Authors: Hannah; Kay
Tags: #Young Adult Fiction
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t love my father. I do. He’s just never been around, never been there for me on birthdays or holidays. He’d mimed his way through my life. I didn’t know him as anyone other than the newspaper man.
I climbed from his midnight blue Volvo and onto the soft green grass without bothering to put my shoes back on. I pulled my coat closer to my body and hurried to the door, carefully fishing the old pair of keys from my pocket that Dad’d given me when I arrived. They were a dull gray color as if they had been sitting in the sun for years, losing their shine or, more likely, waiting in a drawer for Mom and me to come home. I’d have to take care of that.
I slipped in the house and Dad followed after me, heading straight to bed, but I ambled toward the fridge. It was simple white. No pictures or report cards or even clippings from his newspaper. The only color marring the fridge was a single magnet—Dad’s beloved ‘Editor of the Year’ magnet. Other than that, it was just white—white, the color of his entire house. His entire newspaper. This entire town.
I exhaled sharply, opening the door to the fridge, grabbing a bottle of water from its drab contents. I closed the door with a muted sigh and padded from the room, down the hallway and into my bedroom. I shut the door behind me with a quiet sigh of desperation and smiled at my sanctuary. I’d splatter-painted the wall across from my bed from the time I arrived yesterday till I finally collapsed into bed around two-thirty this morning. It was a mixture of splatters—red, blue and purple. It felt a little bit more like home now.
I sat down at my desk—a ratty old wooden thing with bruises and chips of paint missing—throwing the keys down on the linoleum tabletop. I reached over, flipping on my radio and turning it up a few notches. Apparently Dad could sleep through a hurricane. Last night’s radio stylings of angry rock bands at full volume had proved that. Today’s selection was a lot calmer. I choose my music according to my mood, and tonight my mood was fluctuating. I was no longer mad at the world. I wasn’t angry, but I was sad. I missed my mom.
I stood up again, walking slowly to my purple suitcase, opening it and pulling out my shorts I’d messily tossed on top of the pile when I got dressed this morning and the thin red ‘Love is Art, Art is Love’ T-shirt I wear to bed every night. The T-shirt was simple black but splattered with paint, like most of my clothes.
I turned, walking to my closet and carefully untying the bow on my coat before gingerly hanging it up on the only hanger. I’d yet to unpack my boxes, but the coat mattered. It was my mother’s coat, the one she’d worn every day and loved with all her heart. She’d given it to me on my sixteenth birthday last year, and I’ve worn it every day since then. I even wore it to her funeral. I think she would’ve appreciated that.
With a small sigh, I peeled my clothes off and stuck them in my hamper before pulling on the soft material of my black short shorts and the T-shirt and sitting at my desk once more. I leaned over the desk, grabbing my survival kit and the keys. They slipped off the ring easily, and I started painting.
* * * *
I’d painted into the night. Then I’d slipped into unconsciousness, a pile of body and soul and music still playing in the background because I had been too tired to turn it off. My dreams were drabbles of color, sunlight and music flowing in the blurred lines of beauty.
“An artist’s dreams are unpredictable, beautiful,” Mom would say when I asked her about the dreams. “They’re abstract, freeform. You can’t explain them.” She was right, of course. Weren’t moms always right?
I stretched my aching limbs over my head, letting out a squeaky noise and leaving the room. The house was utterly silent, not even a rustle from my dad’s room. He must already be gone. The clock on the wall read nine-twenty-nine a.m.
I exhaled sharply, opening the fridge. I spied a carton of milk, fished it out from behind the to-go plates and pizza boxes and glanced at the expiration date. January sixteenth, 2013. I held a five month expired carton of milk in my hand.
I groaned, shaking my head and chunking it in the trash. Upon closer consideration, I realized that there was nothing remotely viable in the fridge or the pantry.
It wasn’t long until I was driving to the Diner for breakfast. I’d pulled on fresh clothes—simple white T-shirt and jeans, along with my trench, of course—and stuffed my phone into a pocket. I’d definitely be heading to the Corner Store to pick up some groceries before coming home again. I wouldn’t make it through the summer without food.
I climbed from my white Volvo in front of the Diner and could already feel the eyes on me. That was the perk of moving into a town where everyone had known everyone since kindergarten or earlier. But I was hungry, so I hurried inside and took up residence on one of the stools at the counter, letting my long legs dangle down to meet the floor.
“Can I get you something to drink?” an older man with gray hair asked me, and I smiled. He was just smiling at me as if I wasn’t the new girl. Maybe he didn’t know, or more likely he was just that nice. Either way, it was refreshing.
I smiled back, glad to see a friendly face instead of ogling eyes. “A coffee, please?” I asked and he pulled a blue mug from under the counter and began filling it with coffee. “Oh, and do you have a menu?”
The man laughed, sliding me the mug. “So you must be Alexander’s daughter.” He spoke with smiling eyes, stepping over to the cash register to grab a menu.
I nodded slowly. “Yes, sir. I’m Juliet,” I responded politely, taking a sip of the coffee and groaning quietly. “This is amazing coffee, Mr.—”
He smiled. “You can call me Randy.”
“Well, thank you, Randy. I think I’d like a waffle,” I told him and he nodded.
“That’ll be right out,” he replied then disappeared into the back.
I smiled, looking over the menu. It looked brand new, down to the shiny lamination and lettering. Maybe everyone who ate at the Diner had the menu memorized. It made sense in a town like this.
I was beginning to hope things were going to be okay. Randy’s smiling old eyes encouraged me into thinking there was a chance of this being a good year.
“Juliet, is it?”
I cringed at the sound of a voice, but quickly composed my face into a forced smile, turning to face him. He was a tall boy with blond hair, blue eyes and a cunning smile.
“Yes, I—” I began but was cut off by another voice.
“Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo! Deny thy father and refuse thy—” the other voice quoted, faking a high voice, and my eyes swiveled to my other side to find an identical face to the one on my left.
“Avery, don’t mock the girl,” the original boy scolded before smiling sickly sweet at me. “So, Juliet… Looking for a Romeo?”
I found myself suddenly hating my choice to be called by that name. I’d never liked being called Evelyn. Not that I didn’t like the name, but it made me feel like a thirty-year-old with a kid and a job. Commandeering my middle name as my first had been the simplest solution. I liked the name Juliet. It was elegant and poetic, just like Shakespeare, but I didn’t take up stock in the Romeo and Juliet fairy tale love story. Mom and Dad proved the love stories wrong. Their divorce had brought me down to earth from Disney’s overpowering fantasies.
“Aw, why not?” Avery asked, tilting his head to the side and pulling out a puppy dog smile.
“Yeah, I’m a lotta fun,” the other said with a grin.
“Ah, but, Adam, I can recite Shakespeare.”
Adam retorted. “Only that one line we had to memorize for class!”
“How would you know?”
“You’re my twin brother. I know you.”
“Boys!” a girl’s voice intervened, and I let out a quiet sigh of appreciation. “Let Juliet breathe. Jeez.”
“But, Krista—” Avery began, but she shook her head.
“No buts, Avery! I’ll call both your girlfriends,” she threatened and a moment later they’d vacated. The girl laughed, sitting on the stool beside me. “It works every time. They’re scared to death of those girls.” Her eyes glittered with a smile. “Oh, by the way, I’m Krista.” She extended her hand and I shook it, admiring her blonde hair. It was tucked into a side braid but I could still see the glint of its color in a tell-tale sign of a natural blonde reflecting in the sunlight that was streaming through the big windows.
I nodded. “Julie…” The ‘T’ dangled in the air between us but I simply smiled, leaving it to fall to the checkered floor.
She grinned in response. She’d seen my calculation and approved. “Nice to meet you, Julie. Would you like to sit with me and my boyfriend?”
I thought over her offer, weighing the pros and cons. Third wheel syndrome tipped the mental scale for only a moment before I nodded. Maybe if I wasn’t alone, freaks wouldn’t show up and try to talk their way into my pants.
“I’d love to,” I answered, and she smiled.
“Great,” she agreed, grinning as Randy came to hand me a plate with a steaming hot chocolate chip waffle on top. “Hey, Randy,” she greeted, wrinkling her nose playfully at him. “I’m stealing your new friend.”
The old man laughed. “By all means, Miss Krista. She’ll be in much more entertaining company this way.” His wink made me think that maybe that wasn’t the case.
I followed Krista around a corner to a sort of alcove-type booth. It was one of those big ones for parties and such, but right now it was occupied only by a tall boy with dusty blond hair and a dazzling smile. “I wondered where you’d got off to,” he greeted his girlfriend before turning his smile on me. “Oh, and you found someone.” He stood, holding out a hand for me to shake. “I’m Mike.”
I nodded. “Julie.”
He grinned back. “Well, welcome to our table, Julie. Party of three, donuts for everyone!” He gestured to a plate in the center of the table that had to hold a dozen. One glance at Krista proved that she never ate more than one, if that.
I held up my plate. “I think I’m good.”
He laughed. “You can
eat a donut.”
Krista pushed him back down into the booth. “Sit down, you pig,” she joked, pecking his cheek. “Stop flirting with the new girl.” She smiled at me as I slid into the booth across from them. “How are you enjoying Carltonville?”
I laughed. “Well, so far I’ve been publicly embarrassed by the mayor and realized my dad must live off spoiled milk and doggie bags. So, yeah, it’s been an interesting two days.”
Mike chuckled. “Yeah, that’s our town all right.”
Krista nodded. “You know, we have a friend working at the paper this summer,” she opened, glancing at Mike.
I couldn’t have known less about my dad’s paper. “Oh really?”
Mike nodded. “Yeah, his name is Lucas. He’s one wicked writer.” He chuckled. “Only the best to refill daddy’s coffee, right?” he joked, but I just shrugged.
“I wouldn’t know,” I answered with a small shrug.
Krista laughed. “Ah, well, Lucas was excited.”
There was a pause in the conversation and the lull of silence wasn’t painful. It felt calm and real. I smiled, cutting my waffle into pieces. I took a tentative bite as Krista sipped her steaming cup of coffee and Mike nibbled on his chocolate donut. “This is delicious,” I found myself saying, not really sure why.
Mike chuckled. “Randy’s one awesome cook.”
Krista nodded. “He’s owned this place since he graduated high school. It’s the best place to eat in town.”
place to eat in town,” Randy’s voice announced, walking over to refill our coffee cups.
I looked at him. “Well, that can’t be true. There’s a pizza place, right? There were pizza boxes in Dad’s fridge.”
Krista laughed suddenly. “The nearest pizza place is twenty minutes away.”
Mike nodded. “I don’t count that, though. The nearest good pizza place is thirty-eight minutes away.”
Randy grinned down at me. “Stick with these two and you’ll be the best fed kid in Carltonville.”
I might just do that.
* * * *
Muzak wafted from somewhere in the Corner Store. It was a fairly big store for the lot it resided on, jam-packed with tons of stuff from food to books to movies, which surprised me.
It contained fifteen aisles divided once, straight down the middle. The walls were clothes, racks upon racks built into the walls. A clever design, if you ask me. Inside the front doors were the cash registers, as per the central law of grocery stores. After making a mental overview of the store, I checked my watch. It was ten-forty-six, I had a mental map and a plan of attack. It was time to move.
An hour later, I was nearly finished shopping. I had a cart full to the brim with food and even a couple of cute shirts and a new pair of silky short shorts to sleep in. I turned down the last aisle before the checkout counter and ran directly into a boy. He had a dark mop of brown hair and deep brown eyes, hidden behind thin metal frames. In his hands was a can of coffee. He just looked at me.
I knew I’d run into him, but really? He was staring like he couldn’t move or was dumbstruck or something. “I’m sorry… Is there a problem?”
He laughed awkwardly. “No problem.” He smiled quickly. “Hi, I’m Lucas. You must be—”