Friday, February 24, 2006

Something or Nothing # 3

(Warning: This isn't a typical post or a typical Something or Nothing. It's long. Very long. So if you're short on time, either come back later or dismiss this "post" like the first boy or girl you dumped for being a total jerk. It's three chapters -- rough draft version stuff -- of a YA (Young Adult) story I started (and stopped) three years or so ago. It's working title was Blindsided. The reason I stopped is because I was told, and it became sort of apparent to me, that it was too autobiographical for a fictional work, and some of the things that "really happened" aren't believeable in a work of fiction. Paradox, huh? Well, here's three chapters -- remember it was a first draft and it hadn't even really hit the Story part of Pearce & Story, so remember that as you read with a critical eye (that'll be my only disclaimer this time) -- of the eight I had written, and you can decide for yourself whether it's something I should some day finish or not. I realize maybe three chapters is a hard number to judge by, but do your best. Acquisition Editors do it by far less most of the time. Oh yeah, and the storyline basically is boy likes girl, gets together with girl of dreams, but because of Dad's job change to different state (with no warning and only a month lead time), rug is pulled out from his wonder-life and boy must move from his love - however, boy stays until basketball season is done, of course, as team is playing for State. A HUGE THANK YOU to anyone who takes the time to read this!!! You are loved! So with no further ado, here are the first three chapters of Blindsided, and you can tell me if the story is "Something" or "Nothing".)

One

The truth of the matter boiled down to this: I had found the one. Seen her, anyway. Or at least glimpsed her. For a year and a half, I had never really noticed (don’t ask me how), but in the last month, scales had dropped from my eyes. And there she was, in every single daydream… the night ones too. At first, I thought the feelings would pass, but they kept growing stronger the more I saw her. In the halls. Gym class. On her way to volleyball after school. It didn’t matter that we had never spoken actual words to each other. Our eyes had met twice now, and I knew…

…which provided most of the reason for why I had driven my current girlfriend, Lindsey, here to Palmer Park, where we sat with our legs dangling over a red rock cliff side. The ride had been quiet, and for nearly half an hour, we simply watched the day end. At last, I felt her gaze, but when her hand slid over to mine, I pulled away.

“Okay, what’s wrong?”

Long, looooooong seconds passed.

Although I expected the question, the reality of it plowed into me like a locomotive. My pat answer escaped into the breeze that blew back Lindsey’s long, blonde hair. Her twinkling eyes caught me off-guard, and I stuttered, knowing two things. One, the smile was about to leave those baby blues, and two, she had no idea what was coming. That made what I was about to say much harder.

“Lindsey,” I started and paused, focusing on the orange-red sunset blazing over Pikes Peak, “I’m not quite sure how to say this.”

Concern touched her features, and she again reached for me. When I withdrew this time, she knew something was up. “Bryan? What is it?”

“I can’t go on like this.”

“Like what?”

Words failed me. Breaking up hurt almost as much as being on the receiving end. Finally, I blurted out, “I need space!” which was partly true. Lindsey had been my first serious girlfriend, the first girl I ever kissed. At first, the every moment of the day togetherness intensified what we had thought was “falling in love.” But as the newness wore off, the other people and parts of my life called me back. Not so for Lindsey, who demanded my attention all of our free time. And when that’s all there was, the whole relationship thing had gradually lost its luster.

“Space?” Lindsey laughed, which left me wondering. “Is that all this is about?” This time she managed to grab my hand and nestled close to me. “Let’s go back home, then. We can find some space together downstairs in the basement.” She smiled again with her cheerleading good looks.

“No,” I said, scooting a little away, “I’m serious. What I mean is that we need some space from each other.”

Her lips formed into a mock pout. “Fine. What is it that you want? Just tell me, and I’ll make it happen.”

A month ago, her answer would have been a godsend. Now though, I just felt numb. Bowing my head, I forced out, “I want it over.” The sentence tasted bitter coming out, and Lindsey’s smile vanished as she released my hand.

“What?” was all she could get out before tears welled in her eyes and began raining down her cheeks.

Struggling, I faced her. “Lindsey, you are so great. You’re fun. You’re amazing in every way. But I don’t feel anything anymore. Nothing.”

This time, she turned away until she stopped crying. Wiping her cheeks, she looked up at me. “I think… I think… Why don’t we give it three days? Bryan, this is probably just a phase. We go together, you and me. You can’t really want less of me in your life. We are each other’s lives! We’ve been going out over a half a year. Let’s not throw it away without giving us a chance. I love you, and you love me; you know that. We’d die without each other.”

I searched myself, trying to think through our past and all the great times. Even through Lindsey’s typical smothering way, some of what she said made sense. Still, I could feel nothing, so I shook my head.

Again, she asked, “Three days?” My minute of silence must have supplied her answer, because I heard, “Just take me home,” before the crying started again.
#
Mrs. Murray met us, as she swept her porch, waving excitedly with a grin that swallowed her head. I loved Lindsey’s mom and knew her for the sharing and caring person she was, but she really missed the signs on this one. Lindsey opened the car door, slammed it, and wordlessly slipped past her mother into the open front door of the house, which slammed as well. When Mrs. Murray signaled for me to roll down my window, I thought about just driving off, but I owed her more than that. I leaned over and let down the window on the passenger side as she hurried down the porch steps to my car.

“Bryan, I fixed fried chicken, your favorite.” Her head, with its bun-piled hair, poked in through the open window, and her smile grew even larger, if that were possible.

“Mrs. Murray…”

“And I bought a watermelon, just for you. I know how you love them.”

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Murray, not tonight.”

“Oh come on, Bryan. I even baked a cherry cobbler. Mr. Murray’s in there waiting on us to eat.”

Behind her, I saw Lindsey’s father appear in the doorway. “Lillian,” he called. From his expression, I could tell he had seen the state of his daughter. “Lillian,” he restated, stronger.

“I really need to go, Mrs. Murray. Really.”

Mrs. Murray remained oblivious. “No, no. You just come in and call your parents. I’m sure they won’t mind.” She stood up and gestured to her door.

“I’m sorry. I am.” I accelerated the car around the semi-circle drive. As I pulled out into the street, I saw Mrs. Murray, dress hiked up with one hand and broom waving in the other, trailing, shouting for me to stop. That picture froze in my mind for a surreal instant. After a deep breath, I drove forward, bound for the gym. I needed to shoot.
#
When I got home later on, I heard my mom’s voice in the kitchen and could tell she was on the phone.

“Yes… yes… okay. Yes, here he is right now,” she said as she saw me enter the kitchen. Her face tensed when she looked at me, and I saw that something was wrong. “Thank you so much for calling. I’ll speak with him, I assure you. Yes, goodbye.” Slam!

“What’s going on, Mom?”

Her face contorted in anger, which was directed straight my way. “What have you done?”

“Mom, what are you talking about?”

“I just got off the phone with Mrs. Murray…”

“What?”

“That’s right, mister. Her daughter, your girlfriend, has been locked in her room crying for the past two hours because of whatever it was you said to her. And look at you! You come rambling in dressed in your basketball clothes like nothing’s the matter. What’s wrong with you?”

“What are you doing talking to Mrs. Murray? When did you two become phone buddies? This is none of your business.” Outraged, I spun out the door.

“Don’t you walk out on me, buster.” I stopped, stewing, ready to erupt. This had become some kind of night. “What did you say to her? You didn’t hit her, did you?”

Despite my anger, I nearly laughed at her outlandish suggestion. “Are you my mother? Do you know me at all?”

“I’m beginning to wonder.”

“No, Mom, I did not hit her. We broke up, that’s all. We just broke up.” For once, my mom stood speechless. I dropped my duffle bag at the foot of the couch and tossed the basketball I held into a recliner. “I need to shower. Plus, I have homework, so I’ll be in my room tonight. I’m not hungry; Jason can have whatever you fixed for me.”

I escaped to the bathroom, turned on the shower, and began to undress until the door burst open. “When did you stop liking Lindsey?”

“Mom!” Down to my skivvies, I grabbed a towel and wrapped it around my waist. “Please. This can wait.”

“Just tell me. Why haven’t you said anything? I thought everything was great between you two. Now, you’ve left her with a broken heart.”

I had absolutely no desire to discuss the particulars with her at this point, but since we usually maintained a pretty open relationship, I told her what I could. “It wasn’t great. It wasn’t good. It wasn’t bad either. It just… wasn’t. Not anymore.” Not knowing what more to say about it, I shooed her out of the rapidly steaming bathroom and locked the door. As I stepped into the shower, she pounded on the door. I ignored it but couldn’t stop her question.

“Now what are you going to do for homecoming?”

Two

Three days later, Lindsey sashayed arm-in-arm around school with Cliff Ragsdale, the starting power forward on our basketball team. Broken heart, huh? Even for the least broken of broken hearts, that was pretty quick healing.

“Wow! That was fast!” I heard as the two “newlyloves” strolled by. With my face buried in my locker, I waited until I knew they had to have traveled safely down the hall before I peered out. Kate Richey, my friend and next door neighbor for the past seven years, stared after the pair with a mouth so open I could have slid a basketball into it. She took off her glasses and pretended to clean them with strands of her stringy hair.

“Go ahead. Rub it in.”

“And Cliff Ragsdale? You cannot be liking that!”

Flashing my best warning-glance, I grabbed a textbook and threw the locker door closed. “You know, other than the fact she chose that clown, I really couldn’t care less.”

Kate giggled. “Yes, I noticed your lack of concern when you practically force-fit your whole body into your locker as they walked by. Could you have been any more obvious?”

Embarrassed but hoping to recover, I smiled it off and whined, “Well, I just need her to know how much I miss her and can’t live without her and how I just want her back so much so we could be together every single second of every day and every ni… ouch!”

Her spiral notebook crashed across the side of my head. “Oh, shut up, Bryan!” she laughed. Just as we reached Trig class, she suddenly got serious and asked, “So what does that mean for this weekend?”

I shrugged. Her question pertained to the 100% Corps, of which Lindsey was a member. So were Kate and I. The club had just been started up this year by one of our classmate’s moms, a lady named Mrs. McDonough. The membership consisted of a set of selected interdenominational church-going teens from our school, and its goal was to identify and take on social problems in our community – mainly helping the poor in various ways. However rife with good intentions, with the members being all high school kids, usually the bi-weekly meetings dealt more with personal problems than societal ills. Which suited Mrs. McDonough and the rest of us just fine.

“I hadn’t thought about it. I guess I’m going.”

“If I know Lindsey,” Kate said with a smirk creasing across her face as the class bell rang, “she’ll be there too. This’ll be one meeting I wouldn’t miss for anything.”
#
“You got called up to varsity at the end of last year, right Renehan?” Bart Stubbings, the starting quarterback on our forever-sorry football program, shoveled a mound of pasta a la carbonasty into his mouth as he awaited my reply. Even he – just before homecoming, no less – already longed for the merciful finish of football season for the greener pastures of basketball.

Unlike most, our school prided itself in its grandiose basketball achievements – twice State Champs and three times State Runners-up – but we had missed the State playoffs the last two years and the natives were grumbling. Word had it, though, that this year one of the bus transfers from the southside really had some serious game. I still hadn’t seen the guy and was beginning to doubt his existence because only our regulars from last year had attended the “unofficial” official practices that Coach Grayson held three times a week before school.

“Yeah, he did,” Ted Ellerby, another footballer, answered for me. “Got some minutes, too. Think you’ll be starting this year?”

Fortune had cast an impish grin in my direction this lunchtime sitting me at a table with the starting backfield from our gridiron squad. Class had let out early, and I hoped to see some friends come through the door at any moment to rescue me.

“I don’t know,” I answered honestly. “Belser’s a senior, and he’s got a great three. I figure he’s a shoo-in at the two. But we really don’t have a point guard right now.”

“Oh yeah we do!” broke in Stubbings. “I saw him. Kid’s only a freshman, but he can flat out ball. We’ve definitely got a point.”

“Then, there’s your answer,” I shrugged.

“Come on, Renehan, Belser’s soft as they co…” Ellerby began.

A low, sharp whistle from Stubbings cut him off. The quarterback’s eyes motioned to a set of lunchroom doors. “Check that out. Breck…” and he whistled again, this time in appreciation.

AJ Breckman cruised through the door like a fashion model. Star of the girl’s volleyball team and indisputably the most “untouchable” girl in school, Breck strutted into the room like she owned it. No one questioned her place at the top of the school’s pecking order of quality females. Cheerleaders, dancers, poets, debaters, and prom queens bowed in her wake. And, no doubt, whatever “it” was, she definitely had more than her share and had probably stolen some from a few others, too.

Despite Breck’s unmistakable aura, my eyes and heartbeat stopped on the friend who followed at her side. There she was! Hailey Grace! Forcing myself to stare down at the table and only sneak looks, my heart only beat again after they passed.

“Dog!” groaned Phillip Drudge, the other fellow at our table, once the girls moved safely out of earshot. “I hear she’s dating some guy at CSU.”

Stubbings slung his head from following Breck’s illustrious trail. “No, man. She’s just been up to some sorority parties. That’s all. I don’t think there’s a man alive that could handle that.”

“I’d sure like to try,” sighed Ellerby, and his two backfield mates hummed in agreement. Then, he gazed back up. “What about Hailey? She’d work in a pinch.”

My ears buzzed while I fiddled with my fork through the cafeteria’s pasta. Just hearing her name thrown around by these guys frazzled me, but I feigned unconcern as best I could.

The smile that grew over Stubbing’s face appalled me. “Now, H.G., she’s a different story altogether. She lives down in the southwest. You know how them girls are. They’re easy, man! Anyway, I saw her at Bircham’s party last weekend. She spent most of the time in the kitchen with Gary’s older brother. The two of them left early.” He raised his eyebrows twice, conveying a deeper meaning.

Standing up and feeling sick, I picked up my tray and hurried it to the nearest trashcan.

“Take it easy, Renehan,” Stubbings called.

I faced him. “Yeah, easy.”

Three

Like tremors before an avalanche, feelings of dread whisked through my thoughts over and over as the weekend approached. Unable to concentrate, I passed in and out of my classes by rote. My friends must have seen the black cloud that hung over my head because hardly anyone spoke to me. At home, my mother informed me that I wasn’t myself. What did she want? With the number of times Lindsey’s name and the Homecoming Dance spilled out of her mouth, I avoided contact as much as possible.

In reality, the Lindsey hurdle scared me less than facing a dozen of my friends – friends that I had opened up to in the past – in the 100% Corps with our breakup being the fresh topic. And Lindsey already dating Ragsdale helped matters none. Like buzzards circling a carcass, our club would tear into this feast du jour with relish. At least I could be there to defend myself.

Of course, maybe I was blowing everything out of proportion. Maybe my teenage friends would kindly spare both Lindsey’s and my feelings and keep the matter to themselves. Maybe.
#
I definitely should have prepared myself better.

When I walked in the McDonough rec room ten minutes late for the meeting, I wedged a seat on the floor between Kate Richey and Bert Nowlin. My eyes locked briefly with Lindsey’s and then diverted. Mrs. McDonough had been speaking when I entered, but she stopped as, in unison, the whole group with the exception of Kate got up and moved to Lindsey’s side of the room. I could feel Kate tense up beside me, waiting for my reaction.

With all the attention directed at me, I wanted to cringe with everything inside me or, better yet, run. Pride bubbled up to keep me afloat as my neck burned with an inner rage I hoped no one could see. Scanning the group, I could tell for some of them, this was just a joke. Others, however, appeared altogether serious. Finally, I shrugged and asked, “So this is how it’s going to be, huh?”

Sarah Douglas, the only other cheerleader in the corps, spoke up, “We just wanted you to have your space.”

Even I cracked up at the comment, which I thought at first would break the tension. Unfortunately, I thought wrong. Sarah wasn’t smiling at all.

“Well, I appreciate that,” I said, hoping to diffuse the situation. I looked back toward Mrs. McDonough. “I apologize for being late, Mrs. Mc-D. What were you saying?”

“Ooooh,” mocked Sarah, “what is it? Little baby can’t go on like this?”

Hearing my own words used against me infuriated me enough to look at Lindsey and say, “Did you have to share it with everyone?”

Mistake.

Angry tears set in her eyes. “It was a girl, wasn’t it? You cheated one me, didn’t you?”

The question took me totally off guard. “A what? No… I…” Stuttering and trying to stop, I belted out, “Lindsey, you’re the one who hooked up with Ragsdale in no time flat? How long had you two been eyeing each other?” The hypocrisy oozed in my skin with each word I spat out.

“You know that’s not true.”

She was right. Whatever else Lindsey was – needy, possessive, demanding – one thing she was not was disloyal. I had never seen her even look at another guy while we dated. Still, I refused to admit that before the group. In no way did I want her accusation spinning back to me.

“Bryan, you’re such a jerk.” This sentiment came from Molly Yates, standing beside Lindsey.

“No, a jerk still has feelings,” added Sarah, “and Bryan can’t feel anything anymore.”

“Didn’t Shelley break up with you at Palmer Park?” one of the guys fired at me. “Is that where you do all your breaking up?”

“Okay, that’s enough!” Mrs. McDonough’s voice echoed throughout the room.

“Yeah,” agreed Sarah, flashing a mad glance at me, “we’ve all had enough of him.”

“Sarah… enough!”

I felt Kate’s hand pat me on the shoulder and heard her whisper, “Do you want to go?” Gritting, I shook my head and listened to Mrs. McDonough.

“…and what I was saying before Bryan came in was that Tiffany isn’t going to be able to make the meetings anytime soon.” Tiffany was Mrs. McDonough’s daughter. “We’ve actually known this for some time, and we informed the school a while ago… it’s just been a question of when we wanted to tell other people… when she wanted to tell other people… and now we feel the time is right.” Taking a deep, deep breath before she continued, she finally told us, “Tiffany was diagnosed with leukemia a month ago…”

And suddenly all my problems seemed trite.
#
“So all that really happened at your Cliques Anonymous meeting?” Rob Tanksley asked me as he caught a ball I threw him and shot. The net snapped as the ball spun through. I tossed him another, and this time he clanked it off the rim. “Man, I feel bad for Tiffany. I’d been wondering where the heck she’s been. She’s one of the few that are alright around here.

“Now the Lindsey part… that’s just hilarious.” He lifted up another perfect jump shot. “And you’ve had it coming for a while now. I told you from the beginning that this would happen.” I continued tossing him balls and listening as my friend counseled on. “You know as well as I do that cheerleaders are going to protect their own. And once Sarah knows…” Another shot laced the net. “…your name is just going to be mud for a while. That’s obviously why people have been avoiding you. You pissed off the wrong girl.”

“Sarah?” I asked.

“No, Lindsey. Sarah’s just one of the extensions.

“But here’s the thing I want to know…” he said as he caught my pass. Instead of shooting, though, he held the ball on his hip and stared at me.

“What?”

“Was she right?”

“Who?”

“Lindsey.”

“What are you talking about, Tank?”

“I want to know if she was right. Is there another girl?” We stared at each other for long moments, but I said nothing. “I thought so,” he concluded. “Who is it?”

Walking up to him, I stole the basketball and dribbled in for a lay-up. The ball bounced on the floor after falling through the hoop, and I watched it until it stopped rolling. Then, I turned to Rob, who still waited for my reply. “You’re going to think I’m an idiot.”

“I already think that.”

“You’re very humorous.” I paused. “See, it’s just that I don’t really know her – and you do. And she probably has no idea I even exist. Well, she might… we’ve looked at each other before. I don’t know.”

“Renehan, who – is – it?”

Swallowing, I coughed as I voiced, “Hailey. Hailey Grace.”

A huge grin broke across Rob’s face as his eyes flew open wide. “Really? Hailey? I wouldn’t have guessed that in a hundred years. I really didn’t even know you knew her. Of her.”

“Why not? She’s gorgeous.”

“Yeah, she’s definitely that, but the red hair…”

“Are you crazy? I love that about her.”

Rob laughed. “Man, you are smitten.”

“So are you going to help me out, Tank?”

He nodded with a pleased cat-like grin. “I’ll let her know you exist. See if maybe she’s noticed you.” He laughed again. “Hailey Grace! Bryan Renehan, you dog you.”

“Try to be discreet.”

“I’ll be at least as discreet as your friends Lindsey and Sarah… but you need to forget about all that now and get me that ball. We got tryouts tomorrow. You ready?”

3 comments:

B said...

Everybody gets 'hooked' into a book or movie for different reasons. I get hooked with characters. You've got two characters in this story so far that I really like--so much, in fact, that I was through with the third chapter and wanted more.

codepoke said...

Lots of thoughts, but this is definitely something.

I definitely want to know how it ends. After these first 3 chapters, I still believe that Lindsey, Hallie, and "alone but happy" all have a chance. That keeps me reading.

Hallie might be anything given the fact that she seems quiet, but she come from the wrong side of the tracks too.

Lindsey 100% has my sympathy, but you are working convincingly to make her unlikeable. I don't know how far you will take her down that road.

You put Bryan in a really hard place. We don't know what it was about Hallie that made him want to move on from Lindsey. We get no view of whether he was really that unhappy with Lindsey, or whether the unhappiness began when his other attraction began.

So, the book seems to be about loyalty?

Loyalty is a hard, hard subject. And loyalty at that age can be much more a weakness than a virtue. By nature I make Lassie look traitorous, and it ain't a good thing. Loyalty makes a man live in destructive denial. It sounds like you are going to jump all over that.

Yep, I would like to know how it ends.

Brett said...

This is good, Rich. I'm probably not the best person to offer judgment on this because I lived through it with you. (And on that note, let me say that "Jason" doesn't appreciate "Bryan" trying to pawn "Mrs. Renehan's" cooking off on Jason when Bryan offers to give up his dinner because he isn't hungry. Jason has tasted Mrs. Renehan's cooking. Jason knows of its [ahem] quality.)

Here's some coincidence for you. I was telling some of this story (or, more precisely, the episode of real life upon which your story is based) just the other day to a guy I work with. It came up because he told me he actually chose not to take a job in Florida last year because of the impact it would have on his kid (and his son is actually playing in the VA state basketball playoffs right now - for the regional championship tonight, in fact).

The line where Rob tells Bryan that he already thinks Bryan is an idiot is hilarious, and genuine-sounding. You may want to be careful in some of the dialogue. There may be some 16-year old boys that would say, "She's gorgeous," rather than, "She's hot!" but I'm not certain how many 16-year old jocks would use the phrase, "Man, you are smitten," to a friend, even ironically. But that's small criticism.

I think you have to finish this - or at least put more time into it to see how it progresses. And let's pump up the "Jason" character some, huh? He needs some scenes that demonstrate his charm, wit, and nobility. I'm pretty sure he's the surprise hero of this story.