The diner is like a blast from the past in the middle of an Atlanta suburb. Oldies play through a crackling sound system outside the place, where a few cars have pulled up to menu boards. I expect a roller skating waitress to appear any second. I walk up to the door and enter, glancing about. The interior is small, but there are a few booths. The music is much louder in here. Sitting in one of the booths, dressed in plain, dark clothes, is the young man I am here to interview. I take a minute to study him. Noah’s dark hair is a bit on the longish side, and something about the way he is sitting seems cautious, like he’s keeping an eye on everything going on around him. One of the waiters, another young man with… green hair? Hm. Interesting. He wears glasses and baggy clothes is attempting to hold a conversation with Noah in between bussing tables. The ease of their interaction, as Noah nods and grins at something the other boy just said, tells me that this is not an uncommon afternoon for them. However, teenage characters can be a bit high strung, so I decide to approach carefully.
Noah looks up as I wander over.
“You the reporter?” he asks.
I give him an easy smile. “Yep. Is the food here any good?”
“I’ve only had the coffee.” He shrugs and points two fingers at the Styrofoam cup in front of him. “It’s adequate.”
I don’t usually like coffee, but I’ve discovered that in the FictionVerse, “coffee” can taste like anything I want it to, so I order a cup and settle myself into the red and gray vinyl booth and flip open my notebook. “So, tell me a little bit about yourself, Noah. I believe you’re somewhat new to this area? How are you liking it?”
Noah turns his gaze toward something apparently more interesting on the floor beside our booth. A slight tremor in the table tells me his knees are bouncing. “It’s different,” he finally says. “Lots of traffic here. Bigger school.”
“You’re from a smaller place, then?”
His lips part in a silent chuckle. “You could say that. Is this going to be online or something? I mean, they told me you were a reporter. I thought it was for the school paper. But you’re…”
“An adult.” I smile at his awkwardness. “This will be a blog post. Why? Are you afraid someone might see it?”
More table jiggling as he tugs at his lower lip. Then he drops his hand to the table. “Tell you what. Call me Rhys instead. Rhys Le Guin. Yeah, I lived in a small town. Nothing at all like this place. Rural. Farms and stuff. And now… we’re here. Not exactly by choice. And that’s probably all I should say about that.”
Hiding out from someone or something? Easy to see that a change of subject is in order if I want to get anything more from this kid. I decide not to bother explaining that this article is going to be published in a different world and the odds of anyone he knows ever reading it are extremely non-existent. “I see. Well, Rhys, what are some of your hobbies and interests?”
Noah sits back in his seat and gives me half a smile. One dimple. Head cocked just slightly. This kid might be running from something, but he’s still got some moxie. And his smoky blue eyes tells me he’s probably a heartbreaker… when he’s not as nervous as a feral cat.
“Superheroes,” he says. “Comic books. I’m an artist. Or I want to be. Course, my father said that’s a waste of time. He was this big time jock when he was in school, and he still thinks he’s Mr. Stud. If anything I do isn’t fueled by testosterone and adrenalin, it’s a big disappointment to him.”
As he talks, he rakes a hand through his hair and I catch a glimpse of a freshly healed wound. Little pinkish marks on each side suggest the injury required stitches. I frown in concern. “Ouch, what happened there?”
Noah/Rhys quickly finger-combs his hair back over his forehead. “Skateboard accident,” he says too quickly.
A pang flits through me. I suspect he’s lying. But I’m not here to get to talk about his apparent dysfunctional family, although a part of me wishes I could help him. Someone should help him, anyway. Maybe I’ll have a chat with his author! I clear my throat and lean toward him. “The reason I wanted to talk to you is… I heard you were involved in some detective work at your new school. Cyber bullying and threatening notes in lockers. What can you tell me about that?”
His eyes widen. “Are you a cop?”
I wave my hands and shake my head emphatically. “No. I just interview interesting characters.”
He takes a swig of his coffee and winces. Reaches for the retro glass sugar dispenser. “Okay, so there’s this girl. Really gorgeous girl. She’s in one of my classes. I tried to talk to her at her locker, and she found this note. She blamed me for putting it there but I would never do that. Notes are for dweebs. Socially awkward or hopelessly smitten dudes. Thing is, though, it wasn’t a love note or anything. It was like this tortured haiku and kind of threatening. She got pretty upset about it. So I decided I’d try to find out who put it there. The whole thing kind of grew from that. I don’t have any proof—like, I’m not a cop with all the forensic tools at my disposal—but I have a feeling the notes are just the beginning.”
“Well, there was this girl who committed suicide before I came here, and we—me and Simon. That’s him over there with the green hair. Anyway, we think there’s a connection. We’re not so sure now that it was a suicide. A lot of things are looking pretty sketchy.”
“They’re convinced it was a suicide. Don’t worry, I’m not going to do anything stupid. Whatever we figure out, we’ll tell the police.”
“Sounds like you might have what it takes to become a detective. Do you have any ideas on what you’ll do next?”
“Clear my name, obviously. And then go back to being incognito. You’re gonna say my name is Rhys, right?”
“Um, sure. Let me change the subject slightly, if you suddenly found a million dollars and were allowed to keep it… what would you do with it?”
He winces at me. “Slightly? Is this a trick question? Um, I’d definitely move out of the crappy trailer where my mom and I are living. And then… maybe get a car and go to art school somewhere, far away from North Carolina.”
“Art school, huh? I’d love to see some of your work sometime. Hey, last question: If you could ask your author to change just one thing about your life, what would it be and why?”
“Author? Hey, I write my own stories. Maybe I didn’t see all this happening to me, but I’ve seen what letting someone control you does to a person. So getting away and living my own life, not being controlled or controlling anyone else… yeah. That’s what I’d do with that million dollars you mentioned, for sure. But if I could change something right now? Like snap my fingers, and it’s done? I’d make my dad a better person, not a drunk hanging onto his glory days. And maybe I’d have a dog. And a relationship with a girl that lasts more than a few weeks. I think I’d like to be in love with someone. Like, really in love. And not with a girl who thinks I’m a stalker.”
The door to the diner opens with a blast of late summer heat. The boy who walks through it is well groomed and dressed, but smirky. He’s holding his cell phone up, almost like he’s pointing it toward us. Noah looks away from the newcomer, his lip raised above his gritted teeth.
“Problem?” I ask.
“Todd McCaffrey,” he mutters toward the window beside him. “AKA Mac the Hack. I should go. Sorry.” Noah—AKA Rhys—rises, leaving his coffee on the table, and strides toward the guy, Todd. He shifts aside at the last instant to go around him, then disappears into the sunlight outside the diner.
Yep, I was right about teens being high strung.
Todd stands there, still smirking, still with his phone elevated toward me, and I have the distinct feeling that Noah and I had our picture taken.
Well, that was fun! I am intrigued by this character and would love to learn more about him! How about you? Well, you’re in luck! Because the author is offering a giveaway of a paperback copy of Because… Anonymous to one lucky winner!
Unfortunately, due to the ghastly amounts of gold dragons charge for flying over large bodies of water these days, this prize can only be shipped within the United States. No international shipping available, we apologize for this inconvenience, but recommend you take your complaints to the great dragon overlord… just… make sure he’s in a good mood, first!
Diana L. Sharples is an award-winning author and illustrator who lives in north Georgia with her husband and daughter. She is a graduate of the Atlanta College of Art (now Savannah School of Art and Design). Her first novel, Running Lean, won numerous pre-publication awards and was published in 2013 by a division of Harper Collins. The following year Diana was diagnosed with breast cancer, and her career was derailed for a while as she went through treatment. But she kept writing, and came back in 2018 with a total of five new novels, including the sequel to Running Lean, called Running Strong. Her “Because…” books are her first foray into indie publishing. The character, Noah Dickerson, was a secondary character, a bad-boy Romeo, from Running Lean, who refused to leave his author alone until she let him have his story. He now has three. And in 2019 there will be a fourth, in which Noah will finally have one of his wishes come true.
Follow Diana’s writing journey around the interwebs – and make sure you check out her awesome artwork, as well!