Monday, April 24, 2017

City of Secrets--Chapter 6

City of Secrets

Chapter 6

Previously: Penny is trying to focus on getting a scholarship to an Ivy league college, all while dealing with the death of her brother, a mother who has mentally checked out, and a father who does everything he can to avoid his own family. Frankie, slacker and social outcast, vowed to turn over a new leaf at the start of her senior year, but so far, it's been harder than she thought. 

Chapter 6

     Penny grabbed her backpack and settled in the living room, which looked liked the battleground of a war between Better Homes and Gardens and Seventeen magazines.

    It was the perfect room to bring guests into for tea, or drinks after dinner. With a couch, a loveseat, and two matching chairs, there was plenty of seating. There were enough knick knacks around to give people things to look at, but not enough to cause clutter. The room was styled in white, cream, and blue, which Penny's mom said would be calming and induce conversation.

    Layered on top of this presentable, conversation-inducing room was an assortment of books, notebooks, pens, pencils, and highlighters spread out on the coffee table, end tables, and floor. Several college brochures poked out from various places. A yellow sweater was draped over the arm of the white chair, and a purse and backpack were resting comfortably on the blue chair. A pair of mud-caked sneakers sat in the corner. Lip gloss, foundation, and a bottle of clear nail polish sat on the shelf underneath the coffee table.

    After returning from her summer internship, Penny had made the living room into an extension of her bedroom. Her music player was now permanently hooked up to the stereo and she’d moved her desk downstairs. This would absolutely not, never in a million years have been allowed in the past, but she was pretty sure neither of her parents had noticed. Penny made a point to avoid her bedroom as much as possible, because going into it meant that she had to walk past Richie’s room, and that was too much to bear sometimes.

    She set her backpack aside and settled on the couch with her laptop. Don’t do it, Penny. This is pathetic. It was, but she was going to do it anyway. She was hopeless; she’d already accepted that. With a sigh of defeat that made her heart feel heavier than it already did, she opened her laptop and pulled up the website of the rock band Hell’s Descendants. Actually, she wasn’t entirely sure if they were considered rock or heavy metal. She wasn’t into that kind of music, despite the fact that she’d grown up with Richie blasting it through the halls.

    Hell’s Descendants was the group her mom had referred to as “that silly band.” That silly band’s first album had sold more copies than any album in whatever genre they were in close to a decade. Their first U.S. tour had sold out in all but three cities. Hell’s Descendants was Richie’s life’s work. Richie’s and Josh’s. Richie was the guitarist and Josh was the vocalist. They’d done all the work—from music and lyric writing to publicity—together. The bassist and the drummer had just come along for the ride.

    Penny hadn’t known what she’d expected Josh to do when Richie died.

    What she hadn’t expected was for Josh to skip the funeral. She hadn’t expected him to ignore her calls, to act like he hadn’t been her friend as well as Richie’s. She hadn’t expected him to audition guitarists practically before Richie’s body was cold. She’d never imagined that Josh would replace Richie and go on tour as though Richie had meant nothing to him.

    That was exactly what he’d done.

    Penny looked at the tour schedule, which was pointless because she’d memorized it months ago. The band was off tonight. They’d played in Seattle the previous night and tomorrow they’d be in Salt Lake City, which would be their last stop. They’d be back in Caribou Canyon by the end of the week. She wasn’t sure how she felt about that.

    She clicked out of the website and opened her email. There were no messages from Josh. Of course there weren’t. He hadn’t contacted her once since he’d left, despite the promise he’d made when he found out about the tour. She remembered it like it was yesterday...

   ...They were in the clearing by the columbines in Fairview Woods. She was beginning to think of it as their spot, which was dangerous, because only couples had spots, and they weren’t a couple. They were friends and they would only ever be friends. But still, they’d been meeting there a lot lately, and she couldn’t help but think of it as their spot.

    They were sprawled in the grass, their heads facing each other and their bodies angled away. Books were spread out all around them. They’d come there to study, which meant that Penny was studying and Josh was writing song lyrics, doodling, or doing anything he could to avoid any actual studying.

    “I can’t go,” Josh said, out of the blue.

    Penny looked up to find him staring at her, his eyes wide and thoughtful. It made her heart skip. “What are you talking about? This is what you’ve been waiting for.”

    “I’m talking about you.” His voice was soft, his words matter-of-fact. Her eyes widened and she sucked in a breath. Warmth spread throughout her body. But then he grinned, that silly, over-the-top grin he gave whenever he was joking around. “We’ve never been apart before. I don’t think I can take it.” He put his hand over his heart and winked.

    Her own heart sank and she felt stupid. Again. When was she going to stop falling for his teasing? He was a shameless flirt. He flirted with every girl he came across, and some of the boys. It was just who he was, but Penny thought she should be excluded from it. They were friends. She shouldn’t be a game to him. But still, he flirted with her as brazenly as he flirted with everyone else. She hated it. She loved it.

    She rolled her eyes, hoping it would make up for the blush that probably rivaled the red of some of the columbines. “You’re a dumbass, you know that?”

    His grin widened. “Hey, you should come with me. I want to see your hair under the California sun.”

    She was soaring all over again. Even his stupid lines made her giddy. “It’s going to look dirty blond. Just like it does here.” She found herself looking at 
his hair, which was a shade of auburn that complimented his amber eyes. He took great care into spiking it with gel, but the breeze had ruffled it, giving it a stylishly messy look. She wanted to run her fingers through it.

    “I know. But it will be a glamorous dirty blond.”

    She laughed. “Haha. No glamor for me this summer. I’ll be in a lab, doing very unglamorous things.”

    He pouted, sticking his lips out slightly. Her stomach flip-flopped as she thought of leaning forward and kissing those lips. She wondered how soft they would be, what his mouth would taste like, how his tongue would feel. . . . He raised his eyebrows. Flames kissed her cheeks as she worried that he knew what she was thinking. Embarrassed, she looked down at her books.

    “Okay. Fine,” he said. “But, I’ll email you every day. And text you. And send you Snaps. And Tweet at you. Oh yeah, and Facebook. Can’t forget that one.”

    She looked up and laughed, harder than necessary, because the thought of him doing all those things had her heart fluttering all over again. “You’re insane! You won’t even have time for all that.”

    He shook his head, his expression serious. “That’s not insane. Now, if I were going to call you everyday on top of all of those other things, now that would be insane. But seriously. Email. Everyday. I promise.”...

     ...He hadn’t. Not once. But he’d made that promise before Richie’s death. Everything had changed after that. For some reason, Josh had decided that he and Penny couldn’t be friends anymore. She couldn’t help but wonder if Josh had only been friends with her out of an obligation to her brother.

    Penny had never had friends her own age. She was friendly with people at school, but not close with anyone. She'd always been the nerd, the girl people talked to because the teacher made them, or because they really needed help passing a class. Richie had always been protective of her, but would he really have gone so far as to guilt his friends into being nice to her?

    She didn’t want to think about it anymore. She grabbed her backpack and pulled out her textbooks. At least she had school to focus on.

• • •
    Frankie was a block away from her house when the rain started coming down. “Fucking fantastic,” she muttered. She shouldn’t be surprised. The whole damn universe was against her. She’d lost her umbrella a week ago and hadn’t gotten a chance to get a new one. But if she hadn’t gotten detention, she wouldn’t have gotten caught in the rain. She wouldn’t have gotten detention if Chase hadn’t . . . She shook her head, not wanting to think about that.

    If Marcella had loaned her the van, it wouldn’t have mattered what time she’d left school. There. She liked blaming Marcella much better than blaming Chase. It meant she wouldn’t have to think about him. She tried her best to never think about Chase, but sometimes the thoughts invaded her mind against her will. . . . She shook her head again.

     Frankie’s mother and stepfather owned three vehicles between the two of them, one of which was a chauffeur driven Chrysler limousine. Unless Marcella and Henry had figured out how to defy physics, it wasn’t possible for the two of them to use three cars at the same time. There was no pattern to when Marcella chose to loan her the van; sometimes it just sat in the garage all day.

    By the time she reached the wrought-iron gate of the Carlton estate, she was drenched. Her hair clung to her face and water dripped down her neck. The only part of her that was dry was her feet, thanks to her steel-toe work boots. She stepped through the gate and paused to use the sleeve of her green army jacket (a thrift store find) to wipe away what remained of her black lipstick. It was a shame to take it off—Henry and Marcella hated it—but so did her little brother Tommy. He’d said it made Frankie look scary, and her love for Tommy won out over her desire to piss off Henry and Marcella. Besides, there were plenty of other ways to piss them off. The purple streak in her hair was one of those ways. Lucky for her, Tommy thought the purple was awesome.

    “Good afternoon, Frankie.”

    Frankie jumped. She hadn’t seen Billy Gardner—who was in fact, the gardener—standing in the yard trimming the hedges. Or more like hiding behind the hedges and pretending to trim them. He wasn’t even holding the trimmers with two hands. In his other hand was an umbrella. What the hell is wrong with this guy? And everyone calls me a freak.

    Frankie thought Billy was a creep, and she wasn’t alone. It was the only opinion she shared in common with the other girls at school—she’d heard them gossiping about him. Billy was in his fifties, lived alone in a cabin outside city limits, and kept to himself, except when he was gardening. Frankie suspected that he did the grounds keeping for most of the town in order to spy on people, though for what reason she didn’t know. Maybe it was a way to get out his voyeuristic tendencies without getting caught. He was always polite enough, but there was something about the way his eyes—which reminded her of the dregs at the bottom of the coffee pot—bored into her that gave her goose bumps.

    “Jeez, Billy. Why the hell do you always have to sneak up on me?” she asked.

    “Just doing my job, miss. I didn’t mean to scare you.” He sounded sincere, but he wasn’t smiling. He rarely did. He tilted the umbrella in her direction. “You ought to carry one of these with you all the time, what with how much it rains here.”

    Frankie glared at him, wishing her gaze could intimidate him, but she had a feeling it didn’t faze him. “No shit. I lost it. Why are you working in the rain, anyway?”

    “Rain doesn’t bother me. It practically is home to me. Here, why don’t you take mine?” He held the umbrella out to her.

    “It won’t help now. I’m already wet,” she said, her tone implying that this should’ve been obvious.

    He didn’t pull the umbrella back. “But you’ll need it next time. Don’t you want to be dry?”

    “I’ll get another one by then. Keep it.” Frankie didn’t like to take help from anyone, not that offers came often, but she especially wasn’t going to take something from Billy.

    He pulled the umbrella back. “Then what do you want, Frankie?” he asked, his voice almost a whisper.

    She opened her mouth to ask him what the hell kind of a question that was, but the words died on her lips. There was something about the way he looked at her that made her think about the question, but it was the wrong one. Her life was so full of problems that it should’ve been: what do you need? She needed so many things that if she were to get into it with creepy Billy Gardner the gardener they’d be standing there until her biggest problem was visible to the entire town. Frankie thought about what would happen if she did just that and suddenly she was doing something she hadn’t done in what felt like months: she was laughing.

    It boiled up from deep inside her and once it was out, she couldn’t control it. It was a cackling, maniacal sounding laugh that was louder than the raindrops pouring down around them. She clutched her stomach and doubled over while Billy stared at her. Frankie didn’t care. It felt good to laugh, even if that laughter came from a place of pain. If she didn’t laugh, she would cry, and Frankie only cried at night, when she was sure there was no one around to hear.

    “Is everything all right?” Billy asked.

    “Don—don’t you—s—see, Billy? I don’t w-want anything,” Frankie gasped between bursts of laughter. She held her arms out and spun in a circle. “I already have it all.” With that she walked past him and up the long driveway. Once she was away from Billy, her laughter faded. The only thing it left behind was the fleeting hope that maybe she’d managed to out-creep the creep and he might leave her alone in the future. That would be something at least. 


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