Gabriel peered though the tear in the chain link fence that separated Lucia from the foothills. The foothills used to be part of a State Park before the west coast cities separated from the rest of California. They kept enough land to go on hikes or walk their dogs, but except for a few community gardens, they had all their food flown in.
He was only sixteen and had been born after “The Schism,” the separation of what his Grandpa called “The Left Coast” from the more rural and conservative parts of the state. He said that other big cities had done the same thing, not just in the U.S., but in Canada and Europe, too. The state capitol had been moved from Sacramento to Los Angeles, and people in the “rightist” coastal areas, like Orange County, had chosen to sell their houses at a premium, and move to mid-sized cities here or in other states such as Idaho, which was a pretty popular destination.
“What makes you so special?”
In spite of his Grandpa, his parents, and most other people he knew, including the kids he’d grown up with, he was curious. What did the coast cities have that the rest of California didn’t? They had video games, but so did he, though not from the same manufacturers, and “coastie” products were deliberately overpriced for what they called “hicks” and “deplorables”or just plain not sold outside the cities.
Same thing with movies, music, and most of the other stuff produced in the big population centers. Yeah, the central part of the state had their own tech and entertainment products, but not the same ones. He’d never see the latest superhero movies or TV shows made by Marvel or DC unless they were pirated, and he suspected that what he and the other kids saw, listened to, and played weren’t quite as good.
He jumped at the sound of her voice, then turned to his left. She was standing just on the other side of the fence. It was a coastie, a girl.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.” She giggled. She was about his age, blond, and about the cutest girl he’d ever seen, well maybe except for Brookie McBride.
“I wasn’t scared. I mean, I didn’t hear you walk up.” He could feel his face get hot. “What are you doing here? I thought coasties…I mean…”
“I know what you mean, hicksville.” She’d sounded friendly right up until that moment. Now she was scowling and had crossed her arms. He expected her to walk away, but she didn’t.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to say that. What are you doing here? I didn’t think anyone came this close to the fence.”
“I could ask you the same question. The nearest town must be miles away. I’ve been watching you for over an hour.”
“Our farm is about ten miles southeast of here.”
“Ten miles?” She sounded astonished. “It would take hours to walk that far.” She looked in good shape, but he figured she wasn’t used to distances like he was.
“I rode my bike. There’s still a trail through the park that comes this far.” He jerked his thumb behind him and she noticed the trail bike leaning up against a tree for the first time.
“Oh. I hadn’t thought of that. I like to ride my bike, too. The bike lanes on Highway One are beautiful. You’ve never seen the ocean, have you.”
“No, except in old movies and TV shows.”
“Believe me, it’s not the same.”
“I guess not.” He was blushing again. He wasn’t sure if she was bragging or just telling him about what she likes. “My name’s Gabriel. What’s yours?”
“Robin.” She put her hand through the gap and the fence.
He froze for a moment. He’d held hands with a girl before, but it seemed almost alien to touch a coastie.
“Oh, come on. I won’t bite.”
He knew for sure she was teasing him now and grabbed her hand, squeezing harder than he meant to.
She winced. “Hey.”
“You say that a lot.”
“This is kind of awkward for me.”
“You think it isn’t for me?”
“You don’t act like it, and you didn’t answer my question.” Gabriel hoped to regain control of the interaction. He thought a coastie would be more timid around a “deplorable.”
“I was curious. Mom and Dad always tell me and my sister never to come this close to the fence.”
“But you did, anyway.”
“Like I said, I was curious about what’s on the other side. What about you?”
“It’s just a park. You can’t see anything besides grass and trees for miles. I’m curious too, but from here, I can see your city.”
“It’s more of a small town, really. We only have a couple of thousand people here, nowhere big as Monterey, let alone the Bay Area or L.A.” The words rolled easily off of her lips, but to him, they sounded as legendary as Camelot or Atlantis.
“Sounds about as big as Jolon. That’s the closest town to our farm.”
“You live on a farm? That sounds so weird. Do you like grow your own food and stuff?”
“Sure. Our own plus a lot extra. That’s what we sell to all the cities as far away as Bakersfield and Modesto. A whole lot better than what comes out of the Big Agra compounds back east and all their GMO junk.”
“What do you mean ‘junk?’ Where do you think we get our food from?”
He bit his lower lip. “Dumb, dumb, dumb,” he mentally scolded himself. “I’ve insulted her again.”
“Sor…” He stopped himself from apologizing, figuring she’d make fun of him again.
“Okay, okay. I’m sorry, too. It’s just I’ve never talked to a dep…to someone from the other side of the fence before. I guess I really am awkward.”
“Hey, I’ve got some strawberries in my backpack. Want some?”
“What’s the matter? Think it’s poison or something?”
“I don’t know. No, of course not. I’ve never eaten anything grown on a real farm before, I mean except from what we grow in the community gardens.”
“Be right back.” Gabriel ran over to his bicycle, opened the backpack he’d leaned up against a nearby tree and pulled out his small, flexible cooler. Then he walked back to Robin.
“Here.” He opened the container and pulled out a sack, and handed it to her. Their fingers brushed against each other and embarrassment was written all over his face again.
“Thanks.” She untwisted the top of the sack, and the delicious odor of freshly picked strawberries graced her nostrils. “That smells delicious.” She dipped her hand in and stopped. “Have these been washed?”
“Sure, but just to get the dirt off. We don’t use chemicals.”
“You use cow poop for fertilizer?” She wrinkled her nose, and he couldn’t tell if she were teasing him again, or if the thought really disgusted her.
“Horses, actually. Grandpa says it’s what farmers used before World War Two, when all of the chemical bomb factories were turned into fertilizer makers.”
“Well, okay.” Robin pulled out a large, ruby-red piece of fruit the size of a small apple. “Wow. This is really big.”
She raised the strawberry to her lips and took a small bite. “Wow.” Some of the juice dribbled down her lower lip as she tried to talk and chew at the same time. “That’s awesome. I mean it tastes incredible.”
Gabriel beamed with pride. “Best strawberries in the central state. They’ve won prizes in three county fairs for the last five years running.
“County fairs? I’ve read about them. I didn’t think people did that anymore. Can I have another?”
“Sure. Have as many as you want. I’ve got a couple of pieces of chicken for lunch.” He held up his lunch cooler, then zipped it shut and put it by his feet.
She ate about half of the strawberries before handing the bag back to him. “I don’t think I’m having lunch after this. I’m stuffed. They’re the tastiest thing I’ve ever eaten. You’re going to make me fat.”
“You’re not fat. You look terrific.” It was getting so he thought he was never going to stop saying stupid things and blushing. He ceased looking at her hips and slim waist, but let his gaze linger for a moment on her breasts before fixing it squarely on her sky blue eyes.
“Thank you.” Now Robin was blushing, and it really stood out on her pale skin. He kept hoping it wasn’t so obvious on him because he was darker.
“Want to sit with me under that tree and talk some more?” He nodded to where his bike and backpack were resting.
“I better not. I mean, isn’t it against the law for me to go out there?”
“Just as much as it would be for me to go on your side. But it looks like someone must have gone in or out.” He touched one side of the rip in the fence.
“I wonder who?” She put her hand near where his was resting causing him to pull his back.
“I don’t know. I’ve been coming here for months and it was already here. Looks old by the rust. Maybe it was someone from your town who wanted to know what country life is like.”
“I don’t know about that. Maybe it was someone from your side who wanted to see the ocean. Isn’t that something you’d like to see?”
“I might. But I’d get caught before I got anywhere near it.”
“Maybe not. If we walked south, we wouldn’t have to go through town. If you were with me, no one would know you were from the country, and if we met anyone, I’d just say you’re my cousin from Monterey or San Luis Obisbo.”
The way she said those names made them sound like they were on the Moon or another planet. He could feel himself tremble at the thought of just stepping through the gap, and knew why she hesitated to visit him on his side.
“Look, I should go. If anyone saw you up here talking to me, you could get in trouble.”
She quickly turned her head and looked at the buildings in the distance, then faced him again. “Maybe you’re right. I told Mom I was going for a walk, but I’m not usually gone this long.” Then she looked up. “Besides, it looks like rain. You don’t want to stuck outside in a downpour.”
“I’ve been outside in the rain before, Robin, but thanks.”
Gabriel picked up his lunch box and realized he was still holding the sack of strawberries. He put them inside, zipped it shut, and held the cooler loosely in his left hand.
“Robin, do you think…I mean…could we meet and talk again sometime?”
“Sure.” He was caught off guard by her enthusiasm. “I mean, I liked talking with you, Gabriel.”
He was glad he didn’t have a monopoly on blushing. “I can come back next Saturday at about ten. I don’t have a lot of chores that day, and Dad lets me go early so I can ride my bike on the back trails.”
“They don’t worry?”
“I’ve been riding my bike with my friends all over this park since I was six years old. I like being away from folks to explore.”
“My parents would freak if they knew I was even this far from town by myself.”
“Mine would freak if they knew I was at the fence, too.”
“Next Saturday at ten? It’s a date.” She touched his forearm and let her hand stay there for a few moments.
“A date.” For a second, he wondered if he should try to kiss her, but it felt like it was too soon.
“See you next week.” Her smile was shy but flirty.
“I’ll be here.”
She took a few steps back, away from the tear in the fence, but she kept looking at him. He went back to his bike. After putting away the lunch box and pulling on the backpack, he turned back and saw she was still there.
“See you next week.” He waved and felt like an idiot.
“I look forward to it.” She waved back looking perfectly natural.
He got on his bike, gazed at Robin one more time, and then started riding away on the dirt trail that had brought him here and to her.
Robin kept looking until he was out of sight. Someday, she thought she might be able to show Gabriel the ocean, and she hoped she’d even be able to see his farm.
This image is pretty tame compared to most of the other photo challenges found there, but it also gave me an idea.
Yesterday, I reviewed a short story called “The Last Hunt” written for the anthology, To Be Men: Stories Celebrating Masculinity by Richard Paolinelli. The tale is about a dramatic schism between urban and rural areas of the county, and although I enjoyed it, I felt the idea could have been better developed.
So I developed it, though I had to make some major changes to the concept. I’m not trying to rip Richard off, but the idea is compelling, and I decided to use it to tell a “Romeo and Juliet” story, two kids from different sides of the track, so to speak, who hit it off, even though their relationship is forbidden.
Actually, a few months back, I read a news story about a movement born in rural California that wants to separate from the liberal coastal communities, so the idea isn’t that far-fetched. Also, more recent stories such as San Francisco’s crisis looks like New York’s future which chronicles San Francisco’s poop problems further illustrates the differences between the values and standards of California’s coastal communities and its more rural areas (and those of other states such as Idaho where I live).
Oh, I set my wee tale just outside of Lucia, California near Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. It really is a small community and probably wouldn’t be much bigger in the futuristic time where this story takes place.