How do you feel about the friends in your life? Sometimes friends come and go, sometimes they hurt you, but sometimes they remain in your life to stay, a true blessing.
“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious ambiguity.” ~Gilda Radner
The above quotation is perfect for my protagonist, Jess, as she’s bounced around in life not knowing who her “real” friends are, those that truly care about her, and those who do not. No matter what happens in life, the good or the bad, we can make a choice about how to deal with it, either with belligerence or acceptance. I hope you take the time to read about Jess, and how she deals with the enormous amount of unknown in her life that blankets everywhere she turns.
This book I’m blogging is a very rough draft, and I’ve been calling it a sci-fi, but there hasn’t been much sci-fi in it yet; so when I edit it, there will be more sci-fi inserts in the beginning from Michael and Axel’s point of view–the beauty of writing in third person omniscient. My next Friday Reads post will contain one of those sci-fi inserts.
If you’d like to read from the beginning, click here
Otherwise you can read each additional segment by clicking at the bottom of each blog post. And if you are here, thanks so much for stopping by! XO
Sixth segment, rough, rough draft below:
Jess woke up Tuesday morning and every morning for the next two weeks with an abhorrent headache. Her head pounded like a concerted set of symphonic instruments in desperate need of extra practice. Every day she rolled out of her double bed, with the fluffy rose-colored comforter and overstuffed pillows, and took a steaming shower before downing a couple of ibuprofen and a glass of apple juice to kill the pain.
Then in a predictable fashion, she headed off to school with Michael. At first, everything was fine between them, but gradually Michael stopped talking to Jess much, and the silence between them grew like a redundant weed in Jess’s life.
One particular morning, as they were riding to school in another distressing silence, Jess decided she couldn’t take it any longer. “What is it, Michael? Why are you so serious lately? What? No jokes? Are you mad at me about something?”
Is he still upset about Axel?
She didn’t know. Her eyes swelled with tears. The silence flooding her ears and heart rang that something was off.
It didn’t help that Axel had been staring at her ever since he’d driven her home from school after her punishment. She thought Michael must have noticed too.
Is that it?
What else could it be? It didn’t make sense to Jess; unless, he was losing interest in her already? The idea left her more than glum; it made her feel like volcanic lava was ready to erupt in her belly.
Michael held the steering wheel with his left hand. He stretched his right hand behind his head. His bicep bulged as he grabbed on to a handful of his glossy thick hair. “It’s nothing, Jess. My dad’s been on my case lately, as usual. I don’t feel like talking about it.” He glanced at her like something else was on his mind he wasn’t sharing.
She shot him a feeble smile.
Maybe, Jess thought, doubting his excuse. Although, his dad did expect a lot from him and had high expectations for him. He was the stuffy president of a Bank USA and wanted Michael to follow in his footsteps, but Michael wanted to be a mechanic and own his own garage. His dad had been putting a lot of pressure on Michael to choose a college to attend the next school year. Michael wasn’t sure if he even wanted to go to college but hadn’t had the guts to tell his father yet.
When Michael pulled in and parked his car at school, he kissed Jess on the tip of her nose. “Everything’s good between us? Right?”
Jess shrugged her shoulders. “Sure.” She decided to let it go for the time being. Fighting was at the top of her Things I Hate list.
Something else was bothering Jess: the fact that she had felt strange since the day of her punishment, like she’d had an alien encounter, a life-changing event, some off-the-path experience that had left her feeling “different.” She couldn’t understand why the sight of a cabin intermittently flashed in her mind. She was beginning to feel more like someone was watching her, in particular, around her house and at school. Axel always noticing her didn’t help. It left her feeling anxious. She knew she needed to talk to her mother about it, but didn’t want to add to her mother’s stress.
In the days to come, as Axel’s presence near her intensified, she felt herself uncontrollably drawn to him. It wasn’t like a typical guy-girl attraction, but more like some shared phenomena, something Jess didn’t understand. It seemed like every time she turned around he was there. She wished Michael was around a fraction as much, but he wasn’t, and his recent apathy toward her left her feeling more and more depressed and alone. She was beginning to feel a little crazy and cast it off as more post traumatic stress.
The following Wednesday, during lunch in EastGlen’s stale hospital-like cafeteria, Suzy plunked down next to Jess. Michael had stayed home sick with strep throat, which gave Jess a chance to catch up with her only friend other than him. She and Michael had been sitting in silence during lunch anyway, so surprisingly to her, a break from Michael was a welcomed relief.
Even though Jess considered Suzy her best friend, Suzy wasn’t really that good a friend; Michael was right. Suzy was spoiled and self absorbed, but it was hard to make new friends. Most kids’ friendships were already intact, and newcomers were greeted with an invisible sign that read Not Welcome, apparently a small town thing not unique to only Ogunquit. And Suzy was one of a handful that would chill with anyone new, but only in desperation, because she’d burned through most of her friends throughout her middle grade and high school career.
Suzy opened her juvenile nylon lunch sack that had pictures of Rihanna plastered all over it, and pulled out a sandwich oozing with peanut butter and Nutella on white bread.
Jess stared, her mouth watering, as Suzy took an enormous un-dainty bite of her sandwich. “How can you eat that and stay so thin?” Jess asked amazed at her friend’s voracious appetite. She stared down at her own no-fat American cheese sandwich with a dab of Dijon mustard on wheat, extra lettuce.
“I dunno. Luck’s on my side I guess.” Suzy’s platinum blond ponytail bobbed up and down while she ate. She wore designer dresses most of the time, anything with the name Guess or Dior. Jess thought it was a little over the top for high school. It made her look more like a runway model than a high school student, and Suzy’s sugary sweet voice was deceiving. She sounded like a perfectly behaved goody goody, even though she was a hard-core partier, much more than Jess.
Suzy’s two other best friends, Claire and Brooke, sat down with their bagged lunches in hand. Jesse wasn’t good friends with either one of them. They reminded her of the wicked stepsisters from Cinderella. They both worshipped Suzy, for her looks, her flashy car, and her money, which explained why Suzy liked being friends with them. Well, that and the fact that they had been newbie students the year before Jess had arrived.
Claire and Brooke sat whispering and gossiping with each other about an unpopular couple that had broken up, something Jess didn’t care anything about. Jess watched them banter on with strange enthusiasm.
She didn’t think either of them was overly pretty. Claire’s plain brown-like-dirt short hair was cropped in an unfashionable style. Her clothes were always yesterday’s craze, and she wore too much charcoal-colored eyeliner that made her look like a raccoon. Brooke was a little prettier. She had long, bronze reddish hair but a pinched up face that made her look like she’d devoured a lemon, or two, or three, even.
Both girls took out their carrots and celery sticks and munched like they hadn’t eaten in a decade while they shared their recent weight loss success. Yay, Jess thought sarcastically. They had each lost less than five pounds in the last month even though they didn’t need to.
Jess was tilting her head, trying to get the kinks out of her neck muscles, when a couple of guys from the chess club walked by. One of them winked at Suzy and tried to be cool, bumping in to his friend in the process.
Suzy sighed and rolled her eyes. “Losers…like I’d ever date geeks like them.” Jess kept her opinion to herself. Chess had been one of her favorite games since third grade.
Three more guys wearing Eastglen High basketball sweatshirts walked by next. She caught her breath. They were joking and punching each other on the arm with arrogant smiles on their faces. Axel was among them, his curls bouncing above his eyes. She held her breath. He glanced at Jess and stared at her for a brief moment, then turned back to his buddies. Basketball season hadn’t started yet, but their team had been practicing when they weren’t playing soccer.
Suzy’s eyes glazed over with admiration. She sighed. “Now any one of them could ask me out, and I’d say yes. They’re so hot. I mean did you see Axel totally check me out?” She pulled on her ponytail and twisted it around her hand.
Jess didn’t say a word. She knew Axel’s stare had been meant for her, and she still didn’t understand the growing allure between them.
Claire smacked her lips as she finished her lunch and gazed longingly at Brooke’s food like being in love with a guy was so yesterday and food was the most important thing in the world. Both girls continued to babble on about how much they missed eating pepperoni pizza with elastic melt-in-your-mouth cheese.
Suzy leaned over with her elbow snug on the cafeteria table, her hand wedged under her chin, and said in her sassy way, “You both look ridiculous. Honestly, learn how to eat with a little more manners.”
Brooke stuck out her tongue at Suzy displaying her leftover bits of carrots.
Jess stood up. “I’ll see you girls later.” She tossed her hair and began to walk away.
“Wait up, Jess,” Suzy said with a wicked smile on her face, following after her. “You up for a party this Friday? I have some really special guys I want you to meet, one in particular.”
Jess shot Suzy a half smile. “I have a boyfriend, remember?” She cast her leftover lunch into the rusty bin next to the table and continued to walk away. She glanced back over her shoulder and saw Suzy continue to strut up behind her.
Suzy stopped Jess and pleaded with her. “Come on. It’ll be fun. Just because there will be incredibly hot muscular guys there doesn’t mean you’ll be cheating. Look and don’t touch, I always say.” Suzy placed her hand on her hip and gave her hair a toss behind her back. She begged Jess mercilessly and wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Jess relented. “Fine. You win. I’ll tell Michael I’m shopping with you. If I stop and buy something it won’t be a lie.” Sadly, Jess figured Michael wouldn’t care, anyway.
Suzy grabbed Jess, and with an enormous look of satisfaction on her face, hugged her tight. “That’s my girl. Trust me you won’t regret it. We’ll have so much fun.”
Jess hugged her friend back, said goodbye, and headed off to her most despised class–Physics 101. The 101 meant it wasn’t Honors Physics. It was easy physics, like such a thing existed.
The bell rang as Jess strolled into class. Instead of sitting down, everyone was standing, while they waited for Mr. Mahoney, the teacher, to give assigned seats, two students to one small table, a new and uninviting idea. Jess groaned along with all the other students.
One guy Jess thought was named Robby, who had a snake tattoo wrapped around his right bicep, wailed out. “Whyyy assigned seats? This class sucks as it is. Sitting with friends makes it at least somewhat bearable.”
Mr Mahoney, in his cream colored slacks, navy Polo shirt, and tan corduroy jacket walked to the front of the class with his roster in hand. He pushed his dark-rimmed glasses up onto the bridge of his nose and straightened his dark-blond wavy hair. He explained, “There’s been some cheating going on amongst friends. Sitting next to someone you’re not friends with should help the problem.”
The class broke out into a mutual animal-like uproar, incredulous that they could be accused of cheating.
“I know. I know. It’s a shocker,” Mr. Mahoney’s voice dripped as he shuffled papers up and down on his desk. He continued to call out the names of the students and didn’t get to Jess until almost the end. To her shock, she was paired with Axel. As far as she knew, he was only in advanced classes.
Jess sat back in her chair and crossed her arms feeling irritated. She whispered to Axel, “What are you doing in this class? I thought you were an honors student.” Jess let her voice linger on the word honors.
Axel’s face lit up. His ever changing eye color looked almost tan-blue against his aqua colored shirt. “Aren’t you happy to see me? After all, I gave you a ride home from school, remember?”
“Seriously? I already thanked you for that. Why are you in this class, anyway?” she demanded.
Axel leaned toward Jess. She caught a wiff of his cologne. Her heart sped up. “Honors Physics was too hard for me. I asked to drop down.” His magnet eyes clung to hers.
“Great,” she grumbled under her breath, but didn’t look away, more like couldn’t look away.
“Don’t look so happy about it.” His eyes glistened with amusement.
“You’ve been staring at me a lot lately, and now you’re in my class, sitting next to me. Strange coincidence don’t you think?” She started tapping the eraser on her pencil without thinking.
“I never asked to sit by you. I swear I didn’t, and I don’t stare at you a lot. Maybe just a little.” He threw in as an afterthought.
“Why?” Jess asked, her voice rising, as she tapped the eraser on her pencil even louder.
Mr. Mahoney turned toward the two of them and glared over the top of his glasses. “Quiet!” he snapped.
Jess shifted her head up and noticed most of the class staring at the two of them, like they had caricatures for heads.
Jess and Axel remained silent for the rest of the class. She did her best to ignore him and saw that Axel did the same as his entire body was positioned away from her.
When the bell rang, Jess began to rush off. Mr. Mahoney stopped her. “Jess,” he said, “can you come here for a second?”
“Sure.” Jess trudged up to Mr. Mahoney’s desk. She opened her mouth to speak but closed it when he handed her their last test. A tiny 58 written in black ink was written at the top of the first page.
“Jess,” Mr. Mahoney said softly, “I know you can do better than this. You’re a smart girl. You should be in honors classes like you were in your old school.” He looked at her, concerned.
Jess thought Mr. Mahoney was the nicest teacher in the school. When he was serious he had a crinkled up frown that Jess thought looked sweet, like a teacher who really cared. It made her miss her father.
“I guess I have a lot of things on my mind,” she whispered. “I’ll try to do better.”
“That’s all I ask, Jess. If you need extra help, I’m always here after school.”
“Okay, I’ll remember that,” she said. “Thanks.” She grabbed the test and went to her next class–pre-calculus.
The day whisked by until the final bell rang.
The rest of the week flew by in the same manner. Jess’s headaches subsided somewhat, and she talked to Axel the least amount possible, which didn’t seem to bother him a bit. Friday rolled around, and students cheered for the weekend.
Jess searched for Michael and found him waiting by the front doors to the main entrance of the school. She noticed how attractive he looked in a white button down shirt and tan slacks. She swallowed hard. He had barely spoken to her all week.
She remembered her plans with Suzy and thought with disappointment that he had a football game, another one, too far away for her to travel.
She picked up her step to meet up with him until Peggy ran by his side. A strange feeling crept into Jess’s stomach. She stopped cold and watched the two of them. Peggy’s rusty-colored shirt was cut on the high side, revealing too much skin and her muscular tummy. Her black leggings were tighter than the school rules allowed, and her pumps were ridiculously high; but Peggy was popular with most of the faculty members. She was the biggest suck-up. She got away with more than any of the other kids.
Jess stared at her with disgust but was happy when she saw Michael shake his head like he was annoyed with her and started to walk away. Peggy spat something to Michael that Jess couldn’t hear. She felt the water she drank earlier rise into her throat when Michael walked back to Peggy to give her an affectionate embrace. Ugh! She was the one girl Jess couldn’t stand. As the days had gone by, Jess’s dislike for her had grown.
Michael pulled away from Peggy and gazed across the hallway. His eyes rested on Jess. He looked surprised but then waved to her. Jess breathed out, hoping that maybe everything was okay between them. Peggy really wasn’t Michael’s type, at least Jess kept telling herself that, though she couldn’t help feeling outrageously jealous. Peggy was unbelievably gorgeous.
When she caught up with Michael she kissed him on the cheek. “Hey, what’s up with Peggy?” she asked nonchalantly like she didn’t care.
Michael dropped his head to the floor but kept his stare intently on Jess’s eyes. Jess flushed and glanced away. The way he looked at her drove arrows through her heart.
His expression grew serious. He whispered, his tone tinged with a husky residue. “As usual, nothing is up with Peggy…but, Jess…there’s something I have to tell you. I know it’s been awkward between us. We need to talk.”
Jess’s heart sank lower than the bottom of the ocean. We need to talk, like he was breaking up with her? Her thoughts blurred into a sudden panicked mass of confusion.
Jimbo, the football coach, came bounding through with most of the team following behind him at the most inopportune time. “Michael,” he bellowed. “Bus is leaving.”
Jess grabbed on to Michael’s arm, feeling the strong muscle underneath his shirt. She pleaded with him. “Wait. What do you want to talk to me about? Tell me quick before you have to go.” She hated the desperation that resounded in her voice.
Michael exhaled and frowned. “I can’t. It’s too important. I’ll call you later. Okay?” He grabbed his duffel bag and with a quick stride went out the front door behind his team. He glanced wistfully back at Jess.
She watched him until he faded out of sight, left dying to know what he had to say, and whether or not he even wanted to be her boyfriend anymore.
Happy winter! See you for my next Friday Reads!