Book 2 Shattered Reflections
Book 2: Shattered Reflections
By I. Diaz
Author’s note: This is book 2 in a series that I wrote a very long time ago (between the ages of 14 and 16). There are issues of rape, alcoholism, and other stuff that I’m sure I got from watching way too much 90210. So, um… proceed with caution and the understanding that it was written by a young person
Three years ago . . .
Jessica Heart stepped inside the seventy-five million dollar mansion, and sighed. She was hot. She was sweaty. And she was tired.
“Miss Heart,” the butler, Maurice, called, stepping into the grand foyer. He was a tall man, with thinning greyish-white hair, and gentle baby blue eyes. He’d been in the family for about thirty years, and in the fifteen years Jessica had known him, he had been a loyal servant to the household.
Jessica pushed a strand of jet black hair behind one ear, and looked up. “What is it, Maurice?” she asked, exhaustion in her voice.
“Rosa has set out your clothes for your dinner date with Mr. Sanchez,” he told her. “He called half an hour ago, but we informed him you were still with your basketball instructor.”
“Thank you, Maurice,” Jessica said, and started walking towards the stairs.
“Also, Miss,” Maurice said, as she passed him, “your parents left early this afternoon for Paris. They’re not scheduled to return until Sunday night.”
Jessica stopped walking, and sighed again. She turned halfway around, and forced a smile. “They left again?”
The butler smiled sympathetically. “They left a note for you on your dresser,” he told her gently. “They didn’t have time to tell you themselves. It was a last minute trip.”
Jessica nodded, and kept walking towards the stairs. She’d heard that “last minute trip” excuse many times before, but it still caught her offguard. Her parents were always on the move, always on the run, but she couldn’t complain. They’d always shared every single available moment with their only daughter, and there was no denying that. They did the best they could under the circumstances.
“Miss Jessica!” Rosa, her personal maid, called, jumping over a few steps to catch up to her.
Jessica stopped. “Yes, Rosa?” she asked.
Rosa frowned. “You look tired, Miss.”
“That’s probably because I am tired,” Jessica stated, resuming her walk up the stairs.
Rosa followed close behind. “Mr. Sanchez called again,” she told her. “He’s picking you up in an hour, so you better hurry up.”
Jessica rolled her eyes, and stepped onto the third floor. “Why do I have to go out with him?” she asked.
Rosa laughed. “Miss Jessica, he’s your boyfriend!”
Jessica stopped in front of her bedroom door, and frowned. “Is that what he is?” she asked the fifty-two-year-old woman in front of her.
Rosa stared at her. “Isn’t he?”
Jessica considered, and pushed open the double doors to her breathtaking room. “He seems to think so,” she said, stepping inside. She turned back to Rosa. “Is there something else?”
Rosa seemed startled. “Oh, no, miss,” she said. “I just wanted to make sure you were aware of tonight’s schedule.” She looked at Jessica for a second, and then left the room, closing the doors behind her.
Jessica took a deep breath and headed over to her dresser. She hesitated a moment before picking up the note. “Dear Jessica,” she read, “we’ve been informed of a problem in Paris that we must attend to at once. We appologize for leaving you so suddenly, but we’ll be back in a couple of days. Have fun on your date tonight. Tend to your schedule, and behave. We love you, Mom and Dad.”
She tore up the note when she was finished, and thew it in the trash. Now, for a bath, she thought, walking towards the enourmous bathroom.
“Miss Jessica!” Rosa’s voice called, followed by a knock on the door.
What now? Jessica asked herself. She opened one of the bedroom doors, and gazed expectantly at Rosa. “What is it?”
“There are a couple of police officers downstairs,” she answered shakily. “They want to speak to you.”
Jessica frowned, and headed down the stairs, trying to control her anxiety, and fear. When she reached the foyer she saw two young men in police uniforms standing with their hats in their hands, speaking quietly to Maurice, whose face had paled considerately since she had last seen him.
“What’s going on?” Jessica asked, dreading the answer.
One of the police officers stepped forward, and read something off the clipboard he was holding. “Are you Jessica Lexy Heart? Daughter of Desiree and Mitchell Heart?”
Jessica felt herself go numb, but she managed to nod.
The other police officer whispered something to Maurice, who nodded, and turned to Jessica, tears sparkling in his baby blue eyes. “Miss, your parent’s plane crashed,” he said softly. He shook his head, unable to go on.
The first police officer nodded to the other one, and turned to Jessica. “I’m afraid your parents are dead,” he said, gently. “I’m sorry.”
“It is a beautiful night,” Jessica agreed, looking up at the sky. She turned to Mathew. “You know, I’m really glad I agreed to go to out tonight. I was kind of hesitant when your sister called me.”
Mathew Collins smiled, and ran his fingers through his light brown hair. “Well, I’m really glad you came, too. I have a feeling Nina would have dragged me out of bed, and to the fair whether you’d come or not, so I’m thankful for the company.”
Jessica smiled, her dark blue eyes sparkling in the moonlight. She looked at Mathew for a second, and then went back to staring at the street in front of her.
“So, what are you thinking about?” Mathew asked her.
Jessica smiled ironically. “I was thinking that this is the first time in my life I have ever walked home.”
“Hey, this is the best way to travel,” Mathew chided. He swept his arm around the world around them. “You get to enjoy the scenery.”
Jessica laughed. “I agree.”
Mathew looked at her for a moment. “So, what is it like living in one of the biggest mansions in the United States?” he asked, when the Heart mansion came into view.
Jessica shrugged. “I used to think it gave me a reason to believe I was better than everybody else,” she answered sadly. “Now, I just want to get away from it. Too many memories.”
“Sometimes memories are all you have,” Mathew said seriously.
Jessica stopped walking, and met Mathew’s gaze. “Do you always know exactly what to say?” she asked him.
Mathew smiled gently. “I just say what I feel.”
Jessica nodded, and they kept walking. “Hey John,” she called, as they passed the guard house.
The guard frowned, and pushed the button that opened the iron gates. Then he laughed. “Well, well, I never thought I’d see the day,” he said, smiling. “A billionaire walking home. You don’t see that often. No sir.”
Jessica laughed. “Good night, John,” she told him.
“Good night to you, Miss Jessica,” the guard said, tipping the brim of his hat.
“Miss Jessica?” Mathew asked her.
Jessica smiled, and then shrugged. “Hey, I tried to get them to call me Jess, but they have this thing. Anyway, I can’t complain. Most of them started out calling me ‘Miss Heart’, and that was even worse.”
They started walking down the long paved road that led to the mansion.
“Does it get lonely?” Mathew asked suddenly.
“Living all by yourself in the huge mansion.”
Jessica nodded. “Even with hundreds of servants there with me, it gets unbelievably lonely.” She looked at him. “Even when my parents were alive it was lonely, though. I mean, imagine growing up in a house the size of Rhode Island, with parents that are away on business most of the time, and no brothers and no sisters, and no one your age to play with.” She looked away. “The ironic part is that I’m one of the most envied people I know.” She laughed bitterly. “It’s really sick.”
Mathew remained silent.
Jessica shook her head. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to get like that.”
“You don’t have to apologize to me,” he told her. “I’m the one who brought it up.”
After a few minutes of silence, Jessica spoke. “So what are you thinking?”
“I was thinking that you never cease to amaze me,” Mathew answered.
Jessica smiled, but said nothing. Not long afterwards, they reached the front entrance.
Jessica turned to him, and smiled, stretching out her hand. “Well, Mathew, I have to say, I have enjoyed tonight more than any night I’ve had in a long time. Thanks.”
Mathew smiled down at her, and shook her hand. “Well, Jessica, I would have to say the same.”
“Are you sure you don’t want a ride home?” Jessica asked, frowning. “I mean, my car’s right there.”
Mathew shook his head. “No, that’s okay. I enjoy walking down the beach. Especially at night.” He started walking away, but stopped and turned around. “Jess, are there really only a few guys out there who would refer to you as a woman?”
Jessica nodded. “You’d be surprised.”
Mathew sighed. “Well, then they have no appreciation for beauty.” He smiled at her. “Good night, Jessica.”
Jessica had to smile. “Good night, Mathew.” She watched him walk away until he disappeared into the darkness, and then opened the door. She walked inside, and was surprised to find that all the lights were on. Usually, the servants turned most lights off when they retired to bed. Jessica had made it clear a while back that no one had any reason to wait up for her.
Jessica closed the door behind her, and frowned as she thought she heard voices coming from the living room. She started walking in that direction.
Jessica turned around quickly. That was the last voice she expected to hear that day. “Grandmother?”
Ellen Heart walked toward her granddaughter, carrying in her stride the class and posture that was expected of a woman of her stature. “Jessica, darling.”
Jessica frowned again, and had the sudden uneasy feeling that came with the element of surprise. “Grandmother, what are you doing here?”
“Is that the way to talk to your grandmother?” Ellen asked, giving Jessica a small peck on the cheek. “You’ve been raised better than that.”
Jessica nodded, still overwhelmed. “I’m sorry. I just wasn’t expecting you to be here for another week.”
“We couldn’t wait a second longer to give you the surprise,” Ellen said excitedly.
Ellen breathed deeply, to maintain her coolness. “Jessica, we’ve got the biggest surprise for you. It’s the one thing you’ve been wanting for a long time. And it’s a true miracle that you’re getting this, Jessica. Nothing short of a miracle.”
“What is it?”
Ellen gave Jessica a quick hug. “Alright. Enough suspense. Follow me.”
Jessica hesitated for a minute before following her grandmother into the living room. When they got there, all the lights were shut off, so Jessica couldn’t see anything except three silhouettes sitting on a couch.
“Hello, Jessica,” a voice said.
“Hi, grandpa,” Jessica said, her nerves starting to get to her. “What’s all this about?”
“Hello, Jessica,” said another voice.
Jessica froze. Her heart started beating faster than it ever had before, and she felt her knees grow weak.
“Hi, Jess,” said another voice.
Jessica knew she would faint at any moment. Those two voices. They were so familiar, and yet so very distant. She hadn’t heard them in years. The longest three years of her life. And now, she was hearing them again.
Tears fled to Jessica’s eyes as she struggled to find her voice. “Mom, Dad,” she whispered.
The lights were suddenly turned on, and Jessica gasped.
“Yes, honey,” said the woman who so resembled her mother. “It’s us.”
Jessica closed her eyes, and opened them again slowly. “It’s a dream,” she muttered. “It has to be a dream.”
Her grandmother put a gentle hand on her shoulder. “It’s a miracle, Jessica,” she said softly. “They’re alive.”
Jessica swallowed, and stared back and forth between her mother and father, tears welling in her eyes.
Her mother stepped closer, tears sparkling in her own dark blue eyes. “Jessica,” she whispered, walking slowly towards her daughter. “Darling, we’ve missed you so much.”
It’s another dream, Jessica told herself over and over. She looked around, at all the faces staring at her. Her father. Her mother. It’s nothing but a dream.
But all of those thoughts vanished as she stepped forward, and drowned in the comfort of her mother’s embrace.
“Saturday mornings are a bore,” Alix Morris told the empty can of soda on the desk. “Yep. Very boring indeed.”
She turned back to the computer screen in front of her. So far it was blank.
“I need ideas,” she muttered, looking around her sister’s room. “This place drains away all my braincells. It needs something.” Alix considered for a moment, and got up from the desk. She walked across the hall to her own room, jumped over the pile clothes scattered on the floor, and made her way to the cd player on her nightstand. She picked up an Aerosmith cd, and walked back to her sister’s room. Soon she had “Amazing” blasting through the speakers on the walls. “Much better.”
“What is that crap?” her twin sister asked, stepping into the room. Rachel was a mirror image of Alix. They both had shoulder-length brown hair, and green eyes. Both stood at 5’2″ and were neither too skinny, nor too fat. But on the inside, they were total opposites. Alix realized again, for the millionth time, just how different they were when she saw her sister’s disgusted face.
“F.Y.I, Rachel Leigh Morris, it’s Aerosmith,” Alix answered, matter-of-factly. “And if you ever refer to it as crap again I will have no choice but to beat you severely upside the head until you regain your senses.”
Rachel rolled her eyes dramatically. “Oh, puh-lease,” she said, walking into the room, and picking up her purse from the table next to the television. She started to leave, but paused halfway to the door. “What are you doing in here, by the way?”
“I’m playing chaperone,” Alix answered.
Rachel frowned. “Excuse me?”
“You know, these little invisible people can get pretty wild,” said Alix, nodding.
Rachel sighed, and rolled her eyes heavenly. She noticed the computer was on. “What are you writing? Seriously, this time.”
It was Alix’s turn to sigh. “I promised Jess I’d write a play for her Drama class, and I have to have it done by next Friday.” She shrugged. “I’ve got major writer’s block.”
“That’s nice,” Rachel said. “Anyway, I’m off to Claire’s. Good luck.” With that she walked out of the room, leaving Alix to battle with the blank screen. After a couple of seconds, she gave up, sighed, and turned up Aerosmith.
“That one last shot’s Permanent Vacation . . . and how high can you fly with broken wings? Life’s a journey, not a destination. And I just can’t tell just what tomorrow brings . . .”
Alix frowned, stopped singing, and lowered the music. Phone’s ringing, she realized, getting up from the chair. She walked back to her room, and found her phone hidden under her sheets. How did that get under there? “Hello?” she said into the phone.
“Hey, Al, it’s me.”
Alix recognized Jade Cooper’s voice immediately. She didn’t have a great variety of friends that spoke with English accents. “Hola, Jade,” she said. “What’s up?”
“The sky. Listen, what are you doing?”
“Pretending I’m Steven Tyler,” Alix answered.
Jade laughed. “That’s cool. I just wanted to know if you wanted to meet me at Pizza Max, so we could do something?”
Alix shrugged. “No problemo. I’m sure the band won’t mind if we take a break.”
“Right,” Jade agreed, though the sarcasm in her voice was obvious. “See you there, then.”
They said their goodbyes, and Alix replaced the receiver. She turned off the music and the computer in Rachel’s room, and was about to leave the house when she noticed what she was wearing.
“Hm. I can’t very well leave in silk boxers, a baby tee, and socks, can I?” she asked outloud, catching her reflection in the living room mirror. “Although, it is quite becoming.”
“Nina!” Mathew called, knocking on the locked door. “Nina, open up!”
“Go away!” came the muffled voice of his twenty-two-year-old sister.
“Your boyfriend called about twenty times,” Mathew said, still knocking on the door. “What happened last night?”
The door opened slowly, and Nina popped her head into the hall. “I don’t want to talk to him, he’s not my boyfriend, and if you would kindly leave me alone, I would really appreciate it.” She was about to shut the door, when Mathew put his foot inside her room, and kept her from doing so.
Nina sighed, and looked up at her brother. “What do you want from me, Mathew?” she asked.
Mathew looked at her. “I want to know what’s up,” he told her. “When Jess and I left you guys last night at the fair you were all over each other. Then when we tried to find you we couldn’t, and we had to walk home. Now Leslie’s been calling you over and over, and you don’t want to talk to him. So like I said before, I want to know what’s up.”
Nina sighed again, and opened the door all the way, allowing Mathew inside. “I don’t know what’s wrong exactly,” she said, shutting the door, and leaning back against it. “I mean, we were sitting at the coffee shop, talking, and then this red-haired girl comes up to us, and starts yelling all this stuff about Leslie.”
Mathew frowned. “What kind of stuff?”
Nina sighed. “She said his name was really Jonathan, and that he was a drunk who took advantage of women.” She looked pleadingly at her brother. “Do you think all of that is true? I mean, it sounds kind of farfetched, but the girl sounded really convincing, and why would she lie like that if it wasn’t true?”
Mathew thought about it. “I can’t really say, Nina. I wasn’t there.” He looked around for a minute, and his gaze finally rested on his sister’s sad, helpless light green eyes. “I haven’t known Leslie for that long,” he told her honestly, “but he doesn’t seem to be that kind of guy.”
Nina nodded slowly. “Yeah, I suppose it’s foolish of me to believe everything I hear, but I can’t help it, Matt. That girl was standing just a few feet away from me shouting all these accusations at Leslie, and I didn’t know what else to believe.” She shrugged. “I guess I’ll go to Pizza Max later and talk to him.” She looked at Mathew and smirked. “So, what happened with Jessica?”
Mathew laughed. “Nothing happened with Jessica,” he answered. “We’re just friends.”
Nina shook her head. “Yeah, but you want to be more than that, don’t you, bro?”
Mathew looked at his sister, and rolled his eyes. “Did I ever tell you that you’re way too direct?”
Nina smiled, and shrugged. “It’s the only way to get direct answers.” She winked at Mathew. “Don’t worry, I won’t make you answer that.”
Mathew headed for the door. “Good, because I wasn’t going to answer it anyway.” He kissed Nina’s cheek, and walked out of the room, wondering if his sister’s question hadn’t hit home.
Jessica found herself at the breakfast table that Saturday morning. She hadn’t sat at that table for nearly three years, but she wasn’t about to start telling her family that.
Jessica echoed that word over and over in her head, as she looked around. Her father was reading the newspaper like nothing had happened. Her mother was exchanging decoration ideas with her grandmother. And her grandfather was busily eating his breakfast.
So far Jessica hadn’t come down from the cloud she’d been on since the previous night. Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion. Nothing seemed real. She still hadn’t been able to accept the possibility that this wasn’t a dream.
Mitchell Heart put away the newspaper he was reading, and directed his attention toward his daughter.
Jessica looked up from her untouched plate of scrambled eggs, and forced a smile in his direction.
“I hope you cancelled all your plans for the day,” her father said, smiling brightly. “We have a lot to do, and a lot to catch up on.”
Plans? Did I have plans? she wondered.
“Oh, we definitely need to talk,” her mother agreed, nodding. She smiled at her. “You’ve grown up so much, Jessica. You let your hair grow long! I hadn’t noticed that.”
Oh, this definitely has to be a dream.
“You’ve turned into a gorgeous young woman,” her father commented.
Her grandmother smiled. “Jessica has indeed become a beautiful young lady,” she agreed, then frowned in disapproval. “I do have to say, though, that she’s picked up an unacceptable amount of bad habits from those poor friends of hers.”
Jessica snapped back to reality. “Grandmother, my friends are not poor,” she told her sternly.
Ellen Heart nodded, and looked at her son. “You see?” she asked him. She turned to Jessica. “My dear, compared to you, the great majority of the world is poor.”
Jessica looked down at her plate, suddenly feeling sick to her stomach. “That isn’t their fault,” she said.
Her grandmother smiled. “I never said it was,” she said. “And it isn’t your fault that you were born into one of the wealthiest families in the world, but you were. You should thank your lucky stars each night that you didn’t end up living like some of those middle-class beggars you call friends.”
Jessica stood up from the table. “I’m sorry, I can’t continue this conversation.”
Her father stood up, too. “Jessica, sit down. Mother, you will control yourself. Desiree nor I have seen our daughter in three years, and this isn’t the time to be having such discussions as to who her friends are. Later, when life has gone back to normal, we’ll discuss her change in schooling, and her choice in peers. For now, I want us to get to know each other. A lot of time has passed since our last meeting, and I’m sure our eighteen-year-old daughter has changed quite a lot in the past three years.” He sat down, and smiled at Jessica, who was still standing. “Please sit down, honey.”
Jessica did as she was told. Change in schooling? Choice in peers? This was starting to sound more like a nightmare.
“I can’t believe you let me do that, Rachel,” Claire Jourdam muttered, pacing back and forth in her room.
Rachel looked up from the magazine she was reading, and arched an eyebrow. “I’m sorry? What was that?”
Claire ignored her. “I mean, what was I thinking? It’s not like Leslie is ever going to give me the time of day after what I did last night.” She twirled her strawberry blonde hair around her fingers nervously, and kept pacing. Suddenly, she stopped, collapsed on the floor, and looked over at Rachel. “What am I going to do?”
“Well, I know what you should do, but I don’t know if that’s what you’re going to do,” Rachel answered.
Claire shook her head. “Telling Nina the truth is out of the question,” she said. “If I do that, then Leslie will get back together with her. He will no doubt hate me, and all of my careful planning will go drown the drain.”
“What careful planning?” Rachel asked under her breath, rolling her eyes.
“I’ll just have to figure out a way to fix this,” Claire resolved, nodding her head, lost in her private little world. She got up from the floor, and walked over to the mirror on the wall. She looked at her reflection carefully.
Rachel got up from the bed, and tossed the magazine aside. “Well, I suggest you fix this very soon, because if word gets out about this, you can kiss your social life goodbye.”
Claire wasn’t listening. “Rachel, was it dark at the fair?” she asked suddenly.
Rachel looked at her for a moment. “It depends what you mean by dark,” she told her, frowning. “Claire what are you plotting now?”
“Plotting?” Claire asked, snapping around to face her friend. “What ever are you talking about? I don’t plot.” She turned back to her reflection, and smiled wickedly. “I just think it’s time for a makeover, don’t you?”
Roxanne Perez opened her brown eyes slowly, and looked around. Before she knew why, she started screaming.
Alexander Woods jumped up from the couch he was sleeping on. “What happened?” he asked, looking around frantically.
Roxanne stopped screaming, and looked at Alex. Then she looked around again, but this time things started making a little more sense.
“Rox, are you okay?” Alex asked, walking around the couch, and over to her. He stood by the edge of the bed, and gazed at her with concern.
Roxanne sat up on the bed. “Why are we here?” she asked.
“You fell asleep on the couch, and I didn’t have the heart to wake you,” Alex explained. “So, I moved you to the bed, and went to sleep myself.”
Roxanne nodded, and started looking around once again. She never thought she’d fall asleep in a cave. Alex’s cave. His private hang out, which he’d shared with her the night before. She remembered him leading her here, and showing her the little pond on the side that had a great variety of exotic fish. Then he’d lighted the many candles, which, Roxanne noticed, had now pretty much died down.
Suddenly, she turned back to Alex. “What time is it?” she asked.
Alex looked at his watch. “It’s almost noon,” he answered. “Why?”
Roxanne jumped up from the bed. “I’m dead. I’m dead. I’m so dead.” She grabbed Alex’s hand. “You gotta take me home right now. My parents are going to kill me!”
Alex winced. “Oh, jeez, I never thought about that.”
Roxanne started pacing. “They’re going to kill me. What in the world am I going to tell them?”
Alex got the flashlight, and led them both out of the cave. Pretty soon, they’d jumped into Alex’s jeep, and were driving toward Roxanne’s house as fast as the law would let them.
“They’re going to kill me,” Roxanne muttered again, for the hundredth time.
“I’m sorry,” Alex apologized, running his hand over his light brown hair nervously. “I should have realized you had to get home. It’s my fault.”
Roxanne didn’t say anything. She was too busy trying to think of excuses.
Alex parked the car in front of Roxanne’s house. “I’m really sorry,” he said again.
Roxanne got out of the jeep, and smiled at him. “Well, I had fun last night. I’ll probably be grounded until I’m thirty, but after that, we should do this again.” She slammed the door shut, and headed up the driveway to the front door. She sighed, and was about to knock, when the door opened.
Her thirteen-year-old brother stood in the doorway. “Oh, you are so dead, Rox,” he said, laughing. “You are so dead.”
Roxanne rolled her eyes, and pushed him out of her way.
“Where have you been?!” Victoria Perez shouted, coming out of the kitchen. “I called all of your friends, and no one knew where you were. I was just about to call the police!”
Roxanne bit her lip nervously. “Sorry.”
Her mother stared at her. “Sorry? You’re sorry? Sorry you’re gonna be when your father gets home.” She signaled to the couch in the living room. “Sit down.”
“Now, will you please tell me where you’ve been?” her mother asked, crossing her arms against her chest.
Roxanne stared at her. “Well, I went out with Alex to the movies, and we saw it, but then when we were coming out, I saw a few of my friends from school, and I decided to go with them to one of the girls’ houses. And we all sort of fell asleep.”
“Ah-huh,” Victoria said, staring at her daughter. “I don’t believe that for a minute.” She sighed. “But since I doubt you’re going to cough up the truth at the risk of getting murdered, I’ll just send you to your room until your father gets home. For your sake I hope you stick with that story when your father asks you.”
Roxanne breathed with relief. “Thanks, Mom.”
“Don’t thank me,” Victoria said. “Oh, and by the way, you’re grounded until you’re thirty. You also have dish duty for a month.”
“Great,” Roxanne muttered, on the way to her room. She threw open the door, and fell down on her bed. Well, at least I’m alive.
Jade Cooper grabbed a slice of pizza, and bit into it. “So, what I was thinking,” she said, when she finished chewing, “was that we could sneak into her house, look around for the tape, and then sneak back out.”
Alix stared at Jade as though she was crazy. “Are you listening to yourself?” she asked her. “You’re saying that you want us to sneak into Lynn Hauffman’s mansion and look around for the tape? A tape that is most likely not labeled ‘Alix and Jade’s slashing of my tires.’ ”
Jade shrugged, and nodded.
Alix thought about it, and frowned, taking a sip of her Dr. Pepper. “Any other ideas?”
“We can beat the crap out of her until she tells us where the stupid tape is,” Jade suggested, pushing a strand of blue hair behind one ear, and reaching across the table to grab another slice of pizza.
Alix shook her head. “Don’t tempt me.”
Jade smiled. “Listen, we’re gonna get the tape back,” she said matter-of-factly. “Neither one of us is going to jail for vandalism. I don’t care how many copies of that so-called tape Lynn ‘the bitch’ Hauffman made, we’re getting out of this.”
“Well, I’m glad you’re so optimistic about this, Jay, cause I was just about to give up.” Alix shook her head. “Let’s change the subject. This one is depressing.”
“Whatever,” Jade said, picking up her glass of Coke. She looked around Pizza Max, and stared up at the TV monitors, which played music videos 24/7. “Oh, yes!”
Alix jumped, and looked around quickly. “What?”
Jade signaled to the nearest TV set. ” ‘Until It Sleeps’ is on,” she stated, smiling. “I love Metallica.”
“Aerosmith’s better,” Alix commented, turning around to glance quickly at the TV. “That video’s pretty cool though,” she admitted. She turned back around, and raised an eyebrow at Jade, who was signing along.
Jade stopped singing. “What? You can pretend to be Steven Tyler, but I can’t pretend to be James Hetfield?”
Alix frowned, and nodded. “Good point.”
Jade went back to singing.
“Um, Jay, sorry to interrupt your daydreaming, but I need to ask you a question.”
Jade looked at Alix, and stopped singing. “Shoot.”
Alix leaned forward. “We need to get Jessica and Mathew together.”
Jade frowned. “Alix, that’s not a question.”
Jade thought about it, and shrugged. “Yeah, sure, why not? We might as well play matchmaker before we’re convicted.”
“I thought we weren’t going to jail?”
Jade half smiled. “I lied.” She stared at Alix for a moment. “By the way, who’s Mathew?”
“He’s a person.”
Alix nodded. “Oh, yes, very human indeed. I checked myself. No extraterrestrial qualities.”
“Darn! But that’s okay. They’ll get here soon. And when they do, we’ll take over humanity.”
“Let that be our happy thought of the day,” Alix said. “So, you’re up for the matchmaker thing?”
Jade nodded. “Sure.”
“Great. When do we begin?”
“Are either of them in danger of dying anytime soon?”
Alix raised an eyebrow. “I sincerily hope not.”
Jade shrugged, and picked up the last slice of pizza. “Then we have time.”
Jessica sat in the living room, now hoping with all of her heart that this was the dream she’d feared it was. Her parents had changed. Or maybe, she thought with deepening dread, maybe I’m the one who changed.
“Jessica,” her mother was saying, “how about we take a vacation in Europe? We have a beautiful villa in Paris. A vineyard in Venice. Lets get away from here, and go out as a family.”
“I think that’s a marvelous idea,” her grandmother said excitedly.
Her grandfather nodded in agreement. “You look tired, Jess,” he noted. “You have gone through enough these past few years. Take a break from everything.”
Jessica frowned. “But I have school,” she said. “I can’t just leave. It’s my senior year. I’ve already applied to Yale, and—” The laughter around her, made her stop in midsentence. “What?”
Her father stopped laughing, and grinned. “Jessica, please,” he said, shaking his head. “You can’t possibly be worried about college.” He chuckled. “If that’s what worries you, then you can take a load off your mind. Pick any college in the world you would like to attend, and with a phone call you’ll be accepted. You have my word on that. And it’s not like you’re failing out of high school. You’ve gotten a few A’s, right?”
Straight A’s since first grade, father, Jessica thought bitterly, but it’s not like you ever saw a report card. “I don’t want you to make a phone call,” she told him sternly. “I would like to get into college on my own, if you don’t mind.”
That wiped the grin off her father’s face. “Whatever you want, Jessica,” he said, seriously this time.
“So, Jessica,” her mother said, changing the subject quickly, “Ellen tells me you don’t have a boyfriend. What happened to Julian Sanchez? You two made a gorgeous couple. No doubt now the two of you would take anyone’s breath away.”
Jessica saw all her energy and confidence evaporate before her very eyes. “We broke up last year,” she answered softly, looking down at the floor. “He left for Harvard last fall. He’s with Lynn Hauffman now.”
Her mother frowned. “But you and Julian were inseparable, and Lynn used to be your best friend. What in the world happened?”
Jessica looked up. “My parents died.”
Claire caught her reflection in the dressing room mirror. She was at the mall, going forth with her plan. So far, the first step was finished. Her long, straight, strawberry blonde hair was now cascading down her back in bouncy dark brown curls. And her grayish-green eyes, where now covered with black contact lenses.
Step two was in progress.
She scrutinized the outfit she was wearing. Black shirt, and a long, black skirt.
That had to go. She needed something wilder, something sexier.
Claire walked back into the showroom, and began looking through the displays. Finally, she found what she was looking for. Definitely sexy, she thought, holding the outfit in front of her.
She nodded in approval. By this afternoon, Claire Jourdam would have become the gorgeous, talented, and sensual, Luna Rain McGuire.
Roxanne turned down the volume on the TV, and rolled over on her bed to pick up the phone. “Hello?”
“Rox, hey,” came Alix’s voice. “Listen, I’m at Pizza Max. I just wondered if you’d seen and/or talked to Jess?”
Roxanne rolled her eyes. “I have not,” she stated flatly. “I’m grounded.”
Laugher. “What did you do?”
“It’s none of your business, Alix.”
More laughter. “It’s that bad, huh?” Alix asked. “That’s alright. I’ll find out what you did eventually. So, whatcha doin’?”
“I’m acting grounded.”
“No, seriously,” Alix insisted.
Roxanne rolled her eyes. It was annoying the way Alix was so perceptive. “I’m watching TV,” she admitted.
Silence. Alix had probably smiled. “Well, I just wanted to know if you’d talked to Jessica. I haven’t heard from her since yesterday.”
“If she calls me or whatever, I’ll tell her to page you.”
“You are such a great friend, Rox-n-Press.”
Roxanne grimaced. “Don’t call me that, Alixandra T–”
“Okay, okay!” Alix interrupted quickly. “Jeez, it was a joke.” She paused. “I can’t believe you, of all people, know my middle name. Why couldn’t it have been Jessica? She would’ve laughed a little, but she’d never torture me with it.”
Roxanne smiled. Last year she’d been over at Alix’s, and Alix’s mom had showed her Alix and Rachel’s baby album. The first page of the album featured a picture of the twins in their pretty pink blankets, and their full names printed neatly at the bottom. Alix had turned twenty shades of red. “Hey, when you have blackmail information you have to use it to its maximum potential.”
Alix was silent for a moment, and Roxanne began to wonder if she was still there. “Ya there?”
Finally, Alix spoke. “You know something? You are so right.”
Roxanne frowned. “Excuse me?”
“Uh, nothing. I was just agreeing with you. Listen, Jade is looking bored over there so I have to go. If you talk to Jessica tell her to meet us at the beach later. It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.”
Roxanne shook her head. “Yeah, sure, whatever.”
“Sorry you got grounded. Falling asleep and not getting home until noon the next day is bad. See ya.”
“Insane,” Rachel muttered, as she drived toward the mall. “The girl is totally and absolutely insane. There is no denying it now.
She turned into the Baldwin Falls Mall parking lot, and parked her VW Beetle at the first empty spot she saw. It being Saturday and all accounted for the unbelievable amounts of people coming in and out of the shopping mall.
Rachel walked across the parking lot, and stepped inside the main entrance. She smiled slightly as a gust of cold air hit her face. Thank God for A/Cs, she thought, looking around. Stores, stores, and more stores. She had no clue which one Claire was at.
She started walking down the crowded walkways, bumping into people every so often. Eventually, she gave up and retired to the food court for something to eat. She went straight for the usual place, Subway, which was her and Claire’s favorite fast food choice.
Rachel walked up to the counter, and waited until the curly-haired brunnette in front of her ordered. Then ordered herself, and went to sit down.
“Excuse me,” a deeply southern-accented voice said.
Rachel looked up to see the brown-haired girl that had been standing in front of her at Subway. She looked strangely familiar, but Rachel couldn’t place her face. “Yes?”
“I was just wondering if I could join you?” the girl said shyly. “I am new to the area, and need friends.”
Rachel looked at her in disbelief for a whole minute, sizing her up. The girl was around eighteen or nineteen years old, and had a pale complexion. She had deep, intense black eyes, that looked vulnerable, but the black leather mini skirt, and matching top kept Rachel from believing she was all that pure and innocent. Rachel motioned to the empty chair across from her. “Go ahead.”
The girl sat down, and looked around the food court. “It’s very crowded, huh?”
Rachel nodded. “It gets like this on Saturdays,” she explained, watching her closely. She definately looked familiar. She looked hauntingly familiar. “Do you go to Baldwin High?”
The girl shook her head. “Oh no,” she said. “I’m a college student at Baldwin University.”
“Oh. So, where are you from?”
“New Orleans,” the girl answered. She stretched out her hand. “I appologize for not introducing myself sooner. My name is Luna Rain McGuire.”
Rachel shook the girl’s hand, and smiled, realizing who she was sitting across from. Well, I’ll be damned. Rachel laughed. “I can not believe you, Claire,” she said, shaking her head.
Claire frowned. “What ever do you mean?” she asked, still speaking with the heavy accent. “Are you tryin’ to insult a pretty southern belle like me? Why I neva.”
“Get of it,” Rachel told her. She pointed at Claire’s hand. “I’d know those rings anywhere.”
Claire smirked. “I fooled you, though,” she said. “And you’re my best friend. So, if I fooled you, I can fool anybody. Including Leslie.”
Jessica opened the top drawer of her dresser, and slammed it shut. Where did I put it? she wondered, opening the second drawer. After she’d searched through every single one, she sat at the edge of her waterbed, and tried to remember where she’d placed the note her parents had written the day they had supposedly died.
Then she remembered.
She walked across the large room to the humongous walk-in closet on the other side. She slid open the door, and stepped inside. Once there, she walked all the way to the end, and brought down a pink and purple shoebox from the top shelf. Then she sat down on the floor, and stared at the box.
MEMORIES was written across the top in black permanent marker.
Jessica hesitated a moment, and then opened the box. The first thing she saw when she looked inside, was a couple of pictures. The first one was of Julian and her on their way to the Homecoming Dance in ninth grade. They were standing close together next to a black limousine that was parked in front of the Heart mansion. Jessica was dressed in a long, black sequin dress that had cost enough to feed a small country, and Julian was wearing a black tuxedo. They both looked extremely happy, and sickeningly in love. What a joke.
Jessica put that picture on the floor beside her, and looked at the other one. She laughed ironically. It was a picture of her with her arm around Lynn Hauffman’s shoulders. They were sunbathing at the Hauffman’s pool. Jessica was ten in that picture. Lynn had been nine. Who would’ve thought, huh?
She put that picture on top of the other one, and reached into the box. This time she pulled out a dried rose. Julian had given it to her the last time they’d gone out. She still didn’t know why she’d kept it.
The next thing in the box was her tenth grade diary. She picked it up, and opened it. From its first page, a small piece of paper fell out. It had been torn apart once, and now each little piece had been taped together carefully. There were little dots on some of the words from where Jessica’s tears had landed.
She read the note over and over again, and closed her eyes, the words echoing in her thoughts. It had been her who’d changed after all. She’d been fooling herself all this time. Her parents were no different from Lynn’s or Julian’s or any of the other rich people she’d met throughout her life. It was her who was different. It was her who’d changed.
Jessica opened her eyes and looked up at the ceiling. “God, please,” she prayed, tears burning in her eyes, “don’t let me change back.”
Leslie Thompson groaned and scowled as he headed across Pizza Max taking down, and delivering orders. He had not been in this rotten a mood since like kindergarten or something, when a kid had taken his glue without asking. Of course, now, he had bigger things to worry about. Nina, for instance. If he got his hands of that girl who had come up to them last night, she would kill her.
“Jeez, Les, what happened to you?” Alix Morris asked, as he walked up to her table. She was sitting with that weird blue-haired girl from England. “You look like your dog just died.”
Leslie rolled his eyes. He was not in the mood to deal with Alix. “Here’s your bill,” he said, placing the slip of paper on the table. “Have a nice day.”
“Oh, Lord,” Alix said, concern in her voice. “Something really bad must have happened. The biggest comedian alive is in a bad mood.” She looked at Jade incrediously. “And did he actually say ‘have a nice day’?” She turned back to Leslie. “Family problems? School problems?” She smiled and nodded. “Girl problems?”
Leslie shook his head. “I don’t have time for this,” he said, dreading the tone in his voice. “Hope you enjoyed your pizza. Come again.” He walked away, and returned to the kitchen to pick up an order.
He couldn’t believe he’d been that rude to Alix. She didn’t mean any harm. He shook his head as though to clear it, and returned to his work. He had to do something. Whoever that girl had been must have either confused him with someone else, or decided to play a prank. “Some prank,” he muttered.
Leslie took a deep breath, and forced a smile at the costumers on the table. “Here you go,” he said, placing the pizza on the table. “If you need anything else, don’t hesitate to holler.”
Okay, that was more like it. All he had to do was be positive. Tonight, he’d call Nina again, and if she didn’t want to talk to him still, he’d go to her house and call her name until she came out and told him herself she wanted him to go away. Maybe some roses, and some chocolates would help. But no, that would seem like he was telling her he was sorry, and then she’d think for sure he was guilty of those things that girl claimed he did. So, just begging and pleading for now.
He walked over to his next table, and smiled at the beautiful girl sitting there. “Dining alone?” he asked her, taking his pad and pencil from his apron pocket.
The girl smiled. “I’m new around here,” she said, a deep southern-accent in her voice. “I don’t really know anyone.”
Leslie frowned. “Oh, that’s too bad,” he said. Then smiled. “But don’t worry, beautiful girl like yourself will have no trouble meeting people.”
The girl shook her head at him. “Is that one of the lines they teach guys at birth?”
Leslie was taken aback. “No, I just meant–”
“I know what you meant,” the girl told him. She looked at the menu. “I would like two slices of peperoni pizza and a medium Sprite.”
Leslie looked at the girl for a second, took downn the order, and walked away. Women got weirder and weirder with each passing day.
Claire watched Leslie walk away, and nodded to herself. So far so good. Pretty soon Leslie would have forgotten all about little Miss Nina, and all his attention would be on her.
She knew she was going overboard, and that to most people what she was doing seemed selfish and cruel, but she couldn’t help the way she felt. She was willing to do anything to get Leslie to love her. That’s all she wanted.
Now, she would definately have to find a way to make this work. She couldn’t very well be at Baldwin U, and Baldwin High at the same time.
She’d worry about that later, though. First things first. She had to get Leslie to find her appealing and mysterious. Those were the two qualities she wanted to accomplish here. Very important. She also had to keep Nina away for now. But that wouldn’t be very hard. Nina was at a place where she’d believe almost anything.
“Two slices of peperoni and a medium Sprite,” Leslie said, placing her food on the table.
Claire smiled. “Gracias,” she told him, losing her accent, but changing the tone of her voice so that she didn’t sound familiar.
Claire laughed. “Sorry about that before,” she told him, getting her straw out of its paper wrapping. “I’m a Drama major at B.U.”
Leslie grinned. “Oh, see, now that I can understand. You do an excellent southern accent, by the way. You had me fooled.”
“That’s a relief to hear,” she said. “I thought I’d never fool anyone.”
Leslie bowed slightly. “I’m Leslie Thompson, and I’ll be your waiter for the rest of your lunch,” he said. “I forgot to say that before.”
“Well, I’m Luna Rain McGuire, and I’ll be your costumer for the rest of my lunch.” Claire smiled.
“Luna Rain,” Leslie repeated thoughtfully. “That’s a cool name.”
“I agree,” Claire said, nodding. “It was a nightmare all through grade school, but it got better.”
“I can imagine,” Leslie said. “Well, I should go back to work. If you need anything don’t hesitate to call me. It’s part of my job.”
Claire nodded. “I’d do that, but I don’t have your phone number.”
Leslie looked startled. “Oh, I didn’t—”
“I know what you meant,” she said. “I was kidding.”
Leslie looked relieved, but Claire thought she saw some disappointment in his eyes. It might have been wishful thinking on her part, though. “Right,” he said. He smiled at her quickly, and walked away.
“Oh, I’m good,” Claire said under her breath, nodding in approval. She stared down at the slices of pizza on her plate. She’d just eaten a foot long sub, where was she going to put this?
Roxanne picked up the phone, and dialed Jessica’s number. She was really bored just sitting there in her room, and needed someone to talk to.
The phone rang and rang, but no one picked up.
“I guess she’s not in her room,” Roxanne said, replacing the receiver. She picked up the phone, and dialed the main line of the mansion.
Heart residence? Roxanne wondered. Since when are these people so formal? “Hey there, Rosa,” she said. “I’m trying to find Jessica. Do you know where she is?”
“I’m sorry, but Miss Heart is tied up in family business at the moment, and can not come to the phone,” Rosa said, in a professional voice. “Would you like to leave a message?”
Roxanne nodded. Oh, so that was it. Jessica’s grandparents must have arrived early. Poor Jessica. “Just tell Jess to call me as soon as it’s humanly possible.”
“I’ll be sure to give her the message. Goodbye.”
Roxanne hung up the phone, and lied back on the bed.
Just then, the phone started ringing, and she sat up. “Hello?”
“Rox, hey, it’s Alex. I just wanted to know what happened with your parents. Are they pissed?”
Roxanne smiled. Alex’s phone calls were so rare that when they came, they always surprised her. “Well, my mom was the only one here, and yeah, she was pretty mad. I’m grounded.”
Alex groaned. “I am so sorry, Rox,” he said. “Do you want me to talk to them, and explain what happened?”
“Oh, yeah right!” Roxanne breathed. “You’re gonna explain to my father that you, a seventeen-year-old guy, took his only daughter to a cave, unknown to anyone else but you, and that we sat there just talking? Then I fell asleep, so you carried me to a bed, placed me there, and then you went to sleep on a couch? Do you know what he’s going to do? He’s going to get a gun, track you down, and kill you!”
“Okay, okay, you’re right. But I feel so bad. Is there anything I can do? I mean, it really was all my fault.”
Roxanne sighed quietly. “I don’t know Alex,” she said, honestly. “I have to wait until my dad gets home tonight, and then we’ll see.”
“Alright,” Alex said, a little sadly. “Well, if you need anything at all, please, don’t hesitate to call, okay?”
“You got it dude.”
Alex laughed. “You sound cute when you say that.”
Roxanne grinned. “Thank you. I do my best. Talk to you later, then?”
“Okay, Rox. Later.”
“Bye,” Roxanne said, and replaced the receiver. She fell backwards on her bed, and laughed gleefully. He said I sounded cute!
“I am such a dork,” Alex muttered, covering his face with his hands. He groaned and got up from his bed. He couldn’t believe he’d said that to Roxanne. You sound cute when you say that, he repeated in his head. What kind of idiot said that to a girl?
He started walking towards the kitchen.
“What’s wrong with you?” his fifteen-year-old brother, Zack, asked, frowning up at him. Then he smiled. “Roxanne still hasn’t given you the time of day, huh?”
Alex rolled his eyes. “Why do I even bother telling you things?” he asked, walking past him.
Zack grinned, and followed Alex into the kitchen. “Cause you can’t tell mom, and I’m your only brother.”
Alex nodded. “That must be it,” he agreed, opening the refrigerator.
“So what did you do this time?” Zack asked, grabbing an apple from the counter. “Did you chicken out as usual?”
Alex grabbed a can of Coke and shut the fridge. “Among other things,” he admitted.
Zack’s eyes grew wide. “Ooh, that sounds bad. What did you do?”
Alex looked at him and raised an eyebrow. “Don’t you have friends or something?” he asked suddenly, opening the can.
“I’m a sophomore in high school,” Zack answered, as though that explained it all.
“I had friends in tenth grade.”
Zack shook his head. “Yeah, but that’s because you’re mister popularity. You have girls begging for your attention. I’m just a nerd. Girls don’t look at me, let alone beg for my attention, so I would much rather listen to my big brother’s wonderful stories about his exciting love life.”
“I wouldn’t call it a love life, Zacky,” Alex said, sitting down at the kitchen table. “Roxanne would probably laugh at me if I asked her out.”
Zack smiled. “I bet you she wouldn’t.”
“What do you know about anything?” Alex asked him, smirking.
Zack shrugged. “Probably nothing,” he said. “But when the star quarterback of the Baldwin High football team is sitting in the kitchen, whining to his nerdy brother about having no love life, then something is definitely wrong.”
“Jessica, are you in here?”
Jessica jumped, startled, and frantically put everything back in the shoebox. “Yeah, I’ll be right out!”
Her mother appeared in the doorway, just as Jessica was standing up. “What are you doing in here, honey?”
Jessica looked around the closet, and shrugged. “I was looking for a thing I lost,” she stammered. “But I . . . uh, couldn’t find it.”
Desiree Heart waved her hand dismissively. “Whatever it was I’m sure it will turn up,” she said, smiling. She took a second to look around the enourmous closet, and frowned. “You know what we should do? Go shopping.”
Jessica stared at her mother. “What in the world do I need to go shopping for?”
Her mother laughed. “Oh, Jessica,” she breathed, “you have changed a lot the past three years. You used to beg to go shopping at least once a week. You never wore an outfit twice.”
Jessica sighed. Her mother was right, but that still didn’t change the fact that it had been three years since then. She wasn’t like that anymore. “But–”
“No buts,” her mother interrupted. “We’re going. Just you and I, and maybe Ellen, if she wants to come.” Before Jessica got a chance to argue, Desiree turned and walked away.
This is like an episode of The Twilight Zone, Jessica thought, walking out of the closet. She still didn’t know what was going on. Her parents hadn’t told her where they’d been the past three years, or what had happened. They weren’t even interested in how she felt about everything. They just wanted to move back in and pretend like nothing had changed. That wasn’t right. She deserved answers.
Jessica left her room, and walked down to the first floor, where she found the rest of her family.
Mitchell clapped his hands together. “Jessica,” he said, watching her approach. “We’ve decided to make a weekend out of it, and drive down to Key West. We have a beautiful beach house there. What do you say?”
Jessica shook her head. “I want everyone to sit down,” she said, her voice full of authority.
Everyone stared at her.
“I’m serious,” Jessica said. “I want the four of you to sit down, because we need to have a very long talk here.”
“Jessica,” her grandmother began.
“Grandmother,” Jessica interrupted, glaring in her direction with more venom than she intended, “this is my house, and I’m in charge here. As things stand right now, the four of you are my guests, and I don’t care if you’re older than me, and I don’t care about respect. You can not burst in here and take over my life. Money may have authority in the outside world, but in this house money is nothing. I have made that clear the past three years, and it’s not going to change until you people make a solid point. So like I said before, sit down.”
“Jessica, I really don’t think that tone is necessary,” Mitchell said, sternly. “We are are your parents.”
Jessica shook her head. “No, my parents have been dead for three years,” she said. “You two are a couple of strangers that look like my parents. That’s all you are to me right now, and I hope you understand that.” She softened her tone. “I just want answers. That’s all I’m asking. Answers and a lot of understading. You have no idea how devastated I have been the last few years, and right now I feel like none of this is real. So if you would please tell me what happened, I think I’d be able to handle this situation a lot better.”
Her mother looked at her sadly. “You’re right, Jessica,” she said, nodding slowly. “We’ve been really insensitive. Please forgive us.” She exchanged a look with her husband, and turned back to her daughter. “Well, let’s see. We got on that plane to Paris, and it crashed somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. After that, though, neither of us remember much of anything. We were rescued by some people, and taken to an island in the middle of nowhere. We had amnesia, and didn’t remember anything until a few months ago. That’s when we tried communicating with your grandparents. We’ve been there ever since.”
Jessica frowned. “How long is ‘ever since’?”
Desiree looked startled by the question. She looked at her husband again.
“About four months,” Mitchell answered.
“The two of you have been with my grandparents for four months?” Jessica nearly yelled.
Ellen cut into the conversation. “You see, Jessica, they were in really bad shape when we found them. They remembered only bits and pieces. They barely remembered you. We didn’t want to bother you with anything until we had them examined and back on track.” She sighed. “We really didn’t want to tell you any of this.”
Jessica shook her head, and stared at her parents. “You were there the whole time?”
“We were,” her mother admitted. “We’re really sorry, Jessica, but we didn’t want to worry you.”
Jessica nearly laughed. She couldn’t believe any of this. She just couldn’t. She shook her head. “I’m sorry,” she said, walking away, “I need to get out of here.”
Alix walked into her room, and started searching for her bathing suit. She knew she’d put it somewhere in there.
“Where are you, you little sucker?” she muttered, picking up clothes and throwing them over her shoulder. “Come on, I know you’re in here.” She frowned and lifted her head. Damn doorbell, she thought, heading out of the room. “I’m coming! Keep your pants on!”
Alix walked across the living room, and opened the front door. “Where have you been?” she asked.
Jessica shrugged. “Sorry. I slept in,” she said.
Alix opened the door all the way, and allowed Jessica inside. “Well, I hope you’re wearing your bathing suit, cause we’re going to the beach,” she said, then frowned at her friend. “Are you okay, Jess? You don’t look so good.”
Jessica smiled brightly. “Oh, I’m fine.”
Alix heard the falseness in her voice. “Yeah, right,” she said, closing the door, and heading toward her room.
Jessica followed. “I guess I’m just tired.”
“You’ve never been just tired, Jess,” Alix told her, walking into her room. “Pardon the mess. I’ve just been so busy with the kids and everything that I haven’t had time to clean.” She pushed a pile of clothes from the bed. “Sit down. Be merry.”
Jessica smiled, and sat down on the bed. “I see you haven’t changed the theme of the room.”
Alix laughed and looked around. Her room was covered top to bottom with posters of rock bands. The majority of them were Aerosmith, of course. The rest ranged from Green Day to Nine Inch Nails to White Zombie to Marilyn Manson. “I call it art,” she said, smiling. She pushed some clothes from off her desk, and sat down on it. “So what’s the scoop?”
“There is no scoop,” Jessica insisted. “I’m just tired.”
Alix rolled her eyes. “That’s a lie,” she said. “But if that’s what you want to tell me, okay. I’ll play along. So, why are you tired?”
“Because I went to bed late.”
Jessica sighed. “Because I went to the fair, and got home late.”
“Why did I go to the fair? Or why did I get home late?”
“I went to the fair because Mathew’s sister invited me, and I got home late because, I don’t know, it’s a fair. I was having fun.”
“Alix, this is really stupid,” Jessica said.
Jessica lied back on the bed and groaned. “Why are we friends?” she asked.
“Because I used to think you were the coolest human being on the face of the planet, and you just happened to agree with me.”
Jessica sat up. “You knew me before my parents died, right?”
Alix frowned. “Well yeah,” she answered. “Why?”
“What was I like then?” Jessica asked, leaning forward.
Alix sighed. She hated talking about this. Jessica always ended up crying and getting depressed. “Do you really want to talk about this, Jess? Can’t you just try to get over it? It’s been three years since then. You need–”
“I know what I need,” Jessica snapped.
Alix was startled. “That’s what you were like before they died,” she answered softly.
Jessica looked down. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to snap at you.”
Alix nodded. “That’s alright, Jess.”
Jessica shook her head. “No, it’s not alright,” she said. She lied back down. “How did we meet?”
“How did we meet?” Jessica asked again.
Alix scratched her forehead, and frowned. “Well, I was in sixth grade and you were in eighth, and I saw you walking with all your high society friends–among them Lynn.” She shuddered. “I still can’t believe the two of you were friends, by the way. Anywho, I walked up to you, and asked if I could be your friend–I was a dork, I admit it–and you laughed and told me to go away. That was the first time we talked.
“Then, one day I was sent to the office for some reason, I forget why, and you were there, too, so I sat next to you–”
“And asked me why I didn’t want to be your friend,” Jessica interrupted. She smiled. “I remember that.”
Alix rolled her eyes. “Do we really have to talk about this? It’s embarrassing.”
“Don’t be embarrassed,” Jessica said. “If anything I’m be the one who should be embarrassed. Keep going. This is important. When did we actually become friends?”
“Do you not remember, or are you just in the mood to torture me?” Alix asked.
“I need to know, Alix, please.”
Alix frowned at the pleading in Jessica’s tone. Something was going on. “Well, we didn’t really become friends until after your parents died. Before then, I was just kind of your follower.”
“Did you ever meet my parents?” Jessica asked.
“Do you have amnesia or something?” Alix asked. “What’s going on?”
“I want to hear everything from your mouth,” Jessica explained. “I don’t want to remember things that aren’t real.”
Alix sighed again. “I met your parents,” she said. She paused and rolled her eyes. “You have to remember that.”
Jessica nodded. “I remember, but tell me anyway. Tell me everything from your point of view.”
“You invited me to your fourteeth birthday party,” Alix started. “And I remember I was really excited because I thought you had finally accepted me. When I got there, I was really impressed by the size of your house. I had never been inside a mansion, let alone one the size of Washington D.C.
“Your butler answered the door, and told me that everyone was in your room–I had to ask for directions on that one. When I got there, I knocked on the double doors, and I noticed that the noise inside the room quited down to a mere whisper as soon as I stepped inside. But I didn’t think anything of it.
“After that, everything was pretty cool, until someone suggested skinny dipping in the pool,” Alix continued, shutting her eyes at the memory. “And at the time I thought the idea was kind of strange, but who was I to question the ways of the rich? So everyone went into the bathroom to change into, well, nothing, and then we met downstairs by the pool.” Alix paused, and bit her lip. “I really don’t want to say the rest, Jess.”
“And then you walked downstairs wearing nothing but a towel,” Jessica continued for her. “And you were surprised to find that you were the only one dressed that way. Everyone else was properly dressed, and standing by the dining table ready to sing ‘Happy Birthday’, right?”
Alix covered her ears.
“Then you said ‘I thought we were going skinny dipping?’, and everyone burst out laughing, and my parents ordered you out of the house, naked and all. You had to stand outside the gate of the mansion for twenty minutes while my parents called your parents and you were picked up. Isn’t that right?”
“What is it with you?” Alix asked, her eyes sparkling with tears.
Jessica sat up on the bed, and gazed softly at her best friend. “Whose idea was it to go skinny dipping?”
“Why are you doing this?”
“Whose idea was it?” Jessica asked again.
“Yours!” Alix yelled. “It was your idea. And I know the whole thing was your idea. And yes, you were a horrible person, Jessica Heart! You were selfish, and you were cruel, and everyone hated you for it! Is that what you want to hear? Why must you dwell in the past?”
Jessica looked down. “Because the past is all I have,” she answered. “I have memories of the person I was, and the person I became, and neither memory seems real. Everything in my life feels like nothing but a really long dream that just won’t end.”
“What in the world are you talking about?” Alix asked her.
“Why are we friends?” Jessica asked. “Why did you forgive me?”
Alix shrugged. “It was silly of me to hold a grudge.”
Jessica shook her head. “Alix, you ran out of my house crying, while all my friends and me rolled on the floor with laughter. It wasn’t something you could forgive very easily. So why did you forgive me?”
Alix sighed. “Well, after that year you went off to high school, and I stayed in middle school, so I had a couple of years to get over the embarassment. Of course, Lynn was in seventh grade, so she rubbed it in my face every chance she got. I learned to ignore Lynn after a while, though. When I got to high school, I found that you were in one of my classes and that you were supposedly a tenth grader, when you should have been a junior. But I wasn’t about to go up to you and ask you, was I?
“Then one day, I was walking by the girls’ bathroom, and I stopped, because I thought I heard someone crying. So, I stood by the doorway, and listened, until I saw you in there, and your eyes were all red. I knew your parents had died, and I figured that’s why you were crying, but I didn’t know what to feel exactly, you know? Here was the person I’d been, well, loathing for the past two years, and she was a few feet away from me, crying her eyes out.”
“So you forgave me out of pity?” Jessica asked.
Alix shook her head. “I just figured that no matter how much what you did to me hurt me, it couldn’t compare to what you must have been feeling.”
“So you forgave me out of pity,” Jessica said again, looking hurt.
Alix stared at her friend. “No, Jessica,” she answered, “I forgave you because when you saw me standing there, watching you cry, the first thing you said to me was ‘I’m sorry’, and I knew from that moment on that the girl standing in front of me was not the same one that had laughed at me so long ago.”
Jade stared at the waves crashing on the shore, and looked down at the piece of paper next to her. She’d been trying to finish this song for the longest time. She picked up her guitar, and began to sing.
Stop this beast from eating me
Stop the man from taking his claim
If I can’t get what I deserve
I will destroy. I will kill
Get me relief from my discontent
Each word you say is muddled and vain
Stop this beast from eating me
Stop the man from taking his claim
If I can’t get what I deserve
I will destroy. I will kill
Why must it be me who cries?
Why can’t it be you who dies?
Jade stopped singing, and sighed. Something was missing. It needed something else. But what?
“Wow,” someone breathed. “That was really great.”
Jade looked up to see a tall guy with dark blonde hair, and beautiful green eyes, standing in front of her. He was wearing a black Metallica T-shirt, and black jean shorts. He didn’t look much older than her. Maybe eighteen or nineteen. She smiled, and shielded her eyes from the sun. “Thanks, but I haven’t finished it yet.”
The guy smiled. “Cute accent.” He walked closer, and sat down beside her on the blanket. He picked up the pen and paper. “May I?”
Jade shrugged. “Go ahead.” She watched as he looked around thoughtfully, and then started writing.
When he was finished, he handed her the paper. “Tell me what you think,” he told her.
Jade looked down at the paper in her hand and read what he’d written.
I give you my word to never lash out
I’ll be true and loyal throughout
Until I get what I need
Then I will destroy. I will kill.
Jade looked up, and smiled. “I love it,” she told him. “Did you just make it up?”
The guy shrugged. “Everything except for the last line,” he said. “That one I stole from you.” He smiled, and stretched out his hand. “I’m Drake Hill.”
Jade shook his hand. “Jade Cooper, nice to meet you.” She motioned to his shirt. “You like Metallica?”
Drake shook his head. “No, I love Metallica. There’s a difference.”
Jade smiled. This guy was way too cool.
“Listen,” Drake started, “I’ve sort of been trying to put a band together. And we need a guitarist. Do you think you might be interested?”
“How many people do you have so far?” Jade asked.
Drake smiled nervously. “Including me? One.”
Jade laughed. “One?”
“Well, it’s a band in the making,” Drake told her, smiling foolishly. He looked at her carefully. “Does it matter?”
“I guess not,” Jade said, thoughtfully. “What’s the name of it?”
“Well . . .”
“You haven’t come up with a name?” Jade asked him. She laughed. “How long have you been trying to put this so-called band together?”
Drake looked at his watch. “About seven minutes.”
Nina walked across the hall to Mathew’s room, and knocked on her brother’s door. “Hey, Matt!” she called.
A second later, the door opened. “Yes, sister dear?” Mathew asked, looking at her expectantly.
“I’m going to Pizza Max to talk to Leslie,” Nina told him. “If anyone calls, take the message.”
“Yes, sister dear.” Mathew grinned mockingly.
Nine rolled her eyes, but smiled. “You are such a dork,” she teased. She was about to walk away, but stopped. “Did you call Jessica yet?”
Mathew shook his head. “You’re a pain,” he said, and shut his door.
Nina smiled. They’ll get together. She left the house, and walked to her car. She’d have to worry about her brother’s love life later, though, first things first. Leslie.
Claire looked out the window of Pizza Max. She’d eaten those two slices of pizza against her will, and now she felt like she was about to burst.
“I’m about to go on my break,” Leslie said, walking over to her table. “So if there’s anything else I can get you, speak now or forever hold your peace.”
Claire looked away from the window, and up at Leslie’s gorgeous face. “Well, I was planning on taking a walk down the beach a little later, but I have no one to take it with. I don’t suppose you’d like to join me?” She stared at him coolly.
Leslie looked uncomfortable. “Well, I really shouldn’t because I kind of have a girlfriend already and—”
Claire laughed. “I don’t want to go out with you,” she said. “I just asked if you wanted to join me on a little walk.” She grinned. “Look if you think I’m trying to make a pass at you or something, don’t worry. I happen to have a boyfriend, whom I’m very much in love with, so you can relax.”
“Oh,” Leslie said, but still looked uncertain. “I really shouldn’t.” He stared at her for a moment, and shrugged. “Alright. I was going to the beach anyway.”
Claire smiled. Then out of the corner of her eye, she caught a sight of Nina walking towards the entrance. Oh, this is way too easy, she thought. “Don’t worry, I promise not to take advantage of you,” she told him, grinning. She waited until Leslie laughed, and then stood up, losing her balance in the process and falling foward in his direction.
Nina threw open the entrance door to Pizza Max, and stepped inside. Her gaze wondered from face to face in search of Leslie.
Then she stared.
Leslie was standing by some tall, dark-haired slut. Okay, she’s not a slut, Nina amended, trying to control her imagination. She watched as Leslie said something to the girl, who smiled, and said something back.
What is he doing?
Leslie laughed, and waited for the girl to stand up.
Nina’s mouth fell open as she watched the girl trip and fall on Leslie, who caught her in his arms.
She is a slut, Nina thought. That was obviously intentional. Then she had a disturbing thought. Leslie didn’t seem to notice. She moved a little closer, and nearly ran into a waitress.
“I’m sorry,” she appologized.
“That’s alright,” the waitress said, more out of politeness than anything else. “Do you need to be seated?”
“No, I’m just spying on my boyfriend,” Nina told her, still watching Leslie. “Do you happen to know when Leslie Thompson goes on break?”
“He’s on break right now.”
Really. “Thanks,” she said absentmindedly, and started walking in Leslie’s direction.
Leslie helped Luna back on her feet. “Are you alright?” he asked, letting her go as soon as he could. He was having second thoughts about taking this walk with her. He really did have to go to the beach, but walking out with this girl didn’t feel right. “Listen, I don’t—”
“Do you know her?” Luna interrupted, staring at someone behind him.
“Huh?” He followed her gaze, and suddenly felt his heart stop. “Nina!”
Nina walked up to them, and stretched her hand in Luna’s direction. “Hi, I’m Nina,” she said, sweetly, “and you are . . .?”
Nina smiled. “Nice to meet you,” she said, and took a hold of Leslie’s hand. “Do you mind if I steal my boyfriend away from you for a few minutes?”
Luna shrugged. “He’s your boyfriend.”
Nina seemed pleased by that response. “Thanks,” she said, and turned to Leslie. “We need to talk.”
Leslie nodded, and followed his girlfriend outside, not knowing whether to be relieved or afraid.
Alix and Jessica lied on a couple of lounge chairs outside in the patio, a gallon of Cookies-N-Cream conviniently posted between them.
Alix sighed. “You realize you have depressed me beyond belief, don’t you?” she asked, sticking her spoon inside the container, and scooping out a weird-looking lump of melting ice cream.
Jessica smiled lightly. “Sorry.” She dropped her spoon in the ice cream. “If I eat another spoonful I’m going to explode.”
Alix shrugged, and picked up the container. “More for me then.”
Jessica laughed. “You’re a pig.”
“A pretty, intelligent, girl,” Alix said thoughtfully, attempting to scoop up the ice cream with both spoons. “Why thank you, Jess, I didn’t know you cared.”
Jessica watched her best friend in amusement. “You’re going to drop that,” she warned, as Alix attempted to balance an enourmous lump of ice cream on one spoon. She laughed. “You’re crazy.”
“Crazy is as crazy does,” Alix said, and then yelped at the top of her lungs as the lump of ice cream fell on her lap.
Jessica cracked up.
“Cold! Cold! Cold!” Alix yelled, jumping out of the chair and running around in frantic circles. She shuddered, and ran into the house. A few minutes later, she came back wearing different shorts, and holding a wet paper towel. She started cleaning the mess on the chair and floor. “You don’t realize how cold ice cream is until it falls on your lap.”
Jessica was still laughing.
About five minutes later, Alix had the mess cleaned up, and had returned to her original position next to Jessica. “That was very unkiwi.”
Jessica shook her head in amusement. “It’s kiwi now?”
Alix shrugged. “Banany didn’t cut it,” she answered. “And there are only so many fruits you can substitute into the ‘peachy’ line, and have it keep its meaning.” She smiled. “Kiwi is very kiwi.”
“That’s very true, my dear.” Jessica grinned at her, and turned her head so that she was staring up at the sky. She thought she heard Alix sigh, so she turned back to her friend. “Were you going to say something?”
Alix bit her lip, and started playing with the tips of her light brown hair. “I’ve always wanted to know something, but I don’t know if I should ask you, ’cause now that we managed to get out of the depression slump, I don’t want to go back to it, ’cause I don’t want you to get the way you get, and now we’re out of ice cream, and I don’t know if I should ask you what I want to ask you because in a way I don’t really want to know the answer, but I sort of do, you know?” She sighed, and stared at Jessica expectantly.
Jessica frowned. “Alix, that’s the biggest run-on sentence I have ever heard.” She took a deep breath. “So, what’s the question?”
Roxanne flipped through the channels on her TV. This was torture. She hadn’t been grounded since ninth grade, and she’d had no life back then so it hadn’t seemed so bad.
“Rox,” her mother called, knocking on her door.
The bedroom door opened and Mrs. Perez stepped inside. “You have a visitor,” she announced.
Roxanne frowned. “Huh?”
“I told him you were grounded, but he insisted on seeing you.” Her mother smirked. “Besides, he brought pizza. That’s what I call a good man.”
Roxanne rolled out of bed. What was her mother talking about? She followed her mom to the living room. “What are you doing here?” she asked, laughing.
Alex was sitting on the living room couch, smiling brightly. He pointed to the coffee table. On it, were three boxes of pizza, two liters of Coke, plates, cups, napkins, and a stack of Blockbuster rentals. “I come bearing gifts.”
Roxanne laughed again, and looked at her mom, who shrugged. “Leave some of that pizza for me,” she called, walking towards her bedroom.
“I told her that if she didn’t let me see you, I would die of a broken heart,” Alex explained, throwing open a box of pizza. “Peperoni, your favorite.” He picked up a movie. “I know you’re not the romantic type, but I’ve been dying to see Only You.” He batted his eyelashes mockingly. “That Robert Downey Jr. is such a hunk.”
Roxanne smiled, taking everything in. “Why are you doing all of this?” she asked, sitting on the couch beside him.
Alex smiled at her. “Let’s just say that I’ve finally seen the light, and you, Roxanne Perez, are the source of it.”
“So, what’s the symbolic meaning behind the blue hair?” Drake Hill asked, watching Jade intently. The sea breeze blew through her hair, and gave Drake a clear view of her beautiful face. She was, by far, the most fascinating girl he had ever met.
Jade shrugged, and leaned back on her elbows. “Outside appearances should match the inside.”
“So you’re blue on the inside?” Drake asked, in mock amazement. “What did you do, swallow the Smurfs?”
Jade laughed. “No, I just drank a lot of blueberry Kool-Aid when I was a kid. After a while my hair turned blue.”
Drake laughed. “They should put a warning on the package,” he suggested.
“That would probably solve all the major problems in the world,” she agreed.
“It would bring about world peace.”
“Stop AIDS from spreading.”
“Stop world hunger.”
Drake shrugged. “I wonder why they never thought of that before?”
“They’re just dense.”
Drake nodded. “They should put people like us in their companies. The world would become a better place to live.”
“Yeah, but first we need to put that band together,” Jade reminded him.
“Oh, right.” Drake nodded. Then he frowned. “How exactly does one come about doing that?”
Jade shrugged. “Don’t look at me,” she said, “you’re seven minutes ahead of me, so I name you the chosen one. You are the powerful leader of this search.”
Drake sighed mockingly. “Alright, if I must.” He looked around the crowded beach. “So what are we searching for exactly?”
Jade looked around thoughtfully. “Kool-Aid drinkers.”
“Let’s get something very clear here, Leslie Thompson,” Nina said calmly, leaning against her car outside Pizza Max. The wind had picked up, and was blowing her long, auburn hair violently. “I like you. If I didn’t like you, I wouldn’t have come all the way over here, and dragged your silly behind away from that skitzo in there. Therefore, I refuse to listen to strangers who claim my boyfriend is not who he seems to be, but, if I ever catch you even looking at another girl I’ll be forced to get medieval on your buttocks.”
Leslie grinned. “Did I ever tell you that you’re wonderful?”
Nina half-smiled. “No, but you can elaborate on the subject as we take a romantic stroll down the beach,” she told him, grabbing his hand. “That will give you a chance to explain what you were doing with that girl.”
“You’ve become very demanding all of a sudden, darling,” Leslie noted, as they started walking towards the beach.
“Hey, I’m on a roll, don’t tease me.” Nina smiled, and looked up at the sky, staring thoughtfully at the puffy white clouds floating carelessly in the sea of blue. She loved the sound of leaves ruffling in the wind, and the smell of salt in the air. How could anyone be angry on a day like this?
Leslie sighed. “That girl back there was just a costumer,” he started, suddenly. “She wanted me to take a walk with her down the beach, and I told her I would, simply because I was headed in that direction anyway, and didn’t want to seem rude. I was about to tell her I’d changed my mind, though. That’s when you came in.”
Nina stared at him.
“Look, Nina, I know that sounds dumb, but it’s the truth, okay? I can appologize about that girl back there, but about the thing last night, I can’t tell you anything, except that I swear on everything I own, that I have no idea what that girl was talking about.” He looked at her pleadingly. “You do believe me, don’t you?”
Nina looked into his pleading brown eyes, and nodded. “Yeah, I believe you.”
Leslie breathed with relief, and reached over to hug her. “Thank God for small miracles.” He took a hold of her hand. “Shall we?”
“Lead the way, big daddy.”
Claire watched the happy couple from the restaurant window. Well, I’ll be damned, she thought, watching them hug and hold hands. This is gonna be trickier than I thought. She shrugged, and turned around so she was facing forward in the booth. “I like a challenge.”
Claire got up from the table, and walked out of Pizza Max, paying her tab in the process.
It was Rachel, obviously trying to be funny. “Hi, Rache. Did you decide to make a day out of following me?”
Rachel shrugged, trying to catch her light brown hair in the wind. She walked closer, and shielded her eyes in the direction Claire’s gaze was pointing. Her mouth fell open. “Don’t tell me you regained your sanity, and decided to play matchmaker?”
Claire snorted, and looked at Rachel. “Right.”
“So why are Romeo and Juliet back together?”
“I underestimated Nina,” Claire answered simply. “The little witch is as unpredictable as life itself. I’ll just have to attack the situation from a different perspective.”
Rachel touched Claire’s arm gently. “Let it go,” she advised. “This is beyond obsession. You’re scaring the living daylights out of me, and frankly I’m starting to question your sanity.”
Claire rolled her eyes, and started walking in the direction of her car. She stopped suddenly beside a teal Camaro, and stared at it thoughtfully. “Pretty car, isn’t it?”
“Don’t tell me you’re thinking of stealing it!” Rachel nearly yelled, staring wide-eyed.
“Rachel, give me a break, okay?” She nodded to the car. “Whose do you figure it is?”
“Yeah, ha.” Claire shook her head. “It’s Nina’s.”
Rachel watched her carefully. “So?”
Claire shrugged. “So nothing,” she answered, and started walking away. “See you around, Rachel.”
Alix sat up, and turned toward Jessica. “What did you mean when you said that the past is all you have? I mean, what was that whole thing about?”
Jessica sighed, and looked up at the sky. “I just don’t know who I am sometimes, Al,” she said sadly. “I’ve been two different people in the course of my eighteen years, and I don’t know which one I really am. I don’t want to be something I’m not, and yet at the same time I’m afraid of finding out what that something is.” She looked at Alix, tears darkening her blue eyes. “I’m scared of going back to who I was. I don’t want to hurt you again, Alix. I don’t want to hurt the people I care about, and I’m scared to death that I will.” She closed her eyes, a single tear betraying her attempts to hide her emotions.
Alix stared at her. “You don’t have to be anything you don’t want to be.”
“It’s not that easy.”
“Why are you feeling this way all of a sudden?” Alix asked.
Jessica hesitated, and wiped away her tear. “Would we have become friends if my parents hadn’t died?”
Alix frowned. “I don’t know.”
“Yes, you do,” Jessica told her, nodding slowly. “We wouldn’t have become friends, Alix, because if my parents hadn’t died I wouldn’t have changed. I wouldn’t have changed, and you’re not friends with the person I was; you are friends with the person I became; the person I am now. But if I were to change back to who I was, we wouldn’t be friends anymore, because you wouldn’t respect me then. And I would lose you. And I would lose Rox. And I would lose Mathew. And Nina. And Leslie. I’d have no one to turn to, but Lynn. Lynn. Then everything will go back to the way it was before, and I’ll be left alone.”
Alix shook her head carefully. “What are you talking about, Jess?”
Jessica swallowed back the tears. “They didn’t die.”
“Who didn’t die?”
“My parents, Alix! They didn’t die! They’re alive, and now they’ve come back, but I’ve changed. I’ve changed, and they’re gonna turn me back to the person I used to be. They don’t love me now. They loved me then. They’ll change me back. I know they will.”
Alix stared, her mouth agape. “Say what?”
Jessica closed her eyes again. “My parents are alive. It isn’t a dream anymore.”
This isn’t a dream, Roxanne realized. Alexander Woods is actually sitting here with his arm around me. And Lord, if this is a dream, let me never wake up.
“Did you like the movie?” Alex asked her.
“Oh, yeah it was great,” Roxanne said, watching the credits roll up the screen. The truth was that she’d been so busy spazing out she hadn’t really paid attention. She hoped there wasn’t a quiz or something.
Alex sat up, and Roxanne immediately missed the feel of his arm around her. “So, what do you want to see now?” he asked, leaning forward to grab the rest of the movies.
I would love to see you naked, she thought. “Um, what do you have?”
Alex turned the movies sideways, and read the titles off to her.
“Dangerous Minds,” Roxanne said defiantly.
“Yes, ma’am,” Alex smiled, and got up from the couch to pop the movie into the VCR.
Roxanne watched him get up, then she looked away. I am going straight to hell if I keep thinking the way I’m thinking.
Alex retured to his official spot beside her, and smiled. “Your wish is my comand,” he said.
Oh, please, don’t say that. You have no idea what I’m wishing right now. “You know, you’re getting awfully cocky around me,” she teased.
Alex grinned. “Well, I am one of the most popular guys at school,” he told her. “I could get any girl–” he snapped his fingers “–like that.”
Roxanne raised an eyebrow. “So, how come it took you so long to get me?”
Alex took a hold of her hands. “Because you are not any girl. And I don’t want just any girl. I want you.”
“You realize you’re extremely corny for a guy.”
Alex shrugged mockingly. “Well, I’m just playing you.”
“Sure. I just want you for your body.”
Roxanne laughed. “And I just want you for yours.”
He smiled, that gorgeous smile that always drove her crazy. “Have I ever told you that I love you?”
Roxanne’s heart skipped a beat, as she stared into his loving brown eyes. “No you haven’t.”
He moved closer. “Well, I do,” he said, and then his lips met hers.
“Excuse me,” Jade said, walking up to some guy who was lying on a beach blanket. Drake was watching her from a few feet away, a look of complete amusement in his eyes.
The guy looked up, and shielded his eyes from the sun. “What?”
“I was just wondering if you play and instrument?” she asked him. The guy was about sixty-years-old, and had a beer belly the size of Rhode Island.
“No I do not play and instrument. Do you mind?” he asked her sternly.
Jade shrugged. “I don’t mind at all,” she said. “Thanks anyway.” She walked back to Drake. “He doesn’t play an instrument.”
Drake cracked up. “I can’t believe you actually did that,” he told her, amazed.
Jade motioned to her blue hair, nosering, black lipstick, and matching fingernails. “What? You thought I was the shy type or something?”
Drake laughed. “Not quite.”
“Well, I give up on this band idea,” Jade told him. “We’ll never find Kool-Aid drinkers around here.”
“Don’t you have any friends that may be interested?”
Jade considered. Alix had a keyboard in her room. Maybe she played. “I might,” she admitted.
Jade nodded. “I’m not sure, but I think my best friend plays the keyboard.”
Drake stared at her. “You think?”
“Well, we just met like a week or two ago,” Jade explained. “I’m new here,” she added.
“Oh. So, can we go see this friend of yours?”
Jade shrugged. “Yeah, sure. She was supposed to be here like an hour ago, anyway. I don’t know what happened to her.”
Alix held up her hands. “Wait a second. You’re telling me that your parents are alive?”
“Do you want to see me cry? Is that what you want? Explain the whole parent thing. Please.”
Jessica went on to recap the whole parent episode. She covered everything from the previous night, to the moment she ran out of the house, and when she was through, she watched Alix expectantly.
“Tell me about it,” Jessica agreed. “Do you think this is a dream? I mean, it could be, right?”
“I thought you always wished for your parents to be alive? Do you want them dead again?”
Jessica covered her face with her hands, and shook her head. “I don’t know what I want.”
Alix was silent.
“What are you thinking about?”
“I was just wondering about the reason your parents gave you. It seems pretty strange, doesn’t it?”
Jessica frowned. “What do you mean?”
Alix sighed, and shifted uncomfortably on the lounge chair. “Okay, you said that your parents got on a plane; the plane crashed, and some people rescued your parents floating out in the sea, and took them to some island where they lived for like two and a half years, with amnesia?”
Jessica shrugged, and nodded.
“And then when they regained their memory, they called your grandparents, and didn’t tell you anything until four months after it all happened, because your own parents didn’t remember you?”
Jessica considered. It did seem pretty strange.
“Doesn’t your cousin live with your grandparents?”
“And you talk to her often, right? Did she ever mention the fact that your parents were living in the house?”
Jessica frowned. That’s true. Amber would have certainly told her that her parents were living there. “Are you saying that my parents lied about what happened?”
Alix shrugged. “I’m just saying that it seems pretty farfetched, not to mention stupid, if that were the truth. But then again, what the heck do I know?”
Jessica parked her ’96 Camaro in the circular driveway, and got out.
“Good afternoon, Miss Jessica,” Maurice greeted her, opening the door.
Jessica stepped inside the mansion and smiled. “Good afternoon to you, Maurice,” she told him. “Where are my parents?”
“Your parents and grandparents have checked into a hotel,” he informed her. “They agree that you need time to get used to things, and therefore have decided to give you some space. They’ll be calling to tell you their room number, and such.”
Jessica nodded. “Thank you,” she told him, and headed down the foyer. She was actually thankful that her parents had left. It gave her a chance to do what she’d been thinking of doing ever since her talk with Alix.
A few minutes later, she had locked herself in her father’s office. She hadn’t been there in years.
Jessica looked around. It wasn’t a very interesting room, by anybody’s standards. Her father’s large, mahogany desk stood to the side, facing the only window in the room. Through the window you could see the tennis courts, and part of the ocean, but most of the view was blocked by the wooden deck leading down to the private beach, which connected eventually to the public one.
The walls were pretty bare, except for a couple of paintings that each must have cost more than Alix’s entire house.
Jessica walked across the office, and sat down on her father’s brown leather chair. She started looking through the drawers, and file cabinets, not really knowing what she was looking for.
The knock on the door, startled her. “What is it?” she called, more than a little annoyed at the sudden interruption.
“You have a visitor, miss,” Maurice called, his voice a little muffled by the door.
Who in the world would come visit me now? she wondered, as she began to frantically return everything to its original place. “I’ll be right there!” she told him, and finished straightening things up.
Jessica walked out of the office, and walked down the foyer, where she found Mathew looking around, his jaw halfway to his feet. “Mathew, hi,” she said.
Mathew looked at her. “You actually live here?”
Jessica smiled, and walked up to him. “No, I just break in here a couple of times a week to see how the other half lives.”
“So, what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?” Jessica asked.
“Oh, I guess I was bored out of my mind, and didn’t know what else to do,” Mathew told her. “So, I took a walk down the beach, and ended up in your property. I thought maybe you wanted to do something, but if you’re busy . . .”
Jessica shook her head. “Nah, I was just looking for something.” She looked at him uncomfortably. “Do you mind if we go to my room? I really hate standing out here. It makes me feel all paranoid.”
Mathew shrugged. “Lead the way, Miss Heart.”
Jessica smiled, and the two of them started toward the stairs.
“I can’t believe you live here,” Mathew said, taking in the luxury around him. “My whole house can fit inside your foyer.”
Jessica didn’t know what to say to that, so she remained silent. She led them up the stairs to the third floor, and turned down the hallway to her room.
“This place is like a hotel.”
Jessica laughed. “Yeah, something like that.” She pushed open the double doors to her room, and stepped inside. “Yes, this is my room, and if you say that your room fits in here ten times, I’ll be forced to smack you.”
Mathew shrugged, and smiled. “Actually, I was thinking that my room would fit in here about fifteen times, but I’m not going to mention it.”
Mathew looked around the room. He was more than impressed with the size of the mansion. It was one thing to see it from the outside, but a complete other thing to actually be inside of it. He had never, in his entire life, seen a house so beautiful. Jessica’s room, alone, was breathtaking.
The walls were painted with pictures of different scenes. The one on his left was made to look like a basketball court. There was even a real basteball hoop attached to the wall, and the floor matched the floor of a real life court. She has her very own bastketball court.
Jessica’s bed was directly in front of him, and the wall behind it had been painted to look like an undersea adventure. There were pictures of colorful fish, seaweed, and gorgeous shades of blue, which made the whole thing look unbelievingly real. The bed itself was extremely huge, and had a couple of wooden steps leading up to it. Two nightstands on either side of it, along with a matching wall unit, completed the set. The wall unit was covered top to bottom with books, books, and more books.
To his right were French doors which led to a balcony, probably, and a living room-type area was to the side of that. A black-leather couch faced the biggest TV he had ever seen in his life, and as he looked around again, he realized there were a couple of TV’s hanging from the ceiling. One faced the bed, and the other faced the French doors.
Further to the right was a huge desk, on which a computer was placed. That entire wall was painted to simulate the ocean at sunset. It was beyond beautiful.
He turned slightly to look at the wall behind him. There was another living room-type area, and another wall unit full of books. The bottom half of the wall was painted a very dark blue, and the top half was painted black. A huge, gorgeous, full moon glowed over the horizon, and cast it’s reflection over the water. A million stars in its company. It was an amazing looking picture.
“I take it you like my room,” Jessica said, watching him with an amused expression.
Mathew snapped his gaze back to Jessica. “You can say that again.”
“I take it you like my room.”
“Very funny.” Mathew laughed, shaking his head. He stared at Jessica for a moment. She was, without a doubt, the most beautiful girl he had ever laid eyes on. She had these amazing dark blue eyes that looked at him in such a way that made his heart ache to touch her. He knew it was stupid of him to feel this way. He shouldn’t let himself dream. A girl like Jessica Heart would never, not even in his wildest dreams, fall for a guy like him. She was gorgeous, popular, extremely rich, funny, intelligent. She was an example of perfection, and he was nothing more than a shy, insecure, dorky-looking nobody.
He gave Jessica’s room one more, quick glance-over. I could never compete with all of this, he realized sadly. There is nothing I can give her that she doesn’t already have. And there’s nothing I could offer her, that she would ever want.
Alix stared up at the poster of Steven Tyler posted on the ceiling above her bed. After lying there thinking for what felt an eternity, she’d given up. Now her mind was wandering aimlessly. I wonder what his name is backwards. Nevets Relyt. She laughed. That’s a stupid name. Nevets Relyt. I wonder if there’s a Nevets Relyt in the phone book? No. Probably not. Hm. Stevie would probably look cute in a dress. Something in black to slim his figure. No, wait, then he’d disappear. She nodded. I need to get a life. Desperately.
She lifted her head from the pillow, frowned, and listened. Then she sighed, and rolled out of bed. Damn doorbell. She walked out of her room, then down the stairs, across the living room, and opened the front door. “Hello Jade,” she said, opening the door. Then she nodded to the blonde-haired guy beside her. “Guy I don’t know. Welcome to my humble home. Please, enter, be merry.”
They stared at her for a second, then they walked inside.
Alix shut the door, and turned to her beloved guests. “So, what may I do for you?” She scrunched up her face at Jade. “I was supposed to meet you at the beach, wasn’t I?”
“Actually, yes,” Jade answered. “But the reason we’re here is to ask you a question.”
“Both of you came all the way here to ask me a question?” Alix asked. “Hm. Sounds kinky. I must tell you, though, I do have some ground rules on the subject.”
The guy chuckled.
“Do you play the keyboard?” Jade asked her.
“Jeez, now this is really getting kinky.” Alix smiled. “Yes, I play the keyboard. Why?”
Jade brightened, exchanged a look with the guy, and turned back to Alix. “We have a proposition for you.”
Alix bit her lip to keep from commenting on that one. “So, what’s the proposition?” She looked at the guy. “Who are you, by the way?”
The guy stepped forward, and offered her his hand. “Drake Hill,” he said. “Pleased to meet you.”
“We want to start a band,” Jade told her.
Alix frowned. “A band,” she repeated. She thought about it. “How many people are in it?”
“Well, if you join,” Jade started, “three.”
Drake half-smiled. “We’re a band in the making.”
Alix looked at him. “You think?” She sighed, and started toward the stairs. “Lets go to my office, and discuss this further.”
Jessica laughed, and gripped the golf club in her hand. “I’m really bad at miniature golf,” she said, and stared down at the ball.
Mathew smiled at her. “Don’t worry, so am I.”
After an hour and a half of trying to figure out what to do, they had ended up at Blockbuster Golf & Games, where they were now starting a challenging game of miniature golf.
Jessica took a deep breath, and hit the ball. It rolled straight into the hole. She jumped back surprised.
Mathew stared at her. “I thought you couldn’t play?”
Jessica grinned, and shrugged. “Beginner’s luck.”
Mathew walked up to her, and put his hand on her forehead, closing his eyes.
Jessica laughed. “What are you doing?”
“I’m trying to catch your lucky vibes.” He smiled and stepped away, placing his ball on the floor. “Okay, let’s see if that worked.”
Jessica watched as he hit the ball, and had it miss the hole completely.
“I meant to do that,” Mathew explained, jokingly. He tried again, and this time got a little closer, but still missed. He looked at her and smiled. “I really meant it when I said I was bad at this.” He tried again . . . and then again . . . and then again.
“Do you want me to help you?” Jessica asked, biting her lip to keep from laughing.
Mathew looked at her. “Very funny.” He looked down at the ball. “I can do this. I know I can.”
“Hey, buddy!” some guy yelled from the line that had formed. “Today would be nice.”
Jessica cracked up, and exchanged her red ball with Mathew’s blue one. “Maybe that will help.”
Mathew looked at her for a second, and then turned back to the problem at hand. Then he hit the ball, and it rolled right in. “Ha!” He smiled at Jessica, and they moved on to the next hole. “I think there’s something wrong with my ball.”
Jessica smiled. “Tough.” She hit her ball, and watched it roll into the hole #2. She look at Mathew. “That’s never happened to me.”
He shook his head. “I don’t like you anymore.”
Jessica laughed, and watched Mathew argue with the ball. He pleaded; he begged. Another line formed. She was having the greatest time. For the first time in her life, she’d found someone who made her forget all of her problems.
Alix, Drake, and Jade were all in Alix’s room, trying to decide what to call their new band. Jade was lying on the bed, Drake was sitting on the desk, and Alix was sitting on her black beanbag chair. So far, they had come up with nothing.
“The Strawberries,” Alix suggested. “Flower Pickers? Nose Pickers? Masturbators? Drunken Idiots? The Geekazoids?”
Jade shook her head. “Very funny.”
Alix rolled her eyes. They were going to be here forever. “People, this is ridiculous. We still need a bass player. Maybe we should try completing the band before we name it?”
Jade sat up on the bed. “I can play bass. Do any of your friends play electric guitar? I mean, as long as they play one of the two.”
Alix thought about it. Jessica didn’t play an instrument. Roxanne? No. Alex? Maybe. Although, he didn’t seem like the electric guitar type. She shrugged. “I don’t know.
Drake groaned, and jumped down from the desk. “Well, I’m really sorry, ladies, but I should get going before my mother starts to worry.” He looked at Jade. “I’ll give you a call tomorrow.” He started towards the door. “Nice meeting you Alix. I can show myself out the door. Later.”
Jade waved, and watched him leave, then she looked at Alix. “What’s that look for?”
Alix grinned. “So . . .?”
Alix rolled her eyes, and gestured to the closed door.
Jade shrugged. “I met him at the beach,” she said, simply. “He finished my song for me,” she added, when Alix still stared at her. She sighed. “Why are you staring at me?”
“Cause you really suck at gossip.”
“Alright, fine,” Jade said, mockingly taking on a valley girl accent. “So, like, I was sitting at the beach, playing my song, and this guy, he, like, walked up to me, right? And he’s like ‘Oh, my God, that was like totally awesome’ and I was like ‘why thank you, but I haven’t like finished it yet’. And then he like sat down beside me, and like asked if he could like borrow the pen and paper I was using to write the lyrics on. So I was like ‘sure, man’ and then he was like ‘groovey’ and he wrote this really totally awesome stanza. And we like got to talking, and he suggested like starting a band. So I was like ‘cool’, and that’s how everything got started. Are you like happy now?”
Alix grinned. “You’re so silly.”
Sixteen holes later found Mathew and Jessica playing air hockey in the arcade. The score was six to six.
“You will not beat me at this,” Mathew vowed, smacking the puck to Jessica’s side. A crowd had gathered around them, and were amused by their continous bickering. “You might beat me at miniature golf, but you will not beat me at air hockey.”
“Keep dreaming, bubba,” Jessica said. “This is my game.”
The puck flew back and forth for another few minutes, until finally it slid into Jessica’s slot.
Mathew started jumping up and down. “I won! I won!” he chanted, laughing. “I am not a loser!”
Jessica started laughing. “Alright,” she said, “we’re tied.”
Mathew smiled, and the two of them started out of the arkade. “So, what do you want to do now?” he asked her.
Jessica frowned. “What time is it?”
He looked at his watch. “It’s quarter after eight,” he told her. “Do you have to go home?”
Jessica shook her head. “Not particularly. You?”
“Nope.” He smiled. “So, what would you like to do, Miss Heart?”
Jessica cringed. “You have to stop calling me that.” She looked around thoughtfully, and shrugged. “Wanna catch a movie?”
Roxanne stared up at the ceiling above her bed. She’d had the most unbelievable day. Granted, she was still grounded, but she wasn’t even thinking about that. Not after the time she’d spent with Alex. She couldn’t believe it had really happened. It was like all her dreams became reality.
The phone on her nightstand started ringing, snapping her out of her thoughts. “Hello?”
It was Alex. She sat up. “Oh, hi.” That didn’t sound dorky or anything. “What’s up?”
“Not much,” he said. “I just called to say hi.”
Roxanne smiled. “Why? Did you miss me?”
Alex laughed. “You have no idea. Did you miss me?”
He laughed again. “So, what were you doing?”
“Watching TV,” she lied.
“Sounds fun. What were you watching.”
Roxanne picked up her remote, and turned on the TV. “Uh, commercials.”
“No! I meant I was watching commercials when you asked.” She started flipping the channels. “On VH1.”
“Any good videos on?”
“Uh, they’re showing the 80s stuff.”
“And you’re watching that?”
Roxanne rolled her eyes. Why was it so hard to lie about something so simple. “Yeah. There’s nothing else on.”
Alex laughed. “Okay.” He hesitated a moment. “Can I ask you something?”
“You just did.”
“Okay, something else.”
“Are we, like, together now? I mean, is it official?”
Roxanne bit her lip. “You tell me.”
Alex sighed. “Well, I would like it to be.”
“Then I guess it is.”
He seemed relieved. “Good.” He paused. “Well, I’ll let you go. I don’t want to get you in anymore trouble with your parents.”
“Okay. Good night.”
“I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
Alex replaced the receiver, and sighed with relief. He looked up at his brother, who stood in the doorway to their room. “What?”
Zack smiled. “So? Are you guys together now?”
Alex nodded. “I can’t believe it, though. I feel like this is all a long dream.”
Zack walked across the room, and lied down on his bed. “Dreams come true, right?” he asked, staring up at the ceiling.
Alex nodded thoughtfully. “Yeah, I think they do,” he answered after a while.
Zack was quiet for a few minutes, and then got up from his bed. He walked to the closet, and took out his guitar. “Do you mind if I play for a while?” he asked.
Alex shrugged. “Go right ahead. I’m too out of it to care, anyway.”
Zack nodded, and started playing and singing a song Alex had never heard before. He listened to the words, and realized it was a love song.
Each day I stand beside you
Watching you closer than I should
But, oh, I’d stand much closer
I’d stand closer if I could
And I know that I must tell you
Everything I chose to hid
‘Cause these words I need to say to you
Can no longer be denied
And I’m tired of pretending
That I care not what you do
When in truth all I can think about
Is the fact that I love you
I try sometimes to tell you
But the right words never come
And I know if I say something
I’ll just end up sounding dumb
So I wither in the silence
Of so many unsaid thoughts
That around you seem to tighten
All my wisdom into knots . . .
When Zack finished playing, Alex stared at him. “That was cool,” he said. “Who wrote that?”
Zack shrugged. “I don’t know. Someone.” He put the guitar down, and started out the door. “I’m going for a walk or something, okay?”
“Now?” Alex looked at the time on his alarm clock. “It’s after nine.”
“Yeah, I know,” Zack told him. “I can tell time. The beach is nicer after dark. I’ll be back soon.”
“Do you want to come in?” Mathew asked, as Jessica parked her car in his driveway. “You haven’t seen my house yet, and I got to see yours. It’s only fair. Besides, I got a new Nintendo game I think you might like.” He smiled.
Jessica laughed. “Sure. I could never say no to a Nintendo game.”
They got out of the car, and walked up the driveway to Mathew’s front door. He reached into his jean pocket and got his key. “Welcome to the Collins residence,” he said, opening the door to let Jessica inside. “It’s not a mansion, but at least it’s cozy.”
Jessica looked around, and smiled. “This is a million times better than a mansion, trust me.”
Mathew closed the door. “Can I get you anything to drink? Eat? Sit down on?”
Jessica laughed. “I’m fine, thanks.”
Mathew shrugged. “Okay, but if you get thirsty or whatever, don’t hesitate to tell me.”
“You’re home!” his seven-year-old sister, Sarah, said walking down the hall, her red hair bouncing behind her. She stopped when she saw Jessica. “Oh, sorry, I didn’t know you had company. Are you Mathew’s girlfriend?”
Mathew blushed. “No.” He looked at Jessica to see her reaction, but she seemed amused by the little girl a few feet away from them. “Jess, this is my little sister, Sarah. Sarah, this is Jessica.”
“Nice to meet you, Sarah,” Jessica said politely. “I like your hair. You look like Ariel, from The Little Mermaid.
Mathew winced, and looked at Sarah, who laughed gleefully. How had Jessica known? The Little Mermaid was Sarah’s favorite movie in the world. Telling the little girl she looked like Ariel was the biggest compliment you could give her.
“I like her,” Sarah said, smiling at Mathew. She walked up to Jessica, and looked up at her. “You’re pretty. Nina said that Mathew was an idiot for not asking you out already.”
Oh, hide me, Mathew thought. He looked at Jessica. “Kids.”
Sarah grabbed her hand. “You have to see my Little Mermaid collection.”
Jessica nodded. “I would love to. Lead the way.”
Mathew sighed and looked up at the ceiling. Why couldn’t I have been an only child?
Jessica was having a blast. Mathew’s sister was a riot. She was so cute! She’d always wanted a little sister.
“Do you have a big brother?” Sarah asked her.
Jessica shook her head. “Nope, I don’t have brothers or sisters.”
Jessica shrugged, and looked down at the little girl. “I really don’t know.”
Mathew stepped into the room, and leaned against the wall, his arms crossed against his chest. “Sarah, I don’t think Jessica wants to see your toys.”
Sarah looked at him. “Of course she does, Mathew,” she told him. “She’s a girl like me.” She looked back at Jessica. “Men.”
Jessica nodded. “I know, they just don’t understand us.” She winked at Mathew who laughed. He walked over to Jessica, and sat down beside her on the bed.
“Who’s your favorite character?” Sarah asked her.
Jessica thought about it. It had been a while since she’d seen The Little Mermaid, but it was her favorite Disney movie. “I like Skuttle and Sebastian.”
Sarah nodded. “Mathew likes Ursula, the sea witch. He’s such a weirdo.”
Jessica looked at Mathew. “What’s wrong with you?” she asked, mockingly. She moved away from him. “I don’t want to be your friend anymore.”
Sarah cracked up. “She’s funny.”
“Who’s funny?” Nina asked, stepping inside the room. She smiled at Jessica. “Oh, hey, Jess. I didn’t know you were here.”
Jessica waved at Nina. “Hi, Nina. Long time no see.”
Sarah got up from the floor, and pulled Nina into the room. “You gotta see my collection.”
“But, sweetie, I’ve already seen your collection,” Nina argued. “Several times.”
Sarah looked at her. “So?”
“Yeah, Nina,” Mathew said, “don’t you like The Little Mermaid, anymore?”
Nina looked at him, and sent him a look. Then she sat down next to him on the bed.
“Well, I don’t know about anybody else,” Jessica said, “but I want to see this famous collection.”
* * *
Alix kicked a seashell out of her way, and then sat down on the moist sand. She liked walking along the beach at night. It was cool how the ocean in the distance, and the sky seemed like one. Separated only by a make-believe horizon, and a million stars reflecting over the water. And, of course, the moon, which was covered by some clouds at the moment.
“Are you always out here?” a voice said behind her.
Alix turned, rolled her eyes, and forced a smile. “Funny. I was going to ask you the same thing.” She watched as Jeremy, the mysterious guy who always appeared out of nowhere, sat down beside her. She remembered back to the first time they’d met, and rolled her eyes in annoyance. She’d been walking, and this idiot had scared her half to death. She’d thought he was a serial rapist or something. Not that she had any reason now to disprove that theory. “Do you follow me around? Is that it?”
Jeremy smiled. “I don’t think you really want me to answer yes,” he said. ”But, if you must know, I do not follow you around. We just happen to end up in the same place at the same time. A lot.” He grinned. “Call it fate.”
Alix shook her head, and turned back to the ocean in front of her. “I call it suspicious.”
Jeremy laughed, but said nothing.
“Okay, so now what?” Alix asked, looking at him.
“I refuse to sit here in complete silence with you next to me,” she told him. “We either talk, or one of us–most likely you–will have to go on to another spot.”
Jeremy looked amused. “Are you afraid of me? I thought you had blackbelt in karate?”
Oh, yeah, I’m sure I have a blackbelt in karate. You go on believing that whopper. “I am not afraid of you,” she said, “but a girl should be careful.”
“I see. So sitting here in silence with a strange guy is dangerous, while sitting here talking with a strange guy is not?”
Alix sighed, and stared at him. “I just meant that I feel less vulnerable when we’re talking, than when we’re not. I don’t know what you’re thinking when you’re staring off into nothingness.”
Jeremy nodded. “Okay, you’re afraid I’m thinking perverted thoughts about you?”
“No.” Yes, Alix admitted to herself. “I’m saying you could be thinking about your sick grandmother’s operation tomorrow, and I’ll be over here wondering if you’re some sort of mass murderer. So, for granny’s sake, if not for your own, humor me.”
Jeremy smiled. “Okay. But only for granny’s sake.” He looked at her. “You realize it’s virtually impossible to just start a conversation when we have to try to start it. In the end, we’re gonna fall silent anyway. It’s innevitable.”
“I don’t think so,” Alix said, shaking her head thoughtfully. “I think if you really want to start a conversation you can do it. It’s just that people unconsciously want to fall silent. You know, cause that’s when the camaras get to close up on them tearing their clothes off, and stuff.”
“Yeah, but that’s because secretly, that’s what both of them wanted to do. They just got into stupid conversations about nothing to cover up their unholy desires.”
Alix nodded. “Exactly.”
“But that’s not what we’re doing,” Jeremy said, looking at her.
“Because, we don’t even like each other.”
Alix looked into his eyes, and nodded. “Right.”
Jessica walked down the foyer of the mansion. She hadn’t been in such a good mood in the longest time. She’d spent the last few hours at Mathew’s. Sarah had brought out all her Little Mermaid toys, and after she’d gotten bored showing off her “collection” she’d brought out Junior Monopoly, and everyone–including Mathew’s parents–had engaged in an exciting game. Sarah had won.
“Good evening, Maurice,” Jessica said, cheerfully. “What’s happening, dude?”
The butler frowned slightly at Jessica’s good mood. “Did you have a nice time with the young man, Miss?”
Jessica nodded. “It was just lovely,” she answered, mocking his tone.
Maurice’s expression softened a moment, but then became professional again. “Your parents called from the hotel. All the information was placed on your nightstand.”
Reality came tombling down on her, and Jessica sighed. “Thank you, Maurice.” She started toward her room.
“Miss, did you eat?” Maurice called after her. “The cooks are bored.”
Jessica had to laugh at that. She turned around. “Did you just say they were bored?”
Maurice looked a little embarassed. “Yes, Miss.”
Jessica considered, and shrugged. “Tell them to send up something.”
As soon as she said that, her two cooks slid into view.
“What would you like?” Adora asked. She was twenty-four-years-old, and studied at the University of Miami. She had short light brown hair, and light green eyes, and was a little petite thing, who was part of the gymnastics team at the university.
Margaret was in her late fifties, and was a heavy set oriental woman, who’d been in the family for years. “Do you want to see the menu?”
Jessica frowned. “There’s a menu now?”
Adora shrugged. “We were bored.”
Jessica laughed. “Tell you what. Choose your favorite dish, and send it up to my room. Add in a dessert, too.”
The cooks exitedly went to work, and Jessica went up to her room, where she collapsed on the waterbed. What a day.
The phone on her nightstand started ringing, and she clicked the speaker phone button. “Yeah?”
“Jess, it’s after midnight. Where the hell have you been?” Roxanne’s excited voice came through. “Nevermind that. You will not believe the day I’ve had.”
You wouldn’t believe the day I’ve had. “Hey, Rox,” Jessica said. “Nice to hear from you, too. What’s up?”
Roxanne shrieked. “Alex got me grounded!”
Jessica frowned. “What?”
“Wait! Let me finish. Last night, we went to the movies, and that jerk B.J. was making out with Lynn. They deserve each other, by the way. Anyway, Alex took me to this cave at the beach, and we fell asleep, and I got grounded. But then he came over and brought movies and stuff, and now we’re together!”
Jessica shook her head. “What?”
“We’re going out, Jessica! Alexander Woods is my boyfriend!”
“That’s great!” Jessica said, with less enthusiasm than she should’ve.
“Hello? Is this phone working? I said that Alex and I are an item now. Like, both of us, together. As in, I’m not dreaming anymore.”
“I heard you,” Jessica told her. “I’m sorry, I’m just not very with it today.”
Roxanne sighed. “Oh, right, because your grandparents are there?”
“How did you know that?”
“Well, I called you, but Rosa said you were busy with family business, and she sounded too professional, so I just figured. Are you okay? They’re not sending you to some convent in the Amazon, are they?”
Jessica laughed. “Not quite.” She hesitated. She honestly didn’t want to start that whole parent conversation again, but if Rox found out that Jessica’s parents were alive, and she wasn’t told first hand, Rox would have a cow. “Rox—”
“Oh, Jess, I have to go,” Roxanne interrupted. “I’m so grounded, you don’t understand. I just wanted to tell you the good news. I’m sorry about your grandparents coming, and everything. They’ll be gone soon though.”
Jessica sighed. “Yeah.”
“Cheer up, girl. I love ya. Bye.”
“Bye.” Jessica turned off the phone, and saw the little paper on the nightstand with the hotel information on it. She rested her head back on the pillow, and stared up at the ceiling. “What am I going to do?”
“I like Jessica,” Sarah said, playing with the scrambled eggs on her plate. “How come you haven’t asked her out yet?” She looked across the breakfast table at her brother.
Mathew looked up from his food, and picked up his orange juice. “Because if I ask her out she’s going to laugh in my face.”
Sarah shook her head, and went back to her food.
Nina stared at Mathew. “Matt, if you thought Jessica was the kind of girl who would laugh in your face, you wouldn’t like her the way you do.”
Mathew rolled his eyes. “Why is everyone ganging up on me? Can’t a guy decide when he wants to ask a girl out?”
“No,” Nina answered, taking a bite out of her toast. “If it were up to you guys, every woman in the world would be single.” She put her toast down, and looked at him. “What’s the problem? Do you really not like Jessica.” She leaned towards him. “Are you gay?” she asked, in a near whisper.
Mathew stared at his sister. “Yes, Nina,” he said, “I’m gay, okay? I’m secretly in love with Leslie. Can you please lend me your boyfriend for the night? He’s such a big boy.”
Sarah stared questioningly at Nina. “What’s gay mean?”
Nina laughed. “Ask Mathew.”
Mathew shrugged, as his little sister’s gaze fell on his. “It means ‘really happy’,” he told her.
Their father sat down at the table, and smiled at his kids. “So, what’s the topic of conversation this morning?”
Mathew shrugged. “No topic.”
“None,” Nina said, picking up her toast again.
Sarah looked at their father. “Mathew’s gay, Daddy, and he wants Nina to lend him her boyfriend for the night.”
“God, you’re a sight,” Jade muttered, staring down at Alix, who was sleeping peacefully. She looked around Alix’s room for a moment, and then leaned down. She stared at Alix’s sleeping face for a second, and then flicked her on the forehead.
Alix blinked, and her eyes slowly began to open. “Wha . . .?”
“It’s Jade. Wake up.”
Alix’s eyes closed again.
Jade rolled her eyes, and started shaking her friend. “Wake up, you dinkus.”
Alix groaned, and rolled over to the other side.
Jade shook her head. “This is ridiculous.” She looked around the room again, and then had an idea. She walked across the hall, and knocked on Rachel’s door.
“What?” Rachel asked, opening the door. “Hey, Jade. No luck waking her up, huh?”
Jade shook her head. “She’s in a coma or something. Can I borrow one of your CDs?”
Rachel frowned, but handed her one of her opera CDs. “What are you gonna do?”
“Play this really loud,” Jade answered, walking back into Alix’s room. She popped the CD into the CD player, and cranked up the volume.
Alix groaned, and pulled the covers over her head. “I’ll be your slave for a year, just turn that crap off!”
Jade smiled, and turned off the music.
Alix’s head hesitantly appeared over the top of the comforter. She frowned at Jade. “Where am I?”
“Your room, don’t worry.” Jade grinned. “You’re a pain to wake up, did you know that?”
Alix sat up on the bed, and rubbed her forehead. “My forehead itches,” she said. Then she stared at Jade, and then at the time on the alarm clock. She groaned and slid back under the covers. “It’s early!”
Jade frowned. “Alix, it’s after one,” she said. “Drake is coming over in like ten minutes, so you better get up.”
“He’s coming here? Why is he coming here?”
Jade rolled her eyes. “Because I don’t want him at my place, and I’m not going to this guy’s house. He could be some uncool psychopath.”
Alix looked at her. “As opposed to all the really cool psychopaths, right?”
Alix rolled her eyes, and hesitantly rolled out of bed, falling to the floor in the process. A pile of clothes broke her fall. “Ow.”
Jade helped Alix to her feet. “What is wrong with you? Do you have a hangover or something? What the hell did you do last night after I left?”
Alix grinned. “I threw this totally awesome party. You weren’t invited, though, ’cause I don’t like you.”
Jade half smiled, and shrugged. “It’s your loss.”
Zachary Woods stared at his guitar and then down at the piece of paper next to him. He read what he’d written, and sighed, scrunching up the paper. If I don’t quit writing these depressing songs, I’m gonna grow old too fast. He threw the balled-up piece of paper over his shoulder and started tuning his guitar–more out of boredom than actual necessity. Then he lied back on his bed, and stared up at the ceiling. I’m pathetic, he thought miserably.
He sighed again, and retrieved the piece of paper he’d thrown away. If I’m going to be depressed, I might as well act like it. He unballed the paper and smoothened it out with his hands. Then he began to sing.
Weep, and I will dry your tears
Scream, and I will drown your fears
Laugh, and I will laugh along
Sing, and I will play your song
Fly, and I will be your wings
‘Cause I’m the keeper of your dreams
I watch you in the distance
Staring at the sky above
Wishing for a romance
And praying for true love
But me, the one who loves you
Must wither in the pain
Me, the one who loves you
Knows my love for you’s in vain
But weep, and I will dry your tears
Scream, and I will drown your fears
Laugh, and I will laugh along
Sing, and I will play your song
Fly, and I will be your wings
‘Cause I’m the keeper of your dreams
Zack stopped singing, and rolled his eyes. This was pointless. Writing songs about silent love wasn’t going to help him. Maybe if he wrote her a poem? Who am I kidding? he wondered, dismissing the thought. She’d laugh herself into a coma.
“All I’m saying,” Alix said dramatically, “is that we need another member. That’s all. I’m not saying we need to get matching tatoos reading ‘kick me’ or something.”
Jade rolled her eyes, and dipped her chicken strip into the honey mustard sauce. “I’m not denying the fact that we need another person. I’m just saying we could get to work with three people. Sort of like a trio or something.”
Alix shrugged. “What do you think, Drake?”
Drake looked up from his food. “Huh?”
Alix held up her hands, and lied back on her bed. “I give up with you people. I have enough things to worry about without having to start a pathetic band. Which, by the way, is what we is. In fact, I think it would be considered a sin to call ourselves a band.” She nodded to herself. “We’re three dreamers up on Cloud 9, visiting the relatives. How ya doing Aunt Agnes? How’s Uncle Fred? Still talking to furniture, is he? That’s great. Oh, we’re just here, ’cause we want to start a band. What? No, we’re not smoking pot.”
Jade laughed in spite of herself.
Alix sat up on her elbows, and stared at the floor for a moment. Then she frowned. “What is that?”
Jade raised her eyebrows. “What is what?” She followed Alix’s gaze, and picked up the KFC box. “What? This?”
Alix sat up and held out her hands. “Let me see that.”
Jade handed her the box, and Alix stared at the side of it for a moment. Then she started chuckling.
“What?” Jade asked.
Drake stared at her expectantly.
“Listen to this,” Alix said. “It’s the history of the original recipe chicken. ‘When I added the eleventh ingredient, and tasted my chicken, it was the best chicken I had ever tasted.’ ”
Jade and Drake burst out laughing.
“It really says that?” Jade asked, grabbing the box back from Alix. She laughed again. “It actually says that. Cool.”
“What do you mean ‘cool’?” Drake asked. “This dude is obviously in need of therapy.”
“Maybe we should write a song about that,” Alix suggested, smiling. ” ‘My Tasty Chicken’ we’ll call it.”
Jessica stared at the note in her hand, sighed, and put it back on the nightstand. She rolled her eyes, and lied back on the bed, causing an explosion of little waves on the water mattress below her. She bobbed up and down, and stared at the ceiling above. Was Alix right about my parents? Would they really lie to me about what happened? And if they did, why?
She sat up on the bed, and reached for the phone. She nodded to herself, as she dialed the telephone number. She knew of someone who could help her.
Jessica tightened her grip on the receiver. “Yeah, hi. I’m looking for Amber. Is she there?”
“I’m sorry, but Miss Dryden has been sent to a private school in Paris. Who may I ask is calling?”
Jessica frowned. That was impossible. “This is Jessica,” she said. “Jessica Heart.”
There was a gasp. “Oh, Miss Heart, I appologize, but I didn’t recognize your voice,” the lady said. “Miss Dryden is in Paris. I thought you knew?”
“When did she leave?”
“About four days ago,” the lady answered. “Is there a problem?”
“Do you have a number where I could reach her?” Jessica asked, suddenly feeling helpless.
“I’m afraid I can’t give out that information, Miss Heart. I’ve been given strict instructions.”
“The Hearts, Miss.”
Jessica sighed. What was going on? “Thank you.” She hung up the phone, and walked across the room to her computer. With growing dread, she waited for America Online to sign her on.
“You have mail,” the computer sang out.
Jessica ran the cursor to the mailbox icon, and clicked on it. There was an E-mail from her cousin.
Surfergirl All hell has boken loose
Without hesitation, Jessica double-clicked on the letter.
You will not believe what is happening over here. The grandparents are sending me to some all-girls’ private school in Paris. Paris, Jess!! What the heck am I going to do in Paris?! This is a nightmare.
You know, I didn’t tell you this before, cause I didn’t want to worry you, but something really weird has been happening over here. Lots of secret meetings. Lots of private phone calls.I didn’t think much of it before, but now I know something’s definitely going on. And you know what? I think it has something to do with you. Don’t ask me why I think that, but I think your name’s come up on certain occations.
Fudge, I have to go. I’m sneaking my laptop computer with me, so we’ll be able to keep in touch. Write me back and let me know what’s going on. Please.
Lots of love,
Jessica read the letter, and frowned. Then she wrote a quick E-mail back to her cousin, asking her to meet her online as soon as possible. Now she knew for sure that something was going on. But what?
Mathew stared out his bedroom window, and sighed. The weather outside was starting to match his mood: dark and stormy. It had taken him about three hours to convince his father–and later his mother–that he wasn’t gay. And they still had their doubts.
“Are you mad at me?” asked a saddened voice behind him.
Mathew turned around from the window, and his expression softened. “No, Sarah, I’m not mad at you.”
His little sister brightened immediately, and ran over to him so he would pick her up. Mathew did so without hesitation. “You’re getting too big for me, Sar,” he teased. “Soon I won’t be able to pick you up.”
“You’ll always be able to pick me up, Mathew,” Sarah said, matter-of-factly. “You’re strong.”
Mathew closed his eyes to near-slits, and looked at his sister with mock suspicion. “Are you trying butter me up?”
Sarah shook her head somberly. “Na-ah.”
Mathew laughed. “Okay, I believe you.” He turned to the window again. “It’s not such a pretty day anymore, is it?”
“Maybe you should invite Jessica over to play Candyland,” she suggested innocently. She frowned. “Would that make you gay?”
Mathew rolled her eyes, and put his sister down. “Okay, listen to me,” he said, seriously. “You must stop using that word.”
“Because most people take it the wrong way.”
Mental note: introduce Sarah to Alix. They’d understand each other. “Because it can also mean something else.”
“What else does it mean?”
Mathew rolled his eyes heavenly. God help me. He looked down at his sister. “Well, I’m not sure what it means Sarah, but for some reason people get the wrong idea when you say it.”
Sarah nodded. “Is that why Daddy got mad at you? Did he take it the wrong way?”
Mathew smiled. “Yeah, Daddy took it the wrong way.”
Sarah nodded. “Okay, I won’t use it any more. I don’t want you to get in trouble.”
Sarah stared up at him. “So . . . are you gonna invite Jessica over?”
Jessica stared up at the clouds. She was sitting out on her balcony with her feet resting comfortably on the railing. It’s going to rain, she realized, as a roll of thunder echoed through the air. Not that it wasn’t obvious from the blackish-gray color the clouds have taken, but I was hoping. She got up from the chair, and as soon as she did that, her phone began to ring.
She walked across the room, and picked it up. “Hello?”
“Hi, Jessica,” a child’s voice said. “It’s Sarah.”
Jessica smiled. “Hey, Sarah. How are you?”
Sarah giggled. “I’m okay, but I got Mathew in trouble.”
“How did you do that?”
“I can’t tell you that, ’cause then he’ll get mad at me,” Sarah answered. ”
Jessica grinned. She’s so cute. “Okay, you don’t have to tell me. I wouldn’t want Mathew to get mad at you.”
“Neither would I. But I think he would get mad at me if he knew I was calling you.”
Jessica frowned. “How did you get my number then?”
“It’s on his speed dial,” Sarah answered. “You’re number one.”
Her grin returned. “So, what do I owe the pleasure of this phone call?”
“Who are you talking to?” Mathew’s voice asked from somewhere in the background.
“Oh, no one,” Sarah said. “I was just playing with your phone.”
” ‘Cause it’s pretty.”
Sarah screamed, and started laughing uncontrollably. The phone was dropped. “Mathew stop!” More laughter.
The phone was picked up. “Hello?” It was Mathew.
Jessica smiled. “Do you two want to be alone?”
“Jessica! No-I, uh . . . I’m sorry about this,” he stammered.
“Ask her over!” Sarah yelled. “He loves you, Jessica! He–” Another scream. Laughter. Screaming.
“Still there, Jess?” Mathew asked.
“I’m still here, Mathew,” Jessica assured him. She was extremely amused.
“I’m really sorry about this,” he apologized.
“I’m enjoying this,” she told him. “This is fun.”
“Trust me, it’s a whole lot better than staring at the clouds, which is what I was currently doing.”
“Oh.” He paused. “Would you like to come over?”
Jessica bit her lip. She really shouldn’t. She had to try to contact her cousin and see what was going on. If she left the house, and Amber wrote back, she wouldn’t get the message until it was too late, and she had to find out what was going on before her parents called her. “Mathew, I’m sorry, but I can’t. I’m trying to sort out a whole bunch of family stuff at the moment.”
“Oh, that’s okay,” he said quickly. “I understand. Hold on, someone wants to talk to you.”
“Jessica? You can’t come?” Sarah actually sounded sad.
Jessica felt a sting in her heart. “I’m really sorry, Sarah, but I have to talk to my cousin, and I haven’t been able to find her.”
“Oh. What about after you talk to her.”
Jessica half-smiled. “If it’s not too late, I’ll call you up, and we’ll see what we can do, okay?”
Sarah brightened. “Okay!”
“Say bye to Mathew for me.”
“I will. Bye, Jessica.”
“Bye, Sarah.” Jessica replaced the receiver, and smiled to herself. I would have loved to have a little sister. Why didn’t I?
Roxanne lowered the volume on the TV, and picked up the ringing phone. “Talk to me.”
Roxanne frowned, and tried to control her anger. “What do you want?”
B.J. McNair seemed startled. “What’s wrong, Rox? I’m really sorry I haven’t called you all weekend, but I had this family thing. I tried calling Friday night, but your brother said you weren’t home.”
Family reunion my butt, you cheating jerk. “What did you do Friday night?” she asked him casually.
“I went to pick up my cousin at the airport,” B.J. answered. “I think I told you about that.” He sighed. “Are you really that mad at me for not calling?”
Roxanne ignored his question. She was starting to get impatient. “So, what were you doing at the movies with Lynn Hauffman?”
“Lynn who?” B.J. asked. He actually sounded confused. “What do you mean? I wasn’t at the movies.”
Roxanne frowned. Now she was getting confused. “You weren’t at the movies Friday?”
“No. I told you, I went to the airport to pick up my cousin. Then I had to drive her to our grandparents’ house in West Palm Beach. I didn’t get home until after midnight. Then yesterday we had a family reunion at my uncle’s house.” He paused. “Why did you think I was at the movies? And who the heck is Lynn?”
Is he serious? “You weren’t at the movies on Friday?” she asked again.
“No, I wasn’t at the movies. Is this phone working? Here, talk to my cousin.”
“Hello?” asked a little girl. She sounded to be around ten or eleven. “Are you Rox?”
“Yeah, I’m Rox.”
“B.J. doesn’t stop talking about you. He was driving everyone insane yesterday.”
“Was he at the movies on Friday?” Roxanne asked her.
“Movies? I don’t think so. He picked me up at the airport, and then we had to go to Nana’s house. Why?”
“Nevermind. Put B.J. back on.”
B.J. got back on the line. “Now do you believe me?”
Roxanne sighed. “Yeah, I believe you.”
“Good, you scared me there for a second. Don’t do that.” He paused. “So, would you like to do something today? I thought maybe we’d take a romantic stroll down the beach, and a nice, romantic dinner for two at a little restaurant down by the pier. What do you think?”
Roxanne covered her face with her hand. “I can’t. I’m grounded.”
“Why? What happened?”
“I . . . uh, I forgot to do the dishes,” she lied.
“You got grounded for that? Wow. Your parents are strict. Hm. How about I just come over? We’ll just hang.”
Oh, my God, what am I going to do? “Well . . . um . . . uh, oh, fine.”
“Okay, then, it’s settled,” B.J. said, happily. “I’ll be right over.”
“Oh, and Rox!”
“I love you.”
Roxanne shook her head. This isn’t happening to me. “I-uh, love you, too. Bye.” She hung up the phone quickly, and buried her face in her hands. I’m so screwed.
B.J. McNair hung up the phone, and sighed with relief.
“You owe me ten bucks,” his little sister said, extending her hand towards him.
B.J. handed her the money. “Here. And thank you very much. You saved my butt.”
His little sister took the money, and smiled brightly. “Anytime, bro. In fact, I think you should cheat on your girlfriend more often. I could use the money.”
B.J. shook his head. “I didn’t want to cheat on Rox, okay, Angie?”
Angie shrugged. “Whatever. You still did.” She started toward her room. “Next time, can I pretend to be your sister? I’m better at that.”
“You look overly cheerful today,” Zack noted, watching his older brother carefully.
Alex smiled. “Why shouldn’t I be? I have the girl of my dreams, finally. It just doesn’t get any better than this.”
Zack shrugged. “Whatever.”
Alex frowned, and sat down on his bed. “What’s the matter with you? You look like hell.”
“Thank you, Alex,” Zack muttered. “I didn’t know you cared.” He lied back on his bed. “So, are you going to see her today?”
“I was thinking of calling her a little later. Why?”
“Just trying to make coversation.”
Alex shook his head. “What is wrong with you? I’ve never seen you so depressed.”
“She thinks I’m somebody else.”
“Who thinks you’re somebody else?” Alex asked.
Zack didn’t answer, instead he sat up and buried his face in his hands.
“Zack, what’s going on?”
“She wouldn’t like me if she knew me. She’d think I was a dork, and a liar, and she would never talk to me again.”
Zack looked up and sighed. “Alix.”
Jessica walked back into her room, and sat down on one of the couches. She stared at the diary in her hand, and sighed. I can’t read this, she thought, sticking it under one of the cushions.
She got up from the couch, and walked over to the computer.
“You have mail!”
Jessica quickly checked it out.
Surfergirl I’m in hell
Jessica opened the letter.
This place is a nightmare. Is there any way you can get me out of here? I have no idea what the time zones are. But I’m gonna sign back on in an hour, so if you meet me online then, maybe we can figure out a way to do this. I hope it works. Talk to you soon (I hope).
Lots of love,
Jessica decided to stay online until her cousin signed on. That way they wouldn’t end up missing each other. She left the online post office, and clicked on the chat room icon.
Suddenly, a small box flickered in the center of the screen.
Instant Message from Islandgrl5
Islandgrl5: Are you a dreamer?
Jessica smiled. And began to type.
Islandgrl5: Really? Hm. You sound like a really big dork.
Dreamer: I am. It seems to run in the
Islandgrl5: Well, then I should be care-
Dreamer: I would if I were you.
Islandgrl5: LOL. How are you, Jess?
Dreamer: Pretty good, Amber. U?
mare, Jess. You don’t understand. It’s
like reform school. ‘Walk this way’,
‘Don’t do that’, ‘You’re a lady, not a
bum–act like it!’ HELP!!!!
Dreamer: I wish I could, cuz. I wish I
could. Can I ask you something?
Dreamer: Were my parents living with U?
Islandgrl5: What? Jess, your parents are
Dreamer: No, they’re not. They’re here
and something really weird is going on.
Islandgrl5: You’re kidding?! Oh, God. Are
you okay? What did they say? What’s
going on? Is that why they sent me away
to this European cell?
Dreamer: I think they were I afraid I
would try to contact you. They don’t
know we talk through the computer, do
Islandgrl5: No. I never mentioned it to
the grandparents. They don’t under-
stand the whole online idea, anyway.
Wait. So your parents are alive?
Dreamer: Unless I’m stuck in some
weird dimension, yes. But they lied
about what happened, and I don’t know
why. I was hoping you could help me
Islandgrl5: Sorry, Jess. This is all news
to me. I still can’t believe what you’re
telling me. I’m in shock.
Dreamer: Tell me about it. Oh, well,
I’ll just have to do all the detective
work myself. So, how have you been (I’m
gonna change the subject now).
Islandgrl5: Well until a few days ago I
was doing fine. Then all of a sudden the grandparents are telling me to pack up
my stuff-I’m going to a private school
in Paris. Can you believe this? I don’t
speak a word of French, and I feel like
an outsider here. Which I am, actually.
What about you?
Dreamer: Don’t ask. I’m too confused
to answer that question properly.
Islandgrl5: Oh, man. I have to go, Jess.
The lady from hell is yelling something
in French, and I have no idea what she’s
saying, but it really sounds bad. I love
you. Be careful. Cheer up. Don’t worry
so much. Things will be fine. Bye, Jess
Dreamer: Bye, Amber
Jessica shut off the computer, and sighed. Something was going on. And whatever it was didn’t look good.
Roxanne opened the door, and let B.J. inside. She purposely stepped back when he reached out to kiss her. “Hey, B.J., how are you?”
B.J. smiled at her. His light blue eyes lit up at the sight of her. “Hi, Rox.”
Roxanne forced a smile. What the hell am I doing? “Welcome to my home. Mi casa es su casa.”
B.J. smiled. “Thank you.” He walked into the living room, and sat down.
Just then, the phone started ringing. Saved by the bell, Roxanne thought. “Excuse me for a second.” She walked over to the kitchen, and picked up the phone. “Hello?”
Roxanne felt her heart stop. “Alex, hi.” She walked to the kitchen entrance, and looked over at B.J., who was sitting on the couch patiently. Oh, God. “What can I do for you?”
“Are your parents there or something? You sound tense.”
“My parents? No. I’m-uh, alone.”
“Oh. Um, would you like some company, then?”
“Sure. No! I mean, no.” What is wrong with me? “Because, my parents should be home any minute and they would be really pissed if, you know, they found me alone with a guy.”
“Well, that’s understandable. Sure. Alright. Maybe later then?”
“Are you okay, Rox?” Alex asked, concern in his voice.
“I’m fine. I just had a little too much sugar. That’s all. I’m a little, you know, uh, hyper.”
“Yeah, in fact, I should go lie down.”
“You should do that. Call me whenever you want, okay?”
B.J. walked into the kitchen. “Is everything okay?” he asked.
“Who is that?” Alex asked.
“My brother,” Roxanne told him. Then to B.J. she said, “Everything’s fine.” She pointed to the phone and mouthed, “It’s my mom. She doesn’t know you’re here.”
B.J. nodded, and left the kitchen.
“I thought you were alone?” Alex asked her.
Roxanne bit her lip. “Oh, my brother just came home. He was playing basketball with some friends.”
“Alright. I’ll talk to you later, then. I love you.”
“I love you too.” She quickly hung up the phone, and breathed with relief. This is insane. She walked back to the living room. “B.J., we need to talk.”
B.J. looked up. “Ooh, that sounds bad. What’s up?”
“I think we should break up.”
B.J. frowned. “But why?”
Roxanne took a deep breath. “Because I’m in love with Alex. I’m sorry.”
To her surprise, he actually started laughing. “Okay. Fine.”
“Really?” Roxanne smiled. “I was afraid you would take it a lot worse.”
B.J. shrugged. “I just want you to be happy.” He stood up. “I guess I should leave, huh?”
“Yeah, that would be best.”
He started for the door, but stopped. “I feel a little sheepish asking, but can I use your bathroom?”
Roxanne frowned. “Uh, sure.” She turned and pointed to the hallway. “It’s the second door on the left.”
“Could you show me.”
Roxanne frowned again, but shrugged. “Okay.” She started walking down the hallways, and opened the bathroom door. “Here we are.” Just as she turned around, B.J. grabbed her by the shoulders and kissed her. She pulled away, but he grabbed her again. “B.J.!”
Then he pushed her down onto the floor and pinned her down. Kissing her forcefully all the while. His hand was traveling all over her body.
“B.J., let me go!” Roxanne screamed.
But he didn’t let go.
Alex shook his head, and grabbed his keys.
“Where are you going?” Zack asked him.
Alex turned around and stared at him for a second. “I’m going to check on Roxanne. She sounded weird on phone. It’s probably nothing, but I’d feel better checking it out.”
“Oh, please,” Zack said, rolling his eyes. “You’ve been going out with the girl for less than a day, and already you’re getting gut insticts about her.”
Alex smiled. “I’ll be back soon. She’ll probably kick me out of the house anyway.”
Zack waved. “Have fun.”
Alex shook his head, and walked out of the house. A few minutes later he was driving toward Roxanne’s. He still wasn’t sure what he was going to say when she answered the door. I had a feeling you were in trouble. But I guess I was wrong. She would certainly reconsider going out with him right then and there. But something kept him from turning the car around. I hope I’m wrong, he thought, and sped up.
Jessica picked up the phone, and dialed Mathew’s number. Now that she had talked to Amber she had nothing else to do, but wait. And waiting was nerve racking when one had to stay in her room all day. “Hello, is Sarah there?” she asked, as Mathew’s father picked up the phone.
“Sarah?” Mr. Collins seemed surprised. “Don’t you mean Nina?”
“Um, no, I think I mean Sarah,” Jessica said, smiling to herself.
“Okay. One moment.”
A few seconds later, Sarah got on the phone. “Hello?”
“Hi, Sarah. It’s Jessica.”
“Jessica! You called! Mathew said you wouldn’t call, but I told him you would.”
Jessica smiled, and looked out the window. The sky was clearing up. “Well, I talked to my cousin, so I’m pretty much free for the rest of the day. Would you like to do something?”
Jessica laughed. “Put Mathew on the phone.”
“Okay, hold on.”
“Jessica?” Mathew asked.
“Yeah, it is I. Listen, I was wondering if Sarah and yourself would like to go somewhere? I’m bored now.”
Mathew laughed. “Oh, so you’re the one who wants our company now?”
“Uh-huh. What if we don’t want to see you?”
Mathew laughed again. “I would love to see that.” He paused. “So, where would you like to go? There are only so many places to take a seven-year-old.”
Jessica considered. “Let her decide.”
Alex got out of his jeep, and frowned at the Plymouth Neon parked in the driveway. He shook his head and walked up to the front door. He listened for a second, and rang the doorbell. That’s when he remembered that the doorbell was broken. He tried knocking, but nothing happened. Something’s wrong, he thought.
He heard a scream.
Alex turned the knob on the door, and to his surprise it was open. So much for a dramatic entrance, he thought. He stepped inside the house, and started looking around.
Another scream. Definately Roxanne.
“Rox!” he yelled, and started in the direction of her voice. What he saw next made his blood run cold. B.J. McNair was in the immediate process of putting his pants back on, while pinning a half naked Roxanne down. “You bastard!” Alex yelled, and grabbed B.J. by the shoulder.
B.J. turned around, startled. “Wha . . .?”
Alex punched him so hard that B.J. stumbled backwards into the hall. His hands flew to his bleeding nose.
Alex approached him, and pushed him with all of his might. B.J. hit the wall with a thud. “I’m gonna kill you, you sonofabitch.” He was about to punch him again, but Roxanne called his name. He turned around and ran back to her. “Rox. Oh, God.”
Roxanne stood up and hugged him. She started crying again, this time on his shoulder. He held her close. “I’m here. Don’t worry. I’m here. He can’t hurt you now.”
“Alex . . .” she started, but her voice trailed off.
Suddenly, B.J. stumbled past the bathroom. Alex was about to go after him, when Roxanne held him tighter.
“He’s gonna get away, Rox,” Alex said gently.
“Let him go,” she said, “but don’t leave me please. Don’t leave me.”
Alex sighed as he heard the front door slam shut. He hugged her closer, and closed his eyes. “I won’t leave you, Rox. I’ll never leave you.”
Jade and Drake walked out of Alix’s house, and started toward the street..
“I’m glad it stopped raining,” Drake said. “I was afraid we’d be stuck at her house forever.”
Jade smiled. “So, I guess our ‘band’ is on hold, huh?”
Drake shrugged. “It doesn’t have to be, but I guess it is,” he answered. He looked at her. “So, what would you like to do? The beach is all wet, so I don’t suggest we go there. Any ideas?”
“What makes you think I want to do something with you?” Jade teased.
“I’m not sure.” She shrugged. “Whatever. What is there to do?”
Drake considered. “Well, what do you usually do?”
Jade smiled. “Scare people,” she answered.
“Scare people,” Drake repeated. He smiled. “That sounds interesting enough. Let’s scare people.”
Jade grinned. “I’ve waited all my life to meet a person who would say those words to me.” She put her right hand over her heart. “I’m so touched. There are no words to describe how I’m feeling at this moment.”
“High?” Drake suggested.
Jade laughed. “Yeah. I guess it was the chicken.”
“I guess now we know what that eleventh ingredient was.”
Zack put a blanket down on the moist sand, and sat down, not caring that the back of his jeans were getting wet. He pulled his guitar out of its case, and stared at the crashing waves a moment, before starting to sing.
I watch the sun rise in your eyes
From distances so near
And hear the laughter on your lips
It’s music to my ears
Each day I stand beside you
Watching you closer than I should
But oh, I’d stand much closer
I’d stand closer if I could
To feel your body close to me
And know you’re just my friend
Is the coldness of reality
Of a torture that won’t end
I try sometimes to tell you
But the right words never come
And I know if I say something
I’ll just end up sounding dumb
So I wither in the silence
Of so many unsaid thoughts
That around you seem to tighten
All my wisdom into knots
I know that I must tell you
Everything I chose to hide
‘Cause those words I need to say to you
Can no longer be denied . . .
He put down his guitar and sighed. “Can no longer be denied,” he said again, and stared at the ocean in front of him.
“I didn’t know you played the guitar,” a voice said behind him.
Zack jumped, startled by her voice. He turned. “You didn’t ask,” he told her.
Alix shrugged, and sat down beside him. She stared at the water. “The beach is beautiful after it rains, huh?”
Zack nodded, but didn’t look at the water. He kept his gaze rested on her beautiful face. How could he ever let her know that he was just a geek nobody, and not the mysterious guy she thought he was. Girls liked mystery, but when it was over, did their love end too?
Alix turned toward Jeremy. “So, what brings you to the beach?” she asked. Then she added, “Aside from your feet.”
Jeremy laughed. “I just like singing out here,” he answered. “The environment seems to produce its own music, and you can just join in.”
Alix smiled. “I liked that song you were singing before,” she told him, staring at his handsome face. “Did you write it?”
Jeremy looked a little nervous. “How much of it did you hear?” he asked.
Alix shrugged. “Just the last part,” she lied. She’d actually heard all of it, but she wasn’t going to admit that she’d been watching him. “So, did you write it?”
“Did you really like it?” he asked, ignoring her quetion, yet again.
Alix nodded. “Yah. I wouldn’t tell you I did unless it was true. If I thought it sucked, I’d be like ‘man, do you need some music lessons’, but I didn’t say that did I?”
Jeremy smiled, and shook his head. “Nope. You didn’t say that.” He nodded slowly. “I wrote it.”
“Cool,” she told him. She sighed, and turned towards him. “Can I ask you something?”
Jeremy shrugged. “Go ahead.”
“Okay, my friends and I want to start a band, but we’re short one member. Might you be interested?”
Jeremy looked nervous again. “I don’t know . . . ”
Alix looked pleadingly at him. “Please? We’re really desperate.”
Jeremy sighed, and stared at her for a second. “Alright.”
“You know, I’ve never seen anyone eat ice cream with such delight,” Jessica commented, staring at Sarah.
Mathew laughed, and looked at his sister. Her face and hands were covered with chocolate ice cream. “You better get cleaned up, Sar. You look like the cookie monster.”
Sarah stared at him. “Mathew, the cookie monster’s blue.”
“Oh.” Mathew thought about it. “Elmo, then.” He winked at Jessica.
Mathew frowned. “Kermit?”
Mathew stared at her innocently. “What?”
Sarah shook her head, and looked at Jessica. “He doesn’t know anything.”
Jessica smiled at Mathew, and stood up from the table. “Come on, let’s get you cleaned up,” she told Sarah.
Sarah nodded, and interlocked her sticky fingers with Jessica’s.
Mathew watched them leave, and sighed to himself. I’m falling for her, he realized, watching Jessica’s retreating figure. I’m falling for her badly.
Jessica picked Sarah up, and sat her down on the counter. With a wet paper towel, she began wiping the little girl’s face and hands. Sarah stared at her quietly.
“Why so quiet?” Jessica asked, throwing away the paper towel, and standing back to look at the finished product.
Sarah shrugged. “Do you like Mathew?”
Jessica smiled. “Of course I like him.”
Sarah shook her head. “No, I mean really like him. You know like that.”
Jessica frowned. “Well, I don’t know, Sarah. I never really thought about him. You know, like that.”
Jessica sighed, and leaned against the wall of the restroom. “I guess I’ve just had a lot of things on my mind.”
“Just family stuff. Nothing you’d care to hear about.”
Jessica smiled at her. “Do you want me to pick you up, or can you jump down from there yourself?”
Sarah jumped down from the counter. “Ready when you are.”
Jessica laughed, and followed Sarah out of the bathroom.
“You can’t be serious,” Alex said, staring incredulously at Roxanne.
Roxanne paced back and forth in her room. “I just want to forget it ever happened, okay?” She walked over to him, and look into his eyes pleadingly. “Please, Alex. Please promise me you won’t tell anyone. It’s embarassing enough to know that you were there.”
“He raped you!” Alex yelled. He shut his eyes tight, and shook his head violently. If he’d only gotten there sooner. His expression hardened. “I’m gonna find him. And when I do, he’s going to pay for what he did to you.”
“Alex,” Roxanne pleaded. “Alex, just let it go.”
“Let it go?”
“It was my fault, okay? I let him in. I asked him to come. I should have told him not to.”
Alex stared at her. “Rox, you can’t be serious. The bastard belongs in jail.”
“It’s my life, okay?” she yelled. “It’s my body! And it’s my life! You have no right to tell me what I should do. I want to forget it, okay? I just want to forget it ever happened!”
Alex shook his head sadly. “You’re right, Rox. It’s your body. And it’s your life.” He looked at her, tears sparkling in his own brown eyes. “But you have to understand that you are my life. You have no idea how long I’ve waited to tell you I love you, and now that I have, there is nothing I won’t do to live up to that. You might want to forget it ever happened, but you can’t. And I can’t.”
Roxanne’s tears spilled on his hand, and he pulled her to him once again. “I don’t know what to do,” she admitted, resting her head on his shoulder. “I just don’t know what to do.”
Zack could barely believe he was in Alix’s room. He was actually, physically inside Alix’s room. If this wasn’t a dream, he didn’t know what it was. “It’s nice,” he said, looking around. Her room was more than just nice. It was amazing. She had posters and posters of alternative and heavy metal bands. Not an inch of wall was visible between any. He noticed there seemed to be more Aerosmith posters than any other. “So you like Aerosmith?”
Alix shrugged, and sat down on the black beanbag chair next to the closet. “Just a little.”
Her sarcasm was obvious. He smiled. “I like this room. It’s cool.”
The bedroom door burst open, and in walked a blue-haired girl, with a nosering, and a bunch of earrings on both ears. She frowned at him as she entered.
Behind her was a guy with dark blonde hair. He was wearing a White Zombie T-shirt, and ripped black jeans.
The blue-haired girl spoke. “I hope this is important, Alix, you interrupted us.”
“What were you doing?” Alix asked, grinning. “Trying to conceive the biggest freak baby? One that would be the fruit of your loom.”
The blue-haired girl rolled her eyes. “If you must know, we were scaring people.”
“Scaring people?” Alix asked. “That shouldn’t be too hard for you two.” She smiled to show she was kidding. “I have found us our missing member.” She pointed at Zack. “I give you Jeremy. Jeremy, meet Jade and her esteemed sidekick Bobo.”
The blond-haired guy stepped forward, and stretched out his hand. “I’m Drake, nice to meet you.” He threw a dirty look at Alix. Then he turned back to Zack. “What instrument do you play?”
Zack shrugged. “Mostly guitar,” he answered. “I can also play the drums, though.”
Drake nodded. “I think we should try playing together,” he suggested. “We haven’t done that yet, and we have no idea if we sound good or not.”
“We’re a band in the making,” Alix explained. “We don’t even have a name yet.”
“Let’s go to my house,” Drake said. “We can practice in my garage.”
Jade nodded. “Sure.”
Zack shrugged. He had no idea what he was doing with these people, but if meant being with Alix, he had no reason to argue.
“You’re insane,” Rachel stated, staring at Claire. “I didn’t want to admit it before, since you’re my best friend and all, but you are seriously insane.”
Claire looked up from the book she was reading. “What? I’m just sitting here.”
Rachel turned back to the computer screen, and spoke over her shoulder. “I was just thinking about everything you’ve done in the past week, and it’s amazing how psychotic you really are.”
“I’m obsessed, Rachel,” Claire corrected. “There’s a difference. And look, I’m not even in denial about it. So, what are you doing?”
“I’m writing an essay,” Rachel answered, deciding to drop the previous subject. “Something about our opinions and ideas about the life we’ve led until now. I’m just copying it over from one of Alix’s stories.”
“Why are you doing that?”
“Because Alix is the writer in the family, and I don’t feel like writing it myself.”
Claire got up from Rachel’s bed, and walked over to the computer. “Let me see.”
“It’s still in story form,” Rachel told her. “I haven’t had a chance to edit it.”
Claire looked at the screen, and began to read.
I look at the world around me, and I have to ask myself what my reasons for existing are. Do I have a purpose in life? Or am I just an extra in God’s latest Broadway production?
Shakespeare once wrote ‘All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players’. I’m not one to go around quoting Shakespeare, but there is so much truth in that one sentence, that I have to make an exeption.
Look around, and see the puppets we all are. Pulled in different directions by the others around us. I pull, and then I’m pulled. Sort of like the domino effect. In the end, we all end up on the floor.
We are born into a world full of promise, but we don’t realize that promises are often broken. Especially in today’s society. Dream, and you’ll be considered unrealistic. Hope, and you’ll be considered a child. Dare to be different, and you’ll be called a weirdo, a psycho, a freak.
Why is it that in the ‘land of the free’, we discourage individuality? Why must we follow a certain road? A road so worn out, that the grass has died, and the ground is marked by the footsteps of all of those it’s seen before. And only if we choose that path, can we be treated as equals.
‘Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I–I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.’
Rachel smiled. “Dramatic, isn’t she?”
Claire whistled. “Very deep,” she said. She looked at Rachel. “And you’re gonna take credit for that?”
Rachel shrugged. “She doesn’t care.”
Claire returned to her place on the bed. “And you’re the one giving me lectures on morality.”
“We look like a bunch of morons,” Alix muttered, tightening her grasp on the side of the keyboard.
“We are a bunch of morons,” Jade told her. She was on the other side of the keyboard.
The four of them were walking down the street, carrying all the music equipment to Drake’s house.
“I have a question,” Alix said. “Where the hell do you live, Drake? Canada?”
Drake rolled his eyes. “My house is just up the road.”
“That’s what you said five roads ago,” Jade muttered.
“Actually, I think it was just one long road,” Alix said. “Either that or I’m hallucinating again.”
“I saw Elvis a little while ago,” Jade told her. “He was staring at us as though we were crazy.”
“Hey, Jeremy,” Alix called. “What do you think?”
“I think Elvis is dead,” he answered. “Let it go.”
Alix and Jade laughed.
“You know, this is not helping my hernia in the least,” Alix stated.
“You have a hernia?” Jade asked.
Drake smiled at their conversation, and shook his head. “My house is the white one over there.” He pointed.
Alix squinted. “I don’t see a house,” she said. “I see this fuzzy white cloud thing.”
Jade smiled. “Well, tell it to float its way over here, and help us out.”
“Hey!” Alix yelled. “Get your fuzzy white butt over here and help us out, you good for nothing hallucination!”
A man washing his car in his driveway, stared at them with confusion.
“We’re on pot,” Alix told him. Then she smiled. “Hey, that’s a good name for the band. It would explain a lot to the general public.”
Jade smiled at her.
Drake shook his head again.
They finally reached Drake’s house, and put everything down in his garage. They were surprised to find that his garage looked like a music studio. He had all sorts of equipment.
“My dad was a roadie,” Drake explained. “His band never got anywhere, but he got a whole bunch of cool stuff.” He looked around. “We need to get this place straightened out.”
“It’s all a conspiracy,” Alix whispered loudly to Jade. “He just wants us to clean his garage for him.”
Later that day, Jessica stepped into her room. She’d had a really great time with Mathew and Sarah. They were excellent company.
She threw her car keys on the table next to the double doors, and went into her closet to change. Five minutes later, she came out wearing flannel boxers, and a white baby tee. She walked out onto the balcony, and sat down on the nearest chair.
The Atlantic Ocean, in all its magnificence, was in front of her. The setting sun cast rays of pastel colors over the tranquil waters, and the sky itself reflected over the sea.
Jessica stared thoughtfully at the orange-pink clouds, and the grayish-blue sky. She loved sunsets. But not for the same reason most people did. In her heart of hearts she saw that moment of beauty as the climax between the darkness and the light. And she gladly welcomed darkness.
Jessica got up from the chair, and walked back into her room. She took her diary out from the under the couch cushions, and went back to the balcony.
She stared at the black spiral notebook for a moment, and then started looking for a certain entry. A few seconds later she found it.
I saw the sunset today. It was the first time in a long time that I felt the need to watch it. So much has happened in the course of such little time that I feel like nothing’s worth it anymore. I have nothing to look forward to. No good memories to remember. Just the shadows cast by the passing of another day. I don’t remember anything but darkness, and for the longest time I have built my life around the promise of the night. I don’t want to wake up in the morning, and see the sun shining through my window. Because I now know that the sun isn’t shining for me. It’s shining for the rest of the world. The ones who were lucky enough to be born at dawn . . . not at sunset. I don’t know if someday I’ll look back and feel differently about my life. Should I? I have lost so much. I have changed from the girl I was, and now I am someone else. No one, except for me, knows the real reason. They think they know, but there is more hidden in me than the naked eye can see. I guess, in a way, I am like the sunset. I started out a blinding light, and ended as the blackness. Hidden in the shadows.
Will anyone ever find me?
Jessica finished reading, and looked straight ahead, at the disappearing light. She smiled sadly. No one has found me. No one knows the truth.
Mathew stepped inside Nina’s room, and closed the door behind him. His twenty-two-year-old sister turned around in her chair, and stared at him expectantly.
“What’s up, bro?” she asked, taking off her glasses.
Mathew shrugged, and sat down on her bed. “Not much. Whatcha doing?”
Nina made a face, and pointed at the books and papers scattered all over her desk. “I’m studying,” she answered. “Big test tomorrow.”
Mathew nodded. “Do you want me to leave?”
“That’s alright,” she told him, sitting back in the chair. “I’m in need of a break anyway.” She frowned at him. “Something on your mind?”
“You know, I’m not psychic,” she told him, pushing a strand of auburn hair behind one ear. She crossed her arms over her chest and waited patietly. When he didn’t say anything, she sighed. “Any day now, Mathew.”
Mathew rolled his eyes. “I don’t know how to phrase it exactly.”
“Okay, you want me to guess?” Nina asked him. She thought about it for a second. “Is it about . . . school?”
Mathew shook his head.
“Is it about . . . the meaning of life? Did you figure out the answer?”
Mathew stared at her dubiously.
Nina smiled. “Hm. Could it possibly be about . . . Jessica?”
Mathew groaned and let himself fall face up on the bed. He stared at the ceiling for a second. “It’s all your fault, you know? You and Sarah.”
Nina laughed. “Oh, right. Sarah and I control all your male hormones.”
“I’m saying that if it wasn’t for you people’s constant nagging, I wouldn’t be . . .”
Nina grinned. “Wouldn’t be what? In love with Jessica? Wouldn’t be . . . having secret fantasies about Jessica?”
Mathew sat up and stared at his sister. “What am I going to do?”
Nina gasped mockingly. “Oh, Lord, you’re right! What are you going to do?”
“You know, I came to you, hoping you’d be a little supportive.”
Nina smiled. “I am being a little supportive.” She stared at him for a second and sighed. “Okay. I’ll be serious. I mean, I just don’t see what the big deal is. You’re a guy. You like a girl. You go up to her, and ask her out. The worst thing she could do is say no.”
Mathew nodded. “Exactly. And that’s what she’s going to say. Then I’ll never be able to face her again, because every time she sees me she’ll know I like her. She’ll start to feel sorry for me, so she’ll do her very best to avoid me. I’ll do my very best to avoid her. And I would have lost her as a friend.” He shook his head. “I don’t want that.”
Nina stared at him. “What if she doesn’t say no?”
Alix smiled as the four of them stood back and stared at the finished product. “I have to say, people, it looks pretty good indeed.”
Jade, Drake, and Jeremy nodded in agreement. The garage had been turned from a storage room-looking thing, to, well, a neater storage room-looking thing. The instruments had been set up on a small stage, and all the excess equipment put away.
“Okay, so now what?” Jade asked.
Everyone stared at Drake.
“Uh, well, lets practice,” he said.
“Who plays what?” Jade asked.
“I got the keyboard,” Alix called. “It’s the only thing I can play.”
Drake thought about it. “Okay, Jade, take bass. Jeremy, take guitar. And I’ll take the drums.”
Everyone picked up their asigned instruments.
“What do we play?” Jeremy asked.
“Um, everyone know Metallica’s ‘Until It Sleeps’?” Drake asked.
Jade nodded, but Alix and Jeremy shook their heads.
“Okay,” Drake said thoughtfully. “Aerosmith’s ‘Cryin’?”
“Okay on three,” Drake said. “One . . . two . . . three!”
They started playing at once.
Alix made a face, stopped playing, and covered her ears. “STOP THE MADNESS!” she yelled.
They stopped playing.
“I think we need a lot of practice,” Jade stated.
“You think?” Alix asked her.
Jeremy shook his head. “Well, this was fun, but I have to get going.”
Jade nodded. “Yeah, we’ll try again tomorrow or something.”
“I’m outta here,” Alix said.
Drake stared at them. “Are you guys giving up?”
Alix shook her head. “Nope. If we gave up, then we’d have to carry all this crap back home. And that’s not gonna happen until I call U-Haul.”
Jade smiled. “We’ll meet back here tomorrow and try again, okay?” She looked at Jeremy. “Are you with us, Jer?”
He nodded hesitantly. “Yeah, I’m with you.”
Drake looked relieved. “But, wait, we need a name.”
Jeremy shrugged. “How about Dark Angels?”
Alix, Jade, and Drake stared at him. Then they stared at each other.
Drake smiled. “Dark Angels it is.”
Jessica wandered back into her father’s office, and closed the door behind her. She turned on the light, and stood there for a second. Then she started looking around, not quite certain what she was looking for, but sure that there was something to be found. She walked over to a filing cabinet, and opened up a drawer. Nothing but a bunch of business files. The next two drawers were the same. She looked around again, and sat down on her father’s chair. She’d already checked the desk drawers, and the other two file cabinets. Nothing there, either. She continued to look around the room.
Then her gaze fell on one of the paintings. It was a strange picture. Nothing but a bunch of shapes and figures.
Jessica got up from the desk, and walked over to the painting. She stared at it for a moment, and then reached up and grabbed it by the frame, but it wouldn’t budge.
She frowned, and tried again. It didn’t move.
Then she stepped back, and stared at it again. She squinted her eyes. What in the world? She stepped closer, and touched the right side of the frame. To her surprise, it moved. The painting opened up like a door, and revealed a black metallic box. Jessica stared at it. I am living in a movie, she thought. This is just ridiculous.
She shook her head, and picked up the black box. It was surprisingly light. She placed it on the floor, and sat down in front of it. Naturally, it had a lock. That’s alright, though. We can work around that. She looked around the room thoughtfully. Then she nodded, and walked over to the desk. She opened the top drawer and produced a paper clip. I’ve always wanted to try this. She walked back to the box, picked it up, and placed it on the desk. Then she unraveled the paper clip, and stuck the tip into the hole of the lock.
Come on, she thought. A few minutes later, the lock opened in her hands. She rolled her eyes, and shook her head again. Then she shrugged. Scratch what I said before. Now this is ridiculous.
She took the lock off, and slowly opened the box. She frowned at the contents. It’s empty.
Jessica sighed, and lied down on the floor. All that for nothing? She groaned, got up from the floor, and walked over to the other painting. It came off easily. There was nothing behind it, but a nail in the wall. She replaced it carefully, and went back to the other one. “This sucks, man,” she muttered, picking up the box. She started shaking it, and sighed, slamming it down on the desk.
She frowned, and quickly touched the bottom lining of the lid. It was cut on the side. She stuck her finger inside the hole, and touched something. It’s a piece of paper, she realized. A few minutes later, she was able to pull it out.
Jessica unfolded it, and read what was written. It took her a couple of seconds to realize it was her birth certificate. She frowned again. What?
Department of Health
Certificate of Birth
NAME OF REGISTRANT
Jessica Leigh Derwood
March 8, 1978
Ocean View, Midnight Island
FATHER’S NAME AGE
Michael B. Derwood 18
MOTHER’S NAME AGE
Leigh Derwood 17
Jessica stared at the piece of paper in her hand. The rest of the information were numbers, and lots of small print, and signatures. A couple of stamps. But she wasn’t interested in anything else, except for the names on the page. Jessica Leigh Derwood? Michael Derwood? Leigh Derwood? What the hell’s going on?
She put the paper down on the desk, and ripped open the whole velvet lining on the box. The only thing left inside, was a picture of her parents standing by each other, holding a baby. They were smiling brightly.
Only, the people in the picture looked a lot different from the parents she now knew. Her mother’s dark brown hair was cut short, and was a silvery-blonde color. Her dark blue eyes looked a very pale blue.
Her father’s hair was reddish-brown instead of black, but his eyes remained green.
She shook her head, and put the paper, and the picture in her back pocket. Then she put the black box back in its place, closed the painting, and left the office.
When she was back in her room, she walked over to the nightstand and picked up the phone. It was time she and her parents had a talk. A real talk.
The next day, Alix sat in her first hour class. She stared at the teacher in front of her and rolled her eyes. Why am I in this class? she wondered. I didn’t pick Child Care. In fact, if there was a little place to name the class you definitely didn’t want to take, I would’ve put Child Care. In captital letters. With three, maybe four, exclamation marks. She sighed. But I’m stuck in hell. With my sister on one side. And Claire on the other. And there is nothing I can do about it.
“Alix,” Mrs. Eliot called, staring at her. She was a hefty woman in her late fifties. She had long, blonde hair, tied into a pony tail, and big blue eyes. “You’re Alix right?” She turned to Rachel. “You’re Rachel?”
The teacher turned back to Alix. “Do you like children, Alix?”
Alix raised an eyebrow, and nodded. “Oh, yes. They taste like chicken. Especially if you barbecue them, and add in my Aunt Agnes’s famous sauce.”
Mrs. Eliot gasped. “That’s a horrible thing to say!”
Alix stared at her. “Well, that was a horrible thing to ask.”
“You have to excuse my sister,” Rachel said. “She was dropped on her head as a baby.”
The teached gasped again. “Oh, you poor dear,” she told Alix. “Are you alright now?”
This woman is crazy, Alix thought, staring at her. She nodded slowly. “Yeah, my doctors said that as long as I’m not worked too hard, the muscle tissue in my head will go back to normal. It was a pretty long fall.”
“Oh my,” Mrs. Eliot said, concerned. She patted Alix’s hand sympathetically. “Don’t you worry about a thing, dear, just sit there and rest.”
Alix nodded. Her hands flew to her head, and she screamed out in pain.
Mrs. Eliot stared, her mouth agape. “Are you alright? Do you want to go see the nurse?”
“No,” Alix answered. “I just can’t make any sudden moves, or else my brain shifts sides. Last year I sneezed, and blood started pouring out of my ears.”
“I’ll be alright,” Alix assured her. “Do you mind if I put my head down for a little while, though? I feel a little faint.”
Mrs. Eliot nodded. “Go right ahead, dear. Go right ahead.”
Alix smiled at Rachel, who was staring at her with daggers in her eyes, and put her head down. Maybe this class won’t be as bad as I thought.
Alex stared across the room at Roxanne. He’d honored her wishes, and hadn’t mentioned a thing to anyone. Not even to her parents. He regretted it, but he couldn’t go against Roxanne on this. No matter what he was feeling right now, it was nothing compared to what Roxanne was feeling. And he had to understand that.
Alex sighed as he watched her. Things had gone so wrong, so quickly. He wished he could go back in time, and change the past, but it was impossible. He had to deal with the present. There was no other choice.
He turned to the journalism teacher at the front of the room, and tried to pay attention.
” . . . and so class,” the teacher was saying, “to be a good reporter, you have to know when to ask questions and when to stay quiet . . .”
Alex looked at the clock on top of the chalkboard. There was still about half an hour left of first hour. He shook his head, and looked at Roxanne again.
She turned to look at him just then, and smiled reassuringly. Alex smiled back.
He took a piece of paper out of his folder, and picked up his pen. Then he wrote:
Hey, beautiful. How are you feeling?
Alex folded the paper, and passed it down the rows. A couple of seconds later, Roxanne was reading it. She wrote something back, and passed the paper back.
Alex opened it, and read what she’d written.
Hey, beautiful. How are you feeling?
I don’t know. I start to think about . . . you know,
and then I start thinking about how you and I
are finally together . . . I don’t know what I’m
feeling, Alex. I really don’t. I’m neither happy, nor
Alex smiled sadly, and wrote back:
Hang in there, Rox. I’m here for you. Have you
changed your mind about not telling someone?
Alex passed the note back to Roxanne, and waited for her to answer. Please tell me yes, Rox. Please tell my yes.
A few seats away, Roxanne received Alex’s note. She hesitated a second before opening it up. She read it, and sighed. Have I changed my mind? she wondered. Then she shook her head, and started writing.
Who am I going to tell? My parents, so that they
can bitch and moan and be miserable? My friends, so
that they can feel sorry for me? The police, so that I can become another statistic in their files? Am I just supposed to go up to my parents and go ‘Hey, remember yesterday when you guys left me alone? Well, I
invited my boyfriend over, so that I could break up
with him in person, and when I told himI didn’t like
him anymore, he raped me.’ Do you know what’s
gonna happen, Alex? Hell is going to break loose in
the Perez household. And I’m gonna feel worse
than I already do. The only things I can gain by telling
is a big mess, a weekly visit to a psychiatrist, an earlier
curfue, looks of pity . . . and in the end, if God is on my
side, maybe I can get B.J. convicted. Two years in Juvy. Tops. And most probably, not even that. It’s
not worth it. Alex, I love you. More now than
ever before. Please, let’s just work on that, and forget what happened yesterday. I know you are angry, and want to get back at B.J. for what he did, but I have always believed that what goes around, comes around. We’ll get our revenge eventually. But for now . . . let’s
just focus on what we have together.
I love you.
Roxanne didn’t realize she was crying until a tear fell on the paper. She quickly wiped her cheek with the back of her hand, and folded the piece of paper. Then she passed it back to Alex.
Jessica stepped into the hotel’s dining room, and looked around. A few seconds later, she’d spotted her parents sitting together at a table not too far away. She walked over to their table, and stood by the empty chair.
Her parents looked up.
“Jessica,” her father said, standing up. He motioned to the chair. “Please, sit down.”
Jessica did so, and smiled politely at her parents. She’d called them the previous night, and told them she wanted to talk. They’d suggested she come to breakfast with them the next morning. She didn’t care about school anymore. All she cared about was the truth, and she hoped her parents were willing to give it to her. “Father,” she said. “Mother. Good morning.”
“Good morning to you, Jessica,” her mother said. She seemed relieved that Jessica was acting more like her old self again.
Jessica stared at her mother for a second. She looked radiant that morning. Her dark brown hair was pulled back, as usual, and her dark blue eyes were sparkling. She was wearing a white, silk shirt, and a matching skirt.
Her father was wearing a navy blue Polo shirt, and white pants. “So, Jessica,” he said, turning to his daughter. “How have you been?”
Jessica smiled sweetly. “Pretty good,” she told him. “I needed some time to think yesterday, though I must apologize to you both for running out of the house like that. It was very rude of me.”
Her mother waved the statement away. “We understand completely, darling,” she said, smiling. “Don’t you worry about us.”
Mitchell smiled. “I’m glad to see you looking like your old self again, Jessica. You have no idea how worried we’ve been.”
“Well, I feel like my old self today,” Jessica told them.
The waiter walked up to their table, and smiled at them politely. “Good morning,” he said, bowing slightly. “My name is Thomas, and I will be your waiter today. Would you like to order now, or do you need some time to decide?”
Jessica nodded to her father, letting him know that he could order for her.
“I think we’re going to go with the buffet this morning, Thomas,” her father said, smiling at the young man.
“Very good, sir,” Thomas said, nodding. “Do you need refills on your orange juice?”
“No, we’re fine,” Mitchell told him. “But, would you be kind enough to get us some of your best champagne?”
Thomas nodded curtly. “Immediately, sir.” Then he left.
Jessica stared at her father. “Champagne?”
Mitchell smiled. “I feel the need to celebrate this morning,” he said.
You won’t be feeling that way for long, Jessica thought.
Alix frowned as the second hour bell rang. She looked around the Creative Writing classroom, but still didn’t see Jessica. Where in the world did that girl go? She turned to Roxanne in the seat next to her. “Hey, Rox, have you seen Jessica?”
Roxanne turned to her. “Huh?”
“Jessica,” Alix said. “Have you seen her today?”
Roxanne shook her head. “No, I haven’t seen her,” she answered. “Why?”
Alix stared at her for a moment. “Well, because she isn’t here. And Jessica should be here. Jessica is always here. If she was dying of pneumonia, she would still be here. But she’s not. Here, that is.”
“Maybe she’s at some Student Government meeting,” Roxanne suggested. “The elections are today, remember?”
Alix nodded. That makes sense. She turned to Rox, and smiled. “So, I saw you and Alex getting busy before school. Are you guys like an item now?”
Roxanne smiled. “Yeah. We got together on Saturday.”
Alix sighed dramatically. “True love,” she said. “Gotta love it. How did B.J. take it?”
Roxanne smile vanished, and was replaced by very sad, very bothered look.
Alix frowned, and was about to ask what was wrong, when the teacher, Mrs. Burns, started talking about the day’s assignment.
Alix sat back and tried listening to the teacher, who was explaining that they were to write a poem, with a clear, visible rhyme scheme.
“One hundred words, minimum,” Mrs. Burns continued. “Due at the end of the period. Have fun.”
Alix rolled her eyes, and stared down at the piece of paper in front of her. Then she looked over at Roxanne, who was staring blindly at the wall.
What’s the matter with her?
Roxanne took out a piece of paper, and tapped her pen against the side of the desk. Her mind was a million miles away.
“You might want to forget what happened, but you can’t . . .”
Alex’s words echoed in her head. She sighed, and shook her head. I have to focus on the present, and on the future. Not the past. She looked at the blank paper on her desk, and bit her lip. What was the assignment again?
“Hey, Alix,” she whipered. “What do we have to do?”
Alix lifted her head from what she was writing and looked at her. “Poem. It’s gotta rhyme, too.”
Roxanne made a face, and went turned back to her paper. “I hate poetry,” she muttered under her breath.
Alix tapped Roxanne’s desk. “Need help?” she asked.
Roxanne stared at her friend. “Yeah, why?”
In response, Alix grabbed Roxanne’s paper, and started writing. A few minutes later, she handed it back. Roxanne read what was written.
Darkness grips the lonely skies
The blackened rain that drowns the lies
The blood that pours like evil on
An earth where kindness has long gone
No smiles are seen, they’ve disappeared
Knowledge of the truth has neared
Demons dressed in black rise from
The gates of Hell; they’re here, they’ve come
To take the souls of those who’ve sinned
The evil blows through darkened wind
The angels up in Heaven cry
Their tears fall down from covered eyes.
Hey, Rox. You looked like you could use some help today.
Don’t get used to it, though. I don’t have that many of my
poems memorized. What in the world is wrong with you,
anyway? You look like your dog just died (you know, that’s
been going around lately. It’s like the flu). Talk to me, babe. Love ya, AL
Roxanne finished reading, and smiled at Alix. Then turned the paper over, and wrote on the back:
Thanks, Alix. You saved my butt. I have not idea what I’m doing in this class. I can’t write to save my life. Sorry I’m kind of bummed out, but everything’s happening so fast that I haven’t had time to adjust. Nothing’s wrong, chica. Don’t worry.
Roxanne stopped writing. B.J. what? B.J. raped me yesterday when I told him I didn’t want to see him anymore? Yeah, she might write that.
PS: B.J. didn’t take it very well.
There’s the understatement of the year. Roxanne shook her head and handed the piece of paper back to Alix. Then waited until Alix handed it back, and wrote down the poem on a seperate sheet.
She put her head down on the desk, and closed her eyes. Bless Alix.
Jessica cut a small piece of bacon, and pinched it with her fork. She gazed at it thoughtfully for a second, before sticking it into her mouth and chewing it up.
“So, Jessica,” her mother was saying, “have you continued with your basketball instructor?”
Jessica looked up from her food. “What? Oh, no,” she answered, shaking her head. “I quit shortly after . . . after the accident.” She picked up the champagne glass, and took a sip. Then another. At the rate she was going she’d be drunk by the end of the breakfast. Which was ironic, since she normally discouraged drinking. This is far from normal, though, she thought, drinking the last few drops of her second glass.
Her father watched her, an amused expression on his face. “You’re not driving home,” he told her. He picked up the bottle, and filled up her third glass. “I could go to jail for this.” He smiled at her.
Jessica smiled back. I have to focus, she scolded herself. I have to focus. “I talked to Amber yesterday,” she said casually. She was satisfied to see her parents exchange worried glances.
“Oh, really?” Mitchell asked, trying to sound casual. “How is she doing?”
Jessica shrugged, and sipped her orange juice. “She was sent to a private school in Paris.” She stared at her parents. “She doesn’t know why, though. Do you?”
Desiree forced a smile. “Why would we know, darling?”
Jessica shrugged. “Well, you were living there for four months. I just assumed . . .”
Her mother refused to meet her daughter’s gaze, so Jessica turned instead to her father, who smiled brightly. He was used to lying.
Mitchell nodded, and picked up his champagne. “Yes, I believe Mother said something about Amber,” he said, coolly. “Apparantly, she got in trouble a few times at her school, and Mother decided she’d be better off away from things.”
Jessica nodded, then frowned. “Amber was surprised to find out you guys were alive. I thought that was a little odd.”
“Mother didn’t think it was any of Amber’s business,” Desiree answered quickly.
“To know that her aunt and uncle did not indeed die in a plane crash three years ago?” Jessica asked, staring at her mother. “That was none of her business?”
“We knew Amber would certainly tell you, Jessica,” her father put in. “As we told you before, we didn’t want to bother you until everything was back to normal.”
Jessica shook her head.
Desiree leaned forward, and put her hand on Jessica’s. “We know we didn’t handle the situation as we should have, but things happened very quickly. We were thinking of your well being. Would you have preferred we walk into the mansion and not have the answers to your questions?”
“Answers to questions?” Jessica repeated thoughtfully. “I was an orphan for three years, only to find out that my parents really were alive, but had been hiding out at my grandparents’ house because they didn’t have the answer to my questions?” She shook her head, and held up her hand. “You know what? Nevermind this topic. I know it’s all a lie, so you can just save your breath.” She reached into her purse, and took out the birth certificate. She waved it in front of her parents’ faces. “Now, since you’re so worried about answering questions, explain this.”
Mitchell Heart frowned at his daughter, and took paper from her. He unfolded it, read it, and closed his eyes.
Desiree took the paper from him. When she saw what it was, her face paled.
Jessica stared expectantly at her parents. Then she picked up the glass of champagne, and finished it off in one long gulp. From the way her parents looked at her, she knew what they were about to tell her was bad. She poured herself another glass, and turned back to her parents. “Well?”
Mitchell stared at Jessica for the longest moment. He sat back in the chair, and sighed. “What do you want to know?” he asked.
“Everything,” Jessica answered. “And I want the truth.”
Mitchell sighed again, and picked up the piece of paper. “Are you sure you want the truth, Jessica?” he asked her gently.
Jessica smiled sadly. “It would be a nice change.”
Her father nodded slowly, hesitantly, and looked at the birth certificate in his hands. He folded it back up slowly, and placed it on the table. Then he sat back, and looked around for a moment. When he turned back to Jessica, he looked years older than he was. “About twenty years ago,” her father started, “I was told I had a small, but growing tumor in my brain. The doctors adviced that it be operated immediately, but I refused. It was extrememely small, and some doctors showed hope that it would eventually disappear, though the chances of that happening were slim to none. Still, I insisted on waiting.
“I’ve always considered myself a man of faith, but I was not unrealistic. I knew I had very little time, if the tumor kept growing, and I became worried about the future. Not my future, naturally, but the future of Heart Enterprises.” Mitchell smiled Desiree. “The future of my wife. Pretty much just the future of my family. Unfortunately, Des and I had never considered having children, and so the future of the family seemed dim.
“Desiree and I did our very best to conceive a child during that time, but all the results came negative. We consulted with the doctor, and we were informed that we could not have children. We then discussed adopting a child, but the tumor was indeed growing, and the adoption procedures took too long. We discarded the idea, since time was not on our side.
“Then, one day, we were waiting outside for the doctor, when the young couple seated beside us started arguing. The woman began to cry, and, although I tried to stop her, Des asked her what was wrong. It turned out that they were a teenage couple who’d gotten pregnant, and decided to keep the baby just to spite their parents, but who were indeed having big problems. They weren’t even out of high school yet; both sets of parents had thrown them out; they had no jobs, no money, and no one to turn to. And it was too late to have an abortion.” Mitchell stopped talking and sighed.
Jessica was feeling sick to her stomach. She knew where this was headed. She could just imagine what her “father” would say next.
Mitchell continued. “We made a deal with the couple a few weeks later. We offered them one million dollars cash, if they would give us their child when it was born. The couple, like I said, was desperate, and were already considering giving the baby up for adoption. At the sound of the offer, their eyes lit up, and the deal was made. A few months later, on March 8, a baby girl was born. She had big blue eyes, and a full set of hair. We let the real parents name her and so she–you were named Jessica Leigh. Leigh was your real mother’s name.
“After all the hospital bills got taken care off, and the documents made and signed, we got to take you home. Des and I liked the name Jessica, but we felt the Leigh made you feel part of them and not us, so we changed it to Lexy. A few months later, you were legally named Jessica Lexy Heart, and we finally had a daughter.
“No one knew about the exchange, except for your grandparents. When Des and I made the deal with the Derwoods, we immediately told the world that Desiree was pregnant. We kept her hidden in the house most of the time. And when people came over we put pillows in her stomach, things like that. The point is, everyone bought it. Everything was perfect.
“A year after you came to us, we received excellent news. The tumor had disappeared. A miracle, the doctors said. We could not have been happier. We kept making more and more money. Everyone was well. Everyone was happy.” Mitchell stared at Jessica expectantly.
Jessica swallowed, and closed her eyes. “What about the plane crash?” she asked, in a voice so strange, she almost didn’t recognize it.
Desiree sighed. “Well,” she began, “even though things were perfect for a while, it wasn’t long before something went wrong. It was shortly after you fourteenth birthday when we started recieving menacing letters. We were being blackmailed.
“The Derwoods had apparantly decided to get more money out of the deal, and began to threaten us. Mitch and I both knew the Derwoods could easily ruin us. They had copies of your birth certificate, they had documents, blood tests, they had proof. We began to panic.
“We met with Ellen and William, and the four of us decided to act fast. The flight to Paris was arranged, and no one knew the truth. The private plane carried only the pilot, who jumped out of the plane and is living safely to date. The plane crashed, and we were named dead. The waters were shark infested, so the fact that no bodies were found didn’t cause much of a problem, and our will left you everything. Everything, Jessica. You own it all.
“When the Derwoods realized we were dead, they backed off, and disappeared.” She stopped talking and gazed worriedly at her husband.
Mitchell looked at Jessica and took a deep breath. “Jess, we weren’t supposed to come back until you turned twenty-one, and had full possession of the money, and the business.” He paused. “But a couple of months ago we were informed that Michael and Leigh Derwood got killed in a car accident.”
Jessica closed her eyes, and tried to absorb everything she’d been told. But it was impossible. She’d been bought as a baby to insure the family fortune. She’d been raised as a Heart. The couple in front of her, whom she’d believed to be her long lost dead parents, were of no relation. And her real parents were dead.
Jessica opened her eyes, and grabbed on to the table in front of her. The world was spinning around her, and suddenly, she blacked out.
Alix shifted uncomfortably in her seat, silently cursing the can of Dr. Pepper she’d had for breakfast. If she didn’t get to a bathroom soon, her bladder would explode. She wasn’t sure if that hurt or not, but she wasn’t about to find out.
Alix raised her hand.
Mr. Cummings, her American History teacher, stared at her for a moment. He was young for a teacher. In fact, it was probably his first year teaching. He had short, shiny brown hair, and gorgeous light green eyes that made most high school girls blush whenever they landed on them. “What is it, Alix?” he asked, annoyed that she had interrupted his exciting lecture on how the whole class had failed his last test.
“I need to go to the bathroom,” she answered.
Mr. Cummings looked at the clock, and shook his head. “The bell rings in five minutes, you can wait.”
I don’t think so, Alix thought. Let’s try a different tactic. “Sir,” she said, “the thing is, I have my period. And today is my heavy flow day. I’m talking Niagara Falls down there. I need to go get a tampon so–”
“Get out of here, Morris,” the teacher interrupted, blood rushing to his face.
Alix nodded, and made sure her trusty tape recorder was still taping. She’d learned that taping her classes allowed her to do better in class, and not have to pay attention. It was an ingenious idea. Why didn’t more people think of it? she wondered, as she ran down the hall toward the girls’ bathroom.
When she came back out, the bell had rung, and she hurried back to class to pick up her books. Alix frowned as she stopped in front of the closed door. Surely he didn’t leave, and leave all my stuff in there? She tried the doorknob. It was locked. She knocked, and knocked. A few seconds later, the door opened, and Lynn Hauffman walked out. She shook her curly blonde hair in an arrogant fashion and stormed by Alix.
Alix frowned. What was she doing in there? She shrugged, and walked into the classroom.
Mr. Cummings looked terrified for a moment, but then forced a smile. “Feel better?” he asked.
Alix nodded. “Much.” She picked up her folders and stuck them into her teal Jansport bookbag. Then she walked out of the classroom, and headed for the auditorium. The juniors and seniors got to spend sixth period listening to the Student Government candidates. About twenty-five minutes before the end of the day, everyone got to vote for the VP and President.
“Hey, Al,” a voice called from somewhere in the miriad of people.
A few seconds later, Jade appeared next to her.
“Hola, Jade,” Alix said. “What’s happening?”
Jade shrugged. “Boring classes, boring teachers. Nothing out of the ordinary.”
Alix smiled and took out her little tape recorder. “You should get one of these,” she said. “They can save your life.”
Jade nodded. “Whatever. So, have you figured out a way to get that tape back from Lynn?”
Alix shook her head. “Nope. I don’t know what she’s gonna do after today. She said she wanted Jessica to drop out of the elections, right? Jess promised me on Saturday that she’d be here today, so we’ll see what Lynn does when she finds out she still has to compete against Jessica.”
Jade shrugged. “I’m glad your friend is doing this. I know for a fact that Lynn isn’t gonna hand us the tape, and if we give in to her today, we’ll have to give in to her tomorrow. There’s no use.”
Alix nodded as they stepped inside the crowded auditorium. They searched the rows, and spotted Alex and Roxanne.
“Rox,” Alix called, jumping over a few people to get to the empty seats. “Hey, Alex. I heard the good news. When’s the wedding?”
Alex smiled, but didn’t say anything.
Roxanne rolled her eyes. “Hey, Al, what’s up?”
Alix sat down next to Roxanne, and Jade next to Alix.
“Hey, Rox,” Alix said, “I guess B.J. took it pretty bad, huh? He didn’t even come to school today.”
Roxanne looked at her. “He wasn’t here?”
“Well, he wasn’t in class.”
Roxanne shrugged. “Changing the subject,” she said, “I have not seen Jessica at all today.”
Alix frowned. “Me neither,” she admitted. She looked at the stage, where the cadidates were seated. Everyone, including Lynn, was sitting down. She wouldn’t have stayed home. She wouldn’t have missed this. Alix looked up, and saw Mathew coming up the row. “Hey, Mathew, you have classes with Jessica, have you seen her?”
Mathew shook his head, and sat down beside Jade. “No, she wasn’t in class. I had to sit in Calculus all by myself.”
Alix slid down in her chair, and closed her eyes. Jessica, where are you? And why aren’t you here?
“Well, well,” Lynn cooed, staring smugly at Jade and Alix, “you came through. You actually did your part of the bargain.” She smiled. “I must say, I am surprised.”
“Hand the tape over, Lynn,” Jade told her sharply.
Lynn frowned. “Did I say I’d give you the tape?”
Alix sighed. “Give us the tape, Lynn. You got what you wanted. Jessica dropped out of the election, you won. Just give us the tape.”
Lynn shook her head, and smiled. “Suckers,” she muttered, and stormed away from them.
Alix gazed around the almost empty auditorium, and shook her head. “I can’t believe her.”
Jade shrugged. “Believe it,” she said. “We’re screwed, Al. She’s got us by the hairs. I can only imagine what she’ll ask us to do next.”
“What’s wrong with her?”
“I don’t know, she’s been sleeping since I got here. The butler told me she was dropped off a few hours ago, unconscious.”
“Oh, God. What happened?”
“I guess she passed out. I’m not sure, but I think she’s been drinking.”
“Jessica? Drinking? Right.”
“I don’t know, she’s been kind of stressed out lately.”
“She’s always kind of stressed out. How long has she been out?”
“Beats me. I think she’s been out for quite a while, though.”
Jessica opened her eyes slowly, and looked around. Where am I? she wondered. Her vision began to clear, and she looked around again, this time vaguely recognizing the things around her. Her gaze rested on the two fuzzy figures in front of her.
“Jess, are you okay?” one of them asked.
Jessica closed and opened her eyes again, and tried to focus. “Alix?”
“Thank goodness you’re awake,” Alix said, breathing with relief. “I thought you’d gone into a coma or something.”
“Where am I? What happened? What time is it?”
Roxanne patted her hand. “Take it easy, Jess. You’re in your room. I have no idea what happened. And the time is–” she looked at her watch “–5:44pm. Do you feel okay?”
Jessica tried sitting up, but the wobbling of the bed made her lose her balance, and she fell back on the pillows. “I feel like crap,” she muttered. She stared at Roxanne and Alix for a moment. “Why are you guys here?”
Roxanne and Alix exchanged a look.
“We didn’t see you at school,” Roxanne said, “we were concerned.”
“You missed the elections,” Alix said quietly. “Lynn won.”
Jessica snorted. “Who cares?”
Roxanne and Alix frowned.
“Jess, is something wrong?” Alix asked.
Jessica rolled out of bed, and pushed her friends out of her way. “Everything’s wrong,” she muttered. “The world is wrong. My life is wrong.” She turned around. “Please leave.”
“Jess . . .” Roxanne started, watching her friend with concern.
“I want the world to leave me alone!” Jessica yelled, causing Alix and Roxanne to jump.
Roxanne shook her head, and shrugged. “Fine,” she said, trying to hide the fact that she was hurt. “When you get your head out of your butt, you can give me a call.” She waved at Alix, and walked out of the room, not even looking at Jessica.
“What has gotten into you?” Alix asked softly.
“Get out, Alix,” Jessica told her, pointing at the door.
Alix shook her head. “I’m not leaving, until you tell me what’s going on.”
“I don’t want you here!” Jessica yelled.
“I don’t care!” Alix yelled back. “I’m not leaving you alone!”
Jessica walked out onto the balcony, and stared out at the ocean. “Just go,” she whispered, when she felt Alix behind her. “This is none of your business.”
“You’re my business, Jessica,” Alix told her.
Jessica shook her head. “Just leave me alone, Alix,” she pleaded, turning around. “Just leave me the hell alone!”
Alix started walking towards her. Jessica shook her head again, and took off down the balcony steps. She started running down the beach, doing her best to leave the mansion and everything in her life behind. She was aware that Alix was running after her, but she didn’t care. Eventually, though, she stopped running and collapsed on the sand, tears streaming down her face.
A few minutes later, Alix collapsed beside her, totally out of breath. “Thank God, ” she muttered, trying to catch her breath. “I thought you’d run all the way to Key West.”
Jessica laughed, in spite of everything. Then she began to cry. She felt Alix’s arms around her shoulders, but she didn’t complain or argue. “I’m sorry,” she muttered, between sobs. “I’m sorry, Alix. For the past. For who I was. For what I did.” She leaned her head on her friend’s shoulder.
“What happened today, Jess?” Alix asked gently.
“What happened today,” Jessica repeated, making it sound like the most ridiculous question in the world. “Well,” she began, in a sarcastic tone, “today, I lost four parents, my identitiy, my trust, my memories, my entire past–in a nutshell, I lost everything.”
Alix frowned. “I don’t understand.”
Jessica sighed. “The truth is painful, did you know that?” Then she shrugged. “I guess that’s why people prefer to lie.”
Alix considered. “Without lies, there would be no truth.”
Jessica laughed bitterly. “Well, if that’s true, then my life alone is responsible for 50% of all truth.”
Alix sighed. “What happened today?” she asked again.
Jessica looked at the ocean in front of her, and took a deep breath. Then she went on to tell Alix the truth about her life.
Alix listened patiently to Jessica’s story, not moving, just listening.
By the time Jessica finished the whole thing, the sun had disappeared into the horizon, and the radiant moon hovered over the water, reflecting its presense over the ocean’s mirror.
Alix stared at Jessica for a long while, not daring to even breathe at the fear of shattering the fragile moment. “You live in a soap opera,” she said finally.
Jessica forced a smile, but then sighed. “I wish my life were just one long, long dream.”
” ‘Yes! though that long dream were of hopeless sorrow, ’twere better than the cold reality of waking life.’ Edgar Allan Poe.”
Jessica stared at her for a second. “You’re quoting Poe now?”
Alix shrugged. “Sorry, it’s just that when you said that I couldn’t help myself. It reminded me of the poem.”
Jessica leaned back on her elbows. “What’s it called?”
“What? The poem? ‘Dreams’,” Alix answered.
“Recite it,” Jessica told her.
Alix frowned. “Now? The whole thing? It’s pretty long.”
Jessica shrugged. “Whatever you know. I like poetry.”
Alix thought for a moment, and then began, ” ‘Oh! that my young life were a lasting dream! My spirit not awak’ning till the beam of an eternity should bring the morrow. Yes! though that long dream were of hopeless sorrow, ’twere better than the cold reality of waking life, to him whose heart must be, and hath been still upon the lovely earth, a chaos of deep passion, from his birth. But should it be–that dream eternally continuing–as dreams have been to me’, and I have no idea what comes after that.” She stared at Jessica. “I don’t know the whole thing.”
Jessica smiled thoughtfully. “Dreams,” she said. “I guess I didn’t know how right I was in calling myself ‘Dreamer’, huh?”
Alix looked at her. “Do you feel better?”
Jessica shrugged. “Not really,” she answered. “I don’t think I’ll ever feel better.” She smiled sadly for a second, and looked at Alix. “Thanks for not leaving when I tried to throw you out. And thanks for running after me, when I know how much you hate to run. And thanks for listening to me.”
Alix shrugged. “You don’t need to thank me, Jess. I know if the situation were reversed, you would have done the same for me in a millisecond.”
Jessica thought about it, and shook her head. “Maybe I’d laugh at you, and walk away.”
“Jess, stop it,” Alix told her sharply. “Just stop it, okay? You can’t live your life feeling sorry for yourself. You made mistakes, you realized your mistakes, and you fixed them. Don’t you understand that? Don’t you realize what a wonderful person you’ve become?”
Alix looked at her. “Jessica, please, okay? You can’t do this, or else you’ll destroy yourself. Think of the things you have, not of the things you’ve lost.”
Jessica stared at her sadly. “What? What do I have?”
It was Alix’s turn to sigh. “You have a great personality. You’re giving. You’re kind. You’re beautiful. You’re smart. You have a group of friends that idolize you. You have a four billion dollar bank account.”
Jessica laughed. “You can have my four billion dollar bank account.”
“See? That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about! You know what’s important.” She paused. “That’s why I look up to you, Jess. Because you’re not like anybody else that I know.”
Jessica looked touched, but then she shook her head. “Alix, I just–I don’t know what I’m going to do. I feel like I have no family, and no future. Everything I’ve been led to believe is wrong. It was all a lie. And it wasn’t like I was adopted or anything. That woudn’t have been so bad. Instead I was bought. Bought for one million dollars, from parents that didn’t want me, by parents that needed me only to keep the family fortune alive. I’m nothing. And I’m nobody, and there’s nothing you, or anybody else can do to change that.”
* * *
Jade cradled the phone, and turned around. “She’s still not home,” she said.
Drake rolled his eyes and sighed. “I knew it! She gave up on the whole thing.”
“Well, Alix has a life, you know?” Jade retorted. “Maybe something came up.”
“She said she’d be here,” Drake argued. “What kind of band is this, if no one shows up for practice?”
“We’re not a band, Drake,” Jade told him. “A band plays music. We don’t play music. We play a bunch of crap.”
Zack watched the whole conversation in silence. Jade and Drake had been arguing continously for the past hour, and it was driving him insane. On top of everything, Alix wasn’t there. He shook his head, and tightened his grasp on the guitar. Then he began playing one of his songs.
“What are you playing?” Drake asked, when he’d finished.
Zack looked up to see Drake and Jade staring at him. “Um, it’s a song.”
“No kidding,” Drake said. “Did you write it?”
Jade smiled. “Coolness. Does it have any words?”
“Well, yeah,” Zack responded carefully.
Drake got behind the drum set, and Jade picked up the bass guitar.
“Sing it, Jer,” Drake said. “We’ll join you.”
Zack smiled and nodded. “Alright.” He turned to his guitar, and started singing:
“I am the nothing in your dreams
I tear life up by the seems
I am darkness, I am light
I am daytime, I am night
Give to me, and I’ll give back
There’ll be nothing you will lack
Close your eyes to the right
And give your all to the wrong
You and I are the same
And together we’re strong
I give you, you give me
You must come set me free
You must be part of the hate
‘Cause it’s all in your fate
I’m in the shadows you fear
I’m in the voices you hear
When you listen and wait
I feed up on your hate
‘Cause fear is hate in disguise
Don’t you know life is lies
Close your eyes to the right
And give your all to the wrong
You and I are the same
And together we’re strong
I give you, you give me
You must come set me free
You must be part of the hate
‘Cause it’s all in your fate
Don’t believe stories of love and romance
No unicorns prancing, or objects that dance
The big picture of life
Can be cut with a knife
Can be burnt with a match
Can be locked with a hatch
It’s a joke, it’s a lie
And you musn’t deny
That no truth’s ever said
There are lies in your head
There are lies in your head”
Zack stopped playing, opened his eyes, and smiled. He turned to Jade and Drake, who were grinning from ear to ear.
“I don’t know about you guys,” Jade began, “but I thought we sounded great.”
“That was great,” Zack agreed.
Drake smiled. “I guess now we’re a band.”
Later that night, Alix sat at her desk, trying, but failing to concentrate on her homework. Her thoughts were in a thousand different places at once, and Algebra was not one of them.
She’d failed miserably in trying to cheer Jessica up, and her best friend’s new depression was really starting to worry her. Jessica had always been distant, withdrawn sometimes, but not even close to the way she was now.
Not that Alix could blame her. If she were in Jessica’s shoes, she’d probably be wearing a straightjacket by now. But that didn’t mean it was okay for Jessica to feel that way. It wasn’t okay.
The ringing phone snapped Alix out of her thoughts. She reached over, and picked up the phone. “Hello?”
“Rachel, hi. Is Alix there?”
Alix frowned. “No, Rox. Alix is in her bedroom having wild sex with Brad Pitt at the moment. Would you like to leave a message, or would you prefer joining in?”
“Very funny, Al. I thought you were Rachel. Since when do you answer the phone with a simple ‘Hello’?”
“I don’t know. I figure since it’s me saying it, it would sound more creative and original.”
“Whatever. Did you find out what happened to Jessica?”
Alix sighed. She was now aware that Roxanne knew absolutely nothing about Jessica’s parents coming back from the dead, but she wasn’t about to start telling her the whole entire story now. Instead, she chose to lie. “Nope. She threw me out, too, remember?”
“Yeah, but you didn’t leave, so I just asumed.”
“I left through the balcony. I took the scenic route.” Alix frowned. “Rox, is something wrong? There’s a weird tone in your voice.”
“What? Oh, no I’m fine. Never felt better, actually. Listen, I just called to ask about Jessica. So, if you hear anything, let me know okay?”
Alix shook her head, and replaced the receiver. What is going on with these people?
Jessica stepped into the kitchen and turned on the lights. It was past one in the morning, and everyone in the mansion had pretty much retired to bed.
The smooth white tiles felt cold under her bare feet, as Jessica made her way to the liquor cabinet. She opened the doors, and stared at the selection. Hmm. We’re stacked. She picked up a bottle. Red wine. Sounds good to me. She closed the doors, picked up a glass, and sat at the kitchen counter. She poured some of the liquid onto the glass, downed it in one gulp, and took the white envelope from her back pocket. She’d found it on her nightstand when she’d returned from the beach, and had almost thrown it away. But something kept her from doing so.
It was a plain white envelope, and read “Jessica” in big letters. Her mother’s handwriting. “She’s not my mother,” she muttered, and took a swig straight from the bottle. “I have no mother.”
A drop of wine fell on the envelope, like a drop of blood on a snow white mantel.
Jessica stared at it for a moment, and then put the letter back in her pocket. She picked up the bottle, turned off the lights in the kitchen, and made her way back up to her room, to drink herself into a stupor.
“I’ll be there for you-ou . . . when the rain starts to fall . . . I’ll be there for you-ou . . . like I’ve been there before . . . I’ll be there for you-ou . . . cause you’re there for me tooooo . . .”
Alix slapped her hand over the snooze button, and turned on her side, bringing the covers over her head. I hate school. Make it go away. That’s such a stupid name. School. It’s like stool, with a ch. And no t. What’s the point anyway? You just go. You come back. Then you go again the next day. Hey, day rhymes with way. Yeah, as in way-ke up, you dinkus. Who you calling a dinkus, you dinkus?
Alix sat up with a start. “What the . . .?” She smacked the alarm clock. “What’s the matter with you, man?”
“Aaaaaaargh!” Alix screamed. “It’s alive!!” She smacked the alarm clock again, and then pushed it off the nightstand. It crashed to the floor.
“I was cryin’ when I met you . . . now I’m crying ’cause I let you . . . your love is sweet misery . . .”
Alix covered her face with her hands, and sighed. “This is like one of those cheesy movies on the sci-fi channel.” She picked up the psychotic alarm clock, and placed it back on the nightstand. She pressed the off button, and the thing finally shut up.
The phone started ringing, and Alix jumped. “Jeez,” she muttered, and picked up the phone. “Talk to me.”
Miss Alix. “Ha ha. Very funny, Jade.”
“MissAlix, this is Rosa,” the woman said. “You know, from the Heart residense?”
Alix suddenly felt dumb. “Oh, hi, Rosa.” Then she frowned. “Huh?”
Rosa sighed deeply. “I’m concerned about Miss Jessica,” she said. “I know it’s none of my business, but I couldn’t keep from calling someone.” She sighed again. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have called. I’m terribly sorry for–”
“I’ll be right there,” Alix said quickly. She hung up the phone, ran to the bathroom, came out two minutes later, changed into some jeans and a T-shirt, and put on her shoes. Then she ran across the hall, and threw open Rachel’s room. “I need the car.”
Rachel turned around startled. She was in the process of getting dressed. “Don’t you knock?” she snapped.
“Rachel, I’m taking the car, okay? Find some way other way to get to school, but I need the car.”
Before Rachel had a chance to argue, Alix slammed the door shut, and ran downstairs.
Her mother stared at her. “What are you doing?”
Alix picked up the car keys. “I’m going to Jessica’s.”
“But school!” her mother yelled. “Where are your books?”
Alix was already out the door, and getting into the car. A few seconds later, she was speeding down the road toward Jessica’s.
“What did you do now, Jessica?” Alix wondered out loud. She was really worried. Something must really be wrong for Rosa to take the time to call her. Rosa never got in the middle of Jessica’s business.
Ten minutes later, Alix parked the car in the circular driveway, and ran up to the front door. She didn’t even have to ring the doorbell.
Maurice, the butler, bowed slightly, opening the door, almost on cue. “Welcome, Miss,” he said.
“Where’s Jessica?” Alix breathed.
“In her room.”
Alix thanked him quickly, and darted across the foyer, up the stairs, and down the third floor hall, toward Jessica’s suite. She opened the double doors, and stepped inside. Silence welcomed her.
Alix frowned and looked around. Everything was quiet. Everything was peaceful. Then she saw Jessica. Her best friend was lying on the black leather couch by the balcony doors, hugging an open bottle of liquor to her side.
Alix was so shocked by what she was seeing, that she didn’t hear Rosa come up beside her.
“I tried to move her to the bed,” Rosa whispered cautiously, “but she starting yelling. I’ve never seen Miss Jessica like this.” She shook her head sadly. “I didn’t know what else to do, so I called you.”
Alix nodded. “Thank you, Rosa. You did the right thing.”
Rosa was relieved to hear that. She nodded, looked at Jessica for a moment, and then left the room.
Alix sighed, and approached Jessica slowly. “Jessica,” she called gently, kneeling down beside her. “Oh, God, Jessica, come on. Wake up.”
Jessica groaned in response.
Alix reached over, and took the bottle Jessica was holding. It was empty. “Jess, you didn’t drink all this, did you?” Alix cried, putting the bottle down beside her. “Jessica!” she yelled.
Jessica’s eyes opened and then closed again. Her right hand flew to her head. “Ow!” she moaned, grimacing in pain.
“Jessica,” Alix called softly.
Jessica’s eyes opened again, and then narrowed. “What are you doing here?”
“Rosa called me,” Alix answered, helping Jessica sit up.
“She’s fired then,” Jessica muttered. Then she grimaced again. “I feel like crap. Why do I feel so bad?”
Alix shook her head, and picked up the bottle. “I’m not sure, but I think this may have something to do with it. Did you drink this whole thing?”
Jessica stared at the bottle for a moment. “I don’t remember.” She groaned, and sat back. “I think I’m gonna be sick.”
“That doesn’t surprise me,” Alix stated, crossing her arms.
Jessica suddenly got up, and ran over to the bathroom. A few minutes later, she came back out, looking slightly better. “Aren’t you supposed to be in school?” she muttered, lying down on the bed.
Alix got up from the floor, and walked over to her. “Jess . . .”
“Go to school, Alix.”
“I’m not leaving without you.”
“Well, then sit down somewhere, ’cause I’m not going,” Jessica stated. “I’m dropping out.”
Alix’s jaw fell open. “Are you insane? You can’t drop out of high school.”
“I can do whatever the hell I want!” she snapped. Then she shut her eyes. “Ow. Damn it. Get me some asprin.”
Alix stared at her for a second. “This isn’t like you, Jess.”
Jessica rolled out of the bed, without responding. She walked across the room, and opened the doors. “Someone get me some damn asprin!” she yelled. Then she grimaced. “Goddamnit!”
Alix shook her head, and stared at her best friend. This wasn’t Jessica. This was some other person who’d taken over her friend’s body. “Jessica, get dressed. We gotta go to school.”
Jessica looked at her as though she was insane. “School?” she cried. “School, Alix? You want me to go to school?” She shook her head. “I’m never going back to school. In fact, I’m never leaving this room, period. I’m gonna stay in this room until I die. Hopefully my death will come soon.”
Alix was about to respond when Rosa stepped into the room carrying a glass of water, and a bottle of asprin.
“It was about time,” Jessica snapped. For a second, Alix was afraid she’d down the whole bottle, but instead, Jessica dropped a couple of pills onto her hand, and swallowed them with the water. Then she ordered Rosa out of the room.
“Jess, what has happened to you?” Alix asked, more to herself than to Jessica.
Jessica softened for a moment as she stared at Alix. “Go to school,” she said again, but this time it sounded more like a plead, than an actual order. “You were already late the first day of school, Al. Don’t do this to yourself. Don’t worry about me, okay?”
Alix stared at her. “Don’t worry about you?” she snapped. “Don’t worry about you? Jessica, you’ve been drinking. You’re acting like some crazy person. You tell me you’re dropping out of high school. And then you have the nerve to tell me not to worry about you? What kind of best friend do you think I am?”
Jessica sighed, and started back across the room. “One that I definately do not deserve.” She turned around. “Go to school, Alix,” she said again. “Just walk out that door, and forget about me. It’s all over now.” She shook her head. “It’s all over.”
Rachel shook her head. “Thanks for picking me up. I have no idea what got into her.”
Claire shrugged from the driver’s seat. “I don’t mind.”
“Alix has been acting pretty weird lately,” Rachel went on. “Weirder than usual, that is.” She sighed. “I can’t believe she took the stupid car.”
“Maybe she was really anxious to get to school,” Claire suggested, with a wry smile. She drove into the Baldwin High parking lot, and parked the car in her usual spot.
Rachel shook her head, and got out of the car. “So, what’s the plan now?” she asked.
Claire locked the car, shut the cardoor, and looked over the hood at Rachel. “Excuse me?”
Rachel rolled her eyes. “I know you’re up to something with the whole Nina/Leslie thing. I just can’t figure out what it is.”
Claire shrugged, and walked over to the other side of the car. They started walking toward the building. “Must you always be so suspicious?” she asked. Then she shook her head, and shrugged again. “Maybe I just decided to cool it for a while.”
“Hey, Alix,” a guy said, walking up to them. “Have you seen Jessica anywhere?”
Rachel stared at him for a second, and recognized him as Mathew, but she decided to play dumb. “I’m Rachel,” she told him. Then she bit her lip, and looked at him thoughtfully. “I’m sorry, you are . . .”
He looked a little embarassed. “Oh, I’m sorry.” He looked her up and down. “Yeah, you don’t dress like Alix. Uh, I’m Mathew. Mathew Collins. We’ve met.”
Rachel nodded. “Right,” she agreed. “I remember.” She looked at Claire, who was smiling her I’m-up-to-something smile, and rolled her eyes.
“Mathew,” Claire said. “I met you the first day of school, right?”
Mathew looked at Claire. “Oh, right. Yeah, you’re . . . Cleo?”
Rachel burst out laughing.
Claire half-smiled. “Claire.”
“Sorry,” Mathew apologized. “I’m horrible with names.” He turned back to Rachel. “Do you know where either Alix or Jessica are?”
Rachel shook her head. “No.”
“Oh.” Mathew looked disappointed. “Alright. Thank you very much, ladies. See you around.”
Rachel watched him walk away and turned to Claire. “Okay, what are you thinking? I can practically see the wheels in your head turning.”
Claire smiled, still watching Mathew. “He’s cute, huh?”
Rachel rolled her eyes. “Yes, Claire, he’s cute. Why?”
Claire shrugged. “No reason.” She smiled brightly. “I have a feeling today is gonna be a good day, don’t you?”
Rachel shook her head, and sighed. “You scare me, Claire. You really do.”
Alix cursed under her breath, and pushed open the office door. I can’t believe she actually got the butler to show me out. What the hell is wrong with her? She was fuming, as she walked up the desk in front of her.
The principal’s secretary looked up, and frowned. “Alix, what’s wrong?”
“Way too much,” Alix answered. “I need to see Mr. Fidgestein immediately.”
Mrs. Williams shook her head. “I’m sorry, Alix, but the principal isn’t in his office at the moment. He’s circling the grounds.”
Alix shrugged. “I’ll wait,” she said.
“Uh, Alix, shouldn’t you be in class?” Mrs. Williams asked. “Do you have a pass?”
“Yes and no.”
“Alix . . .”
Just then the office door open, and in walked the principal. Mr. Fidgestein was a tall, lean man in his late fifties. He had thining gray-black hair, and serious light blue eyes, which became friendly whenever the man was in a good mood. Apparantly, he wasn’t in a good mood now.
“Mr. Fidgestein,” Alix called, standing up.
The principal stared at her for a moment and frowned. “Why aren’t you in class?”
“I need to speak to you.”
Mr. Fidgestein shook his head. “I don’t have time for this. Which one are you? Alix, right? You’re the one that’s always getting in trouble. Does your teacher know you’re here?”
“My teacher doesn’t even know I’m in school,” Alix told him. “Listen, sir, I really need to speak to you. It’s important.”
The principal looked at her for a second, and must have seen something in her eyes because he sighed. “Alright. But I hope you’re not about to waste my time.”
Alix followed him to his office, and sat down on one of the twin chairs facing his desk. She waited for him to close the door, and sit down.
“What is it?” he asked.
“It’s about Jessica,” Alix began.
Mr. Fidgestein nodded. “I had a feeling. She dropped out of the elections. I’m disappointed in her. We had a deal.”
Alix sighed. “Sir, Jessica’s really messed up. She didn’t come to school yesterday. She didn’t come today. And she says she’s dropping out of high school.”
“Her kind always does,” Mr. Fidgestein said sadly.
Alix stood up, and slammed her hands on his desk. “Jessica is not of that ‘kind’ and you know that. She’s one of the best students at this school. She’s my best friend, sir, I cannot let her do this to herself.”
“What do you want me to do? Jessica is eighteen-years-old, and in less than three years she inherits one of the biggest fortunes in the world. She’s got no parents. And I’m scared half to death of her grandparents. I don’t know what you want me to do.”
“I thought you were going to call her grandparents back if Jessica didn’t win the election?” Alix asked, frowning.
The principal shook his head. “That’s what I told her. Of course, now she dropped out of the election, and I have to deal with Lynn Hauffman.” He shook his head. “I don’t know what you want me to do, Alix. I can’t go to her house and give her some lecture about the brightness of her future.”
Alix sighed. “Sir, you’re the principal. Can’t you call the board or something?”
Mr. Fidgestein stared at her. “And say what? ‘One of my students decided to drop out, and her best friend is concerned’? Besides, Jessica hasn’t officially dropped out. As everything stands right now, she’s just absent from school. Do you want me to call her up, and ask her parents if she’s really sick, or if she’s just ditching?”
Alix shook her head at the principal’s sarcasm. Then she stood up, and headed for the door. “The school system sucks.”
Nina stepped into her basketball coach’s office, and looked around for a second, before sitting down. She had no idea why her coach had asked her there. She thought she’d been playing her personal best lately.
Coach Gray, a tall, slim, ebony skinned woman in her early forties, stepped into the office and sat down at her desk. She glared at Nina for a moment. “Do you know why I’ve asked you here, Nina?”
Nina shook her head. “I haven’t the slightest idea, coach.”
Coach Gray sat back in the chair, and sighed. “You’re my best player, Nina. Baldwin University is lucky to have a player like you. In fact, if we manage to get rid of your little problem, you might go places in the basketball world.”
Nina frowned, and leaned forward. “I’m sorry, did you say problem? I have a problem?” She sat back, and bit her lip thoughtfully. “I thought you said my hook shot was getting better? Are my number of assists too small? Do you want me to work on that? I didn’t travel, did I?”
Coach Gray shook her head. “It has nothing to do with your playing, Collins.”
Nina frowned again. “I’m not following you.”
The coach got up from her desk, went over to the filing cabinet next to her, and opened one of the drawers. She withdrew a folder, and then sat down. “I understand you’ve had substance abuse problems.”
Nina’s jaw fell open. “You mean drugs?”
“Steroids, to be more specific,” the coach said. She stared at Nina expectantly. “You seem surprised. It’s right here on your file.”
“What?” Nina stood up, and leaned over the desk. She turned the open file around and read what was written. It was a letter from a doctor she’d never heard of, to the coach. “I’ve never seen this before in my life.” Nina shook her head. “I’ve never had substance abuse problems. I’ve never touched–what was it? Steroids?” She looked at the coach. “You couldn’t possible believe that I–”
“I believe anything that’s written in a player’s file,” the coach snapped. She shook her head. “There’s no point in denying it, Nina. There’s talk around here that you’ve been using steroids again to better your play. Is that true?”
Nina couldn’t hide her shock. “What?”
Coach Gray shook her head. “I’m not one to believe gossip, Nina. Especially about my star player, but when I checked your file, and saw this letter, I had no choice but to give them the benefit of the doubt. So, you’re suspended for a week, and somewhere in there you have to schedule yourself an appointment with the medical department to have your urine examined.”
Nina felt her life flash before her very eyes. “Coach, Thursday is the biggest game of the season. Agents from the Olympic committee are gonna be there, you can’t not let me play the game.”
Coach Gray shook her head sadly. “I’m sorry, Nina. You are dismissed.”
Nina slowly, hesitantly got up from the chair. This can’t be happening to me. This just can’t be happening to me. She stepped into the locker room, and walked over to her locker.
“What’s wrong with you?” Jamie O’Connell, her best friend on the team, asked, looking up from her locker.
Nina turned to her. “Who’s been saying that I’m taking steroids?” she snapped.
Jamie stared at her for a second. “What do you mean?”
Nina felt the tears burning in her eyes. “I’ve been suspended from the team for a week. I can’t play Thursday. And all because the coach thinks I’ve been using steroids.”
“Of course not!” Nina snapped, leaning back against her locker. “Who’s been spreading that rumor?”
Jamie shrugged, and looked away. “This girl.”
“What girl?” Nina asked. “It’s Robinson, isn’t it?”
Jamie shook her head. “Actually, it’s no one on the team.”
Nina winced. “What do you mean it’s no one on the team? Who is it then?”
Jamie stared at Nina for a second. “We don’t know who she is exactly.”
Nina looked at friend expectantly.
“She calls herself Luna something or other.” Jamie frowned. “What’s wrong?”
Alix stormed into her second hour class, practically threw her pass at the Creative Writing teacher, and made her way to her desk. Roxanne stared up at her questioningly.
“Alix, how nice of you to join us for the last five minutes of class,” the teacher said, throwing the pass away.
Alix smiled mockingly.
Roxanne turned to her. “Where have you been? I had to sit here by myself all hour.”
Alix stared at Roxanne. “Jessica has lost it,” she stated. “She’s gone completely insane.”
Roxanne frowned. “Why? What happened? Did she kick you out again?”
“Well, she had Maurice ‘escort’ me out,” Alix told her, mocking Jessica’s tone. She sighed. “Seriously, though, Rox, I’m worried about her. This morning, Rosa called me up–”
“Hold up,” Roxanne said, raising both eyebrows. “Rosa did what?”
“I’m telling you, the woman picked up the phone and called me up. But that’s not the point. She told me that she was worried about Jessica, so naturally I was on my way there as soon as I managed to get the car–”
“You took the car? What about Rachel?”
Alix stared at her blankly. “What about Rachel?”
Roxanne rolled her eyes. “Continue.”
“Damn bell,” Alix muttered, grabbing her bookbag again. She followed Roxanne out the door. “Okay, back to my story. I got to Jessica’s house, and, you will not believe this Rox, she got drunk last night. She drank an entire bottle of wine or something. The whole thing!! Rosa asured me that the bottle was new. Evidence popped up in the kitchen, where we found the little paper–”
“She did what?” Roxanne demmanded, frowning.
Alix stared at her. “Your reflexes are a little slow, Rox. You should have said that like three sentences ago.”
“I wasn’t sure I’d heard correctly. Jessica got drunk? Jessica? Jessica Heart? The one that has a cow if I even look at a can of beer? That Jessica Heart got drunk?”
Alix nodded. “Trust me, it was a shocker for me too. Especially, seeing her. She got a pretty bad hangover, so maybe that will teach her.” She shook her head. “But that’s not all, okay? She threw this complete tantrum. Almost fired the entire staff. Rosa ran out of the room crying. The whole house is on edge right now. They’re afraid to breathe.” She sighed. “I tried to calm her down, and then she almost slapped me. Then she had Maurice practically drag me out of the house.”
Roxanne looked skeptical. “You’re kidding right?” She frowned. “Have you been doing a little–” She drew her thumb and index finger to her mouth in a mock interpretation of someone smoking pot.
Alix rolled her eyes. “That’s it.” She sighed again. “Rox, I’m serious, okay? Jessica needs help. She’s been going through a lot.”
For some reason, that made Roxanne angry. “Well, excuse me if I’m not at Jessica’s right now on my hands and knees trying to comfort the little princess, but I have problems of my own.”
Alix stared at her. “Say what?”
Roxanne shook her head. “I’m just saying that it’s always about Jessica. Jessica this. Jessica that. What about me, huh?”
“What about you, Rox?”
Roxanne looked at her, and started walking away. “Forget I said anything. Nevermind.”
Alix watched Roxanne walk away. “What the hell is going on with these people?” she wondered outloud. A couple of people walking by, turned to stared at her. “I need new friends,” she told them. Then she shook her head, and started walking toward her third hour.
Jessica stared at the bottle of vodka before her. She hesitated a second before taking a swig. She grimaced at the taste, but then took another.
She propped her legs on the balcony railing, and stared at the endless ocean ahead. Endless like the loneliness in her heart, and the sorrow in her soul. Endless like the misery of her every waking hour. And endless like the secrets in the hidden shadows of her pain.
Life was a curse. Feeling. Loving. Caring. Those were curses, too. Death was the only salvation.
But for now, Jessica thought, bringing the bottle to her lips, drinking will do.
Mathew sat in his fifth hour class, staring blankly at the wall. This was the second day in a row that Jessica didn’t come to school. I wonder what’s wrong?
The principal stepped into the room. “Hey, Mathew, are you ready to begin?”
Mathew shrugged. Due to the fact that not that many people at Baldwin High could handle Calculus II, the class had only two people–him and Jessica. And, if that wasn’t strange enough, it was tought by the one and only: Principal Fidgestein.
“Do you know where Jessica is?” Mathew asked.
Mr. Fidgestein looked troubled for a moment, but then shook his head. “Home, I guess.” He was about to say something else, when his walky talky started buzzing. He exchanged a couple of words with whoever was paging him, and muttered something under his breath. “I’m sorry, Mathew, but I have to go. Uh, do page whatever, and we’ll discuss it later, okay?”
Mathew stared at him for a second, but then shrugged. “Sure.”
The principal left the room, and Mathew sighed. This class was torture without Jessica there. He looked down at his book, and frowned. “Page whatever,” he repeated, looking in the Index. “Oh, darn. It’s not here.” He sighed, and put his head down on the desk. If Jessica wasn’t there, the least he could do was dream about her.
Alix stepped into the locker room. The classes had painfully passed by, and now sixth hour had finally arrived. She hated P.E., but at least she didn’t have to sit in some classroom for an hour, listening to some boring lecture about the pointless subjects they called ‘academic’.
She started down the pink-tiled floor, shudering at the pastel-colored lockers and walls. Who painted this place? Then she shrugged. At least she’d been lucky enough to get a blue locker. Roxanne was eternally stuck with a pink.
“Hi, Al,” Roxanne said, looking away from her locker. “Um, listen, I want to apologize about this morning. I didn’t mean what I said. PMS, you know?”
Alix waved her hand dismissively, and started on the lock combination. “Whatever, Rox. Whatever.” She yanked the lock open, and turned to Roxanne. “Guess what happened.”
“I don’t know, what happened?”
Alix shook her head. “You have to guess.”
“I don’t care enough to guess,” Roxanne answered, taking her shirt off.
“What?” Roxanne looked around startled. “What’s wrong?”
“What happened to you?” Alix asked, staring at Roxanne’s stomach. It was covered in purple-black bruises.
Roxanne looked down, and shrugged. “Oh, I uh-hit myself with the-the door. It’s nothing.”
Alix frowned. “How does one go about hitting themselves with a door? And how would a door cause all those bruises? It looks more like someone punched you continously.”
Roxanne put on her P.E. shirt, and shrugged. “It’s nothing,” she insisted, slamming her locker shut.
Alix stared at her.
“What?” Roxanne snapped.
Alix held up her hands. “Nothing. Nothing at all.” She was about to turn to her locker, but snapped her fingers. “Back to what I wanted to tell you. B.J. got transferred to some school in New York.”
Roxanne stared at her sharply. “Say what?”
“B.J,” she said slowly. “Remember him? Well, he got some hockey thing back in New York, and left school.” She sighed. “Doesn’t that suck? I mean, now that you dumped him, I thought I stood a chance.”
Roxanne looked pensive for a long moment, then she shrugged. “Um, I’m going down to the gym, okay?”
Alix shrugged. “Don’t let me stop you.” She watched Roxanne walk away, and opened up her locker. She jumped back as a pile of clothes fell forward. “Yikes!”
“You are such a slob,” Lynn muttered, staring at her. “I feel dirty just being near you.”
“Maybe you should try bathing once in a while,” Alix suggested, smiling sweetly.
Lynn rolled her eyes, and moved on to her locker.
“Where the hell have you been?”
Alix looked up. “Oh, hi, Jade.”
Jade frowned, and stared down at Alix, who was now on the floor picking up the clothes. “What happened here?”
“Tornado,” Alix answered, standing up. She started spinning around in circles. “Woooooooooo! Wooooooooo!”
Lynn turned around, and frowned. “What is wrong with her?”
Jade bit her lip. “Drugs, probably.” She sighed. “We lose a lot of them this way.”
Alix collapsed to the floor.
Jade kneeled down beside her, and slapped her friend’s face lightly. “Wake up, sweetie. Wake up.”
Alix opened up her eyes half way. “Mommy?” she asked, blinking and squinting. “Where’s Toto?”
“Back in Kansas, Dorothy,” Jade answered, helping Alix up. “She’s okay, everybody!”
The girls that had stopped to stare, shook their heads, and went back to changing.
Jade smiled at Alix. “That’s an interesting way of avoiding a subject,” she told her. “But, no such luck, where were you yesterday? You missed band practice.”
Alix made a face. “That sounds dorky.” She sighed. “Sorry I didn’t join you people, but something came up. It was an emergency, okay? A million times more important than our pathetic band.”
Jade shrugged, and turned to her locker. “You’ll be there today, right?”
Alix bit her lip. “Maybe. I don’t know. I’m sorry, Jade, but I have things. Issues, man. Lots and lots of issues.”
Jade shook her head. “Drake’s gonna be pissed.”
“What do I care about Drake? I don’t know Drake, okay? He’s this weird guy that I met like two days ago. I don’t even know his last name.”
“His last name,” Jade stated, “Hill.”
Alix rolled her eyes. “Whatever.”
“So, anyway,” Jade said, changing the subject. “What’s the deal between you and Jeremy?”
“What do you mean, what’s the deal?” Alix asked, putting on her P.E. uniform. “There’s no deal.”
“Do you like him?” Jade asked.
“What kind of question is that?” Alix demmanded. She was getting annoyed.
“It’s a simple question, Alix. I’m sure you’ve asked it a million times before. Do you like Jeremy?”
Alix shrugged, and slammed her locker shut. “I don’t know. I never really thought about it.”
“What do you mean ‘liar’?” She stared at Jade for a second. “How can you go around like that? It’s like ninety degrees out there.”
Jade shrugged at her black shirt, and black sweatpants. “I don’t like shorts, and I love black. I put two and two together and this is what I go.”
“Most people get four,” Alix pointed out.
Jade nodded, and closed her locker. “Yeah, but the real answer is five.”
“I thought the real answer was your P.E. outfit.”
Jade considered. “Yeah, that too.” They started out of the locker room. “So, do you?”
“Do I what?”
Alix stared at her. “What is your obsession?”
Jade shrugged. “He likes you too, you know?”
“Huh? You’re confusing me, Jay.”
Jade shook her head. “No, I’m not,” she stated. “You know exactly what I’m saying.” She pushed open the locker room door. “You should be careful, though.”
“What do you mean?”
Jade shrugged. “Just be careful,” she said. “That’s all.” She grimaced. “Damn it’s hot out here.”
Roxanne entered Jessica’s bedroom cautiously. After begging Maurice to let her into the house, and failing, she’d had to go around the mansion to the beach, and then climb up through Jessica’s balcony.
The sun had already disappeared, and all was dark outside. Roxanne was surprised to see that all was dark inside as well. All the lights in Jessica’s room were off, and she couldn’t see Jessica anywhere.
“Who`s there?” a voice mumbled from somewhere in the room.
It took Roxanne several seconds to realize it was Jessica. Oh, God, now what did she do? She groped the wall for a couple of seconds until she found the light switch. A loud groan pierced the air, as the room flooded with light.
“Turn off the lights!” Jessica demanded.
Roxanne looked around, and then sighed deeply. She moved towards Jessica, who was lying on the floor, another bottle of liquor beside her. Roxanne picked up the bottle, and her heart nearly stopped. “Vodka!” she yelled.
Jessica started laughing. “It tastes horrible,” she mumbled. The slur in her voice made it hard to understand what she was saying, but Roxanne knew what she said. Jessica stopped laughing suddenly. “I want to die.”
Roxanne kneeled down on the floor, and looked down at Jessica’s face. “Please don’t say stuff like that, Jess,” she pleaded.
Jessica shook her head from side to side. “There’s no point in going on. My life is hell. I might as well end it now, and hope for something better.”
Roxanne felt a tear slide down her cheek.
Jessica frowned. “Why are you crying?”
Roxanne wiped her tear away quickly. “Jessica, I can’t see you like this. Please don’t do this to yourself, Jess. Please.”
Jessica closed her eyes. “I should have told people before,” she said, nodding. “I should have told them when it happened, but I didn’t.”
“What are you talking about, Jess?”
Jessica sighed, and opened up her eyes. “I tried to forget, but my shrink made me remember. And now I can’t tell anyone.” She looked at Roxanne. “Especially not you.”
Roxanne shook her head. “Jess, you’re talking nonsense. I can barely understand a word you’re saying.” She grabbed Jessica’s arms, and tried pulling her up, but Jessica resisted. “C’mon, help me out.” After a few minutes, Roxanne managed to get Jessica in a standing position. About ten minutes later, she’d gotten Jessica into bed.
Jessica opened her eyes, and squinted. “Roxanne?”
She was dozing off. “Don’t hate me,” she mumbled.
Roxanne shook her head, and sighed, watching Jessica slip off into a world of dreams. “I could never hate you, Jess.” She stared at Jessica for a second, and then walked out of the room, shutting the lights off on her way out.
Rachel frowned at her computer, and then got up from the desk. She threw open the door, and stormed across the hall. Without knocking she stepped into Alix’s room. “Have you been using my computer?” she demmanded.
Alix looked up from the book she was reading, and stared at her twin sister in confusion. “I used it a little while ago,” she answered. “Why?”
Rachel sighed. “Did you go into the area marked ‘Restricted’?”
Alix frowned. “No, sister dear. I went to Microsoft Word, and printed out Jessica’s play. I’m taking it over there in a little while. Besides, the ‘Restricted’ are has a password. I know, ’cause I checked already.” She paused. “Not today, though. Why?”
“Someone went in there,” Rachel snapped.
Alix shrugged. “It wasn’t me.” She rolled out of bed, and picked up her bookbag. “I’m gonna go check on Jessica.” She paused in the doorway, and gazed at her sister. “Oh, by the way, Claire stopped by last night when you went to the library. She waited in your room for you, but when you didn’t return, she left.”
Rachel froze. “How long was she in there?”
Alix shrugged. “How the hell should I know? I don’t have your friends punch in and out when they come over.” She started down the hallway. “I’m taking the car!”
Rachel stared blankly at Alix’s door, and then reacted. “Drop me off at Claire’s!” she yelled, running after Alix.
Alix turned around. “Why?”
“It’s none of your business,” Rachel snapped, grabbing her purse from the kitchen counter. “Let’s go.”
Nina stared up at her ceiling, her thoughts a million miles away. She knew that face. She’d seen it before. But where? Luna, she thought, squinting her eyes thoughtfully.
She shook her head, and gave up, rolling over in bed to pick up the phone. She dialed Leslie’s number, and waited for him to pick up.
“Hey-llo, this is Leslie . . . well, actually, if you must know, this is Leslie’s answering machine. Do you know what that means? It means he’s not home . . . although, actually, he could just be trying to annoy you by not picking up the phone. Therefore, you should annoy him back by leaving a message after the tone. Muchas Gracias. Call again.”
Nina rolled her eyes, and hung up without leaving a message. Where in the world could he be? She looked at the time on her alarm clock. It was only seven-thirty. He’s probably still at work, she resolved. I’ll call him later.
The knock on the door startled her out of her thoughts, and she turned her head. “Come in!” she yelled.
A few seconds later, Mathew popped his head inside. “How are you doing?” he asked, stepping into the room.
Nina shrugged. “I’ve been better,” she answered, she sat up and forced a smile.
Mathew closed the door behind him, and sat down on the bed beside her. “I don’t know what I can say to make you feel better.” He looked at her. “Is there something I can say to make you feel better?”
Nina shrugged. “You could say that this has all been a dream,” she suggested. “But, don’t, ’cause then I’ll get my hopes up.”
“I still can’t believe your coach thinks you’ve been using steroids,” Mathew said, shaking his head. “That is so ridiculous.”
Nina stared at him and sighed. “You have your doubts, don’t you?”
Mathew looked startled. “Damn you, and your direct questions.”
Nina laughed, and took her brother’s hands. “Mathew,” she said, looking straight into his light green eyes, “I swear to you on all that I know and love, that I have not, nor have I ever, used steroids, or any other type of illegal drug in my twenty-two long years in this here earth.” She dropped his hands. “Can you rest easy now?”
Mathew smiled. “It’s as if I took a bottle of sleeping pills.”
Nina nodded. “Good.” She looked at him for a second. “You didn’t tell Mom or Dad, did you?”
Mathew shook his head. “Are you kidding? They’d have a heart attack. First they think I’m gay. Then they think you’re on drugs.” He laughed at the thought. “Poor Sarah would probably grow up to be one of those over protected children.”
“Well, looky here,” Leslie said, smiling down at Luna. “Good to see you again.”
Luna grinned. “Nice to be seen.” She paused. “I didn’t get you into trouble with your girlfriend the other day, did I?”
Leslie shrugged. “We’ve just been having a few misunderstandings lately.”
Luna nodded. “Was I one?”
Leslie shrugged again. “So, what can I get you tonight, young lady?” he asked, changing the subject quickly.
“Same thing I had the last time.” She smiled. “Do you remember what that was?”
Leslie tapped his chin with the end of his pencil, and stared at the wall thoughtfully. “Two slices of peperoni pizza, and . . . a medium Sprite?”
Luna applauded. “That’s good. For a second there, I didn’t even remember what I’d ordered.”
Leslie laughed. “Hey, what can I say? I’m good at this stuff.” He smiled, and walked away to place the order in the kitchen.
Rachel rang the doorbell at Claire’s, and a few minutes later, it opened to reveal Claire’s father. He was a very tall man, and was sort of skinny for his height. His face was covered with a blondish-brown beard, which matched the thinning hair on his head. His light blue eyes rested on Rachel’s. “Hello there,” he said, in his thick French accent.
“Uh, hi, is Claire home?” she asked.
“No, she went to that pizza place,” he answered, shaking his head.
Rachel nodded. Pizza Max. “Thanks, Mr. Jourdam,” she said, turning around. “Good night.”
“Good night, Rachel,” he said, and closed the door.
Rachel started down the street. She would go directly to Pizza Max, if it wasn’t so far away. Damn Claire, she thought angrily. I know she went into the Baldwin University files. Doesn’t she know I could get friggin’ arrested if they trace the stupid computer. She’s taking it too far. She’s gotta be stopped.
Alix walked into Jessica’s room. She didn’t even bother trying the doorbell. From what Roxanne had told her, Maurice had strict instructions not to let anyone into the house.
All the lights in Jessica’s room were turned off, which didn’t surprise her in the least. She walked cautiously through the room, and saw Jessica lying peacefully in bed.
Well, at least she’s sleeping, Alix thought, putting her bookbag on the floor beside her. She looked at Jessica again, and then sat down on the couch, leaning her head back against it. What a nightmare her junior year was turning out to be.
A few days ago, all she could think about was getting B.J. McNair to notice her, and also trying to escape Lynn’s wrath. How trivial and minor those things seemed now. Even the thought of Lynn using the tape to send her and Jade to jail seemed stupid and pathetic.
Alix sighed. All she wanted was for Jessica to drop this depression. She remembered back to that day when she’d been twelve, and she’d stepped into this room for the first time. Everything had seemed so big, and so wonderful. Like stepping into a fairy tale. But that day had ended as a horror story. She thought back to that day, and felt the pain all over again. All the kids laughing, and then Jessica’s parents throwing her out of the house; demmanding to know who had let that middle-class filth into the house.
Alix shut her eyes at the memory. She’d been so petrified. The mere thought of that incident brought tears to her eyes. But she choked them back.
She turned around and looked at Jessica again, she was tossing and turning.
Alix sighed, and turned back to the darkness in front of her. Why had she forgiven Jessica? she wondered. It was true what she’d said about knowing she’d changed. But was that the whole reason?
“Don’t leave me!” Jessica screamed into the night. The shining light in front of her grew fainter and fainter. “Please! Please come back!”
“We can’t come back,” the light said. “We didn’t come for you. We made a mistake.”
Jessica began to cry. “But without you, it will all be dark. I don’t like the dark.”
“You belong in the dark,” said the light. “You didn’t live up to our expectations.”
“But I didn’t know!” Jessica yelled, tears streaming down her cheeks. “I didn’t know how,” she whispered.
“That’s because you weren’t supposed to know,” the light told her, growing fainter again.
“Please!” Jessica screamed. “Don’t leave me! I can’t live in the darkness!”
“You belong in the darkness. You were born in the darkness. And now . . . you will die in the darkness . . .” The light disappeared, leaving Jessica alone.
“Don’t leave me!” Jessica screamed. “Don’t leave me! Please! Come back!”
“Jessica! Jessica, wake up!”
Jessica sat up with a start. She didn’t realize she was crying until she reached up with her hand to push away the strands of hair that had fallen in her face, and felt the moistness in her cheeks. She felt someone else’s hands wiping her tears, and turned her head to see someone standing by the bed.
“Are you alright?” Jessica recognized Alix’s voice. Alix reached over, and turned on the lamp on Jessica’s nightstand.
It was enough to send a searing pain to Jessica’s head. “Ow!” She rolled over in bed, and pulled the covers over her head. She heard the snap of the light switch.
“It’s off,” she heard Alix say. “You can come out now.”
Jessica peered over the top of her comforter, and relaxed a little, but the pain in her head was still there.
“I finished your play,” Alix said. “Whatever that’s worth,” she added. Jessica noticed the bitterness and resentment in her voice. “Are you gonna talk? How are you feeling?”
Jessica groaned her response. She couldn’t remember ever feeling this lousy. She just wanted to go back to sleep, and waste the time away. She turned her head, and saw Alix moving away. She was suddenly overcome by a feeling of detatchment, but she was too weak to call Alix back.
A few seconds later, Alix returned, but instead of stepping up to the bed, she moved across the room, into what Jessica figured was the bathroom. Either that or the closet.
Jessica closed her eyes for a moment, and when she opened them again, she saw that Alix had returned.
“Here,” Alix said, helping Jessica sit up. Then she handed Jessica a glass of water, and dropped a couple of pills onto her hand. “I hope that helps.”
Jessica took the pills, and sank down in the bed. She was feeling horribly dizzy.
“Close your eyes,” Alix warned.
Jessica obeyed, and heard the light switch again. It took her a while, but eventually got used to the light. It was a lot brighter than usual, for some reason. But it dimmed considerably, when Alix threw a sheet over it.
Jessica managed a nod. “How long have you been here?” she asked, in a weak, almost faint voice.
Alix hesitated. “About three hours,” she said finally.
“What time is it?”
“It’s after eleven,” Alix told her. “Roxanne called me.”
Jessica frowned. Roxanne. She remembered something about Roxanne. “Did something happen with Rox?”
“She’s the one who found you on the floor,” Alix said. “An empty bottle of vodka next to you.” She sighed. “Vodka, Jess?”
Jessica groaned. Then she groaned even louder when the phone on the nightstand started ringing.
Alix picked it up before it rang a second time. “Hello?” she said.
Alix covered the mouthpiece, and looked at Jessica. “It’s Mathew. Do you want to talk to him?”
Jessica shook her head.
“Mathew, ya there? Yeah, she doesn’t want to talk to you–”
Jessica grabbed the receiver from Alix, and sent her a death look, before bringing the phone to her ear. “Mathew?”
“Hey, Jess. Listen, I’m sorry for calling this late, but Nina’s been hogging the phone all day. I just wanted to see if you were okay.”
“I’m fine,” Jessica told him, forcing a cheerful tone. “I just decided to take a few days off.”
“Oh. That’s good, I guess. So, are you going tomorrow?”
Jessica bit her lip. “I’m not sure, but probably.”
“Alright. I guess I’ll see you when I see you, then.”
“Okay, bye, Jess.”
“Bye.” Jessica handed the receiver back to Alix, and groaned again.
Alix shook her head, and put the phone back in its cradle. “I never thought I’d say this, Jess, but you’re a pathetic sight.”
Jessica stared at Alix, then closed her eyes. “Yeah, well, you can go to hell for all I care.”
To her surprise, she heard Alix laugh. Jessica opened her eyes, and saw Alix reaching across to turn off the light. She thought she saw tears in her eyes, but she didn’t have time to make sure, because a second later, the light vanished.
When at last Jessica’s eyes got used to the darkness, she saw Alix’s silhouette in the balcony. Jessica wasn’t sure if she was looking at her, or away from her.
“Maybe you haven’t changed,” she heard Alix say, and then she was gone.
Jessica felt the tears strolling down her face. Come back, she thought. But she was alone . . . in the darkness.
Mathew stared at the phone for a moment, before clicking it off. Was it just him, or had Jessica sounded weird? He shook his head, and rested his head back on the pillow. Why was he so damn shy? Why couldn’t he just go up to the girl he liked, and ask her out like any other teenage guy, instead of having to wither in the shadows like some frightened animal?
He sighed, and rolled out of bed, walking over to his computer. He clicked the America Online icon when the Windows programn appeared on the screen, and then he waited patiently for AOL to sign him on. It had been a while since he’d talked to Dreamer. He wondered what she was up to.
“You have mail,” the computer sang out.
Mathew clicked on the post office icon, and saw his list of unread E-mails.
AlienGirl we shall conquer
Vampress98 I vant to thuck your blood
Mathew frowned, and clicked on the first one.
Hi Shyguy . . . why are you shy? I like shy guys. They’re Sexy. Are you sexy? I’m really sexy. Why don’t you write me back, and we can schedule a meeting. Have you ever experienced the joys of cybersex?
Mathew deleted the letter, and clicked on the next one.
WE WILL CONQUER THE PLANET. YOU
HAVE BEEN WARNED, AND STILL YOU
DO NOT LISTEN . . .
Psychos, Mathew thought, shaking his head. He stared at the last letter on the list, and clicked on it.
Mmmmm. Blood tastes like chicken. Thank you
for choosing to read this e-mail. It will be noted
on your coffin when I’m through with you.
HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA
Just kidding. Have a nice day. And thank you 4
shopping with us.
This E-mail was sponsored in
part by the American Heart &
For more information, please contact
your local blood bank, or call our toll
free number today.
If you act now, you could also receive our trendy
‘Thuckers R Us’ T-shirt. Available in adult sizes S, M, L, and XL.
And remember: It’s better to thuck, than to be
Mathew rolled his eyes, and left the AOL post office. He went up, and checked to see if Dreamer was signed on. She wasn’t. So, he went on to the chat room icon, and clicked on that.
XorZist: repent, or be damned forever!!
Lalaland: what’s repent mean?
BeeHive: I think it’s a short way of saying
pay your rent
LoveBug: hey people
XorZist: YOU WILL ALL BURN IN HELL!!
Lalaland: for not paying rent?
BeeHive: He’s like some psycho landlord
LoveBug: what’s the topic?
XorZist: YOU ARE THE DEVIL’S SPAWN
Lalaland: I didn’t know the devil played chess
AuthorGirl: Hi, LoveBug. age/sex check
BeeHive: Is he the black spawn, or the white?
XorZist: GO ON . . . MAKE FUN. YOU WILL
ALL REGRET IT WHEN THE END
LoveBug: 17/F, Author U?
BeeHive: Uh-huh . . . are you on drugs, man?
AuthorGirl: 15/F . . . Are there any sane people in here?
ShyGuy: hello, everyone. 17/M
AuthorGirl: hi, ShyGuy.
LoveBug: Hi, SG. Welcome to our room
XorZist: Later, guys. Gotta go to bed
Lalaland: night, Xor
BeeHive: Take it easy, X. Cool talkin 2 ya
AuthorGirl: Where U from, SG?
LoveBug: I’m in NY
Lalaland: Hey, Bee, wanna go private?
BeeHive: Sure. Where?
Lalaland: Room: Lalaland
BeeHive: ok. C U there
AuthorGirl: So, SG, why so shy?
ShyGuy: Funny. I was asking myself that
same question a few minutes ago
LoveBug: Sorry guys. Gotta go. Nice meeting
you, AG and SG
ShyGuy: Bye, Love
AuthorGirl: Later, love
AuthorGirl: So, what was did you decide was the answer?
DreamCloud: Hola people
ShyGuy: I didn’t decide on an answer
ShyGuy: Hi, Dream
AuthorGirl: Well, I should go
ShyGuy: Later, then
DreamCloud: Hi, ShyGuy. How come no one else
ShyGuy: Maybe they’re shy
NKOAOL: Buenos Nachos
DreamCloud: What’s NKOAOL stand for?
ShyGuy: Hey NK
NKOAOL: New Kid On America Online
DreamCloud: LOL. That’s cute
NKOAOL: what’s LOL?
ShyGuy: Laughing Out Loud, NK
NKOAOL: oh . . . LOL . . . cool
DreamCloud: so, ShyGuy, why so shy?
ShyGuy: that seems to be the $25,000
DreamCloud: age/sex check
NKOAOL: 14/M (that much I know)
ShyGuy: 17/M. U, DC?
DreamCloud: The only girl in the group. LOL. I feel vulnerable all of a sudden
NKOAOL: LOL < ----- I like that
ShyGuy: We promise to be gentle
DreamCloud: So, Shy, what brings you online?
DreamCloud: frustration? Care to elaborate?
NKOAOL: I'm moving on to the next room.
DreamCloud: Bye, NK. Take care
ShyGuy: Bye NK
DreamCloud: No answer, Shy?
ShyGuy: My shyness is my weakness
DreamCloud: How so?
ShyGuy: I like a girl, but I'm too shy to tell her
DreamCloud: Oh. So, what are you afraid of?
DreamCloud: Good point. Are you miserable?
ShyGuy: Not yet, but getting there
DreamCloud: Well, when you get there, ask
her out. (That's when you realize it can't get any worse)
ShyGuy: okay, that sounds like good advice. I just hope I can manage it
DreamCloud: Think of the alternative, and act
ShyGuy: LOL, you're like the voice of wisdom
DreamCloud: Maybe I am. I should get going,
though. Can't pay the bill this month at the rate I'm going
ShyGuy: Alright. Later, then. Thanks for the advice.
DreamCloud: No problemo. E-mail me and tell me
ShyGuy: OK. Bye.
Mathew exited America Online, and shut off the computer. He looked at the time on his alarm clock. It was already past midnight. He shook his head, and left his room.
Nina was coming down the hall. She frowned at him. "Where are you going?"
"I'm going for a walk," he said.
"Now?" she nearly yelled. "It's after midnight!"
Mathew shrugged. "I need to think, Nina."
"I have no problem with that, Mathew, but can't you think in your room? Or at least wait until tomorrow?"
Mathew shook his head, and started for the door. "I'll be back soon. Stop worrying so much."
Alix stared at the ocean in front of her. She didn't care that she was crying. She didn't feel like choking them up anymore. She couldn't believe the girl in that room was Jessica Heart. The old Jessica Heart had been mean, cruel, and selfish, but at least she was sober.
Alix frowned and turned around. "Mathew?" she asked.
Mathew sat down beside her. "Are you crying?"
Alix wiped her tears with the back of her hand, and shook her head. "Nah. It must be the cold breeze."
Mathew stared at her for a second. "Liar," he said. "There is no cold breeze."
Alix sighed. He was right.
"So, what's wrong?" he asked. "Or do you not want to tell me?"
Alix looked at him. "It's Jessica," she said, and before she knew it, she was telling him the whole entire story.
Nina looked at the time on her alarm clock, and slammed the phone down. Where the hell is Leslie? she wondered angrily, rolling out of bed. She shook her head, and walked out of her room, heading toward the front door.
A few minutes later, she was driving down the road toward Leslie's apartment. This is beyond obsession, she thought, but didn't really care. She was really worried about him. What if he'd gotten in an accident? What if he was lying at some hospital in a coma or something? Then my trip to his apartment would be in vain, she told herself. Ugh, this is so ridiculous.
She almost turned the car around, when she considered. If she went back home, she'd spent the rest of the night worrying about him. Besides, she couldn't sleep anyway. She was too pissed off. Plus, she wanted to talk to Leslie about this Luna person. Whoever she was.
Nina pulled into the apartment complex. Leslie had moved into an apartment when he'd finished high school. He preferred it to a dorm room, since he liked his privacy. That's what he'd told her anyway.
Nina parked the car in the nearest available spot, and got out. Leslie's apartment was on the first floor, and she found it quickly. If he wasn't home when I called, she suddenly thought, what makes me think he's gonna be home now? She rolled her eyes at her own stupidity, but knocked anyway. Now that she'd come all the way over here, she had nothing to lose.
She was about to turn around, and walk back to her car, when the door opened.
Nina turned around, and frowned. What was that look he was giving her? Delight? Happiness? She smiled, and walked up to him. "I've been calling you all day, where have you been?"
Leslie smiled. "Oh, I was working late."
"Aren't you gonna invite me in?" Nina teased. "Is this how you treat all your other girlfriends?"
"No," a voice said from somewhere in the apartment.
Nina frowned, and then she stared as that Luna girl came up beside Leslie.
"He lets the rest of us inside," Luna said, sweetly.
Jessica rolled out of bed, and stumbled through her room. She was really thirsty. But it wasn't the normal kind of thirst.
She opened the door, and made her way down to the first floor. She walked into the kitchen, grabbed another bottle from the liquor cabinet, not really caring what it was, and walked back to her room. She walked out onto the balcony, and stared at the ocean. Then she sat down on one of the chairs, and opened up the bottle.
She took a swig, and instantly felt better. It was like oxygen to the drowning.
Jessica got up, and went back into her room, turning on the lights. She sat down on the couch, and stared blankly at the TV in front of her. Then she noticed a stack of papers, neatly stapled, resting on the coffee table. She leaned forward, and picked them up. "A Second Chance" it read on the first page. Alix's play, Jessica realized. She skimmed the pages, feeling depressed all of a sudden, and then put the play back on the coffee table. Why did I tell Alix to go to hell? she wondered. Did I even do it? Was it a dream? Was this all just one long, long dream?
She sighed, and brought the bottle to her lips. She had no idea what she was drinking, but it tasted pretty good.
She reached under the couch cushons, and found the letter her parents had given her. Still inside the envelope. Still unopened. Still unread.
Jessica stared at it, and then ripped it open. She unfolded the piece of paper inside, and read what was written.
There are no words to describe how
Sorry we feel for hurting you. We know this
may not make you feel any better, but we
hope you know that we love you, and
No matter what our original reasoning
may have been for doing what we did, in
the end everything we did was for you. And
not because we wanted the business to
succeed, and not because we wanted to make
money, but because we wanted our daughter
to have it all. To have everything she could
We're sorry if you want different
things, Jessica. But what you want, you
have, you just have to accept them as they
are. You have a mother. You have a father.
You have a family. Money. Fortune.
Beauty. Talent. And love. Don't let our past
mistakes hurt your future choices.
Be yourself, Jessica, and never let
anything, or anyone influence who you are.
Not even us.
Mom & Dad
"Who I am?" Jessica yelled, her eyes filling with tears. "Who I am?" She balled up the piece of paper, and threw it as hard as she could. It hit the TV screen and bounced off, rolling under the coffee table. "I'm no one!" she yelled. "Damn it! I'm no one!"
She picked up the bottle, and walked out to the balcony. Then down the balcony steps toward the beach. She suddenly felt like going for a swim.
Mathew stared at Alix. "You're kidding, right?"
Alix shook her head sadly. "I'm afraid not," she told him. "She's been drinking herself into a stupor the last few days. I don't know what else I can do to help her, you know? I can't stand seeing her like that."
Mathew couldn't believe what he'd just heard. Her parents were alive? They'd bought her as a baby? They faked their deaths? Now Jessica was drinking? It was like the plot to one of those really twisted soap operas. It was too much to believe.
"You don't believe me, do you?" Alix asked.
Mathew looked at her. "I'm just trying to absorb the whole entire thing. It's too much for a person to take."
Alix nodded. "Now imagine how Jessica must feel."
Mathew sighed, and looked at the rolling waves in front of him. He shook his head, and turned back to Alix. "So what are you gonna do now?"
Alix shrugged. "What can I do?" she asked. "I'll just go back to check on her tomorrow. I don't think there's anything I can do to help her. She's not listening to me."
Mathew nodded, and looked around again. Suddenly, he frowned.
"What's wrong?" Alix asked.
"What's that?" Mathew asked, pointing at something floating in the water.
"What's what?" Alix followed his gaze, and shrugged. "Probably some sort of floating debris from the storm yesterday."
Mathew bit his lip, and stood up. "It looks more like a person," he said staring.
Alix started to laugh. "Yeah like a person would . . ."
Mathew turned to look at her and frowned. "Alix, what's wrong?"