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Serial: Down the River – Chapter Nine

I’m finally revisiting the characters from The River City Chronicles nine years after their original timeline. I’ll be running the series weekly here on my blog, and then will release it in book form at the end of the run. Hope you enjoy catching up with all your faves and all their new secrets!

Today, Ainsley flirts with a different future…

< Read Chapter Eight | Read Chapter Ten >

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Down the River Header

Chapter Nine
Her First Fan

Ainsley lay on her back staring up at the poster of one of Jaemin Lee’s pieces of art called Lazy Day. Five dark-haired women in white tops lay on a red tabletop, their bodies extended like putty under the artist’s insightful gaze. The women slept while a gaggle of blackbirds helped themselves to the leftovers of the meal, while verdant jungle leaves jostled all around them.

I know how you feel. She was supposed to be studying for her Foundations of Clinical Research class, but it was a warm Saturday afternoon, and words like “biostatistics,” “cohort studies” and “statistical analysis” had lulled her into a state of near-paralysis. She hadn’t slept well the night before, her mind fixated on the pretty blonde who’d come into the restaurant a few nights before. Marissa… something. On impulse, Ainsley had written her name and number on a napkin and had left it with the bill. When she’d retrieved the check holder, it had been gone.

That has to be a good sign, right? She wasn’t supposed to be dating, not until she got out of school and had “a job to make your mom and pop proud.” She’d had a few flings on campus, but mostly she’d stuck to the plan—her parents’ plan—that they’d laid down for her when she was six.

“You’ll study really hard and get your high school degree and be the valedictorian of your school.”

Check.

“Then you’ll go to a good school. Not a fancy one, but one that will teach you what you need to know to be a great doctor.”

Check. Well, almost. She’d discovered that she couldn’t deal with the sight of blood—at least not when it was gushing out of someone—and diverted into a medical research track. Which her parents had been fine with, if you defined fine as grumbling about it every time she saw them.

“You could have been a real doctor,” her mom would say, rolling her eyes.

“Mom, it’s a good job. I’ll be able to help lots of people.”

“Of course you will.” Ma had patted her hand. “Your cousin Jung is a real doctor, you know. There’s still time for you to change your mind.”

Ainsley sighed. She rolled over and spied the card the gallery owner had given her that same night she’d met the beguiling Marissa. Frowning, she picked it up to stare at its raised black lettering. Red Roof Gallery.

Maybe she needed a little art to clear her head. Or better yet, maybe she needed to make a little.

She slipped off the bed and pulled on her best torn jeans and a K-Pop t-shirt, along with her heart-shaped lens sunglasses. She checked herself in the mirror. She looked acceptable enough. Grabbing her backpack, she headed out of the dorm room.

She’d spied an art store on J Street just this side of Midtown. She checked out a lime-green scooter from the rack outside the dorm and hopped on, letting it carry her through the campus. The semester was almost over. Soon she’d be cramming for finals, but for today she was content to let her studies rest for an afternoon.

She’d come to love East Sacramento during her time at school. Huge trees lined the boulevards, homes had beautiful, tidy yards, and the Fabulous Forties was like something out of a romance movie—huge houses, even bigger trees, and streets as wide as the Champs-Élysées, at least the way she imagined it in her head.

As she got closer to the freeway, the city around her changed, first replacing single family homes with old but well-kept-up apartment complexes, and then tiny shopping centers with restaurants and bars and coffee shops.

Cars crammed Business 80, slowed to almost a standstill as the freeway approached the river crossing a few blocks north. It was always slow there, one of the reasons she liked riding a scooter instead of driving.

She slipped past the homeless man who had pitched a bright blue tent under the freeway underpass, praying he would leave her alone. He was lost in his own world and didn’t seem to notice her.

On the other side, Midtown began in earnest. Two-story buildings lined J Street—mostly more restaurants and coffee shops, though she passed a Birkenstock store and a salon or two on the way. Just a block beyond the park, University Art awaited her.

It was a good-sized store, mismatched white and gray tile giving it anti-establishment cred. She browsed through cans of spray-paint, watercolors, posterboard in the colors of the rainbow, frames, stands overflowing with hand-dyed paper, and horse-hair brushes, finally settling on colored pencils. One set had 240 shades.

Oooh. She picked it up, staring covetously at all the pretty colors. Then she saw its price tag. $50 was a bit over her budget.

“If that’s too much, there’s a great set right here that has over a hundred colors and is a fourth the price.”

Ainsley turned to find a young man about her age staring back at her. His face was pockmarked, probably from a bad case of acne as a teenager, but he had a broad, friendly smile and a twinkle in his eyes. “Thanks. Let me take a look.”

He handed over the set, and she saw the flash of a store badge.

“Thanks, Alyn. You work here?” The pencils looked high quality, the shades different enough that she could blend them to get the colors she wanted.

“Since last year.” From his voice and demeanor, it was clear he was part of the community. “I love art, though I’ve never been very good at it.”

“You shouldn’t denigrate yourself. I bet you’re much better than you think.”

“Nah, I can only draw stick figures.” His frown slipped up at the edges. “What do you draw?”

“I’m not sure yet.” She bit her lip. “I haven’t done art since high school. I just needed a little… something.”

He nodded. “I get that. Here, let me show you the best deal we have on a drawing pad….”

They spent a good fifteen minutes touring the store, and by the end, she had everything she needed. They chatted about Sacramento, about her school, and about his own recent past.

“I came here to study, but when I came out, my parents cut me off.”

“Oh that sucks. I’m so sorry!” Her own parents had taken the news surprisingly well. Considering. Oh, it’s all right. So sad that you will never marry a man and give us grandbabies. But it’s all right.

“I landed on my feet. I’m working here and saving up for community college.” He rang her up. “That’ll be $22.15.”

She stared at him. “That can’t be right.”

“I gave you my employee discount.” He winked at her. “Gotta take care of family, right?”

“That’s so sweet of you. Are you sure? I don’t want to get you into trouble.”

“It’s fine. Like I said, I’m not an artist, so I never use it.”

“Okay, thank you.” She paid in cash, using some of her food money so it wouldn’t show up on her student ATM card when her mom opened the bill.

Alyn put everything in a bag and held it out to her. “Make something beautiful…”

“Ainsley. Ainsley Kim.”

“Ainsley Kim. And come show it to me when you’re done. You have a gift for art. I can tell.”

She blushed. “Thanks. I will. Have a great day!” She headed out the door, feeling something light and happy inside.

Just starting out, and I already have my first fan.

< Read Chapter Eight | Read Chapter Ten >


Like what you read? if you haven’t tried it yet, check out book one, The River City Chronicles, here.

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