Rory’s Story Cubes Challenge: Week 3

These prompts made me cheer when I lined them up — they were the perfect setup to draft two key scenes from Fate’s Arrow, the first book in the Exeter series. I originally thought I would end up with the HWYS moment, but instead I got the scenes that will set that up. It’s rough, and the final scenes will be much different from this, but I’ve got the raw material on paper (well, pixels) now.

Prompts: Keyhole, skyscraper, arrow (bow), bridge, tree, hand, L/corner, shooting star, arrow (direction)

Fall to Earth

Ellie pulled her jacket closer as the wind picked up, sending her hair dancing on the breeze. The trees around the Reflecting Pool were just starting to bud, and dusk held the early spring chill. She followed the signs around to the FDR Memorial, though she could find her way in the dark. It was her favorite of all the memorials, each “room” highlighting a different aspect of his presidency. She stopped in front of the oversized statue of the president with his small dog, Fala, and ran a finger over the Scottie’s ears, metal worn bright from all the hands placed on them over the years.

She had come out tonight, hoping to find something, anything, to spark her interest. She hadn’t wanted to admit Aunt Becca was right last month when she asked if something was wrong. Ellie had pushed aside her aunt’s concerns, telling her that Will was just stressed at work, she herself was under pressure for a project. But since she’d returned from Exeter, it was hard not to notice the difference.

The water falling in various places reminded her of that one night, a few days after Becca’s annual holiday party.

Ellie rounded the corner and crossed the pedestrian bridge over the train tracks. Halfway across, she stopped, looking back over the town. She rested her arms on the rail, gazing up at the dark sky. It never got this dark in the city — too many buildings and lights. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen a star before tonight. The pinpoints of light in the sky faded as she looked west, toward Worcester. The city and bigger towns around it cast too much light. But to the east, the smaller towns between the state’s two big cities, she could watch the patterns in the sky, picking out long-forgotten constellations her father had shown her as they sat on the beach during off-season nights, enjoying the quiet that disappeared once summer arrived.

She made this visit to Aunt Becca every year, but the was the first year in a decade she’d come alone. On the surface, it was the same. She’d driven down the Cape to see her father, spent time catching up with her favorite aunt and walking around the small town she visited too rarely.

But normally she missed Washington after a few days, missed the crowds, the tall buildings and the late-night hours. As much as she loved the trip, she was always glad to get home. She’d thought this year would be even more like that, once Will told her he wasn’t going. She thought she’d miss him, miss their rare time together. And yet, she didn’t want to get on the train tomorrow. She’d talked to Will once, e-mailed a few times. Absence was supposed to make the heart grow fonder, but her heart didn’t seem to care whether she talked to him or not.

Ellie walked back across the bridge, descending to the sidewalk below. She shoved her hands in her pockets, the cold air numbing her fingertips. As she headed toward Aunt Becca’s, she found herself turning and following the river toward the old mill complex. She stopped under a streetlight and looked down, watching the water rush over the rocks and reeds at the edges of the channel. It soothed her, and she felt the tension easing from her shoulders. Her trip was almost over, and she was heading home. The home she’d chosen, the man she’d picked. This week was just a well-needed break from craziness at work, that’s all.

As she gazed at the waterfall designed to honor the Tennessee Valley Authority, she realized she’d been fooling herself that night. She had talked herself into thinking everything was normal, even though it didn’t feel that way. The water rushed over the marble, splashing into the pool below. When Ellie closed her eyes, she could picture the river rocks she’d watched, the water smoothing their rough edges through decades and centuries of flow.

She forced herself to keep moving, to pass through the monument until finally she reached the statue of the woman she’d been named after. Ellie looked up at Eleanor Roosevelt’s bronze face, thinking back to all the facts historians had unearthed in the years since FDR’s death, all the sex scandals politicians in recent years had fallen victim to. In today’s world, FDR would never have been president, and Eleanor probably would have divorced him long before he became a national figure in politics, if he ever did. Options were different. Choices were different.

She made her way out of the monument and along the walk until she reached the Tidal Basin. The cherry trees were just starting to grow leaves, the famous pink blossoms still weeks away. The white rotunda honoring Jefferson was a bright spot in the dark night, the lights making it a focal point at this end of the Mall.

She climbed the wide steps, and leaned against a column, looking across the water. The distant lights of buildings on the other side twinkled, like the stars in the sky above Exeter. She’d found herself doing that these past few weeks. Everything compared back to Exeter, to the people she’d met there over the years and to the places around town.

When she used two keys to unlock the front door of their apartment, she thought of Becca’s back door, no new lock replacing the old-fashioned keyhole and heavy metal key that hung inside the door. As she listened to coworkers sniping about other museums and grants won and lost, she thought of the historic restoration project Dan had told her about during the party, his enthusiasm totally absorbing her. As she struggled through another night where so-called friends were busy and Will was distant, she remembered nights at the pub in Exeter, listening to Riordan tell stories to friends and family, laughing with Aunt Becca.

She thought of the job ad she’d seen today, the one for her dream job at the Smithsonian. If she could get it, she would solve her job problems. She would meet new people, maybe find different circles to spend time with. And nothing said she had to stay with Will. They’d never married, choosing just to live together. If she could get it.

Ellie looked east, to the Washington Monument and the Mall behind it, the museums where she loved to spend a weekend day. She looked over to the city beyond, still busy into the evening. She turned back toward the Lincoln Memorial, toward the smaller memorials that she couldn’t see through the dark. She’d built a life here in the city she’d loved since she came as a college freshman, determined to get out of small-town Massachusetts. Could she really leave it all behind? Or could she find a way to keep the parts of her life she liked, jettisoning the ones she didn’t?

She took a deep breath, made her decision: the job. If she didn’t get it, she would leave, move to Exeter. She had enough saved that she could move first, then look for work. But she would give Washington this last chance. As she decided, the words from her favorite Longfellow poem ran through her head: “I shot an arrow into the air; It fell to earth, I know not where.” This would be her arrow, her fate wherever it chose to land.