This is a story of passion and of place, of suspense, of love gone terribly wrong.
Today, we share the first excerpt from the upcoming new novel by Robert Goolrick. Heading Out to Wonderful will be hitting bookstores, both online and bricks-and mortar, in just days, but this is your chance to read it before you can buy it.
And enter to win it before you can buy it, too.
Read the excerpt below — you’ll be hooked — and then fill out the form at the bottom for the chance to win one of 25 autographed copies of Heading Out to Wonderful (SORRY, THE WINNERS HAVE ALREADY BEEN CHOSEN).
From Heading Out to Wonderful…
At the end of Charlie’s first work week, on a Friday in late August, 1948, a woman walked into the shop, and that’s when the story becomes more than just another story, becomes instead a tale that’s passed down from father to son as a warning, from mother to daughter in that year when the daughter first begins to dream of romance, the kind of romance seen in the flickering light of the movie screen: The lights go down, the movie starts, the silent flicker as the frames go through the sprockets, and even the most ordinary gesture becomes extraordinary. Everything stops, and something you can’t explain begins.
The bell over the door jangled, everybody turned to see who was coming in, the way they always did. She walked silently into the butcher shop, and everybody stared at her and they didn’t turn away and start talking again, the way they usually did, and nobody, not one woman, said a word of greeting to her.
Charlie had never seen her, not once, and he thought he’d seen everybody. It was obvious she was different from the other women. She had a country face, young, probably not much more than twenty, if that. She wore a wedding band and an engagement ring, so that much was clear, but she looked as though she had stepped into the shop from another part of the world, from one of the cities Charlie had visited during his days and nights of travel.
She wore a white linen dress, it was still before Labor Day, and such things still mattered then, a white dress with an olive green belt at the trim waist, the neckline cut low with a certain sophistication and style that said she had not bought it anywhere near Brownsburg. Her lips were a crimson slash, her hair pulled up in gleaming blonde waves on top of her head, held with tortoiseshell combs studded with rhinestones. She wore dark sunglasses, a thing no other woman in the town even thought to own, and espadrilles, tied with grosgrain ribbons around her ankles, on her small feet.
Her only other jewelry was a small gold cross she wore around her neck on a delicate chain, and she carried a small green leather bag under her arm.
She walked quickly into the center of the store, and nobody said a word to her. Charlie stopped slicing the pork chops he was cutting for Helen Anderson, and wiped the blade of his knife with a clean cloth. It glinted in the light as he laid it quietly on the counter.
Will, sitting in his chair with the boy on his lap, finally broke the silence and the stillness. He greeted her softly as he stood up and put the boy down on the floor, “Morning, Sylvan. How’re you doing? How’s Boaty?”
“We’re fine,” she said. “It’s lovely. Everything’s just the same as always.”
She had a sweet, girlish voice. She couldn’t have been much more than a teenager. She didn’t sound like she was from around Brownsburg. She spoke in some faraway accent, like a princess, or an actress.
She took off her dark glasses, very slowly, bowing her head to do it, gentle, graceful. She looked up at Will briefly, nodding hello. Then she just stood, and she turned her head slowly to stare at Charlie Beale. Five seconds. Ten, maybe, no more, but it seemed forever.
His hands were on the counter. He felt the urge to do something, to wipe the butcher block, to jingle the change in his pocket, but nobody moved, and he didn’t either.
“May I help you, ma’am? Is there . . . ?”
“No. No thank you. I’m not hungry for anything.” She spoke with the sort of fake English accent Charlie had only heard in the movies, those glowing women on the screen with the sparkling hair and the black lips.
“At the moment. Not hungry at the moment.”
Then she turned and headed for the door. The bell tinkled as she left, and she shielded her eyes for a brief moment in the sudden brightness of the street. She put her dark glasses back on and let herself into a black Cadillac, started the engine and drove away.
He wanted to look. You could tell he wanted to follow this woman with his eyes, a quick light came into them, but then it was out, just like that, and he went on with the next customer. He came awake like a man who’d been in a deep sleep, and was late getting where he was going. His blade sliced into a chop, the ladies began their chatter again, watching him not watch her leave.
“That woman,” Will said, “walks like a farmer.”
“How’s that?” asked Charlie.
“She walks,” said Will, waiting, “like she’s got a bale of hay on one hip and a bale of alfalfa on the other, and when she walks,” he paused for effect, “she’s rotating the crops,” and all the women laughed, even though they had heard the same old joke since they were girls, and Charlie laughed, too, although he found the joke vulgar when he thought of the way it didn’t even begin to describe the majesty and poetry of that girl’s way of walking.
As if the movie were over, everything went back into motion, the ladies chattering as though she had never been there, Charlie finishing the chops and wrapping them neatly in clean white paper he ripped from a roll over his head, his hands shaking, his whole body electric beneath his clothes, the boy and Will sitting again and playing at Cat’s Cradle, the chair creaking as the father and the son intertwined the string in more and more complex ways.
“Poor Sylvan,” said Eleanor Cooke.
“Poor Boaty Glass, you mean,” said Mary Page. “He sure got what he paid for.”
“If you lie down with the dogs, you get up with the fleas,” Eleanor said, ending it, and all the ladies nodded in agreement.
But Charlie Beale had heard her name. Sylvan Glass. She went off in his head and his heart like a firecracker on the Fourth of July. Something dazzling. Something stupendous.
Something, finally, that was wholly and mysteriously wonderful.