The full prompt being: Day 1 —Select a book at random in the room. Find a novel or short story, copy down the last sentence and use this line as the first line of your new story. Done and done. So here goes:
“There were one hundred thirteen more pages. They all followed Connie back to Rockover.”*
After a few weeks, Connie realized that those pages would never let her go. She had been foolish enough to let her guard down and talk honestly to medical providers and therapists, hoping they might help her. Now she was home and nothing much had changed, except her purse was a lot lighter. She figured out how to taper off the medications after she woke up four mornings in a row not remembering how she got to bed. Even when she was drinking heavily in college, that had never happened to her, and it hadn’t happened before she was given the meds in the hospital. She had been free of them for two weeks now, and already felt more clear headed upon waking up.
The worst part was at work. She had spoken one on one to the human resources manager about why she was finally going inpatient and the woman assured her that the company confidentiality policy was strictly enforced. When she left the office, she felt a tiny bubble of hope. Maybe she could go away for a little while, feel better, and get back to her life after all. That bubble burst the first day back at work when she overheard two women talking in the bathroom about “that little admin in sales who went nuts-o.” So much for company confidentialty. She waited, frozen in the stall, until her co-workers had left. It took everything she had not to simply walk off the job that afternoon, but if she did that, they would know she knew, and she had a secret that she could hold against them if she needed. That little bit of information made her feel more powerful than she had in months.
Everything came to a head last week when Connie stopped at the grocery store to pick up a few things before the weekend. She planned to work in the yard and catch up on her backlog of movies, and she didn’t want to leave the house again until Monday morning. As she worked her way throught the checkout lane, she realized she was in Ruby’s line. She stood up a little straighter as she felt her innards cringe away. Ruby loved to chatter to everyone in line at the top of her voice. She was especially fond of repeating anything her customers said to her back to them, as if to verify they had really said it. As soon as she realized she was in Ruby’s lane, Connie considered simply putting her items back and going home. Then a little backbone took over and she decided she wasn’t going to be run off by one gossipy bigmouth. She felt better having mentally stood her ground. That was until she got to Ruby.
“Hey, there, doll!” Ruby hollered over the usual noise of Friday night checkout. Connie wanted to shrink away to nothing, but forced herself to speak.
“Hi, how’s your Friday?” Please just tell me and let’s get this over with, she thought. I don’t even have twenty items, please just let this be quick.
“How’s my Friday?” bellowed Ruby, “Let me tell you, it’s been crazy here today, totally and absolutely crazy. This place is a freakin’ nut house.” Ruby threw back her head and laughed as if no one had ever said anything funnier. Then she focused on Connie.
“But then, you’d know all about nut houses, wouldn’t you, hon? Hope you’re feelin’ better now, for sure.”
What? WHAT? How on Earth could Ruby know about her recent inpatient stay? Connie certainly never mentioned it to her. Who did they have in common? She wracked her brains trying to figure out how some sleazy grocery checker could know anything about her personal business, but her mind went blank.
“I, um, I feel fine, uh, I don’t really know what you mean. Is that my last bag?”
Blessedly, Ruby had managed to ring up the few items Connie had and get them bagged while Connie swiped her debit card. Thank God for debit cards, she thought. No signatures necessary. The question deflected Ruby for a moment.
“Sure, hon, you got them all. Here’s your rec…” Connie snatched the receipt out of Ruby’s fingers and grabbed the last bag off the checkout turnaround. She was proud when she didn’t break into a dead run in her haste to get out of the store, but kept her pace to a brisk walk.
By the time she got to her car, Connie was panting with anxiety. If Ruby knew, then everyone might know! It was none of their business. She didn’t want to know any of their private anguish, why would they be the least bit interested in hers? She couldn’t understand it. She only knew that she had to get out of this place, this tiny town that had held her prisoner for so long.
It was time to create a new life for herself, this time entirely on her own terms. Even the thought of it calmed her down. She felt her pulse slow and a smile crept across her face for a moment. A real smile, brought up from deep inside. She hadn’t felt her face form that experession in far too long. Why hadn’t she thought of it before?
She had to become someone else. But how?
*Props for recognizing the book this came from (without Googling).