Authors: Wendy Delsol
If I was going to continue eating lunch with this crew, I figured I’d better make an effort. I turned to Jack. “I had one of your apples yesterday. It was pretty good.”
Jack stopped chewing for about a half second and then took another huge bite without responding. Nothing. He let my compliment just hang there like an open fly.
“Eat up, people,” he said aloud to the group. “We start working in five.”
“I read your editorial, chief,” Penny said.
Did she really just call him chief?
Penny pulled out a copy of the paper,
The Norse Falls Herald,
from her folder. “The changes you made from the version you submitted prepress are great, and really pulled it all together.”
Jack mumbled, “Thanks” between bites. Penny, at least, merited a reply.
“I wonder if anyone at Pinewood has heard about it yet,” Pedro, a small guy with thick dark hair and large brown eyes, said. “You quoted two members of their school board, so it’s bound to get back to them.”
Tina, a tall girl with bangs curling-ironed into an unmoving barrel of molded hair, said, “Better watch your back at the homecoming game, Jack.”
I had no idea what they were talking about. Pinewood was another small town about ten miles west, but they appeared to be discussing more than just a sports rivalry. “Is there a problem between the two schools?” I asked.
Penny passed the paper to me. “You should read Jack’s article. It’s really well researched. The bottom line is that both communities have declining enrollments. The two school districts are negotiating a merge. The sticky point is which high school to use. Both towns want their building to be spared.”
“Which one’s better?” I asked.
Jack made no attempt to hide a complete three-sixty of his eyeballs. “You wouldn’t understand.”
“Our school is bigger, but theirs is newer,” Penny said.
Given the proximity of the high school to the downtown business district, I thought I already knew the answer, but asked anyway. “If the other were chosen, what would happen to this building?”
“It would be sold as part of the development deal,” Penny said.
“And?” I asked.
“And flattened. What do you think?” Jack finished with an exasperated toss of his head.
I thought I might like to literally toss his head, out the window. “Sounds like one has the updated facilities, while the other has the space.” I shrugged. “I guess that makes it a fifty-fifty.”
Jack froze, his mouth wide open, an apple just inches from his teeth, which were, I noticed, very straight and very white. “A fifty-fifty?”
I didn’t like the way he was looking at me. Jeez, he was smug. “Then again, if they’ve got computer labs, science labs, a gymnasium with level floors, tennis courts, and a cafeteria that can crank out more than pizza and chicken nuggets, then I don’t know why we’re even discussing it.” I dropped a napkin over my half-eaten lunch.
Jack stood and threw his apple cores, one after the other, in perfect lobbing tosses into the nearest trash can. “Except ours is a hundred-year-old structure with architectural integrity and historic significance. Shiny and new isn’t always better.” He opened the folder on his desk. “Deadline is a week from Monday. Why don’t we all get to work?”
It was more of an edict than a question. And what was the word for he who issues decrees? Edictor? Edictor in chief. Hmmm. I, challenger of authority, doodled clothing designs until the bell rang.
“Wait up,” Penny called from behind me in the hallway.
I slowed for her to catch up.
“What is up with you and Jack? Can’t you cut him some slack?”
slack?” Was she kidding?
We walked together toward our lockers.
“It’s just that there’s . . .” Penny bit her bottom lip and attempted to start again. “I’ve never seen a girl get under his skin the way you do.”
“So, he’s usually the easygoing type.”
I laughed. “I’d hate to see what you consider uptight.”
“Seriously, he’s not normally like that. He’s a really good guy.”
I found that hard to believe. Yeah, sure, he was kind of good-looking, if bullheaded plow-hands were your thing. “
is a relative term,” I said after a long pause.
“I don’t know; he’s good at everything he tries. Did you know that besides editor of the school paper, he’s quarterback of the football team?”
Logrolling must be a spring sport. “So, why doesn’t he hang out with the royalty?” I asked. “With Wade and Monique and their court?”
“Actually, Jack and Wade used to be friends.”
“Last year it was total drama around Valentine’s Day. Wade and Monique broke up the week before, because he got caught with Lindy Vanmeer. And then Monique was all over Jack, playing the victim, tricking him into comforting her.” Penny swung her backpack from one shoulder to the other. “On Valentine’s Day, the student council sells Cupid’s arrows. Most of the kids wear them over their heart, but it becomes this whole funny scene with kids wearing them sticking out of their legs and arms and butts.”
I gave Penny a get-on-with-the-story look. She tucked a big clump of hair behind her ear and continued. “The arrows have a little dangling heart on the end for the sender to write their name, so it’s the one day all year when everyone knows who’s with who. Last year, Lindy was walking around with Wade’s arrow sticking out of her chest. Monique took one look and went running to Jack. I saw the whole thing. It was one bad acting job, but Jack was just too nice to call her on it. And then after third period, Monique was walking around with about twenty arrows sticking out of her. Honestly, she looked like target practice gone bad.” Penny giggled. I did too. The image was simply too wonderful.
“The little dangling hearts were left blank,” Penny continued, “but she told everyone who asked that they were from Jack. Later on, Wade had this big confrontation with Jack. Wade accused Jack of planning to move in on Monique all along. I heard they actually came to blows. And then, boom, Jack and Wade aren’t speaking and Monique and Wade are back to normal. Well, normal for them, anyway.”
“What happened to Lindy Vanmeer?”
“Her family moved away. Kind of abruptly.”
This town was like a little bubbled snow globe that had to shake itself up every now and then just to feel alive. “Seems pretty clear-cut to me. Jack, the really good guy,” I said, charading quotation marks around those last two words, “got himself a whole bunch of arrows, but didn’t get the girl.”
Penny looked offended. “I don’t believe that version of events. I think Monique sent herself those arrows. Plus, Lindy made some accusations against Wade.” She crossed her arms. “And anyway, Jack isn’t the type to get . . . I mean, he’s never really acted like any girl . . . it’s more like he’s either oblivious or above all the immaturity of high school.”
I wanted to ask more about Lindy’s accusations, whether there was a flask involved. How could I, though, given my claim that Wade and I were virtual strangers?
We had reached my locker. Penny waved and kept on walking. I spun the combination thinking about her description of Jack — oblivious, a technique I resolved to master.
Instead of heading straight to Afi’s store after school, I stopped first at the café. Jaelle was marrying ketchup bottles by stacking one upside down atop another.
“Coffee, Ice?” Jaelle asked me before I could even sit at the counter. I couldn’t help thinking that it would really confuse things if the café served iced coffee, which it didn’t because the menu was probably penned before freezers were invented.
“Sure.” My mom didn’t like me drinking coffee. She thought there’d be plenty of time for that later. She also claimed that caffeine was a growth-stunter. At five-three, I figured I’d squeezed all I could out of the height chart, and a cup or two of coffee wouldn’t make a difference. Back home, I was practically addicted to Starbucks. Just like my dad, who was a card-carrying regular. His usual was a double-shot soy latte. Grande nonfat caramel macchiato was my Fourbucks of choice. If there were one single thing I could transplant to Norse Falls, besides my dad, it would be Starbucks.
“How’re you doing, Jaelle?” I asked after completing my customary full spin of the stool.
“Just OK. Not feeling so great.” Jaelle placed a thick white mug of coffee in front of me, along with a small silver jug of cream.
“Out again last night?”
Jaelle blew a big puff of wind out her cheeks. “Yeah, but didn’t get crazy. Takes more than two drinks to fry me like this.”
“Flu’s going around. There were five kids out sick today in English.”
“That’s probably it.” Jaelle wiped a dribble of red from the side of a bottle and replaced the cap. “Though I’m hoping for something else.”
“Like a visit from the stork.”
I nearly spit my coffee all over the clean counter. Jaelle had not just said
because that would be graveyard spooky.
Jaelle laughed. “I forget sometimes how young you are. It’s probably not appropriate for me to discuss with you.”
“I just took too big a sip.” My eyes grew to the size of beach balls. I could feel them inflating. “That’s great news, right?”
“But that’s what you want. You said so.”
“I just don’t want to get burned again.”
“Have you tested yet?” I asked.
“No. Too chicken. Last three times were false alarms and I got my hopes up so high, I kinda crashed with the news. And I think I took Russ down with me. This time I’m not peeing on the stick until I’m all but certain.”
I drank my coffee, ordered Afi a chicken potpie to go, and sat tapping my toes while Jaelle bagged up his dinner. As Jaelle bent down to the stash of napkins under the counter, I noticed something above her head again. Like last time, I thought it was a bug, but when I looked closer I saw squiggly little pulsations, like the air was corking. Holy cow. It hit me like a dropped piano. For real. I heard the splinter of wood and the jangle of scattering keys. This was a sign.
a potential vessel
. I sat back in shock, wondering if she smelled like shaved willow bark or mulled mugwort, or how she’d look in chartreuse. She’d look great, of course. The girl had perfect skin and mad style.
Jaelle must have noticed me staring. “Is something wrong with my hair again?” She patted down her bangs.
“Actually, Jaelle, I was just thinking how nice you look today.”
“Aren’t you the sweetest thing,” Jaelle said with a smile.
I pulled into the driveway. Darn it. Stanley’s car was there. I’d hoped he’d been called away at the last minute to some emergency Star Trek convention or abducted for a Geek Squad intervention.
They were in the kitchen. My mom was arranging cheese slices on a tray, while an aproned — good God, the guy had no dignity — Stanley stirred something on the stove. He was a redhead, flaming at that, with bits of gray fuzz coiling his sideburns. My dad’s hair was nut brown and sleek. And Stanley was slim and on the short side, five-ten tops. My dad was six-two and toned. What did she see in him?
“Oh, good. You’re home,” my mom said.
I sat down at the kitchen island and watched her flit about like a hummingbird — slicing bread to go with the cheese, pouring wine for her and Stanley, tossing a salad, and brushing up close to him every chance she got. She was dressed up, too. Dressed up for her, anyway. She wore a wrap-front blue sweater and pleated print skirt, which suited her curvy figure. Her giddiness was irritating. As was her flirtatiousness. I could tell she was trying to bring it down a notch, for my sake, but she couldn’t. She honestly couldn’t. And Stanley was no better. At one point in this little pre-dinner show, he squeezed her butt as she pushed past him. They didn’t think I saw, but I did. Yuck. Appetite gone.
Though we sat in the formal dining room with the good china and cloth napkins, it felt more like a torture chamber. The stroganoff Stanley had made was like wood chips covered with gull guano. The only way to get out of eating it was to feign interest, meal-diverting rapture, in his conversation. It wasn’t easy. Stanley taught environmental studies. Hardly titillating stuff. His area of interest was climate change and greenhouse gases.
. I pushed what may have been a mushroom, though it looked suspiciously like the ear of some small varmint, across my plate.
“Tell Kat about the ice packs,” my mom said.
“Did you know,” Stanley said, waving his fork like a pointer, “that billions of tons of methane gas lie trapped below the permafrost, the byproduct of decaying ancient Arctic plant life?”
“Trapped gas?” I asked. “Like flatulence?”
He laughed, a deep throaty haw-haw for a not-so-big guy. “Good one. Do you mind if I borrow it?”
“All yours,” I said.
“Tell her the rest,” my mom said, sipping her wine. I could tell she was enjoying the conversation.
“I’m working on a model that predicts the release rate of methane as the polar ice packs melt, and the acceleration it will have on global warming.”