Saturday, August 26, 2017

Excerpt: "Eating Life" by Beth Burnett

Beth Burnett's book "Eating Life" is now available in ebook and print!

A hitchhiker wearing a massive backpack caught her eye. From the back, it looked as if the person’s tiny frame couldn’t support the weight of the luggage. Dakota barked out the window, making the person jump. Casey gave a half wave as she passed, getting a raised hand in return. In her rearview mirror, she watched the hiker stumble and nearly fall. She slowed down, looking at Dakota.
“This is how it happens in horror movies, isn’t it? A lonely woman traveling down a deserted mountain road stops for a hitchhiker and gets garroted for her trouble.”
She glanced in the mirror again. “On the other hand, that person looks as if she couldn’t lift one of my bags of crap, let alone take me in a fair fight.”
She stopped the car, put it into reverse, and crept backward along the road. When she reached the hiker, she stopped and tried to quickly gather up the detritus of the road from the passenger seat. She shoved maps into the glove box and hastily wiped muffin crumbs from the upholstery. The hiker opened the door and looked in.
“Hey,” he said.
“You’re male.”
“I am.” Pausing, he smiled. “The next thing out of my mouth was going to be that I’m not a rapist or a serial killer, but I imagine rapists and serial killers would say the same thing.”
Casey laughed. “Well, I have to admit that having a killer dog who would rip the head of anyone who tried to hurt me does give me a certain feeling of security.”
Dakota chose that moment to shake his head, spraying them both with drool. He returned to his window, panting.
“Killer, eh?”
Casey half shrugged. “Come on.”
The man settled in, crushing his backpack down between his feet.
“You could put that in the back, but anything in it will get stepped on.”
The guy shrugged. “There’s nothing breakable.” Rearranging, he stowed the bag in the back and buckled in.
Casey looked at him sideways as she drove off again. “So where are you going?”
“Northern California. How about you?”
“I was on my way to San Francisco when I made a stopover in Sedona. Now I’m thinking of heading to San Diego.”
“What’s in San Diego?”
“Beautiful weather.”
“San Francisco has beautiful weather.”
Casey laughed. “Winter is coming. San Francisco weather will not be as beautiful as San Diego in November.”
“We’ll have to agree to disagree. I love San Francisco in the fall.”
“What’s your name?”
“Ben Stagg.”
“I can probably take you as far as Bullhead City. There’s a diner there where it might be easier to find a ride than on the side of the road.”
“If you’re going through as far as Barstow, I could make that work.”
“Let’s get to Bullhead City and discuss it there,” Casey said.
Ben nodded. He fished a granola bar out of his bag and offered it to Casey. They drove in silence for a while, munching on the bars.
Casey glanced at him from time to time. He looked innocuous, slender and short enough that she had mistaken him for a woman from the back. She grinned. “I wonder if I would have stopped if I’d been sure you were a man.”
Ben shrugged. “I think you stopped because I stumbled. You felt bad for me carrying all my possessions on my back.”
“Are those all your possessions?”
“Everything I have left.”
“I thought I was a minimalist because everything I own fits in my car.”
He shook his head. “I don’t even have a car.”
“Lucky for you, I sold my banjo at the last stop. Otherwise, you’d have to ride in the back with Dakota.”
 They paused for a minute, listening to the sound of Dakota snoring in the back seat. Ben looked around. “I think he’s drooling on my bag.”
“I did warn you.”
“It’s not the worst thing it’s been through, I’m sure.”
“Grab the map and make sure I’m heading toward Forty. It’s been a while since I’ve been this way.”
Ben waved his hand. “You’re making directly for it from here. There’s one turn farther up the road, but there’s a sign.”
“You know this area.”
He nodded. “My wife was from Flagstaff. For a long time, we lived in Northern California. We used to drive this route to see her parents.”
Casey looked at him. A man with a wife didn’t generally hitchhike alone through the back roads of Arizona. “What happened to her?”
He shook his head and looked out the window. Casey turned on the radio and scanned through the stations looking for something interesting. “Forget it,” Ben said. “All of the radio stations suck here.”
She nodded at his comment and pushed in a CD.
“Hey.” Ben perked. “Tribe 8. I saw them in concert about a million years ago.”
Casey laughed. “You did? You don’t look like the typical audience.”
“Excuse me? Lesbian punk is the best.”
“Let me guess. You’re a lesbian on the inside.”
“Not all straight men say that stupid shit. I just happened to be in the punk scene in the eighties. I was hardcore back then.”
Casey grinned, looking at him again. His bright blue eyes, tanned and slightly creased face, and dark hair with flecks of grey spoke more of a soccer dad than a punker. “What happened?”
He smiled. “I’m so punk, I don’t have to look punk to be punk.”
Throwing her head back, Casey laughed loud enough to elicit a grunt from Dakota. “My apologies. Another lesson in not judging a book by its cover.”
“To be fair, I changed a lot as I grew up. Became a family man. Shaved the Mohawk, got a job. You know, the same old story.”
“Not my story. I started running as a teenager and I haven’t stopped yet.”
“Never?” Ben asked.
“Once. Moved in with a woman for a few years.” Casey frowned.
“She nearly ruined me.”

“And you’ve been on the road ever since,” Ben said. “Lone woman, wild and free.”
“Not alone. I have Dakota.”
“Haven’t met the right woman to make you want to stop for good,” Ben said.
“Don’t believe I have to give up my freedom because of the right woman.”
“I used to think that. Until I met Jeannie. She was the light of my life.”
Casey turned the music down. “Want to talk about her?”
Ben stared out the window at the brilliant Arizona sunshine. “Whenever I think about telling the story, I want it to be terrible weather.”
“I know, right? We always feel the weather should match our moods. When I’m feeling bleak, I imagine I should be trudging through six feet of snow in a dark and dreary Midwestern winter.”
He chuckled. “It’s not a long story.”
“We have at least three hours. Make it as long as you want.”
“First, let me ask you something?”
“Okay,” Casey said. “I don’t promise to answer.”
“Fair enough,” Ben said. “Have you ever loved someone so much that it felt as if she eclipsed everything and everyone else in your life?” 

Summary on Amazon:
Carefree and irrepressible, Casey Wilde has spent her life running. Running from love, running from responsibility, and running from commitment. Megan Woodson, Casey’s best friend, has spent her life building security with a long-term partner and a well-paying, highly respected position in the best ad agency in Memphis. Ben Stagg is a man who has lost everything, including the desire to live. And Brilliant Wilson is a photographer who can’t quite figure out why she keeps dating women who don’t love her. Faced with painful and pressing decisions, the group is forced to confront their own life choices.
When their worlds collide and everything starts to fall apart, these friends must learn that the only important decision is the one to follow their hearts.

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