Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sample Sunday: Finding Fiona Chapter One

Finding Fiona was published this weekend! Here is the full first chapter -- no more of those 500-600 word excerpts.

Chapter One
Smoke choked her lungs and made her eyes water. The heat burned against her skin. She ran down the steps, tears streaming down her cheeks. Someone grabbed her from behind, strong arms wrapping around her torso.
She woke up gasping and coughing. Her surroundings came into focus. Salmon-colored walls. A hard bed. She was in a hospital room, not in the fire. She had escaped. Her heart pounding, she looked down at herself. She wore a hospital gown, and her arms and stomach stung with pain, though covered with clean bandages.
What had happened? Swallowing, she tried to think over the day, but all she had were blurry images that didn’t make sense. The fire was vivid in her mind, but she didn’t know how she escaped. She remembered riding in a car and bleeding from her stomach. She tried to recall how she’d started bleeding, but she faced the same maddening wall of blankness. She swore and clenched her teeth.
Her hands shook as she pushed aside the rail on the side of the bed. She needed to get out of here. She wasn’t sure why, but she had the feeling something bad was going to happen if she stayed here. Her legs were weak when she put weight on them, and she steadied herself against the bed.
She needed to find her parents. She tried to picture them in her mind, tried to recall their names, but there was a gap where they should have been. Instead, a crushing weight pressed down on her chest. She pushed aside her panic. It didn’t matter; she’d find them. It was just the shock.
An unfamiliar woman walked into the hospital room. She had wrinkles at the corners of her mouth, and her eyes widened. “You’re awake!”
She swayed, her legs nearly giving out, and the woman rushed forward to catch her arm. The woman eased her back onto the bed. “Don’t worry, it’s all right.”
The girl put her head in her hands. “I need to go.” But she didn’t remember why. Something important pressed the back of her mind, but when she reached for it, it faded.
“What’s your name?” the woman asked softly.
The girl’s eyes stung with tears, and she took a steady breath, trying to hold them back. “I don’t know.”

* * *

Four months later…

The windows next to them took up nearly the whole wall, showing the harbor. The seagulls were just black specks in the blue sky. The water ebbed back and forth, splashing against the rocks. Fiona could see the spot where Hannah had found her four months ago. She only faintly remembered being there; she’d been floating in and out of consciousness at that point.
They’d walked along the spot with the reporter an hour ago. Fiona had hoped for some revelation, but nothing new had surfaced in her mind. The only clear memory she had of that day was driving in Hannah’s car on the way to the hospital, mumbling the name James over and over again.
She turned to Hannah and Troy, who sat across from her at the table. They sat in a restaurant with a maritime theme: a model ship dominated one wall, and comics of Popeye the Sailorman lay between the tables and the glass over them.
“This is one of my favorite places in Mystic,” Hannah said. “You know the coffee shop area used to be a dance club? It was the coolest place in town on the weekends.”
Fiona grinned. “Did you come here with your leg warmers and Ray Bans?”
Hannah laughed. “Oh, yeah. You’ve seen the pictures. I was the next Madonna.”
Fiona exchanged amused glances with Troy. “But then you became a real estate agent,” she said. She tried to imagine Hannah singing Like a Virgin. She couldn’t. Hannah was too sensible, too normal.
“The world wasn’t ready for me.” Hannah flipped her hair off her shoulder.
“Wait, I need to see those pictures,” Troy said, bumping his shoulder against Hannah’s.
“No!” Hannah shook her head. “Too much teasing material.”
“You’ll show Fiona and not me?” Troy put his hand over his heart. “That hurts, Hannah.”
“Just goes to show she likes me more,” Fiona said with a shrug. If only that were true. She had asked Hannah not to bring Troy today, but she’d insisted that he would be fun. Right. Hearing him complain the whole trip about the follow-up article with the Boston Herald was really fun. She couldn’t believe he’d actually tried to talk her out of it in front of the reporter.
Troy looked like he might respond, but Hannah cut him off, perhaps to avoid an argument. “Do you two know what you want?” she asked.
Fiona picked up her menu. “You’re the expert. What should I get?”
“Their seafood pasta is amazing. I really like their soups, too.”
The waitress came over with their drinks. She was an older woman with corkscrew curls dyed red. “Are you ready to order?”
“Not yet,” Troy said, his gaze on the menu.
“Okay, I’ll be back in a couple minutes.”
“Thank you so much, Lisa,” Hannah said, smiling.
“You know her?” Troy asked.
“I saw her name on her name tag.”
Troy smirked, shaking his head. “You’re too funny.”
Fiona studied him for a moment, trying to determine if the comment was meant to be condescending or flattering. She generally couldn’t tell with Troy.
She looked down at her menu, but didn’t want to consider all the options. Seafood pasta it was. She trusted Hannah’s judgment in food. She trusted Hannah more than anyone, really. That wasn’t saying much, considering she didn’t know many people, but even if Fiona knew hundreds, she was sure Hannah would be one of the nicest people she met. She’d taken care of Fiona, let her live with her in Boston for the last three months, supported her search for her past, and had even given her something like a normal life.
The waitress retuned a few minutes later. Troy ordered first, then Hannah. “And for your daughter?” she said, turning to Fiona.
Fiona smiled tightly. “We’re not related.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” ‘Lisa’ said. “You really look like you could be!”
“It happens all the time,” Troy said, waving a hand. “Don’t worry about it. Fiona, you wanted the seafood pasta, right?”
“Right.” Fiona pursed her lips. She didn’t mind being mistaken for Hannah’s daughter, since Hannah was the closest thing she had to a mother. Thinking of Troy as her dad made her cringe, though. He couldn’t even let her order her own food.
Once the waitress left, Hannah leaned forward and squeezed Fiona’s hand. “I’m glad we came today. Maybe someone will see that article.”
“Hopefully the right people,” Troy muttered. “You know, we could still call her and ask her not to run it.”
“It’s running,” Fiona said firmly. “Maybe a family member or a friend will see it.”
“Yeah, or someone else,” Troy said.
“This conversation sounds really familiar.”
Hannah changed the subject, and Fiona tuned them out, gazing out at the harbor. She understood where Troy’s reservations came from. She had been stabbed, and she faintly remembered being pulled into a van, so she could have even been kidnapped. She had weighed the benefits with the risks, though. If her family saw the article, it might be worth the chance of someone else seeing it. Besides, an article had run four months ago, and no one had come looking for her then.
She tried not to dwell on the fact that no one might come looking for her this time, either. She had to hold onto some kind of hope.
They ate their lunch, chatting aimlessly. Hannah redirected the conversation every time Fiona or Troy mentioned the reporter, probably to avoid an argument. Fiona was fine with that. Troy didn’t seem to understand it was her choice, not his.
Hannah had a real estate meeting at one o’clock, and Troy wanted to visit a few shops in town. Fiona told them she’d walk to the library around the block.
“Shouldn’t you stick with us?” Troy asked.
Fiona made a face. Since Hannah had a meeting, that left Fiona with Troy. “I’m okay. I’ll just hang out at the library.”
“I don’t know,” Troy said, shaking his head.
“You don’t know what? Just go do your thing.”
He looked at Hannah. “You couldn’t take her to your meeting?”
Fiona huffed. “Troy, I’m old enough to go to the library by myself for a couple hours.”
“She’ll be fine, honey,” Hannah said.
Troy’s jaw tightened. “Fine. But you have your phone, right?”
“Yeah, of course,” Fiona said.
Hannah stood, looking at her watch. “My meeting should be over in an hour and a half. You want a ride, Troy?”
“Sure.” Troy got to his feet, leaving some money on the table. “Keep your phone close by, Fiona.”
Fiona gave him a thumbs up and waved as they parted ways in the parking lot. She sighed with relief when they were gone. She walked to the library and went to the computer lab. She’d planned on doing some research, but the technician told her the lab didn’t open until one. Fiona didn’t understand why they didn’t open the computers with the rest of the library.
While she waited, she perused the periodicals. She dug through the old newspapers and found they didn’t keep newspapers for longer than two weeks. At Hannah’s house in Boston, she had the local newspaper from Mystic that had the article about her: the injured girl with only fuzzy memories of her childhood, waiting for someone to claim her.
Fiona walked through the aisles of the periodicals, running her fingers over the magazines and academic journals. She loved the smell of a library: the old, dusty books, the ink and paper.
Her gaze stopped on a journal called American Physics. The title sounded familiar. A social worker had suggested she take the SATs a couple months ago to see where she was academically. The science section of the test had been, without a doubt, the easiest section for her. She even had faint memories of learning those things, of working in a lab, of running experiments. She could explain certain concepts to Hannah.
She picked up the journal and flipped through it. She grabbed the last four issues before finding a seat. Some of the articles went straight over her head; some fascinated her. Her thriller novel hadn’t been able to keep her attention, but this could. Her mind made no sense sometimes.
On the last page was a short article. The black and white photos caught Fiona’s eyes first, and she gasped. A man and a woman, smiling in individual pictures. She knew them. She’d seen them in faint memories: the man’s deep set eyes and dark hair; the woman’s warm smile and bright eyes. Fiona had tried to describe their faces when she had access to facial composition software, but the faces never came out right. Yet here they were. Her parents. Real.
She sought out the name of the authors: Richard and Fiona Normans.
That was why the name Fiona had stuck out to her–it was her mother’s name.
The headline read, Human Replication–Is It Possible?
The article was only a page long and prefaced a longer study to come in the next issue. The two had studied the possibilities of human replication for nearly two decades. They worked primarily out of their lab in New York City while trying to replicate both organic and inorganic objects. On the surface, the theory sounded impossible, but Fiona found herself nodding along to their claims.
She swallowed, looking back at their pictures. She stood up quickly and checked to make sure this was the most recent issue. She looked at her watch. Still half an hour before the computers opened. She’d have to call American Physics. Maybe they could talk to Richard and Fiona for her. Maybe they’d tell them she was alive and well. Maybe she could actually be reunited with them.
Of course, the doubt that her parents were even alive hovered in the back of her mind. She remembered being so panicked when she ran through those flames, sobbing uncontrollably. She wasn’t sure if they’d survived the fire.
She started jogging for the door. She turned the corner of an aisle and ran straight into someone, dropping the journal. “Oh, I’m so…” she trailed off when she saw the guy standing in front of her. He was a few inches taller than her. He had black hair, and he stared at her unabashedly.
Fiona couldn’t believe how familiar he looked: the narrow face, the golden brown eyes. She knew him.
He slowly reached down and picked up the journal. He looked at the title, then stared at her again. She clenched her hands into fists, hardly daring to hope. Could it be? Could he really be someone from her past? Why else would he be staring at her like that?
Recognition exploded within her. She'd been called that before; she just knew it. Tears stung her eyes, and she blinked them away, embarrassed. “I…”
“Oh, my god. Is it really you?”
“I don’t know.” Fiona’s voice shook. “Who do you think I am?”
He stared at her. “You don’t… you don’t remember me?”
“I recognize you. What’s your name?”

* * *

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