Saturday, June 29, 2013

Living Backwards by Tracy Sweeney (Excerpt 2)

CHAPTER 2 - Jillian

I heard them entering my bedroom attempting to be quiet as soon as the door creaked open. It was a weak attempt because there wasn’t much that was subtle about Megan or Danielle. I wanted to open my eyes and kick their asses for waking me up so early on a Saturday, but it felt as if someone had inserted a skewer right into my eye socket and stabbed my brain. The pain radiating from my eye throughout my entire skull was excruciating. My mouth was dry and my stomach was lurching. I quickly tried to remember what had taken place the night before and why someone would try to murder me in my sleep. Then I remembered the bottle of wine I opened to drown my Facebook sorrows. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

“Jillian, you little tramp,” Megan, master of subtlety, shrieked. “You were cyber-stalking on Facebook last night!”

I slowly pried my eyes open and felt around my head searching for the skewer because I was still not convinced that something so yummy could inflict so much pain. It wasn’t until I saw the empty bottle next to the computer screen that I finally could admit that I had the hangover of the century…or of the week. Whichever.

As if they weren’t already loud enough, I heard Danielle squeal.

“Luke Chambers, Jillian? You were cyber-stalking Luke?” she asked incredulously. “Where the heck did that come from?”

I blanched. Where did that come from? I barely knew Luke Chambers. Definitely not a circle I ran in. In high school, Luke was all leather jackets and motorcycles—the embodiment of a modern day James Dean. He certainly wasn’t known for hanging out in the library with quiet coeds and their elderly librarian buddies.

“I was not,” I countered, sounding more like a guilty toddler than I’d like. “You’re out of your mind. I probably saw his profile and got curious.”

“I don’t know, Jill,” Megan added cautiously. “Looks like you sent him a Friend Request. I guess you weren’t stalking. You were definitely fishing.”

Immediately, I was pissed. I had been physically assaulted by a yummy yet dangerous bottle of chardonnay, woken up ridiculously early on my day off and then accused of some imaginary crush.

“Too bad Luke can’t make it to the reunion tonight,” Danielle offered. “He emailed me last week. He owns that bar downtown that his cousin used to run. His cousin moved back to Canada and Luke bought it. I guess it’s busy and he can’t take a night off. I’m glad he’s doing well, though. He always seemed kind of lost in high school.”

“Sorry, Jilly,” Megan cooed. “Looks like you’re going to have to set your sights elsewhere. Unless Luke has a talking flask, too. Maybe we can get your flask to convince his flask to come to the reunion.”

“Okay, okay, you’ve had your fun,” I finally shouted. “Now kindly remove your asses from my room.”

“See. I told you she needs a boyfriend,” Megan muttered under her breath. “So cranky.”

“Actually, we just wanted to tell you we were running to the mall to get a few things for our outfits tonight,” Danielle explained. “I’m not going to drag you along, but I’m going to ask that you wear what I buy you.”

Danielle had also decided that it would be fun to dress like it was 1999. Seriously. I knew she wanted to get me into one of those ridiculously tight t-shirts and some low-rise jeans, but in reality, I wouldn’t have been caught dead wearing something like that in 1999. But reality never stopped Danielle. She’d win, so why fight her? As long as I was spared from her version of retail therapy and could stay in bed, I was happy.

“Fine. I will comply with your wardrobe suggestions. But now, Posh,” I motioned to Megan, “please take Scary over here and leave me and my hangover alone.”

Unfortunately, though, after my roommates left the apartment in search of outdated attire for the reunion, I wished that they were back distracting me. Instead, I was left alone with a splitting headache and the certainty of my impending doom.

Once it was clear that my plan to sleep in late was ruined, I tried putting the reunion out of my head for a bit. I checked email, took like five Tylenol, cleaned the kitchen, called my only other high school friend Suzanne, and did my laundry. But after each task my eyes would automatically dart over to the computer. A glance wouldn’t hurt anyone, right? Logging onto Facebook, I checked the timeline.

Sarah sent a virtual teddy bear to Tyler. Who comes up with this stuff?

Suzanne sent me a round of drinks. Now that is thoughtful. Cheers, Suzanne.

Luke Chambers accepted my Friend Request. Well hello, Luke.

I clicked on his profile. The tiny picture appeared larger and…beautiful. The shot was black and white. Luke wasn’t looking directly at the camera. He was laughing, his cheeks pulled into a tight, open mouthed grin with deep creases in the corners of his eyes. He was stunning. It looked like he was behind the bar—his bar, I guessed. I didn’t remember him looking like that in high school at all. I decided that I needed to make a trip to his bar soon, and if Luke looked anything like his picture in person, I might just request his assistance getting home.

Hearing the door to our apartment open, I quickly closed out of the page and logged off. I didn’t need to give Danielle any more ammunition. I opened the door of my bedroom to find her in the living room with at least a dozen bags.

“Wow, Danielle! How long are we staying in 1999? This is just for the evening, right?”

“Your complaining is as bad as Megan’s! I had to drop her off at Nate’s because I couldn’t stand it anymore. She can’t concentrate on anything when he’s back in town anyway. Can you both please try to enjoy yourselves tonight?”

Nate Barrett went to high school with us, as well. He was a starting linebacker for the Reynolds Rockets and an all-around good guy. After attending Florida State on a football scholarship, Nate was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in the fifth round. During their third preseason game, he tore his ACL and damaged his knee so severely that he was told that he’d never be one hundred percent again. When the Chiefs released him, Nate came home and got a position scouting for U-Dub.

No one knew at the time, but all throughout high school, Megan pined for Nate. After a few failed attempts at getting his attention, she opted to admire him from afar, although it was more like sulking about it from afar. While every boy in our class dreamed about dating Megan Dunn, Megan only dreamed of Nate. Unfortunately, Nate’s first and only love was football. It wasn’t until we ran into him at a football game a year ago that she worked up the courage to ask him out for coffee. They spent hours and hours talking, finally closing down the place and have been together ever since. She told me she was going to marry him after that first date at the coffee shop. Some people were lucky that way.

Naturally, his traveling put a strain on their relationship. He obviously couldn’t scout from campus so she’s on her own a lot. It worked well for me, though because I had a partner in crime. But I knew how much she missed him and how much he missed her, too. The money was good, though, and he enjoyed the work, but I knew that if something stable—something without travel—came up, he’d take it in a second. But those types of jobs weren’t always easy to find. So, they made it work.

“How long is he home for?” I asked, rifling through the bags cluttering the couch.

“Two weeks,” she replied. “It wouldn’t be such a big deal if she had grown a pair and told him years ago how she felt. He wouldn’t have accepted the job in the first place. He could’ve coached.”

“This from the girl who found her soul mate at thirteen.”

Danielle started dating Josh Fletcher in junior high. They never fought, they finished each other’s sentences, and seemed to have a language of their own. I’d never admit this to Danielle, but seeing the two of them together made me a little jealous. Their relationship was perfect. Where he was laid back and calming, Danielle was vivacious and energetic—the perfect complement to each other. I knew that wasn’t something everyone had.

I was still poking through the bags when Danielle’s cell phone rang.

“This is Danielle…. Hey, Val.”

I watched Danielle wince as she spoke to her obnoxious business partner. On prom night, Danielle and Josh found themselves sharing a limo with Valerie Cooper and my new Facebook buddy, Luke Chambers. On the way to the prom when the booze was flowing freely, Danielle shared with Val her dreams of running her own interior design firm. Val told Danielle how she’d be nearby at Columbia and suggested they team up to run the business together. She swore that it sounded like a good idea at the time and it was for a while. They spent the time early on researching and writing their business plan so that they could hit the ground running right after graduation. The business flourished teaming Danielle’s flair for colors and patterns with Val’s take-no-prisoners approach at running the company. Val was a fantastic salesperson and had wooed some high profile clients away from some of the larger design houses. The partnership was not without some major issues though.

“Yes…but Val…Val, we talked about this! No, I don’t think you know what you’re doing. He’s a client! But tonight’s the reunion…I swear…Val? Val?” Danielle turned to me with murderous look. “She hung up on me.”

“I truly do not know how you can stand her,” I replied while inspecting the t-shirts she bought.

I didn’t know how dire the situation was until I heard her begin to sniffle. Danielle never cried—not even when I made her shop for knock-off pocketbooks.

“That’s the point,” she whimpered slumping onto the couch. “I can’t do this anymore. I just want to walk away.”

“That is not an option. I agree that Val is unbearable, but this company is all yours. It’s your talent, your ideas, your blood, sweat and tears. You don’t need her.”

“You don’t understand. I know I could run it myself. Maybe I didn’t at first. It’s just too late. Val’s invested just as much money into the business as I have so she’s just as much of an owner. She’s just making really, really stupid decisions. Do you know where she is tonight?” I grimaced just imagining what was coming. I knew about Val’s dinner meetings.

“She’s visiting one of our largest clients at home tonight—a client whose wife happened to be lounging by a pool in Long Beach when I spoke to her this morning. Suddenly Val claims that Frederick needs to discuss a new project. New project, my ass.”

“You need to talk to her,” I reasoned, “before this gets out of hand.”

“It’s too late,” she added. “We lost a huge client last week—right in the middle of the remodel.”

“What!” I gasped.

“The client came home to Val and her husband finding creative uses for the antique dining room table I bought.”

I was stunned. Sure, Val was inappropriate. She had no problem discussing her conquests in detail with anyone within earshot. I didn’t shock easily, but Val had quite a resume. Even though Danielle had complained about Val’s secret meetings with clients and buyers, none of us thought she would be stupid enough to risk the business.

“I obviously can’t afford to buy her out,” she continued. “And if I don’t walk away now, I’m risking my reputation.”

She looked so defeated that all I could think about was how much I wanted to strangle Val for making her feel this way.

“God, I’m so mad! We’re supposed to be going out tonight and seeing all of these people we haven’t talked to in ages, and I’m here crying over someone who’s probably bent over the beautiful 18th century writing desk I found last week.”

“Yeah…I didn’t need that visual. You so owe me a drink tonight.”

“Sorry. It really is beautiful, though. Mahogany.”

“Danielle, my friend, I hereby swear on my beloved flask that I will not complain tonight. I will wear whatever ridiculous 1999 getup you’d like and I will dance until dawn with you,” I replied slipping into best friend mode. “We will not let Val ruin our night, but tomorrow we put our heads together and figure a way out of this mess. Deal?” I asked extending my hand.

“Deal!” she exclaimed grabbing one of the bags on the couch and throwing it at me. “Now go and try this on. I wanna go live La Vida Loca or whatever it was we did back then. And let me know if the jeans fit. I think they’ll make your butt look great.”

That was my Danielle. Worrying about my ass when it was hers that needed saving.

I grabbed the bag and pulled out a number of tight shirts in different colors and settled on one that didn’t show off too much. Pulling out the jeans Danielle bought, I held them up against me in front of the mirror. With a hand on my desk, I bent over and attempted to pull the super-skinny jeans over my calves, but they just wouldn’t budge. I tried again, jumping up and down to get the jeans up and over my rear end. Noticing I left my best buddy Joan on the desk, I leaned over and grabbed the flask, stuffing it into the back pocket. I bounced up one last time to secure them around my waist, but as I came back down, I clipped the edge of the desk and felt myself falling over.

It was one of those moments that happen in slow motion. I knew I was falling. I knew I couldn’t stop it, and I just needed to brace myself for the impact. As my head hit the floor, I felt a sharp pain and then nothing but darkness.

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Genre – Chick Lit

Rating – PG13

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