Jack Canon's American Destiny

Broken Pieces

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Living Backwards by Tracy Sweeney (Excerpt)

CHAPTER 5 - Jillian

My head was still spinning as I walked back through the front doors of the school. I had tried unsuccessfully to calm my nerves and regroup before heading to see Danielle. The arrival of an obviously premenstrual Luke Chambers did nothing to ease the tension I was feeling. Luke was nothing at all like I had expected and I’d admit that I was more than a little disappointed. Just seeing him leaning against the brick wall with that ridiculous mess of hair, the worn motorcycle jacket and requisite bad boy cigarette caused my mouth to start watering. His attitude, however, left a lot to be desired. But despite his obvious annoyance, in the end he offered up an invitation to crash his hiding place again if I felt like it. Technically, I didn’t need his invitation, but the sentiment was there. He was trying not to act like a jerk. I just didn’t have the time or the energy to deal with him, so I decided I’d definitely stay away from his spot behind the gym from now on. I needed to focus on the task at hand. And my task was in Room 312 for World Lit.

Danielle could never get over the fact that we sat just a few seats away from each other in World Lit but never spoke. I didn’t find it as hard to believe since I didn’t speak to anyone in any of my classes. She was also bitter because she felt she would have done a lot better in the class with my help. I remembered Danielle being pretty chatty in class and getting detention fairly often so I wasn’t sure my study guides would have really helped. Fortunately for me, all of Danielle’s complaining made it easy for me to retain some memory of this class—that along with my love for the works that we covered. Finding my seat two desks in front of Danielle wouldn’t be a problem. The problem was that my run-in with Luke didn’t leave me much time to think up a good excuse to plan a study date with her.

It wasn’t until I walked into the room and looked at the blackboard that everything fell into place. If things with Luke had gone smoother, I might have been fully convinced this was heaven. On the board was a quote: ‘O, I am fortune’s fool!’

We were reviewing Romeo and Juliet for the final exam. And we were obviously focusing on the scene after Tybalt’s death where Romeo sees himself as a victim of fate instead of taking responsibility for his role in the deaths of both Mercutio and Tybalt. I knew the exchange from Act III very well having studied it in depth for a class on Shakespearian Literature in college. But even if I hadn’t had the scenes from the play burned into my brain from the grueling papers I needed to write, I would know this scene by heart because of Danielle. I had watched Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes in Romeo + Juliet probably two-hundred times. Danielle had a really, really unhealthy obsession with Leo. I didn’t complain. It was common ground for us. I loved Shakespeare even if it was butchered. She loved Leo reciting…well, anything. She made such a spectacle of herself watching his movies. With Romeo + Juliet, she’d whisper Juliet’s lines along with Claire Danes while gazing longingly at the television. The first time I saw her doing it, I couldn’t help but make fun of her. I mean, she was swooning and sighing like a schoolgirl. But after she threatened to steal Joan and hide her from me, I decided that I would just need to get used to hearing both Claire and Danielle recite the lines together. Now I was finally beginning to see the payoff for all of the times that she yelled “Jillian, thou art a villain!” at me for not playing along.

Time seemed to move very slowly as I waited to speak to Danielle. At the end of class, Mr. Gilbert passed out a sheet of possible essay questions for the final. I hung back, pretending to study the sheet as I watched Danielle pack up her tote. As she passed my desk, I stood up quickly, bumping into her and causing her books to spill all over the floor.

“Oh my goodness!” I cried. “I’m so sorry!” I added, bending over to help clean up the mess. “I was just so distracted by how hard those essays look.”

“Oh, no worries,” Danielle replied in her usual airy tone. “And if you’re worried about the final, I might as well call it quits!”

“Don’t be silly,” I said shaking my head. “I’m sure you’ll be fine. I definitely need a refresher so I’m renting Romeo + Juliet tonight.” I watched her eyes grow wide. “If you’re going to study, you might as well have a little DiCaprio eye candy to keep you sane.”

“Leo?” Danielle groaned. “Best movie ever, Jillian. If Leo starred in all of the Shakespeare adaptations, I swear I’d get an A in this class.”

“Well,” I began trying to sound unsure of myself, “You’re welcome to drop by. I know it’s a Friday night, but I figured I’d curl up with some popcorn and watch the movie.” And now for the pièce de résistance. “Maybe make some Pad Thai.”

“Pad Thai? You know how to make Pad Thai?” Thanks to my Food Network buddy, Alton Brown, yes I do. “I love Pad Thai,” she added dazed and wide-eyed.

“Then it’s settled,” I replied. “Leo and Pad Thai at my place tonight.”

“Oh no,” she whined. “I have plans with Megan tonight, and I try very hard not to cancel on Megan. You do not want to see what she’s like when you cancel on her.”

I’d been there many times and completely agreed. Like the time I tried to cancel plans to go to the Giants game because Mark Jensen asked me to a study group he was hosting at his apartment. I assumed she’d understand. I mean, Mark Jensen…in his apartment…discussing The Philosophy of the Marquis de Sade. I thought it was a no-brainer. Megan disagreed, spending an entire evening schooling me on the fact that we choose “bros before hoes”. Needless to say, I didn’t attend the study session and went to the Giants game with my bro instead. However, this was an easy problem to fix.

“You could invite her along. Does she like Pad Thai?” I knew the answer already. She liked when I added in the peanuts.

“Are you sure?” she asked hesitantly. “I hate to impose, but I’ll be honest, if you make Pad Thai and Megan finds out I didn’t invite her, she’ll never forgive me. You have to go to Tacoma to get even a subpar dish.”

“It’s really not a problem,” I replied. “I need to run and pick up a few things after school. So why don’t we say five?”

“Perfect! I love Girl’s Night!” She responded bouncing on the balls of her feet. “I can bring the movie. I own it.” With a small wave she turned and left, practically skipping out of class.

I was close to skipping myself. I had another hurdle to clear first, though. I knew Danielle and I would fall into an easy banter. That’s how we were. Megan was going to be tougher. It had taken her some time to open up when we were at NYU. I didn’t know what to expect since Danielle always said that Megan was a little grumpy in high school. I guess that’s what happens when the guy you like decides he’d rather date a football.

I managed my way through last period gym by feigning an injury so that I didn’t need to relive the horror of volleyball. I didn’t feel the slightest ounce of guilt. Volleyball should be outlawed under the Geneva Convention. In what other sport do poor unsuspecting players get torturously and repeatedly beaned off the head with large balls? Gym was God’s way of sticking it to the uncoordinated.

I made my way back to my car pleased that the day went so well. As I climbed into my car and started the ignition, I heard a large sputtering sound and looked across the parking lot to see Luke Chambers riding an old vintage motorcycle around the rear of the building near the auto shop. My mouth began watering again. Luke Chambers on a motorcycle. God, I wished he had never spoken. His attitude was such a major buzzkill, but he was still damn pretty to watch. I forced myself to stop ogling and headed to the supermarket. I knew my parents wouldn’t have tofu, shrimp or some of the other ingredients I needed for Pad Thai. I had a lot of ground to cover and not a lot of time to do it in.

Pulling into the parking lot, I planned to run in quickly, grab a few ingredients and get home as soon as possible. I wanted to pilfer some beverages from the liquor cabinet, and I didn’t want to get busted if my mom and dad were due home. Timing was everything.

Sprinting through the aisles, I was easily able to find the shrimp and the noodles that I needed. It was when I went to grab a package of tofu that I realized my problem. Normally, I marinated the tofu a day in advance, but since I had no time, I needed to tweak the recipe. But it had been so long since I had cooked it without the marinated tofu that I forgot which type I was supposed to get instead. Maybe it was finally the shock of everything around me, but I found myself frozen in the organic foods aisle staring at the packages in front of me in a full panic. I took a step back trying to search for a name brand that rang a bell when I stumbled over something—or actually, someone.

“Oh sorry,” the tall man I nearly plowed over said. As I looked up, I noticed his sharp and distinguished features. He was wearing a tweed blazer with elbow patches. I wondered if they even manufactured blazers like that anymore.

“Oh no, I should apologize. I’m just having a minor meltdown,” I replied with a half smile.

“Well, tofu can do that to you,” he laughed.

“I’m not as insane as I look. I’m just planning on making Pad Thai for dinner and because I need to switch up the recipe, I can’t remember if I need the dry tofu or the tofu in water and….” I stopped and realized I was babbling to a complete stranger. “Maybe I am as insane as I look.”

“Well, if it’s any consolation, my wife is an amazing cook and she uses the dry tofu,” he added smiling.

“You’re a life saver,” I replied breathing a sigh of relief.

“Not a problem at all. My wife’s writing a cookbook. I eat, sleep and breathe recipe ingredients. Tonight is osso bucco night.” He seemed very excited and I was a little jealous. My mom wasn’t the best cook around. She tried, but her flavoring was always pretty bland.

“Well, enjoy your osso bucco and thank you again,” I replied with a small wave.

“Good luck with the Pad Thai.”

I brought all of the items to the checkout and headed home. I needed to remember that although my situation was ridiculous, I need to refrain from assaulting people in the grocery story.

Back at Casa Cross, there were no cars in the driveway. I had yet to see my mom since she was already at the hospital when I got up this morning. I assumed she’d be home but no one was around. It was the perfect opportunity to raid the liquor cabinet that in my adolescence I never even imagined opening. In the den, I opened the bottom door to my mother’s hutch and inhaled the intoxicating scent of commingled alcohols. Come to mama. But as I perused the selection, it became apparent that the bottles inhabiting the liquor cabinet must have been gifts from people who clearly did not like my parents: Seagram’s VO, Midori, a couple random bottles of wine and my nemesis, Captain Morgan. I was desperate. Captain, I’m willing to call a truce if you are. I grabbed the brown bottle and headed to the kitchen as the phone rang.

“Hey, honey,” my dad greeted.

“Dad, why aren’t you home? And where’s mom?” I asked, clutching the bottle to my chest.

“That’s why I’m calling,” he began. “She got stuck at the hospital because one of those yahoos called out sick. I’m gonna pick her up after my shift and head over to Capanelli’s for dinner. You want to come along?”

I did a little dance in place. Capanelli’s was in Tacoma. They’d be gone for hours.

“Oh Dad, I wish I could,” I replied, sounding as disappointed as I could. “But I asked Danielle Powers and Megan Dunn to come by and study for our World Lit final.”

“Don, who?” He snapped into the phone.

“Relax, Dad. Megan Dunn. Megan’s a girl.”

“Oh. Okay. Well, we’ll miss you, but we’ll try not to be late.”

“No worries, Dad. You’ll just be coming home to a bunch of giggling, obnoxious teenage girls. Take your time.”

“In that case, we should probably go to a movie too!” he laughed.

It didn’t surprise me that he wasn’t concerned leaving me alone. I had never given him any reason to believe that I wasn’t one-hundred-percent trustworthy. I felt a twinge of remorse as I realized this would be the first time I broke any of their rules. But it was only a twinge.

“Have fun, Dad. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

“Have a nice night, honey.”

Hanging up, I looked at the clock to see that it was almost five. I grabbed a large pan from the kitchen cabinet because I knew they wouldn’t have a wok and began my preparations. Fortunately, part of my prep was to sample the rum to make sure it was suitable for my guests. I was a thorough hostess.

At five, the doorbell rang.

“Jillian!” Danielle beamed, embracing me in the doorway. “You know Megan.” Meg walked through the door and gave me a half smile, her eyes narrow. I knew that look well. It was the look she gave Val every time we’d run into her. My best friend just gave me the Val Smile. This was not good.

“Hi Megan,” I said, pretending I didn’t know she was obviously unhappy to be there. “Come on in. I was just having a beverage.” I raised the bottle of rum, and I thought I saw something spark in her eye, but it was probably her body’s automatic response to its proximity to alcohol. She was partially to blame for my corruption in college, after all.

Handing them each a rum and coke, I began cooking.

“So Megan, you like Pad Thai?” I asked goading her into a discussion.

“It’s all right,” she shrugged. “There’s a good place in Tacoma we go to.”

“Please, Meg,” Danielle interrupted rolling her eyes. “Spice and Rice is the worst. There’s almost no taste to it! Jillian, I can’t wait to see how you make it!” she added enthusiastically.

It didn’t take long to pull all the ingredients together and serve up the noodles. Unfortunately, Megan’s foul attitude was making me feel very uncomfortable. I needed to break the ice, but my idea was risky. Megan and I had bonded over a common enjoyable pastime: making fun of Danielle. It sounded mean, but Meg and I were a little dark and cynical. Danielle, on the other hand, was like an adult version of Pollyanna. How can you not make fun of a real live Disney character? But I needed to tread lightly.

“My parents are in Tacoma for the evening,” I explained. “I think my dad wanted to avoid a house full of giggling teenage girls. But I’ll level with you. I’m not braiding anyone’s hair or playing Truth or Dare. In fact, I think we need to keep giggling to a minimum.”

“I had no intention of braiding your hair,” Danielle replied defensively. “But I brought my make-up case. You should totally be wearing darker colors. You’re a winter.”

“Sorry,” I added. “Let me restate the ground rules. No giggling, braiding, truth or daring and no makeovers. Other than that, let’s enjoy our girl’s night!” I looked over to Meg and noticed that her scowl had morphed into a small, tight-lipped smile. I was making progress.

After finishing our dinner and wowing the girls with my culinary prowess, I suggested we bring our drinks upstairs and watch the movie in my room just in case my parents decided to come home early. It was mostly for my benefit. Since I had now reconciled with Captain Morgan, I felt that we should spend some quality time together. Danielle pounced on my bed, flopping against the pillows like a ragdoll.

“So, I booked a limo for the prom last night,” she began with a dreamy look in her eyes. “I just can’t wait. It’s going to be the best night of our lives.” It was amazing how we truly believed those things in high school. “And you, Megan, need to decide who you’re going with,” she added, shooting Megan a pointed look.

“It’s just the prom, Danielle,” Megan replied unimpressed.

“It’s not just the prom, Danielle,” she imitated. “It’s The Prom, with capital letters. Right, Jillian?”

“Well, prom really isn’t my thing,” I replied cautiously. No use pretending. I was well aware that no one was going to ask me, and I was psyched that I’d get to relive that humiliation again. Really I was.

Danielle gave me a strange look. “You’re the second person to say that. Wait!” she shouted.

“What?” I replied nervously.

“Do you see what I see, Meg?”

“See what?”

“Jillian.” She motioned to me like I was the prize in some game show.

“Yes, I see Jillian. Are you already drunk?”

“Of course not. This is perfect!” She wasn’t making any sense, even for a possibly drunk person.

“I agree. I’m pretty awesome,” I replied confused. “But perfect? No.”

“I meant for Luke Chambers!”

“Luke?” I replied incredulously.

“Yes, he said those exact words to me yesterday.”

“He told you he was awesome?”

“No, silly. He doesn’t think prom is his thing either. You should go together and be all anti-disestablishment together.”

“That’s not a real word, Danielle,” Megan added.

“Yes, it is,” she countered.

Irregardless,” I interrupted rolling my eyes. “I think we’d kill each other if we were forced to go to the prom together.”

“Speaking of killing each other,” Megan interrupted with a look that screamed she had a good story to tell. I was just grateful for the diversion. “Major girl fight in the cafeteria today. Did you hear that Mike Wakefield asked both Karen Larson and that freshman Jen to the prom? Instead of kicking his ass like they should have, they started scratching and pulling at each other’s hair. Karen’s extensions came out. It was amazing!”

I snorted. “I don’t understand the lure of Wakefield. He’s a mouth breather.”

“A what?” Danielle asked.

“You know…someone who doesn’t breathe through their nose so they always sound like an obscene phone caller when you talk to them.” I was startled by the belly laugh that escaped from Megan.

“She’s right! He sounds like he’s run a marathon every time he talks to me,” she mused. “And sometimes he gets this gross spittle in the corner of his mouth.”

“I know!” I squealed. “I was paired up with him for a project once and I spent the whole time trying not to look at him because the spittle on his lips made me gag.” While it didn’t last long, I got a small smile out of her, and it wasn’t the one that looked like she smelled something bad. Fess up, Meg. You like me. I rock.

“Getting back to Jillian,” Danielle began. “I think you and Luke would look so good together. He’s a winter, too.” I needed a new diversion.

“Danielle, what did you mean when you said that Meg needed to decide who she was going with? Is there a waiting list?”

“She’s had five different offers,” Danielle explained. “Three of which are pretty decent, but she has yet to answer any of them.”

I was fairly certain that I knew why Megan hadn’t accepted any of the offers. I just needed her to confirm it. I couldn’t let the opportunity to ask about Nate pass by.

“Is it because you’re waiting on someone else?”

“No, no,” Danielle answered for her. “She’s just stubborn and likes to torture me. So, you need to pick one, Meg. I say you should go with Grant. He’s always been very sweet and he’ll look great in a tux.”

Meg was either extremely uncomfortable or found the laces on her Reeboks fascinating. I think my buddy Captain was working his magic on her, as well. Tell the truth.

“I’m right, aren’t I?” I added. “Who is it?” Danielle’s head shot up and she furrowed her brows.

“Megan Dunn, are you seriously holding out on me?” Danielle chimed in.

“It’s nothing,” she replied, picking at the soles of her sneakers.

“It’s not nothing, Megan, if that’s the reason you clam up every time I mention the freaking prom.”

Megan took a deep breath before looking up, clearly not wanting to discuss this with us.

“Who?” Danielle asked softly. “Why can’t you tell me?”

“Because it’s embarrassing, all right? He doesn’t even acknowledge my existence! I’ve tried everything and he doesn’t even glance my way. I feel so stupid.”

“Maybe you’re just going about it wrong,” I offered letting the alcohol do the talking.

“Jillian, I don’t need any advice on how to land a date,” she snapped. I had to remind myself to tread lightly.

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Genre – Chick Lit

Rating – PG13

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Website http://www.tracysweeney.net/

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