The Long Way Home, an Excerpt
By Suha Khan & Vanida Narrainen
Two strangers at their lowest find out that they may have something the other needs. But first, they need to get over their differences—and their unlikely similarities.
INT. LARA’S CAR – WET, DARK EVENING
LARA, a young, attractive woman, in the late 20s to early 30s range, aggressively parks her car in a fairly empty diner parking lot. Clad in designer wear, face expertly made up, she does not belong in this sad-looking town.
Recalibrating… Lost satellite connection…
She slams her GPS from the top of her car roof, and turns on her phone. It reads: Missed call from MOM.
She sighs and turns it away. She stares despondently at the duffel bags, clothes and papers strewn everywhere for a moment, then squares her shoulders. Having seemingly made up her mind, she steps out of the car.
The diner’s neon sign shines so bright by her, it causes discomfort. It sure has seen better days. After a pause, LARA pushes open the entrance door.
INT. BILL’S DINER
An old Elvis tune feebly coming out of a jukebox in the far right corner of the room.
The shabby diner sports 50s decor: cracked black and white linoleum tiles, red vinyl bar stools lined up at the bar counter and a few booths by windows caked in grease.
BILL, the owner, is at the bar, smoking a cigar, and reading the newspaper. He is a stern-looking man with a thick mustache and an impressive beer belly. Looking up at the sound of the door chime, he stares at LARA for a moment then silently goes back to his reading.
A small group of teenagers are lounging in one of the booths, smoking.
Wincing, LARA makes her way to the bar and takes a seat.
The WAITER, with a twinge of surprise, offers a menu.
(without looking at the menu)
Thanks. I think I’ll have lentil soup.
(after a pause)
And a double Scotch, neat.
The WAITER raises an eyebrow but silently writes these down.
Some fries too, actually.
Coming right up, ma’am.
The WAITER goes to pour her drink from the bar and LARA turns her phone back on. Three new missed calls from MOM.
LARA sighs and places her phone back in her pocket, just in time for the waiter to slide her drink in front of her. She shuffles through her wallet, taking out crumpled dollars and her ID.
(downing her drink)
Thanks. You know, I used to go here all the time when I was in high school. It’s hardly changed.
Did you really think it would?
Guess I’m the only one who did.
The WAITER puts a bowl of soup in front of her.
So, you’re an escapee. Where’d you go off to?
I went to New York.
We hear the door chime.
We see MR. TALISMAN enter the diner from behind LARA. Reed-thin, in his late 70s, he carries a permanent frown on his face.
As he approaches the bar, we see an odd expression appear on his face as he sees LARA seated and absently staring into her soup.
Good question. We’ll have to see if it’s a visit or-
She is interrupted as MR. TALISMAN loudly pulls a stool and seats himself next to her. LARA glances at him in annoyance. There are other seats.
Usual and Diet Coke?
I’ll take a fucking liquor if I have to put up with this. Get a move on.
He stares directly at LARA. WAITER stiffens.
Can I help you?
You’re a little old for games aren’t you? You’re in my seat, lady. Go get a move on.
(looks to WAITER)
Okay, um, I really-
(as if he’s been through this before)
She’s just visiting, no harm. And look, you’ve found yourself another seat just fine. Ma’am, you’re fine.
MR. TALISMAN grunts. The group of teenagers snicker at the back of the diner, loud enough for LARA to turn around in curiosity. They are looking right at her, or him, or both of them.
Talisman got himself a fucking girlfriend.
Nah.. cause who is that.
He probably bought her on Facebook or something. My aunt’s cousin did something like that.
Talisman, I presume?
Real bright too, aren’t ya?
I never liked the teens back here.
Can’t blame them, all their parents are white trash.
Don’t disagree there.
The old man leans over and peeks at her ID.
(shoving her ID back into her purse)
Hey! Do you mind?!
Keith Fried’s daughter huh? Should’ve guessed. Only one here abandoned by his kids.
I didn’t abandon anyone. I moved to New York. I pay for- You know nothing.
LARA lets out a sigh and hunches back over her soup)
Well I can’t blame ya. Not with your folks.
(looks up in surprise)
What do you even mean?
Well, don’t be shy. What do you know about my parents?
The WAITER and BILL exchange a look. LARA notices.
I don’t have time for these games. This hick town will never change.
As Lara jumps off her stool and heads to the back of the diner we–
INT. BILL’S DINER – BATHROOM
LARA braces herself against the sink and stares at herself in the cracked mirror. Having seemingly made up her mind, she pulls out her phone and dials.
Lara, honey, where are you? Are you in town? Jenn Shelby saw you at Walmart and said you ignored her? Are you coming home?
Who the hell is Mr. Talisman?
The line is silent for a moment.
Lara, come home. I’m making spaghetti and meatballs, your favorite.
Great, that’s your answer to everything, Isn’t it, mom? Beat everyone to submission with food. Well, it won’t work this time. And I am a vegetarian now.
LARA abruptly hangs up and after one last look in the mirror, heads out.
INT. BILL’S DINER
LARA heads for the bar, clearly frazzled. Taking her seat, she starts to eat her soup, loudly. MR. TALISMAN, eating tomato soup and grilled cheese, takes notice of her funk.
(Motioning to Lara’s food)
Fries and lentil soup. Is that what New Yorkers eat these days?
LARA glares at him and resumes eating.
If you ask me, a proper cheeseburger would’ve done you some good. Could use some more meat on these bones.
Literally no one’s asking you.
All parents here are insufferable, to be fair. My worst fear was becoming like one of them.
LARA pauses and glances at him. After a moment of hesitation…
I don’t think I ever saw you here. Growing up, I mean. And this is a small town…
Probably knew my wife. Martha? She was a talker.
You’re married?! To Martha from the flower shop?!
MR. TALISMAN gruffly nods.
Was, is more accurate.
They are silent for a moment, each caught up in their own thoughts. BILL is eyeing them from behind his newspaper.
You’re not gonna say sorry for your loss or anything? New Yorkers.. should’ve known.
No, sorry, I am sorry. I just, I didn’t know that you were- Or that she passed. I liked her. She always made the best bouquets. My parents would spend a full half hour ogling over her stuff.
Well, that’s one thing they did right.
I just didn’t know she was married. Or at least, I guess, I never thought about it. Sorry. You must’ve been a wonderful couple.
Martha was for the people. The people are for themselves. I was for her.
LARA is confused but remains silent. Moment’s silence.
I had no idea she passed. When did it happen?
Four years ago. (beat.) Car accident.
MR. TALISMAN grimaces. He doesn’t talk about this often, or ever.
Damn. That’s horrible.
Worst part is, I don’t know where we went wrong. Exercised, ate well, took good care of each other. All it took was one piece of shit to wreck it all in a second. You can do everything right, but someone else is always there.
You and your wife deserved better. It’s just not fair.
She did deserve better.
So why are you here, Miss Lara Fried? First time in a decade, isn’t it? Missing ma and pa? To mourn the flower shop lady?
Seven years. And, no.
I lost – I got laid off at my publishing firm. Can’t pay rent. No one’s hiring right now.
PAUSE. She hasn’t really talked about this either.
I’m sorry, kid. Look, you know, your parents…
LARA beams up.
What about them?
You were only five years old when I met your mother…
As Lara leans closer to MR. TALISMAN, we stay on the two huddled together at the bar.
END OF EXCERPT.
We worked together on the plot and outlined the scene and character development together. We then created a collaborative workspace, where we took turns in writing out portions of our scene. We met virtually once a week to review and discuss what we each wrote and edited the piece together.
Suha Khan is currently in her junior year at high school in Manhattan, NY where she studies technical theater. She enjoys chocolate, film and Mitski—her essentials. Born and raised in New York, Suha yearns to travel, preferably in a pandemic-free world. When not mindlessly scrolling through the depths of social media, she reads, writes and creates.
Vanida is a corporate lawyer who represents private equity and other corporate clients in mergers and acquisitions and other transactional matters and has worked at global law firms in New York and Paris. Vanida received a Bachelor of Arts from Lafayette College and her J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Law School.