Character Sketch for RECYCLED

Character Sketch for RECYCLED

California / Sierra Nevada Mountains


Racing daylight and coyotes at this point. May not be lost but sure as hell don’t know where I am. GPS doesn’t work this far up the mountain, maps don’t indicate private roads, and landmarks are useless in this godforsaken county. Nothing but summer scorched vegetation, red clay dirt, and gnarled oak trees out here.

Nobody but myself to blame for this mess. I’m in the heart of the foothills in the heat of summer because I forfeited a dream job for questionable principles. Now I’m chasing down a last-chance job and hoping to find redemption along the way.

Monkey on my back says this is a waste of time. Paperwork on the seat says there’s another ten miles to the house. Clock on the dash says I’m an hour and a half behind schedule.

Ten minutes later, a bright red mailbox with large silver letters breaks up the monotony of the thirty-five mile drive. I turn into the unkempt gravel driveway and follow a road that winds around granite outcroppings and through

Looks like the roads going in circles around a granite outcropping but then it gives way to a manzanita copse. Through the crooked red bark and pungent leaves, a pair of barn red metal structures, the smaller one set back against a stand of pine trees, the larger one two stories with a generous front porch sheltered by part of the top story overhang.

A man in jeans and a battered green military jacket comes out onto the porch as I pull up to the house. His face is hidden beneath an overgrown mustache and beard. Leaning on a cane, he negotiates the shallow stone steps from the house down to the drive and walks to the truck. “You’re late.”

I tamp down my temper and manage a tight smile. “Apologies. Turns out it wasn’t the breezy country drive I was expecting.”

His sharp eyes scan my face for several uncomfortably quiet moments. “It’s not an easy road and I’m not an easy man.”

“End of the road is worth the trouble though,” I say, getting out of the truck, taking a deep breath of the fresh crisp air, and looking at the landscape beyond the house.

He grunts and reaches for the duffle bag in the bed of the truck. “Don’t get your hopes up. The analogy doesn’t extend to me. Let’s get into the house before the mosquitoes get to you.”

I reach for the duffle bag but his blue-eyed glare brings me up short.

He leads me into the house, through a spacious living area, and down a hall to a bedroom. “This is you.”

Simple but comfortable. Twin bed with pale blue linens. A window that looks out across the valley. Nature prints in white-washed frames. An easy chair. Private bathroom.

“Kitchen’s through there,” he says, dropping my duffle inside the bedroom door and stepping back into the hall. ”We cook for ourselves. Groceries are delivered on Fridays. Put what you want or what we’re out of on the list taped to the fridge. Good night, Ms. Barajas.”

“Oh, I thought we were going to go over my duties and patient overviews tonight.”

“That was before you were two hours late. I don’t have time for you now,” he says, walking back down the hall.

I stand in the bedroom doorway, stunned. Fifteen minutes in the company of Ray Duvall has answered two pressing questions. Why does he live so far from the city? Because he doesn’t have the people skills to last more than five minutes without provoking someone to do him great bodily harm. Why had the job listing been open so long? Because no one in their right mind could spend a day, let alone a week, working for him without losing their sanity.

Unfortunately, I need this job. But finding redemption out here will come at a heavy price. Screw the files. They can wait. Screw pajamas. I flop onto the bed in my clothes. And screw Mr. Duvall. Would serve him right if I get up tomorrow morning and drive back to the city, back to my old job, without a word.

Too tired to figure out the details right now. A good night’s sleep will do the trick. But after an hour of tossing about, without the familiar comfort and company of the internet or cable television, I give up, grab my sneakers, and go outside to enjoy the stars.

Duvall calls from an upstairs window. “Stop tempting fate and come back into the house, Ms. Barajas.”

Insufferable man. I shake a fist at the midnight sky. “It’s too quiet to sleep.”

“Plenty of sleepless predators out there in the dark with you. Best to entertain moonlit delusions in the safety and privacy of your own room.”

I return to the house and to my room, the urge to slam the door like fire in my veins. Shedding my tshirt and jeans, I pull a soft cotton nightgown over my head, push the windows open, and flop onto the cool clean sheets.

The breeze comes through the window, ruffling the sheer curtains and caressing my skin and hair. I sigh into the soft linens. Crickets chirp, leaves rustle, and owls hoot. I relax and close my eyes.

A guitar speaks, fingers unsure at first, phrases repeated and cords progressing, until a whole songs spills out, followed by another, and another. Sleep overtakes me and I dream of coyotes and blue eyes.