The Power of Words

Are you ever afraid of what people may think of your writing? Does that critique shy you away from sharing it?

Even though I prefer writing fiction, I love the fact that through writing one can voice their opinion. The month of February is black history month. To celebrate, I wrote a post this week on my FB page about Martin Luther King Jr, for the simple reason that I abhor racism and believe we’re all humans created equal. Writers write for many reasons—for love of fiction, nonfiction, memoir, history, politics, religion, and so forth.

At times, it can be difficult to throw your writing out there, because there’s a piece of your soul in it, and receiving feedback can be a frightful event. I understand that. That’s why as a new writer, I chose to publish using my initials J.V. (Jennifer Virginia;-) and maiden name Carr. I felt like my pen name gave me a sense of privacy. And one of the reasons I wanted to blog a book was to get over that fear of what others think. My book blog posts are a part of a very rough draft that will eventually go through numerous revisions and will see at least a couple of professional eyes🙂 before it ever gets published. So if you’re a closet writer who loves to write, don’t skate away from sharing it. I know I won’t. And don’t always worry about the particulars in your writing life. Toss it to the wind; let it blow where it may blow, and enjoy the ride.

Below is my seventh segment of Gifted Ones: Scarcely Human. I was going to add in a sci-fi segment this time that will eventually be near the beginning of the book to let the reader know what my protagonist, Jess, doesn’t know (if that makes any sense)! But now I’m hoping to add that into my next Friday Reads.

If you happen to want to read from the beginning, click here

And as always, thank you so much for stopping by!

Chapter 5

Words

Michael strode up the stairs of the bus and plopped down in the front seat, directly behind the driver. He ignored his buddies’ calls to sit with them in the back and stared out the window at Jess. She was still standing there, her eyes cast where Michael had been. He furrowed his brow and rubbed his chin. His heart ached.

She looks so sad, he thought. There’s nothing I can do. My hands are tied. They won’t let me tell her, about her father, the serum, Axel, me. I can’t take not telling her the truth much longer…

“Michael?” Jimbo, the coach, put a friendly hand on Michael’s shoulder.

Michael raised his head. “Yeah?”

“You all right?” Jimbo wore a reflection of concern. 

“Yeah, fine.”

Jimbo nodded.

Michael grabbed his duffel bag, stood up, and made his way to the back of the bus.

~#~

Jess was still gazing, blankly in the direction where Michael had left with his team, when she felt an annoying and bony finger tapping her shoulder. She turned and saw Suzy’s happy grin that super stretched from one ear to almost beyond the other.

Suzy began to do a little Spanish salsa. “So you know we’re going to the football game first tonight, right?”

Jess took a deep untrustworthy breath of air. “I thought we were going to a cool party, and our football team has an away game. What football game are you talking about?”

Jess thought of Michael. He’d said he’d call her later. Did he mean when he got home? If she went to a football game first and then some insane party with Suzy, she knew she wouldn’t get home until much later. And…if Michael called her, she’d still be out, and he’d hear the noise on his end of the phone. Then she’d have to wait even longer to find out what he wanted to talk about. She wondered why he hadn’t asked her if she’d had any plans, especially since it was Friday. Probably because he doesn’t care, she thought. Her mind swirled mini tornadoes again. She felt on edge and sick to her stomach, wondering what Michael had to discuss with her. It must be to breakup. It has to be, she thought.

Suzy pushed her index finger into the dimple on her right cheek, straightened the pleats in the skirt part of her dress and answered coyly, “The Mainstream College guys, silly. They have final games or playoffs or whatever. Who cares. I met a couple of them. It’s going to be so fun. We’re going to their party after the game. That’s the party I told you about. Jeffrey’s the guy I want you to meet. He is so hot.” Suzy placed a satisfied hand on her right hip.

“Jeffrey?” Jess asked confused. This doesn’t sound good.

 “Trust me.”

Jess knew that the “trust me” and the determined look in her friend’s eyes were not a good thing. She wouldn’t take no for an answer. Jess had to go. She knew she wouldn’t be heading home after school. She’d be off with her friend until the morning sun cast its first beams across the glittering ocean waves. And she knew she couldn’t get in trouble this time––or she’d be suspended. But the partying wasn’t on Eastglen High grounds. So she needn’t worry. Right?

 

~#~

Don’t know why we have to meet here. It’s absurd, Axel thought as he trudged up the concrete stairs of the broken down abandoned brick building, all the way to the fifth floor at the top. He hated the secret meetings for the ‘gifted ones’—and the stench of the filthy building with its empty liquor bottles and pungent odor from the poor homeless who’d made the building their make-shift home.

And he especially hated the secrets they all had to keep from Jess.

When Jess’s mom had showed up at her first meeting after her husband’s death, Axel thought he’d puke his lunch. None of the ‘gifted ones’ knew Jess or her mom had anything to do with the scientist who erupted the scientific world with the experiment of all time. Ben, Jess’s father, had been the brain behind the serum, except that none of the five ‘gifted ones’ knew his name. They’d only known him as Doc.

Holy Crap. Axel swayed his head from side to side, remembering the day he found out about Jess, still incredulous. He couldn’t help but stare at her after that, and now…

Now they were all paranoid, because if any one of them told Jess the secret, they’d no longer be given the monthly shot of the serum they needed to stay alive.

Yeah, some threat. Real noble.

If only Jess knew the truth. He wished so badly to tell her, but that would be against the scientists’ rules, or more specifically––Jack’s rules. Axel was at a point where he didn’t care anymore. He’d almost told her at the cabin, but then Casey, aka Mr. Mahoney, the physics teacher, had illuminated his way into the cabin to stop Axel from telling her. He’d said he’d wanted to protect Axel. He’d said he didn’t want to have the serum taken away from him. He’d said he was trying to help. Well, Axel didn’t care anymore.

If I live, I live. If I die, I die.

Axel swung open a metal door with shredded bits of glass and stepped into a large vacant room. Crumbled paint hung from the walls and adorned the chipped floors. A tiny mouse wobbled by, alone without its mother who’d probably been killed by one of the many alley cats that lived there. “You’re a lucky little guy,” he muttered to the mouse. “You don’t need the serum.”

Axel walked up to a windowless door and opened it. When he entered in, he could see that he was the last of the nine in the group to arrive. The other eight were seated on the floor in a circle with only a camping lantern illuminating the room, and a shred of light from a nail tipped moon that shone through a splintered window.  

Axel’s stomach grumbled. It was just before 7 p.m. and he hadn’t had time for dinner. He’d been following Jess around. Something about her hanging around with Suzy on this particular night felt wrong to him.

Jack, the most brilliant of scientists, almost as much as Jess’s dad had been, welcomed him. “Good to see you, young man. Have a seat. This is a very important meeting for you.” He gestured for Axel to sit next to Mark, a forty something well-known politician. Axel wondered how things were going for him and his family.

He sat down Indian-style next to Mark. “How are you?” Mark whispered and shook his hand.

Axel nodded his head, greeting him in return. “Good.” He noticed how exhausted Mark looked with darkened bags suspended under his eyes. His chestnut hair lost among the increasing grey that had replaced them. Mark had a lot invested in the serum. His only son was lying in a hospital bed hooked up to a traditional life support system. The car accident he’d been in six months earlier had left him incapacitated. Mark hoped desperately the scientists would recover the components of the serum, so his son would be saved. At the present moment, there was barely enough serum left for the original five subjects, including Michael, Axel, Peggy, Mr. Mahoney, and Mr. Magique.

As Axel glanced around the circle he made eye contact with each ‘gifted one’. Peggy glared at him. Mr. Magique looked crestfallen, Mr. Mahoney—sullen. And then there was Michael missing tonight—away at his football game. Michael had been upset and angry about the serum lately anyway. His parents had different ideas about his treatments with the serum that Michael didn’t agree with. And now Michael had no choice but to be submissive to his parents’ will, which included a major life change for him…and Jess, though she didn’t know that yet, either. 

Happy Valentines Day weekend! Hope to see you for my next Friday Reads!

 

 

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Friends?: Gifted Ones: Scarcely Human

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How do you feel about the friends in your life? Sometimes friends come and go, sometimes they hurt you, but sometimes they remain in your life to stay, a true blessing.

“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious ambiguity.” ~Gilda Radner

The above quotation is perfect for my protagonist, Jess, as she’s bounced around in life not knowing who her “real” friends are, those that truly care about her, and those who do not. No matter what happens in life, the good or the bad, we can make a choice about how to deal with it, either with belligerence or acceptance. I hope you take the time to read about Jess, and how she deals with the enormous amount of unknown in her life that blankets everywhere she turns.

This book I’m blogging is a very rough draft, and I’ve been calling it a sci-fi, but there hasn’t been much sci-fi in it yet; so when I edit it, there will be more sci-fi inserts in the beginning from Michael and Axel’s point of view–the beauty of writing in third person omniscient. My next Friday Reads post will contain one of those sci-fi inserts.

If you’d like to read from the beginning, click here

Otherwise you can read each additional segment by clicking at the bottom of each blog post. And if you are here, thanks so much for stopping by! XO

Sixth segment, rough, rough draft below:

Chapter Four

“Best Friends”

Jess woke up Tuesday morning and every morning for the next two weeks with an abhorrent headache. Her head pounded like a concerted set of symphonic instruments in desperate need of extra practice. Every day she rolled out of her double bed, with the fluffy rose-colored comforter and overstuffed pillows, and took a steaming shower before downing a couple of ibuprofen and a glass of apple juice to kill the pain.

Then in a predictable fashion, she headed off to school with Michael. At first, everything was fine between them, but gradually Michael stopped talking to Jess much, and the silence between them grew like a redundant weed in Jess’s life.

One particular morning, as they were riding to school in another distressing silence, Jess decided she couldn’t take it any longer. “What is it, Michael? Why are you so serious lately? What? No jokes? Are you mad at me about something?”

Is he still upset about Axel?

She didn’t know. Her eyes swelled with tears. The silence flooding her ears and heart rang that something was off.

It didn’t help that Axel had been staring at her ever since he’d driven her home from school after her punishment. She thought Michael must have noticed too.

 Is that it?

What else could it be? It didn’t make sense to Jess; unless, he was losing interest in her already? The idea left her more than glum; it made her feel like volcanic lava was ready to erupt in her belly.

Michael held the steering wheel with his left hand. He stretched his right hand behind his head. His bicep bulged as he grabbed on to a handful of his glossy thick hair. “It’s nothing, Jess. My dad’s been on my case lately, as usual. I don’t feel like talking about it.” He glanced at her like something else was on his mind he wasn’t sharing.

 She shot him a feeble smile.

Maybe, Jess thought, doubting his excuse. Although, his dad did expect a lot from him and had high expectations for him. He was the stuffy president of a Bank USA and wanted Michael to follow in his footsteps, but Michael wanted to be a mechanic and own his own garage. His dad had been putting a lot of pressure on Michael to choose a college to attend the next school year. Michael wasn’t sure if he even wanted to go to college but hadn’t had the guts to tell his father yet.

When Michael pulled in and parked his car at school, he kissed Jess on the tip of her nose. “Everything’s good between us? Right?”

Jess shrugged her shoulders. “Sure.” She decided to let it go for the time being. Fighting was at the top of her Things I Hate list.

Something else was bothering Jess: the fact that she had felt strange since the day of her punishment, like she’d had an alien encounter, a life-changing event, some off-the-path experience that had left her feeling “different.” She couldn’t understand why the sight of a cabin intermittently flashed in her mind. She was beginning to feel more like someone was watching her, in particular, around her house and at school. Axel always noticing her didn’t help. It left her feeling anxious. She knew she needed to talk to her mother about it, but didn’t want to add to her mother’s stress.

In the days to come, as Axel’s presence near her intensified, she felt herself uncontrollably drawn to him. It wasn’t like a typical guy-girl attraction, but more like some shared phenomena, something Jess didn’t understand. It seemed like every time she turned around he was there. She wished Michael was around a fraction as much, but he wasn’t, and his recent apathy toward her left her feeling more and more depressed and alone. She was beginning to feel a little crazy and cast it off as more post traumatic stress.

The following Wednesday, during lunch in EastGlen’s stale hospital-like cafeteria, Suzy plunked down next to Jess. Michael had stayed home sick with strep throat, which gave Jess a chance to catch up with her only friend other than him. She and Michael had been sitting in silence during lunch anyway, so surprisingly to her, a break from Michael was a welcomed relief.

Even though Jess considered Suzy her best friend, Suzy wasn’t really that good a friend; Michael was right. Suzy was spoiled and self absorbed, but it was hard to make new friends. Most kids’ friendships were already intact, and newcomers were greeted with an invisible sign that read Not Welcome, apparently a small town thing not unique to only Ogunquit. And Suzy was one of a handful that would chill with anyone new, but only in desperation, because she’d burned through most of her friends throughout her middle grade and high school career.

Suzy opened her juvenile nylon lunch sack that had pictures of Rihanna plastered all over it, and pulled out a sandwich oozing with peanut butter and Nutella on white bread.

Jess stared, her mouth watering, as Suzy took an enormous un-dainty bite of her sandwich. “How can you eat that and stay so thin?” Jess asked amazed at her friend’s voracious appetite. She stared down at her own no-fat American cheese sandwich with a dab of Dijon mustard on wheat, extra lettuce.

“I dunno. Luck’s on my side I guess.” Suzy’s platinum blond ponytail bobbed up and down while she ate. She wore designer dresses most of the time, anything with the name Guess or Dior. Jess thought it was a little over the top for high school. It made her look more like a runway model than a high school student, and Suzy’s sugary sweet voice was deceiving. She sounded like a perfectly behaved goody goody, even though she was a hard-core partier, much more than Jess.

Suzy’s two other best friends, Claire and Brooke, sat down with their bagged lunches in hand. Jesse wasn’t good friends with either one of them. They reminded her of the wicked stepsisters from Cinderella. They both worshipped Suzy, for her looks, her flashy car, and her money, which explained why Suzy liked being friends with them. Well, that and the fact that they had been newbie students the year before Jess had arrived.

Claire and Brooke sat whispering and gossiping with each other about an unpopular couple that had broken up, something Jess didn’t care anything about. Jess watched them banter on with strange enthusiasm.

She didn’t think either of them was overly pretty. Claire’s plain brown-like-dirt short hair was cropped in an unfashionable style. Her clothes were always yesterday’s craze, and she wore too much charcoal-colored eyeliner that made her look like a raccoon. Brooke was a little prettier. She had long, bronze reddish hair but a pinched up face that made her look like she’d devoured a lemon, or two, or three, even.

Both girls took out their carrots and celery sticks and munched like they hadn’t eaten in a decade while they shared their recent weight loss success. Yay, Jess thought sarcastically. They had each lost less than five pounds in the last month even though they didn’t need to.

Jess was tilting her head, trying to get the kinks out of her neck muscles, when a couple of guys from the chess club walked by. One of them winked at Suzy and tried to be cool, bumping in to his friend in the process.

Suzy sighed and rolled her eyes. “Losers…like I’d ever date geeks like them.” Jess kept her opinion to herself. Chess had been one of her favorite games since third grade.

Three more guys wearing Eastglen High basketball sweatshirts walked by next. She caught her breath. They were joking and punching each other on the arm with arrogant smiles on their faces. Axel was among them, his curls bouncing above his eyes. She held her breath. He glanced at Jess and stared at her for a brief moment, then turned back to his buddies. Basketball season hadn’t started yet, but their team had been practicing when they weren’t playing soccer.

Suzy’s eyes glazed over with admiration. She sighed. “Now any one of them could ask me out, and I’d say yes. They’re so hot. I mean did you see Axel totally check me out?” She pulled on her ponytail and twisted it around her hand.

Jess didn’t say a word. She knew Axel’s stare had been meant for her, and she still didn’t understand the growing allure between them.

Claire smacked her lips as she finished her lunch and gazed longingly at Brooke’s food like being in love with a guy was so yesterday and food was the most important thing in the world. Both girls continued to babble on about how much they missed eating pepperoni pizza with elastic melt-in-your-mouth cheese.

Suzy leaned over with her elbow snug on the cafeteria table, her hand wedged under her chin, and said in her sassy way, “You both look ridiculous. Honestly, learn how to eat with a little more manners.”

Brooke stuck out her tongue at Suzy displaying her leftover bits of carrots.

Claire giggled.

Jess stood up. “I’ll see you girls later.” She tossed her hair and began to walk away.

“Wait up, Jess,” Suzy said with a wicked smile on her face, following after her. “You up for a party this Friday? I have some really special guys I want you to meet, one in particular.”

Jess shot Suzy a half smile. “I have a boyfriend, remember?” She cast her leftover lunch into the rusty bin next to the table and continued to walk away. She glanced back over her shoulder and saw Suzy continue to strut up behind her.

Suzy stopped Jess and pleaded with her. “Come on. It’ll be fun. Just because there will be incredibly hot muscular guys there doesn’t mean you’ll be cheating. Look and don’t touch, I always say.” Suzy placed her hand on her hip and gave her hair a toss behind her back. She begged Jess mercilessly and wouldn’t take no for an answer.

Jess relented. “Fine. You win. I’ll tell Michael I’m shopping with you. If I stop and buy something it won’t be a lie.” Sadly, Jess figured Michael wouldn’t care, anyway.

Suzy grabbed Jess, and with an enormous look of satisfaction on her face, hugged her tight. “That’s my girl. Trust me you won’t regret it. We’ll have so much fun.”

Jess hugged her friend back, said goodbye, and headed off to her most despised class–Physics 101. The 101 meant it wasn’t Honors Physics. It was easy physics, like such a thing existed.

The bell rang as Jess strolled into class. Instead of sitting down, everyone was standing, while they waited for Mr. Mahoney, the teacher, to give assigned seats, two students to one small table, a new and uninviting idea. Jess groaned along with all the other students.

One guy Jess thought was named Robby, who had a snake tattoo wrapped around his right bicep, wailed out. “Whyyy assigned seats? This class sucks as it is. Sitting with friends makes it at least somewhat bearable.”

Mr Mahoney, in his cream colored slacks, navy Polo shirt, and tan corduroy jacket walked to the front of the class with his roster in hand. He pushed his dark-rimmed glasses up onto the bridge of his nose and straightened his dark-blond wavy hair. He explained, “There’s been some cheating going on amongst friends. Sitting next to someone you’re not friends with should help the problem.”

The class broke out into a mutual animal-like uproar, incredulous that they could be accused of cheating.

“I know. I know. It’s a shocker,” Mr. Mahoney’s voice dripped as he shuffled papers up and down on his desk. He continued to call out the names of the students and didn’t get to Jess until almost the end. To her shock, she was paired with Axel. As far as she knew, he was only in advanced classes.

Jess sat back in her chair and crossed her arms feeling irritated. She whispered to Axel, “What are you doing in this class? I thought you were an honors student.” Jess let her voice linger on the word honors.

 Axel’s face lit up. His ever changing eye color looked almost tan-blue against his aqua colored shirt. “Aren’t you happy to see me? After all, I gave you a ride home from school, remember?”

“Seriously? I already thanked you for that. Why are you in this class, anyway?” she demanded.

Axel leaned toward Jess. She caught a wiff of his cologne. Her heart sped up. “Honors Physics was too hard for me. I asked to drop down.” His magnet eyes clung to hers.

“Great,” she grumbled under her breath, but didn’t look away, more like couldn’t look away.

“Don’t look so happy about it.” His eyes glistened with amusement.

“You’ve been staring at me a lot lately, and now you’re in my class, sitting next to me. Strange coincidence don’t you think?” She started tapping the eraser on her pencil without thinking.

“I never asked to sit by you. I swear I didn’t, and I don’t stare at you a lot. Maybe just a little.” He threw in as an afterthought.

“Why?” Jess asked, her voice rising, as she tapped the eraser on her pencil even louder. 

Mr. Mahoney turned toward the two of them and glared over the top of his glasses. “Quiet!” he snapped.

Jess shifted her head up and noticed most of the class staring at the two of them, like they had caricatures for heads.

Jess and Axel remained silent for the rest of the class. She did her best to ignore him and saw that Axel did the same as his entire body was positioned away from her.

When the bell rang, Jess began to rush off. Mr. Mahoney stopped her. “Jess,” he said, “can you come here for a second?”

“Sure.” Jess trudged up to Mr. Mahoney’s desk. She opened her mouth to speak but closed it when he handed her their last test. A tiny 58 written in black ink was written at the top of the first page.

“Jess,” Mr. Mahoney said softly, “I know you can do better than this. You’re a smart girl. You should be in honors classes like you were in your old school.” He looked at her, concerned.

Jess thought Mr. Mahoney was the nicest teacher in the school. When he was serious he had a crinkled up frown that Jess thought looked sweet, like a teacher who really cared. It made her miss her father.

“I guess I have a lot of things on my mind,” she whispered. “I’ll try to do better.”

“That’s all I ask, Jess. If you need extra help, I’m always here after school.”

“Okay, I’ll remember that,” she said. “Thanks.” She grabbed the test and went to her next class–pre-calculus.

The day whisked by until the final bell rang.

The rest of the week flew by in the same manner. Jess’s headaches subsided somewhat, and she talked to Axel the least amount possible, which didn’t seem to bother him a bit. Friday rolled around, and students cheered for the weekend.

TGIF!

Jess searched for Michael and found him waiting by the front doors to the main entrance of the school. She noticed how attractive he looked in a white button down shirt and tan slacks. She swallowed hard. He had barely spoken to her all week.

She remembered her plans with Suzy and thought with disappointment that he had a football game, another one, too far away for her to travel.

She picked up her step to meet up with him until Peggy ran by his side. A strange feeling crept into Jess’s stomach. She stopped cold and watched the two of them. Peggy’s rusty-colored shirt was cut on the high side, revealing too much skin and her muscular tummy. Her black leggings were tighter than the school rules allowed, and her pumps were ridiculously high; but Peggy was popular with most of the faculty members. She was the biggest suck-up. She got away with more than any of the other kids.

Jess stared at her with disgust but was happy when she saw Michael shake his head like he was annoyed with her and started to walk away. Peggy spat something to Michael that Jess couldn’t hear. She felt the water she drank earlier rise into her throat when Michael walked back to Peggy to give her an affectionate embrace. Ugh! She was the one girl Jess couldn’t stand. As the days had gone by, Jess’s dislike for her had grown.

Michael pulled away from Peggy and gazed across the hallway. His eyes rested on Jess. He looked surprised but then waved to her. Jess breathed out, hoping that maybe everything was okay between them. Peggy really wasn’t Michael’s type, at least Jess kept telling herself that, though she couldn’t help feeling outrageously jealous. Peggy was unbelievably gorgeous.

When she caught up with Michael she kissed him on the cheek. “Hey, what’s up with Peggy?” she asked nonchalantly like she didn’t care.

Michael dropped his head to the floor but kept his stare intently on Jess’s eyes. Jess flushed and glanced away. The way he looked at her drove arrows through her heart.

His expression grew serious. He whispered, his tone tinged with a husky residue. “As usual, nothing is up with Peggy…but, Jess…there’s something I have to tell you. I know it’s been awkward between us. We need to talk.”

Jess’s heart sank lower than the bottom of the ocean. We need to talk, like he was breaking up with her? Her thoughts blurred into a sudden panicked mass of confusion.

Jimbo, the football coach, came bounding through with most of the team following behind him at the most inopportune time. “Michael,” he bellowed. “Bus is leaving.”

Jess grabbed on to Michael’s arm, feeling the strong muscle underneath his shirt. She pleaded with him. “Wait. What do you want to talk to me about? Tell me quick before you have to go.” She hated the desperation that resounded in her voice.

Michael exhaled and frowned. “I can’t. It’s too important. I’ll call you later. Okay?” He grabbed his duffel bag and with a quick stride went out the front door behind his team. He glanced wistfully back at Jess.

She watched him until he faded out of sight, left dying to know what he had to say, and whether or not he even wanted to be her boyfriend anymore.  

Happy winter! See you for my next Friday Reads!

 

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A Father’s Love: Gifted Ones: Scarcely Human

A father’s tears and fears are unseen, his love is unexpressed, but his care and protection remains as a pillar of strength throughout our lives.  ~Ama H.Vanniarachchy

There’s nothing like a father’s love for his children, that paternal hand that stands firm on a child’s shoulder and heart no matter if their physical presence is with the child or not. In my fifth segment of Gifted Ones: Scarcely Human (the book I’m blogging), the loving impact of Jess’s father remains, even from the grave. Love knows no boundaries. This segment ends a portion of the romance genre and will soon enter into the sci-fi genre as Jess learns the reality about the characters that surround her.

On a separate note, a little tidbit about what it’s been like blogging a book so far: I actually started writing this piece of fiction almost three years ago. Thirty percent of what I’ll be blogging was written before I published my Patty Cakes book. It’s interesting for me to piece it together slowly, while adding quotations and songs. It’s giving me a vastly different insight into this piece that I hope will strengthen the plot, especially during the editing phase. So basically what I’m saying is: the choice to blog this book has been a terrific learning experience so far.

If you’re interested in reading the book from the beginning click here: Gifted Ones: Scarcely Human

Otherwise, thanks so much for stopping by! Happy winter!

Rough draft below:

 

Chapter Three

Love in Various Forms

Later that night at nine minutes past ten, Jess was sitting at home at their oak kitchen table, atypically studying for a pre-calculus quiz. She chewed on the end of her pencil, put it down, and tipped her wooden chair back and forth as she tried to stay focused. Her pounding headache didn’t help. Before her mother went to bed she’d given her a hug and a steaming mug of apple cinnamon tea and had told her how proud she was to see her doing her homework. It filled Jess with more than an ounce of remorse. Most of the time her mother didn’t know about the trouble she got herself into, unless the school called. Her mother had been trying her hardest to make her life ‘right,’ after her father’s death, and Jess knew she wasn’t making it easy for her.

Jess rubbed her drowsy eyes and had barely closed her pre-calc book when she heard a fierce banging at the front door. She jumped up startled and hurried to see who had knocked so late on a school night. Her mother didn’t like visitors on school nights any more than she liked avocados on her pizza. And she hated avocados. Jess glanced through the peephole and saw Michael, wearing the same clothes he had worn earlier in the day, even the skin tight white t-shirt despite the cool, crisp night-time air. She knew he’d come back late after his football game against the Lion’s team.

Jess’s heart sank at the deeply annoyed expression on his face. His mouth was sealed shut, his jaw locked, his teeth clenched together, his eyes swirling like a territorial animal. Jess cringed. She heard the click of the deadbolt as she unlocked the door. Michael pushed it open before she had the chance to open it herself.

“What were you doing with him?” Michael spat, his brazen eyes dug a hole straight into hers.

“What are you talking about?” Jess’s eyes widened, her jaw dropped. Her heart began to race. She’d never seen Michael this upset.

“You were with Axel…I heard from more than one person you canned school and took off with him today. You weren’t at lunch, remember? Or did you forget?” Michael walked through the door and pushed past Jess. She moved off to the side.

She took a step forward and followed him, her nerves shaken. She wiped her palms down the side of her bluejeans. “I-I…had a ridiculous punishment for partying, remember? I-I…had to clean the school grounds and…”

Michael shuffled up to Jess, his towering frame glowering down at her, jowls clenched together. “Yeah I know that, Jess. I also heard that you skipped the punishment and took off with Axel. I tried to call you.”

Jess’s head began to pulsate again. She clutched her forehead with her right hand and winced in pain. In her mind the sight of a cabin flashed, but all she could remember was driving home with Axel. “He drove me straight home, Michael. We barely talked. He told me Mr. Magique felt bad for my punishment and asked him for the favor. That’s all, Michael. I swear. And you know how quickly my phone battery goes dead.” Her head began to spin. She felt faint and stooped over.

Michael caught her in his arms. “You okay?” His facial expression changed to one that seeped with kindness and concern.

“I feel weak. My head’s pounding.” Jess’s vision flashed before her like a snowy TV screen. 

Michael picked her up and carried her to the almond-colored leather couch in the living room that was situated off the kitchen and laid her down.

“I’ll be right back.” Michael went into the kitchen and opened the white-trimmed cabinet that contained a set of crystal glasses.

Jess heard the tinkling sound of water from the kitchen sink. The refrigerator door opened, then closed. She heard something being sliced. Presumably lemon, she hoped, her favorite addition to a glass of plain boring water.

Michael moved swiftly and was back by Jess’s side. When she saw the glass of water as she thought it had been poured, she laughed with relief. “Feeling guilty for giving me such a hard time over nothing?” she asked.

“I’m sorry,” he murmured, “forgive me?” He let his fingers slide through her hair curling the locks in between his fingers. He caressed her cheek. After a few sips of water, he asked, “Feeling better, I hope?”

Jess nodded. “Why did you freak out on me like that, though?” She poked the lemon under the surface of the water and watched as it bounced back to the top of the glass.   

“I am sorry. I don’t know what I was thinking. Jealous I guess.” Michael leaned over and kissed her softly.

She moved her head back. “Jealous? Really? I have one word to say to you.”

He stared at her now, amused, and raised his eyebrows quizzically. “Seriously, Jess. You know one word. And now what would that one word be?” His face sparkled with animation.

“Peggy,” she mouthed. 

He threw his head back and laughed out loud. “Not her again. I barely talk to her. I told you before, Jess. She has her own skeletons. I mean, come on.”

Jess placed a finger over Michael’s lips. “Shhh, my mother.”

Michael glanced toward the stairs. “Oh right, sorry.” He pulled a pack of gum from his jeans. “Piece of gum?”  

“More gum?” she asked. “Do I have bad breath?” Michael had been offering Jess gum a lot lately, and he hadn’t been offering fruit flavored, but rather pungent smelling mint, any kind of it, peppermint, spearmint, wintergreen even. Every flavor she hated.

“No, it’s not that,” he said, softly as his fingertips slid up the left pocket of her torn jeans. He felt the lump that protruded there and attempted, without success, to slip his fingers into her pocket. She sat upright giving him easier access. His fingers slipped into her pocket. He pulled out a whitegold chastity ring and glanced at the engraving on the inside. To Jess with all my love, Dad. He slipped it over the tip of his pinky. They both knew the power her father had over them from the grave.

Jess watched his expression. She knew the ring helped them both take their relationship slowly. Jess’s father had had a powerful faith when he was alive. Jess didn’t fully understand it, but she always kept some religious item her father had given her on her physically, either in her pocket or she wore it. He’d given her plenty of jewelry and other cherished tokens, but the ring was the most dear to her heart. The ring had been the only gift her father had given her that was engraved. To Jess, it felt like a piece of him that was still alive, like his voice could still be heard.  

Do you really want to know why I’ve been offering you gum?” Michael asked.

“Yeah,” she breathed. Her entire body came alive when Michael buried his face in her hair. He kissed her neck. It tickled and she laughed.

He cupped her face with his hands. “Your smell, your taste, the way your skin feels when I touch you, drives me crazy.” He held up the chastity ring and twirled it on his pinky. “If I concentrate on the smell of the gum, it helps me keep my feelings for you under control. In some way, I feel like your father would respect me for it.”

Jess stared at him, surprised. “Why would you care that much about my father’s respect when he’s not even here?” The sweetness of it made her heart ache and want him even more.

Michael cleared his throat. “Most guys I know want their girlfriend’s dad to respect them.”

“Well, maybe you could chew a flavor I actually like then,” she said. 

 “Uh, uh, um,” Jess’s mom, Susan, stepped out of the shadows and toward the coach.

“Geez, Mom! A little privacy,” Jess snapped. Michael let go of her.

Susan tightened her white terrycloth robe. “You know––”

Michael stood up and spoke with the utmost reverence. “I know you don’t like visitors on school nights, Mrs. Cooper. I’m sorry. I just wanted to make sure Jess made it home okay from school today. I had a football game, and I couldn’t get a hold of her, and…”

Susan looked confused. “Why would you have to make sure Jess got home okay? Why wouldn’t she get home okay?” She tightened her robe again. 

Michael looked at Jess as if he wished he could retract his words.

Susan’s shiny black hair had been pulled back into a ponytail. Her Vogue glasses hid her glaring eyes and gaunt, tired face. She looked like an older version of Jess, except for the weight she had lost after her husband’s murder. Her shoulders poked out of her robe like a hanger.

Jess put her hand up toward her mother to protest. “It’s okay, Mom. We had something to work out. He’ll go.”

Usually Michael hugged Jess’s mother or kissed her on the cheek, but this time he apologized again and went to the door right away. He glanced back at Jess and grinned. “I’ll pick you up in the morning.” He didn’t wait for her to reply. He opened the door and was swallowed up by the moonless night, leaving the door slightly ajar behind him.

Jess’s mom went to the door and looked around outside, her breathing grew erratic. She shut the door, opened it, and looked again. She locked it as her hands trembled. She went back to Jess. “Everything’s okay with you, right?” she asked. “I’m too tired to deal with anything tonight.”

“Everything’s fine, Mom.” Jess was relieved the school hadn’t called her mother.

Maybe Mr. Magique did realize what an injustice and ridiculous punishment he’d given me.

Susan gave Jess a kiss on the top of her head and without another word walked out of the room, up the spiral staircase, and into her bedroom, closing the door quietly behind her.

Jess didn’t like the look on her mother’s face after she’d shut the door. It was filled with concern and dread. She knew it wasn’t because of Michael. Her mind had looked like it was somewhere else, a far distance away. Jess had seen that look of dismay before, but only since her father’s murder. She knew from the depths of her heart that her mother was hiding something from her, but she didn’t know what. Whatever it was, though, was something dreadful. She felt certain of that. It was something that made Jess’s stomach churn.

Hope to see you for my next Friday Reads in a few weeks!

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Everyday Miracles

 

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“This is the message of Christmas: We are never alone.” ~Taylor Caldwell (1900-1985), English novelist

I wrote this in honor of my father and all the departed, those whom we’ve loved and lost. May we feel their love and close proximity this holiday season.

Thanks, Tim Hemlin, for hosting this super fun Christmas hop! For 11 more entertaining holiday stories on this hop, click here:-)

~*~

Fay stirred the creamy yolks in the fry pan on the stove absently, lost in the ache she felt in her heart each year. She looked forward to the holiday season with hope but couldn’t quite shake the family tragedy that had happened to her family three years ago. Her father, Theodore, had been driving her seven-year-old son, Timmy, to the mall for some Christmas shopping and a movie, when an eighteen wheeler truck hit them head on. They both died on impact.

“Mama? Mama?” Emma poked Fay’s thigh hard. “What’s that yucky smell?

Fay glanced down at the eggs and quickly pulled the pan off the stove. She sniffed. There was a faint burnt smell but not too bad, still good enough to eat.

Fay placed the pan back on the stove and smoothed her palms on the side of her jeans. “It’s not a yucky smell. See?” She sniffed. “Mmm. Smells delicious.” Fay couldn’t help but smile at little Emma with her morning hair poking out, her soft cheeks still pink and warm from sleep. For a child who’d lived only a mere five years, she was astute and perceptive, though she didn’t remember the tragedy; she’d only been two at the time.

Fay scooped up a pile of eggs, plopped them onto a small plate, and added a little salt and pepper. She took a fork out of the drawer and placed the plate in front of Emma, where she was sitting at the kitchen table.

Emma took a bite and put her fork down. She looked up at her mother, and said excitedly, “What are you going to read to me today? What Christmas story, Mama? Which one?”

Fay had carried on a family tradition, one her father had started with her when she was a child––they’d read a different Christmas story each day, for twelve days in honor of the twelve days before Christmas. Fay had already read enriching stories to Emma about how African-Americans celebrated their heritage during the holiday known as Kwanzaa, how the Jewish celebrated Hanukkah, and how various countries celebrated Christmas a little differently. They’d read happy Christmas classics like ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas and scary ones like The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, but little Emma’s favorite was Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, the book Fay had picked out for this snowy, chilly morning.  

After Emma had finished her breakfast and washed her tiny hands, they settled in to read. Fay gazed out the window, through the half-open blinds at the passing cars inching along the icy road. It was a true winter blizzard outside. She was glad she didn’t have to drive in the treacherous conditions.

Emma settled down next to Fay on the leather couch, cuddling under the cozy, tan knitted blanket. She leaned her head against her mother’s arm and smiled a happy, sweet little smile. Fay opened the picture book and began to read.

She’d only read a couple of sentences when Emma interrupted her, pointing to the beautifully illustrated Santa Claus on the page. “Oh, Mama, I saw him last night! I forgot to tell you. I saw Santa!”

“How nice,” Fay said, smiling to herself at her daughter’s innocence. “Did you have a dream about Santa?”

“No, Mama. I saw him in my room, next to Teddy.” Emma had always kept a huge Teddy Bear next to her bedroom door to keep the monsters out of her room. He was the soldier who protected her from her ghoulish childhood fears.

Fay smiled warmly at Emma, and curled a few strands of Emma’s golden locks around her ear. She played along with Emma’s story. “So you saw Santa, huh?”

“Yes!” Emma nodded her head emphatically.

“Okay, then. What was he wearing?”

“Well, red, of course, Mama. Santa always wears red.” Emma’s face pinched up like she was thinking her Mama should have known better. Then Emma paused to think before she continued to describe him. “Except he had jeans on, and I could see a little brown hair under his white hair. And he was real nice.”

Fay’s mouth opened in surprise. Jeans and brown hair brought her back in time to her own childhood memories. “Did he say anything?” she asked.

“Oh yes,” Emma said. “He said our family in Heaven is happy, and we should be too.”

Fay shook her head, confused, closed the book, and cradled Emma’s tiny head in her hands. “Honey, is this a story you’re making up?”

“No, Mama.” Emma said, pulling away from her mother’s fingers, staring at the Christmas book. “Awww, can’t we keep reading?”

“Hold on one minute.” Fay stood up and walked to the ebony hutch in the dining room. She ran her hand along the wooden drawers, until she came to the drawer where she kept old family photos. She opened the drawer and shuffled through them. She came to the one she was searching for. She pulled it out, closed the drawer gently, and brought it back to the living room, where Emma was waiting for her. She handed the picture to Emma. “Have you ever seen this picture before?” she asked her daughter.

Emma cried in delight. “That’s him, Mama. That’s him.” She peered up at her mother curiously. “So, You’ve seen him, too?” she asked.

Fay felt her eyes burn with tears. She blinked them back. “That’s Theodore, my father, Sweetheart. Your Papa when he was young.”

Emma scowled. “Mama,” she groaned. “Papa, isn’t Santa Claus.”

Fay nodded. “No, he isn’t. You’re right, but when I was a little girl like you, he used to dress up like Santa, and read to us about the magic of Christmas.”

Emma cocked her head to the side, and looked deep in concentration. “Well, Mama. If I see Santa Claus tonight, I’ll rip his white beard right off that face of his, and let him know he’s not foolin’ me.” Emma sat back and crossed her arms with a look of triumph. “Now that we figured out that Papa’s been playing dress up in my room like Santa, can we finish reading now?

Fay laughed and hugged Emma tightly, and then opened the book, amazed at the sweetness and simplicity of her child. She knew in her heart that a little more healing for her family would be the most special gift this holiday season.

The End

Hope you have a happy and safe holiday season!

 

  

 

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Truth: Gifted Ones: Scarcely Human

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“Silence becomes cowardice when occasion demands speaking out the whole truth and acting accordingly.” ~Mahatma Ghandi

Is it hard for you to tell the truth sometimes?

Telling the truth is not always easy. In my fourth segment of Gifted Ones: Scarcely Human (the book I’m blogging), Axel knows many truths about Jess that she’s unaware of. He’s tormented as he looks for an opportunity to tell her, but he feels she has the right to know. Hope you take a look at the fourth segment of my Friday reads. Thanks for stopping by!

If you’d like to read this from the beginning, part one starts here Gifted Ones: Scarcely Human

Part Four Below (rough draft):

Jess’s thoughts whirled mini tornadoes. “Um…yeah, thanks, but it’s not funny. When I go back to school I’ll be in more trouble. Mr. Magique will probably make me clean the entire school grounds. Then he’ll call my mom. Then she’ll punish me…” She hated it when her words took control of her and she babbled. She did her best to seal her mouth shut instead of continuing.

Axel shot her a fleeting glimpse of compassion. “That’s not going to happen, Jess. Mr. Magique saw you outside and decided his punishment was too mean. He asked me to help you.”

Jess still felt uneasy about this little adventure away from school. “You’re lying!” she said. “He wouldn’t ask you to help me and bring me here.” She thrust an agitated fist against her leg. Her face grew hot with defiance.

Indignation flickered across Axel’s face. He clasped his hands together on the back of his neck and paused for a moment. He kept his voice calm and placid. “I don’t lie, and he didn’t ask me to take you here. He asked me to drive you home. I brought you here because I wanted to. He told me to get you out of the rain. He could see how upset you were, and felt bad. He’s actually pretty nice.”

Jess took a deep breath and tried to collect her thoughts. She strutted across to one of the dirty windows and smudged the grit with the tips of her fingers. Outside the rain flowed relentlessly, and the visibility was still scarce. A dark shadow among the mist moved to the right. When she looked, nothing was there.

She faced Axel. He was gazing at her, expressionless now. His eyes grew dark and then a lighter shade of brown. Jess blinked. Goosebumps formed on her arms, but not from the cold. She thought she was seeing things. More post traumatic stress?

“Axel?”

“Yeah.” He moved a step closer to her and put his hands inside the pockets of his hoodie.

“Why did you bring me here?” She lowered her head and kept her eyes fixed on his face. She arched her brows. “Normal people don’t drive off to a desolate place with someone, without their permission.”

Axel flinched.

“I’m sorry,” Jess said, feeling remorse, though she knew she was right. This was weird.

He clenched his jaw. “If you only knew.”

Something about the expression and dark frown that shrouded his face made Jess feel ill at ease, yet in a random way, she felt safe as well. She found her ambiguous feelings beyond her control. She didn’t think he’d harm her, but she felt something strange, like she knew him already, like there was this unique attachment between them, like her feelings were not entirely her own. What was it about this guy she had never spoken to before today?             

Axel’s stare burrowed a hole into her soul. Their eyes were fixed on each other like gravity. She didn’t know why, but she couldn’t move her body, like he had a poisonous sting that left her paralyzed.

Her thoughts trickled back to Michael. She knew he’d be angry when he found out Axel had brought her to a desolate cabin in the woods. She knew he’d find out. The school was too small and gossip reigned in every corner.

Could this day get any worse?

Axel dug his hands deep into his jean pockets. His expression transformed into a smile, a sweet and sheepish grin. “Look…you’re right…I probably shouldn’t have brought you here. I think you’re pretty cool, actually,” he whispered. “I know I shouldn’t say that…and…Michael’s your boyfriend. You have no idea.” He walked slowly to the window and stopped. He stood tall and erect like a statue. His shoulders were broad, making his thin build look more muscular. The seconds dragged as he gazed out the window, leaving Jess to stare after him with complete perplexity. Keeping his back turned toward her, he said, “It’s not my place to tell you the truth. I don’t have permission—yet, but you have the right to know. It’s unfair you haven’t already been told.”

Jess’s eyes grew in surprise. She didn’t know what to say. What did he mean? She felt a sense of panic. “Axel? What are you talking about? What truth? What do you need permission for?” she was afraid to ask. Was it about Michael?

He opened his mouth to respond but then stopped. They both heard a shattering sound on the far side of the cabin, the area furthest away from the front door. A luminescent, ivory light the size of a human being whisked through the room. Jess could barely make out its shape. It appeared as though the light became one with Axel and then sat hovering near the ceiling above him.

Axel grabbed her arm. “Let’s go. We have to get out of here. Now!”

Jess bounded to the door, close behind Axel. Once they were outside, the white light descended upon Axel again, then departed. The last thing Jess remembered was the pouring rain and Axel–taking her gently into his arms, brushing a few soaked strands of her hair behind her ear with the back of his fingers, and saying, “It’s okay, he can’t hurt you. It’s me he wants.” He breathed on her lips, a syrupy sugary scent she had never smelled before. Then her body went limp and unconscious.

***If you read to the end, thank you! Have a wonderful weekend! Hope to see you Friday, January 8th for my next #fridayreads segment. I hope you have a beautiful holiday season! Make sure to come back on December 20th for the Christmas Story Hop!

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Love and Laughter: Holiday Story Hop

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If you have some relaxing time planned to read this Christmas vacation, then I hope you hop on over to our Holiday Story Hop. Twelve writers will be linking and blogging their holiday stories on December 20th. ‘Tis the season for some holiday fun, love, laughter, and entertaining reads of all sorts!

 

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SECRETS: Gifted Ones: Scarcely Human

“I thought about how there are two types of secrets: the kind you want to keep in, and the kind you don’t dare to let out.” ~Ally Carter, Don’t Judge a Girl by Her Cover

What secrets do you have locked away, and do you dare to let them out?

Jess has a multitude of secrets concerning her that she knows little about. Hope you take a look at the third segment of my Friday reads. If you missed part one or two, you can find them at the following links. Thanks for stopping by!

Part One  click here: Gifted Ones: Scarcely Human

Part Two click here: Friendship Matters: Gifted Ones: Scarcely Human 

Part Three Below (rough draft):

As soon as she stepped out of the school building, she hustled around, picking up the revolting garbage other students had tossed carelessly onto the ground after last week’s Oktoberfest Celebration: empty crushed soda cans––not diet, twisted candy bar wrappers––mostly Snickers, a few chip bags with dreary, soggy remains still left inside. Everything was drenched, through and through.

Jess thought the sky must have hated her, too. Torrents of rain began to shower down, soaking her from the top of her head to the inside of her favorite Sperry’s. Tears cradled the rims of her eyes as her hair clung to her dripping face.

Who litters this much, anyway? she thought angrily. They should be the ones punished!

Jess heard a band of whistles, and some loser with a shaved head yell to her from the second story window. “You missed some trash, baby. If I come down and help, will you repay me?”

She squeezed her eyes shut, wishing with intensity that she was somewhere else.

She was about to give the guy the finger when she felt a tug at her arm. She yanked her arm back. The rain turned to sleet, pelting her face.

“Come on, let’s go,” a voice said. She looked up crossly and saw Axel with an annoying smirk on his face.

“What do you want?” Jess shouted with resentment. She turned away from Axel and the storm and bent down to pick up more trash.

“Come with me, Jess.” she had no clue he knew her by name, but the commanding hint in his tone told her she had no choice but to go with him. She looked up. Their eyes locked for a brief moment, his eyes were furnished with concern. 

The simple fervor that flowed from his hand to her elbow made her feel like she couldn’t resist. “Where?“ she yelled, now curious, releasing the nearly full garbage bag back onto the sodden grass.

“You’ll see. Away from here, anyway.” He tugged on her again, meaning the word no was definitely not an option.

“Okay, okay. I’m coming!” She left the garbage bag behind. She didn’t care. She followed him to the front of the school and up to an old white BMW with a sunroof. He opened the passenger door for her. She had second thoughts and was about to protest when a zigzagging bolt of lightening and a haunting crack of thunder burst down from the sky at the same exact time. The lightning struck a pine tree across the street from the school. She watched as a tree branch plunked to the ground, bouncing before it lay motionless.

She hesitated but then jumped into the car. “I can’t believe it’s lightning this time of year. What a horrible storm!” Jess piled her drenched hair in her hands and wrung the rainwater onto the floor.

“You think?” Axel said, looking annoyed as he stared at his precious car floor where the tiny pool of water from Jess’s hair sunk into the carpeting.

He shook his head like a wet animal, sending a heavy spray sputtering around the inside of the car, including on Jess.

“Do you mind?” she glared at him.

He glanced her way but ignored her as he started the engine and peeled out of the parking lot. She was glad the rain masked her watery eyes.

Axel pressed his foot on the gas pedal and sped dangerously down the narrow, windy country road.

“Are you crazy? Slow down!” Jess cried. She gripped the door handle.

He caught Jess’s eye. “No worries. I always drive like this.” Jess thought his expression was borderline crazy, or maybe it was her imagination. How did she end up not fulfilling her detention and in the car with someone she barely knew? What was she thinking? 

Jess shivered, then remembered to put on her seat belt. “Where are you taking me?” she asked again. The insurmountable trouble she’d be in because of him had more than dawned on her. Maybe she was beginning to care more about the consequences of her actions. Maybe Michael’s warnings were finally seeping through into her soul.  

He didn’t answer.

“Axel,” she asked, “where are you taking me?” Her seat belt buckle clinked, making her feel safer like she could survive a mild car crash. She’d never been in one before and didn’t care to get in one now. 

“I already told you. You’ll see when we get there.”

“You’re scaring me,” she said above the sound of the car and the unruly storm outside. She grit her teeth, barely avoiding a bloody puncture to her to tongue.

Axel glanced briefly her way. His hands tightened on the steering wheel. His voice softened. “You’ll see in a minute. Nothing to worry about. Okay? I promise.”

Jess noticed a tormented look in his eyes, a look that hadn’t been there before. Like a snapshot captures a moment, she swore she felt his feelings. She felt a sense of urgency emanating from him. She couldn’t understand why her heart and thoughts felt stamped by his. It made her feel less afraid of him.

The BMW flew around a few more curvy corners at rocket speed. The car’s tires stuck to the road like they were magnets. Jess couldn’t shake her mind from his insane driving. Axel swerved around a drenched black poodle that darted in to the road.

She let out a faint scream.

“Don’t worry the dog will be fine.” Axel pressed his back into the black leather seat and sat up, keeping his body straight, looking intently at the road that passed recklessly before them.

“How would you know?” she snapped, beginning to lose her patience. 

He didn’t answer her again. His lips were pursed together as though he was lost in concentration. His jaw looked bony and square in the light.

When she finally gave up on any concrete answers from him, he turned left onto an unfamiliar dirt road and began to ascend up another windy road. A few minutes later he parked in a steep ditch, leaving the car tipped at about a thirty degree angle.

“Come on, let’s go,” he said, his voice gruff as he got out of the car.

Jess was situated on the side of the car that was tilted up in the air, near the embankment. She shoved her door open and climbed out, jumping the short distance to the ground. Her ankle fell out from beneath her. She winced in pain and grumbled under her breath.  

The rain poured down forming a near wall of water that allowed for little visibility. Jess was soaked and cold and shivering. She pulled the hood of her dark-blue sweatshirt over her head and pulled herself tightly into a hug in a poor attempt to retain every ounce of warmth possible.

Axel took Jess’s hand. “Follow me,” he said. It’s about a half mile.”

“What’s about a half mile?” Jess asked, not trusting him.

“You’ll see in a minute. It’s pretty sweet, actually. Come on.” He pulled her forward in a sprint that made her feel like they were running away from the world, through a stretch of forest surrounded by trees, mostly pine with a sprinkle of maple and elm, sporadically placed on a rocky overgrown dirt path that looked unused, until they came to a tiny dilapidated cottage-like cabin.

The stairs of the cabin looked like they’d been worn away over the years from a lack of care. Axel scooped Jess up into his arms and gently tossed her through the doorless entryway.

“Broke again,” he muttered. “More screws and a drill will fix it.”

Once inside, he picked up the paint-peeled door and shoved it into the doorframe, keeping the outdoor elements from entering inside.

Jess took a searching glance around, trying to induce why in the world he’d brought her there. It was mostly an empty, one-room cabin with a couple of filthy six-pane curtainless windows, a desolate place in the middle of nowhere.

Not very sweet, she thought, wryly.

Jess pulled up on her hair, wrapping the wet strands on each side of her head behind her ears. Looking around, she noticed it had been somewhat cleaned and lived in. A wooden broom and plastic dustpan lying against the wall proved it. A plain, grey duffel bag stuffed underneath the bottom of a bunk bed had a couple of t-shirts and plaid boxers hanging out of it. A baby chipmunk scurried across a bed that had clean, crisp white sheets and a coffee colored wool blanket folded over on top with a large, fluffy pillow on one end.

Axel edged up behind Jess and tapped her on the shoulder. She jumped and whipped around.

“Sorry,” he said, in almost a whisper, close enough that she could feel the warmth of his breath brush across her face.

Jess shivered and found her voice. “That’s okay,” she answered, taking a step back, distancing herself from him. Her face grew warm. She looked away, hoping he wouldn’t notice, then turned back toward him and cleared her throat. “Who lives here?”

In between the dark blond curls that hung down in front of his face, she noticed specks of blue, green, and pale tan flicker in his eyes, as though a magician’s wand controlled them and they could magically change color. “Me. It’s my stuff. I come here when my aunt and uncle don’t want me around.”

“What? Why? Don’t you live with your parents?” Jess asked.

“No.” Axel squeezed his eyes shut and ran his fingers through his hair. When he opened them, he stared through Jess like she was transparent. “My parents died when I was two, in a car crash. I don’t remember them. My dad’s brother took me in. It hasn’t been perfect, but it’s okay.”

“I didn’t know. I’m so sorry,” Jess said softly. She had her own pain, but at least she still had her mother. She wondered whether he’d heard about her father like everyone else. She felt the tingle of growing goosebumps on her arms.

“I didn’t bring you here to talk about me,” he shrugged. “Are you cold?”

Jess stepped back. “Uh, uh.”

“Then why are you shivering? You must be cold. You’re soaked from the rain.” Axel walked over to the duffel bag and grabbed a plain, grey hoodie and tossed it to her. He shooed the chipmunk away.

She unzipped her clinging sweatshirt, revealing the navy spaghetti strap tank top she was wearing underneath.  

His gaze held hers for a moment. Then he twisted his body away from her. She breathed a sigh of relief. She slipped out of her tank top and sweatshirt and pulled his on over her head. “Thanks,” she murmured.

Axel turned back toward her, his face thoughtful and intent. “You’re welcome.” The corners of his mouth curved up in an inviting smile. Jess couldn’t tell what he was thinking but felt unnerved by her inability to shake away his stare.

“What about you? Aren’t you cold?”

“Yeah.” Axel pulled another sweatshirt out of the duffel bag. “Do you mind?” He made a circling motion with his fingers for her to turn around.

“Seriously? You want me to look away?” She pointed her right foot outward and leaned on her left leg. She folded her arms. “You’re a guy. I don’t really care if you change your shirt in front of me.”

He circled his fingers again. “I turned around for you.” He raised his brows and lifted his shoulders.

Jess rolled her eyes and swung around. She gave him a few seconds before she positioned herself facing him again. “Now we’re both warm, and I want to know why you brought me here.” She started wringing her hands together. Despite the cold, her palms began sweating.

His eyes met hers as though no one else on earth existed. He kept his voice low, like he had the most guarded secret to tell. “I do have a reason, but first aren’t you going to thank me for getting you out of that mess back at school?” He broke into a full smile, shook his head, and started to laugh.

***If you read to the end, thank you! Have a wonderful weekend! Hope to see you next Friday for my #fridayreads

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