Chapter 1: Hello Again
“I was going accept the partner choices you submitted for your senior projects. After deliberation, I’ve decided to create my own pairings. You’re all stuck in your comfort zones. This is a wonderful opportunity to break out of them!” Mrs. Parker chirped enthusiastically, grinning from ear to ear.
I offered her a reassuring smile. Everyone else made it painfully obvious they weren’t paying attention or were complaining about the fact that they couldn’t be paired with their friends.
My ears perked up when my name was called. “You are with Everett Woods.”
I nodded in comprehension and glanced over in his direction. He was in the back of the class, scribbling away in the composition book he always has with him. Beth Peters leaned over to him and whispered something into his ear. He stopped writing and looked up at our teacher sheepishly.
“Yes. Pay attention.” Mrs. Parker instructed.
“Yes, Ma’am.” He saluted her and resumed writing.
I slouched down in my seat, knowing exactly how our partnership would play out.
After all the partners were assigned, I picked up my things and sat down beside Everett. He was so absorbed in what he was writing that it took him a little while to register my presence.
“Long time, no talk.” He looked to me.
“Climbing to the top of the class is no simple task.”
“I’m sure you’ve been up to a lot in the past three years.”
“I have. I organized the music on my computer.”
“Can’t you do that by clicking a button?”
“Shhh’” He brought his index finger to his lips. “Let me have that accomplishment.”
I cracked a smile. “Your mom must be so proud.”
“She really is. Now she can say I got into college and spent countless hours virtually dragging around folders.”
“That’s awesome. Where are you going?”
“Manhattan School of Music. You’re getting excited about the wrong thing. I did physical labor.”
“Oh, yeah. That mouse didn’t drag itself.”
“Thank you.” He placed his hand on his chest.
I giggled and rolled my eyes. “If I’m going to be carrying this project on my own, tell me now.”
“I will not be a bum partner. The only way we’ll fail this is if we do such a good job that Mrs. Parker gives us an ‘F’ to keep the other students from feeling bad about themselves.”
I struggled not to smile. “I don’t think she’ll do that.”
“You’d be surprised. I’ve seen stranger things happen.” He continued.
”We should probably exchange cell numbers or something.” I got back on topic, looking around to see what everyone else was doing.
“Mine’s the same.”
“Mine too.” I smoothed down my uniform skirt to give myself something to do.
“Why is this so awkward?” He whispered to me with a smile upturning the corners of his lips.
I breathed out a small laugh and shrugged.
“We’ll work through it.” He vowed.
“It’s not like we have much of a choice.”
“You need to get on my level of optimism.” He offered me a warm smile.
“Or I need to introduce you to the real world.” I retorted.
He audibly winced and shook his head. “That’s a hard pass.”
I rolled my eyes and shook my head at him, fighting back a smile.
The bell rang shortly after. As always, at lunch, I sat alone in the cafeteria. I had my chemistry book open on the table, ready to study as I typically did during lunch period. I found myself unable to focus that day. Everett’s table kept catching my attention. Between bites, he and his friends laughed and joked around with each other. I isolated myself by choice, but I had to admit being over there looked like fun.
The buzz of optimism that fueled me through the school day transformed into dread when the final bell chimed. I collected my things from my locker and pushed through the crowded hallway to get to the parking lot before the swarm of teen drivers created our daily traffic jam.
I took the long route to get home. The added fifteen minutes of travel time felt like seconds. I braced myself by taking a deep breath before keying into the front door.
There were rapid metal to wood slapping noises coming from the living room. My stomach knotted as I approached the scene.
My seven year sister was watching her favorite show and bouncing in her tap shoes as she ate her after-school snack.
I released the breath that I was holding.
“Izzie Bee, we talked about eating and dancing at the same time.” I switched off the television using the remote on the end table.
“Audrey!” She bound towards me.
I graciously accepted her tackle of a hug. “I missed you too. That’s why I need you to be safe when I’m away.”
“I had to show Madeline my new tap shoes. They are shinier and tappier.” She showed me.
I knelt down at the sight of the loose ribbon laces. “They are beautiful.” I retied them.
“You see. So I had to show her and I had to show her right now.”
“She will be able to see them just fine if you sit on the couch.” I looked up at her with a smile.
“It’s off. Will you turn it back on if I sit?”
“You have to promise to stay seated. Do you promise?”
“Have a seat.” I kissed her cheek.
She skipped to the couch. She was seated with her plate of carrot and celery sticks when I joined her on it. I reunited her with the French school girl she was so fond of and put my arm around her.
“Where’s Bosworth?” I played with her curly hair.
“Washing my uniform. I spilled grape juice.” She swung her legs, unable to sit still.
“Is mom home?”
“Do you think she is?”
She shrugged again. Madeline’s adventure had all of her attention. I was forced to answer the question for us.
“Be good.” I kissed the top of her head.
I tried my best to make as little noise as possible as I hiked up the staircase. I listened to the door of the master bedroom. I deemed us as safe after several minutes of silence. I carried on to my bedroom.
“I know it was you.”
My heart sank when I found her seated at my desk.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I shut my door, not wanting Izzie to hear if it got out of hand.
“I want my pills. You took them and I want them back.” She returned to her glass of red wine immediately after concluding her sentence.
I looked around my room, noticed she had tossed it in pursuit of her prescription medication.
“You can’t mix them. It’s not–“
“You don’t get to tell me what to do.”
“You said you would try after rehab. You said–” Moisture welled in my eyes.
“What did you do with them?” She began to walk towards me.
“I didn’t take–“
“Don’t lie to me!” She screamed in my face.
My eyes fell to the carpet. “Izzie found you passed out. I had to flush them.”
“She is always getting into things. If she would just leave me alone, –“
“She just wants her mom.” Tears left my eyes as I looked into her hers.
"I can’t deal with either of you right now. Leave and take her with you.” She spat.
“She has dance class in a couple of hours. We–“
”Out! Now!” She pointed at the door.
I jogged down the stairs. Izzie was once again tapping, but this time she was not eating.
“Iz, we gotta go. We have to go now.”
“It’s not time dance time yet.” She looked at me over her shoulder.
“I’m going to take you to go get some ice cream before it.”
“Really?” She beamed.
“Yep. Just change your shoes. I’ll get your dance bag. We have to get to the ice cream shop before it closes.” I lied. I was always lying to her.
“We have to hurry.” She moved with the necessary haste.
I felt a little better when we were in the car. I was still on the verge of tears and I was nibbling on my nails to calm my nerves, but the threat of immediate danger was gone.
“Why are you taking me to dance class? B takes me to dance class.”
“Today is a little different. I’ll get you there just the same.”
“But with ice cream.” She was obliviously upbeat.
“That’s right, Izzie Bee, with ice cream. What flavor do you want?”
“I want chocolate with lots and lots of sprinkles. We should get mama and Bosworth ice cream. That would be so nice. They would like it. Ice cream is yummy.”
“It would be all melted by the time we get back home, but is very sweet of you to think of them.”
“Can we do it tomorrow? It’ll make mama happy. Ice cream is happy food.”
My heart panged. “Ice cream gives her tummy trouble. I’ll try to think of something else she would like.” I forced a smile for her through the rearview mirror.
"Let’s get some ice cream for daddy, then. He’ll like it a whole lot.”
"He lives in New York now. That’s hours away from us. It will melt. I’ll think of something else for him too.”
"We’ll get more when he comes to visit. He’ll looove it.”
She talked the entire ride about the different types of ice creams she liked. She happily ate her ice cream in the restaurant. I asked her about her day at school to further distract myself from our home situation.
I had to go into the dance studio to help her change into her required attire. I saw her off to class, giving her a kiss and hug. I didn’t allow myself to break down until I reached the parking lot of a nearby diner. I cried my heart out, using the steering wheel for support. I took several deep breaths and dried my eyes after thirty minutes of sobbing. Having time to kill until it was time to pick up Izzie, I retrieved my backpack from the passenger seat and went inside the diner. I was immediately seated by the hostess dolled up in fifties attire.
I slid into the red leather booth and skimmed the menu as I waited for my server.
“Hello, my name is Everett. I will be your server this evening. Are you ready to order?”
I looked up from my menu and over at him. “What are your specials?”
He cracked a smile. “You’re stalking me now?”
“I didn’t know you worked here until just now.”
“Sure. Stick to the official story. Would you like your drink to be a mix of Sprite and lemonade?”
“You remember my drink?” I tried to refrain from smiling.
“It was the only one of our drink mixtures that didn’t taste awful. Sometimes, I can still taste the Coke and chocolate milk drink we made.”
I winced. “That one was the worst.”
He nodded. “Should I put you down for lemonite?”
“Yes, with the grilled cheese combo.”
“So predictable.” He wrote it down.
“Spontaneity was always your thing.”
“I should warn you. It’s going to take them awhile to make this. We’re really swamped right now.” He gestured around.
The only other patrons were an elderly couple, who looked to be on their way out.
“But I know a guy. Doesn’t that mean I get special treatment?”
“That depends. What’s his name?”
“Everett Woods. He’s sort of hard to miss. He talks a lot and thinks he’s funny.” I played along.
“You managed to miss him.”
“No. I’m just not able to play along anymore.” I ran a hand through my hair.
“Why are you working at a restaurant? If Katelyn’s purses are any indication, your family’s not scrapped for cash. You still live around the corner from me too.” I deflected.
“I like the freedom my own income grants. Your turn.” He answered with ease.
“It’s a long story.”
“Hold that thought. We’re going to talk, okay? I’m just going to go submit your order.”
I nodded in understanding. He came back with two drinks, instead of the one I ordered.
“Is this a two-for-one special?”
“I’m on break.” He sat down in the booth seat across from me.
“How’d you talk your way into that?”
“It helps when your dad’s best friend owns the place.” He slid my drink to me.
“Good ol’ nepotism.” I put my straw into my cup and rotated my ice with it.
“Sooo, what’s going on?” He coaxed.
“With what?” I looked up at him.
“Anything, everything, whatever’s making you like this.”
I sipped my drink to give myself time to think. “Do you remember when we vowed to run away together? We were 9 years old. Nothing was wrong; we just wanted an adventure?”
”You couldn’t take your entire book collection with you, so you called the whole thing off.”
“Correction: they were packed. You refused to carry the bag.”
“I would’ve, but couldn’t. They were too heavy.”
“You were a tiny little thing.”
“Every birthday, I wished to be taller than you. It paid off.”
“What a waste.”
“Nah, it was worth it.” He thought to himself for a moment. “Why do you want to run now?”
“Lack of parental concern, feeling like my sister’s mother and too many other things to name.”
“Where are you going to go?”
“California. I got into Stanford.”
He momentarily widened his eyes in shock. “Congratulations.” He told me half-heartedly.
“I need to get out of here, Ev.”
“This restaurant or Jersey?”
“The latter. I feel like I’m being tugged in too many different directions to feel like myself. I can’t think — let alone live. I want a life of my own.”
“After graduation, you’ll be gone?”
“What about Izzie? You’d never leave her.”
“I’m trying to send her to live with a relative— Yaya and papi in Florida or our dad. I’ll see her on breaks.”
“But until then?”
“I don’t know.”
“I’m willing to volunteer my distraction skills.”
“You can make a list of all the things you feel like you’ve missed out on. We’ll do them all before you go. You were a kid with me once. We can do it again.”
“Why are you willing to help me? We haven’t hung out in forever.”
“I guess my inner six year old misses his best friend.”
“I’m sorry you broke your arm trying to beat me in a swing-jumping contest in the fourth grade.”
“We’re cool. You signed my cast.”
“You were so proud of that thing.” I chuckled to myself, reminiscing.
“Nothing was cooler in elementary school than having everyone sign your cast.”
“And you’ve always loved attention.”
“I can’t even deny that.” He shrugged, joining in on my mild laughter.
It felt really good to hang out with Everett again. I didn’t realize how much I missed him and being able to act my age again. Everything would snap back to normal once I returned home, but it was nice to forget, even for a little while.