A coming-of-age story with an edge of suspense that takes place along historic Route 66!
“Until I found Gideon’s journal in the tool shed—locked in the cedar box where I’d once hidden my old diary—I’d been led to believe my brother was dead. But the contents of his journal changed all that.”
The Road to Discovery…
Two years ago, Aurora Gray’s world turned upside down when her big brother Gideon and his best friend Jeremy disappeared. Now, during the summer of her 18th birthday, she unexpectedly finds her brother’s journal and sees that it’s been written in again. Recently. By him.
The Road to Danger…
There are secret messages coded within the journal’s pages. Aurora, who’s unusually perceptive and a natural puzzle solver, is hell bent on following where they lead, no matter what the cost. She confides in the only person she feels can help her interpret the clues: Donovan McCafferty, Jeremy’s older brother and a guy she’s always been drawn to—even against her better judgment.
The Road to You…
Reluctantly, Donovan agrees to go with her and, together, they set out on a road trip of discovery and danger, hoping to find their lost brothers and the answers to questions they’ve never dared to ask aloud.
“In that expectant space between silence and melody, our trip began…“
Twelfth Night Publishing
Ebook & Print
Coming-of-Age Romantic Mystery
October 3, 2013
This is an excerpt from my coming-of-age romantic mystery, THE ROAD TO YOU (a young woman finds the journal of her missing brother, who’d disappeared two years before on the very same day as his best friend; she and the elder brother of the friend go on a road trip of discovery and danger, using the clues in the journal to try to find their lost siblings), copyright 2013 by Marilyn Brant. Hope you enjoy!
I could count on one hand the things I knew were true about Donovan McCafferty:
He was twenty-three—just over five years older than I was.
He’d escaped into the Army at age eighteen and, except for a few quick but memorable visits, hadn’t returned to Minnesota until this past winter.
He had an excellent mechanical mind.
And he made me very nervous.
Underneath my skin, every nerve fiber was fast twitching. Just thinking about Donovan always did that to me but, this time, it was also about the trip. I couldn’t have been more eager to get on the road to Crescent Cove, and I really didn’t want to make a stop at Donovan’s workplace.
But, awkward though it would be, he knew a few things I didn’t and might signal to me (whether he realized it or not) some very useful directions.
I waited until after dinner, biding my time. Made the three of us broiled chicken, mashed potatoes, broccoli. Boring, yes, but it wasn’t like anyone cared.
Then I excused myself from the usual watching of TV news and Thursday-night shows, repeat episodes anyway, and drove to the only auto repair shop and gas station in town. The one I avoided like the plague whenever possible, preferring to fill up in places where no one knew me, like Alexandria or St. Cloud. Places where Donovan McCafferty…wasn’t.
It was 7:05 p.m. by the time I got to the shop, and I parked a fair distance from the entrance. They closed at seven, but the work light in the back was on and two out of the three garage doors were still open. I knew he was in there. Not because I’d caught even one glimpse of Mr. Tall, Dark and Intense yet, but because the only other car in the lot was a crimson Firebird Trans Am with the giant bird decal in black and gold across the hood. His, of course.
I pushed open my car door, grabbed my tote bag with the journal tucked safely inside and inhaled several lungfuls of the cloying summer air. So early in June and already every breath was wrapped in sticky-sweet bugginess.
I didn’t make it more than five steps before he came out. A solid, broad-shouldered, six-foot-two mass of frequently impenetrable emotions. Not impenetrable enough this time, though.
Even at a distance of half a parking lot, I detected two powerful sensations that crashed, one after the other, into my awareness:
One, he was hugely curious about why I was here.
And, two, he very much wished I hadn’t been.
He walked up to me and cleared his throat. “Car trouble, Aurora?” He glanced at my hand-me-down, smoke-blue, five-year-old Buick Century, which had done nothing but purr contentedly during my drives around town. Donovan was the type to have noticed this, so I could tell he knew it wasn’t the car.
I shook my head. “I need to show you something,” I told him. “Privately.”
A small flash of amusement quirked one corner of his mouth upward. I was surprised he allowed me to read this, especially since he knew I could. Surprised he was letting me see that one of his possible explanations for my presence was flirtatious in origin—even as he immediately dismissed the idea.
I rolled my eyes. “It’s not like that,” I murmured.
He pressed his lips together, but the amusement still simmered just beneath the surface. “Too bad. ‘We’re both young and inconspicuous,’” he said, parroting the hideously embarrassing words I’d said to him one night when I was a sophomore and had snuck into our brothers’ secret high-school graduation party with my best friend Betsy. The guys had held it forty minutes away in St. Cloud so none of our parents would know.
I fought a blush. “We’re not that young,” I told him, trying to stand straighter and look older. “And we’re not inconspicuous here.”
“Ain’t that the truth.” He turned and motioned for me to follow him inside, clicking the shop’s cool new garage-door opener so the second of the three garage doors came down behind us, shaking until it touched the concrete.
He led me into the back office and ushered me in. “You want me to close this door, too? Snap the blinds shut?” He was mocking me as he asked, but there was a layer of concern beneath it. He knew something serious was up. In a town of 2,485 people, where you’d run into the majority of the residents a handful of times each week, I’d spoken with Donovan McCafferty in private exactly six times in the past five years.
Here’s to lucky number seven.
“Yes to the door,” I said. “No to the blinds.”
He did as I asked and then leaned against the smudged once-white wall, crossed his arms and studied me. “What’s this all about, Aurora?”
I nodded and pulled Gideon’s journal out of my bag.
“I found this,” I told him, explaining the odd circumstances of my discovery, and watched as his dark eyes narrowed. The curiosity of a few minutes before became heavily spiked with suspicion. He flipped through several pages of the journal, silent. He was processing all of this, I knew, but he didn’t quite seem to get it. To be able—or willing—to take the appropriate intuitive leap.
So, I pointed again to the recently dated page and to Gideon’s words on it, studying Donovan’s face as he read it a second time. I saw every nuance of his reaction. Couldn’t miss the two major transitions, shifting his expressions in slow motion like tectonic plates made visible. Incredulity hardening into doubt. Hope melding into anger.
“What makes you think this new date written down is even real?” he growled at me. “Your brother could’ve just scribbled it in the corner two years ago as a note for himself. Or somebody else could have written it. There are a hundred possible explanations. Finding this journal all of a sudden doesn’t prove anything.”
“I think it does,” I said quickly, but very carefully.
Insight into a guy’s emotions was no guarantee I’d correctly predict his behavior. In Donovan’s case, he was a human knot of tension and anger. I had no earthly idea what he’d do next, so I did my best to come across as super calm.
“I know this is probably difficult to accept,” I said, “but I’m almost positive Gideon wrote in this recently and that he brought it back to Chameleon Lake himself.”
Still, Donovan didn’t believe me.
“Your brother is dead, Aurora. And so is Jeremy. You know that. We all know that. Otherwise, they would’ve come back by now.” For a second, his voice broke, giving away the anguish behind the words. He tried to cover it up. “You show this thing to anyone and they’ll think you’re crazy. ‘Oh, look, my brother wrote me notes from the grave,’” he said with full-on sarcasm. “‘And sometimes he visits me at my house, too.’ Yeah. Have fun convincing anybody of that.”
“I’m not showing it to anyone else, at least not until I have an idea of what it all means,” I snapped. “But try to imagine I’m right. Just try. You knew your brother best. Is there anything here that jumps out at you a little? Makes sense to you? Especially those technical terms. Can you figure out what they were working on?”
Donovan wasn’t a person who took orders willingly, at least not from someone he didn’t consider his direct superior, so, of course, he didn’t answer any of my questions.
“Tell me exactly what you’re planning to do with this.” He held up the journal.
I shrugged. “I’m just trying to understand it.” This was mostly truthful.
Donovan stared at me—his face moving closer to mine as he searched for whatever clue he was looking for in my expression. It was precisely this uncomfortable sensation of being so carefully observed that made me keep my distance from the guy. I was used to analyzing the minute movements, body language and facial changes of others. It was not, however, my idea of a good time to be the subject of such scrutiny myself. Thankfully, that rarely happened.
I knew Donovan didn’t make a habit of reading reactions like I did, but he seemed to enjoy turning the tables on me whenever possible. He was one of the only people I’d ever met who instinctively knew from Day One that I possessed this heightened perceptiveness. A natural gift and, alternately, a curse. I’d been only twelve years old the first time we spoke, but he was guarded with me even then.
“Just read the page. Please.” I motioned to the journal. “I looked up some of the words in an encyclopedia but, aside from figuring out that they’re chemicals, they don’t mean anything to me.”
Atomized spherical aluminum
Zirconium powdery + 2 (+ 0)
Monday, April 19, 1976
J. & I drove to Crescent Cove
M + 1 (+ 0), D + 10 (+ 0)
He read each of these hard-to-pronounce compounds aloud, along with the numbers and the mention of Jeremy and Gideon going to Crescent Cove. He shook his head. “This doesn’t make sense. I don’t know why they’d need most of it at all. A few of these are used for car engines, like the propylene glycol, so they might have needed that, but the others are common oxidizers.”
I squinted at him. “In English, please?”
“Chemicals that blow things up. Potassium perchlorate and sodium nitrate are used as fuels for things like fireworks,” he explained. “They’re not hard to find. If our brothers wanted to get their hands on them, they wouldn’t have had to drive three hours to Wisconsin. They could find them in St. Cloud. So, if they went to Crescent Cove two summers ago, it must have been for a different reason. To meet somebody, maybe.”
Yes! And that was why I’d come here, risking sheer mortification and that pit-of-my-stomach unease, just to ask Donovan that question. I figured he’d know about stuff like this. And I could work with his conclusion. I could do something now… I only wished we would have had this clue two years ago.
But in my excitement, I made a stupid tactical mistake. “I can’t wait to talk to that person,” I murmured, realizing my error the instant the words were in midair. I tried to cover it up by smiling and shuffling my feet. Unfortunately, Donovan wasn’t fooled.
His dark eyebrows rose slowly. “You’re going there? When?”
I took a step back, regretting having requested the closed office door. We did not, perhaps, need this much privacy after all.
“Um,” I said, shrugging and reaching for the journal. “It’s not really set…”
Okay, this was a blatant lie. I had my excursion all planned, right down to my alibi for the weekend. No one would mind or even really notice. Not unless, like my brother, I happened to go missing the summer after my high-school graduation, too.
This worrisome thought distracted me. It was only for a second, but that was long enough for Donovan to pull the journal out of my grasp and say again, “Aurora, when are you going?”
Much as I preferred to keep him and everyone else out of it, maybe it would be wise to tell at least one person my real whereabouts. Just in case.
I sighed. “Tomorrow at noon. After I’m done with my shift at work.”
“At the Grocery Mart?”
I nodded, not surprised he remembered that was where I had my part-time job. I’d felt his eyes track me when we were out in public. I knew he’d been aware of me all this time, just as I’d been aware of him. Unfortunately, the foolish crush I had on him only went one way. “I won’t be gone long. Two days, at most.”
In my mind, I’d already begun formulating the questions I wanted to ask in Crescent Cove. Seemingly innocent things that might draw out the responses I needed. I was sure if I asked just the right question to just the right person, the truth would be magically revealed to me—by their hands, their eyes, their vocal tone, their posture—I didn’t need their words. Soon, I’d know what happened to my brother and his best friend, and then this deadening sense of helplessness would have to stop.
Donovan was shaking his head again. With his Army buzz-cut long gone, his dark hair grazed the back of his black crew-neck t-shirt—a faded tribute to The Who.
Appropriate band for him. Who are you…Donovan McCafferty? Who? Who?
He flipped through a few more journal pages and glanced at the wall calendar, stroking one of his sideburns in thought. “June’s Muscle Car Babe!” the calendar proclaimed, showing a tanned blonde, her hair feathered à la Farrah Fawcett-Majors, clad in a skimpy cherry-red bikini and leaning like a slutty go-go dancer across the hood of an equally cherry-red Ford Mustang. I gagged a little.
“Do you know Johansen’s Diner in Alexandria?” he said suddenly.
“Sure,” I replied. Everyone knew it. The owners served some of the better Norwegian specialties in the area.
“Good. There aren’t many spaces out in front, but they have that free public parking garage across the street. Park on the second level. I’ll meet you there at one p.m. tomorrow, and we’ll drive to Crescent Cove together. ”
“What? No,” I said, my irritation rising. “I’m not going there with you. I’m not going with anyone.”
He stared at me for a very long moment. Opened the office door and motioned me out. He followed, locked up behind us and led me to the parking lot while closing the third and last garage door. Then he pulled out his car keys and strode over to his Trans Am, turning to me a second before hopping in. “You sure as hell are, Aurora.”
Too late, I realized he was still holding the journal. I broke into a run after him. “Donovan! Give me the—”
But he’d already started the engine and was partway to the street.
He rolled his window down and added, “I need to read it tonight. You’ll get it back tomorrow in Alexandria. Be there at one.”
Then he sped away.
Soundtrack of the Story:
Stairway to Heaven~Led Zeppelin
Who Are You~The Who
Pinball Wizard~The Who
Dance With Me~Orleans
Life in the Fast Lane~The Eagles
Band on the Run~Wings
Love the One You’re With~Crosby, Stills and Nash
More Than a Feeling~Boston
Hitch a Ride~Boston
Let Me Take You Home Tonight~Boston
Wheel in the Sky~Journey
Rock and Roll All Nite~KISS
Grease (Is the Word)~Frankie Valli
Greased Lightning~John Travolta & the Cast of “Grease”
Stayin’ Alive~The Bee Gees
How Deep is Your Love~The Bee Gees
If I Can’t Have You~Yvonne Elliman
You Should Be Dancing~The Bee Gees
Jive Talking~The Bee Gees
Promised Land~The Grateful Dead
Get Your Kicks on Route 66~Perry Como
The Entertainer~Scott Joplin
Summer Breeze~Seals and Crofts
Running on Empty~Jackson Browne
The Fuse~Jackson Browne
Saturday in the Park~Chicago
Muskrat Love~The Captain and Tennille
I Think I Love You~David Cassidy
Sweet Talkin’ Woman~ELO
Only the Good Die Young~Billy Joel
Goodbye to Love~The Carpenters
Da Doo Ron Ron~Shawn Cassidy
(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction~The Rolling Stones
Roll Me Away~Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band
Abracadabra~The Steve Miller Band
American Pie~Don McLean
Nobody Does It Better~Carly Simon
Born to Run~Bruce Springsteen
Don’t Look Back~Boston
A Man I’ll Never Be~Boston