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    • CommentTimeAug 25th 2013

    I think you all know the drill. I wrote a chapter of a story, and I would like someone to please read it and critique it.

    Chapter 1:

    When I finally put down my pencil, my eyes are aching from the amount of time I’ve been staring at the paper before me. On a whim, I check my wristwatch. It is 12:30 AM; two hours of hometwork. I am sitting at the old wooden kitchen table in a blue sweatshirt and jeans, working on my second to last page of calculus homework in the dim light from the kitchen’s two remaining light bulbs. I realize that I’ve been vaguely reading the same problem over and over again for at least ten minutes. I need more fuel in the tank. I take a bite from the half-eaten Panini and a sip from the flat ginger ale on my left. Then, I re-evaluate the problem and start typing away at the graphing calculator on my right. This is the average Saturday night setup for me. I was out at a nightclub Friday night, hungover in bed all of Saturday, and now that the headache’s finally faded away I have schoolwork to do.

    As I’m writing in my answer I hear my ten year old sister scream from her bedroom upstairs. Her terrified scream is also part of the average Saturday night setup. I sigh and stand up from my stool, just as she screams a second time. “Coming Lizzy!” I yell, and walk out the side of the kitchen to the flimsy staircase in the entry foyer. I hear a third scream when I hit the top of the stairs. Usually she stops at two. My pace across the blue carpet quickens, as does my heart rate. Liz’s room is at the end of the single corridor that makes up the second story, eight feet from the stairs. It feels like a mile. I hear a fourth scream just as I reach the door.

    I throw it open and run inside. “Liz, I’m here” I call, and look to her bunk bed. She’s a quivering lump beneath her hot pink blankets. I run forward and quickly drop down next to her. I hear her sobbing and my heart aches. I lean over and pull the comforter away, revealing her trembling beneath. Her shoulder length platinum blonde hair is soaked in sweat and clinging to her shoulders and her pale face is glistening with sweat and tears. “Liz, I’m here,” I repeat. One of Liz’s sweaty hands snaps out and grabs mine. I squeeze it gently and whisper in a soothing voice “What’s going on sweetheart? Usually the nightmares aren’t this bad.” She twists over to look at me, and I see her eyes are red from crying. She doesn’t say anything, she just sits up and lays her head against my side before resuming sobbing. I put my free arm around her and feel her tremble. Her pink pajamas are soaked in sweat. “I’ve got you small fry, its okay.” She shakes her head and I squeeze her tighter.

    After a minute she’s calmed down enough to talk. “J-Jake, the man came back” she sniffles, and then breaks down into incoherent sobs again. She throws her arms around me and buries her face in my shirt while I begin to panic. I’ve never seen her this hysterical before. Usually during her nightly terrors I just wake her up, talk to her, give her a hug, and tuck her back in. All I am able to do here is rub her heaving back and listen to her wail.

    “Lizzy, Lizzy, shhhh its okay, I’ve got you” I coo to her. She relaxes a little. I turn so I can get both my arms around her. “Breathe deeply.” She takes one long breath, then another, then she starts coughing. I slap her back and she returns to normal. “Come on Lizzy, you’re tougher than that.” She nods and takes a third breath. I force out a cheerful smile. “Very good, now can you talk to me?”

    “Y-yes” she says. Relief rushes through me.

    “That sounded worse than normal, what happened?”

    She inhales deeply. “T-the big man came back. He walked into my room, and I could hear his boots, I think they were metal, they were so loud.” I nod along. This part is normal. Usually he stops by her bedside and starts lifting her covers, at which point she wakes up. “I heard a woman scream. Then he lifted up my covers, and I saw this black coat. He leaned over me. He didn’t have a face, just this black v-void.” Her jaw slams shut and she whimpers, so I resume rubbing her back. She inhales again and starts up. “He was holding a gun in one hand, and he had mommy in her other.”

    My heart stops. It can’t be, no way. “Are you sure?” I ask. She gives me a small nod. Lizzy’s parents-my aunt and uncle-vanished five years ago. The police were called to the house to find Liz curled up beneath her bed and several bulletholes through her bedroom door. She won’t tell anyone what happened, and every time someone asks she clams up and runs into mine or dad’s arms. The case has been cold for five years now. “Your mommy, not mine?”

    She’s hanging onto me, one hand around my back and the other over my chest and clenching my further shoulder. “Yes. He, he shot mommy, and then he reached for me.” Suddenly I’m so cold, and my arms are trembling as I try to make a mental picture of the scene. “And then I woke up, I think.” I wrap her in a bearhug and squeeze her as tight as I can.

    I gasp “you’re awake, don’t worry. Holy shit babe, holy shit.” She nods. “Holy shit. You’re okay now, I’m here for you.” I consider calling dad, but remember that he’s probably on patrol right now given the time difference between New York and Afghanistan.

    “I don’t think you can stop him,” she whispers

    “He’s threatening you. I will,” I growl with certainty. “Now, why don’t you come downstairs and stay with me until I finish my homework-or Rachel gets home.” Fifteen-year-old Rachel occupies the top bunk bed and deals with Liz’s nightmares during weeknights. Liz nods at my suggestion. “Okay.” I stand up, and before she can get up herself I pick her up and cradle her in my arms.

    “Thank you” she says.

    “You’re welcome small fry” I say. I carry her across the hallway and down the stairs. Back in the kitchen I sit her down next to my spot, and her eyes go fearfully to the darkness spilling from the doorways to the entry foyer and entertainment room. “Its okay, nothing in there” I reassure her. I pull a couple of beef patties out of the freezer and throw them in the microwave on a paper plate. Her eyes light up at the sight of them and she deeply inhales their warm scent.

    “Why are you making food?” she asks.

    I open the fridge again and pull out a bottle of grape juice, then slam it shut. With it in hand I walk back across the dirt stained black and white tiles to her. “Consider it comfort food.”

    “I though ice cream and candy were comfort food though.” I laugh and pat her on the top of her head. “That’s junk food. Comfort food needs to be a little healthy.”

    “Tell that to Rachel.” I sigh.

    “There’s a lot of things I need to tell Rachel, small fry, and I doubt she’ll listen to any of them.”

    “Like how she keeps throwing up after every meal even though you tell her not to?” My fists clench.

    “Yeah, like that. Please don’t tell anyone else about that.” She nods. The microwave beeps twice, announcing the beef patties are finished. I take them out and drop them in front of her. “Enjoy.” With that done, I sit down next to her and refocus on my calculus problems, except this time my right arm is around her and she’s leaning on my shoulder, dropping crumbs onto my calculator. Dammit, I should’ve gotten her a napkin.

    I get through four problems before my thoughts return to her nightmare. She’s never dreamed that before, what had changed? Her mom and dad had had problems even before they vanished. I remember dad yelling at them one night when I was 11. He’d finally thrown them out at shotgun point, and then flushed a balloon filled with what I now know was powdered heroin down the toilet. Maybe it was symbolic of something? Liz had nightmares every night. All the medication dad had tried either didn’t work or made her sick.

    I mentally run through what Liz was doing yesterday. She woke up, went to school, had soccer afterwards, then came home and did homework and watched cartoons until bedtime. That’s a normal Friday for her. “Is something wrong, Jake?” Liz asks me.

    “I’m worrying about you” I say, and resume work. Before she can reply the doorbell rings. Liz tenses. I get up and peer out the window before me. I see a pair of headlights speeding off down the road. “It looks like Rachel’s home,” I say. Liz clings to me as I walk to the front door and open it.

    “Hellloooo Jacob!” Rachel says, and then stumbles inside. I catch her just before she falls. Her breath stinks of alcohol bad enough to make me gag. I put her back on her feet. She put her hand on my shoulder, and then spots Liz at my side. “What are you doing up baby?” she asks, and then giggles. I sigh. Rachel tall and thin like myself, five foot seven to my six feet even. She has a heart shaped face with freckles splashed across her nose and cheeks. Her straight, dark brown hair ends in a careful cut at her shoulders and she’s wearing a black sweater and red miniskirt that has several dark stains down its front. She parties weekly and usually comes home in this state, which worries me to no end. Still, her grades are solid B plus’ and she does her part in taking care of the house, so I don’t object.

    “Way to drink responsibly,” Liz mutters.

    “I think I’ve had a few” Rachel replies, and then kicks off her stiletto heels. “Ahhh, bare feet.” She wiggles her toes, then slips. I catch her before she can hit the wall.

    “More than a few. You must be proud of the example you’re setting for small fry,” I say. Rachel giggles. She’s still sensible enough to lean on me and let me help her into the kitchen rather than try to run there on their own and fall. I set her down on my stool and pour her a glass of water from the pitcher in the fridge. Lizzy sits down next to her and puts an arm around her waist. “So how was Kelley’s party?” I ask as I set the glass down in front of her.

    Rachel starts giggling uncontrollably. “It was amazing. She hired this hot DJ to play for us and he set up a full turntable in her basement. She opened her parent’s liquor cabinet and they had vodka and rum and even fucking everclear. We partied so hard. Then this guy Robert showed up and he started talking to me.” I narrow my eyes at her.

    “Robert… do you have a picture?”

    “And a phone number.” She opens her phone and hands it to me. Robert is a tall, pale boy with a confident smile that displayed his full rack of perfectly white teeth. Million-dollar smile was the term. His face resembled that of a movie star; naturally handsome, perfectly proportioned, and positively glowing even before it was graced with a smile.

    As is required by my older brother duties, I immediately hate his guts. “Thank you. Now I know who I’m going to put down when he comes to the front door.”

    Her jaw drops and a heartbroken look forms on his face. “What? Jacob, he’s a nice guy, and so good looking too!”

    I shrug. “That’s too bad, he shouldn’t have picked the girl whose older brother scores sixteen out of twenty in skeet.” Liz smirks at her.

    “Try again when he’s at boot camp, sis,” she says.

    “Don’t even think about it,” I counter.

    Rachel sticks out her tongue at me, and grimaces. “Ugh, go call Gabby.”

    I wish I could, I need to get that girl on a date sometime. “Gabby is away this weekend, believe me I’d love to.” Rachel frowns, and sighs. Then her gaze turns to Liz.

    “So what are you doing up baby?” she repeats.

    “I had a nightmare. It was worse than usual.”

    “Oh my god!” Rachel wraps her in a hug. “I’m sorry Lizzy. Don’t worry, I’ll keep you company.” Lizzy smiles and buries her face in her shirt. Their combined adorableness is too much for me to resist. I throw my arms around both of them. Rachel starts laughing. “Hello Jake, its nice to know that you love us.” I kiss her on the cheek. Rachel isn’t a bad person really; she’s just…fifteen and drowning in hormones. That’s my best explanation.

    There’s a knock at the door.

    “I’ve got it!” I say. I peer out the window. There’s a grey sedan parked in front of our driveway. “What the fuck?” I say to no one as I answer the door. Its Robert, he’s standing there towering several inches over my head and smiling. The smile momentarily disarms me. Then I picture him eyeing my sister and my anger returns.

    “Hello, is this Rachel Braverman’s house? I saw her at a party tonight and she was looking really sick. I wanted to offer her a ride home but she left before I-“

    “Robert?” Rachel calls.

    “I see she made it home, that’s good,” Robert says. I glare at him, but keeps smiling. “Is she alright? I was worried about her.”

    “She’s fine, in fact she’s going to bed shortly,” I say. Robert raises his eyebrows. Rachel steps into the foyer behind me, Liz hanging onto her shirt. Robert steps forward. His grey sneakers cross the threshold into my house. Instantly I slide between him and my little sisters. My left hand goes into my back pocket and finds my switchblade.

    “Hey Rob!” Rachel says, too drunk to feel threatened. Rob winks at her and waves back.

    I need to get him out of here now. “I’m sorry Rob, it’s almost one in the morning and we are going to bed” I say.

    “No problem, have a good night!” Robert says in a perfectly polite voice. He walks back out. I shut the door a bit harder than necessary then collapse against it, breathing hard. My heartbeat is pounding in my ears and my arms are shaking from adrenaline. I watch him get in his car and drive off. Then I look back at Rachel, who looks heartbroken, and Liz, who is terrified.

    “He’s a fucking creep, stay away from him” I growl at Rachel.

    “He’s awesome” Rachel replies angrily.

    I open my mouth to answer but Liz beats me to it. “He’s really scary, you’re just drunk Rachel. Think about it tomorrow. Lets go to bed, you promised to keep me company.” Rachel sighs and her expression softens. I make a mental note myself to tell Liz how awesome she is.

    “Okay baby, you’re probably right. Lets go to bed.” She lets Liz take one of her slim elfin hands and lead her back upstairs. At the top of the stairs Liz turns to me and gives me a thumbs up. I return with a salute. I lock the front door, and then open the foyer closet. One of the folding doors falls. I catch it and lower it to the ground. I reach through the hanging coats and scarfs and find the cold metal of my twelve-gauge shotgun on its gun rack in the back. Though I haven’t been to the range since early October and it’s now late November, shooting is like riding a bike: I never forget. I close the closet and head back upstairs. There’s a 20-gauge shotgun and a Browning Hi-Power .45 in my room. The shotgun was supposed to be Rachel’s on her 14th birthday, but she turned out to have zero interest in guns so it’s waiting for Liz. The pistol was my grandfather’s in Vietnam.

    At the top of the stairs I start towards my sister’s room. Liz emerges from the door and puts a finger over her mouth. “Rachel’s asleep, or passed out.”

    “Alright, good work down there” I say. She smiles at me. I walk into the room and look to the top bunk. Rachel is fully clothed slumped on the railing, one arm dangling over the side. She’ll wake up around late morning, most likely. This wasn’t the most drunk she’s been at least, so the hangover shouldn’t be too bad. She’s got to do her homework.

    I turn to Liz, who’s eyeing her bed and fidgeting. “Are you going to be okay?” She gives me a confident smile. “Yeah, even though Rach’s asleep, she’s still keeping me company. I’ll be fine.” I muss with her hair.

    “I hope so. Want me to tuck you in?”

    “Of course.” She climbs into be and curls up. I pull the comforter up and smooth it over her.

    “Goodnight sweetheart” I whisper, and kiss her on the forehead. She smiles delightedly and closes her eyes.

    Back in the hallway I debate on returning to work. My attention has been completely thrown by the last few minutes. I’ll finish the calculus tomorrow; I only have Spanish to do after so even with helping Liz and Rachel with their homework I should have more than enough time to complete it. I got to my room, lie down without changing from my jeans and sweatshirt, and close my eyes.

    • CommentTimeAug 25th 2013 edited


    • CommentTimeAug 25th 2013 edited

    ...are aching from the amount of time I’ve been staring…

    You can get rid of the “the amount of time I’ve been,” I think.



    I realize that I’ve been vaguely reading the same problem over and over again for at least ten minutes.

    Love this :) I can totally relate! ten year old sister…

    Should be ‘ten-year-old’

    ...terrified scream is also…

    I would choose a different word than ‘scream,’ for you used it in the previous sentence.

    “Liz, I’m here” I call, and look to her bunk bed.

    I would get rid of the ‘I call.’ just feels out of place to me. Just an opinion :)

    ...anything, she…

    Should be a semicolon.

    ...shhhh its okay…

    Should be ‘it’s’

    Note: I love how kind the main character is to his sister. It’s a refreshing change from typical stories!

    ...his boots, I think…

    I think that should be a period, not a comma.

    Lizzy’s parents-my aunt and uncle-vanished five years ago.

    Wait, I thought Lizzy was his sister? Does he just call her ‘sister’ because they live together?

    I gasp “you’re awake, don’t worry. Holy shit babe, holy shit.” She nods. “Holy shit. You’re okay now, I’m here for you.” I consider calling dad, but remember that he’s probably on patrol right now given the time difference between New York and Afghanistan.

    Why is he saying holy shit? In my opinion, it seems a bit vulgar to be said in front of a ten-year-old.

    ...her eyes go fearfully to the darkness spilling from the doorways to the entry foyer and entertainment room.

    I like this a lot, personally. I do the same exact thing.

    “I though ice cream and…


    Dammit, I should’ve gotten her a napkin.

    I laughed at this :)

    Before she can reply the doorbell rings.

    should be a comma between ‘reply’ and ‘the’

    She put her hand…

    should be ‘puts’

    Rachel tall and…

    Rachel is*

    ...cut at her shoulders and she’s wearing…

    should be a comma between ‘shoulders’ and ‘and.’ Great description by the way!

    ...solid B plus’...

    pluses* (or even plusses*)

    As is required by my older brother duties, I immediately hate his guts.

    I love this. Very funny.

    ...could, I need…

    should be a period or a semicolon.

    ...but keeps smiling…

    but he*

    ...tomorrow. Lets go to bed…


    I make a mental note myself to tell Liz how awesome she is.

    Love this.

    I got to my room


    Overall: I really love the relationship between these three. You’ve developed their characters and dynamic very well, even in just this chapter! Most of my corrections are just technical things, which is easy to fix!

    A few notes:
    You’re missing some commas in there that I didn’t point out. Namely, the commas necessary when addressing a character. For example: It’s correct to say “Good night, Liz.” as opposed to “Good night Liz.”
    There are also some missing commas after quotes. It is almost aways necessary to put a comma at the end of the quote if it’s not the end of a sentence. Example: “Good night” I say is incorrect. It should be “Good night, I say.”

    One other thing: I would suggest you pair a character’s actions with their quotes to avoid confusion. For example:

    “Good night,” Liz says. I smile.
    “Love you.”

    “Good night,” Liz says.
    I smile. “Love you.”

    Other than that, great job!

    • CommentTimeAug 26th 2013

    Thanks for the help guys. There will be more chapters in the distant future; this is my secondary project.
    Sanguine: I was trying to imply that Liz had been adopted. Also, Jake swears in front of small children because he has poor manners.

    • CommentTimeAug 26th 2013

    Ohh I get you, that makes sense.

    • CommentTimeSep 28th 2013

    I’m getting a feeling I could’ve paced this better…

    Chapter 2:

    On Monday morning the screaming guitar riffs of Stairway to Heaven rip me out of my dreams. I sit straight up in bed and the cold morning air stings my bare chest and arms. I ignore it and force my eyes open. The first thing I see is a blurry image of my bare wall. I rub my eyes and the image clears. I swing my legs out of bed and with a grunt pull myself to my feet. My alarm blares again, and this time I shut it off. I cross the room and open my dresser and look for something to wear.

    I pull on a green long sleeve t-shirt and black jeans and reverently take my olive green military jacket off the doorknob where it has been hanging. I pull it on and feel a rush of excitement. My dad had given it to me the last time he was home, eight months ago. ‘You’re in charge of this house now, keep your little sisters safe’ he’d said as I put it on and did up the buttons. I look at myself in the mirror above the dresser and adjust my sleeves and collar. The jacket is a size too big for me and there’s a tear through the left breast pocket where I was belted with a broken bottle during a brawl, but I still wear it every day.

    I grab my book bag out from under my bed and exit my room. It’s the beginning of November, and the sun is no longer all the way up at 6:30, so the hallway is in an eerie twilight. I walk down the hall to the girl’s room and bang on the door.

    Rachel opens it. She’s fully dressed, which is a surprise. “Morning Jake” she says, and hugs me.

    “Morning Rachel.” I pat her on the back. “Since when are you up before six forty-five?”

    She shrugs and pulls her scarf a little tighter around he neck. “I don’t know, I just woke up fifteen minutes ago and I was too cold to stay in bed.” She’s wearing a white heavy woolen sweater and black leggings, with ski socks pulled up over her knees. Despite that she’s still hugging herself and shivering.

    “Well you should make that a habit, save me some energy in the morning.” She smiles.

    “Where’s my fuzzy shirt?” Liz asks from inside.

    “I’ll get that” Rachel says, and vanishes back inside. I head the other way down the hallway. I quickly shave, wash, and brush my teeth, then walk downstairs. I throw a couple of waffles into the toaster and pour three glasses of orange juice. A few minutes later Rachel and Liz come down together. Liz is wearing jeans and a pink shirt made of some really soft and, well… fuzzy material that I’d spent an idiotic amount of money on. Rachel sits down at the tables and puts her head in her hands. Liz walks over to me and throws her arms around my waist.

    “Morning small fry” I say, and kiss the top of her head. She leans on the counter next to me and then I notice something off. “Why are your socks mismatched?” One of her socks is red, the other purple with yellow stripes.

    She smiles and wiggles her feet. “I don’t know, I just like the way they look.”

    I shrug. “Can’t argue with that logic.” The toaster dings. “Ah, breakfast.” I pull out the waffles and drop them on paper plates. “Take them yourselves, this isn’t a restaurant.” With several groans they take them and sit down at the table. I finish my orange juice where I’m standing. The cold, strong taste kicks any remaining cobwebs out of my brain.

    Before I can sit down my phone rings. Rachel and Liz scoot around in their chairs to face me and raise their eyebrows. I sigh and take it out. Recognizing the number, I answer. “Hello Sam, a bit earl in the morning isn’t it?”

    “What’s Gucci Jake?”

    “Nothing much, I’m just getting the little ones out of bed, that’s all.” Rachel scowls at being called ‘little one.’ I wink at her. “Sam, are you calling for business or social?”

    “Business, we’ve got some shit going down.” My stomach drops.

    “Hang on a second then.” I walk out of the kitchen and into the den. “Okay, go ahead.”

    “Well, Thai just called me from school. He says August Phillips just broke into our stash. You know him?”

    “What the fuck?” I demand. If you went to Dellany high school you didn’t mess with Sam Simmens. That was a fact of nature. You especially didn’t steal from his stash. “What the fuck?” I repeat. Then my mind goes back to the question. “Yeah, I know August, he’s Rachel’s French tutor.”

    “Well then tell her to get a different tutor, because he stole a thousand bucks in weed and six hundred in molle. This isn’t the ordinary stuff, this is the stuff Benny was asking for, for his birthday party Friday. You, Thai, and me, we’re going to track him down and mug him for it. If he’s already sold it then we’ll beat it out of him.” August probably will have sold the stuff if we can’t get him before lunch. You don’t steal sixteen hundred dollars of Sam’s best product just for recreational use.

    “Alright, if I see him I’ll let you two know” I say.

    “Good, see you in class.” Sam hangs up. I stow the phone in my pocket and return to the kitchen, my appetite having doubled. I grab my waffle and sit down between my sisters.

    “Rachel, August is still tutoring you?”

    She nods. “Yeah, I’m doing group sessions with Kelley and Zahra now.”

    “You’re going to have to get a new tutor.”

    “What happened?”

    “He stole a huge amount of reefer and toothpaste from Sam.” I see the look on her face change to horror, and I know that she knows exactly how this is ending.

    “Okay. Don’t hurt him too badly please, I like him a lot.”

    I sigh. For a few seconds I regret my partnership with Sam. The stacks of twenty and hundred dollar bills sitting in my safe change my mind. “I can’t. This isn’t personal, its-“

    “Business, I know. Just thought I would ask.” She notices something behind me and gasps, then gets up. “Shh, its okay baby” she coos, and then hugs a trembling Liz from behind. Liz shakes her head.

    I try to rub Liz’s shoulder but she pushes my hand off. I sigh. “Liz, you know where some of that money goes” I say. To emphasize my point I take two heavily crinkled twenty-dollar bills out of my wallet and lay them on the table. “Here, lunch money for both of you.”

    Breakfast concludes in silence and we grab our bags and head outside. It’s a gloomy morning with the clouds hanging low in the sky. It feels like it will snow soon. The ground frosted over overnight and greenish white as far as I can see. “When is it going to snow?” Liz asks. I unlock my car and usher them in.

    “Probably within the week” I say. Liz smiles at the thought.

    We get inside and I put the keys in. The old sedan’s engine rumbles to life and we shiver for a minute while the heat gets going. “We got one hundred and ten inches last year, didn’t we?” Liz says. The windshield is slowly defrosting, offering me a view of the cracked white pain on my garage door.

    “Yeah, and it was still pretty warm at this time then” I say. “I bet we get one thirty.” Our little town is just a few miles from Syracuse, home of the heaviest snowfall in the state. “I’m going to have to put the chains on the tires within a week” I add absentmindedly. I put the car in reverse and pull out of our driveway.

    “So maybe we’ll get more snow days this year?” Liz asks.

    “Depends.” “On what?”

    “On whether our superintendent can get to her car at five thirty in the morning.”

    I look in the rearview mirror to see Liz frowning, her brow furrowed in deep thought. After a moment she replies “Well what if we got Sam’s pickup truck and blocked her driveway?” Rachel and I burst into laughter.

    “Talk to Sam, he’d probably do it.” Liz laughs. Her laughter is weak and hoarse, but it’s still a rare treat from her.

    The drive to Dellany elementary school takes five minutes. I pull up at the back of the line of minivans and beat up pickup trucks outside the old brick school and unlock the doors. Liz leaps out, waves, and runs off towards the school. I pull out and drive towards the high school a hundred yards down the road.

    I park in my designated spot and turn off the engine. Rachel and I get out and join the stream of kids pouring up the stairs towards the school. Our high school sits atop a hill overlooking the rest of the town. The parking lot is at the base of the hill and the sports fields are set on terraces working their way up. Some people called our school ‘the watchtower.’ Apparently a senior prank twenty years ago involved decorating the school up like a medieval fort, flooding a ditch and filling it with inflatable alligators, and dressing up like knights.

    “Are you ready for this?” I ask Rachel as we climb the stairs.

    “What, the week or the bio test?” she asks.


    “Yes, and yes.”

    “You studied when I asked you to?”

    “Yeah, I actually did for once.”

    I grunt with approval. “You are learning well, young grasshopper.” She grins. “Now, go forth and show the world your knowledge. Make your ancestors proud. And please, get a job that makes more than thirty-five grand a year.”

    “I’ll go for a hundred thousand.”

    I think about what she could do with that kind of money. “Sounds good, just get through college first.” We walk through the front doors into the lobby. My school is a brick building that was put up in the fifties. It has a sterile white floor, white painted walls, and a white ceiling. Depending on the weather outside the effect is either quite dazzling, or incredibly dreary and depressing. Right now it’s leaning towards depressing. The mood is affecting the crowds of classmates standing around chattering to each other. They look tired and sad, their laughter empty.

    “Have a good day” Rachel says, and breaks off towards the entrance to the gym, where the cheerleaders like to gather before the opening bell rings. I wave at her, then head the other way down the single hallway leading off the lobby.

    A black jacketed boy with a buzz cut like mine and a round face detaches himself from the rows of lockers lining the walls and walks towards me. “What’s Gucci Jake?” Sam says. We give each other a one-armed hug.

    “Nothing really, just more of the usual shit” I say.

    “What’d you do after that party on Friday?”

    “Curled up in bed and waited for the headache to stop,” I say. “Saturday night and Sunday I just chilled and did homework, made Rachel study for her huge bio test.”

    “Did you get Thai’s call?”

    I nod. “Yeah, but I wasn’t up for going out Saturday. Homework.”

    “Yeah. How are your grades doing?”

    “Still C’s” I sigh and let my head hang. My grades were always C’s, no matter how hard I studied. If I could just pull them up and get some money I could get into a state school then do PLC with the marines. Be an officer instead of a grunt and make a lot more money to boot.

    “Sorry man, I’m always open for help if you need it.”

    “I know, thanks.” Then I remember something. “Do you know a Robert Smith, new junior in town?” Rachel had dropped his last name, age, and that he’d just moved into town during a conversation last night.

    Sam’s pale face scrunches up in thought for a few seconds. “No, but I’ll look out for the name. Why?”

    “He’s interested in Rachel.”

    Sam winces. “Shit, that sucks.” I nod angrily. We resume walking towards my locker.

    “Have you seen August?”

    “Nope, no sign of him. If he doesn’t even show up today that is going to be a problem.”

    “He tutors a couple of Rachel’s friends after school tomorrow, we’ll probably find him then.”

    “Lets hope we do, Benny is picking up on Wednesday. We don’t want to look like a couple of bitches to him, it might give some other people ideas.” We reach my locker, between Sam and Thai’s. As seniors we get the lockers closest to the front door and directly under the heaters. I throw my bag inside, pick out my English binder for first period, and slam it shut. It kicks back open and whacks me in the chest. Shitty lock; half the lockers in the school are busted. I slam it again, and kick it to be sure. This time it stays shut.

    I turn to Sam. “So let’s say we do fuck up, and Benny decides we’re just a couple of bitches. What happens then?”

    Sam considers it for a moment. “Then we lose face with everyone and some of the adult dealers decide to move in on us. You should probably get a gun.”

    “I have a gun.”

    “You need a disposable one, preferably a revolver.”

    “I need the money first. Or rather, I need the bills to stop coming.”

    Sam shakes his head. “Tell you what, if shit ever gets that real I’ll loan you one of my brother’s hidden ones. Not like he needs it in prison.”

    “Thanks” I say, and try to put some heart into it. It’s always reassuring to know that you won’t be going into a fight alone. “Where are we going?” I wave my hand back and forth absentmindedly.

    “Thai’s probably drinking coffee in the lounge” Sam says.

    “Sounds good.” We head down the hallway and take a right into our school’s dumpy library. Several of our classmates wave at us as we go. We continue to the secluded back right corner, where a dozen or so couches and chairs have been set up around several tables. A couple of bookcases give it some privacy. Thai is sitting at the back of the lounge with his elderly laptop out. He sees us and mock-salutes. I return it with a proper one and we start towards him. Then I see Gabby much closer than that and my heart jumps. “Hang on” I say, and point at her. Sam nods.

    Gabby is in her favorite position: stretched out across two plush armchairs, her black bag and two large cups of coffee on the floor between them. She is wearing a white hoodie and blue sweatpants, and her still-wet-from-the-shower platinum blonde hair is plastered to her neck. Her usual cyan eyeliner has been plastered onto her eyelids and there’s a fresh bruise on her left cheek. Her eyes are squeezed shut and her chest is rapidly rising and falling, telling me she’s hyperventilating. Over-caffeinated comes to mind.

    “Hey Gabs,” I say. She holds up a hand to silence me. Then she picks up one of the cups of coffee and drains it. With a flick of her arm chucks it over several people’s heads and into a trashcan. Someone applauds. Then she opens her eyes and props herself up on her elbows. I notice her irises are bright red.

    “Sup Jake” she says. “Happy motherfucking Monday morning.”

    I guess her family trip didn’t go so well. “Let me make it a little better” I say. I kneel beside her head and bend over for a kiss. Our lips touch briefly, and when I straighten up she’s smiling at me.

    “Thanks” she says, and reaches an arm around me, pulling me closer to her. “How was your weekend?”

    I sigh. “The usual business. Rachel’s interested in some boy I have to scare off now, and Liz’s got the usual problems. Say, aren’t you supposed to be with the other cheerleaders in the gym doing whatever you do?”

    Gabby shrugs. “I need energy to do that. I’ll check out this new boy if you give me some information, and tell Lizzy I love her.” Gabby spends a lot of her time at my house hanging out with Liz. I swear, the two of them are secretly related.

    “She knows but I will nonetheless.” I place my hand on her stomach. “How was your weekend?”

    “Saratoga was an absolute disaster. The horse races were fun and all that, but then dad lost a pretty big bet and he got angry. You know how he gets.” She clamps her free hand on top of mine and squeezes it. “The usual shit, we didn’t get home until about midnight last night and I’m screwed for that English test third period.” Her eyes shut again.

    “I’ll get Sam to give you his notes.”

    She wrinkles her nose, but whispers “thanks.” She wanted me to give her my notes.

    “Take Sam’s, really, he’s averaging twenty points above me in that class.”

    “Okay.” I look over to Sam, and find him deep in conversation with Thai. Sam is going to go far. He got a partial scholarship to freaking Northwestern, with a declared business major. Thai’s going to community college, then probably to one of the SUNY schools. Both of them help me through homework and studying.

    “You think this test’ll be hard?” Gabby asks. I shake my head, and then remember her eyes are still shut.

    “The Odyssey is a big joke, and I know you read the book. You’ll be fine.” Gabby nods. Her hand tightens around mine. “Think about it this way, you won’t have to do this once you get to FIT.”

    “Yes I will, they have core requirements. Assuming I get there.” Gabby was so excited about FIT when we first started going out in February. Then she got in and I thought she would never stop smiling and talking about it. Then she showed up in school with more bruises than usual and suddenly she wasn’t sure if she wanted to go.

    “You’ll get there” I reply. I swear, someday I’m going to bury her father out in the cow pastures with all the other murder victims of the past century. I don’t know how she deals with it. If either of my parents did that to my sisters, or me I would have killed them and buried them.

    She nods, and I kiss her again. “Jake, I’ll be fine, you can stop worrying.” I realize that my hands are shaking in hers.

    “Okay.” I provide a third kiss, then a fourth. She suddenly grabs my head and pulls me in for a long, satisfying fifth. I squeeze my eyes shut and let myself smile. The rest of the world vanishes for a minute or so, leaving just the warm feel of her lips on mine, and her soft belly gently rising and falling.

    After a minute I come up for breath because I still haven’t mastered breathing while kissing. I stand up and look over at Sam and Thai. They are slowly approaching, slinging their bags over their shoulders. Then the bell rings; a single, long dong that announces the start of first period. Kids grab their bags and stream towards the exit. “Up?” I ask Gabby.

    “Yes.” She lets me pull her to her feet, and then grabs her bag with her free hand.

    “How’s it going Gabby?” Sam asks.

    “Usual” she says. “How was your weekend?” “Festive?”

    “Indeed” Thai rumbles. He’s the six-four son of Chinese immigrants. He’s the muscle of our operation. He addresses me. “Shame you couldn’t come with us on Saturday.”

    I shake my head. “You do know I have to babysit the littlest one on Saturday.” Thai smiles.

    “I forgot, too much bourbon on Saturday.” We all laugh.

    “You and bourbon, senior class cutest couple twenty-fourteen” I say. Thai smiles and punches the air.

    We head out of the library and back to the main corridor. “This is where we part, good luck everyone” Sam says. We exchange handshakes, I give Gabby another kiss, and we separate. Sam and I have Physics, Gabby has precalculus, and Thai has orchestra. On the way past the lobby again I see Rachel and about a dozen other cheerleaders leaving the gym. They are talking to someone, giggling with him about something. I see his perfect smile and slicked back hair: Robert.

    • CommentTimeSep 30th 2013

    :( anyone?

    • CommentTimeOct 2nd 2013

    I’m really crammed for time now, but I’ll make sure to read it this week and comment on it.

    • CommentTimeOct 3rd 2013 edited

    Hi TheArmada, sorry I didn’t get time to look at the first chapter.

    The opening to Chapter 2 is okay. The rhythm in the first paragraph is a bit jarring, I would prefer fewer sentences beginning with the word I. They can be negated by using more sensory experiences (like the first sentence) rather than I-statements (I feel, I did, I was, etc.). This is actually a good example of “showing not telling”: by using I-statements, you are ‘telling’ the reader what the character does, feels, says, etc., but by avoiding I-statements and exploring sensory experiences you can ‘show’ the reader.

    Take the first paragraph, for example. I sit straight up. I ignore it. I rub my eyes. I swing my legs out of bed. I cross the room. Compared to the first sentence and the second clause of the second sentence, which really engage the senses in a less selfish-sounding way. The screaming guitar riffs, the cold morning air stings.

    Do you get what I’m trying to say? Even when the sentence is nothing more than an action, (“I swing my legs out of bed and with a grunt pull myself to my feet”), breaking up the monotony of every sentence beginning with I, by using senses and descriptions and complex sentences (“swinging my legs out of bed, I grunt and pull myself to my feet”) will create a more enjoyable rhythm for the reader.

    Your dialogue is okay, there’s not much I can say about it. Naturalistic, but without straying/rambling, and a good way of adding characterisation.

    That’s all I have time for right now, dishes are demanding to be dried and put away right now.

    • CommentTimeOct 3rd 2013

    Thank you very much

    • CommentTimeOct 5th 2013

    Taku, like this?

    On Monday morning the screaming guitar riffs of Stairway to Heaven rip me out of my dreams and send me crashing back to reality. The cold morning air stings my bare torso, and there’s a frigid draft blowing through the leaky caulking of my windows. The discomfort helps me force my eyes open. The first thing I see is a blurry image of my bare blue wall. I rub my eyes and the image clears, revealing the trap shooting medal and Batman poster I’ve tacked up over the cracked paint. I stare at them for several seconds, and then I swing my legs out of bed and pull myself to my feet with a grunt of unwilling exertion. My alarm blares again, and this time I shut it off. I stumble across my room and yank my dresser open.
    • CommentTimeOct 5th 2013 edited

    That is so much better I can’t even say.

    It’s such a small change, really, but it lifts the whole thing to another level.

    • CommentTimeNov 1st 2013

    Chapter 2:

    Monday goes by slowly. Most of my classes are spent frantically writing down everything the teacher is saying and trying to understand the symbols/equations/words they are writing on the board. I get a small break in English, because I actually enjoy the books we’re reading and I can do a pretty enthusiastic-if poor quality analysis.

    Lunchtime Sam and I sell off a couple ounces of weed to two sophomores for thirty dollars and Kelley asks us for Molley. “Sorry, all out” Sam says bitterly.

    “Is this what you were doing Saturday night?” I joke.

    She giggles and shakes her head. “No, that was just shots and beer. If it was there no one I know brought it.” We hear footsteps outside the empty classroom we’re holed up in and I shove the bag of weed into my knapsack. The footsteps fade in the other direction. After a moment the three of us start giggling hysterically.

    “I swear, when I get caught I’m going to either be shitting myself in terror or laughing so hard they’ll think I’m high” Sam says. My phone rings. I pick it up.

    “Yo, I found August” Thai says.

    My heart leaps. “Hang on one second.” Sam gets a nod and quickly ushers Kelley out the door.

    “Go free little freshman” he cracks, to more giggling. As soon as the door shuts behind her he turns serious though. “Alright, what’s going on?”

    “Thai found August.” I give him the phone, and then lean close to his ear to listen.

    “Thai, why didn’t you call me?” Sam demands.

    “I did. You didn’t pick up.”

    Sam checks his phone. “Fuck, the fucking thing ran out of batteries. Piece of shit.”

    “Doesn’t matter now, where’s August?” I say before he can go off on a tangent.

    “He’s sitting on the baseball field smoking a joint.”

    “Alright, lets go” Sam says. We sling our bags over our shoulder and burst into the hallway in a dead run. We blow past Kelley near the back exit. She yells something at us as we tear through the double doors leading outside, but I don’t catch it over the pounding of our feet on the tiles. The baseball diamond sits at a weird location behind and beneath the school tucked against the tree line. We sprint over and duck behind the bleachers. Thai’s there, waiting. “Where is he?” Sam says.

    “Sitting in the visitor’s dugout with a joint and a beer” Thai says. I stick my head out. Across the infield I see a blue sweatshirted figure with its back to us, an unmistakable cloud of white smoke rising over his head. August Philips; valedictorian, Princeton acceptee, and winner of a couple of national music contests, stealing weed. The irony is pretty funny.

    We start forward, staying along the infield fence incase he turns around. My heart is pounding and my hands are trembling from adrenaline. I’m always like this before a fight. Its a rush, and that scares me a little bit, because these are usually other kids I’m beating up, and not all of them for a good reason. “Fucker’s smoking my weed” Sam says.

    “Quiet” I hiss.

    “Right.” We circle around behind the backstop and enter the visitor’s dugout from behind. August is too busy texting and drinking from his metal bottle. He doesn’t see us creeping through the gate until Sam yells “Where’s our weed motherfucker?” He looks up, his mouth forms a little ‘o,’ and he bolts. In ten steps I catch him. My arms grab him around the waist and I tackle him into the semi-frozen mud.

    “Get off me” he squeals and suddenly there’s a rock in his hand. He smashes me across the temple with it. It’s like getting hit with a sledgehammer. My head throbs and vision blurs, but I hang onto him. Before he can get in a blow Thai catches up to us and kicks him in the head. He yelps, and grabs at his foot. Thai kicks him again and he stops struggling.

    “Where’s my drugs at?” Sam demands. I figure Thai has August, so I let go of his twitching body and roll away. My arms get under me and I push, but I can’t stand. My vision is still blurry and the ground beneath my palms and knees is swaying. “Jake, are you okay?” Sam asks.

    “Yes” I grunt, and close my eyes. After a few seconds I reopen them. The world has cleared and its movements have abated enough that I can force myself to my feet, which I do. I turn back towards Sam, and his eyes go to my head.

    “You’re bleeding man,” he says.

    This isn’t the worst blow to the head I’ve taken. “I’m fine” I insist. My hand goes through my short hair until I find a warm liquid and a dent in my skin.

    “Okay then.” Sam turns back to August. “Where’s my fucking drugs? You broke into my stash you moron, where are they?” August spits at him. Thai kicks him in the ribs and his face scrunches up in pain. “I said, where are they?”

    “In my bag, in the back of the dugout” he whimpers. Sam stomps back there. After a moment he returns with a black bookbag, which he turns over in front of August. Several binders, a fist-sized plastic bag of white tablets, and a larger bag of green plant matter fall out. Sam picks both bags up and examines them.

    “This is it,” he says with relief. “What, were you stealing this for recreational use or something? How long would it take you to smoke all this?” August doesn’t reply, he just curls up into a muddy ball and starts whimpering. I kick him in the base of the back where his tailbone is, and he squeaks a little. “Whatever, be that way” Sam says. “Come on crew, leave him.”

    There’s a traffic jam at the door as a group of five guys tries to leave just as we’re entering. They see Sam and step aside. “Hey, what happened to you?” one says to me as I pass.

    I recognize the speaker, and shrug. “I fell.”

    “You okay?” he asks to my back.

    I pivot on my ratty sneakers and try to smile at him. “I’m fine, thanks for asking Doug.”

    Mr. Drenn, gives me a worried look when I walk into US government late with a red gash on my temple. “Are you okay there, Mr. Breverman?” he rasps.

    “I’m fine” I reply, and take my seat between Gabby and Xavier. Gabby sees my head and claps a hand over her mouth in horror.

    “Are you sure? You could always go down to the nurse’s office.” He stands up and squints

    A fake smile forms on my face. “I’m fine, Mr. Drenn, trust me.”

    “No you’re not!” Gabby says, and grabs my head. Stars flash in front of my vision. “Oh my god, what happened?” Someone behind me giggles and my cheeks begin to prickle. Gabby pulls me out of my seat, my resistance melting against her.

    “Mrs. Lauterman, is this necessary?” Mr. Drenn says, grimacing.

    “Yes it is he’s badly hurt!” Gabby explodes. “Here, if he’s too tough to go down to the nurse’s office on his own I’ll walk him down there myself. She grabs my hand and pulls me semi-willingly to the door. I look to Xavier, then Thai for help, but they’re both grinning at me and giving thumbs-ups.

    “Come back when you’re done!” Mr. Drenn yells at our backs. I guess he’s just glad I didn’t get stabbed or have any noticeable broken bones.

    Once outside I say “Gabs, is this really necessary?”

    “Yes it is, you’re wounded” she replies in a huff, and keeps leading.

    “It’s nothing” I protest.

    “Bullshit, what did you do?”

    “I tackled August Philips and he whacked me with a rock. Business shit.”

    She gasps and stops short, then caresses my head. “That’s horrible. Here, let’s start with the best kind of care there is,” then she pushes me into the wall and plants an aggressive kiss on my lips. The throbbing in my head fades a little. “How’s that?” she asks.

    I smile and peck her on the forehead. “Felt pretty good.”

    “Good, now we go to the nurse’s, you’re not walking around with an open wound like that.” She pulls me the rest of the way. The door to the nurse’s office swings open-and a paramedic pushing a wheelchair-bound and mud-soaked August out. Instinct tries to make me jump behind Gabby, but my jaw clamps shut and I hold, despite every inch of my skin prickling as his eyes run over me. Then they’re turned away and heading down the hallway. My eyes go to Gabby, who has her hand over her mouth again.

    “What happened?” she demands in a shaking voice.

    “I’ll tell you later.” We head inside. Neither of us even bothers worrying about August calling the police. After all, he still had the drugs on him first, and he has the ‘honor’ code to keep to. We creep into the nurse’s office. Mrs. Jafee is washing mud and blood off her hands in the sink and Mr. Tallan is filling out what appears to be an incident report at his desk.

    He sees us walk in, his eyes go to the gash on my head, and he groans. “Another fight? Tammy help me hear.” They descend on us.

    “Actually, its just me” I say. They look at Gabby in confusion.

    “He tried to go through USGov with that, someone had to get his ass down here” she explains.

    Mrs. Jafee pulls me into a chair and begins examining my head. “That is pretty ugly. Fortunately it isn’t deep enough to send you to the hospital.” They give me a quick battery of questions and reading tests, which proves I don’t have a concussion. Then Mrs. Jafee pulls out the hydrogen peroxide. “Might want to brace yourself, this is going to hurt a lot.”

    Gabby grabs my hand and squeezes it. “I appreciate the honesty.”

    She smiles at me, then pours it onto a paper towel and presses it to my head. It stings badly, but it’s a bit of a letdown. After that she sticks a bandage to my head. My hand goes up to it and I imagine what it looks like. “Do I have to go around wearing this all day?”

    Mrs. Jafee rolls her eyes. “Would you like an infection?”

    “Fine.” I try to stand up but she pushes me down.

    “I’m required to call your parents for an injury this severe, can you give me one of their phone numbers?”

    “Father’s in Afghanistan, I’m running the house.”

    “What about mother?”

    “Father’s in Afghanistan.”

    She raises her eyebrows. “That doesn’t answer my question.”

    “Father’s in Afghanistan” I repeat.

    “Tammy, I’ve got this” Mr. Tallan says. He winks at me and takes out another incident report. I forgot he’s one of my dad’s friends from the veteran’s administration.

    “Alright.” I stand up again.

    “Well that’s it Jake, you and Gabby be careful” Mrs. Jafee wishes us.

    “We will,” I say quickly, and we head out.

    “What happened to August?” Gabby whispers.

    “He stole drugs off Sam, we got them back.”

    “Is he working for anyone? You could get into a pretty big fight.”

    “We don’t think so, but if he is we’re ready.”

    She squeezes my hand. “This isn’t the first time I’ve seen you like this. You need to be careful, you’re going to get seriously hurt.”

    I push Gabby to the side of the hallway and try to give her a warm reassuring smile, like what I give Liz when she’s freaking out. “Look, I know what I’m doing and I’ve got Sam and Thai and half a dozen thugs backing me up. I’ll pull through.” I lean in to kiss her but she puts a hand on my chest and pushes me back.

    “Jake, you live on the outside of town, you don’t have parents or anyone who can watch out for you all day, and you have your sisters to take care of on your own, you’re a lot more vulnerable than the other dealers. It worried me what you get up to. I’m scared that someday I’m going to get a call that you’re in the hospital, or dead. And it’s not just about me, what’ll Rachel and Liz do if you’re hurt?” I try to say something but she keeps going. “Every year someone in the graduating class dies and I’m worried it’s going to be you.”

    It’s because she has a valid point that I stop and listen to her. The consequences of my death run through my mind. Rachel and Liz are going to have to live with mother, who doesn’t give a shit about anything outside her parties and her tool boyfriend. Liz will probably curl up in a corner somewhere and go into a coma. Rachel will fall apart, all her potential wasted. A lot of tears from my friends. Even a stay in the hospital will drop ten grand in medical bills on my family. A long, ragged sigh escapes my chest. “You’re right Gabs. I’ll take it easy a little. I was planning on going onto Jackson Street with Thai and company this afternoon, but why don’t we go get coffee or something. I gotta babysit Lizzy this afternoon, so she might come.” She accepts my answer with a nod, and hugs me.

    “Alright, lets go.” I let her lead me back to class.

    Jackson Street runs parallel with its good twin Main Street and forming a ‘cross’ where they intersect. While Main Street is family shops and restaurants, Jackson is the center of Dellany’s commercial sector. Well, it was the commercial sector before the economic collapse ripped it out. Now the abandoned warehouses and strip shopping centers are the center of our criminal element. It’s where most of my operation’s ‘big time’ deals take place, though we’re still only small time dealers. This is where the regional drug dealers and the manufacturers meet. Deals are held in the back lots and meth labs spring up in the warehouses faster than our police department can put them down.

    I’ve been through some violence down there. Someone gets shot once every couple of weeks, once it was almost Sam but Thai and I saved his ass. I’ve done too many brawls and fights to count. It isn’t pretty, but its money and bros.

    I tell Sam and Thai that I’ve got some important things to do and sidle back into the school. “Sure thing, see you around” Sam says, and they speed off in his SUV. For a moment I consider doing homework but then I remember that the homework gods have smiled upon me and given me none. Instead I surprise Lizzy with a text that I’ll be picking her up from mad science club, and walk down to the practice field to join the small crowd watching the cheerleader/football team practice.

    Two hours later the girls, and myself are standing outside the cracked brick façade of the Café Patio on Court Street, one of the little side roads that branches off of Main. “Can we sit outside?” Liz asks. It’s warmed up about twenty degrees since morning and the sky is clear and blue.

    I raise my eyebrows at Gabby and Rachel, who are only wearing sports jackets and shorts from practice. “Sure Liz” Rachel says. We sit down around one of the outside tables. Gabby reaches over to Liz and starts brushing her hand through her loose hair.

    “So how was school?” I ask.

    “It was boring” Liz says. “We had some kind of assembly about drug safety in gym class, then I had a really stupid spelling quiz.” I snicker at the thought of how much of an effect the drug safety lecture would have.

    “How was it stupid?”

    “We learned all the words in the beginning of the year, it was too easy.” That surprises me.

    “You are being given a gift, you should appreciate it.”

    “But we’re not learning anything!” she protests. Gabby giggles.

    “What kind of fifth grader are you?” I demand. Lizzy shrugs, and then resumes moping. I need to get this kid to a therapist. Better, I need to be able to afford a therapist.

    Liz puts a hand on my shoulder. “I can’t believe you got hurt.”

    “I’m fine, don’t worry” I say, and then kiss her on the cheek. “You on the other hand need to smile more, you’re starting to worry me.” Lizzy gives me a wide-eyed stare. “Really, I’m worried about you. Are you having any trouble in school?”


    “Are the other kids treating you alright?”

    “They love me, I have to tell them to stop hugging me.”

    “Then why are you so sad all the time? Poor Lizzy” Gabby says. Liz shrugs and stares at the table.

    An older waiter comes over. “Jacob, sitting outside on such a cold day? You’ll give your family a cold!” Henry blusters.

    I fake an expression of horror. “Hey, it was her idea!” My finger jabs at Liz, who finally smiles, mischievously.

    “What?” he leans over in shock. Liz nods. “You are crazy.” Liz nods again. He sighs and purses his lips. “Alright, let me guess. Sprite for Elizabeth and Jake, diet coke for Gabby, and Rachel wants a Corona but she’s getting a cola.”

    “Sounds right” I say.

    “Alright, I’ll be back with your food orders in a few minutes.”

    “How was your day, Rach?” she asks.

    “It was alright.”

    “Find a new French tutor?” I ask.

    “Yeah, Robert offered to help me for free.”

    After a moment of confusion the identity of this Robert dawns on me. My fists clench. “That Robert?”

    “Tell me about this Robert, I only have a name” Gabby says.

    “Yes. Before you say anything, he’s a really nice guy and I think you should meet him before you judge him.”

    “I did meet him, he came to my front door at one in the morning looking for you and tried to push his way inside. Not someone I feel you’re safe around.

    Rachel completely misses my point. “So, he was worried about me. Like I said, he’s a sweet guy, and you’re completely overreacting.”

    Gabby clears her throat. She’s trying to be the reasonable person here, I can tell. She’s fairly good at doing so; I’ll give her that. “Rachel, honestly I’d be a bit worried about him. I think I saw who you’re talking about, and, looks aside, if he tried to force his way into my house at one in the morning I’d be a little worried about talking to him. Take it slowly, not everyone is nice as they seem to be at first.”

    Rachel gets herself together to argue with her, then stops herself and sighs. “Alright Gabby.” Gabby pats her on the shoulder.

    “Did the bio test go well at least?”

    Rachel smiles at me. “The rest of my class died in a fire, but I thought was easy, thanks for the advice.”

    A sense of satisfaction and pride wells up inside me. “Welcome little one.” I pat her shoulder. She snarls.

    “Stop calling me that.”

    “When you turn eighteen I will.” She scowls, and then looks to Gabby.

    Gabby winks at me, and says “what do you want, little one?” Rachel puts her head in her hands while the rest of us smile at her and shake our heads.

    I hear an oily cough of an engine and instinctively twist around in my chair. A beat up four-door pickup truck rolls up to the broken curb before us. Something about it triggers my danger instinct. Rachel and Liz don’t notice, but Gabby sees it and her eyes go wide with fear. Three doors open and Doug and two ballers in their twenties with heavy denim jackets get out and walk towards us. I stand up and my hand goes to my back pocket. “Girls…”

    “Hey Jake” Doug yells.

    “Hello” I say. Rachel and Liz are scared now. “What’s going on?”

    “You tell me. How’s that head?”

    “I’ll live.”

    “Yeah, about that.” He reaches through the open passenger door of the truck and pulls out an aluminum baseball bat. “You know who Jamie Reynolds is? Well, he’s a bit pissed that you and your friends beat the shit out of his nephew.” The hulking man on his right takes out a set of brass knuckles. The one on his left withdraws a wooden bat.

    My stomach drops and I break into a cold sweat. Jamie Reynolds is on of the biggest dealers on Jackson. He’s expanded into a couple of the neighboring towns and has a couple of heroin labs somewhere. “August is his nephew?”

    “Yeah.” Doug walks forward, a confident smile on his face.

    “August stole sixteen hundred dollars off of Sam. His fault, he got punished, I don’t see why you have to get involved.”

    “Like Jamie cares about that. Don’t worry you’ll live. I’m not sure how much of you will still be working afterwards, though.”

    I pull out my switchblade and flick it out. Six inches of steel glimmer in the sun. Doug does a double take at the sight of a blade. “You want to send me to the hospital in front of my girlfriend and my little sisters. Come and fucking get it.” They spread out and circle around me. My aim remains on Doug, though I can’t stop my hands from shaking. Fuck the other two, I can’t take all three anyways. I might as well send Doug to the morgue, I thought he was a friend. I’m going to rush him stab him through the ribs and into his lungs. Maybe hit an artery on the way. I look back to my girls. Liz is crying, Gabby and Rachel are watching me with morbid terror. I don’t want them to watch me go down like this.

    Doug raises his bat and I duck low to lunge. “No!” Rachel shrieks, and throws herself between us. My knife barely turns away before she impales herself on it. “You can’t have him!” she says.

    This is a new kind of terror “Rach-“ all three girls throw their arms around me. “Get out of the way” I yell and struggle to break free. My heart is pounding faster and faster. This is scaring me more than anything else: my family in danger. “Get off!” I throw myself against Gabby, but they hang on, and I only drag them closer to danger. “Get off me, you’re going to get hurt!” I scream. Doug stops short, his jaw slack. The bat lowers.

    “What the fuck?” one of the twenty-something guys says.

    “You want to beat up a couple of kids in the middle of town? Come and fucking get it!” Gabby says. There’s terror in her voice, but she isn’t letting go. I get my elbow beneath her to shove, but I can’t pry her off me. Then the Café’s front door opens and Henry storms out.

    “You three, get out!” he bellows, and holds up a phone. “The cops are coming, you want to hurt children, talk to them.” The two ballers advance on him, weapons out. In the distant a siren wails, rising rapidly to a high-pitched scream. I see the ‘oh shit’ look cross their faces and they bolt back to their truck. Its engine coughs to life and it roars off. Henry flips them the bird. “Cowards!”

    The girls let go of me and hover about a foot of way. I take a few deep breaths to get the shaking out of my hands to no avail, I’m shaking like a leaf on the wind.

    “Jake, are you alright?” Liz asks.

    “He’s not hurt,” Rachel says.

    “But he’s shaking so hard.”

    Gabby puts her hands on my shoulders and looks me in the eyes. “Gabby, little ones, I-I can’t believe you just did that…but thank fucking god you did. I throw my arms around all three of them. My face ends up buried against Gabby and Rachel’s shoulders. I keep it there, where its warm and safe.

    “He’s shaking so hard, is he okay?” I grab Liz’s shoulder and hug her a little closer. Out of the corner of my vision I see a cop car turning onto the road. I don’t want him to stop and talk to us, I hope somehow we can send him after Doug and his friends, wherever they are…

    Another horrifying thought occurs to me, and I yank out my phone and dial Sam. He picks up on the third ring. “What’s Gucci Jake?”

    “Sam, August is Jamie Reynold’s nephew, he’s got Doug Thompson and a couple of ballers looking for us, I just almost got my head bashed in. They’re in a blue Chevy, mid-eighties and dinged paintjob.”

    “What…okay, fuck fuck fuck! We are fucking dead if he’s after us”

    “Yeah. Can’t talk, cops.” I hang up and reestablish my grip on my girls. With Sam’s prognosis I’m afraid again, for them and anyone I know.

    • CommentTimeNov 10th 2013