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On the Right Side of a Dream: A Novel Excerpt from On the Right Side of a Dream: A Novel

by Sheila Williams

Chapter One

A wise woman said that there are years that ask questions and there are years that answer. For a long time, I was a sorry soul caught between the two -- never going forward and afraid to look back. Wedged in between a rock and a boulder and going nowhere. That's a waste of a life and you don't get it back. But, I'm a slow learner so none of this wisdom penetrated my hard head until I was past forty. By then, the years of questions had added up. And I didn't have any answers. All I had was a beat-up suitcase, a tired-looking shoulder bag, and a few pennies. And the courage it took to listen to my own heart when it told me to take the first step, even though I was scared to death.

I ran away from home. Did not stroll, skip, or saunter. I ran as fast as I could. In my journal, I wrote that I was running away from my old life. But I was really running away from no life.

Now, my family was not having any of this running away stuff. You see, they'd been so used to me being a part of their dramas that it never occurred to them that I might want a drama of my own. And not the bad kind, either.

"What's wrong with you, Juanita?" my sister asked me. "Have you lost your mind?"

My son, Randy, asked me, "Are you ever coming back?"

My kids acted as if I was leaving them to starve to death even though they were grown and living life their way on my dollar and my emotions. I had to fight them to get out the front door. The second-shift supervisor at the hospital where I worked could hardly keep her no-lips from curling up into a Snidely Whiplash smirk.

"Don't think you can get this position back when you run out of money," she'd told me. "In this economy, I can fill your job with the snap of a finger." When she said that, it was my turn to smirk. Exactly when did a nurse's aide job become a "position"?

The man in the bus station looked at me funny when I told him I was going to Montana to see what was there. He probably thought that I was an early release from a mental hospital. But the little man at the pawn shop hit the nail on the head.

"New life?" he'd asked, handing me the receipt for the suitcases I had just bought. "Where's that?"

I left to find out.

Some months later, I left Paper Moon, Montana. It was a rainy fall morning and I sat in the cab of Peaches Bradshaw's truck, crying my eyes out because I was leaving a man who loved me and folks who thought I walked on water and didn't cook too bad, either. But I wasn't running away this time. Oh, I still carried a suitcase, a tote bag, and a purse without much money in it. But for this trip, I had something else along that I hadn't had before. I had a life. And I wore it proudly like a woman wears a big pink hat to church on Easter Sunday.

"I'll keep your side of the bed warm," Jess had told me when we'd said our good-byes in the early morning. Those were the only words I needed to hear. What can you say to a man who'll do that for you? All I could do was bury myself in his arms. If you are loved it's enough by itself.

Millie Tilson, Paper Moon's resident eccentric, glamour girl, and innkeeper, had given me the benefit of her advice and many years of life. However many that was.

"Ohhh, I wish that I could go with you, but the Doc and I are headed to Vegas in a few weeks and we're taking tango lessons. Did I tell you that?"

"The Doc" was Millie's "boy toy," Dr. Angus Hessenauer, a seventy-something retired internist who'd grown up in Lake County, made good in Boulder, and was now back to renovate and live on the old family homestead. Their relationship (Millie said it was an "affair," not a relationship. "Relationships are what people have with their bankers nowadays.") was the talk of the town. No one knew exactly how old Millie was but everyone was in agreement that she was at least ten years older than Doc Hessenauer. Maybe more.

"Yes, you told me that," I said, watching as she unpacked a UPS box. It was her latest order from Victoria's Secret, a lacy little number in red and a few other very small pieces that could loosely be called "clothing." That's all I'm going to say about that.

"Oh, well," Millie sighed as she checked over the invoice with the focus of a C.P.A. "Be sure to go places that you've never been before. That's when you have the best adventures."

I laughed. That would be easy.

"Millie, I haven't been anywhere before."

Her dark-blue eyes twinkled with mischief and wisdom.

"Then you're going to have a marvelous time, aren't you?"

I was. Everything would be new to me, every sight, every smell. But would it be "marvelous" as she said? Or, would "marvelous" have to share a space with "boring" or "sad" or "awful"?

"Sometimes, it all comes together, Juanita," Millie reminded me. "It's what you do with it. That's what matters."

She was right.

A long time ago, it seems a hundred years ago now, on the bus trip from Ohio, I'd made a list of the places that I wanted to go in my life. A wish list. Looked them up on a map, circled them with a highlighter: Los Angeles, the Yucatán, Jupiter, Tahiti, Cairo, Buenos Aires, Ursa Major, Beijing, and Auckland. I had bright orange lines crisscrossing the atlas. When I showed the list to Peaches, she laughed.

"Juanita, I don't think the Purple Passion will make it across the Pacific. Flotation is not a strong suit of the Kenworth," she'd told me, referring to her bright purple truck cab. "Beijing! Tahiti! I can see you now in a hula skirt!"

I could see me, too. It was a comical sight.

"Can't help you with Jupiter. You'll need an engine bigger than mine for that."

"Oh, that's OK," I said. Jupiter was just a silly thought that popped into my head. If you're going to make a wish list, make it good. You never know.

"Would you settle for Los Angeles? Or the Grand Canyon? And I think I might be able to manage Denver, although I don't usually pull the eastern jaunts. Stacy does those."

Stacy was Peaches's partner both professionally and personally: a tall, skinny thing with the vocabulary of a truck driver (which she was) and the heart of a poet. She got weepy over Sonnets from the Portuguese.

Peaches grinned. "'Course, in a few months, I'll be heading to San Diego. How about going south into Mexico? Stacy could fly down and meet us if she doesn't have a run. I have a taste for some real tequila and a few days on the beach," Peaches commented with a sigh. I knew that thoughts of limes and frosted Margarita glasses danced around inside her head.

"It's a deal," I'd agreed.

The plan was to head west through Idaho and Oregon, a then south into California on I-5. Peaches had a delivery in Redding, then planned to take a detour so that I could see the ocean.

But it rained a lot that fall. And plans are meant to be changed.

"Any other time, I'd say we were lucky to have rain," Peaches yelled over the roar of the huge engine, Bonnie Raitt's deep, bluesy voice, and the swooshing sound of the windshield wipers that reminded me of the eyelashes of a giant giraffe. "It could be snow. Shoot, this is October, it should be snow!" she commented, squinting as she tried to see through the sheets of water that poured over the window. "This rain is not a good thing."

Excerpted from On the Right Side of a Dream: A Novel by Sheila Williams. Copyright © 2005 by Sheila Williams. Reader’s Guide Copyright © by Random House, Inc. Excerpted by permission of One World/Ballantine, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.