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...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.

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