THE ROCKY ORCHARD (coming June 2nd) has moved into the cover design and final formatting phase! Take a look at a new section from my next novel, tentatively titled THE READING. I called them the Tommy Twins. They were sprawled on the grass together on one of the endless stream of unbearably hot evenings that festered our entire first week on campus. Most of the freshman class was sprawled across the grass; the need to escape dorm rooms that clutched the day’s heat and would not let it go made the need to lay in the cool grass feel urgent.
Most of the my fellow freshmen lay about, but only one of those freshman called my name as I navigated a diagonal path from one far corner of the massive lawn to the other. I didn’t really know where I was going. Or, more accurately, I wasn’t going anywhere. I was walking. For its own sake.
My third day at college had been one of nonstop meetings, panels, discussions, information sessions, etc., that the college had amassed and assembled for our orientation week. I don’t know, maybe they thought everyone would be consumed with paralyzing homesickness as well as fear and dread of the academic brutalities that lay ahead, but they kept us very busy. I felt like I was at some sort of summer camp where none of the activities made any sense. All of us freshman marched around to the places that our individualized schedules indicated, on time, with our notebooks open and our sharpened pencils in our hands. When the time was up, we gazed down at a solidly white page and were perplexed that there had been nothing whatsoever to record. Unless we doodled; then we had something to show for our time, at least.
Walking – albeit from one far corner of the quadrangle to the other – gave me a weird sense of purpose that had been sorely lacking. Piercing through my overheated, dreamy daze, a voice rang out from a fair distance, “Jo! Hey, Jo from Pennsylvania!” I looked around the general direction that the shout seemed to have come from and saw a guy who shot up from the grass and continually waved a very long, very pale arm in the air as I navigated my way through the bodies of my fellow freshman. There were a number of guys sprawled around him in a haphazard circle, each of whom had their ever-present red cup filled with varying amounts of beer.
“Oh my God,” I said. “Are you seriously sitting here with the freshman directory seeing if you can recognize people from their tiny little pictures and then yelling at them?”
He laughed. His Adam’s apple bounced up and down on his long neck as he did, which I found completely disarmingly charming.
“Well, yeah,” he said. “I guess that’s pretty much exactly what I’m doing. I’m Tom.”
I took a quick glance at the motley group that surrounded him and said, “Did you start out all be yourself tonight and gather this whole group of people already? Pretty impressive work.”
“Yeah, that’s exactly right,” Tom said. “Actually, not really. I’ve met them over the past few days. Hey, Jo, let me introduce you to everyone.” Tom said.
“Oh, right,” I said. “You already know my name from the directory thing. And where I’m from. I feel like I’m at such a massive disadvantage. Having not studied my directory.”
He pointed to a body on the grass, “this is Tom.”
“Tom and Tom?” I said. “Great. Easy to remember. If all of you guys are named Tom, that would be awesome.”
The other Tom stood up, with some effort, put his cigarette in his mouth, rubbed his hands together to shake loose the grass and dirt, and held his hand out for me to shake. “No, just me.” He shook my hand, put the cigarette back in his hand after taking a very big drag, and plopped back down on the lawn.
“Wow,” I said. “A hand shake. Formal, if brief, introduction.”
The first Tom put his hands on his hips and looked up towards the heavens. The second Tom gestured toward him with his cigarette and said, “He hates me. Well, to be fair, we probably hate each other. Equally.”
“Wow,” I said again. “That’s quick work. How long have we all been here – is it three days now?”
“We went to the same high school,” the first Tom said. “We weren’t really friends, but I don’t think anyone actually hates anyone else.”
“OK, well, really glad to hear that,” I said.
“Different crowds. Different friend groups. We didn’t really know each other very well,” first Tom said.
“Then we drove here together.” It was second Tom who said that, and with his words, he shot a highly withering look at first Tom. “Longest eighteen hours of my entire fucking life.”
Tom the first laughed heartily, as if this was genuinely funny and we were all enjoying mirthful, lighthearted banter. The Other Tom sprang up like a shot, jabbed a finger in my direction and said, “Want a beer? I’m gonna get more.”
“Hey thanks,” I said. “I was actually thinking I’d swim way against the tide and demonstrate my radical side by not having any beer this evening.” I shot my fisted arm high above my head and mock-shouted, “Who’s with me, brothers!?”
Tom laughed. Tom the original. A beautiful, genuine, head-thrown-back, open-mouthed laugh. They stood there for a moment, side by side, the two young men named Tom. They both had curly hair, but all similarity ended there. The laughing Tom not only had an infectious and unfettered laugh, but a huge, ready smile as well. He was tall and rangy and slightly uncomfortable in his own body like a growing puppy. It made sense that he was the one person, of everyone I had met thus far, who had called out to me. He was putting himself out there, reaching and stretching his energy outside of himself, seeing if it would land on others.
Cigarette Tom was compact and muscly. Dark brown hair, even darker eyes, deeply tanned skin. He was turned entirely inward, intense energy coiled over and under itself, swirling around and around. It seemed an effort for him to form words, more effort to speak them. And once he had made the effort, the sound of his own voice tormented him.
I loved them both. Immediately.