Here’s my Friday reads second segment. It’s all for the kids, our tomorrow.
“Hard times will always reveal the friends who are true for life.”
Friendships are not only important, but they are vital to health and happiness in life. They are a gift. In this second segment of my WIP, friendship is an issue. Sometimes in small towns, people can be cliquey. Is that true where you live? Always welcome the newcomer. They may be an angel in disguise. Or maybe just someone who needs a smile, kind words, or encouragement, something we all need at times.
If you missed part one, you can find it here: http://jvcarrwriterauthor.com/2015/11/25/gifted-ones-scarcely-human/
Part Two: Gifted Ones: Scarcely Human
The parking lot was an abandoned spot in front of an unused lumber mill only a mile away. After Jess and Michael had met, they’d driven there when they had time to lie in the back of his truck, gaze at the stars, and play dot-to-dot with the constellations.
Jess sighed. “I can’t. I have detention first thing this morning, remember? I’m supposed to be there early.”
Michael’s hand dropped to his lap. “Oh, right, you got in trouble with Suzy again. I forgot. Hmmm.”
“Hmmm what?” Jess asked curling a few strands of her hair around her finger.
Michael started to play with Jess’s free hand. He looked Jess straight in the eye and with his smooth, low voice chose his words carefully. “I don’t think Suzy’s a good friend to you. That’s all.”
Jess rolled her eyes. She hated it when Michael complained about how much he hated Suzy, something he’d been doing more frequently since the start of the school year.
“We can’t all be as popular as you,” Jess said. “You know new kids have a hard time making friends in this town, where everyone’s known each other forever. And me…I might as well be a part of a freak show. Kids still stare, like I’m the only one with a dead parent.”
Michael nodded and squeezed her hand, his eyes embracing hers. “No one stares at you. You just feel like they do. Anyway, I’d hate to see you expelled. The school policy is three serious strikes and you’re out. They’re really strict. I’ve seen it before. They’re not going to treat you any differently.”
Jess knew the news of her father’s death made her an object of interest, besides being the new kid, no matter how much Michael tried to reassure her. Kids still whispered and hushed when she walked by them. She knew they wondered why she had moved to Ogunquit, a place where she had no family or friends. It was as though her past had been erased, and kids were curious. What secrets did she have? They wanted to know.
Jess knew Michael didn’t care. He had told her that he trusted her, and had fallen for her the first time she’d laughed at his jokes that really weren’t that funny. Something about the way he told jokes reminded her of her father. And Michael said he loved the radiant smile that lit up her face at the sound of his voice, and the way her cheeks blazed red at his simple touch, and the way her innocence left his heart pounding.
Jess unzipped her backpack and took out her beaded hair brush. She pulled the black elastic off it, slipped it over her wrist, and began to brush the thick strands of her long, chocolate colored hair. “I guess I’m doing okay then. This is only my second serious strike.”
Michael shoved the truck into drive, making an unnecessary thumping noise and edged the truck forward. “That makes two detentions in two months, both times for having alcohol on campus, both times with Suzy. From what I see, she uses you, watches you get smashed, and then ditches you. She’s a crappy friend, Jess.”
“And who would make a better friend? Peggy?” she snapped.
Michael stopped the truck. He spoke softly. “Not that again. C’mon, Jess. Peggy and I could never be more than friends. We’ve known each other since Kindergarten. Boyfriend and girlfriend in seventh grade doesn’t count for anything. She’s like a sister. Besides, she has her own set of…secrets or whatever.” He paused for a moment, and shook his head like it didn’t matter, then continued. “You have to admit she’s a lot nicer than Suzy.” Michael’s expression looked incredulous.
Good ole Peggy, the pretentious captain of the Varsity Dance Team, the only girl Jess hated instantly from the second she’d met her. From what Jess could see, Peggy always had and still has a serious crush on Michael. It didn’t help that Peggy was platinum blond and gorgeous. Oh––and rich––sick rich. She could have any guy in school she wanted––but Michael, or so he said.
“Peggy doesn’t like me either, and that has a lot to do with you,” Jess said icily.
“She likes you,” Michael argued. “She was mad, rightly so, when you drew a mustache on her face.”
“I drew it after she told me she couldn’t believe you wanted to date me. It’s her fault she fell asleep in class. Besides, I got in trouble for that too and had to carry her books for a week, remember?”
“Oh, yeah,” Michael said absentmindedly like he’d forgotten an important fact Jess had told him. “At least that shouldn’t have counted as a serious detention.” Michael glanced at the clock. “We should get going before you’re late.” He began to drive forward.
Jess held in her annoyance at his paternal care. Why did he have to be so perfect and good? She snapped her hair elastic off her wrist. “Ouch!” she cried. She slammed her hairbrush on the seat and twisted her hair in a ponytail. She didn’t answer him. She turned to stare out the window as warm tears filled her amber eyes.
“Jess?” Michael stopped again and shifted the truck back into park.
“Are you crying?” he asked in disbelief.
She turned her head, wiped her palms on her jeans, and without glancing up at him, whispered, “You don’t understand.”
He put the palm of his hand on her cheek and gave her no choice but to look at him. His lips caught and drank the few tears that had accumulated and spilled down her cheeks.
“I understand,” he whispered. “I know you’ve had a hard time since your dad…but you can’t let that ruin your future. I know you can keep it together. You have to.”
He unbuckled her seatbelt and pulled her tiny frame onto his lap. She lost herself in his array of soft kisses that steamed the windows slightly, until they heard an obnoxious hammering on the truck. They both jumped away from each other. Jess scrambled back to her seat as Michael started to roll down the window.
It was Mrs. Z! She peered through the partially opened window and squawked, “You kids aren’t having sex in there are you? I’ll call the police. You two have been out here long enough.”
Fanatical Mrs. Z pulled out her phone and began to dial.
Michael slammed the truck into gear and pressed hard on the gas pedal, jerking the truck forward. He sped around the cul-de-sac, tires squealing as the back of the truck fishtailed. He flew past Mrs. Z. Her balled fists were up in the air shaking at them.
One mission accomplished, Jess thought, shocked. She’s pissed!
“You don’t think she actually called the police again, do you?” Michael asked, glancing through the rearview mirror.
“I don’t care if she did. They know she’s nuts.” After Jess had moved to the neighborhood, she’d heard rumors of Mrs. Z’s whacky, paranoid phone calls to the police. They rarely took her seriously.
As they drove the short distance to school, in another little country town called Wells, the next town over, Jess peeked out of the corner of her eye at Michael. She didn’t want him to know she could gaze at him all day and never tire of it.
She sighed softly.
Michael was half American, his mom’s side, and half Costa Rican, his dad’s side. He resembled his dad more, with jet-black hair and intense cocoa eyes that were like soothing hot chocolate. Jess got lost in those eyes. She thought he looked incredible, right out of a teen magazine, except that Michael was much broader than his father. She knew that Michael loved wearing tight white t-shirts and faded jeans that molded perfectly to his muscular body, though lately his clothes had seemed to appear a tad more snug. She had noticed that, oddly, his physical size had seemed to enlarge quite a bit since she’d first met him. She couldn’t imagine how that could happen or that he could become any stronger.
She shook her head. Not steroids?
As it was, she admired that he lifted weights as heavy as buildings and worked on all sorts of cars, even antique ones just for fun and extra cash. Someday he wanted to own his own garage, something directly opposite of his father’s aspirations for him.
The only thing she hated about him was the fact that every girl thought he was the hottest football player in school. She tried to ignore how much it bothered her and remember that he was the best thing that had happened to her since her father––
One lone sunbeam wiggled its way through the clouds as Michael drove into the crowded and hectic seniors’ parking lot at EastGlen High, where the enrollment was approximately one hundred students per grade, a pretty average size for a high school in Maine, yet small enough that even if students weren’t friends––like if you were the new kid––everyone still recognized each other. Jess frowned thinking about it.
Michael parked his truck and switched off the ignition. His buddies were yelling about the umpires’ unfair calls at the previous Friday night football game under the lights and jeering and cheering each other altogether too loudly from their own vehicles––some had nice cars, a lexus and BMW, while others had beat-up country boy trucks. A couple of players even had motorcycles, one a Harley, one Jess didn’t know the make of. All Jess could tell was the boys were so rambunctious, she could hear them even though the windows were rolled up on Michael’s truck.
Jess wished her morning could be that carefree.
She took no time to unbuckle, grab her backpack, and jump out. A nervous squiggle, like live fish swimming in her stomach made her feel queasy.
“I’ll see you at lunch,” Michael called to her.
She gave him a feeble smile and placed two fingers to her lips, before hurrying away.
Jess headed to Mr. Magique’s office, the unrelenting principal, with the three strikes and you’re out rule. To make things worse, he happened to be an oversized, intimidating looking man that always wore suits fitted for Wall Street professionals, with a slim striped tie that hung like a noose from his neck and gleaming, ebony dress shoes. If a student was in trouble, he was strict, like Michael kept warning her, and scary. His motto? No kid’s gonna ruin my school. No siree. Jess wondered if the rumors about his wife leaving him were true, and that maybe he had his own secrets hiding behind the harsher attitude he had toward students lately.
Jess ran up the well-trodden, concrete stairs and almost made it through the bronze metal, front doors when she caught sight of Axel––another new kid––staring at her fixedly with his pretty, pale hazel eyes. The name Axel had made Jess think of leather and motorcycles, tattoos and other cool stuff, but his name didn’t exactly match his personality. She’d heard he was nice but somewhat sullen. He played soccer, so you’d think he’d made a few friends, though when he wasn’t with his team, Jess always saw him alone. She thought he was cute with his messy, wavy hair, in an adorable puppy dog sort of way. She had caught Axel staring at her a lot lately. She wasn’t sure why but thought it was strange. Was her hair a mess? Did she have food stuck in her teeth? Did she appear to him to be a loner, too?
She didn’t know, but she thought he better not let Michael see him, or it would end up in a fight or some other confrontation between them. Not that Michael was the jealous type, but his parents had gone through some marital problems when he was little, something about cheating that they had worked through. Michael hadn’t told Jess the details. He had said it was too painful to divulge. Jess didn’t think Michael’s feelings about jealousy were fair, not after he’d first dismissed her feelings about Peggy. It was like he could be jealous but not her. Apparently whatever marital difficulties Michael’s parents had plowed through had made an impact on him.
Axel smiled at her sheepishly. She didn’t return the smile. She looked away and stepped inside the red brick building.
Mr. Magique was standing stiffly outside his office, greeting students and faculty members with a forced warmth. He didn’t look as menacing when he was smiling, even if it was a fake kindness. His bald head and shiny gold tooth, that shone against his black skin, gave Jess a quiver down her spine.
She took a deep breath as though it was her last.
As soon as he glanced toward her, his smile faded and was replaced with a disappointed crumpled frown. Jess inhaled, held her breath for a moment before exhaling, and headed his way.
“Good morning, Jess,” Mr. Magique said tonelessly, his arms folded.
“Good morning, Mr. Magique, nice cool rain out there isn’t there, sir?” Jess answered, trying to sound cheerful and polite, while at the same time subduing her nerves.
Mr. Magique’s expression didn’t look promising. His lips were squeezed, pursed together in a thin line. His eyes pierced hers. He let out a huge sigh that was louder than Jess thought he had intended.
She followed him through the immaculate glass doors and into his perfectly organized office with a framed poster of Uncle Sam, hanging above his desk. Uncle Sam’s pointing finger made Jess feel like he was staring directly at her. In bright-red, large letters the words read We Want You! Jess wondered, wide eyed, if Mr. Magique hung it on the wall intentionally for her.
He shut the door behind him and told her to have a seat. She sat down in a puny, hard steel-like chair, scared now as she felt her heart pound inside her chest.
Jess glanced up at Mr. Magique. He was pacing back and forth, his feet clicking like she was straight up in the middle of a horror flick. He held his chin like his thoughts were lost deep inside a dense forest, except Jess knew he wasn’t that dense. He was pretty freaking smart, and he looked pretty freaking mean. She knew he was trying to come up with a suitable punishment. The first time she was in trouble, he didn’t look nearly as angry. He had told her then that a girl like her shouldn’t be in so much trouble. Jess wondered what kind of girl he thought she was, and it didn’t really matter. She cared less about most things since her father’s murder.
“Okay,” he began, “you know why you’re here. Therefore, you may skip next period and go clean the field where you decided to party. Any trash that’s there, you will dispose of. Is that clear?”
Jess’s hand shot up to her mouth. Her voice shrilled with alarm. “Now? Are…are you kidding me? That’s so unfair. The whole school will see me. You can’t do that!”
Mr. Magique’s eyes probed hers. “Of course, I can.” He rubbed his chin. “I’ll tell you what. If you tell me who you were with that night, I’ll lessen the punishment.”
“No way!” Jess glared at him, determined.
He handed her a clear, large plastic trash bag. “Here you go then.”
Jess leaned forward, stood up, and snatched the bag out of his hands. Her skin brushed up against his. She stopped, startled. “You’re cold. What’s wrong with your hand? It feels hard and cold.” She tried to touch his hand again.
He pulled his hand away from her curious fingers. “Out! Now!” His voice thundered.
Jess blew out an infuriated breath of air. “You’re being a jerk because your wife left you, aren’t you?” She gasped at her words, disbelieving that they had escaped her lips.
“What?” He took a step toward Jess.
She shrank back.
“Unless you want to get in more trouble, young lady, I suggest you leave.” He tried to regain his composure.
Jess nodded her head, feeling the need to explain herself, and trying her hardest to be brave. Her body trembled with fear. “You should know the truth. All the kids think you’re a lot meaner now.”
Mr. Magique pointed his finger to the door. He didn’t say another word. His expression looked like he’d been slapped in the face.
Jess marched out of his office. She dragged her feet grudgingly to the far corner of the school, still wondering why his hand had felt like an ice cube.
Hope to see you next Friday!