Friday, November 20, 2009

Chapter 5

Author's Note: I've changed up some character names. Joseph is now Michael. The more I wrote and the more I thought about it, the more I realized his name didn't quite fit his personality. Also, if you have any feedback or criticism, please leave a comment and let me know. Grammar and spelling aren't at the top of my list right now, but plot lines and character analysis are. If you have an suggestions or just want to let me know what you like and don't like, feel free to comment. Thanks! Enjoy.


Michael watched from the backseat in a mixture of shock and awe as a herd of deer leapt across the road in front of the Jeep. He couldn’t believe Jessica had managed to miss all of them. The Jeep’s speed had slowed to a crawl now, and he could see that Jessica was visibly shaking.

“Oh this is INSANE. Why can’t I get a break today?” Jessica shouted. She took a few deep breaths and each time she let them out she forced herself to calm down a bit. She refused to let her nerves show much longer. Today’s emotional assault was quickly draining her already limited patience with the world, and she wasn’t about to let it totally break her down.

“Are you okay?” Michael spat out quickly, running his words together. He was more frazzled by the deer than Jessica had been.

“For the last time, I am FINE. Please stop asking me that,” Jessica snapped back through gritted teeth. She was tired of reassuring him that she was fine, and she sighed for what seemed like the thousandth time today. A nagging thought in the back of her mind told her that she should apologize for snapping at him again, but she ignored it. She started to ask him to either come back into the front seat or at least buckle up if he was going to stay in the back because he was making her a bit nervous, especially after almost sending him through the windshield a few minutes earlier but she was cut off by a rather loud chorus of some overplayed mainstream song that she wished she had never heard of emanating from Michael’s cell phone. He either didn’t hear her or chose to ignore her as he glance at the caller ID and then flipped the phone open to answer it.

“Hey Jake, what’s up?......No, we’re not at the coffee shop anymore, why?......Oh, seriously man? Why would you do that? I got a ride somewhere, you should have called me before you left.”

Jessica could only imagine what the other end of the conversation was like. Judging by what Michael was saying she guessed that Jake, who she vaguely remembered was his brother, had showed up at Rob’s place to pick Michael up only to find the place shut down for the day and the parking lot probably empty. She hated eavesdropping on phone conversations, but there was really no way around it since she was the only other person in the car.

“Well, just hold on a second. Let me figure something out.” He pulled the phone away from his ear, and pressed his thumb over the mouth piece.

“Let me guess,” Jessica started in before he could explain anything. “Jake showed up at Rob’s place expecting you to still be there waiting for a ride, and now you want to know if I’ll drive you back there so you can go home.”

“One out of two isn’t bad, I guess. Almost. He showed up at the coffee shop, but I’m not going to ask you to take me back there.”

“Good, because we’ll be at my house in approximately seven minutes and I’m not turning around now.”

“Would you stop being so snippy and just listen to me for a second? I know it’s already an awkward situation and a lot to ask of you, but would it be okay if Jake came over too? He was staying at our grandparent’s house and they lost power so they packed up and they’re driving upstate to our aunt and uncle’s house tonight. And our parents are out of town, and he doesn’t have a spare key so he can’t really go home.”

Jessica thought about it for a few seconds. She had never met Jake, and before today didn’t know Michael existed. It’s not really going to hurt anything if he does. You’ve pretty much skipped over most of the awkward first date scenarios in the last few hours with Michael so there isn’t much left to make things really uncomfortable. And you could use the company, and maybe the extra help, if the power goes out. Plus it’ll keep the dogs occupied for a while, anyway.

“Um, yeah. I guess that’s fine.”

“Great,” he said and put the phone back up to his ear. “Jake?...Yeah, that’ll be fine. Start heading east on Main Street toward the park. Take a left -”

“Wait. What kind of car does he drive?” Jessica broke in, and Michael over looked at her.

“A truck that’s about the size of your tank here. Why?”

“Never mind. If it was something small I would have told him to take another route because this road hasn’t been driven on except for us, but he’ll be fine.”

“Right. Jake? Yeah. Sorry. So take a left when you get to the end of Main Street and follow the road through the park.”

“Tell him to watch out for deer,” Jessica interjected again.

“Oh. Yeah. Make sure you keep an eye out for deer, I guess. Call me when you’re almost through the park, okay? See ya then.” He hung up the phone as they pulled up to the stop light at the end of the park road and Jessica eased down on the brake as they got closer to the intersection’s red light. They stopped at the red light and Jessica turned around to Michael in the back seat again, who had discovered the bag of books Jessica had bought earlier today during the break between her morning classes.

“Can you do me a favor? I don’t care if you stay in the back seat, but either way I want you to put your seat belt on. If we have another deer incident and you end up through the windshield, that’s your fault and not mine.”

“Technically, I don’t have to. There’s no law that says back seat passengers have to have a seat belt on.” Michael said, contradicting his statement as he latched the seatbelt around his waist.

“I don’t care what the law is, you’re in my car so you abide by my rules. I say I want your seat belt on, so put it on unless you want to walk the rest of the way.” She twisted back around to the front and waited rather impatiently for the light to turn green. She was starting to regret offering to let Michael come with her, but wasn’t about to leave him stranded anywhere. I hope Jake is more manageable than he is. I don’t think I can take two of them. Realizing that they had never successfully hooked up her iPod, she yanked the auxiliary cable out of its port on the dashboard and punched the CD button with her index finger. It was pointless to try to mess with the iPod now, as they’d be home in a few minutes. She relaxed a bit when the familiar, soothing strains of music started to fill the empty silence in the car.

“On an ocean full of gravel,
In the middle of the night.
We were all there together,
All dressed up in the headlights
Of the little blue pick up with the stereo loud
We danced to the music of the band from the bar
And we knew, we knew.
We knew this was the start
This was the start of the fall.”

“This guy is really into the depressing kind of stuff, isn’t he?” Michael observed rather unnecessarily from the back seat. Jessica glanced up to look in her rearview mirror at him, only to see that he was absently flipping through one of the books she had bought earlier that day.

“So what if it is? We just went over this. My car, my rules, my music,” she retorted. She was starting to get sick of his downer attitude and criticism. There wasn’t any reason for it, and she was starting to wish she had taken him back to the coffee shop with his brother.

“I’m just saying. He has a pretty bleak outlook on things, and everything has been about love. There’s more to the world than that,” he said.

“Look, does it really matter? We’ll be in my driveway in roughly 30 seconds and then you won’t have to listen to it anymore. While we’re being blunt, if you’re going to be like this all night we’re going to have problems. I don’t take well to annoying people,” she said as she slowed down to turn into the winding driveway. Her response seemed to work to shut him up, as he didn’t spit back an attempt at a witty remark, but instead continued to lazily flip through another book. She was quickly becoming unimpressed with Michael. He had come across as pretty reasonable earlier today and the jab at Twilight when she was clearing off the car had eased her mind a bit more, but it seemed that the more they drove the worse he got. He’s starting to prove that he’s a decent match for Vanessa. Apparently I was wrong about that. She had momentarily forgotten about the small dip at the end of the driveway and had to jab at the gas pedal to get through it, but thankfully that was the only problem she encountered as she made her way up to the house. The driveway was nearly a quarter of a mile long, which in the city seemed like an unnecessary length but out on the edges of town was a fairly common occurrence. Jessica, for one, was extremely happy to live this far out in the country, and by the park. When she had lived in LA they lived on the outer edges of the center of the city, which meant that while they weren’t crammed into a tiny apartment or studio loft they still didn’t have a ton of room outside. Sure, their property had been one of the biggest lots in their area, but compared to her aunt’s house that she lived in now it was quite small. One day a few years ago while she was incredibly bored, she had done the math to figure out that approximately twelve and a half of her old property would fit on her aunt’s lot.

She hit the large button on the garage door opener attached to her visor with her thumb as they pulled up to the edge of the house. Normally she would park in the garage, but with the possibility of losing power later due to the continuous storm she would rather dig the car out of the snow instead of getting it stuck in the garage and having to deal with the fiasco that would entail manually detaching the opening contraption from the door in order to accomplish anything. Pulling up so there was about four feet between her front bumper and where the door would be when it closed she put the car in park and turned the engine off. The last few bars of the song that Michael had labeled as ‘hopelessly depressing’ a few moments ago faded out as she opened the door, unbuckled her seat belt, and slid out into the ever falling snow.

“Woah.” She had to grab the still open door to steady herself as to not fall face first into the drift that had gathered at the edge of the garage. Apparently the snow had accumulated a lot more out here because she drift she was now standing in was up to her knees, as opposed to the ones back at Rob’s place that were between ankle and mid-calf height. That’s going to be fun later, she thought as she eyed the gigantic snow plow attached to their lawn mower that was parked in the corner of the garage, even though she would probably wait until morning to even start to make an attempt at clearing off the driveway. Struggling a bit with walking she worked her way to the back door to collect her stuff when she heard a soft thud and some muffled cursing coming from the opposite side of the car.

“By the way,” she called over the car, “the snow is a lot deeper out here.”

“Thanks. I actually managed to figure that one out for myself, strangely enough.” Michael appeared in front of her as he opened the door on his side of the car. She just shrugged as he gave her a slightly dirty look. That’s what you get for being an insufferable jerk, I suppose. She was a big believer in karma, and she just hoped something didn’t come back to haunt her from her mental commentary today. She reached in and pulled her bag toward her before picking it up and hitching it over her shoulder. It felt a lot heavier than it had when they had left Rob’s place, but she decided to chalk that up to the fact that all of its weight was on the shoulder she had used to bust open the doors earlier. She hadn’t realized how sore her shoulder actually was until just now. Still clutching her keys in her hand, she made her way around the front of the car and into the garage. Michael followed behind her to the small set of steps that lead up from the garage into the house. Even though the heat had been on the entire way home, her hands were still freezing and she kept up today’s theme of fumbling with the keys as she tried to find the right one to open the door that lead into the house.

“What’s the point of locking the door if the garage is closed?” he interjected from behind her.

“Because the back door to the garage doesn’t lock most of the time,” she said as she rolled her eyes for what seemed like the hundredth time that day and jerked her head toward the back corner of the garage where the aforementioned door was. She finally found the right key and shoved it into the lock with a bit more force than was really required and twisted it. She was relieved when it turned without sticking, and before she pushed it open she turned around to issue a quick warning to Michael.

“Just so you know, the dogs are probably going to bust out of the door as soon as I open, so you might want to stand to the side unless you want to get knocked over,” she said and barely gave him a second to get out of the way before she easily popped the door open with her hip. Just as she had warned would happen, all four of her dogs burst through the doorway before she even had the door half open. Three of the four completely skipped the stairs as they leapt down to get out of the house. The fourth, who was also the smallest being a corgi with short little legs, had to hit a few of the steps as she bounded after the rest. “Come on. If you get inside before they realize you’re here you’ll probably be safer. They tend to be a bit calmer about new people once they’re actually in the house.”

Michael scaled the set of four steps in two strides and squeezed past Jessica into the house. She shut the door behind them and flicked one of the light switches that was on the wall next to the door revealing the slightly cluttered mud room they were now standing in. She pulled off her shoes so she didn’t track snow and mud through the rest of the house, and Michael followed suit. He started to set them on the ground by the door but Jessica stopped him before he even got close to the ground.

“I wouldn’t do that. I can bet at least one of the dogs will make off with one, or both, of your shoes if you leave them there and you’ll never get them back. You can put them and the rest of your stuff in my room if you want, it’ll be safer there.”

“Okay,” he said elongating the word, and sounding as if he didn’t believe what she was saying.

“Just trust me,” she said over her shoulder as she walked past the open linen cabinet and disappeared around the corner into the kitchen which lead to the main part of the house. Michael followed her lead again, but was a bit too slow and rounded the corner too late to see where she had gone next.

“Jessica?” he called through the silent house. Instead of a verbal response he heard a thud from some where over his head, and he realized that he hadn’t noticed until now that the house had multiple stories. He had been too wrapped up in flipping through the bag of books that had been in Jessica’s back seat when they pulled up to the house to notice anything about the house itself. While he had been pondering the idea of where she had wandered off to, Jessica had silently re-appeared behind him and didn’t bother to make her presence known. She took the opportunity to let him stand there, still confused as she walked back around through the kitchen so she could properly re-appear in front of him. She might have been slightly annoyed with him, but that didn’t mean she was going to purposely, or even unintentionally, scare him. She had a habit of moving silently even when she didn’t try to, especially when she didn’t have shoes on. Her aunt Sarah claimed she was part ninja, but didn’t know where she got it from because both of her parents were the loudest people she knew when it came to walking.

“Hey,” she said as she came around a corner at the front of the house. “Come with me, you can put your stuff upstairs. I have to call Rob and Sarah to let them know we got home fine, but go ahead and make yourself comfortable in the living room or library if you want.”

Michael followed her through the hallway that connected the kitchen to the front foyer, taking a second to observe his surroundings. The house was huge, there was no doubt about that. It probably could easily rival some of the houses on the North end of town where some of the more wealthy families lived, like Vanessa’s family. There was a massive staircase at the back of the fairly large entrance hall that they started to climb, and Michael continued to take in his surroundings. Jessica’s family definitely had a lot of money, that was quite obvious from the sheer size of the house and property, and it was only emphasized by the elaborate, and slightly eccentric, decor that adorned nearly every spare square inch of wall and table space. The more he looked around as the neared the second floor, the more amazed he was that Jessica was as down-to-earth as she was. He had spent his fair share of time with Vanessa’s family and friends of Vanessa’s that probably had underground dragon guarded vaults filled with money, and they were absolutely clueless about the world around them and people who didn’t have as much money as they did.

“Here we go,” Jessica said, bringing him back to reality. “Go ahead and put whatever you don’t want the dogs to get ahold of in here. They won’t bother your books or anything but your shoes, coat, and keys are fair game if they find them.” She opened the door in front of her to reveal a bedroom that rivaled the front entrance hall in both size and decor. At a quick glance, Michael guessed her room was roughly the size of the entire coffee shop they had been at earlier. There was a king-sized four poster canopy bed centered on the wall to his right flanked by two enormous bookshelves that were packed to capacity with everything from used textbooks to hard cover copies of new release books. He set his shoes down on the ground just inside the door and discovered that what looked like wall-to-wall carpeting at first glance was actually an area rug that covered most of the floor on the front half of the room, leaving about 8 inches between the edge of the rug and the wall. He balled up his coat and dropped it down next to his shoes before bending down to set his bag down with his growing pile of stuff. Jessica had crossed the room and was perched on the edge of a desk that had a few more piles of well-worn books spaced around the edges with the phone base cradled in her lap, receiver in hand as she quickly punched in the number.

“Hey Rob, it’s Jessica.” Her voice carried across the room in a soft whisper. He couldn’t tell if she was just speaking quietly or if the acoustics in the room were just really bad. “Yeah, we’re fine. No problems here just yet......Yeah, the power is still on......No, I haven’t checked that yet......Well, I’m going to call Sarah first, and then double check the generator just to be safe......Yeah. It should be fine...” Michael let her voice fade out as he continued to dig through his bag for various supplies. He stood up as she hung up the phone and hopped off the desk.

“Alright. Ready?” she asked as she crossed the room, stopping just short of the door.

“Yeah. You said my bag and books will be okay with the dogs if I take it back downstairs, right?”

“Absolutely. They know not to touch books of any kind, and they’ve never given us any issues with backpacks or anything like that.”

“Okay good. I’m just gonna take the whole bag back downstairs then. I’ve got a lot of stuff to work on in my portfolio, and it’d just be easier to have everything down there and not have to run back and forth up the stairs every time I need something.”

“Sounds good. There’s a couple of pretty big tables in the library, you can take over one of those if you want. I think we still have the studio table Sarah used to use set up in there too, if you want that instead,” she said as she walked out of the room ahead of him. She waited just outside for him to follow her out before she reached back and closed the door behind them. As they walked back down the hallway toward the staircase Michael did a quick mental tally of the doors in front of them and came up with a total of 7, not counting the ones behind them down the other end of the hallway. He still couldn’t get over how much the house reminded him of the obscenely large houses in Vanessa’s neighborhood but at the same time felt like it was a cozy townhouse nestled on one of the side streets in the center of town. Half-way down the staircase Michael’s phone started to ring again.

“It’s Jake,” he said to Jessica, who was quite aware of who it was even without looking at the phone. “Hey Jake. Where you at?”

It took a lot of self control for Jessica to not visibly cringe at that last statement. Doesn’t anyone speak in complete sentences anymore? For the love of -

“Alright, he’s through the park. What now?” Michael asked with the phone still pressed to his ear.

“Here, let me talk to him,” she said as she stopped on the stairs and turned around to reach for the phone. Michael handed it to her, and she brought it up to her ear.

“Hey Jake, this is Jessica. Are you still at the first intersection at the edge of the park?”

“Yeah, I’m sitting at the light still. What next?” came the unfamiliar voice through the receiver. It caught her a bit off guard. Since they were brothers, she expected Jake to sound a lot like Michael: a bit whiney and argumentative.

“O - okay,” she stuttered, trying to regain a bit of composure. “I would almost bet there haven’t been any other cars on the road leading out here, so you can probably just follow the tire tracks all the way here. Go straight through the light you’re at now, and then turn right at the next intersection, which is Sarasota and Prince Street. You’ll be turning on to Prince.”

“Straight, then right on Prince. Okay,” he repeated the directions back to her.

“Once you turn right, my street is about a mile from the light. You wont hit any more lights after you turn, so keep an eye out for it. It’s Carson Lane that you’re looking for, it will be on the left side of the road.”

“Left onto Carson Lane. Got it.”

“After that, just follow the road. I’m almost ninety eight percent sure that no one else on my street has left or come home since we got here, so just follow the tire tracks. If you need it, the house number is 693. There’s a giant navy blue Jeep in the driveway, you’ll see it from the road. It should only take you about 5 or 6 minutes to get here from the intersection you’re at now.”

“693, follow the tracks. Anything else?”

“No, I think that’s it. I don’t know if Michael told you but we do have four dogs. If I can’t get them inside before you get here, don’t worry about them when you pull in. They won’t get in your way, and they’re really friendly.”

“No problem, I love dogs. Alright then. See you guys in a few minutes.”

“See you!” She hung up the phone and handed it back to Michael. “Alright, he’ll be here soon. I’m going to go try to get those idiots inside before he gets here. The library is through those doors right there, make yourself at home.” She pointed to a set of ornate wooden doors to the left of the staircase as they reached the main floor again. Michael looked over to where she pointed and his jaw nearly dropped. Completely baffled at the sight before him, and entirely perplexed as to how he didn’t see the doors when they had passed through the foyer the first time. He stood there, just staring at the massive doors in front of him.

The library itself was a separate wing of the house, taking up the entire side that it was on for all three stories. The doors that flanked the entrance were a dark mahogany color with antiqued gold hardware, including everything from the hinges and the door handles to the studs that highlighted the intricate carvings that ran the entire length of the door. Inside, the first floor was more of a typical study or den than it was a library. There were two giant meeting tables, one on either end of the room, both complete with a set of ten chairs around the perimeter. All of the wood work and furnishings were the same dark mahogany with gold hardware that the doors were, even down to the bookcases and stairway banisters. Both the front and back walls had mirror image floor to ceiling windows on the first two floors, and a wide window on the third floor that stretched the entire width of the wing instead of running floor to ceiling. Jessica’s Aunt Sarah had wanted the windows on the third floor to be floor to ceiling as well, but no matter what she did she couldn’t get the contractors who built the house to budge because of safety restrictions. So instead she settled on windows that were two and a half feet from both the floor and ceiling but ran the entire length of the wall instead, allowing for wonderful seating areas on both ends. There were two over sized arm chairs that were on either side of a matching over sized couch, all of which were facing the window. The remaining two walls on the top floor of the library had a few scattered bookshelves lined with small leather bound books. Jessica’s Aunt Sarah collected journals, and this is where she kept them. Some of them were her own, and a good portion of them were from members of her family. Sarah had gotten Jessica to start journaling when she had moved to this side of the country and it was a task that quickly became more of a necessity than anything else for her. Jessica had her own bookshelf situated in the corner, right next to the window, of which the top two and a half shelves were completely full of journals of hers that she had accumulated and filled over the past six years. They ranged from the cute, spiral bound notebooks that were always the constant craze of teenage girls to thickly bound leather editions that rivaled the multiple sets of encyclopedias that were housed down on the first floor. The bottom shelf was filled as well, but instead of journals it was packed with Jessica’s writing. She had volumes of short stories and poetry, and her parents had insisted on getting bound copies of her novels made, even though they weren’t technically published anywhere, so she not only had her finished drafts collected in three ring binders, but a plain hard cover copy of each as well. The second floor of the library was where they kept all of what Jessica’s Aunt Sarah referred to as ‘recreational books’. The walls were lined with with rows and rows and rows of books ranging from the latest installment by James Patterson to cracked and yellowed copies of Chaucer. There was no real rhyme or reason to the way Sarah kept things organized on this floor. Some shelves were kept in alphabetical order, some were sorted by series and some were sorted by collections. For the most part she kept books by the one author in the same general area, although there were always exceptions to the rule. The main floor was where they kept what Jessica considered research books. They had at least four full sets of encyclopedias, a complete set of both biographies and autobiographies of the first 42 presidents and vice presidents, biographies and autobiographies of all of their favorite authors, records and maps of all of the National parks across the country, and atlases detailing every square foot of countries from Italy to Japan to Peru and everything in between. On the wall opposite from the doors leading into the library from the entrance hall was a gigantic wood burning brick fireplace that stretched from floor to ceiling on the first level with an oversized leather sofa and tapestry like floor rug in front of it.

“Hold on, before you go in there let me disable the alarm,” Jessica said as Michael started to move toward the massive doors. She pulled open a small hidden door to the right of the library entrance and tapped in the code she had memorized. She closed the small door and it virtually disappeared into the wall again. There was a loud click that sounded like it came from inside the doors themselves, followed by a series of three short beeps and two longer ones which let her know that the alarm was finally disabled. “Okay, go ahead. Sorry, I almost forgot about that.”

“You guys are pretty serious about your books, aren’t you?” Michael remarked. “I mean, you don’t have an alarm system on the rest of the house but you do for the library?”

“Wait until you see the inside. You’ll understand why,” she said, and moved in front of him to open the doors. Jessica was insanely proud of their library, and she usually made a point to make sure that everyone that came over saw it at least once. Taking advantage of the fact that Michael was quite obviously impressed with the house so far she turned both door handles and pushed both of the doors open at the same time, allowing for an overly dramatic reveal of the contents inside. She stepped over the threshold and turned around to face him. “Here it is. Take your pick of tables. The front one usually gets more light, and I think the studio table is tucked behind the bookshelf to the right of the front window. Make yourself comfortable, I have to get the dogs in before Jake gets here.”

“O...okay...” Michael said, letting his words trail off. He was literally speechless and awe struck at the sight before him. He took a few steps inside and just stood there, taking in everything around him. He was so enthralled with the library that he didn’t notice Jessica walk up beside him and stand with him.

“Pretty impressive, isn’t it?” She said softly which cause Michael to jump as she startled him. She laughed a bit at that. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to scare you. I’m going to go get something to drink before I get started on my portfolio, do you want anything?”

“Uh, water. Water would be good for now, thanks,” he said as he turned to his left to look at her as he said that.

“Okay,” she said, and before she could continue she was interrupted by the dogs barking and running through the house to the front window in the living room which was across the entrance hall from the library.

“I’ll take that as a sign that Jake is here,” she said and turned around and quickly walked to the front door. She cracked it open to see what the commotion outside was, and watched as an enormous black pick up truck turning into the driveway. She shoved her feet into a pair of boots that were sitting by the front door and stepped outside to greet the new comer as he pulled up behind her Jeep. Making sure to close the door behind her so the dogs didn’t follow her outside, she carefully walked down the steps that lead to the sidewalk and made her way toward the driveway. She hadn’t bothered to put a coat on this time since she figured she would only be outside for a minute or so, but she was regretting it already because the wind had picked up a bit and it was quite chilly. She folded her arms across her chest and hunched her shoulders a bit as she picked up the pace and hurried to the end of the sidewalk. The driver’s side door opened and she could see someone step down out of it.

“Watch out for the snow bank on that side! The snow’s pretty deep over there” she called over the truck as she walked around the front of it. A hand reached out around the edge of the door and grabbed it to swing it shut, revealing Jake standing knee deep in the snow.

“You must be Jessica,” he said as she came around the front corner of the truck. He had a back pack slung over one shoulder and one hand shoved in his coat pocket and was the exact opposite of what Jessica expected him to be. Even though Michael was basically a poster child for a typical art student, she expected Jake to have a bit of a family resemblance at first glance but there was none. While Michael had shaggy black hair that was always in his eyes, Jake had longer light brown hair seemed to easily be swept out of his face with a quick flick of his head. Jake stood about a head taller than Michael did, Jessica guessed about six feet to Michael’s five and a half feet, and was built like he was made to play every sport you could imagine while Michael looked like a strong wind would send him flying through the air. He held out his hand and said, “Hi, I’m Jake.”

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Chapter 4


One thing that Jessica had noticed about the winters in Vermont over the last six years was that the weather was highly unpredictable. Like now, for example. In the minute and a half they had spent in the car, the snow had almost completely stopped. She noticed this when she had slid out of the car and nearly tumbled into the snow bank that had piled up around her car while she had been inside Rob’s place.

“Finally,” she said looking up toward the sky with a small smile. As much as she loved the snow, she hadn’t been looking forward to navigating the winding roads that lead to her house once they reached the outskirts of the small town. The sky had lightened up a bit as well, and she could actually clearly see the buildings across the road, and the cars trying to make their way through the deep trenches that had been plowed by the tires of some of the larger vehicles. Noticing that Joseph was still searching for the ice scraper in the back seat, Jessica climbed back up in to the driver’s seat to help him.

“Y’know, if it’d be easier you can actually go into the back seat. There’s nothing back there that’s going to bite you,” she said with a hint of sarcasm in her voice.

“What are you -” Joseph started to say as he leaned back into his seat, but was interrupted by Jessica tumbling over the arm rest between the two front seats and into the back. Within seconds she produced the elusive ice scraper, and dropped it onto the seat next to Joseph. He watched as she disappeared again, this time over the back seat and into the trunk space where she returned with what he assumed was the snow brush she was referring to earlier. The brush was actually a piece of industrial grade styrofoam about eighteen inches long by nine niches wide attached to a broom handle. Wedging the handle between the head rest and the body of the drivers seat, Jessica clambered back into the front seat and almost fell into Joseph’s lap. Catching her balance, she slid out of the car again before she found herself in another awkward situation.

“Alright,” she said, leaning back in to the car to grab the broom handle contraption. “I’m going to clear off as much of the snow as I can, can you follow behind and get started on the ice while I try to open the back two doors?”

“Uh, sure. What -”

“Thanks,” Jessica said, and disappeared out of sight toward the back end of the car before he could finish his sentence. Joseph followed her lead and stepped out of the car, and promptly fell into a snow drift. He hadn’t realized how high the car sat when he had gotten into it, but was well aware of it now that he was laying face down in a pile of snow.

“I know snow is enjoyable and all, but this really isn’t the time to be making snow angels.”

Joseph rolled over to see Jessica standing over him, her gloved hand outstretched to help him up. He took her hand and pulled himself up, and quickly brushed the excess snow off of him.

“Sorry. Believe it or not, that was actually unintentional,” he said. He looked over at the car, which was now nearly cleared off, and got a good look at just how big it really was. Glancing back at Jessica, he made a small connection in his mind that he was pretty sure would annoy her, even though he didn’t know her very well. The tiny powerhouse driving the massive jeep reminded him vaguely of a fictional vampire family and judging by the little time he had spent with her, he could venture a guess that she wasn’t a fan of sparkly, immortal, self-proclaimed vegetarians. “I wasn’t aware your name was really Alice.”

“Oh please. Everyone who’s read the books or seen the movies knows that Emmett drives the Jeep. Get your facts right,” she snapped back, cocking her head to the side and grinning at him. “And please tell me that was a jab at the series, not an honest reference because you like them. Because if that’s the case, you can walk home.”

“Hell no. I know more about those stupid books than I ever wanted to, only because Tessa is obsessed with them. And by obsessed, I mean for Halloween she bought me a wig and gold colored contacts.” He shook his head at the disgusting memory.

“Sadly, I can totally believe that. Now come on. I want to get home sometime before midnight.” She stepped up onto the running board, grabbing the luggage rack on top to keep her balance, and heaved the snow brush up to the roof to finish clearing the top of the car off. Seeing what was coming, Joseph scrambled out of the way just in time as a pile of snow landed right where he had been standing a second before. Jessica hopped down and moved around Joseph to the front of the car to clear off the windshield and the hood of the Jeep. Joseph replaced her spot at the side of the car and within a few minutes they finally had the car cleared off.

“Alright. Nice team work,” she said. “Now for the fun part. I want to get the back doors and the trunk open before we take off, just to be safe.”

“Just to be safe? You weren’t planning on crashing, were you?”

“No, smart ass. Just get in the car, okay?”

She propped the giant brush on her shoulder and maneuvered through the piles of snow that had accumulated from clearing off the car and made her way back to the driver’s side. Pushing the brush handle in first, she gave it a light shove and it landed with a quiet thud in the trunk space, and she proceeded to climb back into her seat.

“Where do you want the ice scraper?” Joseph asked as he climbed in as well.

“Just set it on the ground back here. Actually, I need you to do me a favor. In one of the small pockets on the front of my bag is the lighter. We’re probably going to need that for the back hatch, if you could get that out for me that would be great,” She said as she situated herself against the door, ready to bust it open like she had done to her own door earlier.

“Are you sure...” Joseph trailed off, deciding it was better not to finish his sentence as Jessica gave him a skeptical look. He was going to ask if she was sure it was a good idea to throw herself at the door again, but figured the good idea was to actually not even think about it. He was getting the impression Jessica was a lot tougher than she looked, both physically and mentally. Her quick wit about his Twilight remark earlier had actually impressed him.

“Yes, I’m sure.” Jessica said, and quickly emphasized her point by pulling up on the door handle, leaning back and throwing her shoulder against the door, which popped open quite easily. She reached out and closed the door, then opened it again and shut it just to make sure before she shimmied across the seat to the opposite door which opened just as easily.

“Alright, so what’s the plan for the back door?” Joseph asked, reaching down to find the lighter in Jessica’s bag.

“Well, actually, I’m just going to try to open it from the outside using the handle. If that doesn’t work, then I’ll try the lighter and kick boxing method and see what happens.” She opened the door closest to her again and hopped out, quickly dropping out of sight as she shut it behind her. Joseph watched through the back window as she reappeared in his line of vision, and took notice of the fact that despite his initial impression of her from earlier today, she really could take care of herself. He hadn’t done much in the way of helping clear the snow off of the car or opening the rest of the doors, that had all been her. His train of thought was abruptly stopped at a burst of cold air that hit him as Jessica managed to wrench open the back hatch of the Jeep. Slamming it shut again, she bounded around the car and hopped up into the driver’s seat.

“Alright. Time to go. I don’t want to be stuck out here any longer than we need to, and my hands are freezing now.” She reached down to her side to grab the seatbelt and buckle it, and when she looked up and out the windshield she saw that it had started snowing heavily again.

“Wonderful. I can’t get a break today,” she sighed, sarcasm dripping from every syllable as she spoke. She waited until they were both buckled in, adjusted the gear shift into reverse and slowly backed out of the almost non-existent parking spot her car had inhabited for the last few hours. Easing around the row of trees that separated the parking lot from the main road she pulled up to the stop sign at the exit of the parking lot and waited for what looked like a run down Escort to make its way past the driveway.

“Oh man. I’d really hate to be them,” Joseph said as he watched the car carefully amble down the road in the wake of a large truck that had passed a few seconds before.

“Yeah, well be thankful we’re not. Summer’s never failed me in a storm before, and I have faith she won’t do it now either.” She glanced both ways again, not wanting to pull out in front of anyone in these conditions. She took her foot off of the brake and the car eased forward a bit before stopping.

“Looks like you spoke too soon.”

“Oh no. I didn’t. Hold on, just in case.” Jessica put her foot back on the brake and geared into her four wheel drive, checked the road again, and floored the gas pedal. The Jeep lurched forward into the road and Jessica expertly steered it into the general location of where she assumed the lane was. Judging by the way the tire tracks in the road swerved, no one was really sure where the road ended and the sidewalk began. She did her best to follow the general idea of where she should keep the car aimed, which really wasn’t too hard considering she’d made this same drive nearly every day since she had moved to Vermont. Once she was comfortable with where the car was going she jabbed at the power button on the radio and quickly flicked the volume knob down. She couldn’t remember what she had been listening to when she arrived at Rob’s place, and knowing her luck it would be something slightly embarrassing. To her somewhat relief, the all too familiar soothing voice of her favorite male vocalist started to softly fill the car, and she couldn’t help but smile when the song that was playing registered in her ears. It wasn’t what most people would classify as a happy song, but the beautifully haunting melody and acoustic guitar and piano accompaniment always relaxed her and made her feel a bit better regardless of the situation she was in. She reached forward again and flicked the volume knob back up to it’s original setting.

And every time I have to wake
I come to terms with my actual fate
That the only thing lying next to me
Is a couple books and a pile of CDs.
I open my eyes and begin to return from
Either the past or the future that could have been
Even though it’s been almost a year now
It’s like you’ve left me all over again.

“Wow. That’s almost depressing,” Joseph observed out loud. “I like it, but it’s depressing.”

“It’s wonderful, is what it is. All of his music is like that, even the more upbeat songs. I don’t think I’ve ever heard him sing something that couldn’t be interpreted as a love song, no matter what the content is. Here, listen to this.” She punched the next track button a few times to get to the song she was looking for.

Salinger says that fame is only ego,
And if you want to be important then you never really will.
And F. Scott says that unrequited love will
Tear you up from the inside ‘til there’s close to nothing left.
So don’t wait and God don’t pine,
‘Cause in the end it’s just a distant line.

Shakespeare says that we’ve only got two options,
It’s either everyone gets married or everybody dies.
And God says that we need to love our neighbors
Even when they try to hurt us we just turn the other cheek.
So don’t try to make things square
‘Cause being good ain’t about being fair.

And I say that I think you’re really pretty
And I like in the June time when you wear that summer dress
And I say that I wish that I could dance
Cheek to cheek and heart to heart with you in the middle of your room
Because darlin’ I love you so
Even though I let you go
And I wish you would ask me one more time
So I could tell you that I want you for my own.

They sat in silence for a moment as the song faded out, and Jessica did her best to focus on the road ahead of her.

“I really feel like that should have been a happy song. But it’s not, is it?” Joseph asked, breaking the comfortable silence. That was the second time today they had fallen into that feeling, which was quite strange for Jessica. Her life usually consisted of awkward silences and even more awkward encounters with strangers.

“Not entirely. I mean, depending on how you look at it, it really could be either. It’s definitely a love song, no doubt about that. You could listen to it as someone who’s remembering the past and wishing they could have a second chance to prove something they couldn’t manage the first time around. Or, you could listen to it as someone who is completely happy with their relationship but is missing their partner because of distance or something like that,” she explained. She took a split second chance to take her eyes off the road and glanced over to see what kind of expression Joseph had on his face. She was relieved to see he was actually thinking about what she had said, or at least it looked like he was. She was pretty good at reading facial expressions and body language and she hoped she was right.

“Here, try this one. It’s not as much thinking,” she said and punched the button to switch tracks again.

If I wrote a song,
It would be a song to tell you that I love you.
And If I wrote a play,
It would be a comedy so I could marry you.
If I wrote a movie I would end it with a kiss,
The camera spinning three sixty degrees around our lips and
It would be a happy ending.

There’s a brand new ribbon that I bought,
Black as sin with ink.
And these pages that I’ve loaded in,
They are white and they are blank.
So I start to play a record and
I dim down all the lights.
And I sit down at my typewriter,
But I don’t know what to write.

If I wrote a song,
It would be a song to tell you that I love you.
And If I wrote a play,
It would be a comedy so I could marry you.
If I wrote a movie I would end it with a kiss,
The camera spinning three sixty degrees around our lips and
It would be a happy ending.

So I start to write short stories,
Just a page or two for each.
And the plots all start the same,
The boy and girl they meet.
And the middles they are also all the same,
The kids they fall in love.
And I never write the endings.
They kids just fall in love.

When I write a song,
It’s going to be a song to tell you that I love you.
And when I write a play,
It’s going to be a comedy so I can marry you.
When I write a movie I will end it with a kiss,
The camera spinning three sixty degrees around our lips and
It will be a happy ending.

“How’s that? No thinking about it, it’s a straight forward love song,” she said as she turned the volume down a bit, and glanced back over at Joseph to see what he was thinking.

“Yeah, I guess so. It’s a bit twangy for my liking though,” he said with a wide grin as he looked back at her. Jessica quickly averted her eyes back to the road in order to avoid looking directly into his eyes. She was doing okay for now, and didn’t want to risk another mental battle of emotional onslaught. Joseph had started to pick up on the little quirks in her behavior today and because he didn’t know any better he took a chance and called her out on it.

“Okay, I don’t mean to be offensive about this, but why won’t you look at me directly when I’m talking? You keep looking away, and I can’t figure out why,” he said, keeping his eyes locked on the side of her face as she watched the road in front of her. She should have known it was coming at some point. He wasn’t stupid, but she wished he wasn’t also blunt on top of it. Before she could help it, there was a fast mental battle raging in her mind. Well, you could just tell him. But that would bring up a lot of awkward questions. Although you seem to have covered most of the awkward bases today, so it shouldn’t be that bad. But then that would mean trying to talk about Dan while driving in 3 feet of continuous snow. You can’t even sit still and think about him right now so that’s probably a bad idea anyway. You could always make up something. Or tell him half the truth. That’s always an option. That way you’re not lying, and there aren’t any gory details to get into.

“Jessica?” Joseph interrupted her train of thought. “D’you want to talk about anything? I know it’s a bit awkward since I’m basically still a complete stranger, but I’m willing to listen if you want to get anything out.”

“Thanks Dr. Phil, but it’s fine.” Jessica’s natural reaction to things like this was to be sarcastic and cynical. She cringed at her response, and quickly apologized. “Sorry. I didn’t mean it like that,” she sighed.

“It’s okay. If it’s really that big of a deal, don’t worry about it. I was just curious. I’d rather not die on the way to where ever we’re going, so if you don’t want to talk about it then don’t.

“Sorry. Honestly, it’s going to sound a bit random and odd, but basically you remind me a lot of someone I used to be really close with and it keeps freaking me out a bit. There’s nothing you can do about it, so don’t even worry about it,” she explained, being careful to not really disclose any real information. She knew she could probably really trust Joseph, there was just something about him that she felt comfortable with, but delving into anything involving Dan was not a good idea right now. If it came down to it, she might open up about it later. Her family didn’t even know about everything though, so no matter how comfortable she was with Joseph she doubted it would come out any time soon.

“I feel like I should be quoting a song or something here about reminding you of someone, but I can’t even figure it out right now,” he laughed, which made her smile.

“I can think of a few but I’ll let you figure them out,” she said quietly. The combination of the few songs they had listened to along with Joseph’s slight confrontation left her feeling a bit strange, but she tried to brush it off. Concentrating on getting both of them to her house safely and in a decent amount of time required more effort than she really wanted to put out right now.

“Okay, we’re about to approach the point in the day where you’re probably going to label me as a complete nerd if you haven’t already, but I need you to do me a favor,” she said, being careful not to take her eyes off of the road. They had been driving straight on Main Street toward the outer edge of their tiny town, and were about to turn onto a dirt and gravel road that would take them through the corner of the national park that Jessica lived on the other side of. The first curve could be dangerous on a dry day if you weren’t paying close attention and she had seen her fair share of people roll into the ditch on the other side of the road because they weren’t paying enough attention to what they were doing.

“I’m somewhat scared. But okay. What’s up?”

“My iPod is in my bag, along with the auxiliary cable that connects it to the stereo. Can you get those for me? They should be in the top pocket.”

“Uh, sure. Hold on a second.” Joseph turned around in his seat and tried to reach for Jessica’s bag, but ended up losing his balance and flopping rather ungracefully into the back seat instead.

“Well that was impressive. Are you okay?” she asked as she eased the car to a stop at the light before the aforementioned curve into the forest. She switched her left turn signal on and twisted her head back to see if Joseph needed help with anything. He had managed to right himself and was sitting on the seat now with her bag between his feet.

“Yeah, I’m fine. Not everyone has the same mad skills you do to clamber around this monstrosity in a graceful way.”

“You’re just full of it today, aren’t you? I try to be helpful and this is what I get. Thanks,” she shot him a look that was supposed to be a bit intimidating, but ended up just laughing instead.

“Yeah well I do what I can. Here, is this what you wanted?” he asked as she turned around to face the front of the car again.

“If it’s a black iPod touch and a black auxiliary cable with a piece of green tape toward one of the connectors, then yes. But hold onto it for a second, unless you want to die while I try this curve.”

“Not dying today, thanks. I’ll wait.” He sat still in the back seat as she carefully eased off the brake and the car started to roll forward. The road sloped downward slightly, so gravity played a role in getting the car to move this time. There was no need to gun the engine thankfully, which she knew from previous experience would have propelled them directly into the line of trees to their right as she turned. The car was silent as they slowly made the complete turn onto the park road and Joseph could tell Jessica was concentrating far too much on making sure they didn’t roll the car as they made it into the lane she was aiming for. She could feel the tires sliding a bit with the lack of traction on the road even with four wheel drive enabled, and it made her nervous. The first time she ever made this turn during the winter she ended up wedged in the ditch between two trees. Now, any time the weather was even remotely less than ideal she was a bit uneasy taking this route home. Usually she would avoid it, but going around the edge of the park instead of through it added another twenty minutes to her route and in this weather would probably end up being twice that. She slowly guided the car along the curves of the road, paying close attention to where the snow drifts dropped off on either side of the road. No one had driven on this road since the storm had started, it was easy to tell because there were no other tire tracks to follow, and that unnerved her a bit. She had enough practice at this road that she probably could have driven it in her sleep and made it home safely, but she wasn’t a fan of almost blindly navigating through a mini ravine. She released the breath she didn’t realize she had been holding as she straightened the car out around the last part of the curve. Relaxing her grip on the steering wheel, she realized how nervous she had actually been.

“Okay. So about that iPod,” she said, extending her hand back over her shoulder as she kept her eyes forward on the road. She knew from here on out it was a fairly straight path to get out of this corner of the park but she didn’t want to take any chances.

“Oh no way,” Joseph said. “You may be an expert at driving this tank through anything, but I do not want to die before we get to your house. I’ll hook it up for you, and you can tell me what to put on.” He reached out and pushed her hand back toward the steering wheel, and leaned over the console in between the front two seats to find the input plug for the auxiliary cable. Jessica laughed to herself as he searched the dashboard for the tiny hole. She didn’t bother to tell him it wasn’t labeled, and that most people missed it the first seven or so times they looked for it. Letting him struggle for a few moments, she gave in and pointed to the almost invisible black spot by the CD slot.

“That looks like a screw. Does everyone do that, or am I the only dumb one who missed it?” he asked, looking up at her.

“No, hardly anyone finds it the first five times they try to find it. I don’t know why, I’ve never had a problem with it,” she shrugged.

As Joseph reached forward to plug the cable into the dashboard, Jessica caught a slight hint of movement out of the corner of her eye. She glanced over at the tree line, but couldn’t see anything. Figuring it was probably a branch moving with the wind or under the weight of snow she just brushed it off and didn’t give it a second thought and moved her eyes back to the road in front of her.

“Okay, so what do you -” he was cut off by a shriek of surprise from Jessica and the sound of grinding brakes as a massive blur of brown streaked across the road directly in front of the car.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Chapter 3


Walking back to her table, Jessica noticed that Vanessa was nowhere in sight. An involuntary smile crossed her lips at this observation, until she saw that her purse was still at the table Joseph was still hunched over. Oh just LEAVE already. I don’t want to spend time watching you be disgusting and lovey-dovey in public. Ugh. Jessica sat back down at her own table, readjusting her work station so she was on the same side Vanessa would be so that it would be harder for Vanessa to glare and smirk inconspicuously at her. She ran her finger across the trackpad to disengage the screen saver and re-opened the portfolio folder on her external hard drive. Realizing she hadn’t connected her wireless mouse yet, she dug into her bag for that before starting on her work. Before long she was immersed in the Everest sized pile of projects she had to finish before Monday morning. Thankfully it was only Friday afternoon, so she had all weekend to finish which was more than enough time for the necessary requirements. She would probably do more than what was required of her, because that’s just what Jessica did. She always tried to pull it off as needing more practice with certain techniques, but deep down she really just liked doing the extra work.

Before she left LA, Jessica’s main focus wasn’t her grades. She was more concerned with writing and her other extra-curricular activities. Her grades certainly didn’t suck, they were mostly high B’s and A’s, and she knew she could do better. She just didn’t. When she started school in Vermont, she threw herself into studying. Academics came really easy for her, and she didn’t need to put forth much effort to excel in her classes. She dropped most of her extra-curriculars as well, partially because her new high school didn’t offer some of the same clubs she was a part of back home, but mainly because she wanted as fresh of a start as possible. She wanted absolutely nothing to remind her of the mistakes she left behind in California, and did everything possible to avoid memories and little reminders of her previous life.

Jessica was putting the finishing touches on her fourth of ten design projects required when sudden movement to her right caught her eye. She glanced up just in time to watch Vanessa trip as she tried to sit down in the chair opposite Joseph. The cup full of coffee fell out of her hand as she reached out to catch her fall and splashed all over the table, completely soaking not only Vanessa’s books but Joseph’s sketch book and extra notepad as well.

“Shit! Tessa, what the hell?” Joseph yelled, jumping up to try to save the drawings he had been diligently working on for the last hour or so.

“Ohmygosh I’m so sorry!” Vanessa squeaked. She picked up the now empty cup and looked around for some kind of help, almost like she expected someone to clean up the mess for her. “What are you looking at Roberts?” she sneered. “Could you make yourself useful and find something to clean this up with, at least?”

Jessica sighed, and against her better judgement went behind the counter and grabbed a few towels, came back and held them out to Vanessa so she could take care of her little mis-hap.

“Why are you handing those to me? It’s your job to clean that up, I don’t work here,” Vanessa scoffed.

“Neither do I Vanessa,” Jessica shot back. “And even if I did, you’re the one that spilled the coffee. Your mess, you get to clean it up,” she said, dropping the towels on the table. “When you’re done, you can just set them on the end of the counter.”

“It’s Tessa,” she growled through clenched teeth, and shoved her hand into the pile of towels on the table.

“Seriously, Tessa. This entire book is ruined now,” Joseph shouted, brandishing the freshly soaked sketch book in her face. “Brand new, and I’ve spent the majority of today working on my portfolio pieces in here. Not only do I have to buy a new book, but I also have to re-draw everything that was in here.” He tossed the book onto a dry corner of the table where it landed with a squishy thud. “The least you could do is stop throwing a tantrum about cleaning it up, and take some responsibility for it.”

“Joey...” she whined, cocking her head to the side. Jessica had known Vanessa for long enough that she knew exactly where this was going. Vanessa would whine and play the innocent victim, and like always she would get away with whatever ridiculous scheme or escapade she was currently wrapped up in.

“No, Tessa. Just clean it up and stop whining about it. I’m going next door and getting a new book,” Joseph said, interrupting her. He turned and stormed out of the shop, leaving Vanessa standing next to the coffee spill and mess of towels with a completely dumbfounded look on her face. Jessica did her best to hide a snort of laughter, covering it up by gulping down the last of her own coffee. Unbelievable. How does she get matched up with the one person in the world, besides me, who’s immune to her temper tantrum antics? Jessica smiled to herself, and watched as Vanessa started reluctantly wiping the table off. Jessica had the unfortunate opportunity to stay at Vanessa’s house one weekend during their junior year of high school to work on a school project, and she had witnessed first hand that Vanessa literally had everything she could ever want (and more) handed to her. Her parents were the richest people in the state, a fact that Vanessa was sure to let everyone know whenever she could, and she always used it to her full advantage. They had a full service cleaning staff and Vanessa even had her own personal ‘assistant’. Vanessa’s parents forced her to call them assistants around anyone else to be politically correct about the situation and as to not offend anyone, but she usually ignored that and just called everyone who worked for her family maids. It was rather obnoxious, but Jessica did her best to ignore it. Because of that, Jessica knew that Vanessa had probably never cleaned up anything in her life, whether or not it was her own mess or someone else’s. Her clothes were picked up and her laundry was done for her every week, or more frequently when she demanded it. Her meals were quite literally brought to her on a silver platter in her room if she didn’t feel like eating with the rest of her family, and she had never touched a mop. She probably doesn’t even know what a mop is.

Jessica continued to watch Vanessa’s rather sorry attempt to clean off the table, and wasn’t at all surprised when she balled up the coffee-soaked towels and dropped them on Jessica’s table with a contemptuous smirk before slinging her designer purse over her shoulder, picking up her books, and sauntering out the door. I don’t know why I expected anything else from her. I mean, why on earth should she have to clean up her own mess? God forbid she actually be subject to manual labor once in a while. Jessica reached over to pick up the soggy blob of brown stained cloth, which was slowly starting to spread a diluted coffee mess across her table, but thought better of it and instead made her way to the counter to grab the bucket of cleaning supplies Rob kept on the end of the back counter for situations like this. Picking up the bucket, she turned back to her table and saw that Joseph had come back, new sketch book in hand, and was now staring in disbelief at the pile of gross looking towels on Jessica’s table.

“Welcome back,” she greeted him.

“Did she really leave these on your table? I mean, seriously? Please tell me you took them from her before she really embarrassed herself by being completely insensitive and rude,” he said as he tucked the new book into his bag for safe-keeping.

“If you like people lying to you, I’d be happy to tell you exactly that. But I really don’t like liars, and I’m definitely not about to paint this situation in a positive light in favor of Vanessa.” She picked up the wet towels and dropped them into the empty side of the bucket as she said this, unintentionally emphasizing her point even more. She pulled a clean rag out of the soapy water in the other side of the bucket, and quickly wiped off her own table before moving over to Joseph’s table.

“You don’t have to do that. You don’t even really work here, why bother?” He asked as she wrung out the rag and wiped the last bit of the coffee remains off the edge of the table.

“Because I like Rob, and it’s the least I can do for him. I can’t promise him a steady schedule so he won’t actually hire me, but I don’t have to pay for my drinks and I managed to talk him into keeping the chair in the corner. He’s done a lot for me, and he’s kind of taken up the role of my dad since I’ve been here,” she explained quickly. “Besides, you should know there’s no way Vanessa would actually clean this up,” she added with a smirk.

“Makes sense I guess. And I hate to say it, but you’re right about Tessa,” he added with a sad chuckle. “I really can’t believe her sometimes. I mean, I know it was an accident. She tripped, I get it. Whatever. I don’t know what was up with her today though. She usually doesn’t act like that. Real clingy, I mean. She hates ridiculous PDAs, and I can’t remember the last time we even held hands in public. She’s incredibly sweet, well most of the time,” he added quickly at the skeptical look Jessica was giving him.

“Right. Now I know I don’t know you that well, or at all really. But I have known Vanessa for about 6 years. And I know for a fact that she can be extremely territorial, and she always has to have the best of everything, which I’m sure you know by now. I’m not making excuses for her at all, but she has hated me since I moved here. I guess you could say we were friends for the first few weeks I was at school, more like acquaintances really though, but ever since then she’s always treated me that way. That’s just the way Vanessa is. And no, I will not call her Tessa. It’s not a nickname for Vanessa, I don’t care what she tries to tell anyone. It’s dumb. And anyway -” Jessica was fully prepared to launch into a speech detailing some of Vanessa’s less than appealing attributes but was cut off by Rob’s sudden reappearance from somewhere behind the counter.

“Hey kiddo. Look, I hate to do this to ya but I’ve gotta shut down for the day. Been checkin’ the weather reports all afternoon, and this storm is just gonna get worse and worse. There’s an advisory or summin goin’ around sayin’ to stay off the roads at all costs, and I don’t wanna get caught up anything. Nothin’ we can do about it. Are you gonna be okay by yourself tonight?” Rob asked her, casting a quick glance at Joseph as well.

“Yeah, I’ll be fine. Don’t worry about me. Sarah’ll probably just stay at the shelter tonight, it’ll make things easier that way. I don’t blame her, anyway. It’s probably gonna take me an hour to get home, at least,” she said as she looked outside at the continuously darkening sky.

“What about you, Joe? Or is it Joseph? Sorry, I’ve never been too good with names,” Rob chuckled.

“Either is fine, Rob. I’ll be fine. My brother is around town, he can get me home no problem,” Joseph said as he started packing up his supplies and books.

“Are you sure?” Jessica asked, looking up from her bag. “I can give you a ride somewhere, if it’ll help.”

“That might be good, actually. Let me call Jake and see where he is, maybe he can meet us half-way or something,” Joseph said as he reached for his phone.

Jessica closed up her bag and set it on the table, and walked back to the stock room to talk to Rob for a second while Joseph called his brother. She reached to push open the door, which resulted in a shriek of surprise as Rob pulled it open from the other side.

“Sorry, Jess. Didn’t realize you were there,” Rob chuckled. Jessica wasn’t easily scared or freaked out by anything, so when something did happen to set her off and Rob was around for it, he liked to heckle her. “What’re you looking for?”

“You, actually,” Jessica said, taking deep breaths as she held her hand to her chest. “I wanted to ask you what the weather was going to be like for the rest of the night. If the storm is really that bad, there’s a chance we don’t have power at home and I don’t want any surprises when I get there.”

“Well, according to Steph’s station, we ought ta have ‘bout 7 inches on the ground just from today and there’ll probably be another 8 ‘fore midnight. It’s not s’posed to let up until tomorrow morning ‘round eleven. I’d bet my shop your classes get cancelled tomorrow. Both of you,” He added, nodding at Joseph. “And I wouldn’t guarantee you don’t have ‘lectricity at home, but it’ll prolly go out at some point tonight.”

“Awesome,” Jessica said, her voice thick with sarcasm. If they lost power the heater wouldn’t work, and while they did have a fireplace she was horrible at starting a fire in it. “Well, I guess it’s good to know what’s coming. I just hope the pipes don’t freeze. There’s no way that would get fixed in this storm.”

“Hey, Jessica?” Joseph called out from across the shop. Jessica and Rob looked over at him as he shrugged his coat on and walked over. “So Jake, my brother, is at our grandparent’s house, and partially snowed in. They live almost an hour away, and it could take him twice that to get here. I know it’s a ridiculous favor to ask, but is there any chance you could drive me home? It’s about half an hour from here. You can stay with us if it’d help, I’d feel really bad making you drive there and then have to go back home yourself.”

“Well, I have to get home tonight. There’s no question about that. We have 2 dogs that have been alone since about 10am, and my aunt isn’t coming home tonight. Where do you live?” Jessica asked. In the back of her mind, she knew it was almost inevitable that they were going to get stuck somewhere tonight. Normally the situation wouldn’t have been a problem. A bit awkward, yes, but it would have been okay otherwise. She was still a bit shaken up from the surprise of seeing so much of her past in Joseph’s eyes, and her stomach still tingled a bit when he looked directly at her.

“My mom’s house is at the end of Main Street, past where the dirt road starts. My dad’s is up by the news station, the one on Granger Road,” Joseph said, hoping one of the two would be within a vague area of Jessica’s route home. He didn’t want to admit it, but he almost hoped they weren’t.

“Well crap. Both of those are in the complete opposite direction from me, I’m sorry,” Jess said, stopping to think for a second. Accepting the inevitable, she looked up at him and continued. “I know it’s a bit awkward, but why don’t you just come with me? If it lets up at all, I’ll drive you home later. It’s not a problem. My Jeep is good in almost any weather, but I have to get home for the dogs,” she finished. It didn’t usually take a lot for Jessica to offer up her couch to someone, and Joseph was no exception even though he unknowingly made her relive things she had been doing her best to forget for the past 6 years.

“Are you sure? I don’t want to invade -” Joseph started to say, before Jessica interrupted him.

“Yes, it’s fine,” she said, a slight smile on her face. “ Now, come on. Rob’s getting impatient and wants to lock up so he can go hibernate upstairs. Let’s go.”

“You kids are fine, don’ worry,” Rob said, a slight laugh shaking his words. “Just be careful, Jess. I know your Jeep is good fer weather like this, but I’m still gonna be worried ‘bout you. When you get home, gimme a call after you get ahold of Sarah. I don’ want to be worrin’ ‘bout you all night, and you know I will if I don’t hear from ya.”

They said their good-byes, and Rob walked them to the door as they made sure all of their outer layers were secure before venturing out into the storm. Stepping outside, Jessica waved to Rob through the front window as he locked the door behind them. She knew he would be fine, Rob lived in a small apartment over the shop, so he wasn’t going anywhere tonight, but Jessica felt a strange feeling of finality as they turned away from the building and began to forge their way through the snow drifts that had accumulated through out the day. The snow had let up a bit since they both had been outside earlier, and even though it was bitterly cold and they had to trudge through nearly a foot of snow it wasn’t too bad outside. It was still snowing, but they could see where they were going and the wind wasn’t forcing them to hunch over and hide underneath their hoods any more. The pair walked in silence for a bit, but strangely enough it wasn’t an awkward silence. They both seemed comfortable with the surroundings and didn’t seem to mind each other’s company.

“My car’s not too much farther, it’s just down there,” Jessica said, breaking the silence, as she pointed to what seemed like a small speck of black in the distance. “Well, it ought to be a good time digging it out before we can actually get going, anyway,” she said, and groaned slightly when she saw just how much of the car was actually covered in snow. Jessica reached into her pocket for her keys, and felt a sudden rush of panic when they weren’t there. She stopped mid-step and was about to freak out when she remembered that she had shoved them in her bag after the sidewalk collision with Joseph earlier. She began walking again, and started to rummage through her bag to look for her keys in the mess that had accumulated due to today’s events.

“Ha. There you are,” she muttered under her breath as she felt the familiar feel of the lanyard between her fingers, and struggled to unearth the mass of metal and plastic from underneath a book without dropping anything.

“Sorry, what did you say?” Joseph asked, stopping and turning around. He didn’t realize until now that she had fallen behind him, and he waited for her to catch up.

“Oh, nothing,” Jessica said, a bit embarrassed. She had a bad habit of talking to herself, especially when she was looking for something or when she was stressed. Both situations applied to her today which didn’t help matters any. “ I was trying to find my keys. I usually have them in my pocket, but I forgot I threw them in my bag before we left Rob’s.”

“Oh. So you talk to yourself. Good to know,” he smirked, not hiding his grin.

“So what if I do? At least I don’t talk back to myself,” she snapped back, regretting that her usual quick wit was failing her. They had finally reached the car, and she was thankful for an excuse to hide on the other side of the car as she unlocked the doors. With a familiar click, the doors unlocked and they both tried to open the doors. Jessica was highly unimpressed when the handle didn’t budge as she pulled on it.

“Really? Why am I not surprised?” she said, to no one in particular.

“Uh, Jessica?” Joseph’s voice came from the other side of the car.

“Let me guess, your door won’t open?”

“Yeah. Do we have a back up plan?”

“Of course I do. Give me a second.” She dropped her bag onto the pile of snow at her feet, and pulled off her gloves. She started to rummage through the smaller pockets on her bag until she found what she was looking for. Her hand closed around the small plastic lighter she nearly always kept on her. She didn’t smoke, and promised herself she never would, but Rob did and she hung around with enough people who did that she had taken to carrying a lighter around after hearing the words ‘Anyone have a lighter?’ far too many times. On top of aiding the cancer addiction some of her friends had, she had found out the hard way that lighters were something of a necessity for unfreezing locks during the winter. She pushed herself up out of the snow, picked up her bag, and trudged around the back of the car to the passenger door. Joseph gave her a strange look when she appeared empty handed, until she held up the lighter in her hand. His natural instinct was to wrinkle his nose at the sight of a lighter, as he didn’t smoke and was strongly against it, but silently moved out of Jessica’s way as she reached out to try the door handle.

Just as she expected, it didn’t budge. After fumbling with the lighter for a few seconds, she managed to get it to stay lit and held it close to the handle. Paying close attention to make sure she didn’t melt the plastic of the handle, she watched as the ice melted away under the heat of the flame and dripped down the side of the car. After about a minute of careful observation, she let go of the latch on the lighter and tried the handle again. It was a bit warm from the flame, but gave easily under pressure and the door opened with a resounding crack, shattering the rest of the ice that had collected between the door and the body of the car during the storm.

“Ha. Works every time,” Jessica said with a smile, turning around to face Joseph.

“Well, that was slightly impressive. For a second I thought you were going to take a smoke break to think about what to do next,” he said as Jessica rolled her eyes.

“I don’t smoke. Never have, and never will. It’s a disgusting habit, and a poor substitute for relaxation, and as far as I’m concerned there are so many better ways to die instead of inhaling a stick of cancer.”

She reached down for her bag and tucked the lighter safely back inside the pocket it belonged in. Normally she would have opened the back door to put her bag and coat in the back seat if she had someone else riding with her but that would have meant fighting with a frozen handle on one of the back doors, and she was slowly losing patience as the feeling in her feet started to disappear due to the snow. She should have known better by now that Converse were not good shoes for standing in nearly knee-high snow banks, especially the beat up ones she was wearing today. Clutching the bulky bag under one arm she climbed into the passenger seat and let the bag fall into the backseat with a thud. She cringed when she thought of her laptop in the bag but figured it would be okay in its padded case, and since the floor wasn’t concrete and had some give to it the contents of the bag would be fine. Continuing her climb into the car, she twisted around and fell into the driver’s seat, banging her elbow on the steering wheel in the process. Grumbling and cursing under her breath, she adjusted her body so she was sitting properly in the seat and fumbled with her keys to start the car. She had far too many keys and key chains on her lanyard, including her own car keys, her Aunt Sarah’s car keys, keys to their house, shed, and beach house, a spare key to Rob’s place, and a random assortment of keys for various things around the house. Finally getting the familiar feel of the combination of plastic and metal between her fingers, she jammed the key into the ignition and cranked it. The engine took a few tries to turn over, which she hoped was just a factor of the extreme cold. Glancing at the gauges on the dashboard, she noticed that she was going have to stop for gas once they got on the road if they wanted to make it home tonight. She looked over to see that Joseph had managed to climb into the passenger seat and was reaching back to stow his bag in the back seat as well.

“If you don’t mind, there should be an ice scraper and a snow brush in the back somewhere. Can you grab those while I try to open the door?” Jessica asked as she started to work with the door handle again, this time from the inside.

“Uh, yeah. I’ll see what I can find.”

“They’re back there, just get them,” she said. Joseph watched as she wrenched the handle toward her and threw her shoulder against the window.

“Jesus, Jessica! Don’t hurt yourself,” he nearly screamed, clearly freaking out.

“If you want a ride home, find that ice scraper,” she said as she rolled her eyes yet again and clearly ignored the worried look Joseph was giving her. At 5’1” and barely 105 pounds, Jessica’s tiny frame didn’t look like it could handle a lot of abuse but she was pretty tough considering how small she was. Leaning back, she prepped herself for impact again and hurled her body against the door with everything she had. The door burst open with another resounding crack and Jessica had to quickly grab the steering wheel to keep from tumbling out into the snow. She gave Joseph an ‘I told you so’ look, and got out of the car.

“Now, about that ice scraper,” she said almost laughing at his shocked expression.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Chapter 2


An involuntary sound of disgust escaped Jessica’s mouth before she could do anything about it, and even though she was 98% certain it was inaudible over the noise coming from the steamer at the other end of the counter, Vanessa looked up at Jessica as if she had heard her. They locked eyes from across the room, and Vanessa’s narrowed slightly in her own display of their mutual enmity toward each other. In typical Vanessa fashion in order to prove that she was so much better than everyone else in the crowded little cafe, she pulled off her hat and shook out her long hair, letting it cascade down her back before she made her way toward a table. Much to Jessica’s dismay Vanessa approached Joseph’s table, and threw her arms around his neck.

“Joey!” Vanessa squealed in a pitch that was usually reserved for dog whistles and small children as she threw herself into his lap.

Seriously? Jessica rolled her eyes at the disgusting display of affection. She threw her head back and stared at the ceiling, diving back into the one-sided conversation she continuously had in her head with some higher being. Seriously. What did I do? Plaguing me with memories isn’t enough today? You have to throw HER into the mix too? Jessica ducked under the counter to pick up her books, grabbed her bag and threw it over her shoulder before standing back up. Turning around rather quickly, she almost ran straight into Rob who had come up behind her.

“You were nearly collision victim number 3 for the day. I’m on a roll apparently,” she sighed.

“It’s alright Jess. Everyone has those days. Thanks for your help,” he said as they both watched the obnoxious group of college freshman wannabes talk and laugh louder than necessary as they tried to push their way through the door and out into the never-ending blizzard. “I’ll grab your coffee and meet you in the corner, go ahead.”

“Alright. Thanks.” Walking around the end of the counter, she made her way to her chair in the corner. Sinking down into it for the second time today, she came to the unfortunate realization that Vanessa’s insufferable PDA session was directly in her line of sight. Wonderful. Should I just assume this is what the rest of today is going to be like? She thought to no one in particular. Jessica often had one-sided conversations in her head, and lots of unanswered questions floating around as well. It wasn’t that she was crazy or anything, it was just far easier to have silent, private conversations with herself than to converse out loud and endure strange looks from anyone in her immediate surrounding area.

Jessica did her best to avoid eye contact with Vanessa, which was nearly impossible as she was still in Joseph’s lap and his back was to Jessica, which meant that Vanessa was facing her and was free to smirk over his shoulder and gloat in her general direction, which naturally Vanessa was taking every opportunity to do. She hated couples being obnoxious in public normally, and the fact that it was someone she couldn’t stand made it even worse. Jessica wasn’t really a jealous person, especially when it came to relationships and guys. She tended to avoid romantic relationships with guys, and she had a pretty good reason for doing so even though no one but her parents and herself knew what it was. Guys, more specifically one ex-boyfriend, were the reason she had moved across the country in the first place. Of course no one knew that, though. Her parents had told everyone that Jessica wanted to move to Vermont for school, which was partially true. In addition to being an amazing graphics designer, she was also an incredible writer; anything from poetry to research papers, short stories to full length novels, and everything in between. She had actually written 3 full length novels over the last 8 years, although she really didn’t plan on getting them published or doing anything other than letting them sit on the top shelf in her room and collecting dust. During her freshman year of high school, her creative writing teacher had recognized her talent immediately, and sent off samples of her writing to various universities. The only hitch was that he hadn’t included Jessica’s age or class level because he knew the universities would ignore anything coming from below a junior year level. The University of Vermont had contacted her in regards to a full scholarship in the middle of her sophomore year of high school because of her writing, under the impression that she was a graduating senior. Needless to say, they were not so pleasantly surprised when they found out that she was, in fact, a freshman. When her parents had moved her up to Vermont that summer they had scheduled a visit with an advisor at the college, and it was agreed that they would hold a spot on the scholarship list for her until she graduated. If she chose to attend the University she would have a full ride for up to 5 years depending on her course of study, with virtually no strings attached. Of course school wasn’t the only reason she had moved. It was actually towards the bottom of her list of reasons for moving, but it was her excuse of choice since it was at least partially true. She was in fact currently enrolled at the University of Vermont, and when most people used to question why she moved a full 2 years before she would actually attend the school she brushed it off as a family decision, which again was partially true.

Still doing her best to ignore Vanessa’s constant and ridiculous stream of glares and sneers, Jessica pulled her laptop out of her bag again, followed by the workbook she had been missing earlier. She tried to curl up as far back as she could in the chair in a rather vain attempt to disappear from Vanessa’s line of sight, crossed her legs Indian style in front of her and balanced her laptop open on her knees. Flipping through the pages of her workbook, she found the pages that detailed what she would need to finish for her portfolio and set to work. After about ten minutes of juggling the book on the arm of the chair and her laptop in her lap she was ready to give up and move to a table. As much as she wanted to stay in her own private corner, she was going to have to give up a little bit of comfort in order to get her work done. She dog-eared the page in the book to remember where she was working and shoved it in her bag, saved what little progress she had made on her laptop and closed it without shutting it off. Usually she took immaculate care of her laptop, but for the roughly two minutes it would take her to commandeer a table and set it up again she was okay with the less than desirable method of transport. Looking around the cafe, she saw the only vacant table was, of course, the one adjacent to Joseph and Vanessa. Groaning inwardly, she had a quick mental debate whether or not she really needed to give up her comfy chair and be more efficient in finishing her portfolio. In the end her academic prowess won out over her emotions, and she packed up her books and made the move to the open table. Naturally Vanessa saw her moving, and took that opportunity to remove herself from Joseph’s lap and into the chair on the other side of the table. Vanessa eyed Jessica as she sat down, turned her gaze back to Joseph and launched into an obviously fake exclamation of her surprise to find him here.

“Joey, I just cannot believe that here, of all places, I would run into you! I mean, I had NO idea you’d be here. Unbelievable,” she cooed rather loudly at Joseph from across the table, making sure she was loud enough for Jessica to hear.

“Tessa, stop calling me Joey. You know I hate that. And why wouldn’t I be here? I’m always here between classes. You know that too. Must be a full moon or something, everyone is acting kind of strange today,” Joseph said, shooting a quick grin in Jessica’s direction that didn’t go unnoticed by Vanessa.

Jessica hated that she was still going by ‘Tessa’. Her real name was Vanessa, but during their junior year of high school she had managed to convince everyone that Tessa was a nickname for Vanessa, and insisted that everyone call her that because it was so much more mature than Nessa, which is what she had been called since her childhood. In Jessica’s mind, changing your name in an attempt to be more appealing to the public was quite dumb. It didn’t help that she also had a strong aversion to the name Tessa for some unknown reason. She really couldn’t place why, but she just didn’t like it. For once it had nothing to do with the fact that it was attached to the person she currently despised the most, but she let herself think that was part of the reason just to feel better about hating the name. To further prove her point, Jessica always refused to call her ‘Tessa’ during school and even now; she always used ‘Vanessa’, mostly to annoy her.

She smiled slightly at Joseph, and averted her gaze back down to the table where she continued to set up her laptop again. Another good thing she tried to convince herself of was now that she was at the table, she could use her wireless mouse instead of the trackpad on her laptop, which would make working in the design program a lot easier. She opened the laptop and connected her external hard drive, and set to flipping through the workbook again while she waited for the laptop to wake up again. Glancing at the screen as she laid the book down on the table next to her she saw a notification that a wireless internet connection was available, which was rather strange. Rob was slightly behind the times in terms of technology, and he had yet to succumb to the same pressure the leading coffee chain stores had and install a wireless router for the customers. She clicked on the connect button, and was pleasantly surprised to see the network was named ‘Rob’s place’. So he finally gave in. That could either be really great, or really horrible. Great in the way that people will be more inclined to come here. Horrible in the way that I now have an excuse to be ridiculously distracted from my homework. Jessica chose Rob’s network out of the list of available networks, and frowned slightly when she was prompted for a password. Looking around to see where Rob was, she found him with his back turned to the majority of the shop, tinkering with something on the back counter. She stood up a bit too quickly and knocked the table forward a bit, prompting a disgruntled look from the person sitting in front of her. She apologized quickly before making her way back to the counter, and did her best to pretend that she didn’t see the smug look Vanessa was aiming at her.

“Hey, Rob? When did you get wifi installed for this place?” she asked, startling Rob. Apparently he hadn’t heard her approach and wasn’t aware she was standing next to him.

“Holy cricket kiddo don’t do that to me. You’re gonna give this old man a heart attack. Now what’s this nonsense about wifi?” he turned around to face her, wiping his hands on the towel hanging from his back pocket. He didn’t believe in the uniform of aprons like his big-time competitors did, so he and most of his employees had taken to tucking a towel into their back pockets or over their belt to replace the formality of matching aprons.

“Sorry. I’ll try to avoid using my ninja movement skills when I’m around you,” she grinned. “Anyway, I started up my laptop and it prompted me to connect to a network labeled ‘Rob’s place’. Unless there’s another Rob who owns a shop with the need for a wireless internet connection, I was under the assumption that it was for this place.”

“Oh yeah. Forgot to tell ya about that. It’s not public knowledge yet, I want to make sure it works okay before we start advertising it. But I caved and went wireless for you kids. I figure it might help business a bit, and would make things easier for you since you usually spend so much time here,” he explained.

“That’s awesome, Rob. But might I suggest changing the name to something slightly less obvious than ‘Rob’s place’ as long as it’s still password protected? People are going to see the network show up when they try to connect, and will either be highly confused or slightly perturbed when asked for a password.”

“Oh. I hadn’t thought of that. I don’t think I know how to change it. Had a hard enough time setting it up on my own. I should have called you,” he chuckled. Jessica smiled at him.

“I would have been happy to help you. I’m pretty sure I know how to change it, do you want me to take care of that for you real quick? At least until you decide you want to make it public.”

“Thanks, kiddo. That would be great. You know where it is in the back?”

“Sure do. I’ll let you know what I can manage,” she said.

Working her way through the maze of boxes and crates of various typical coffee shop supplies and mis-matched holiday decorations in the stock room, she squeezed through a doorway into the office and sat down at the computer. Rob had a PC and while Jessica was used to working on a Mac, she managed to navigate to the network settings and was able to figure out how to change the name of the network. A quick brainstorm session convinced her it was perfectly acceptable to change the network name to ‘Gryffindor Tower’. She went to save the changes and it asked for a password, which she realized she didn’t know. Crap. That’s a minor detail I shouldn’t have forgotten to ask about. Working her way back through the maze of supplies, she stuck her head out of the stock room door to ask Rob about the password.

“Hey Rob? What’s the password for the network? I need that to save the new name,” she said, leaning around the door frame.

Anderson. I wasn’t that creative with the naming. I’m not too great at that kind of stuff,” he said without turning to look at her. He was busy making drinks for a couple that was watching his every move.

Tourists. They never trust anyone. “Okay. Thanks,” she ducked back into the stock room and wove her way back to the office again. Plopping down in front of the computer again she began to type in Rob’s password, but changed her mind mid keystroke. Clicking out of the password request, she went back to the network settings page, and changed the password as well. Rob probably wouldn’t understand her naming logic, but she gave herself the okay to change the password to caput draconis. If anyone was able to guess the password, they deserved to be able to use the network. She saved all the settings, jotted down a quick note of the new network name and password for Rob and anyone else who would use it, and made her way back out to the shop.

“Problem solved. I wrote it down for you back there, because I know you won’t get the reference or remember what it is,” Jessica laughed, working her way out from behind the counter.

“I’m not even gonna ask. Thanks, kiddo,” Rob said as he handed the tourist couple their drinks. “Here ya go folks. Two large no foam, no whip, soy lattes with room for cream. Enjoy. Cream and sugar are at the end of the counter if ya need ‘em.”

Jessica and Rob watched as the couple in the matching scarf, glove, and hat set made their way to the end of the counter to add to their already strange concoction. Jessica preferred her regular coffee black, occasionally with a bit of hazelnut coffee cream. She didn’t understand why people wanted some of these crazy drinks. Most of them didn’t even taste like coffee when they were done, but supposedly that was the point.

“Anyway, I renamed the network ‘Gryffindor Tower’. The password is ‘caput draconis’. I know you have no idea what that is, but it’ll be hard for anyone else to figure out unless they understand the reference. It’s on a sticky note by the computer in the back, just in case. I know Eric will get it, but he’ll probably be the only one.” Eric was one of Rob’s employees, probably the only one who wasn’t in it just for a seasonal job for some extra money. He had been working for Rob for almost 6 years, and wasn’t about to leave anytime soon.

“Whatever you say, Jess. That’ll work just fine until we make it open to the public. Thanks.”

“No problem. I’m gonna go back to pretending I’m doing my portfolio while being distracted by the newly installed internet connection.”