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Author Topic: BLACKBERRY JAM -- YA contemporary (Chapter 1)  (Read 3224 times)
slightlysmall
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« on: October 07, 2016, 02:57:55 PM »

The last day it rained, Emma Gladstone, my second-best friend in the world, stood at the base of my treehouse and begged me to drive her to Hainsville. I put down my lyrics notebook and crawled to the opening. When I poked my head out, the rain that greeted me was not a typical Oregon rain, with a sheet of mist, but a downpour with drops the size of gumballs. "Right now? Really?"

She nodded, hands in the pocket of her soaked-through hoodie. "Please, Blanca. You're my best friend."

I climbed down the ladder and we ran toward my house, the mud of our farmland oozing beneath our feet. Mami sat in her threadbare armchair, eyes alternating between the television we'd had since before I was born and the calendar on the wall in the kitchen, set to April even though it was June. "Mami? I'm taking the car. Emma and I are going to Hainsville." She dismissed us with a wave, the motion so quick her hand appeared translucent. It was still early; Mami would be a ghost for a few more weeks yet.

I grabbed the keys and went to our carport, where our '98 Altima, blue on three sides, waited. The driver's side was the not-blue, replaced but not repainted, and the door stuck as I opened it. "Where are we going?"

"Just the corner mart on Main Street."

"And we can't go to the one in Piney Grove?" This wasn't worth leaving my lyrics for, even if I had written countless songs about Lucas since he moved.

"No. I need to buy something—I don't want anyone in town knowing. It's just in case, anyway, so I don't want people to get the wrong idea, with the way gossip spreads at St. Francis and…"

As we drove down the two-lane road toward Hainsville, the scenery a still life that blurred and bled down my windshield, Emma kept up a continuous string of chatter. It seemed like she needed to talk more than she needed someone to listen, which was good. I had to concentrate on my lyrics. But occasionally her words reached me. "I mean, I believe miracles still come true as much as the next Catholic, but realistically…"

As she spoke, the lyrics I'd been stuck on arranged themselves into neat rows in my head.

I will always believe that miracles come true

And one day the Fates will lead me to you


Good enough. But I didn't know where to go with it. Emma was still talking, looking out the window, watching raindrops race toward the pavement. Those raindrops were like the songs I'd written: countable, if you really decided to try, but the counting wasn't worth the effort.

I can barely count the days that you've been away

"Blanca? Are you listening?"

I sent a sheepish smile toward the passenger seat. "Oh, sorry. It's just this road—rain in June—I have to concentrate."

"Right, I'm sorry. I just thought…"

No matter what she thought, I needed to sort out the rest of the verse as quickly as I could, before the open road and farmland became downtown Hainsville and I actually would need to concentrate on driving.

But while they keep growing I'm sure they will be

Only a prelude to our eternity

Good. Now I just had to remember it until I could write it down.

A stoplight, the shape distorted from sheets of rainfall, appeared and I slowed down. Despite being more than ten miles from home, Hainsville was familiar. It had ten times the population of Piney Grove, and convenience Piney Grove would never have. More important than convenience was anonymity. In Hainsville, you could walk into and out of a store without seeing a single person you knew. I wondered what Emma was buying that made her so desperate for an audience of strangers. I pulled over and turned off the car, digging through my pockets for loose change for the meter.

"I've got it, Blanca," Emma said, refusing to look at me. "Thanks for taking me."

"Not a problem." I thought about the journal I left in my tree house and when a socially acceptable time would be to pull out the notes app on my phone. Neither of us moved, not even an unbuckling of a seatbelt. I met Emma's eyes, which were wide and waiting, like she expected something from me. "Emma? What exactly are you buying?"

Her eyes distorted as I watched them, like stones buried in a flash flood. "I knew you weren't listening. I should've made you listen. It was dumb of me to not just say it…"

The words I had heard fell into place like I was writing lyrics. Anonymity. Rumors. Miracles. "You really think you might be…"

She nodded. I reached across the seat to squeeze her hand, trying to stop the words that crowded my brain from coming out of my lips. Without even meaning to, my eyes flicked to her belly, normally flat and tight. Was it looking looser? Was she gaining weight? We got out of the car and Emma fed the meter, then opened the door to the mart like she was sinning. Which she wasn't. Her sin had already been committed, and probably with Calvin. Calvin, who was the antithesis of Lucas, who never treated Emma with respect, who sometimes missed Mass even though he was practically related to the priest had—I couldn't even think it.

"I just hope you don't really need this." She didn't answer.

No one else wandered the store, and Emma pulled me to the far right corner, by the beers. "Will you buy it for me?" she whispered, still looking around as if we were being stalked.

"Why? Did you forget your money? I think I have some if you'll pay me back." I started unzipping my purse, but she grabbed my arm to stop me.

"No, I'll give you the money. I just think it will be more… plausible. Or, I don't know. Acceptable. You could just speak in Spanish."

I took a deep breath before answering her. Any pity I'd felt for her disappeared. "So you want me to do it because I'll pass for an immigrant? Because it's all right if I get mistaken for a teenage mother, but not the blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl who's actually—I assume—had sex?"

She placed her hands on my shoulders and her forehead against mine. "Please don't be so loud. Fine. I'll do it myself. It's not like I meant any offense. But… will you still come with me?"

I lifted up my hands to copy her, squeezing her shoulders. Even friends who did stupid things needed support. "I'll still come with you."

We wandered through the aisles, trying to pretend we were browsing for nothing in particular. Our conversations were usually lighthearted, with constant chatter, but we wandered the corner mart solemnly, like it was somewhere sacred. Or maybe we were just scared.

Neither of us could meet the eyes of the older woman working the cash register. Emma just placed the test on the counter with a pile of cash. "Keep the change," she muttered, taking the test and shoving it into the wide pocket at the front of her hoodie.

"There's a bathroom 'round the side," the woman said, but Emma ignored her. She ran toward my car like she was trying to avoid the raindrops, but her hood was down, her hair soaking.

"Do you want to take it at my house?"

"Can we just go to Fred Meyer or something? Here, not the one in Piney Grove."

I studied her again before putting the car into drive. This was not the easygoing, confident friend I was used to. Normally she was taking care of me, assuaging all my freak-outs and the times I began to worry about the future. The role reversal made me uncomfortable. The whole situation made me uncomfortable. How could I be a friend to someone who had sinned so badly? I guess the same way I always had. But I couldn't look at her the same, so I didn't look at her at all. "Of course."

Our drive was silent except the pattering on the windshield, so I kept repeating the lines of my new song, cementing them into my memory. When we parked and Emma worked up the courage to open the door and run through the rain, I opened my phone to write them down. Inside, we waited until the entire restroom was empty, all four stalls, before she would acquiesce to go into one. When she came out, we stood by the sinks, looking at each other's reflections instead of at each other. The test shook badly in her hand, but she gripped the counter to keep herself steady after placing it face down. "How late are you?" I asked, afraid she'd be upset at me for asking.

"Three weeks. I kept thinking maybe the stress of school…"

"Yeah. I'd think that, too."

"You'd hope that. You'd know better. I did."

"When did you and Calvin… you know." We'd joked about sex before, but it was different now. Too real.

"For the first time? On New Year's."

I couldn't even look at her reflection. "You never told me."

"I never told anyone."

"A sin against your own body. That's what it says in First Corinth—"

Her mood switched in an instant. "It says in Emma 1:1 that you should probably shut up. You think I don't know what I did? I haven't even been to confession since last year. I figure I can still take communion for another few months before I need to, and by then, maybe I won't have anything to confess. Or I won't have any choice." She peeked at the white plastic tube capped in pink. "I guess it's time. You look."

I studied the instructions again before picking up the tube, even though I read them twice when she was in the bathroom. One line as a control. The second was the important one. I took the test from her hands and nearly dropped it. The second pink line was darker than the first.

My silence was my answer.

She looked over my shoulder, and the air released from her lungs, resigned. "I know no amount of praying is going to make that second line go away, but it won't keep me from wishing it could."

She slid down the wall she leaned on, across from the changing station, and buried her face in her hands. I joined her on the cold linoleum and wrapped my arms around her. People came in and out of the restroom, but we ignored them, just sitting there holding each other next to the sinks, the evidence buried under piles of trash.

By the time I dropped Emma off at her house again and returned to my tree house, I didn't have the energy to write. I copied the lyrics I'd already thought of into my journal, then scribbled in the margins. Wish you were here. I could really use someone to talk to right now. Calling Lucas was out of the question. I knew when he was busy, when he wouldn't pick up, and this was one of those times. The connection between us wavered with uncertainty and tension, but there were other things to dwell on.

Emma was carrying Calvin's child.

I didn't want to think about his hands on her body, let alone his child growing inside of her. Calvin had never been good enough for Emma, not since he fell at her feet freshman year when she moved from Idaho. But Emma had enjoyed being worshiped. She found it easy to fall in love with someone who was in love with her, and I was determined not to make the same mistake. After all, when the luster fell away and Emma became human to him, Calvin's worship turned almost to disgust.

So later that afternoon when Daniel Sorento texted me and asked me to come over, I almost said no without thinking, but Daniel was not Calvin. He had done nothing wrong.

Why? What's up?

Daniel rarely texted me, and half the time he could hardly put two words together around me. He and Calvin weren't anything alike, not really, but I was cautious of people who liked people too much.

Zoe and I want to talk to you about a project we're working on.

I smiled. If his sister was involved, it might not be too bad.

A project? In summer?

¯\_(ツ)_/¯ We're over achievers. And it's music.

I have to babysit Bailee tonight at 7, but I'm free until then.

Good. See you soon.

I left the tree house again, this time my journal in hand. I didn't know why they would want me for something related to music unless it was for songwriting, and anyway, not having my journal with me when I was with Emma had made me anxious.

Papa was home from his work in the field, drenched, eating a sandwich in the kitchen as I came through the back door. He smiled at me. "Going out again?"

"To Zoe's house, then I'm babysitting Bailee after that."

He nodded and returned to his food. The rain was letting up, to a drizzle instead of a downpour, so I didn't bother driving. The Sorentos lived just up the road from us, less than a mile, and I didn't have any more money to help with gas, not after driving to Hainsville and back. A walk in a drizzle would be fine, and I preferred not looking my best around Daniel. Things were easier when he just saw me as a friend. When he saw me as a friend, he actually talked around me.

Zoe met me just outside the gate to their back yard. "Hey, Blanca! Good to see you. I'm so glad you could make it. This way."

A blue barn with white trim stood at the corner of their property, but hadn't been used for animals in a generation. Zoe and Daniel had converted it into a hangout for them, not unlike my tree house. We went through the side door and she led me up to the loft, where Daniel sat on a hay bale, strumming his acoustic guitar.

"You're starting a band," I said, forgetting to use my manners.

Daniel looked up from the strings and smiled, his teeth shining against his dark, sun-tanned skin. "Not technically. We started a band last year. But we want to start playing gigs, and record a demo when school starts. We need more than just covers."

Zoe looked at her older brother, admiration in her eyes, before taking over the conversation. "Word on the street is you're the best with words in Piney Grove. We were…" One more glance toward her big brother, who nodded. "We were wondering if you would write lyrics and not just poetry."

I didn't think it would be so easy to get started on my dream. Getting out of Piney Grove with a ticket written by my songwriting was what I wanted second-most in the world, after a relationship with Lucas. If only the band involved anyone else. But despite his crush on me, Daniel was an easy person to be around. It didn't take any time at all to think through whether I would help them. "Lyrics aren't something I'm looking to expand to from poetry," I said, and their faces fell. I continued. "They're my first love."

"Really?"

"Really. I even brought my lyrics journal with me," I said, grabbing it from my purse. But as I pulled it out and began to flip through it, it became obvious that this would be more difficult than I wanted it to be.

My lyrics were often exaggerated, conglomerates of experience and imagination and what best fit the rhythm and rhyme. There was what happened, what I wish had happened, and what I sort of wished or what had sort of happened, blown out of proportion for better conflict. I could write them in the moment or years later and still remember the emotions I needed to capture. Still, exaggerated or not, Lucas shone off nearly every page, not explicitly, but in almost every song I wrote. Daniel would know this. And if it wasn't bad enough to play songs the girl you like wrote about someone else, I knew perfectly well that Daniel and Lucas had never gotten along.

Zoe moved to look over my shoulder, and I slammed the book closed. "But they're not ready. You're going to have to give me time."

Daniel looked up at me, still sitting on the hay bale and making me feel much taller than I was. His face tensed: lips pursed, eyes narrowed, resignation in the lines of his forehead. If I knew that look at all, he knew exactly why I wouldn't show off my lyrics.

"I'm sorry," I said. "I really am."

Zoe looked back and forth between us. She was fourteen now, ten when Lucas left. She wouldn't have known what our friendship was like—what our relationship was like. Daniel certainly wouldn't have told her, and thirteen-year-olds exclude ten-year-olds on principle. "What's wrong?"

"Blanca has songs," Daniel said after breaking eye contact with me. "Just not any songs for us. I told you this was a bad idea."

"I know you did but you also said it was worth a try because—"

"She's not going to help us, Zoe. We'll have to write our own lyrics."

"I didn't say I wasn't going to help you," I said, moving closer to Daniel, but staying standing. "I said I didn't have anything ready for you. It's a difference. Give me time."

"I'm sorry," he said, his tone immediately changing from how he spoke to his sister. "I just thought—"

"It's fine. I should go, though. Nicole and Bailee are waiting."

Zoe turned to me. "I thought you said you didn't have to be there until 7?"

"Let her leave, Zo," Daniel said.

"But our songs—"

"We'll keep playing covers."

"If we're going to send a demo to Nashville by September, then we're going to need something soon. Please Blanca?"

I empathized with her passion for music, so I stopped at a hay bale beneath the one window in the loft. "I'll see what I can find."

She smiled, but not before turning to Daniel for approval. "Thank you."

Even though I left the Sorentos' house early, I went straight to the El Dorado trailer park, where Bailee lived with her mother, Nicole. It was where I met Lucas, where I grew up, where I lived until eighth grade when we began renting one of the houses on the Johnsons' property. So many people I knew never wanted to go back. Lucas hated when I mentioned it, but I liked the place. It was home, and held memories thick as honey. There in the gravel, by the makeshift soccer field, was where I first met Lucas, and we shook hands like grown-ups at four years old. That handshake became a pact, like the magic in storybooks, knotted around us and compelling us toward one another.

Along that chain-link fence in the back, Lucas and I first picked blackberries and brought them home by the bucket. The blackberries on the counter drew Mami out of her nearly catatonic trance. She lost her ghostliness and became more solid as memories erased lines from her face. "Of course!" she had exclaimed in Spanish. "I can make jam for him." Lucas and I and our blackberries—we saved her that day, and blackberries were still the only things that saved her.

In the corner of the trailer park was an open space with dead grass and a few trees that we called our park, an old tire hanging from a strong oak. I climbed into it and it bent under my weight. I loved babysitting Bailee, going to the trailer two away from where I grew up, three from Lucas. Everything in this place belonged to Lucas and me, and beckoned me back whenever I came near it. Our silhouettes chased each other on the hill behind the trailers, daring each other to climb a fence that seemed insurmountable. They looked at me on the tire swing and waved, but moved back to each other, completely immersed in friendship.

I would never miss anything as much as I missed Lucas de Vries.

As seven o'clock neared, I made my way to the pale green trailer where Nicole and Bailee lived. I knocked and Bailee almost immediately opened the door. "Blanca! You're here! I love it when you come. We get pizza for dinner!"

I gave her a hug and moved past her into the small living room. At four and a half, she was getting strong. "I'm always happy to see you too, Bailee." There was something about her that reminded me of Lucas, and the feeling was getting stronger as she got older. Now she was the same age I was when we moved up from California and I first met him, and living in the same place. Wherever we'd been together—the trailer park, the Johnsons' tree house that was now part of my property—shadows of our past selves followed me, and it was like one got stuck inside Bailee.

Nicole joined us in the living area not too long after I arrived. "Blanca. Thanks for coming out tonight."

"I don't mind at all."

Nicole wasn't very old, maybe 30, and she'd lived in the same green trailer for all of the thirteen years I'd known her, first with her parents, and later with her daughter, but never with a boyfriend or a husband. Nicole had skin as dark as mine, but Bailee's was an in-between olive color. Between her light brown hair, a nose like Lucas's, and lips like mine, I'd always thought if I got the chance to marry my soul mate, our children would look like Bailee.

Lucas's parents were soul mates, too. They had everything perfect—fell in love young, never dated anyone else. Pictures from their simple wedding were scattered around their trailer. She wore a loose-fitting ivory dress, and Mr. De Vries was in a button-up shirt and what must have been his nicest pair of jeans. They held each other and looked so proud, so happy. By the time I was eight, I loved spending time in the kitchen while Mrs. De Vries cooked and Lucas played some uninteresting video game in the background. She would tell me stories about how her husband was the only man she ever kissed and how they had always known they wanted to be married and went to the courthouse the day she turned eighteen.

It always seemed so romantic. Whenever she finished telling the story, I would glance behind me into the living room where Lucas was. He would stop the moment he could and grin at me, like he could sense my eyes on him. "Join me, Blanca!" he'd say, and after hearing his mother's stories, I could never refuse. Joining him was all I wanted to do, even then. We'd make it, not be poor like our parents, live in a big house with a white picket fence. We would have so much to hold us together, though all we would need was love.

The time with Bailee passed quickly, eating pizza, reading three of her favorite books four times each, adventuring to Neverland while she took a bath, and soon she was in bed and my favorite part of babysitting began.

I sat at the corner of their blue suede couch, my feet tucked underneath me and my lyrics journal in hand. Here, where the magic of my connection to Lucas was strongest, I would finish my song. It grew dark outside the window and stars peppered the sky as I wrote and thought. It was one of the times when I wished to reach for Lucas's hand beside mine, point him toward the constellations, and remind him which one was ours.

Keep Me From Wishing
By Blanca Olmos, age 17 (summer before senior year)

It’s getting dark outside
And I’m looking at the sky
Searching its splendor, feeling so small
My eyes on the stars, waiting for one to fall

Keep me from wishing on a shooting star
That I could somehow be right where you are
‘Cause while I still believe that miracles come true
No falling star could make sure they do
So keep me from wishing

I can barely count the days
That you’ve been away
But while they keep growing, I’m sure they will be
Only a prelude to our eternity

Keep me from wishing on a shooting star
That I could somehow be right where you are
‘Cause while I still believe that miracles come true
No falling star could make sure they do
So keep me from wishing

It starts with a handshake:
The Muses and the Fates
Pull strings till our stars all align
It’s a fixed destination
We’re like one constellation
Far apart but we stay intertwined

Keep me from wishing on a shooting star
That I could somehow be right where you are
‘Cause while I still believe that miracles come true
It’s up to you to make sure they do
So keep me from wishing

It’s getting dark outside
And I’m looking at the sky…
And nothing could keep me from wishing
« Last Edit: October 07, 2016, 04:41:13 PM by slightlysmall » Logged

slightlysmall
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« Reply #1 on: October 08, 2016, 10:13:29 AM »

From the first sentence the reader should know where the story is going. That, dear, is not happening here.

The first sentence hints at three of the four major plotlines and I've already had near-unanimous agreement that even though I start with the weather, it works. But thanks.
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« Reply #2 on: October 09, 2016, 03:54:54 AM »

From the first sentence the reader should know where the story is going. That, dear, is not happening here.

LOL. No, not true. But the first 10 pages, yes.

However, what I LOVE about the first sentence is "my second best friend in the world." That piques my interest so hard.

SS, I'll critique tomorrow - I'm excited for you on this one.  clap
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Panic in human form


« Reply #3 on: October 09, 2016, 10:12:47 AM »

I think this is some of your best stuff yet, SS. I really like how you weave the whole religious thing into it--you can get a sense of the culture without it being crammed down throats. It's really subtle and I like how Blanca seems to be a big proponent about it. I also think her multiple descriptions of Lukas was really well written too. And I definitely need to know what happened to her mom!

All in all this chapter was really good and I look forward to seeing you go far. Smiley
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« Reply #4 on: October 09, 2016, 10:26:32 AM »

Thanks, Violet and Pandean!  embarrassed2 Violet, I look forward to seeing your crit.  Smiley
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« Reply #5 on: October 09, 2016, 12:56:20 PM »

I don't agree with avesthom. This is a really, really great chapter with a lot of conflict, but it's subtle. And I absolutely love your first line, especially "the last day it rained" portion. I don't know why I find that so powerful, and feel as if that will be important to the story, but I do. The writing is beautiful--lyrical but not too purple-y. Really great job, SS.

Some things I noticed:

1. I think when Emma first mentions she has to go to the store, you can be more subtle/have more secrecy. I also think there can be more tension leading up to the pregnancy reveal. Emma's actions are secretive, but I think the language can reflect that as well.

2. You can remove the "blonde, blue-eyed" comment from the dialogue, as it sounds like a way to get the reader to know Emma is white where Blanca isn't, but in sort of info-dumpy where the characters tell each other things they already know but for the benefit of the reader. Personally, I'd already assumed Emma was white.

3. When Blanca says the whole situation made her uncomfortable, I think you can show that more in the writing.

Hopefully they help! I'm excited to see where this story goes Smiley
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« Reply #6 on: October 09, 2016, 04:02:02 PM »

The last day it rained, Emma Gladstone, my second-best friend in the world, stood at the base of my treehouse and begged me to drive her to Hainsville. I put down my lyrics notebook and crawled to the opening. When I poked my head out, the rain that greeted me was not a typical Oregon rain, with a sheet of mist, but a downpour with drops the size of gumballs. "Right now? Really?"

I really like this opener, and it sets the tone well. My only thought is, if it's pouring like that, wouldn't Emma come into the treehouse? I know it's a bit nitpicky, but in a downpour like that...it seems like a convo would happen face to face.

She nodded, hands in the pocket of her soaked-through hoodie. "Please, Blanca. You're my best friend."

I climbed down the ladder and We ran toward my house, the mud of our farmland oozing beneath our feet. Mami sat in her threadbare armchair, eyes alternating between the television we'd had since before I was born and the calendar on the wall in the kitchen, set to April even though it was June. "Mami? I'm taking the car. Emma and I are going to Hainsville." She dismissed us with a wave, the motion so quick her hand appeared translucent. It was still early; Mami would be a ghost for a few more weeks yet.

I grabbed the keys and went to our carport, where our '98 Altima, blue on three sides, waited. The driver's side was the not-blue, replaced but not repainted, and the door stuck as I opened it. "Where are we going?"

"Just the corner mart on Main Street."

"And we can't go to the one in Piney Grove?" This wasn't worth leaving my lyrics for, even if I had written countless songs about Lucas since he moved.

"No. I need to buy something—I don't want anyone in town knowing. It's just in case, anyway, so I don't want people to get the wrong idea, with the way gossip spreads at St. Francis and…"

As we drove down the two-lane road toward Hainsville, the scenery a still life that blurred and bled down my windshield, Emma kept up a continuous string of chatter. It seemed like she needed to talk more than she needed someone to listen, which was good. I had to concentrate on my lyrics. But occasionally her words reached me. "I mean, I believe miracles still come true as much as the next Catholic, but realistically…"

As she spoke, the lyrics I'd been stuck on arranged themselves into neat rows in my head.

I will always believe that miracles come true

And one day the Fates will lead me to you


Good enough. But I didn't know where to go with it. Emma was still talking, looking out the window, watching raindrops race toward the pavement. Those raindrops were like the songs I'd written: countable, if you really decided to try, but the counting wasn't worth the effort.

I can barely count the days that you've been away

"Blanca? Are you listening?"

I sent a sheepish smile toward the passenger seat. "Oh, sorry. It's just this road—rain in June—I have to concentrate."

"Right, I'm sorry. I just thought…"

No matter what she thought, I needed to sort out the rest of the verse as quickly as I could, before the open road and farmland became downtown Hainsville and I actually would need to concentrate on driving.

But while they keep growing I'm sure they will be

Only a prelude to our eternity

Good. Now I just had to remember it until I could write it down.

A stoplight, the shape distorted from sheets of rainfall, appeared and I slowed down. Despite being more than ten miles from home, Hainsville was familiar. It had ten times the population of Piney Grove, and convenience Piney Grove would never have. More important than convenience was anonymity. In Hainsville, you could walk into and out of a store without seeing a single person you knew. I wondered what Emma was buying that made her so desperate for an audience of strangers. I pulled over and turned off the car, digging through my pockets for loose change for the meter.

"I've got it, Blanca," Emma said, refusing to look at me. "Thanks for taking me."

"Not a problem." I thought about the journal I left in my tree house and when a socially acceptable time would be to pull out the notes app on my phone. Neither of us moved, not even an unbuckling of a seatbelt. I met Emma's eyes, which were wide and waiting, like she expected something from me. "Emma? What exactly are you buying?"

Her eyes distorted as I watched them, like stones buried in a flash flood. "I knew you weren't listening. I should've made you listen. It was dumb of me to not just say it…"

The words I had heard fell into place like I was writing lyrics. Anonymity. Rumors. Miracles. "You really think you might be…"

She nodded. I reached across the seat to squeeze her hand, trying to stop the words that crowded my brain from coming out of my lips. Without even meaning to, my eyes flicked to her belly, normally flat and tight. Was it looking looser? Was she gaining weight? We got out of the car and Emma fed the meter, then opened the door to the mart like she was sinning. Which she wasn't. Her sin had already been committed, and probably with Calvin. Calvin, who was the antithesis of Lucas, who never treated Emma with respect, who sometimes missed Mass even though he was practically related to the priest who? had—I couldn't even think it.

"I just hope you don't really need this." She didn't answer.

No one else wandered the store, and Emma pulled me to the far right corner, by the beers. "Will you buy it for me?" she whispered, still looking around as if we were being stalked.

"Why? Did you forget your money? I think I have some if you'll pay me back." I started unzipping my purse, but she grabbed my arm to stop me.

"No, I'll give you the money. I just think it will be more… plausible. Or, I don't know. Acceptable. You could just speak in Spanish."

I took a deep breath before answering her. Any pity I'd felt for her disappeared. "So you want me to do it because I'll pass for an immigrant? Because it's all right if I get mistaken for a teenage mother, but not the blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl who's actually—I assume—had sex?"

She placed her hands on my shoulders and her forehead against mine. "Please don't be so loud. Fine. I'll do it myself. It's not like I meant any offense. But… will you still come with me?"

I lifted up my hands to copy her, squeezing her shoulders. Even friends who did stupid things needed support. "I'll still come with you."

We wandered through the aisles, trying to pretend we were browsing for nothing in particular. Our conversations were usually lighthearted, with constant chatter, but we wandered the corner mart solemnly, like it was somewhere sacred. Or maybe we were just scared.

Neither of us could meet the eyes of the older woman working the cash register. Emma just placed the test on the counter with a pile of cash. "Keep the change," she muttered, taking the test and shoving it into the wide pocket at the front of her hoodie.

"There's a bathroom 'round the side," the woman said, but Emma ignored her. She ran toward my car like she was trying to avoid the raindrops, but her hood was down, her hair soaking.

"Do you want to take it at my house?"

"Can we just go to Fred Meyer or something? Here, not the one in Piney Grove."

I studied her again before putting the car into drive. This was not the easygoing, confident friend I was used to. Normally she was taking care of me, assuaging all my freak-outs and the times I began to worry about the future. The role reversal made me uncomfortable. The whole situation made me uncomfortable. How could I be a friend to someone who had sinned so badly? I guess the same way I always had. But I couldn't look at her the same, so I didn't look at her at all. "Of course."

Our drive was silent except the pattering on the windshield, so I kept repeating the lines of my new song, cementing them into my memory. When we parked and Emma worked up the courage to open the door and run through the rain, I opened my phone to write them down. Inside, we waited until the entire restroom was empty, all four stalls, before she would acquiesce to go into one. When she came out, we stood by the sinks, looking at each other's reflections instead of at each other. The test shook badly in her hand, but she gripped the counter to keep herself steady after placing it face down. "How late are you?" I asked, afraid she'd be upset at me for asking.

"Three weeks. I kept thinking maybe the stress of school…"

"Yeah. I'd think that, too."

"You'd hope that. You'd know better. I did."

"When did you and Calvin… you know." We'd joked about sex before, but it was different now. Too real.

"For the first time? On New Year's."

I couldn't even look at her reflection. "You never told me."

"I never told anyone."

"A sin against your own body. That's what it says in First Corinth—"

Her mood switched in an instant. "It says in Emma 1:1 that you should probably shut up. You think I don't know what I did? I haven't even been to confession since last year. I figure I can still take communion for another few months before I need to, and by then, maybe I won't have anything to confess. Or I won't have any choice." She peeked at the white plastic tube capped in pink. "I guess it's time. You look."

I studied the instructions again before picking up the tube, even though I read them twice when she was in the bathroom. One line as a control. The second was the important one. I took the test from her hands and nearly dropped it. The second pink line was darker than the first.

My silence was my answer.

She looked over my shoulder, and the air released from her lungs, resigned. "I know no amount of praying is going to make that second line go away, but it won't keep me from wishing it could."

She slid down the wall she leaned on, across from the changing stationclap and buried her face in her hands. I joined her on the cold linoleum and wrapped my arms around her. People came in and out of the restroom, but we ignored them, just sitting there holding each other next to the sinks, the evidence buried under piles of trash.

By the time I dropped Emma off at her house again and returned to my tree house, I didn't have the energy to write. I copied the lyrics I'd already thought of into my journal, then scribbled in the margins. Wish you were here. I could really use someone to talk to right now. Calling Lucas was out of the question. I knew when he was busy, when he wouldn't pick up, and this was one of those times. The connection between us wavered with uncertainty and tension, but there were other things to dwell on.

Emma was carrying Calvin's child.

I didn't want to think about his hands on her body, let alone his child growing inside of her. Calvin had never been good enough for Emma, not since he fell at her feet freshman year when she moved from Idaho. But Emma had enjoyed being worshiped. She found it easy to fall in love with someone who was in love with her, and I was determined not to make the same mistake. After all, when the luster fell away and Emma became human to him, Calvin's worship turned almost to disgust.

So later that afternoon when Daniel Sorento texted me and asked me to come over, I almost said no without thinking, but Daniel was not Calvin. He had done nothing wrong.

Why? What's up?

Daniel rarely texted me, and half the time he could hardly put two words together around me. He and Calvin weren't anything alike, not really, but I was cautious of people who liked people too much.

Zoe and I want to talk to you about a project we're working on.

I smiled. If his sister was involved, it might not be too bad.

A project? In summer?

¯\_(ツ)_/¯ We're over achievers. And it's music.

I have to babysit Bailee tonight at 7, but I'm free until then.

Good. See you soon.

I left the tree house again, this time my journal in hand. I didn't know why they would want me for something related to music unless it was for songwriting, and anyway, not having my journal with me when I was with Emma had made me anxious.

Papa was home from his work in the field, drenched, eating a sandwich in the kitchen as I came through the back door. He smiled at me. "Going out again?"

"To Zoe's house, then I'm babysitting Bailee after that."

He nodded and returned to his food. The rain was letting up, to a drizzle instead of a downpour, so I didn't bother driving. The Sorentos lived just up the road from us, less than a mile, and I didn't have any more money to help with gas, not after driving to Hainsville and back. A walk in a drizzle would be fine, and I preferred not looking my best around Daniel. Things were easier when he just saw me as a friend. When he saw me as a friend, he actually talked around me.

Zoe met me just outside the gate to their back yard. "Hey, Blanca! Good to see you. I'm so glad you could make it. This way."

A blue barn with white trim stood at the corner of their property, but hadn't been used for animals in a generation. Zoe and Daniel had converted it into a hangout for them, not unlike my tree house. We went through the side door and she led me up to the loft, where Daniel sat on a hay bale, strumming his acoustic guitar.

"You're starting a band," I said, forgetting to use my manners.

Daniel looked up from the strings and smiled, his teeth shining against his dark, sun-tanned skin. "Not technically. We started a band last year. But we want to start playing gigs, and record a demo when school starts. We need more than just covers."

Zoe looked at her older brother, admiration in her eyes, before taking over the conversation. "Word on the street is you're the best with words in Piney Grove. We were…" One more glance toward her big brother, who nodded. "We were wondering if you would write lyrics and not just poetry."

I didn't think it would be so easy to get started on my dream. Getting out of Piney Grove with a ticket written by my songwriting was what I wanted second-most in the world, after a relationship with Lucas. If only the band involved anyone else. But despite his crush on me, Daniel was an easy person to be around. It didn't take any time at all to think through whether I would help them. "Lyrics aren't something I'm looking to expand to from poetry," I said, and their faces fell. I continued. "They're my first love."

"Really?"

"Really. I even brought my lyrics journal with me," I said, grabbing it from my purse. But as I pulled it out and began to flip through it, it became obvious that this would be more difficult than I wanted it to be.

My lyrics were often exaggerated, conglomerates of experience and imagination and what best fit the rhythm and rhyme. There was what happened, what I wish had happened, and what I sort of wished or what had sort of happened, blown out of proportion for better conflict. I could write them in the moment or years later and still remember the emotions I needed to capture. Still, exaggerated or not, Lucas shone off nearly every page, not explicitly, but in almost every song I wrote. Daniel would know this. And if it wasn't bad enough to play songs the girl you like wrote about someone else, I knew perfectly well that Daniel and Lucas had never gotten along.

Zoe moved to look over my shoulder, and I slammed the book closed. "But they're not ready. You're going to have to give me time."

Daniel looked up at me, still sitting on the hay bale and making me feel much taller than I was. His face tensed: lips pursed, eyes narrowed, resignation in the lines of his forehead. If I knew that look at all, he knew exactly why I wouldn't show off my lyrics.

"I'm sorry," I said. "I really am."

Zoe looked back and forth between us. She was fourteen now, ten when Lucas left. She wouldn't have known what our friendship was like—what our relationship was like. Daniel certainly wouldn't have told her, and thirteen-year-olds exclude ten-year-olds on principle. "What's wrong?"

"Blanca has songs," Daniel said after breaking eye contact with me. "Just not any songs for us. I told you this was a bad idea."

"I know you did but you also said it was worth a try because—"

"She's not going to help us, Zoe. We'll have to write our own lyrics."

"I didn't say I wasn't going to help you," I said, moving closer to Daniel, but staying standing. "I said I didn't have anything ready for you. It's There's a difference. Give me time."

"I'm sorry," he said, his tone immediately changing from how he spoke to his sister. "I just thought—"

"It's fine. I should go, though. Nicole and Bailee are waiting."

Zoe turned to me. "I thought you said you didn't have to be there until 7?"

"Let her leave, Zo," Daniel said.

"But our songs—"

"We'll keep playing covers."

"If we're going to send a demo to Nashville by September, then we're going to need something soon. Please Blanca?"

I empathized with her passion for music, so I stopped at a hay bale beneath the one window in the loft. "I'll see what I can find."

She smiled, but not before turning to Daniel for approval. "Thank you."

Even though I left the Sorentos' house early, I went straight to the El Dorado trailer park, where Bailee lived with her mother, Nicole. It was where I met Lucas, where I grew up, where I lived until eighth grade when we began renting one of the houses on the Johnsons' property. So many people I knew never wanted to go back. Lucas hated when I mentioned it, but I liked the place. It was home, and held memories thick as honey. There in the gravel, by the makeshift soccer field, was where I first met Lucas, and we shook hands like grown-ups at four years old. That handshake became a pact, like the magic in storybooks, knotted around us and compelling us toward one another.

Along that chain-link fence in the back, Lucas and I first picked blackberries and brought them home by the bucket. The blackberries on the counter drew Mami out of her nearly catatonic trance. She lost her ghostliness and became more solid as memories erased lines from her face. "Of course!" she had exclaimed in Spanish. "I can make jam for him." Lucas and I and our blackberries—we saved her that day, and blackberries were still the only things that saved her.

In the corner of the trailer park was an open space with dead grass and a few trees that we called our park, an old tire hanging from a strong oak. I climbed into it and it bent under my weight. I loved babysitting Bailee, going to the trailer two away from where I grew up, three from Lucas. Everything in this place belonged to Lucas and me, and beckoned me back whenever I came near it. Our silhouettes chased each other on the hill behind the trailers, daring each other to climb a fence that seemed insurmountable. They looked at me on the tire swing and waved, but moved back to each other, completely immersed in friendship.

I would never miss anything as much as I missed Lucas de Vries.

As seven o'clock neared, I made my way to the pale green trailer where Nicole and Bailee lived. I knocked and Bailee almost immediately opened the door. "Blanca! You're here! I love it when you come. We get pizza for dinner!"

I gave her a hug and moved past her into the small living room. At four and a half, she was getting strong. "I'm always happy to see you too, Bailee." There was something about her that reminded me of Lucas, and the feeling was getting stronger as she got older. Now she was the same age I was when we moved up from California and I first met him, and living in the same place. Wherever we'd been together—the trailer park, the Johnsons' tree house that was now part of my property—shadows of our past selves followed me, and it was like one got stuck inside Bailee.

Nicole joined us in the living area not too long after I arrived. "Blanca. Thanks for coming out tonight."

"I don't mind at all."

Nicole wasn't very old, maybe 30, and she'd lived in the same green trailer for all of the thirteen years I'd known her, first with her parents, and later with her daughter, but never with a boyfriend or a husband. Nicole had skin as dark as mine, but Bailee's was an in-between olive color. Between her light brown hair, a nose like Lucas's, and lips like mine, I'd always thought if I got the chance to marry my soul mate, our children would look like Bailee.

Lucas's parents were soul mates, too. They had everything perfect—fell in love young, never dated anyone else. Pictures from their simple wedding were scattered around their trailer. She wore a loose-fitting ivory dress, and Mr. De Vries was in a button-up shirt and what must have been his nicest pair of jeans. They held each other and looked so proud, so happy. By the time I was eight, I loved spending time in the kitchen while Mrs. De Vries cooked and Lucas played some uninteresting video game in the background. She would tell me stories about how her husband was the only man she ever kissed and how they had always known they wanted to be married and went to the courthouse the day she turned eighteen.

It always seemed so romantic. Whenever she finished telling the story, I would glance behind me into the living room where Lucas was. He would stop the moment he could and grin at me, like he could sense my eyes on him. "Join - maybe, "Come here" or something. "Join me feels stilted for a kid. me, Blanca!" he'd say, and after hearing his mother's stories, I could never refuse. Joining him was all I wanted to do, even then. We'd make it, not be poor like our parents, live in a big house with a white picket fence. We would have so much to hold us together, though all we would need was love.

The time with Bailee passed quickly, eating pizza, reading three of her favorite books four times each, adventuring to Neverland while she took a bath, and soon she was in bed and my favorite part of babysitting began.

I sat at the corner of their blue suede couch, my feet tucked underneath me and my lyrics journal in hand. Here, where the magic of my connection to Lucas was strongest, I would finish my song. It grew dark outside the window and stars peppered the sky as I wrote and thought. It was one of the times when I wished to reach for Lucas's hand beside mine, point him toward the constellations, and remind him which one was ours.

Keep Me From Wishing
By Blanca Olmos, age 17 (summer before senior year)

It’s getting dark outside
And I’m looking at the sky
Searching its splendor, feeling so small
My eyes on the stars, waiting for one to fall

Keep me from wishing on a shooting star
That I could somehow be right where you are
‘Cause while I still believe that miracles come true
No falling star could make sure they do
So keep me from wishing

I can barely count the days
That you’ve been away
But while they keep growing, I’m sure they will be
Only a prelude to our eternity

Keep me from wishing on a shooting star
That I could somehow be right where you are
‘Cause while I still believe that miracles come true
No falling star could make sure they do
So keep me from wishing

It starts with a handshake:
The Muses and the Fates
Pull strings till our stars all align
It’s a fixed destination
We’re like one constellation
Far apart but we stay intertwined

Keep me from wishing on a shooting star
That I could somehow be right where you are
‘Cause while I still believe that miracles come true
It’s up to you to make sure they do
So keep me from wishing

It’s getting dark outside
And I’m looking at the sky…
And nothing could keep me from wishing

I really like this and don't think you need to change much. My only two thoughts: this feels a bit like a religious piece. I may have mentioned this before. Despite teenage pregnancy, "sinned" and quotes from the bible...the overtones feel strong to me, so if this isn't Christian fiction, I'd be inclined to make some changes. Second, this feels mostly about Lucas - he feels like the driving force for Blanca. I know realistically when you're 17 that hormones drive everything, but it feels like she's not her own person. I read the synopsis so I recall where this is going, and I think her finding herself is a good thing...but I'm not sure if this is enough, somehow.

I guess right now it feels like all she wants is Lucas. That even the songwriting is driven by him, not her. I'd also like to see her reflect a little more on what happened that day, especially when she comes to babysit. Her friend is pregnant, a big deal.

So those are my initial thoughts, but overall I think it's a great start, and I definitely would keep reading!  Smiley
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slightlysmall
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« Reply #7 on: October 09, 2016, 05:25:57 PM »

awarwick, thank you!

Violet, love all your suggestions!

With the exception of you feeling like it's too religious, your thoughts are where I'd want a reader's to be at this point. Her lack of attention to Emma in what is obviously a huge situation in her life is a huge issue, and leads to one of her biggest regrets and biggest screw-ups at the 3/4 mark. and Blanca's definitely obsessed with Lucas but I know from experience it probably isn't unrealistically so. The arc of that plot and her change is basically 25% anticipating Lucas's arrival, 25% trying to figure out why things didn't pick up right where she expected them to, 25% getting him to fall in love with her, and 25% picking up the pieces of everything she dropped because of Lucas.

As to the religion, I don't know how to address it. Having grown up slightly less conservatively than Blanca, I still remember filtering every one of my experiences through the right-wing-evangelical lens, and talking to our friends through that same lens. Some now-16-year-olds that I mentored through middle school and their freshman year came to their friends with the same kind of thinking that I grew up with: one was legitimately concerned that her friend was dating a Mormon their freshman year.

Blanca goes on to see how easy it is to break her own morality, so in many ways I think it's important to establish her worldview.
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« Reply #8 on: October 09, 2016, 06:02:29 PM »

I think the added religiousness is a good touch and it definitely helps me know Blanca's character more.


Just my two cents.
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WHITE STAG, an internet phenomenon, has been acquired by St. Martin's Press/Wednesday Books for publication in Winter 2019
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