Not every single thing that a writer writes makes it into the final draft of a novel. My critique partner and I call this “killing my babies.” Morbid I know, but sometimes it feels a bit like that. Removing even a few words that you have worked so hard on can be extremely hard. Even if it helps the overall story and makes it better.
This chapter got cut from the final version of Soulwalkers. I decided that while fun, it didn’t add much to the story. You’ll notice a lot of changes since I wrote this. One of the biggest is Ian’s nickname for Kia. But you’ll also see a lot of things that made it into the final, like Kia’s dress for The Network party.
On Monday, the school day passed excruciatingly slow. Kia felt like she was one in a herd of cattle, grazing in a pasture all day. Graze, walk over there, graze, walk over there – rinse and repeat. Her mind wasn’t in the school day; it was already in the afternoon anticipating joining The Network.
English class was the worst. Every other class was just a lecture. But in English, Kia had a quiz over Friday’s SAT words, just like she did every Monday. But English was over quick and the end of the day came a little faster after that.
Kia hated how vague Ian was yesterday about what they would be doing. He probably is purposely vague to try to add to his mysterious persona – definitely on purpose. But now Kia had no idea when, where, or much less what they would be doing.
Kia met Katelyn in the courtyard after school let out and made their way to the parking lot. If school was the herd of cattle grazing, then the parking lot after school was the stampeding herd. Twelve grades of girls all rushing out once the bell rings to their cars, buses, parents cars, sibling’s cars; it was a mad house.
So when Kia didn’t find her Jeep at first she wasn’t concerned. Maybe she was just on the wrong aisle, or it was behind a big truck. But she knew she parked it next to that yellow Mazda –
“Where is the Jeep?” Kia asked, standing in the middle of the aisle looking around. Kia sighed as her question went unanswered and saw Katelyn at the end of the aisle talking to some friends. “Thanks Katy, you’re such a big help.”
She watched as the yellow Mazda pulled out of the parking space revealing a blue Toyota Prius instead of her old green Jeep.
“Crap, crap, crap.” Kia muttered. Her mind raced through her possibilities. Of course her beaten up old car would get stolen in a parking lot full of luxury cars. What was she going to do now? Get a ride with a friend? No, that wouldn’t work. Her house wasn’t exactly on anyone of her friends’ way home, and they weren’t very subtle about their complaining about it. Call mom? Probably in surgery or something. She remembered Ian giving her his phone number yesterday before he left. She could call him. They were supposed to do something today anyways, so it wasn’t really inconvenient. That is what she would do, call—
The yellow Mazda had finally finished pulling out of the parking spot, allowing Kia to get a good look at the car that had taken the spot where her car used to be. And there, leaning against the back of the Prius was Ian.
“What did you do with my Jeep?” Kia screamed.
With one hand Ian pulled down his aviator sunglasses and looked down above them and the other hand he laid on his chest. “Me?”
“Yes, you!” Kia was furious. It was one thing for him to show up unannounced, but stealing her Jeep, moving it somewhere—practically giving her a panic attack…
“Stop freaking out. It is at your house,” Ian said, shoving the sunglasses back up his nose.
“How did you –” Kia was interrupted by Ian popping open back door of his Pruis and pulling out a black garment bag with White House | Black Market written on it.
“For you.” Ian unzipped the bag and hanging inside was a dress. The dress was simple, but elegant: a wrap-around, black with white polka dots, and ruffles around the neck and bottom.
“This is for me?” Kia asked, already forgetting her anger, fingering the ruffles around the neck – chiffon. “But why?”
“We’re going to meet the family and we can’t have you wearing that.” He pointed toward her school uniform.
Kia looked down at herself. Her school uniform wasn’t exactly flattering: plaid skirt and a white button down with the school logo embroidered on the right side of her chest. Then she looked over at Ian, who she realized for the first time was not wearing jeans and t-shirt like usual, but instead sporting black slacks, a white dress shirt, and a black skinny tie. The boy cleaned up well.
Before Kia could say anything back regarding what exactly the family was, Katelyn, who was finally finished talking with her friends, walked up. “I suppose you have something to do with the missing Jeep Ian.” Katelyn asked, crossing her arms. Kia gave Katelyn a bewildered look. She didn’t think that Katelyn had realized that the Jeep wasn’t here.
“I had it brought back to y’all’s house,” Ian said, waving his arm, like grand-theft auto was no big deal, something he did every day.
“Of course you did,” said Katelyn. She turned to Kia, “I am going over to Elizabeth’s. We were assigned as partners for a project in Biology today, so we’re going to get started.”
“Okay. Just try to be back early. School tomorrow.”
“I’ll try,” she paused, “but will you?” She asked, turning her head towards Kia and winking so that only she could see. She had been eyeing the still unzipped garment bag now folded in Ian’s arms. Kia started to say something back, but Katelyn had already turned around and walked away, waving goodbye over her shoulder.
“That worked out well.” Ian smiled. “Now hop on in, Kiwi.” Ian put the dress back in the trunk and made his way to the driver’s side.
Kia made no move to get inside. She was still trying to figure out, A: where they were going, B: why did she need a dress, and – Kiwi? Really? She had no idea what he was constantly calling her that instead of her actually name. Maybe she looked a little shell-shocked, or stubborn, maybe a little of both, because Ian grabbed her by the arms spun her around and guided her toward the now open passenger side door.
Kia’s attempts to wriggle out of his grasp proved to be fruitless. Ian’s muscles weren’t just for show; they were hard and lean and strong. “I’m not five, I can do it myself,” said Kia, stubbornly.
“We’re on a time schedule here,” Ian said through clenched teeth, still steering Kia towards the door.
When they finally reached the door, Kia made a last-ditch effort to keep from getting in, now just out of shear obstinance. She hooked her foot on the step-bar on the bottom of the door and put one hand on the door handle and the other on door frame. She braced herself. “Wait!”
Ian stopped pushing and let go, making Kia lose her balance and nearly topple over backwards. “What is it, Kia!?” Ian snapped.
The heated frustration in Ian’s voice startled her. “I—I just wanted to know what we were doing.” Kia’s voice was quiet, embarrassed.
Ian sighed. “I am taking you to meet the other Soulwalkers in the city. It is supposed to be a surprise welcoming party,” he gestured sharply at the trunk, “hence the dress.”
“Oh –okay.” Kia got in the car and slammed the door, narrowly missing Ian’s face. She felt bad for acting like a child and not getting in the car. But she didn’t like the secrecy or the showing up out of nowhere. She liked schedule and routine. Since becoming a Soulwalker, nothing has really been routine, she thought.
* * *
The car ride was agonizingly quiet. Ian said nothing, keeping both hands on the steering wheel and his eyes on the road the entire time. He had turned the radio off when they left and the fact that the engine barely made any noise just added to the awkward silence lingering between them. Several times Kia would glance over at Ian, try and say something – anything – but would lose her confidence and turn around again. What would she say? I didn’t quite peg you for the Pruis type, I like the environment too. Everything she thought about saying just sounded lame or inappropriate for the situation. So she said nothing and watched as countless number of cars passed by with people in them – friends, siblings, parents and children, lovers – having perfectly normal conversations. In those moments, she envied them.
But Kia’s sulking was interrupted when Ian pulled into a gas station. Still not saying anything, Ian reached around the back seat and pulled out a bag and handed it over to Kia. The bag contained everything that Kia would have needed to get ready for the party: a brush, make-up powder, shoes.
Then she realized what the stop was for, “You want me to change here?” She was thoroughly grossed out. Gas station bathrooms were for road trips and tennis shoes, definitely not for changing clothes and stilettos.
“Unless you would rather change in here,” Ian said with a devilish grin on his face, gesturing around the car.
And he’s back. “No, thanks. My shows don’t come free.” Kia grabbed the bag and her backpack and hopped out of the car going around to the back to get the dress. My shows don’t come free? Kia shook her head trying to wipe away the memory her last comment. She never said things like that. A little sarcasm here and there, yes. But nothing like that. Kia decided it didn’t matter, a little of her innocence sliding off of her like a snake shedding its skin. Give him a taste of his own medicine.
The bathroom was actually one of the cleanest she had seen. It didn’t smell like vomit or urine and didn’t have “For a good time call…” anywhere on the walls. Kia hung the dress on the tampon dispenser that was on the wall. Even though it was clean, she didn’t feel comfortable enough to stand on the floor without shoes, so she laid pieces upon pieces of paper towels on the floor. The mirror was a little dirty, splashed with soap that had dried and a layer of dust, but she could see herself just fine.
With her reflection staring back at her, she unbraided her hair. She was running late for school that morning so instead of blow drying it like she normally would she just French braided it down her back, the end resting just below her shoulders. Now, unbraiding it, she was shocked at how well it held the shape of the braid. The waves made her layers fall perfectly on to each other, framing her face. She pushed her bangs behind her ears and was glad that at least she wouldn’t have to do anything about her hair.
She rummaged through the bag that Ian had given her, exploring the goodies inside. She opened the make-up powder and dabbed a little on her face. She didn’t wear much makeup normally, not like Katelyn, just a little foundation and mascara. But had she watched many times as her sister expertly lined her eyes with eyeliner. Kia thought that with the black dress and a little black eyeliner her blue eyes would stand out even more. In the bag she found a little bottle of liquid eyeliner. She had never used liquid before, but how different could it be from pencil?
Apparently very different.
Over and over again Kia smudged the little applicator brush across her eye and each time she had to wash it off and start over again.
“You will not beat me,” she said looking at the brush. “I can do this!”
And on about the seventh try, she did. A thin black line bordered her upper lid. Kia smiled, pleased with herself. She slid out of her skirt and shirt and put on the dress, wrapping it around and tying it securely around her waist. The dress fit perfectly. It was maybe a little shorter than she was used to, probably from years of wearing uniform skirts that came down to her knees, but her butt wasn’t hanging out or anything. Still, she decided to keep on her black tights that she wore with her school uniform.
Also in the bag was the box of shoes that apparently Ian had gotten to go along with the dress. Just like the garment bag, the shoe box had the same White House | Black Market logo printed on it. The shoes inside looked like something that Katelyn would kill for: a white leather V-shaped strap, 4” heal and a hidden platform, and a glossy black patent toe. She turned the shoe over to check the size. 7 ½ – of course, her size. How Ian was able to do all of this, she would never know.
She reached into her backpack and pulled out her cherry Chapstick. She was never much for lipstick, but she loved the coloring that the cherry Chapstick gave her lips. Not quite red, not quite pink. The perfect in-between.
There, she thought, staring into the mirror. All ready.
* * *
Ian checked his watch for the fifth time, his foot tapping incessantly on the pavement. Just as he was about to go in to check on Kia, he saw her coming out of the bathroom through the windows.
In the space next to him a truck pulled up and parked. The truck dwarfed Ian’s Prius, not that his car was big to begin with, but this truck looked like it ate hybrids for breakfast. It had monstrous wheels—30, 32” maybe—and then a jack on top of that. The back window was covered in stickers: a bunch from Louisiana State University and the Saints, and one that said “Laissez le bon temps rouler”, Let the good times roll.
Out of the truck jumped—actually jumped down—the type of guy you would think that drove a truck of that… nature. He had his jeans sloppily tucked into his cowboy boots, a vulgar shirt, and a cigarette hanging out of his mouth.
Just as Kia got to the entrance, so did the man. Ian was shocked when he held the door open for her—Kia muttering a “thank you” as she passed through—and then not so shocked as he watched the man look her up and down. Ian’s eyes quickly went from the man to Kia. He couldn’t help looking her up and down either, his pulse quickening. But before he could even register how beautiful she looked, his attention was once again drawn back to the man, who had closed the door behind Kia instead of going in.
“Well, lookey here. Ain’t you a pretty thing?” He said, snubbing out his cigarette in the ash-tray on top of the trashcan.
Ian could see the look of confusion on her face as she turned around to face the man.
* * *
“Excuse – ”
The man interrupted her, “How about I take you to my place for some dinner and dessert?”
Kia had lived in New Orleans all her life, which is not particularly thought of as the safest city. But never once had she been attacked or robbed or even been talked to like this man was talking to her now. She loved her city and the people in it; there was nowhere else on Earth like it. But every once in a while she heard stories of people coming across creeps like this.
She decided not to even give him the satisfaction of a response and turned around toward the car. Ian was standing on the passage side. He looked like he was a jaguar ready to pounce. His eyes were narrowed—but without a hint of a smile on his face—focused on the man, but as Kia started walking toward him, she saw his eyes flicker toward her and relief showed on his face.
In an instant it was gone, and his eyes were back on the man.
She felt a hand on her arm. But it was coming from the wrong way. It should have been Ian, pulling her towards the car. But it wasn’t. The hand was spinning her around back toward the gas station. Back toward the man. Back toward the filth that was coming out of his mouth.
“Okay, okay. We can skip dinner and go straight to dessert.” He had both hands on her now pulling her close to his chest. She could smell the alcohol on his breath. She struggled to reach for the can of mace that she had in her backpack, but his hold on her was too tight.
For the second time that day Kia struggled to pull out of a man’s grasp. Only earlier when she was trying to get out of Ian’s she wasn’t for one second afraid. Not that he would hurt her, bruise her, anything. Now, all she felt was fear. She felt her blood pounding in her ears, sweat tickling down her spine.
Then the jaguar pounced.
Ian’s fist hit the man square in the face so fast that Kia barely had time to move out the way. The man staggered backwards, letting go of Kia and running into the glass door behind him. The store clerk inside looked over to see the source of the noise, shook his head and picked up the phone.
“Kia. Car. Now.” Ian’s breath was staggered, not from exhaustion but from the adrenaline pumping through his veins.
He didn’t need to tell Kia twice. She stumbled in her heals over to the car and threw her backpack and the garment bag in the back of the car.
Ian was on his way toward the car as the man wiped blood from his nose. “I see how it is. The bitch already belongs to you,” he spat out.
Ian slowly turned around and took stock of the man. He had at least 50 pounds on Ian and a couple of inches in height. Picking a fight with him probably wasn’t the best idea. But Ian didn’t care. He took once swift step toward him. Then man moved back trying to avoid Ian’s punch, but Ian wasn’t throwing a punch. This time his fist zoomed purposefully by the man’s face and Ian’s elbow hit him right in the nose. He heard it crack and he had no doubt that he broke the man’s nose. The man toppled over, holding his gushing nose in both hands, spewing out a string of obscenities, barely audible through the blood. But Ian was already in the car and had it in reverse by the time the man straightened up to throw back a punch.
It was a few moments before Ian could say anything. He never had a little sister, someone that needed to be protected. There was only that time when he saw a woman get her purse stolen and he had chased down the thief to return her her bag. But he had never felt anything like he felt when that man had grabbed Kia – the overwhelming desire to protect her, to make sure that she was safe, back in his car. Never had he wanted to bash someone’s head against the concrete so bad. But none of that mattered now. She was here and safe. He turned and looked at Kia. “Are you alright?” He asked, turning onto Canal Street.
“Me? Alright? What about you? You’re arm is bleeding!” Kia laid a hand on Ian’s arm where the blood stain was.
Ian looked down at his right elbow, and there on his new white shirt was that bastard’s blood. “Not mine,” he said quickly. “Are you okay?” He looked over at her, keeping his eyes on her for probably too long before looking back at the road. But she was rubbing her arms where the man had grabbed her. He reached over involuntarily to stroke the place where her skin was already becoming a reddish-purple color.
She put her hand on top of his and smiled. “Thank you,” she whispered.