrod.
He’d known she had done it, but the small town was good at closing ranks to separate the born-and-bred from the newcomers. Carter’s dad hadn’t wanted to make waves in the community, so her lawlessness had been ignored. They hadn’t stayed even a year in Holly. Missouri just didn’t suit.
Mostly Stella didn’t date in her own town, preferring boys from other small cities, close enough for a booty call, far enough to not watch her too carefully.
Right now she was between booties.
Standing on the tower in the daytime was a completely different experience than all the nighttime jaunts. She wondered why she hadn’t done it before. She peeked down at Janine’s purple form hurrying along the block, heading to the grocery where she worked as a cashier. Janine stopped suddenly and pointed ahead of her without looking up. Stella followed her arm, puzzled, then saw the sheriff’s car cruising into view.
But the ticket didn’t scare her now. She wasn’t as poor as she had been just out of high school. Her job at the perfume shop got her a bit of commission, and one thing she could do was sell. Bring anyone into the shop-man or woman-and she’d have them walking out with something they didn’t need.
In fact, she’d put together enough money to get her the heck out of dodge. Beatrice, her boss, would certainly give her a good rec. Stella just didn’t know where or when to go. Nothing had prepared her for whatever else was out there. No sense going balls out only to have to come crawling back home six months later, broke and humiliated.
The sheriff’s car idled along the broken pavement. No need to court trouble. She kept her back to the tower until the squad car passed, glad for the silver lamé shirt to help her blend in. Once he’d turned the corner onto Mulberry, she stepped away from the wall to look out on her soon to be ex-town.
The school. The track. The athletic fields she’d never stepped foot on, not once.
Houses filled a few blocks, then the highway snaked through town, the artery lined with what few shops currently attempted to make a profit in the dying populace. She’d worked at a few, even the convenience store for two weeks, until old man Spiller took to showing up in an overcoat, barelegged in black socks and dress shoes. Her mama made her quit before her purity got stained. Ha.
She didn’t have much keeping her there. Her sister, eight years older, had married off and split at first opportunity. Her parents were no reason to stay and, in fact, every reason to go.
The wind kicked up as she stood there, belly on the rail, leaning over so hard she could have somersaulted around the pole. And why not. She rushed forward, her necklace hitting her nose, and the world whirled as she spun around the spindly bit of metal, the only thing that kept her from crashing five stories to the ground.
Her feet didn’t quite make contact with the platform, and her ankles smashed into the sheet metal in another bruising connection. Damn. More purple. But the rush of it felt good so she did it again, this time tucking her knees a little higher.
She felt the metal give a little, crunching in. Panic zipped through her as she realized the rail couldn’t quite hold her weight. Her head was down, and she’d lost momentum. The town below was a blur of green and gray. She realized how easy it would be to just let go, be done with it all. Wasn’t much worth hanging on for. Start over reincarnated as a cat maybe, or a crow.
The world righted itself as she rolled the rest of the way around, the metal pinching in just enough that her lower back grazed the platform. She clutched the bent rail, feet dangling, trying to figure out how to wiggle her way backwards and up onto it without letting go of the thin bar.
Her shoulders screamed with the effort of keeping her in place. Stella looked down, imagining her body smashing into the roof of the shed below. Good God, what had she been thinking?