The outpouring of support I’ve received both through Facebook, Twitter, and in real life has been extremely overwhelming. Not only have people wanted to place orders for my book, I’ve had someone try to bribe me to get an early copy of it (thank you, Austin!).
While I’m still about a month away from being ready to put that final copy out there for people to buy, I know I can’t leave people hanging forever. How about a compromise?
Below is the first chapter of On The Border to give you a taste of what’s to come. If you would like to read a full synopsis, it’s posted here.
The gunshots were so close that she could taste the gunpowder in the night air. Shouts echoed from the darkness behind her, but she kept running. There was no way in hell she would stop now. This was out of the ordinary. This was far from normal.
Normal was finding a full-time, well-paying job after graduation. Normal was finding a husband, settling down, and buying a house. Normal was starting a family and raising children. Normal was watching them grow up and growing old with her unnamed husband. Normal was not dark alleys and dirt roads. Normal was not no-name cities and faceless crowds dozens, hundreds, thousands of miles away from where she should be. Normal was not running from the police shooting at her because she had been trying to shoplift from a convenience store just outside of Braman, Oklahoma at three in the morning. Had the bottles of water not fallen out of her coat while the clerk had been checking her ID, she would have gotten away with it.
A leg up in her current predicament was that she seemed faster than the officer in pursuit. The only option she saw in front of her was to make it a safe distance from the cop and hide somewhere temporarily safe until he left. What else could she do? She wasn’t about to turn herself in and she had never been on the run from the law before, so she wasn’t sure how to handle any of this. As a result from her lack of experience, she was taking the advice of her cross-country coach: In the event of anything, run.
A dark alley approached on her left. Glancing over her shoulder briefly to check if the officer had yet to round the corner, she dove into the opening and ducked behind a dumpster. Within what felt like seconds, the officer’s pounding footsteps neared and slowed. She held her breath. From her standpoint, he was at the mouth of the alley.
“You can’t run forever,” he called. His voice was cool yet menacing, causing an uneasy feeling to stick in her stomach. There was a pause and she could hear moving gravel beneath his feet as he shifted his weight. “You want to keep running and you’re going to make a name for yourself,” he said, seeming to stalk forward a few feet. “You’re that same punk that lit up the other 7-Eleven, dressed up like you were Butch Cassidy or something.” Gravel scraped at the bottom of his feet. He had her there; she had been (and still was) wearing a black cowboy hat and a bandanna drawn up around her face. “You left your ID behind, Cassidy Sinclaire, or should I say Cassidy Sundance since you’re trying to become a criminal on the run? It seems like it’s a sport for you. Fun for the sake of fun, huh?”
She had to suppress a snort. If Cassidy Sundance wound up as the name she would be known as, she would have to slap herself. If some cop was going to throw Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’s names together for her, she may as well give up now. No one would like it nor would they take her seriously. They would claim copyright infringement or something similar. Besides, how much more uncreative could he be? All her fake IDs started with Cassidy (or something close), but the last name differed to keep her a little more untraceable. After all, Cassidy wasn’t even her first name.
Keep the ID, Cassidy thought vindictively. I’ve got plenty more of them. Just don’t find me. Let me be. I’m really not the bad guy.
It was just a misunderstanding, all of this. But everything she knew about the justice system made her believe that misunderstandings were not a legitimate excuse for committing crimes. So she was stuck on the run. It had only been three weeks and she had only made it about a hundred miles from where she began. How she hadn’t been caught yet was absolutely beyond Cassidy. She was just a novice at all this.
She could hear the gravel moving again, but the sound moved away from her and down the main street once more. Once the sound faded away, Cassidy allowed herself take a deep breath in an attempt to calm her racing heart. The sound of a car engine came close to her hiding spot, but slipped into the distance just as quickly as it had approached.
Cassidy had to get out of this town as soon as possible – out of this state, even. There was no doubt in her mind that patrols would begin combing the streets within hours (or minutes) trying to track her down and bring her in. She needed to make it to the highway and try to hitchhike her way out. Maybe the pressure would be relieved somewhat if she could make it out of Oklahoma.
Staying in the shadows and side streets, Cassidy began to head in the direction of the highway. In the early morning hours, she would have to rely on trucks to take pity on her, or if she was lucky enough, there would be a teenager or someone else driving by that would give a ride.
But where was she going? Cassidy had no intention of running across the country, but what was a city nearby but still far enough away to call herself temporarily safe? She had to make up her mind within an hour when a semi-truck driver pulled over and offered her a ride.
“Where are you headed?” he asked as Cassidy jumped into the passenger seat. She eyed the man warily despite the fact that she was in no position to back out of his offer now, already climbing into his ride. He was younger than she expected, somewhere in his mid-thirties; he wore a plaid shirt with well-worn jeans. His eyes were tired and the stubble on his lined face showed that he probably had not stopped in days. But his face was kind and his southern accent was soothing and Cassidy was mildly relieved. She could do a lot worse.
“Kansas City,” she replied, shutting the door behind her. She set her bag on the floor between her legs and put on her seatbelt. The trucker’s gaze never left her until she looked over at him with a stony stare. He gave her a shrugged smile, looked away, and put the truck back into gear.
Cassidy closed her eyes and let out a long breath. It had been a month since this strange life began. She could still feel the accidental flames lapping at her back as she stood in front of the burning 7-Eleven staring out into the black abyss of a parking lot. Approaching sirens warned her of the police officer, yet she could not move away, eyes transfixed on nothing in the distance. The clerk ran past her, screaming into his cell phone. It was not until she saw the flashing blues and reds of patrol cars did she begin to run.
She ran. She ran without thinking, only knowing that her feet carried her back to her home. She ran without looking back to see if any police were in pursuit. Feet hit soft earth, and Cassidy realized she was cutting through the woods and avoiding the roads. That was smart; running full speed at two in the morning through neighborhoods looked much more than just suspicious. Before she knew it, her steps had taken her to the back porch of her family’s house.
When she made it inside, the place was silent. Barely any lights were on. It hit Cassidy that perhaps everyone was asleep. But a noise came from the kitchen, and she followed it to find her brother rooting around in the refrigerator. Or had it been a noise upstairs, and she went to his bedroom? Her memories muddled together and left her confused as to the reality of the situation. She must have found him in the kitchen.
“Duane, what do I do?” It was the first thing that left her mouth upon seeing him. Duane stared at her for a moment.
“What did you do?”
“I…” But her voice failed her. It took a moment to recover, and everything fell from her lips in a rush, leaving Duane gaping at her by the end.
“Well,” he began. “You’re lucky you have me as a brother.” He shut the refrigerator door and walked past Cassidy, heading down the hallway; she was hot on his heels.
“What do you mean? You’re not telling me what to do!” she hissed, following him into his bedroom.
“You need to run.”
Duane had his head under the bed as he answered her. “You’ll never be found innocent in all this. Do you really want to go to jail after graduating earlier today?”
“No, but—” she tried to say.
“Then you need to run. And as soon as you can. I don’t think you have a lot of time. Here—” Duane pulled up from his bed and handed her a stack of fake IDs. “You’ll need these.”
“Wha… Why do you have these for me?” she asked, incredulous. Duane shrugged.
“Can’t a guy prepare for the worst? Go pack your bag. I’ll meet you downstairs.”
Cassidy barely remembered what she threw together in her backpack. Clothes, a toothbrush, toothpaste, an extra pair of shoes, a blanket… what else? Underwear, a hair brush, hair ties, gloves, socks… she never had to pack every single essential. How long would she be gone? What was essential and what was excess? She turned her attention quickly from her bedroom to the kitchen, packing whatever non-perishables she could shove in her bag; Duane helped her. What would keep her nourished enough? Would she have to steal? Was this even a good idea? Never before had she needed to think this way. Never before had she been so clueless. And never before had she put her future in her brother’s hands.
She left a hastily scribbled note for her parents to read: On the run. Can’t explain. Don’t believe what you hear. Trust me.
“Can you fill them in?” she asked, turning fearful eyes to her brother. He nodded.
“I’ll make sure they understand,” he assured. “You need to get going.” Duane’s hands were soft yet firm on her shoulders as he ushered her toward the back door. While she tied her boots, he began spitting facts at her. “Don’t hang around in any place more than you need to. Try not to draw attention to yourself. You’re a smart woman – you can easily get what you need from people willing to help. And above all, don’t come back.”
Cassidy stood up and faced her brother, the backpack shifting uncomfortably on her shoulders. His eyes bored into hers. She could only nod and take his advice.
“Stay safe,” he finished.
But how safe could she be on the run? It had been almost a month and here she was, at the mercy of a stranger – a truck driver – and it was the last thing she had expected in her life. By now, however, she told herself she needed to roll with the punches. In those fateful days since she left home, she had not bothered to hitchhike; with the cops on her tail, however, she felt differently about the matter.
“So what’s your name?” the trucker asked, bringing her back to reality.
“Cassidy,” she told him. “You?”
“Neil.” They looked at each other again and this time, she smiled back at him.
“Where are you headed, Neil?” Cassidy asked.
“Madison, Wisconsin. It’s where I usually end up on these trips,” he explained. “Been a while since I’ve seen a hitchhiker, let alone picked one up. Not many are out and about anymore.”
“Dangerous times,” she said, pretending as though she wasn’t aware of what he was trying to get at.
“So what’s got you out on the road in the dead of night?”
Cassidy was glad he asked rather than continue to beat around the bush. “I’m a wanted felon.” She saw his knuckles whiten on the gearshift and she started to laugh. “No, I’m just a poor college student who has to bum a ride home so I can see my family.” Neil laughed rather awkwardly.
“So you’re from Kansas City, huh?” he asked.
“Yeah, and I’m down at the University of Oklahoma,” she said before Neil could even ask. In her short amount of time on the run, the only thing she had really learned was to answer questions before they were spoken. That way, she wouldn’t be fumbling to come up with an answer on the spot; it also made it harder for people to catch her in a lie. Staying one step ahead of people seemed to work out okay.
Cassidy and Neil’s conversation consisted of the usual small talk she had encountered so far: the “what do you do,” “where did you come from,” “where are you going,” and “what’s next” questions. The interior of the truck was littered with empty cigarette packs and McDonald’s bags. There were pictures of his girlfriend hanging from his sun visor above the steering wheel with a case of CDs on the visor above Cassidy, mostly country albums with some newer artists mixed in.
The ride itself went by smoothly. Around nine in the morning, they took a break at a truck stop just short of Kansas City. The stop relieved Cassidy’s nerves somewhat; she desperately needed to stretch her legs and had an urge to brush her teeth. “Meet you in the diner, then,” Neil said as they went their separate ways for a few minutes.
Cassidy found Neil sitting in a corner booth of the smoke-filled diner, looking tired but clean-shaven. She slid into the seat across from him and gave him a smile. “Thanks for the ride so far, Neil,” she said, earning a smile in response. “You know I can’t really pay you or anything like that…”
“It’s no problem at all,” Neil told her. “I just like helping people out when they need a hand. And you really seemed to need a hand.”
“I really appreciate it.”
“You better.” Neil gave her a stern look, but could only hold it for a few seconds before he cracked a grin. “I’m just glad I could pick you up. There are some pretty crazy truckers out there.”
“I don’t know if that’s a good thing coming from you or not…” Cassidy said in a whisper so her comment wouldn’t be overheard.
“Either way, you got lucky with me picking you. Just remember to be more careful next time you’re hitchhiking so early in the morning,” he cautioned. “Or make your parents buy you a car so you don’t have to hitch a ride.”
“I know. I’m sure hearing this latest tale, maybe they’ll be more inclined to buy me a junk car just so I have something,” she agreed.
“Hopefully.” Neil looked at her with a mixed expression on his face. “You know, Cassidy, you seem a lot older than a college-age student.”
“I get that a lot.”
“How old did you say you were?”
“Twenty-one,” Cassidy replied swiftly. The sudden change in Neil’s tone had the woman immediately on edge. In the six hours she had been with him, he hadn’t once sounded this cautionary. She had been taught not to trust strangers while she was growing up, yet here she was in the presence of a stranger she had trusted with her life for hours and now he seemed to be more dangerous than she anticipated.
“You got proof?”
“What’s with the sudden onslaught of questions?” Cassidy argued and immediately knew her avoidance of the question was a bad idea.
“You said when I first picked you up that you were running from the law. I’m kind of starting to think that may actually be true,” he said slowly. She fought to keep her expression neutral despite the panic starting to creep into her extremities.
“What makes you think that?” she challenged.
“There’s a cop coming into the diner right now.”
Cassidy’s eyes widened and she slid down in her seat as fast as possible. The adrenaline coursed through her veins and the pace of her breathing started to quicken. Then she saw the smirk on Neil’s face. Her cheeks flushed bright red and she sat up in her seat, muttering, “Bastard.”
“You can’t blame me for being curious,” he said, picking up the plastic menu and flipping through it.
“You couldn’t just go along with my college story? Or was it that see-through?” Cassidy asked. “Because if it was that transparent, I need to work on my story-telling skills.”
“No, it was fine,” he assured. “But the way you walked through this truck stop…” He shook his head. “You walk like you’re guilty of something. You know, the stiff shoulders and arms, and you’re looking all over the place and you’re walking faster than you probably normally do. And no, it wasn’t the kind of walking a college kid hitchhiking home would do,” he added. “Just work on the walking and the body language. Now are you going to order some breakfast or do you want to leave here on an empty stomach?” Neil looked up from his menu to find Cassidy gaze fixed on him. He wasn’t going to turn her in? And… he was buying her breakfast? He was being so kind to a criminal, it didn’t make sense.
“Thanks,” she said after a long pause and before she picked up her menu.
“No problem, but save the thanks for when I get you to Kansas City, okay?” Cassidy let out a quiet snort. “…Let me guess, Kansas City isn’t your final destination?”
“Nope.” Her lips were sealed on the matter, mostly because even she wasn’t sure where she was headed.
“Is Cassidy even your real name?”
“Why would I tell you?”
Neil smirked again. “I’ll take that as a no,” he commented. His barrage of questions came to a halt for a long moment; Cassidy eyed him warily.
“Are you going to be asking me questions the rest of the way to Kansas City?” she couldn’t help but ask. Neil shook his head.
“No more, I promise, unless it’s something like ‘Where should I drop you off’ …Not that Kansas City is a far drive from here.” He looked across the booth at Cassidy, who smiled at him. This trucker was something else and she wasn’t sure if that was in a good way or not. She figured that she wasn’t in the best position to be too picky; he was taking her to her next destination (and feeding her along the way) and that was more than she had asked him to do.
Cassidy turned her attention to the menu sitting in front of her, realizing just how hungry she truly was.