#16

Kelly Calloway sat in her classroom at lunchtime tearing the crusts off her peanut butter sandwich. She hadn’t bothered to see if Mr. Temple was free to eat with her. In fact, she assumed he and Miss Bristol would be taking their meals together more often now. She took a a large bite when a knock came at the door. It was Bonnie Bristol.

“Kelly,” she said in her breathy voice. “Do you mind if I join you? I thought we could talk about the club. You know you and I are going to be co-advisers, so I think we should have a chat about what it is we want to do.”

Barely being able to speak because of the gobs of peanut butter in her mouth, Kelly managed only to nod her head. Of course, she would have preferred Bonnie Bristol to be choking on her sandwich instead of her, but life wasn’t always fair. Bonnie opened her lunch box. Inside was a small salad–sans croutons–celery sticks with a smattering of peanut butter, a handful of grapes, and a bottle of mineral water. In short, Kelly thought, Miss Bristol was, indeed, a horse’s ass.

“I was thinking we ought to start talking up the club with our classes,” said Miss Bristol. “For the first meeting, I was running around the idea of my students performing an original song, you know, something that’s uniquely ours. What do you think?”

The phrase “uniquely ours” rung in Miss Calloway’s ears. It seemed that Miss Bristol had a knack for wording her sentences in such a way that would make her mind rage. “I think it’s a lovely idea,” Miss Calloway said, trying to sound as sincere as possible.

“You and your students might make advertisements, and maybe even a seal. I think it’s important that we stand out from the rest. You know, we don’t want to get pushed aside and forgotten by the kids if something better comes along,” said Bonnie.

Kelly took a bite of her sandwich. The peanut butter stopped her from saying something she would regret.

***

When Olivia Gardner came home from school, her mother welcomed her inside with a warm smile. Annette felt that finally, she and Olivia could bond in the way she had always wanted. They had made a date to go dress shopping that afternoon.

“You know, I’ve been looking forward to this all day!” Annette said, kissing Olivia on the cheek. “I just have to grab my purse and we’ll go.”

Something about her mother’s excitement infuriated Olivia. “I’ll wait in the car,” she said.

She sat in the front seat of her mother’s blue convertible and began to thumb through her phone. Rereading some messages from Tom, she smiled. His blond hair and blue eyes got her every time. She couldn’t wait for pictures.

“Ready to go?” Annette said, getting behind the wheel. “I don’t think you ever showed me a photo of Tom. What does he look like? We’ll have to pick out something that matches both of you.”

Olivia passed Annette her phone. On it was a picture of Tom from the summer. He was on the beach playing Frisbee. “An all-American boy, that’s for sure,” Annette said. “When do we get to meet him?”

“I guess on Friday before the dance,” Olivia said.

“Maybe he can come over a little earlier and have dinner,” said Annette.

“Maybe,” Olivia replied.

“Does he have a favorite food? I can make whatever you like.”

“I don’t know.”

“Why don’t you find out and let me know?”

“Okay.”

Annette stared at her daughter. All of a sudden she seemed disinterested. What had she done?

“Is everything okay, honey?” she asked.

“Fine.” Thoughts of Tom flashed across Olivia’s mind. Her parents, if they only knew, would certainly not approve. She felt guilty, but then again, she didn’t care.

Annette decided to pick her battles. Olivia, however, was ready for war. It wasn’t because she felt she had to fight with her mother. She simply wanted to.

END

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#15

Olivia Gardner tapped lightly window of Tom Gibson’s garage apartment. He pulled back the curtain and grinned at her through the glass, and then slid it upward, ushering her inside. She could already smell the skunky stench of pot, and she could tell that Tom was a little more than dazed and confused.

“Glad you could make it,” he said, looking past her.

“It’s not like I had anything better to do,” she said, trying to seem like she didn’t care. That’s what her Cosmo had told her to do, anyway.

“You want some?” he said, holding up a smoking roll of brown paper. He took a long drag and smiled back at her.

Olivia sat down beside him on the stained couch. He leaned in close to her and put his arm around her. “I never thought I’d be hanging out with a nerdy chick,” he said.

Something turned in Olivia’s stomach.

“You kind of got that sexy librarian thing going,” he continued.

A part of her wanted to slap the joint out his mouth and throw a drink in his face. Another part of her wanted to make out with him for an hour and a half. She tried to compromise.

“For future reference, don’t call a girl a ‘nerdy chick’ or a ‘sexy librarian.’ If you want call me pretty, fine, I’d like that. I’m not a thing.” She heard her mother’s voice booming in her brain.

Tom’s face soured. The girls he dated never said anything like that to him. Was he dating Olivia Gardner?

Olivia smirked at him, feeling that she made some kind of dent. She took the joint from Tom and took a long drag. She felt light-headed and a little dizzy, but Tom put his arm around her, and it all seemed to stop. They passed the joint back and forth, getting closer each time. Olivia laid her head on Tom’s chest, and he let his head rest on top of her soft, brown hair. It was new for Olivia, and she felt silly for being happy at that moment. She never thought she’d be verging on the status of a Katherine Heigl movie.

While Olivia closed her eyes, Tom grinned. He was feeling pretty lucky himself.

***

Louise Falcone walked around her kitchen as she held the phone to her ear, waiting for her aunt to answer. She twisted the cord around her fingers, bored. She could have used her cell, but calling Aunt Magnolia from anything but a land line somehow seemed improper. She finally answered.

“Hi Aunt Magnolia, it’s Louise.”

“Louise, darling, how are you?” she said in her slow Southern drawl.

“I’m doing just fine. I wanted to tell you that, if you’re free, Michael and I would like to come down to see you and Uncle Vinton sometime next week maybe? We were thinking of leaving Friday afternoon. I’m not sure what Annette has planned yet, but I know I’d love to see you!” Louise felt a small, very small, stab of guilt for lying.

“Oh honey, that sounds just wonderful, just divine! I haven’t seen you girls in so long, and those husbands of yours! Oh, and Olivia, I just can’t wait. I’ll have the old place up and running again just like I used to, at least as good as I can get it!”

“I don’t want you to go to any trouble! Just be there with your arms ready for a big ol’ hug!” Louise almost gagged on her words.

“I can’t tell you what it means to me that y’all are coming down for a visit. I need my family around more than ever, and you girls are just going to be a blessing. I’ll call you soon, honey. Bye, bye!”

Louise felt nauseous, but not from guilt. She stared at the pile of envelopes on the desk. It seemed to get higher with each passing day. She considered taking the phone of the hook just to make the phone calls stop, at least temporarily. If getting back on her feet meant making an old woman happy for a few days, so be it. It would be good for everyone, right?

Louise leaned on the sink and looked out the window that sat above it. She smiled to herself. No matter what she had to do, she was going to make sure that she landed on top. Sometimes, people had to get hurt. Pain, she thought, is only temporary.

END

#14

Rick Temple tapped open the message from Miss Calloway. It read:

Don’t worry about this afternoon. Water under the bridge. BTW Bonnie and I are working on a club together. Make sure to ask her about  it when you see her next 🙂

The smiley face did it. The worst thing he could have done was underestimate Kelly Calloway. Of course, he couldn’t accuse her of being nice. He’d look like the lunatic there. Or was she just being nice? The last thing he would ever expect Miss Calloway to be was the “don’t screw with me” type of girl. Maybe that was the point?

He set the phone on the counter and stared at it for a while, not having any clue about what to say back. The water in the pot boiled over. No longer did he have an appetite for pasta.

Without seeming to realize it, he picked up the phone and dialed Miss Calloway.

“Hi, Kelly? It’s Rick,” he said.

“I guessed that when your name popped up on the screen,” she replied, uninterested.

“So I’m sorry about everything.”

Silence. “I told you, I’m over it. Nothing to apologize for!” she said, almost convincingly.

“Whether you are or not, I shouldn’t have led you on,” Rick said, almost not believing the words that were coming out of his mouth.

“What do I care what you do with your personal time? We’re not together, we’re coworkers who happened to be getting friendly, and that’s fine by me. That reminds me, feel free to drop in on the Humanities Club meeting sometime. Bonnie and I are heading a talk on the importance of the arts compared to the sciences. Goodnight.”

The line went dead, and Rick Temple stood in front of his stove with a soggy noodle and a heavy heart.

***

Olivia Gardner had gone up to her room for the evening, presumably to get a head-start on her homework–at least that’s what she told her mother. After their little heart-to-heart, faith had been restored in Olivia, and her mother had no qualms about letting her bright, blossoming child continue to exercise her brain. That child, however, had decided that it would be more beneficial to her brain to exercise independence and defiance.

After placing her iPod on the speaker dock and turning up the volume, Olivia opened the windows of her bedroom and let the cool night air rush past her. She looked down, and then at the trellis on the side of the house. She had never tried to climb down it before, but she had seen enough YouTube stunts to know how not to do it. Inching her way onto the side of the house, the wind continued to blow past her, chilling her even with the sweater she had pulled on over her blouse. Surprisingly, she shimmied down the side of the house without a problem. Wearing tennis shoes for a change had really helped, no thanks to her mother.

Her phone pinged. It was Tom Gibson. The message read:

Can’t wait to see you. Come around the side. Parents home lol.

She rolled her eyes at the “lol.” She was surprised that Tom had even bothered to use a few full words instead of some silly abbreviations. The phone pinged again:

Got weed today too. You down?

There it was: a text lacking a comma and devoid of full sentences. She couldn’t find an excuse to convince herself of why she was going, no matter how hard she tried. Did she need one? She shook the thought from her mind and wandered down the darkened suburban street. The streetlights were starting to come on one by one, but somehow nothing got brighter. Olivia kept walking, hoping she would find her way.

END