Chapter 1: First Day Back
I gaze at the beautiful woman in the picture frame, her smile radiating a calming aura that embraced me. Many people say my older brother and I resemble her the most compared to our other siblings, but that’s just because we took after her dark hair while the rest of them took after our dad. Her eyes had a certain twinkle to them that made it hard for people to look away. It was no surprise that our dad was so smitten with her.
“It’s really been almost a year huh?” James says quietly from behind as he smiles at the photo adoringly.
I kiss the picture frame and set it back down on the mantel.
“Time flies doesn’t it?” I reply as he gently pats my head.
He walks over to the dining table and stuffs his mouth with the sandwich I wasn’t able to finish earlier. He wipes his mouth with his arm, staining his new varsity jacket.
“Seriously?” I glare at him and he just shrugs sheepishly back at me. “Are Jace and Jeremy awake yet? They’re going to be late on the first day.” I say sternly.
“Yeah, I woke them up ages ago. They should be coming down soon.” He sighs and walks over to me and proceeds to squish my cheeks with his oversized palms.
“Stop stressing baby sis, everything is going to be okay.” He assures me.
I take a deep breath but found difficulty in exhaling with my brother’s palms hogging my face
“You look so ugly right now.” He snickers. “Are you sure we’re related?” I slap his hands away and make a face.
“Since dad is out handling business matters right now, I just feel the need to step up and be the responsible one,” I explain, emphasizing the word responsible and looking directly at him.
“Okay, ouch. I’m a little offended you don’t think I’m responsible.” He jokes, throwing his hand over his heart for dramatic effect.
“Well, you’re not exactly a pillar of responsibility.” I raise my brow and huff.
“Hey! Don’t be mean, Jade. I’m your ride to school.” He says smugly.
“I don’t care. I’ll ride my bike.” I retort.
“What are you? 8?” He mocked. I roll my eyes and stick my tongue at him. He contorts an even uglier face back, proving neither one of us more mature than the other.
“Guys, it’s so early in the morning,” Jace complains as he descends from the staircase, putting our standoff to a halt.
“I’m hungry,” Jeremy pipes in, trailing behind Jace.
“You’re both going to have to eat the sandwiches in the car or we’re going to be late,” I announce, packing the sandwiches I made for them into a zip lock bag.
“Why didn’t I get a pre-made sandwich? I had to eat your leftovers.” James asks in disbelief.
“I didn’t force you to eat my sandwich James, plus you’re more than capable of making your own sandwich,” I answer sarcastically.
“What and they’re not capable of making their own sandwiche-”
“James, it’s a sandwich and I’m gonna need you to get over it okay? We’re going to be late, we don’t have time to argue over sandwiches.” I snap. I hop around the dining area on one leg as I struggle to readjust my loosened left sock back on. James throws both his hands up in the air signaling defeat.
“Okay is everyone ready to go?” I ask, letting out a breath. “Jace? Jeremy?” I shoot them a look and Jace nods back at me.
“I just want my sandwich please.” Jeremy yawns.
We make our way towards the door and I grope my pockets to check for my phone.
“Wait, I want to commemorate this day, stand closer to each other.” My siblings shuffle into formation with audible annoyance and I take a picture. I stare at it lovingly. Mom would’ve been so proud of us if she were still here.
“I’m sending this to dad,” I announce and quickly forwarded it to him.
“So we have time for a picture but none for sandwiches?” Jace remarks. James chuckles and fist bumps him.
“Answer the question,” Jeremy taunts, squinting his eyes feigning seriousness.
“I can’t stand any of you,” I say blankly.
The entire car ride to school was a nightmare. Having to deal with an explosion of men’s deodorant and tacky insults simultaneously gave me a headache and school hasn’t even started yet.
It was Jeremy’s first day at grade school and I could tell he was starting to get nervous. Towards the end of the ride, he stayed silent and hugged his school bag for comfort. Jace and Jeremy were being too much of an asshole to even realize Jeremy’s discomfort.
As we all got out of the car, I felt Jeremy tug my arm and I knelt to his level.
“Are you scared?” I ask him.
He nods in response but doesn’t look at me.
“That’s okay Jer, it’s totally normal to be scared on the first day.” I smile, trying to cheer him up.
“Don’t worry Jeremy, I’m sure you’ll make a ton of friends.” Jace chimes in.
“Listen bud, we’re all here for you okay? You and Jace will be on the same campus so if anything happens just go look for him okay?” James encourages him.
I give him a tight squeeze but he still doesn’t look content.
“Hey,” I coax.
He looks up at me with sad eyes and I could tell this was much deeper than grade school.
“Mom said I shouldn’t be scared of anything but I’m scared right now.”
“I’m sorry.” He apologizes sincerely.
I look up at my siblings and my heart nearly breaks into a thousand pieces. It wasn’t fair that someone like him should have to deal with grief at such a young age.
“Jeremy, don’t be sorry okay? Mom would be extremely proud of you right now.” I say with confidence as I push back the hair on his forehead.
“In fact, that makes you even braver for admitting you’re scared because it takes real courage to do that. Just enjoy your first day and make friends.” I add and give him a reassuring nod.
“100% buddy,” James answers with a big smile. He moves forward and gives Jeremy a tight hug and ruffles his hair.
“Not to ruin the super sweet family moment but Jeremy’s never going to make it to grade school and test your theory at this rate.” Jace jokes.
“You’re right, you both better get going. The grade school campus is a little bit farther than our campus from here.” I check the time on my phone and we had a little under 10 minutes to get to homeroom.
We wave each other goodbye and James and I start racing to class.
“How much time do we have left?” James asks as he fishes for his wallet from the back pocket of his bag.
“More or less 7 minutes,” I reply out of breath.
He gives me a solid nod and we continue to walk in silence.
“Where’s your soul sister?” James teases, breaking the silence.
“Who? Nikki?” I reply.
“Obviously, who else would it be?” He counters.
“I’m meeting her at homeroom,” I reply, ignoring his snarkiness.
We reach school and the familiar feeling of anxiety grows in my gut. It takes me a second to take in and digest the whole scene. One year ago from today, everything was different. It felt uplifting starting this year on a happier note.
I check my watch again and walk over to my assigned locker. I place a few of my old notebooks inside and shut it close. I was so preoccupied with my thoughts that I almost didn’t notice the bubbly blonde grinning at me from across the hall.
“Hey sexy lady,” Nikki says as she walks over to me, smiling from ear to ear.
I laugh, meeting her halfway and engulfing her into a hug.
“I missed you,” Nikki pouts.
“Calm down, we were together two days ago.” I roll my eyes playfully at her.
“I know but it feels like forever,” She stresses, throwing her hand over her forehead.
“Maybe you should stop coming over, James’s dramatic side is rubbing off on you.” I snort and we slowly start walking to class.
“It sucks we’re not in the same homeroom,” Nikki comments, visibly annoyed.
“Wait, what? I thought we were in the same class.” I answer back with disappointment.
The bell rings and she shakes her head in exaggerated sadness.
“Remember? I enrolled a little later than you, and Mr. Rand’s class was already full by the time I got the chance to. She pauses and I give her a small smile. “It’s okay, I have Camille to keep me company.” She smiles back.
“Camille Allred?” I ask in confusion. “Since when were you guys close?”
“We bonded at a party last year.”
“Oh, right,” I say quietly.
The bell rings a second time and we sprint off to our respective classes. I barely make it to class in time albeit was greeted by a cheerful figure as I search the room for an empty seat. I was happy to be in Mr. Rand’s class again. He was one of few teachers who offered guidance after our mom’s passing last year.
He starts the day off by giving us our assigned schedules based on the subjects we picked last year. He continues with words of encouragement for the upcoming school year but I slowly start tuning him out. Inattentively sitting in a classroom gave me an uncomfortable feeling of nostalgia. I browse the room and see many familiar faces while others were foreign.
A tap on the shoulder snaps me away from my thoughts. I turn around to see Rhett Dempsey flashing me his signature smile.
“Is that seat free?” He asks, motioning to the empty seat next to me.
“By all means,” I plaster a weak smile and shift my seat to give him space to sit next to me.
He grabs his backpack and manages to squish his way next to me. I study his appearance and no doubt was very attractive. With his chiseled features and golden hair, girls would constantly fawn over him.
“How’s everything?” He asks genuinely.
Rhett was pretty close to my brother, courtesy of our dads who were co-workers. They grew up sharing their love and passion for football. Their family would also always invite us over for Sunday barbecues, but it’s been a while since we’ve last gone.
“Everything’s good, thanks for asking.” I raise my brows and let out a small exhale. He gives me a solemn smile and I mirror his.
He looks over his shoulder and winks at the blonde who was waving flirtatiously at him.
“So any girlfriends? Conquests of the week?” I tease.
“Actually no, I’m not seeing anyone at the moment. Why, are you interested?” He fires back smugly.
“You wish, Dempsey.” I snort and smack his shoulder.
“You’re practically my brother, that’s weird,” I add, whispering the last bit.
“I’m just kidding, Jade.” He laughs. “I can’t believe you’d just bro-zone me, not cool.” He says, smacking my shoulder back.
I stick my tongue out at him and he retaliates by tickling my sides. Catching me off guard, I burst into sudden laughter and quickly compose myself after getting startled stares from the class.
“Miss Dyer and Mr. Dempsey, is there anything you’d like to share with the rest of the class? Perhaps any more words of encouragement you wish to add?” Mr. Rand scolds, making direct eye contact with both of us.
Silence fills the room and I could feel the whole class staring at us. I shoot Rhett a look, gesturing him to answer Mr. Rand to end this whole debacle.
“Uh, don’t stop believing sir,” Rhett replies hesitantly. My jaw falls to the floor and it takes me all the strength I could muster to stop myself from losing it again. I look over to Mr. Rand who was also on the brink of laughter.
“Thank you, Mr. Dempsey, for your words of encouragement.” He nods.
The bell rings and I browse my schedule to see what I have next.
“Ugh, Chemistry,” I whisper to myself.
“Miss Dyer, please stay behind. The rest of you please don’t be late for your classes and enjoy the rest of your day.” Mr. Rand announces and a wave of unsynchronized goodbyes flood the room.
I pack my bag and slowly walk towards, Mr. Rand. It wasn’t my intention to disappoint him, especially not on the first day of school.
“I’m so sorry sir, I didn’t mean t-”
“Nonsense, Miss Dyer. I’m not mad for what happened earlier.” He tells me calmly.
“Oh, then why did you ask me to stay behind?” I ask in confusion.
“I just wanted to see how you were holding up. It’s been a while since we’ve since you laugh like that.” He wipes his glasses and folds his arms.
“If I had a dollar every time somebody asked me that,” I breathe and shake my head.
“I’m just letting you know that should you or any of your siblings have any concerns, you know where to find me.” He offers.
“Thanks, Mr. Rand, I’ll keep that in mind,” I say quietly and walk out the classroom.
My first day as a junior comes to an end and I can feel the energy leave my body. I text James to ask who was going to drive Jace and Jeremy back home. I continue to pack my bags, stuffing all the homework we were assigned from today. My phone buzzes and I check to see if James replied.
I have football practice, can u drive Jace and Jeremy home thx. I’ll grab a ride from someone.
I amble towards the grade school campus and see Jace with his eyes glued to his phone over at the pickup area.
“Where’s your brother?” I ask him, helping him put the books sprawled next to him into his bag.
“Over there,” He points towards the little jungle gym and my heart swells when I see Jeremy having fun with the new friends he made today.
I make my way towards Jeremy and as I stood in front of the jungle gym, flashbacks of how I met Nikki come rushing in. I smile at the memories and walk closer towards it.
“Jer, it’s time to go home.” I annunciate. He quickly tumbles down the slide and looks up at me with puppy eyes.
“But I just started playing,” He sulks.
“You’ll see them again tomorrow and you guys can play again.” I soothe him.
“Okay, fine. Bye guys!” He wobbles off the slide and we walk to the parking lot.
James gets home a little over two hours later and orders food in. After dinner, I prepare myself a nice bath while the boys watched whatever movie Jeremy wanted. He was insistent in watching Iron Man for the 100th time but we all knew he would be knocked out halfway through the movie.
After my soak, I get ready to go to bed. I was beyond exhausted. As soon as I got to bed, I check the time and facetime my dad, to which he picked up after a few rings.
“Hey dad, I was just calling to check in.” I start, “How’s work?”
“Work was fine sweetie, how was school? Did you have a good day?” He asks while stuffing his mouth with dinner.
“Surprisingly, it was good,” I reply.
“Yeah, is that right?” He responds.
“I don’t know dad, I just have a really good feeling about this year,” I say truthfully.
“That’s good to hear.” He responds happily.
“I’m gonna go sleep now, I just wanted to call to see what you were up to.” I yawn.
“Alright sweetie, say hi to the boys for me.” He laughs.
“Will do, Dad,” I say tiredly. I drop the call and slump onto my pillow. There was just something about this year that felt good. I wasn’t sure what but it felt fresh and full of possibility.
“This year is going to be different,” I mumble to myself and drifted off to peaceful slumber.