Heliotrope

Description of Heliotrope

Buckle up your Birkenstocks and travel back to 1975. Discover (or relive) the pre-digital age in Arcata, a remote Bohemian college town on the northern edge of California. Meet Kit, a hard-working, bookish senior, on track for graduation–that is, until she falls for Jonathan, one-time bestselling author, now her stand-in professor. Jonathan, a master in the art of deception, isn’t who he appears to be. As their bond grows, Kit’s desire blinds her to the truth– a shocking discovery shatters her faith and ultimately tests her integrity.

From the first blush of fall quarter to the final breath of spring, hard lessons will be learned. To “graduate” into an uncertain future, Jonathan and Kit must first embrace the present–including the injustices, ambiguities and absolute beauty of their lives.

Beneath the ever-changing Humboldt skies they forge ahead; they stumble and sometimes fall.

Heliotrope, a coming-of age story for the ages.

Author

JC Miller

JC (Jeanne) Miller, M.A., is an avid reader, aspiring traveler and table tennis enthusiast. She resides in Northern California.

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Excerpt – Helitrope

Arcata, California

1975

September arrived, eclipsing another dreary summer and not a minute too soon. Kit took a hard look at her station—the red vinyl booths, (a throwback from the ’50s), Ed’s venetian blinds leaking dusty prisms of muted morning light. The hopeless carpet, stained from decades of spilled syrup and ground-in foot filth, laden with tons of mites and mildewy God-knows-what.

An unsettling thought occurred to her. It was textbook—biological adaptation. In her tenure at Waffle Hamlet, she’d developed a gradual tolerance for the place. Her body had adjusted to waking at 6:00 a.m., toiling on her feet for hours. She’d come to accept the greasy residue that clung to her hair, her skin. The décor had become all but invisible to her. In short, she’d lost the ability to discern hideousness, even when it was right in front of her face.

But Kit never got used to the tedium. She clock-watched, counting the minutes and hours, awaiting the moment when she could finally walk away. For three long years, she’d suffered the dead end job with little complaint, and now graduation—her ticket out, was close at hand. Until that day, she’d have to accept her lot, including the predictable parade of Waffle Hamlet regulars. High school kids with their soda refills, witless remarks and shallow pockets. The women from the bank, known as the nail polish set. Drunks. Parents with ill-behaved brats. The Sunday after-church crowd—now they were the worst—with their iron bladders and endless urns of coffee. Invariably called her “Honey” and never left a tip.

Kit put up with all of them. She never let a customer get under her skin, with one exception.

Necktie.

Necktie unnerved her.

He’d made his first appearance one drizzly Thursday evening in mid-July. Kit thought he was pretty good-looking but too old, and definitely not her type. She had pegged him for an insurance salesman or some equally reprehensible type, just another lost soul passing through town. Figured she’d never see him again.

But he’d reappeared the following Thursday—in fact, every Thursday since—at precisely 6:15. Kit could set her watch by him. Necktie always came in alone, and never without a book. Typically ordered a melt, patty or tuna. Impeccable dresser. Decent tipper.

She cinched her apron tightly at her waist, dropped her pad into the front pocket. Entering the dining room, she froze. Breakfast shift, and a Wednesday at that. What the hell was he doing here? Necktie’s unexpected presence sparked a little shudder in the hollows of her belly. He must have slipped in, like a vapor, when she was smothering her first waffle with blackberry syrup.

It hurt to look at him, but she found it difficult to look away. His eyes were a deep brown, his pallor striking, even in sunless Arcata. And his haircut was trying too hard. Dark chunks curled above his ears, Bozo style. But for some weird reason, it all worked. Maybe it was the chiseled chin.

Today he sported a plump tie, one Kit had never seen before. How does a man get away with a color like that? Heliotrope—a dark pinkish purple, suggestive of engorged labia or ripe plums. Kit smiled inwardly, recalling the shapely word heliotrope, which she’d discovered in last quarter’s etymology class. “Helios” was the Greek root for sun. “Tropos” meant turning. Turning to the sun. For Kit, words were like popcorn—she gobbled them.

A sharp fingertip poked her shoulder, startling her.

“Morning, Kathy. Contemplating again, I see.”

It was Waffle Hamlet’s floor supervisor, Ed. “Contemplating” was his code word for daydreaming—wasting time. Kit disliked it when people called her Kathy, her childhood name. It made her flinch a little, but she’d given up correcting him two years ago. It wasn’t worth the effort because Ed was very slow on the uptake. Or he was just playing games to mess with her head. “Oh, hi Ed.”

Ed was in his late-twenties, not much older than Kit. He tamed his long blondish hair into a ponytail for work, but that was where his coolness ended. Although he only made fifty cents an hour more than she did, he liked to lord it over her. Objectively he may have been kind of cute, foxy even. But Kit was not attracted. She could never get past his dorky manner or the way he called her Kathy.

“You are planning to wait tables today?” he asked, his tone light, with a mildly flirtatious undercurrent.

Ed thought he was being clever. He thought he was likeable. “I’ll check my social calendar,” Kit said.

“The gentleman at table six has been waiting,” Ed said, before shuffling back to the kitchen.

Across the room, Milo caught Kit’s eye. He made a barfing gesture then grinned like a lunatic. Milo, Kit’s only buffer from the numbing boredom, often worked her same shifts, thank God. Otherwise, she would have gone insane years ago. He reminded her of a curly-headed hyena with energy to burn, funny as shit—the only Waffle Hamlet employee who didn’t treat her like a leper just because she was a college student interloper.

Kit nodded discreetly in the direction of Necktie’s table. She folded her hands in a gesture of prayer, giving Milo a pleading look. But he threw up his hands. With that zany grin of his, he mouthed—not my station. Milo could be a real jerk.

So Kit sashayed over there, eyes glued to her pad. “Can I get you something to drink?” she mumbled.

Necktie’s eyes explored the topography of her body, lingering at every rise, every valley. He said, “Coffee, black.” Suggestively, like he was thinking about it. Kit glanced at Milo leaning over the counter, wagging the coffee pot and grinning his ass off. She tried not to bust out laughing, but her face cracked, giving her away.

Necktie cleared his throat. “May I ask what is so amusing?”

“Nothing. I’ll be right back with your coffee.” Pivoting on her heels, she nearly tripped over her own feet.

“You’re a real laugh riot,” Kit said to Milo.

Milo handed her the coffee pot, exaggerating a wink, his whole face scrunching to one side. “You have to admit, Necktie is kind of cute.”

Kit stole a glace at him, now engrossed in the newspaper. “True,” she said. She lowered her voice. “Not to mention old.” She tapped the spot on her ring finger where a ring would go, if she wore rings. “Married,” she said grimly.

“And your point?” Milo said.

Kit shook her head. Milo was a college dropout, a smart guy going nowhere fast. A local. If waiting tables were her actual destiny, like it was his, she would probably kill herself. She had already escaped a similar fate, and remained vigilant in her mission to rise above the narrow and the small.

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