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take it or leave it

Jun. 25th, 2006 07:24 pm Chapter 4

After dropping Christine off at her house, I drove myself home. I parked my car on the street in front of my house and then looked at myself in the rearview mirror. Discovering that it was obvious I’d been crying, I wiped my eyes and took a few deep breaths. I walked inside hoping not to be stopped by anybody – I just wanted to go to sleep and stop worrying about Jeff. To my disappointment, I was met by my brother, Ben, as soon as I walked in the front door.
“Hey kiddo,” Ben greeted me.
“Hey,” I mumbled, walking towards the stairs. I had hoped to make it down to my bedroom without being interrogated by my brother.
“How was the party?” Ben asked.
“Fun,” I responded, making my way down the stairs.
“Did you get to see Jeff?” he asked.
“No.” I hoped that my one-word answers would prompt my brother to leave me alone.
“Are you going to church tomorrow?” Ben continued to try to hold a conversation with me.
“Yep,” I responded, still slowly walking down the staircase towards my bedroom.
“Are you okay?” Ben asked slowly, finally beginning to take note of my odd behavior. I was usually more than happy to talk to him, and Ben often times found out more about my life than he cared to know… so the way I was acting towards him tonight left no mistake that something was wrong.
“Yeah,” I replied.
“No you’re not…” Ben observed. “What happened at the party?”
“Nothing,” I said, still not even stopping to look at my brother as he spoke to me.
“Well then, what happened after the party? Or before the party? Or whenever? What’s got you so upset?” he asked.
“Nothing.”
“Don’t lie to me,” Ben was growing aggravated.
“Don’t worry about it,” I responded, finally making eye contact with Ben. “It’s not a big deal. Everything will be fine in the morning. I just want to go to bed,” I said, finally reaching the bottom of the staircase.
“Alright…” Been said, worriedly. “But if you need to talk…”
“Yeah, yeah, I know where you sleep,” I cut in, finishing my brother’s sentence. “Good night,” I said, leaving the stairwell and walking quickly to my bedroom.
I shut the door, looked it, took my phone out of my pocket and plugged it into its charger on the nightstand. I then changed quickly into my favorite pair of gray sweatpants – the ones I had bought when I joined the track team last year. I took a long look at myself in the mirror before lying down on my bed. Burying my face in my pillow, I let out the rest of the tears that I’d been holding back since the moment I reached my house, taking care to be as quiet as I could. I knew that if Ben heard me, he wouldn’t hesitate to come knocking on my door.
After about five minutes of crying, I regained my composure and sat upright in my bed. Resting my head in my hands, I started to think. What was I so upset about? Jeff told me he wasn’t going to be able to make it to the party. He told me that some things had come up. He wasn’t planning on seeing me tonight, so why had I expected him to be around? Maybe he ended up not needing to work. Maybe he went out with some of his friends instead. Maybe he had bad cell phone reception wherever he was. Or maybe he really had worked, but Betty and Sandra just hadn’t seen him. Maybe he got out a little early. Maybe he turned his phone on after he punched out, but didn’t want to answer it because he was driving home. And maybe he didn’t call me back because he knew that it was late and I would probably be asleep. Maybe everything had a perfectly acceptable explanation, and I was just overreacting.
If there was anything I was good at, it was rationalizing. I could find amazingly believable explanations to anything if I tried. Unfortunately, my second strength was overreacting. It wasn’t unusual for me to freak myself out by overreacting to a simple situation before I actually took the time to rationalize it all. Having talked myself into feeling better, I decided to go to sleep. I set my alarm clock for 9:00am so that I could wake up in the morning and be to church by 10:30. As soon as my head hit my big feather pillow, I was asleep.
A good nine and a half hours later, I was awakened by the blaring sound of my alarm. After turning it off, I grabbed my phone to see if I’d gotten any messages from Jeff while I was asleep. Every once in a while he would send me a text message late at night when he thought it was too late to call and didn’t want to wake me up. To my disappointment, there was nothing. Letting out a small sigh, I lifted myself out of bed and started rifling through my closet, looking for something to wear to church. After a few minutes of pulling things out and putting them back, I settled on a knee-length jean skirt and a lacy, pink blouse and headed for the shower.
About twenty minutes later, I walked up the stairs into our leaving room. I was greeted by the inviting smell of pancakes and bacon cooking in the kitchen. The thing I loved the most about the weekends when my brother came home to visit was the fact that he always made breakfast on Sunday mornings before church. Ben was an amazing cook, and I always looked forward to his meals. I walked into the kitchen and gave my brother a big hug. “Mmm! It smells so good!” I exclaimed, putting my face a little closer to the pancakes so that I could take a big, dramatic whiff of their scent. “How long do you think it’ll be before they’re done?” I asked.
“Not long,” Ben said, reaching for a spatula. “They only need to cook a minute or so after I flip them,” he explained, starting to turn the four pancakes that were cooking on the griddle in front of him.
“Good!” I said excitedly. “I’m starving!” As I walked over to the refrigerator to grab the milk jug, my parents walked into the kitchen.
“And how are my babies this morning?” my mother asked, kissing both Ben and me on the tops of our heads like she always did.
“I’ll be much better once I get a couple of these pancakes in me!” I exclaimed, patting my brother on the back. “They look amazing! I can’t wait!” I said. I grabbed four glasses out of the cabinet above the kitchen sink, filled them with milk and set them on the dining room table. Ben grabbed four plates out of the cabinet next to the one where I had retrieved the cups, and placed a pancake and a piece of bacon on each of them before setting them on the table. The whole family sat down, and my dad prayed over the meal.
“Dear Lord, thank you so much for this wonderful family of mine. Thank you for my son Ben and for the gift you have given him that allows him to make us such a wonderful breakfast. Thank you for my beautiful daughter Anna and all of the joy that she brings to this family. Thank you for my lovely wife. Please bless the food that we are about to put into our bodies – may it help us live this day to its fullest for You. Amen.”
No sooner did the last word escape from my father’s mouth than I dove right into the meal that was in front of me. “Ben! These are so good!” I said, muffled by the mouthful of pancake I was chewing.
“Thanks,” Ben said, laughing at me. He never quite understood why I always got so excited over his cooking. It seemed to him that he could set a bowl of mud in front of me, and I would love it, so long as he’d scooped it up himself.
“So how did that party go last night?” my mom asked.
“It went well,” I responded. “Steve made some really good burgers, and then we played Twister and just sat around and talked. Christine finally talked to Mike! Molly kind of forced her into it… but I think they got along pretty well. She didn’t say too much about it…”
“Did Jeff go with you?”
“Nope, he had to work… but I’m gonna go over there after church, if that’s okay.”
“Of course its okay. But make sure you’re home for dinner… you can bring Jeff with you if you want,” my dad butted in. “I’m making ribs!”
“Oooo!!!” I exclaimed. “What’s up with all this wonderful food today?” I asked through another huge mouthful of pancake.
“I guess it’s just your lucky day,” Ben joked, walking back into the kitchen to pour four more pancakes onto the griddle.
After my family finished our breakfast together, we left for church. I drove my own car, separately from the rest of my family, so that I could leave for Jeff’s house straight after the service. I had a terrible time paying attention to the sermon that morning. All I could think about was Jeff. I couldn’t wait to ask him about what had happened last night. I was curious as to where he would tell me he had been and what kind of excuse he would give for not answering his phone, but I was sure that whatever it was, I’d believe it. After all, Jeff had never lied to me before, as far as I knew.
Finally, 12:00 rolled around and the sermon was over. Not a moment too soon, as far as I was concerned. I hugged her family goodbye and darted out of the front entrance of the church as fast as I could, saying quick good-byes to a few of my friends that I passed along the way. When I sat down in my car, I grabbed her cell phone out of my glove box and called Jeff to let him know that I was on my way over. Once again, Jeff didn’t answer his phone, but I left him a message.
“Hey, Jeff. It’s me again. I was just calling to let you know that I’m on my way over… I hope you didn’t forget I was coming over today… I guess I’ll just see you in a little while. I love you. Bye.”
I decided against calling his house, thinking that I would just surprise him when I got there. After Jeff and I had been dating for a year, Jeff’s parents had given me what they called ‘free reign’ of their house, meaning that I could go in and out as I pleased. I didn’t have to knock or ring the door bell before I came in. I didn’t even need to call to warn them that I was coming over. The Bradley family lived in a big house tucked far back into the woods, and hardly ever locked their front door, so I had become accustomed to just walking right in unannounced.
About fifteen minutes later, I pulled into the Bradleys’ long driveway. Noticing Jeff’s car parked in its usual spot, I pulled up right behind it just as I always did. As I let myself into the house, I was greeted by Jeff’s mom’s chihuahua, Carmen.
“Carmen! Go get Jeff! Come on! Where’s Jeff? Let’s go find him!” I was, by far, Carmen’s favorite person. She was always excited when I came over to visit. It had become our routine for Carmen to lead me to Jeff whenever I showed up unannounced. I followed the little dog down into the Bradley’s basement, right into the living room where I found Jeff sitting on the couch in the dark, watching TV.
“Hey,” Jeff said, barely looking up to make eye contact with me.
“Hey, you,” I said, walking over to sit down next to my boyfriend. “I tried calling you to let you know I was on my way…”
“Oh,” Jeff responded. “My phone’s up in my bedroom. Sorry.”
“What did you end up doing last night?” I asked.
“Working…” Jeff answered, unsure of why I would have asked such a question.
“Oh… I went there a couple of times, but I didn’t see you. Did you get my messages?”
“Oh… yeah. But not ‘til late, so I didn’t call you back. I figured you were probably asleep.”
“Oh, alright. Well, we were going to bring you some brownies… too bad we couldn’t find you. They were really good!” I teased.
“Oh well,” Jeff said, turning his attention back to the television. Carmen jumped up into my lap and curled herself up into a ball as I rested my head on Jeff’s shoulder and let out a small sigh.
“What’s the deal with you lately?” I asked, disturbing the peace after about 10 minutes of silence.
“What do you mean ‘what’s the deal with me?’” Jeff asked defensively.
“I don’t know…” I said nervously. “You just seem… weird… I guess. Like something’s wrong. Is everything okay?” I asked.
“Of course. Everything’s fine.”
“Are you sure? It just seems like things are different… like something’s changed…” I offered.
“No, Anna. I told you, everything’s fine. I don’t know what you’re so worried about,” Jeff replied, a little angrily.
“Okay…” I conceded. “I’ll take your word for it. But I’d feel a lot better about everything if we could spend a little more time together…” I said.
“Come on, Anna. You know I can’t help that. We’ve already talked about this. I can’t work any less than I do. I need the money.”
“I know… but you don’t have trouble finding time for Lucy and Brandon. You’re always hanging out with them.”
“That’s because I go to school with them and they live a lot closer to me than you do. I hang out with them after school, just like you hang out with Molly and Christine after school. Seriously, Anna… don’t tell me you’re getting jealous of Lucy again. I thought you were done with that.”
“I’m not jealous of her like that,” I replied. “I know you’re not cheating on me with her or anything. But I guess right now I’m a little jealous of everyone who gets to spend time with you. I love you and I miss you and I wish I could see you all the time…” I said, cuddling up closer to Jeff.
“Well, if you don’t trust me…” Jeff said, pulling away from me just a little bit.
“I never said I didn’t trust you!” I defended. “I just said that I miss you and I wish we could see each other more often!”
Jeff had never really gotten over the fact that I believed his sister Mandy when she lied and said that he had been cheating on me with Stephanie. It had really offended him and made him feel as though I didn’t trust him, and he used any opportunity he could find to hold it against me. There were times when he would bring it up for no reason at all other than to aggravate me. It seemed that he was constantly doing things simply for the purpose of testing my trust in him, like hanging out with Lucy and Stephanie or cancelling plans he’d made with me.
“I totally trust you,” I continued. “I know you’d never do anything with Lucy or Steph…” I said, giving my boyfriend a slightly disgusted look.
“Eww… of course I wouldn’t,” he agreed, making the same disgusted face right back at me. We both laughed a little, and then turned our attention back towards the television. I nuzzled my head deeper into Jeff’s shoulder as I pet the little dog that was now sound asleep on my lap.
A few minutes later, I broke the silence again. “I like this…” I said, quietly.
“What?” Jeff asked, only half paying attention to me.
“Just sitting here like this with you. I like it…” I explained.
“Oh,” was all Jeff said in response, turning his full attention back to the episode of Star Trek he’d been engaged in before I had appeared in his basement.
The next couple of hours consisted of nothing more than the two of us sitting on the big leather couch in the Bradley’s basement, watching anything we could find on TV, from America’s Funniest Home Videos to The Weather Channel. Both Jeff and I drifted in and out of consciousness, and Carmen stayed fast asleep on my lap the entire time. Finally, around 4:30, all three of us were jostled awake by the loud ring of my cell phone.
“Hello?” I asked.
“Hey Anna. Its dad,” said the voice on the other end. “I was just wondering if you were going to bring Jeff over for dinner or not,” he asked.
“Oh yeah! I forgot about that. Hang on,” I responded, pulling the phone away from my ear and cupping my hand over the mouthpiece. I turned to look at my boyfriend.
“Do you want to come over for dinner? My dad’s making ribs,” I asked Jeff.
“Sure, I guess,” Jeff replied.
I took my hand off of the mouthpiece and put the phone back up to my ear. “Yeah, he’s gonna come with me,” I answered.
“Alright. When do you think you guys will be here? Dinner will be ready in about an hour, I’d predict,” my father informed me.
“We’ll be there by then. We’ll probably leave here in like, half an hour,” I responded.
“Okay, sweetie. I’ll see you guys later,” my dad said before hanging up the phone.
I shut my phone and placed it back on the end table where it had been sitting. “We’ll have to leave in about half an hour,” I told Jeff. “My dad said the food will be ready around 5:30,” I explained.
“Okay. Cool,” Jeff responded, standing up from the couch. The ring of the phone had woken Carmen up, and she was now running wildly around the living room. “I think Carmen needs to go outside…” Jeff said, heading for the door.
“I’ll go with you,” I offered, reaching for the remote and turning off the television.
As soon as Jeff opened the door that lead from the living room out into the stairwell, Carmen bolted her way up the stairs and to the front door of the house. I grabbed the dog’s leash and clipped it into her collar before opening the door and leading Carmen outside. I tied the end of the dog’s leash to the post that was in the middle of the Bradley’s huge front lawn, and then walked back up to the front porch where Jeff was standing. The two of us sat down on the family’s big white bench – the one Jeff’s mom always sat on when she went outside to smoke – and watched Carmen as she rolled around in the grass.
Jeff and I sat and talked for a few minutes before we were interrupted by the ring of Jeff’s cell phone. “I thought you said your phone was in your room,” I pointed out, watching Jeff pull his cell phone out of his back pocket.
“Oh,” was all Jeff said in response before answering his phone.
“Hello? Yeah… Sure… I’ll be there soon… Yep… Okay… See you later.” I sat next to Jeff impatiently, listening to his side of the conversation. As soon as he hung up the phone, I turned towards him.
“Who was that?” I asked.
“Brandon,” Jeff answered.
“What did he want?”
“He needs a ride out to his dad’s tonight,” Jeff informed me.
“But I thought you were coming to my house for dinner tonight…” I commented.
“Yeah, but I can’t now. I have to bring Brandon to his dad’s. Sorry.”
“I told my dad you were coming,” I said, sounding extremely disappointed. “He made extra food for you. He’s not going to be too happy if you don’t show up…”
“Tell him I said I’m sorry,” Jeff replied, standing up from the bench and walking off the porch out into the front yard. He took hold of Carmen’s leash, untied it from the post in the middle of the yard and led the dog back up towards the front door. “Don’t you think you should get going?” Jeff asked me as he looked down at his watch, noticing that it was about 5:00. “Brandon wanted me to pick him up by 6:00, so I’ve got to leave pretty soon anyway,” he told me.
“Okay. I guess I’ll get going then…” I said, turning and walking slowly towards my car. Jeff opened the front door, let Carmen in, and then turned back to meet me at my car. “When will I see you next?” I asked.
“I don’t know…” Jeff replied, “The only day I have off is Thursday.”
“I’m not doing anything Thursday… we could hang out after school,” I offered. “Do you want to come over?” I asked.
“Yeah, sure,” Jeff said. “Sounds good. I’ll see you Thursday.”
“Alright,” I said, forcing a smile as Jeff wrapped his arms around me and gave me a big hug. “I’ll be looking forward to it,” I said, pulling away from his embrace just enough to be able to kiss him on the lips. “Have a good night,” I said, “Tell Brandon I said hello.”
“I will. Enjoy your ribs!” Jeff called out as I sat down in my car and shut the driver’s side door. I pulled slowly out of the Bradley’s long driveway and flipped through radio stations as I started the twenty minute drive back to my house. I paid little attention to what was playing on the radio. My mind was too cluttered with thoughts of Jeff. It was becoming more and more common for him to cancel on me at the last minute due to a phone call from either Brandon or Lucy.
It seemed like Brandon always needed Jeff for something or another… whether it was to drive him to his dad’s house, or to let him stay the night over at Jeff’s, or just to run to the store and buy him cigarettes. Jeff was constantly running around doing favors for Brandon. I had convinced myself, though, that Brandon needed Jeff’s attention more than I did. I knew that Brandon didn’t have a whole lot of friends, and I also knew that his home life was less than desirable. I counted myself lucky that I didn’t need somebody to drive me around or to help me escape from my own house. I supposed that it was alright for Jeff to cancel on me like he did, as long as it was in order to help out someone in as much need as Brandon.

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Jun. 24th, 2006 01:58 pm Chapter 3

About ten minutes later, Molly’s truck rolled up into Steve’s driveway. As Molly, Christine and I filed out of the truck, we noticed Steve and Mike standing out on the back porch, looking at Steve’s grill. “What’s the matter?” Molly called out from the driveway. “You boys afraid to start a fire?” she teased.
“Oh shut up!” Steve called back. “And get back in your truck and go buy us some more charcoal!” he joked.
“Whatever,” Molly replied, running towards the deck. She leapt up the three short stairs and tackled Steve with a big hug. The two of them were really close, almost like brother and sister. Everyone expected them to start dating, but they were both reluctant to admit that they’d ever thought about it.
“Seriously, though,” Steve started back in after recovering from Molly’s attack. “We do need charcoal…”
“Don’t worry about it,” Mike chimed in. “I was gonna run to the store and get some soda anyway.”
“Do you want someone to go with you? That’s a lot to carry… soda and a big bag of charcoal, I mean…” Molly offered, looking back and forth between Christine and Mike.
“Yeah,” I said, “You could probably use some help.” I elbowed Christine in the side. “Christine’s strong,” I added with a wink.
Christine’s face turned a shade of red almost as bright as Molly’s truck. “I could go with you… if you wanted me to…” she said to Mike, quietly.
“Sure, why not? I wouldn’t mind some company,” he replied with a smile before he turned to walk towards his brand new, bright blue Mustang convertible – an early graduation present from his parents. Christine followed cautiously behind him. Molly and I watched attentively as the pair pulled out of Steve’s driveway.
“What was that all about?” Steve asked, sounding a bit confused.
“Christine has a big crush on Mike,” Molly answered quickly.
“Well, if that wasn’t obvious…” Steve replied. “I think we all knew that.”
“Well, that’s what it was about!” Molly said. “It was about making Christine actually talk to him!”
“Yeah,” I piped up, “So she can figure out on her own that he’s just a big dirt bag…”
“Hey now…” Steve said, defensively.
“Sorry!” I exclaimed. “But you know I don’t like the kid.”
“Oh well. Speaking of dirt bags…” Steve teased, “Where’s that boy of yours?”
“Jeff? He had to work…” I answered. “And he’s not a dirt bag!” I said, punching Steve playfully in the arm.
“No more of a dirt bag than Mike,” Steve replied. “But anyway… that sucks that he had to work. I actually kinda wanted to talk to him.”
“You did?” I asked, curiously.
“Yeah…” Steve started. “We hired this new kid at the diner the other day who said he knew him.”
“What’s his name?” I asked.
“Brandon. He said he went to Eastbrook, so I asked him about Jeff. He made it sound like they were pretty close…”
“Oh, yeah,” I said. “I know Brandon. Jeff hangs out with him at The Corner sometimes.”
“Ah. That would make sense,” said Steve.
“What do you mean?” I questioned.
“I was pretty sure Brandon was gay, the way he was talking. He wouldn’t shut up about Jeff… and he was pretty decked out in gay-pride jewelry… a rainbow wristband and some ring with a purple triangle on it. It was kind of weird…” Steve answered.
“Whatever,” I replied. “I mean, I knew Brandon was gay. But I don’t have a problem with him and Jeff hanging out. It’s good that Jeff has friends.”
“Yeah, I guess so,” Steve said, warily. “But I’ve always kinda wondered about him…” he said, a playful smile growing on his face.
“Oh stop,” I ordered, “That’s not even funny!”
“Yeah it is,” Molly contested with a laugh.
“You guys…” I complained.
“Alright, alright. We’ll stop,” Molly complied, still laughing a little. “So,” she continued, turning towards Steve, “who all’s supposed to be here, anyway?” she asked.
“Everybody, I think…” Steve answered, having turned his attention towards the grill.
“Well yeah, but who’s everybody?” she asked, walking over to stand next to Steve.
“You know,” Steve replied, “You guys and Mike…”
“Well duh,” Molly cut in before he could continue.
“And Carrie, Amanda, Kevin, Andy…” Steve went on.
“No Angela?” Molly asked, curiously.
“Nah, I don’t think so…” Steve replied. Angela was a new addition to the group, but another old friend of Steve’s. Molly was convinced that Angela had a big crush on him, and always felt threatened whenever she was around. “Why?” Steve asked.
“I dunno. Just curious,” she answered.
Twenty minutes went by as Steve, Molly and I stood around on the deck, talking and waiting for Mike and Christine to get back with the charcoal. We reminisced about our last party, which had by far been the most fun any of us had ever had. The boys had set up a huge bonfire in Steve’s backyard and we all sat around in the dark, video taping each other. Our group of friends was about as tight knit as it gets, and we were trying to do everything we could to make the best of our last year together. We’d always enjoyed making movies (the boys especially), but the movie we made at our last party was one that we all were going to keep forever – Carrie’s dad had made sure of it by making copies for everybody.
Just when the conversation between the three of us started to die, Mike’s car came rolling up the driveway. He and Christine both stepped out, Mike carrying a huge bag of charcoal and Christine carrying three two-liter bottles of soda. Both were laughing and had huge smiles on their faces. “Well, well, well!” Molly exclaimed. “How was your trip to the store? Looks like you two had fun!” she winked at Christine.
“Did you see Jeff?” I asked.
“No…” Christine replied, slowly. “I kept my eye out for him, but I didn’t see him at all.”
“Weird,” I replied, looking at my watch. “It’s 3:00 already. He should definitely be there by now.”
“That’s what I thought,” Christine said. “Maybe I just missed him. I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about.”
“You’re probably right. He was probably just in the back room or something. Or maybe he was out pushing carts.”
“Yeah, maybe,” Christine offered.
“You didn’t happen to look for his car in the parking lot, did you?” I asked, with a worried tone growing in my voice.
“Nah, I didn’t even think to look,” Christine answered. “Don’t worry about it, Anna. I’m sure everything’s okay.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right… but I’m just gonna try calling him one more time.”
“Geeze!” Molly chimed in. “What do you need him for anyway? You’re here with us – aren’t we fun enough?” she joked.
“Of course you are!” I replied, giving my friend a quick hug. “That’s why I’m just gonna call and make sure he’s okay, and then I’m going to have an amazing night with my best friends in the whole wide world,” I said, forcing a smile.
I grabbed my phone out of my back pocket and dialed Jeff’s number again. This time it didn’t even ring – it just went straight to his voicemail. “Hey, this is Jeff’s cell phone. Leave me a message and I’ll call ya back when I can. Thanks.” I let out a long, loud sigh after hearing the all too familiar message. A little worried about my boyfriend, I decided to leave him another message, just to make sure he knew I wanted him to call me back.
“Hey baby, it’s me again. Christine and Mike were just at the store, and they said they didn’t see you. I just wanted to make sure you were okay! I hope you’re having a good day at work. I’ll see you tomorrow. I love you! Bye!” I shut my phone dramatically and put it back in my pocket, letting out another sigh.
“Voicemail again?” Christine asked, already knowing the answer to her question.
“Yep,” I replied, a little angrily. “It didn’t even ring this time – just went straight to his voicemail.”
“Ah,” Christine said, “Maybe he just turned it off because he’s working. He can’t answer it anyway, right?” she offered.
“Good point,” I said, my anger starting to fade away. “You’re probably right. I’m sure everything’s fine.”
A few seconds later, a big brown van came rolling up Steve’s driveway. Out of it popped Carrie, Amanda, Kevin and Andy – the rest of the regular group. “Geeze!” Molly called out, running towards the van. “I didn’t know you were a bus driver!” she joked to Carrie, the driver of the van.
“Yeah, yeah,” Carrie replied, conceding to the fact that she usually ended up being the one to chauffer most of the group around, due to the big, old van that she drove. “How long have you guys been here?” she asked, looking around at Christine, Mike and me.
“Eh… I dunno about Mike, but Christine, Anna and I got here about an hour ago,” Molly replied.
“Ah, cool,” Carrie said, shutting the heavy driver’s side door of her van.
“What does everybody want?” Steve called out, noticing that the rest of the group had arrived. “We’ve got a ton of hot dogs, and Mike’s in there working on putting some burgers together.”
“I brought potato chips!” Kevin called out. “Barbecue and sour cream and onion!” he added.
“Awesome,” Steve replied.
“And I made brownies,” Carrie said, opening the trunk of her van to retrieve them.
“Mmmm!” exclaimed Christine, running over towards Carrie. “I’ll help you with those,” she joked.
“I’ve got apples and carrots,” Amanda added, followed by laughter from the rest of the group.
“Leave it to you to spoil it with health food,” Molly teased.
The night went on the same way any other party night would go for us. Steve grilled some amazing hotdogs and hamburgers. Christine ate at least half the pan of brownies on her own, and managed to keep her two-liter of Cherry Coke all to herself. Molly and Steve got into an epic wrestling match, which actually ended with Molly coming out victoriously. And I spent the entire night worrying in silence about my boyfriend.
Carrie was the first to leave, along with the entire swarm of people she’d brought with her. When the party had died back down to just Molly, Christine, Steve, Mike and me, the five of us started to clean up. I began folding up the Twister mat that I’d won a couple of games on earlier in the night as Christine walked around picking up all of the paper plates and cups that were strewn around Steve’s back yard. “Is there any food left?” I asked.
“Carrie left a few brownies here,” Christine responded, “And these barbecue chips that Andy brought were hardly touched,” she continued, lifting up the almost-full bag to show Anna. “Are you thinking about bringing some food over to Jeff?” she asked.
Looking down at my watch, I noticed that it was only ten o’clock. “Yeah, I think so. Everybody left a little earlier than I’d expected… we could finish cleaning up here and then maybe the three of us can run out to the grocery store and catch Jeff before he leaves,” I offered.
“Sounds good,” Molly called out from the deck where she was helping Steve clean up his grilling mess. “I think we’re almost done up here… how’s the yard looking?” she asked.
“Not too bad,” I called back. “I think we’re about ready, don’t you, Steve?”
“Yeah, it looks fine,” Steve answered, barely looking up to survey the condition of his yard.
“Alright, cool,” Molly replied. “I think we’re gonna take off then,” she said, giving her friend a big hug. “See ya later.”
“Bye, guys” Steve called out to all three of us as we walked down the driveway towards Molly’s truck. We sat down – Molly in the driver’s seat, Christine in the middle and me on the other end with the brownies and potato chips in my lap.
“I hope Jeff’s hungry!” Christine commented, looking over at all the food Anna had gathered.
“If he’s even there…” Molly added cynically.
“Why wouldn’t he be there?” I asked, sounding a little worried. “Of course he’ll be there.”
“I dunno,” Molly replied. “I just kinda have this feeling we’re gonna drive all the way out there and we won’t even find him. That’s all.”
“Whatever,” I said, pulling out my phone to make sure that I hadn’t missed a call from Jeff. “Maybe I should just call one more time…”
“It couldn’t hurt,” Christine said.
Once again, I quickly dialed Jeff’s cell phone number. This time, just like the last, it kicked right into his voicemail without even ringing. “It’s turned off,” I announced, slamming my phone shut. “I’m not gonna bother leaving another message. I already left him two. I’m sure he’s there, anyway, if his phone is still turned off.”
The three of us were surprisingly quiet during the rest of the drive to the grocery store. Except for Christine picking at what was left of the pan of brownies, we all sat in still silence for the duration of the fifteen minute drive. “Do you want to drive around and see if his car’s here?” Molly asked me as she pulled into the parking lot of the grocery store.
“Nah, we don’t need to do that,” I replied. “I’m sure he’s here. His phone’s still off,” I said, after making one last attempt at calling Jeff. “We should be able to catch him right after he punches out,” I commented, noticing that it was almost 10:30. We all hopped out of Molly’s truck and walked into the grocery store, all three of us searching for Jeff. After splitting up and taking a thorough sweep through the front of the store, we met back up. “I wonder where he is…” I asked, sounding a bit worried.
“Maybe we should just walk around a little more…” Christine suggested, making her way back into the store. The girls wandered through every isle of the grocery store in search of Jeff, with no luck. Annoyed, I decided just to ask an employee about Jeff’s whereabouts. I looked around the store for a familiar face, hoping to be able to talk to someone I’d met before - someone who I was sure knew my boyfriend.
Recognizing the lady behind the customer service desk, I walked up and said hello. “Do you know if Jeff Bradley is here right now?” I asked the woman, who’s nametag read Betty.
“No, I don’t think that he is,” Betty responded.
“Oh, he left already?” I asked.
“No, I don’t think he’s been here at all tonight,” Betty answered, sounding a little confused.
“Oh, okay…” I replied, my face growing red and hot with confusion and anger. “Thank you.” I turned away from the customer service desk and walked back towards the registers where Molly and Christine were standing, reading the headlines of all of the newspapers out loud – something that the three of us always did to pass the time. “He’s not here,” I announced to my friends.
“Really?” Christine asked worriedly. “Do you think he’s okay?”
“I don’t know what’s going on,” I replied, trying to mask the fear in my voice. “I’m going to try calling his house… maybe he stayed home,” I offered. I pulled out my phone and dialed the number to Jeff’s house. After a couple of rings, Jeff’s mom answered the phone.
“Hello?” a very tired voice asked.
“Hi Mrs. Bradley. Sorry if I woke you up. This is Anna. Is Jeff home?”
“No, I think he’s at work…” Jeff’s mother answered.
“Oh,” I replied. “I’m there right now, and I can’t find him. Somebody told me he hasn’t been here all night. She must have been wrong.”
“I don’t know,” Jeff’s mom responded groggily. “He said he was going to work.”
“Alright Mrs. Bradley. I’m sorry if I woke you up. If you see him, can you ask him to call me?” I asked.
“I sure will,” Mrs. Bradley agreed. “Have a good night.”
“Good night.”
I hung up my phone and shut my eyes tightly, trying not to let my worry and disappointment show in front of my friends. “I guess we should just go home…” I suggested.
“Are you sure everything’s okay?” Christine asked.
“No… I don’t know where he is. His mom doesn’t know where he is. The woman at the customer service desk says she hasn’t seen him. I don’t know what’s going on…” I said, my emotions starting to show.
“Why don’t we take a spin through the parking lot and see if we can find his car?” Molly offered.
“Okay, good idea,” I agreed as the three of us started walking towards the grocery store’s exit. We climbed back up into Molly’s truck and rode slowly around the parking lot, all three of us looking in different directions for Jeff’s bright red Grand Prix. After our third time through, Molly put the truck into park.
“I’m pretty sure he’s not here,” Molly decided, turning to look at me. “I don’t know what you want to do…”
“I guess there really isn’t anything we can do…” I replied, trying to hold back the tears that were welling up in my eyes. “I’m just going to try calling him one more time…” I said, pulling my phone back out. I quickly dialed Jeff’s cell phone number. My face lit up as I heard the ring. “Wherever he is, he’s got his phone turned back on!” I exclaimed. A few rings later, though, to my disappointment, Jeff’s voicemail message kicked in once again.
“Hey, this is Jeff’s cell phone. Leave me a message and I’ll call ya back when I can. Thanks,” said the recording. I let out a big sigh in between the end of Jeff’s spiel and the beep that signified my cue to leave a message.
“Hey Jeff,” I started, “It’s me again. Sorry to leave you so many messages… I’m just really worried about you. Christine, Molly and I stopped by the store after Steve’s party to share some of the leftover food with you… we looked all over the place, but we couldn’t find you. I asked Betty, the lady at the customer service desk, if she knew where you were, and she said she hadn’t seen you all night. I called your house and your mom said you were at work. I called you a few times earlier tonight and your phone was turned off, and now it’s back on again. I don’t know what’s going on. I’m really confused. It would be nice to know where you are, or at least that you’re safe. Please, PLEASE give me a call back as soon as you hear this message. I don’t care how late it is, I’ll be up worrying about you until I know that you’re okay. I love you. Bye.” I hung up my phone and took in a deep breath.
“I’m sure everything’s okay,” Christine offered, putting her arm around my shoulders. “Maybe you should just go home and go to sleep. Didn’t you say you were gonna go over to his house tomorrow anyway?”
“Yeah, I’m supposed to at least…” I replied.
“Right,” said Christine, “So how about you just go home, get some sleep, and then call him tomorrow when you get out of church? I’m sure everything will make sense by then,” she suggested.
I stiffened my back against the bench seat of Molly’s truck, squeezed my eyes shut as tight as I could and took another deep breath in. “Okay. I guess we should go then,” I said, still fighting back tears as Molly started the engine of her truck and pulled out of the parking lot, headed back towards her house.
It was another 20 minutes from the grocery store to Molly’s house, and again all three of us were unusually quiet the entire time. When we finally arrived at Molly’s, we all hopped out of the truck. Molly hugged Christine and I goodnight. “I’ll see you guys Monday,” she said. “I hope everything’s okay with Jeff,” she added.
Christine and I sat down in my blue Buick and pulled out of Molly’s driveway. As I drove towards Christine’s house, I finally let the tears fall that had been welled up behind my eyes since before we left the grocery store. “I don’t know what’s going on,” I said sadly. “Everything with Jeff has just been so weird lately. I never see him anymore, and now he doesn’t even answer his phone… Christine, I don’t like this. I don’t know what to do…”
“I don’t know what to tell you, Anna…” Christine replied.
“Just tell me that you know everything’s going to be okay…” I pleaded.
Christine let out a sigh and draped her arm around my shoulders. “I’m sure everything’s fine.”

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Jun. 24th, 2006 01:58 pm Chapter 2

As soon as we sat down in my car, Christine’s cell phone started to ring. Recognizing Molly’s number on the screen, she answered it.
“Hey, girl. What’s up?” she asked.
“Not a whole lot. I was just wondering if you wanted to come chill for a while before the party,” Molly replied.
“Sounds good. Anna and I are at the grocery store, but we can be at your place in like, 20 minutes,” Christine informed her.
“Ah, okay. How’s Jeff?” Molly asked playfully. Everybody knew that whenever I went ‘grocery shopping’, I was really out to visit my boyfriend.
“He’s actually not here…” Christine answered slowly. “We figure he was probably just wrong about what time he had to work. I think Anna’s gonna come by later and bring him some food or something.”
“Ohhhh,” Molly replied, skeptically. “Okay. Well then, I guess I’ll see you guys in a little while!” she commented before hanging up the phone.
“I guess we’re going to Molly’s,” Christine said, turning to me.
“Sounds good to me,” I replied. After a minute or two of silence, I piped up again. “Why did you tell Molly that Jeff wasn’t there? Now she’s not gonna let it go… she’ll go on about it all night,” I asked Christine angrily.
“I don’t know. I mean, she asked. It’s not like I was gonna lie to her,” Christine answered defensively.
“I guess you’re right. But I’m just so sick of her always picking him apart. She doesn’t have to like him… she’s not the one dating him. And anyway, he likes you guys. He actually told me to tell you and Molly that he said hi. I forgot about that.”
“Yeah. I don’t know what Molly’s deal is sometimes,” Christine said. “It does seem like she kind of looks for ways to make Jeff look bad. But don’t worry about it, Anna. Molly’s just like that. She doesn’t trust anybody. You shouldn’t let it get to you. But anyway… do you think I look okay? I mean… if Mike’s gonna be there… don’t you think I should change?” Christine asked, looking down at her dirty jeans and plain pink t-shirt.
“Oh, come on, Christine. When are you gonna give up on him?” I asked, sounding a little annoyed.
“I know, I know… But seriously. Can we stop by my place just for a few minutes so I can at least put a clean pair of jeans on? Pleeeeeaaaaaassssseeeee?” She begged me, sticking out her bottom lip.
“Of course. We wouldn’t want Mike to see you looking like that… That is, if you ever actually talk to him!” I joked.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah… I know. Actually, I was thinking about maybe talking to him tonight. I wanted to ask him about that basketball game against Eastbrook last week. Man, that game was insane. I still think we should have won! I don’t understand why that basket he made didn’t count…” Christine had never really been very interested in sports, but ever since she’d taken an interest in Mike, Morton’s star basketball player, she’d been trying to understand the game.
I just laughed as Christine continued to ramble on about Mike. “Do you want to go to the game on Tuesday with me? I think Molly has to work,” Christine asked.
“I’ll be there, but I can’t sit with you… Pep band, remember?” I reminded my friend. Whether I liked it or not, my fierce talent for playing the saxophone forced me into attending all of the home games as part of the school’s pep band. I really didn’t mind it, though. I had a lot of friends in band and I liked watching basketball, even though our team wasn’t very good. The only downfall to it was that I couldn’t sit with my friends who weren’t in band, like Christine and Molly.
“Oh, right. I forgot,” Christine replied. “I’m still gonna go though. We can hang out at halftime or something.”
“Right,” I said with a wink. “We wouldn’t want you to miss out on a chance to see Mike in those basketball shorts you love so much,” I joked, referring to the well-known fact that Christine couldn’t make it through five minutes of a basketball game without commenting on how magnificent Mike’s rear end looked in his basketball uniform. Christine blushed a little and then slapped me lightly on the knee.
“Hey now!” She exclaimed. “Who says I can’t go just because I like basketball?”
“Uh… Christine?” I asked playfully. “We all know you don’t go for love of the sport.”
Christine giggled in agreement, but stopped abruptly when her ears picked up the song that was playing on the radio. As she reached over to turn up the volume, we both started belting out the lyrics to our favorite song by the All American Rejects. The one thing that always connected us without fail was our love for music. We had the same taste in bands and loved going to concerts together. The two of us could sit for hours just listening to music and singing along together. The rest of the car ride to Christine’s house was spent reminiscing about the All American Rejects concert we had gone to a few months ago. We’d been looking forward to that show for years before it actually happened, and when it finally did, we couldn’t have been more excited.
After about ten minutes of the two of us gabbing on and on about the concert, I pulled into Christine’s driveway. “Can you come in with me? I don’t know what I want to wear!” Christine pleaded.
“Of course,” I replied, always happy to offer fashion advice to my friends. “But didn’t you tell Molly we’d be at her place soon?”
“Yeah, I know,” answered Christine. “It won’t take too long. I just need help picking out a shirt… come on, lets go.”
We hopped out of my car and ran into Christine’s house, where we were greeted by her dog, Slider, who followed us up the stairs into Christine’s bedroom. Whipping open her closet door, Christine stepped aside so I could help her pick something out. “Are you just gonna wear jeans?” I asked.
“Yeah, I think so,” Christine said, taking off her dirty pair and pulling on a clean one. As shy as Christine was, she had no qualms about undressing in front of her friends. Anna kept rifling through the closet as Christine hurriedly did her makeup.
“What about this?” I asked, pulling out a black tank top with a silver sequined star in the middle. “I think it would look good with that belt you just bought,” I offered.
“Ooohhh! Good idea!” Christine exclaimed, grabbing the silver belt off of her bed and putting it on. “Yeah, I think I’ll do that. Thanks!” she exclaimed, grabbing the tank top out of my hand and putting it on. Looking in the mirror, Christine smiled at herself.
“You look awesome,” I commented. “Don’t worry – Mike will love it,” I joked.
“Oh, hush!” Christine replied, still looking in the mirror.
“Come on, lets go,” I ordered, linking arms with Christine and walking her out of her bedroom door, down the stairs, and out to the car. “Molly’s probably wondering what happened to us.”
We got back into Anna’s car and drove the five minutes to Molly’s big farm house. As we pulled into Molly’s driveway, we were greeted by her little brother Matt who was out in the front yard playing with one of their family’s many barn cats. After saying hi to us girls, six-year-old Matt ran inside and screamed for Molly, who came running out of the house to meet us.
“Ooo! You look cute!” Molly exclaimed, looking at Christine.
“Thanks!” Christine replied with a grin on her face. “Anna helped.”
“Come on in. You guys can help me finish baking these cookies,” Molly said, leading her friends into her humungous house. I sat down at the dining room table while Christine jumped right in to help Molly, stopping to grab a spoonful of raw cookie dough, of course. I wasn’t much for baking, but Christine and Molly loved it. We hung out in the kitchen for a while, gabbing as we usually did about anything and everything.
“I need something to do for spring break!” Molly exclaimed, frustrated. “I want to do something exciting…”
“I’m going to Florida!” I commented a bit smugly. I always relished in opportunities to gloat about my spring break plans. “I get to spend a whole week with Jeff!” I added, a huge smile appearing on my face.
Molly sighed and turned to me. “Are you sure that’s going to be as fun as you’re expecting?” she asked.
“Why wouldn’t it be?” I asked, sounding a little confused.
“I don’t know. I know I couldn’t handle an entire week with that boy…”
“Well, yeah… that’s why you’re not his girlfriend…” I replied defensively.
“I don’t know, Anna,” Molly continued, “I just think you’re in for a shock is all. You haven’t spent that much time with him lately, and it seems like whenever you guys are together, you end up fighting. I think a week together is really gonna be tough for you. But who knows. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’ll be a blast.”
“Heck yeah it’ll be a blast! I’m hoping that going back to the place where we met will make things better. Maybe it’ll make him remember how much fun we used to have. I think it’ll fix our relationship… and it will definitely show people that we’re right for each other!” I said confidently.
“Maybe…” Molly replied, deciding that it wasn’t the right time to get into another pointless argument with me about Jeff. “But anyway… I called Steve and asked if he needed any help getting ready for tonight. He said Mike was gonna come over and help him grill, but that we could come by early if we wanted to.”
Christine’s face lit up. “When did he say he wanted us there?” she asked eagerly.
“Pretty much whenever,” Molly answered. “I still need to take a shower and stuff, but we could probably leave in like an hour or so.”
“Sweet,” replied Christine.
“Do you think we should bring some games or something?” I asked, already digging through the closet in the Andrews’ living room.
“If you can find any,” Molly answered back.
After a few minutes of searching, I pulled out Twister and a couple of decks of cards. Grinning, I carried the Twister box into the kitchen and set it on the dining room table. “Oh, I found something,” I said excitedly. I was known amongst my friends as being a master Twister player. My long arms and legs gave my an advantage over everybody else.
“Oh no…” Christine said with a sigh. “We haven’t played that in forever. I call spinner!” Christine hated playing Twister in front of the boys. She wasn’t as agile as Molly and me, and the last thing she wanted was to be embarrassed by falling on her butt on a Twister matt in front of Mike.
“As usual,” Molly and I answered in unison before Molly took off up the huge, winding staircase to take a shower. “Be ready to leave by the time I get back down there!” she called from the top of the stairs.
“I wonder if I should call Jeff,” I pondered as I peered into the oven to check on the cookies. “I just feel a little weird about the fact that he wasn’t there earlier…”
“I don’t know,” replied Christine. “I mean, he wouldn’t be able to answer his phone if he was working, anyway, would he?”
“True. Not in the middle of the day like this, at least,” I answered. When Jeff worked late nights, he usually carried his phone around with him, even though he wasn’t really supposed to. Every once in a while I would be able to catch him while he was working and we would talk on the phone for a few minutes, but in the middle of the day on a Saturday when the grocery store was at its busiest there was no way that Jeff would get away with carrying his cell phone on him, let alone answering it. “But I think I’ll call anyway… I’ll just leave him a message. You know, something for him to listen to on his break.”
“Alright,” said Christine, who was working diligently at eating every last bit of raw cookie dough that was left over from Molly’s baking.
I reached into her pocket for her cell phone and dialed Jeff’s number. After a few rings, I heard his voicemail message. “Hey, this is Jeff’s cell phone. Leave me a message and I’ll call ya back when I can. Thanks.” I had it memorized, and always recited it out loud when I listened to it. Sometimes I joked that I heard his voice on that message more often than I heard it in person. I waited a few seconds for the beep, and then started talking.
“Hey, it’s Anna. Christine and I stopped by earlier to say hi to you, but you weren’t there… I hope you’re okay. Give me a call back when you get this if you’re not too busy. I miss you, and I can’t wait to see you tomorrow. I love you! Bye!” I had gotten all too used to leaving messages on Jeff’s voicemail. It seemed that he never answered his cell phone, even when he wasn’t working. Jeff claimed that it was because a few freshmen from school got a hold of his phone number and called him all the time, and the only way for him to avoid them was by just not answering his phone. I knew that the best way to get a hold of Jeff was to call his house, which was actually alright with me, because I loved talking to Jeff’s parents. I decided not to call there this time, though, because I was almost certain that Jeff would be at work.
“Voicemail?” Christine asked, licking up the last bit of cookie dough from the mixing bowl.
“Of course,” I replied with a sigh. “He must be at work by now. I think I’m still gonna stop over there later tonight and bring him something from the party.”
“Cool,” Christine replied, having turned her attention to Molly’s dad’s bird, Patrick. The Andrews’ family had more animals than they knew what to do with, but Patrick the parrot was everyone’s favorite. He’d lived in that house longer than Molly had – he had been Molly’s father’s pet for at least 20 years. Walking over to Patrick’s cage, I grabbed a lock of Christine’s long blonde hair.
“Don’t you want to put your hair up? It’s going to be really hot outside…” I asked.
“It never looks right when I do it!” Christine complained, petting the bird’s head.
“I’ll help,” I offered. “Your hair is probably really easy for someone else to do…”
“Alright. Make it look beautiful!” Christine joked, reaching for her purse. She pulled out the hairbrush that she always kept with her and dug for a couple of bobby pins. She pulled off the hair tie that she always wore around her wrist and handed the whole lot to me.
“Actually…” I started, “I bet your hair would be really cute if I just braided it right down the back. Its so long and thick and blonde and straight… ahhh Christine! I wish I had your hair!” I complained, pulling at my own curly, brown hair. I made quick work of braiding Christine’s hair. Proud of the way it looked, she guided Christine over to the antique full length mirror in the Andrews’ living room. “What do you think?” I asked.
“Perfect!” Christine exclaimed, touching her long braid. “Man, now I guess I have to talk to Mike tonight, don’t I? I mean… you helped me with my outfit and my hair… you’re leaving me no choice!” she joked.
“That was the point,” I replied with a wink. “I wonder how the cookies are doing?” I asked, making my way back into the kitchen. I opened the oven, peered in, and reached for an oven mitt, deciding that they were done.
A few seconds later, Molly came bounding down the stairs in a pair of overalls and a blue tank top. Noticing Christine’s hair, she laughed. “I hope I’m not too underdressed for this party!” Molly teased. Of the three of us, Molly was by far the least fashion-conscious. Having never really taken too much of an interest in guys, Molly never seemed to care what she was wearing. She never tried to hide the fact that she lived on a farm – her overalls were, hands down, her favorite article of clothing.
“Nah,” I replied. “You’re not trying to impress the star basketball player,” I teased, looking over at Christine as she removed the cookies from the sheet they had baked on.
“Thank God for that!” Molly exclaimed. “He’s the last person I’d be trying to impress.”
“Hey now!” Christine piped up. “There’s nothing wrong with Mike!”
“Of course not,” Molly replied, not trying at all to mask the sarcasm in her voice.
“Give it a rest,” I scolded, placing the two dozen cookies in a big Tupperware box, layering them with wax paper because they hadn’t had time to cool yet. “Just because you don’t like anybody doesn’t mean we can’t. But anyway, are we ready to go? Who’s driving?”
“I can,” Molly answered, grabbing the keys to her red pick-up truck off the key rack by the front door. “Let’s go.”
“We can’t forget the cookies!” Christine exclaimed, grabbing the container as she headed towards the door.
We filed out of Molly’s house and squeezed into the cab of her truck. The ride to Steve’s house was about 20 minutes, but we didn’t mind being squished into Molly’s truck. Two years ago, Molly had been the first of us to get her driver’s license. The three of us had always loved going on random adventures in Molly’s trusty old truck, and usually whenever we all went somewhere together, it was our vehicle of choice. The radio in Molly’s truck had been broken since before it belonged to her, but we never had a problem with that. The time we spent in that big, red pick-up truck was precious to us. This is where we had our deepest conversations, where we really got to know each other, where we revealed our darkest secrets. This truck knew everything about us.
Piping up over the roar of the engine, Anna was the first to start talking. “You guys… I think I’m kind of worried about Jeff…” I started, slowly. “He’s been acting so weird lately. I can never get a hold of him, and he’s always hanging out with this girl Lucy from Eastbrook who I know has a crush on him… He doesn’t answer his phone and he works way too much – its all he cares about anymore.” I sighed and waited nervously for my friends to respond. I wasn’t sure if it was such a good idea to admit to Molly that I was worried about my relationship with Jeff. With as much as she loved to criticize my boyfriend, I didn’t want to give her any more ammunition.
“I know you don’t like to hear it from me, Anna…” Molly began, “but I just don’t think Jeff’s a good guy. I don’t think you he’s right for you at all.”
“Molly,” I was perturbed by my friend’s reaction, but not at all surprised. “You’ve been saying that since before you ever even met him. I swear you just hate him for no reason at all.”
“Well,” Molly defended, “you’re the one who brought it up. What did you expect me to say?”
“I don’t know…” I responded. “I just… I guess I was looking for some reassurance. I don’t think he’s cheating on me or anything… I don’t care what stupid Mandy says. I’ve asked him about Stephanie and Lucy a million times, and he always tells me that they’re both just good friends… that he’s not attracted to either of them at all…”
“Well I can’t blame him there!” Molly exclaimed, laughing. Lucy and Stephanie were a couple of notably unattractive girls.
“I don’t know. I mean… I know he’s been spending a lot of time at that one coffee shop downtown… what’s it called… The Corner? I think?”
“Isn’t that supposed to be a gay place?” Christine piped up for the first time since the girls had sat down in the truck.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “I’ve heard that, too… but I know a couple of people who hang out there who aren’t gay. And well, obviously Jeff’s not gay. But he’s got that one friend Brandon who is, I think. Usually when he goes there, it’s to hang out with Brandon.”
“Hmm…” Molly pondered, skeptically. “I thought Jeff was all homophobic and stuff. When did he start hanging out with gay people?”
“Molly!” I exclaimed, sounding a bit shocked. “Seriously! What is wrong with you? There’s nothing wrong with Jeff having gay friends.”
“I didn’t say there was anything wrong with it…” Molly replied, backing off. “Anyway, I read in the paper that they’re supposed to have really good smoothies there. Maybe we should all go sometime and check it out,” she offered, trying to make light of the conversation.
“Yeah!” Christine responded, always game for trying new food. Molly and Anna both looked at her and laughed.
“How did I know that’d get you talking?” Molly teased.

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Jun. 24th, 2006 01:57 pm Chapter 1

It was 10:00 on a Saturday morning when I was abruptly awaken by the sound of my phone belting out its Latin rhythm ring tone, the one I had chosen especially for my boyfriend Jeff. I grabbed quickly for my phone and answered it. I was happy, as always, to hear the voice of the boy I had been dating for almost the past 2 years. Both of us were seniors in high school. Jeff and I had met during the spring of our sophomore year. I was a straight-A scholar and a star saxophone player at Morton High School, while Jeff was an average student at Eastbrook Senior High, just about 10 miles south of my school. We both loved science, and had been chosen a few years ago for a special spring break trip to study the beaches in Florida.
The first time Jeff and I met, the sparks didn’t exactly fly. I had never really dated before… I’d had a couple of “boyfriends”, but none of them lasted more than a couple of weeks. There just wasn’t anybody at Morton that was at all appealing to me, but I had been itching for a boyfriend. Jeff ended up sitting down next to me at an informational meeting about our spring break trip. I was one of the first ones there, and I sat down in what had been an empty row. As everybody else arrived, it filled up pretty fast, but even by the time the meeting actually started there was nobody sitting in the seat to my left. About 10 minutes later, though, Jeff walked in and plopped down next to me, in the only open seat in the room. I actually remember thinking to myself that if there was going to be anybody on that trip that I didn’t get along with, it would probably be Jeff. About 50 pounds overweight and quite scary looking, he wasn’t exactly my type. I did all I could throughout the meeting to avoid talking to or even make eye contact with him, which really wasn’t hard. He didn’t seem like he was looking to make any friends.
A few months later, when our whole group was standing around the airport waiting to take off for Florida, I surveyed the crowd. I was trying to decide who I hoped to sit next to on the four hour plane ride. I noticed a few of the girls kissing their boyfriends goodbye, and a lot of worried parents giving their kids last-minute advice before setting them free. My eyes fell on Jeff, and I was reminded of how badly I didn’t want to end up in those tiny seats so close to him for that long. When the tickets were handed out, I noticed that they seemed to run alphabetically by last name. Jeff’s last name was Bradley, which I assumed would put him far away from my last name of Michelson.
When I sat down on the plane, I introduced myself to the girl who was sitting on my right – Cindy Matthews. With a sigh of relief, I assumed that the person on my left would be from the middle of the alphabet as well. A few minutes passed and the seat remained vacant. Right when I had guessed that everybody must be on the plane and that I was lucky enough to have two seats to myself, Jeff came stumbling down the isle. He pushed his way past me and Cindy and then checked the seat number on his ticket. “Is this H3?” he asked me, almost so quietly that I couldn’t hear him.
“Uhm… yeah. It is,” I replied with a look of disappointment on my face as Jeff sat himself down in the seat next to me. Deciding to make the best of my situation, I turned to Jeff and introduced myself. “I’m Anna, and this is Cindy,” I said, turning to face the girl on my right.
“Okay,” Jeff replied quietly, without even bothering to introduce himself to us. Instead, he pulled his CD player out of his carryon, wrapped his headphones around his ears, and turned up the volume loud enough that Cindy and I could’ve made out the lyrics if we’d tried.
I talked to Cindy throughout most of the plane ride, completely ignoring the fact that Jeff was right next to me. I couldn’t have been more relieved to step off of that plane and not have to be next to him anymore. He kept giving me odd looks… he really creeped me out. I managed to make friends real quickly with a girl named Stephanie, and together we successfully avoided Jeff for the first few days.
On the fourth day of the trip, as everybody was sitting down to eat, Jeff arrived late to dinner. Looking around to see that the only vacant spot was at my table, Jeff quietly trudged his way over and sat down. Somehow (it seemed to me as though it must have been magic) Jeff managed to make interesting conversation during dinner. I found out that this was his second trip (he’d gone on a smaller one when he was in junior high) and that he only lived about fifteen minutes away from me. He really seemed to know a lot about the stuff that we were studying. Intrigued by this boy that I had once been afraid of, I decided to spend the rest of the night getting to know Jeff.
After that night, the two of us spent the rest of the trip as friends. We worked together during the day and played cards all night. Jeff loved Go Fish (it was the only game he knew how to play), and I loved spending time with Jeff (even if it meant that I didn’t get to play Euchre, my all-time favorite card game). We started dating near the end of our first spring break together, and had been totally inseparable ever since.
“Hey. What’s up?” I asked as I answered my phone.
“Not much. I just wanted to let you know I’m not gonna make it to that party tonight. I’ve got a lot of stuff going on.”
“Oh…” I replied, feeling a little rejected. Jeff had been backing out on plans a lot lately, but I understood how busy he was. “What came up?”
“I picked up a couple of shifts at work… you know me, I just can’t say no,” Jeff answered. “I’m working all day… from noon until 10:30.”
“Again? Jeff, come on! You work so much… you can’t just take one night off?” I pleaded. Jeff had worked at the local grocery store since before he and I met, but just recently he’d started putting in at least 30 hours a week – twice what I was used to. It seemed that every time we made plans together, Jeff ended up having to work instead.
“Yeah. Anna, you know I have to work this much to afford the trip, remember?” Jeff and I were both planning another spring break trip with the group we had traveled with two years ago.
“Yeah, I know…” I said sadly. “It’s okay. Maybe I’ll come out and bring you dinner on my way to the party... then we can spend a few minutes together. I miss you!”
“No, you don’t need to do that,” Jeff said quickly. “Just go to the party and have fun. Aren’t Molly and Christine going? You always say you don’t get to hang out with them enough…” he offered.
“Yeah, I guess they are,” I responded, feeling a little excited about the prospect of spending time with Molly and Christine, my two best friends. “But are you sure you don’t want me to bring you dinner? I could pick up some Subway or something.”
“No, Anna, I’m gonna be way too busy. And besides, there’s gonna be a ton of food at the party. Didn’t you hear Steve talking about how excited he was to fire up the grill and make burgers for you guys? I’ll get something at work. Don’t worry about me.”
I twirled my dark brown hair as I listened to Jeff talk. I hadn’t seen my boyfriend all week, and I really missed him. “Can we hang out on Sunday then? Just for a little while? I can come over after church…” I asked.
“Yeah, sure,” Jeff answered. “Come by around 1:00 or something.”
“That sounds good. I can’t wait to see you. I miss you so much, Jeff… I really wish you didn’t have to work all the time.”
“But I do have to,” Jeff said sharply.
“I know…” I sighed.
“And anyway, I gotta go. Have fun at Steve’s party. Tell Molly and Christine I said hi. I’ll see you tomorrow,” Jeff blurted out quickly. “I love you,” he added after some silence.
“I love you, too, Jeff. Enjoy work,” I muttered back before I hung up the phone.
I lay still on my bed for a while after putting my phone back in its resting place on my nightstand. I patted down the wrinkles in my blue silk pajama pants – the ones Jeff had bought me for Christmas the year before. Sighing deeply, I smoothed down my curly hair and shut my green eyes tightly.
I promised myself I wasn’t going to get upset with Jeff for working as much as he did. After all, he was paying for both of us to go back to Florida this year. I thought I should have been proud of him for working so hard, instead of upset with him for not spending time with me. Having talked myself out of being mad at Jeff, I sat up, grabbed my phone, and quickly dialed the number of my best friend, Molly Andrews. If Molly wasn’t going to Steve’s party, neither was I.
“Hello?” Molly squeaked out, groggily. Molly and I had known each other all our lives. Our mothers had gone to the same Bible study and had put Molly and me in daycare together. Molly was a few months older than me, and I had always looked up to her. Ever since we were little Molly had always been the outspoken one. Everybody always knew what was on her mind, and she had a knack for getting people to do things her way. Unfortunately, though, there were times when being Molly’s best friend was a burden. Although it was great to hear her speak her mind about things I agreed with, I couldn’t stand how critical she was of the things she didn’t like. For the most part, though, I admired her and hoped that hanging around with her would cause some of her tenacity to rub off on me. I almost always took her advice on anything and everything. My mom used to joke that I would give up breathing if Molly told me I should. As far as I was concerned, Molly’s opinion mattered more than anything else.
My relationship with Jeff was one thing that Molly had never completely approved of, but I was so taken by Jeff that I ignored all of the bad things Molly had to say about him. When Jeff and I had first started dating, Molly tried to use the sway that she knew she had over me to convince me that Jeff and I weren’t right for each other, but I didn’t listen. I was convinced that, just like me, Molly didn’t understand Jeff when she first met him. I knew that if Molly just took some time to get to know Jeff, like I had, she would definitely change her mind.
“What’s up? Anna… it’s like, 10:30 in the morning,” Molly said after clearing her throat.
“Nothing, nothing. Sorry. I forgot how early it was. I was just wondering if you and Christine were going to Steve’s party tonight,” I asked.
“I don’t know. I think so. Why? Didn’t you say Jeff was coming with you?”
“Yeah, he was going to… but now he has to work. I don’t really want to go without him if you guys aren’t going to be there,” I answered, sounding a little disappointed.
“Oh…” Molly replied, a little annoyed. “Geeze, Anna. Jeff’s been backing out on a lot of stuff lately. Didn’t he just skip that basketball game between us and Eastbrook last week? What’s his deal?”
“He’s just working a lot, Molly. Lay off of him. Gosh. He needs the money so we can go to Florida, remember?” I answered defensively.
“Oh, right. I forgot,” Molly said quietly. She had given up a long time ago on trying to make me hold Jeff responsible for anything.
“So anyway… are you guys gonna go tonight or what?” I asked impatiently.
“Yeah, I think we’ll be there. Christine wants to go because she thinks Mike’s coming,” Molly added playfully.
“Oh goodness…” I said, rolling my eyes. “When is she going to give up on that?” Christine, our other best friend, had had her sights set on Mike Jameson for the past two years. Mike wasn’t really part of the group that we hung out with. He was Steve’s friend, and he showed up at parties occasionally. Everyone knew that Mike was bad news, and Molly and I were glad that Christine was too shy to actually strike up a conversation with him.
“I know, I know,” said Molly. “She’ll figure it out one of these days, I’m sure.”
“I hope so!” I exclaimed. “But anyway, I think I’m gonna get in the shower and then go to the store and pick up some stuff for the party. I know Steve’s grilling burgers… but man; I’ve been dying for s’mores! How good does that sound?”
“Make sure you buy lots of chocolate!” Molly ordered, jokingly. “You remember how it magically disappeared last time…”
“Oh, please!” I joked back. “We all know where that went…”
“Christine!” we exclaimed in unison.
“Right. Anyway, I’ll see you tonight,” I said before hanging up the phone.
I plugged my phone into its charger on my nightstand before I pulled back my pink flowered comforter and hopped quickly out of my small twin bed that was tucked away in the back corner of my bedroom. I stretched my long limbs, rubbed my eyes, and looked in my full-length mirror, yawning. I could tell just by looking out the window that it was going to be a beautiful, hot day outside. Grabbing my favorite pair of jeans and a plain red tank top, I headed for the shower.
Half an hour later I ascended the stairs to my living room, where my older brother Ben, who sometimes came home from college to visit on the weekends, was sitting playing a video game. My hair still wrapped in a towel, I sat down next to him. “How’s Jeff?” Ben asked. “Doesn’t he usually come over here on Saturdays?”
“Oh, he’s good. Just really busy… you know, working a lot so we can go to Florida,” I answered.
“Ah. Okay. I was thinking maybe you guys broke up or something,” Ben offered.
“What?!” I exclaimed, defensively. “Why would you think that?”
“I dunno. When I talked to Mandy the other day she made it sound like you guys weren’t together anymore. But whatever. Maybe I misunderstood,” Ben responded.
Mandy was Jeff’s older sister. She and Ben went to the same school, and although they weren’t really friends, they did like to talk about their younger siblings once in a while. Mandy and I didn’t really get along very well. It seemed to me like Mandy was always trying to make Ben think that Jeff was a bad guy. A year into our relationship, Mandy had told Ben that Jeff was cheating on me with Stephanie, the girl Jeff and I had made friends with while we were in Florida. Jeff and I almost broke up because of it, but in the end I decided not to believe Mandy. I mean, seriously… did she honestly think I would believe that after dating me for an entire year, he’d go and have sex with one of my best friends? Ever since that incident, Mandy and I hadn’t spoken to each other, but it seemed to me like Mandy was constantly trying to stir things up by talking to Ben.
“Why do you even talk to her?” I asked, angrily.
“Why shouldn’t I? She’s pretty cool…” Ben answered.
“Because she’s mean! She’s just trying to break Jeff and me up, Ben. Nothing she tells you is true. She just doesn’t like me, and she doesn’t like Jeff, and she doesn’t want us to be happy… I wish she’d just leave us alone. She’s such a liar, Ben. Honestly. Stephanie? Jeff cheated on me with STEPHANIE? She must have really thought I was a moron if she actually expected me to believe that. Anything she’s telling you now is just as much of a lie as it ever was,” I fumed.
“Whatever, kid,” Ben said. “Maybe you’re right. You know how mean older siblings can be,” he added jokingly. I punched my brother playfully on the arm, stood up and walked into the kitchen.
“Do you want anything to eat?” I asked.
“Nah. I’m okay.”
I poured myself a bowl of Rice Krispies and sat down at the dining room table to eat. With the sound of Ben’s video game in the background, I started thinking about Jeff. It seemed like everybody was always trying to get in the way of our relationship. Molly always had negative things to say about him, and Mandy was always telling Ben all sorts of terrible lies. Every once in a while it all started to get to me. Sometimes I wondered if Molly and Mandy were right about Jeff. The fact that he had been spending less and less time with me was making it harder for to be confident about our relationship.
I’d be the first to admit that I was seriously insecure about myself before I started dating Jeff. Somehow, having a boyfriend made me feel validated. Whenever people started to doubt Jeff, my insecurities would come creeping back. But now, the more I thought about it, the more I convinced myself that everybody else just didn’t know what they were talking about – my relationship with Jeff was just as amazing as it had ever been. I promised myself that the two of us were going to have an awesome time in Florida and that when we came back Jeff wouldn’t have to work as much and we’d get to spend more time together.
I finished my cereal and dumped the extra milk into the sink. After I set my bowl in the dishwasher, I picked up the phone in the kitchen and dialed Christine’s number.
“Hello?” Christine asked, answering the phone.
“Hey. It’s Anna. What’s up?”
“Nothing. I just got off the phone with Molly,” Christine answered. “She said Jeff’s skipping the party tonight.”
“Yeah. Are you going?” I asked.
“Of course. Steve said Mike was going to be there!” Christine exclaimed.
“Yeah, yeah. That’s what Molly said…” I replied skeptically. “Do you want to go to the store with me? I want to pick up some food to bring tonight.”
“Chocolate?” Christine asked, excitedly.
“Yeah, actually. I was thinking s’mores…” I said.
“Perfect! Yeah, I’ll go with you,” answered Christine.
“Okay, cool. I’ll pick you up in like, 10 minutes then,” I told her.
“Sweet. See ya then,” Christine replied before hanging up.
I hung up the phone in the kitchen and walked back into the living room. “Christine and I are going to the store. Do you want anything?” I asked Ben.
“Christine?” Ben asked, his face lighting up a little bit. “Can I come?” he joked. I had always accused my brother of having a crush on Christine. She was the stereotypical girl next door, albeit a beautiful one. Her long, dark blonde hair and striking blue eyes seemed to catch the attention of a lot of guys, not excluding my brother. Unfortunately, Christine was so shy that she’d never been able to take advantage of the fact that guys were constantly fawning over her.
“No. You’re busy,” I answered, pointing at the television screen.
“Yeah, you’re right. This is way more important. And no, I don’t need anything. But thanks for asking,” my brother replied before turning his attention back to his video game.
I ran downstairs to finish getting ready before I went and picked up Christine. I undid the towel that was wrapped around my head, let down my unruly hair, and quickly slapped on some brown eye shadow, eyeliner and mascara before running back up the stairs.
I walked into the laundry room, pulled on my favorite black flip flops, grabbed my keys, and headed out to my car. I started the engine of my blue 1987 Buick Regal and headed for Christine’s house, just around the corner from mine. I pulled up into Christine’s driveway and honked the horn three times – the same thing I always did to get my friends’ attention. Christine came running out the front door of her house, her long hair whipping around in the breeze. She threw open the passenger door of my car, sat down and buckled her seatbelt.
“I think I want to buy some Cherry Coke,” Christine said as I pulled out of the driveway.
“I figured as much,” I teased. Everyone knew that Christine couldn’t have a party without chocolate and Cherry Coke.
Looking down at the clock, I noticed that it was 12:15 already. “Jeff should be working by the time we get there!” I informed Christine excitedly.
“Oh yeah. Is that why he can’t go to the party?” Christine asked.
“Yeah. He has to work all day instead. At least now I can say hi to him,” I answered hopefully. I often went to visit Jeff while he was working. Normally he bagged groceries, and when business was slow he was free to walk around and talk. Everyone who worked at the grocery store knew that I was Jeff’s girlfriend, and enjoyed talking to me whenever I came in to visit Jeff. We spent a lot of time at that grocery store, even when Jeff wasn’t working. It was the only place around that was open 24 hours, so when we got bored late at night, that was usually where we ended up.
About fifteen minutes later, Christine and I arrived at the grocery store. I drove around the parking lot looking for Jeff’s car - I always liked to park right next to him when I came to visit… but today I couldn’t find his red Grand Prix. We took three trips around the parking lot before I decided just to give up.
“Hmm…” I pondered. “Its 12:30 already… maybe he’s on an early break or something.”
We walked into the store and looked around the front by the registers for Jeff, but didn’t see him. “Yeah, maybe he went to go get lunch,” Christine offered. Unlike Molly, Christine always tried to be positive about everything. Her shy personality was paired with the desire to make everyone around her happy. Christine couldn’t stand to have anybody upset with her. She knew how sensitive I got whenever Molly and Ben made negative comments about Jeff.
We walked around the store and picked up everything we needed – marshmallows, graham crackers, Hershey bars, and Cherry Coke. “Keep your hands off the Hershey bars!” I demanded jokingly, remembering how the last time we tried to make s’mores, Christine had eaten about half of the chocolate before we had even gotten a fire started.
“I know, I know… but I’m not sharing my Cherry Coke!” Christine joked back, hugging the two-liter as close to her body as she could. We made our way to the checkout isle and paid for our goods.
The woman who bagged our groceries recognized me. “So you actually came to buy some groceries today?” the woman, whose nametag red Sandra, joked. “I was starting to think you only came here to visit that boy.”
I laughed a little nervously before responding. “Yeah. Well, I was hoping to see him here, but he must be on his break or something.”
“No,” replied Sandra, “I haven’t seen him at all today… I don’t think he’s working.”
“Well, I don’t think he was supposed to,” I explained, “he told me that he picked up a couple of shifts last minute.”
“Maybe so,” Sandra said. “If I see him, I’ll let him know you stopped by.”
“Thanks, Sandra,” I replied. “I’ll probably stop by later tonight and bring him some food from the party he’ll be missing. But don’t tell him! I want it to be a surprise.”
Sandra smiled and agreed, and Christine and I grabbed our bags and left the store.
“That was kind of weird,” commented Christine. “You’d think she would have at least seen him come or leave or something.”
“Yeah. I don’t know. I’m sure its no big deal. Maybe he was just wrong about the time. Noon to 10:30 is a really long time to work. I bet they let him come in a little later or something,” I rationalized.

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