A Step Forward

A Step Forward

A Story by Juan More Story

As a teenager, life hits you harder than most. Sometimes something happens to you, sometimes it takes something happening to someone else to make you realize what you really want.


Okay it's almost time for class to end, so everybody make sure to write down the homework assignment before leaving,” Mr. England shouted in order to talk over the unruly group of students in the back corner of the classroom.

Jennifer looked back from her second row seat at her fellow (albeit rebellious) classmates, mustering her strongest look of annoyance to guilt them into silence. Only one paid her, or the teacher, any attention; and even then he simply smiled and winked at her in response. Jennifer rolled her eyes and double-checked if she had written down the assignment correctly as the bell rang to end the 6th period French class. She took her time to methodically return her notebook, textbook, different colored pens, pencils, highlighters, eraser, white out, page flags, and pencil sharpener, back into their respective pockets in her backpack before leaving. By the time she was finished most of the class had already left to talk with their friends in the hallway just long enough to be late for the next class.

Hey there,” her unruly classmate greeted her unexpectedly as she exited the classroom, causing her to jolt.

Oh God, Jean, you scared me!” Jennifer cried out, and then brushed past him.

How could you be scared of a face like mine?” Jean teased with the same smile he gave her in the classroom moments ago.

Jennifer slowed her pace slightly as she looked over at Jean.

You're right... I should have been terrified.”

Oooooo,” Jean mocked pain in reaction to her insult, but then he continued the sound in enticement as he ogled at a girl who walked past him.

Jennifer used the distraction to pick up her pace and leave him behind in the crowded hallway.

Hey wait up!” she heard him call in the distance, although she pretended not to.

Almost lost you,” he cautioned as he caught up and kept pace beside her.

What exactly do you want?”

I thought I made it pretty obvious earlier,” he reaffirmed with a wink.

That you'll hit on anything that moves?” Jennifer retorted. “I supposed that was made obvious when you were checking out another girl while hitting on me.”

What can I say, I admire the female form.”

Well then leave me alone and go admire some other female's form,” Jennifer ordered with finality as she entered her 7th period history class. She walked over and sat in front of her best friend Stacey; letting out a sigh of relief as she sank into her chair.

Hey Stace,” Jennifer uttered.

Hey Stacey,” Jean chimed as he sat in the row next to them.

Hey...Jean,” Stacey stammered in response as she and Jennifer shared a look of confusion.

What are you doing? This isn't your class,” Jennifer hissed.

I know, but there's still a couple minutes and my class is right next door,” Jean responded loudly to ridicule her quiet tone. He then returned his attention to her friend. “So are you all set for the tournament this weekend?”

I think we are, but coach Sanders doesn't seem to think so,” Stacey replied unabashedly. “She's been having us do drills all week, it's insane!”

Coach Matthews has us doing the same thing!” Jean lilted. “They probably have another bet going on.”

Aw s**t, another one? They just need to start smashing already so they can leave us alone.”

I think Matthews is married...” Jean trailed off.

I don't care who's marriage has to end in shambles so long as the torture ends!”

Stacey and Jean shared a laugh as Jennifer smiled weakly and turned away, fighting the urge to vomit.

Are you coming to watch the tournament?” Jean asked Jennifer, snapping her attention back to the duo.

Sorry, but I don't watch tennis,” Jennifer denounced coldly.

Well good because it's soccer,” Jean retorted with his same smile. “You should come and support your friends.”

Jennifer opened her mouth to say “only Stace is my friend,” but the bell rang before she could vocalize her retort.

S**t! Gotta go!” Jean yelped as he bolted out of the chair, and slowly squeezed his way through the flood of students suddenly entering the classroom.

The teacher began his lecture in the front of the class about the real reasons for the American Civil war (“guess what, it's not slavery,” she heard him say) while Stacey and Jennifer began to text each other under the desks at the rear of the class. Normally Jennifer was very attentive, even if only out of respect, but her friend was more carefree (dare she say, lazy), and Jennifer relied on that to help her relax at the end of the day to keep her sanity.


So what was that about?


I could say the same to you

I was trying hard not to throw up at you 2 slobbering over each other


Nuh uh

He made sure you were included the whole time

He was only being nice to me for your sake

You 2 going out?




Do you want to?


He's such a pervert


You didn't say no

Jennifer looked over at Stacey and saw the same cocky smile she saw on Jean all the time. She made a show of putting her phone in her backpack, stuck her tongue out at her friend, and turned her attention to the teacher. Stacey glared at her, and Jennifer tried hard not to think about how red her cheeks were getting.

So now that we're communicating in a way where you can't ignore me: what's going on between you and Jean?” Stacey interrogated as they walked down the hall after class had finished.

I told you, nothing!” Jennifer decried a little too loudly; some students in the hallway looked over at her as a result. “And no, I do not want there to be anything going on, either.”

Uh-huh,” Stacey placated, staring her down. “And why not?”

Because he's a giant pervert.”

Girlfriend, we're in high school; everyone is a pervert, even us girls. The only difference is boys get away with acting like it in public.”

Well I'm not a pervert,” Jennifer pronounced, crossing her arms and pouting.

No, you're just in denial,” Stacey scoffed. “All I'm saying is, it probably wouldn't kill you to just give him a chance.”

If he's such a great guy, why don't you go out with him?”

Are you kidding? My parents would kill me if I went out with a black guy. Although, I wouldn't mind making out with him a few times...”

Stacey trailed off as she began to imagine the scene.

Oh my God, you really are a pervert!” Jennifer exclaimed, smacking her friend in the arm. “And we're in public too, so there goes your argument.”

I'm in my thoughts, and that's private,” Stacey countered, and closed her eyes to conjure the image once again. They both laughed and then started the walk towards the parking lot.

* * *

Jennifer watched intently as Stacey dribbled the soccer ball into the other team's territory. Stacey passed the ball to her teammate and used a burst of speed to lose her guard, and the ball was passed back to her. Two other opponents began to encroach, so she made a shot on the goal while she still had the opening. Jennifer held her breath, and then let it go as the goalie caught it with ease. Stacey's head dropped as she turned around and jogged back to her team's half of the field. Jennifer clapped and stood to yell encouraging words to her friend. After a moment Jennifer sat back down and lifted her book to resume reading. She only played close attention when Stacey's team approached the opponent's side, which she felt was the only time the game got exciting.

Just before returning to the world of 19th century America, she noticed Jean walking with his team as they crossed the foot of the bleachers below her. Jennifer lifted her book higher to hide her face from him, but it was too late; he ran up the stairs to talk to her.

She's pretty good huh,” Jean called out as he approached her seat.

Jennifer pretended not to hear and continued to read. Jean stood just one row beneath her and took noticed the cover of her book.

Dickinson, huh,” Jean commented. “I didn't figure you for poetry.”

Well when you are considered to be one of the greatest American authors, people tend to stop and read your work,” Jennifer scoffed without lowering her book.

Well, long after your dead anyways,” Jean corrected as he took a seat in front of her.

What do you mean?” Jennifer intrigued.

Nobody read any of her poetry, or anything else she wrote, until she was long gone. Saddest thing for any artist really.”

How does someone like you know about Dickinson?”

I guess you were right; she's one of the greatest American authors so I've read a few of her poems. They were decent, but I like short stories so I'm a Poe-ho. You know, a hardcore fan of Edgar Allen Poe...”

I got it,” Jennifer sighed as she set her book down. “He was a little too dark for me though.”

True, but he had really great prose, you gotta give him that.”

Did you seriously just use the word prose?” Jennifer asked with unfiltered surprise.

Yeah, but I have a reputation to protect so if anyone asks I said 'probe' instead of 'prose.'”

Jennifer laughed heartily as the crowd suddenly cheered; apparently the team had made another shot on goal.

You made me miss it,” Jennifer complained, glaring at Jean.

You were about to read a book!”

Until I hear them move back over here. You distracted me with all this talk of books so I missed it.”

I distracted you, huh,” Jean restated with his now trademark wink. Jennifer did her now trademark eye roll in response.

Just be quiet and let me watch the game.”

Okay,” Jean relented, and switched seats to sit next to her and look out over the field. Jennifer blushed, cursing her body's response to the proximity between them.

They sat in silence as they watched the players pass, dribble, and steal the ball back and forth across the field. Jennifer looked over at Jean a couple of times during the silence, feeling awkward at her sudden desire to observe him. Finally she couldn't take it anymore.

Aren't you supposed to be playing too?” Jennifer questioned him, breaking the tension she felt.

We started earlier so we're on break between games,” Jean simply replied as he continued to watch the game.

Did you win?” Jennifer beseeched, not wanting to return to the awkward silence she felt earlier.

We've done pretty good so far. The real test will be against Lincoln, but we only play them if we win the next game.”

Jennifer stared at him with mild surprise.

What?” Jean demanded.

Nothing,” Jennifer squeaked, pinching the side of her leg to punish herself for staring too long. “I just expected a cocky response of how you're going to single-handedly win the game or something.”

Don't get me wrong, I'm single-handedly the best at a lot of things,” he boasted with his trademark wink, and again Jennifer rolled her eyes. “But good soccer is all about teamwork. You have to be in sync with your teammates, know how they think and react, all in a matter of seconds. And it's that feeling of everyone coming together that really drives me to play.”

Jean said all that without breaking eye contact with her, and the only thing that broke it were the shouts in the stands as the finally scored another goal. Jennifer had no idea how long they were like that; and she couldn't remember if they had been sitting so close when they started the conversation, or if they somehow subconsciously drew closer together. She then (very) consciously shifted away to increase the space between them, and then stood to cheer on her friend, with Jean quickly standing up to do the same.

Stacey spotted her (and then Jean) in the crowd, and Stacey held a thumbs up while motioning with her eyes towards Jean. Jennifer very sneakily replied with a middle finger, and then changed it to a thumbs up when Jean turned to look at her.

Aren't you girls cute; going old school with the thumbs up sign.”

Yeah,” Jennifer said, laughing a little too much at such a lame joke. What's wrong with me?

HEY JEAN!” someone in a uniform shouted from across the bleachers. “It's time to do warm-ups; we're up in 10 minutes!”

K!” Jean shouted back.

Jennifer hated the fact her stomach dropped at the news of his departure.

Well, I guess you've got to go,” she declared, trying to sound apathetic.

I guess so,” Jean lamented, and took a few steps down the bleacher before abruptly turning back around. “The teams are throwing a party after the game. You wanna come?”

Um, I don't know,” Jennifer pondered, her heart beating excitedly. “My dad is kind of paranoid. He makes me go with Stacey anytime I go out.”

You're right, bringing Stacey's such a downer; she'll totally kill the party,” Jean joked as he turned to smile and wave at Stacey in the field. Stacey waved back absent-mindedly before resuming her chase of the ball into opposing territory. Jennifer giggled in response to the scene, and wondered how she lost so much control of herself around Jean.

Okay, I'll ask if she wants to go,” Jennifer conceded.

Cool, let me give you my number so I can text you the address.”

Jean picked up Jennifer's phone that, until then, sat idly next to her. He dialed his number and then hung up.

There, now I got yours too. See ya!”

He took off running to meet his teammates who were rough-housing at the bottom of the bleachers, oblivious to Jean's upbeat pace as he strolled up to them. Jennifer looked at her call list and saved Jean's number into her contacts. She then brought up Stacey in a text: want to go to a party?

Nope,” Stacey droned when Jennifer met up with her after their defeat by single goal.

Jennifer looked at her in shock �" her friend never passed up on a party. Her extroverted friend thrived in those environments while Jennifer always felt suffocated; each person in the room another tidal wave that eroded her sanity.

While her father always insisted her best friend be present whenever she went out of the house, the truth of the matter was Jennifer needed her to help keep her from panicking about anything and everything. Because of that, Stacey was always willing to be by her side in the name of helping her socialize. It was with all those thoughts in mind that Jennifer kept the same look of shock after being denied so abruptly..

Oh you're serious,” Stacey remarked.

Yes! I am!”

Well in that case...I still can't go.”

Why not?” Jennifer pressed.

I got a math test that I actually need to study for so I can pass algebra and never have to look at a math book ever again.”

Can't you just study tomorrow? I'll help you study and everything.”

Girl, you know that when it comes to math it takes me all day just to understand what the question is. Plus, the last time you tried to help me we got so pissed off at each other we didn't talk for a week.”

They shuddered in unison at the traumatic memory, and Jennifer knew she was right. Despite her friends surprisingly sound logic and good intentions, Jennifer knew it wouldn't take much to persuade her friend not to study. She knew she would have to appeal to her friend in a different way.

But you know my dad. He's not going to let me go to Jean's party by myself.”

Wait, wait, wait a second. Jean asked you to the party?”

Yes,” Jennifer said, shyly.

And you said yes to him?”


Which means you're actually going to go on a date?”

Well I don't know if it's really...”

Just shut up and let me have this one, Jen,” Stacey entreated.

Stacey stared Jennifer down, ignoring the cheers of the crowd they had just left behind. Jennifer nodded her head shyly, unsure of what else to do.

You just had to choose the one time I planned on skipping out,” Stacey relented.

So that past tense means...”

Yes, I'll go to the damn party with you. But only for a little while because I really do have to study for that stupid test.”

Thanks, Stace!” Jennifer rejoiced.

Thanks again for coming with me,” Jennifer restated as they walked up to house that trembled from the bass of the music.

For the hundredth time, you're welcome,” Stacey wearied. “God! I've never seen you so sprung before.”

I am not sprung! Jean just invited me and I didn't want to say 'no' and be rude.”

And all those times when I invited you to these parties...”

You're my best friend; we don't have to follow social etiquette.”

Uh-huh. All I'm saying is my F in Algebra will only be worth it if you make out with him tonight.”

Ha-ha,” Jennifer scoffed.

Who's joking?” Stacey retorted, opening the door to the house party.

The shouts of everyone muted Jennifer's expletive at her friend as they entered the house. The blaring music and everyone's shouts to talk above it initially overwhelmed Jennifer's senses, who had a hard enough time staying focused while walking in the crowded hallways at school. She hadn't noticed until now how helpful Jean was at distracting her from the crowd as he hit on her between 6th and 7th periods.

A few of Stacey's teammates rushed up to the pair and immediately started catching Stacey up to the the latest gossip of the party: who hooked up with who and who almost got into a fight with who, who was drunk after only one beer, and who was so drunk they couldn't tell how bad they were dancing, etcetera. Jennifer immediately gave up trying to keep up with the play by play; something she always did when they rushed up to her and Stacey at school too. They ignored her in return, and the world stayed in balance as a result. The only difference this time was Jennifer didn't have a book to keep her occupied, and the full weight of the crowd started bearing down on her. She fought off the sensation of suffocating and scanned the crowd of people for Jean.

Wherever he was, he wasn't in the line of sight from what she guessed was the den. The crowd made it hard to distinguish when one room ended or began. The girls continued to hold her friend Stacey hostage, and despite Jennifer's own lack of engagement in the conversation she was too nervous to wander off by herself. While she sometimes resented her father's overprotective nature, she relied on it to use as an alibi as to why she couldn't go out to parties just like these. She was sure everyone looked right through her excuses, but thankfully everyone was also kind enough to share in her delusion instead of challenge it.

-- except Jean,” one of Stacey's teammates (Debbie maybe?) gossiped.

Oh really,” Jennifer assented.

Yeah,” Debbie continued, eying her curiously for her sudden interest. “But he never really drinks that much anyways. But what's really weird is he hasn't even tried to hook up with anyone all night.”

Now that is fascinating,” Stacey interrupted. “Anyways, on a totally unrelated note, I'm going to go grab something to drink. Let's go Jen.”

Jennifer managed a polite smile before being whisked away by Stacey towards the kitchen.

But it was just starting to get interesting,” Jennifer contested as Stacey dragged her by the hand.

Only because they started talking about your boyfriend. But we didn't come here to talk about him, we came here to have people talk about you hooking up with him.”

Jennifer stopped in her tracks, causing her friend to stumble backwards. Was she just another girl that Jean would brag about later? She thought after the soccer game that his bravado was just some facade, but what if…

Girl snap out of it,” Stacey commanded, smacking her friend lightly on the forehead.

You ain't some s**t giving it up to some man-w***e. You're just a normal high school girl who thinks some normal high school boy is cute. Now move your a*s so you can talk to Jean.”

Stacey resumed pulling her friend by the hand, but this time there was no more resistance. Jennifer squeezed her hand to show her thanks. Stacey squeezed back to show her support as Jean came into sight as they entered the kitchen.

Jean was standing behind the prep counter which took up the center of the kitchen. There were two ice buckets on top, one filled with various brands of beer and the other bottled water. Jean looked over and saw them holding hands. He held up two fingers together and mouthed together? Jennifer's eyes went wide at the suggestion and let go. Jean and Stacey laughed and he waved them over.

Sorry, I couldn't resist,” Jean laughed, unapologetically.

You're such a dick,” Stacey replied. “This girl is sheltered; you got to be kind and gentle with this one.”

I dunno, I've seen her read Anne Rice. She probably knows more about sex than either of us.”

Jennifer remained quiet, surprised that Jean had paid enough attention to know what she had been reading. She also tried hard to fight back her childish urge to blush at the word “sex.” Grow up she chided herself.

See, you're creepy stalking has got her all shy now.”

You're right. I know just what she needs to loosen up.”

Jennifer saw him reach into the ice bucket. She was about to protest his offer until she saw he was holding out a bottle of water instead of beer.

Thanks,” Jennifer managed to squeak before she quickly unscrewed the lid and took a big gulp.

There's that sweet voice I like to hear,” Jean rejoiced. Jennifer blushed as she took another drink of water.

Like I said, your creepiness has her all shy,”Stacey chastised, smacking him on the arm.

I think it's probably just too loud in here. Want to go out back?”

You two go ahead, I'm gonna show up all these people with these mad dance skills my mom made me learn before she accepted I was a tomboy.”

Stacey gave them a quick curtsy before she attempted to move in rhythm with the song. Jennifer simply shook her head, knowing her friend never once went through a whole dance lesson. Jean smiled, glanced over at his teammate and signaled for him to look after the drinks. Jennifer stayed quiet until they made it out to the backyard; they pushed past everyone on the porch before she finally felt comfortable enough to talk.

So what was all that about?” Jennifer asked.

All of what? I was just doing a little flirting.”

With your teammate?”

Jean looked at her strangely until he realized they were not having the same conversation.

Oh you mean the whole eye signal thing,” Jean realized. “Once upon a time these parties led to everyone everyone puking their guts out. Now we're smart enough to have a couple of us look after the drinks and give water if we think they've had too much.”

That's pretty responsible, actually,” Jennifer said, somewhat impressed. “I can respect that. Who's idea was it?”

Mine. Just one more reason I'm so awesome,” Jean bragged with a smirk.

And you lost it,” Jennifer sighed.


My respect.”

You know, the fact that I garnered it at all is a sign of progress.”

That's a pretty low bar you have set.”

There's nothing diminutive about it. If I can have the respect and attention of a beautiful girl like you then it is quite the accomplishment.”

Jennifer blushed and took another sip of the water. At this rate it will be empty in a matter of minutes; and then she will have to hope she doesn't have a nervous bladder.

Why do you keep talking like that? I've never heard you use words like 'diminutive' or 'garnered' before. Even I don't talk like that...most of the time.”

Honestly, it's because of my parents. They both immigrated here and got their doctorate degrees, so at home there are no words less than four syllables. It took me all of two days in grade school to figure out it wasn't normal to say 'superfluous' to the teacher. So I copied everyone else and just said 'sup' all the time. I fit right in after that.”

I know what it's like to not fit in. I didn't learn until junior high that it wasn't normal to read all the time, avoid dances, parties, and anything else that involved people. By then, I was too socially awkward to make any real friends. That's why I'm so glad I met Stace once I got into high school. I finally have someone I could talk to without wanting to run off and hide in my room.”

I don't think you're socially awkward.”

Well I think you are,” Jennifer joked, trying to break the unexpected serious tone of their conversation. “I mean, 'diminutive,' that's just weird.”

Jean smiled widely.

What can I say, I just feel comfortable around you.”

Jennifer blushed and looked down to hide the smile forming on her face.

Speaking of comfort zones,” Jennifer resumed after regaining her composure. “I think the amount of time I've spent at this party has pushed me far past mine. I think it's time for me to go.”

Well then next time I ask you out I'll make sure it's just the two of us,” Jean promised as he began to lead her back towards the house.

Jennifer felt goosebumps as she became aware of the close proximity of their hands as they walked side by side. One of their esteemed peers broke from the crowd and brushed past just before he vomited into the bushes next to them.

I thought you guys kept track of how much they drink?” Jennifer remarked.

But I never said we did it well,” Jean explained, and paused to help guide the emetic party-goer to a nearby chair. “Can you find a trash can or something in case his stomach decides to do an encore?”

Sure,” Jennifer affirmed and hurried inside the house. The crowd and music (or rather, her anxiety from them) made her a little disoriented, and she scanned the crowd for her friend to ask for her help. After failing to see her friend, she fought through her panic and just grabbed the nearest, and what was most likely the smallest, trash can she could find and ran back outside.

This was all I could find, sorry,” Jennifer cautioned as she placed the tiny vessel in front of their hunched over peer.

That's okay, I think he got most of it out this second time around, right buddy?” Jean cooed as he patted him on the back. The sickly peer gave a weak thumb up in reply.

He did it again?” Jennifer asked, distressed that her delay may have caused the mess.

Yeah, practically the second you left.”

Jennifer didn't know if it was factual or if he read her reaction and said it to reassure her. In either case, it did reassure her, and she simply smiled in relief. Speaking of reassurance…

Hey, did Stace come out here by any chance? I didn't see her when I was inside.”

Nope, she's not out here.”

Jennifer checked her phone and saw a text from her supposed best friend:

Sorry, had to go study. Ask Jean for a ride home

You can probably make out with him in the car

Your welcome :P

Or maybe she ditched me,” Jennifer sighed. “Now how am I going to get home?”

I can take you,” Jean offered.

I don't know. If my dad saw someone other than Stace take me home he's going to freak out, kill me, and possibly kill you; not necessarily in that order.”

Why not just tell him the truth? Assuming his first move isn't to kill me, of course.”

Because my dad will never believe Stace left a party to study.”

Wait, she studies?” Jean asked in disbelief.

See!” Jennifer cried out.

Relax! I was only teasing,” Jean laughed. “I'll just take you home; its no big deal.”

Jennifer stared at her phone for a moment as she thought about what to do. She knew if she called Stace her “friend” would just ignore the call and force her to go with Jean anyways. And if she called her dad and said she was alone at a party...well, she didn't even want to think about that.

Thanks, Jean,” she finally relented.

The drive home was filled with awkward and utter silence since his radio was not working and apparently neither were her vocal cords. When Jennifer managed to squeak out a question about why his car was so old if his parents were professionals, Jean said “that just means they're smart enough not to give a teenager a brand new car.”

She made him park at the end of her block; her paranoia about her father drew an imaginary do-not-cross line.

Thanks again for the ride,” Jennifer stammered, not knowing what else to say.

Thanks for coming to the party. You made it a lot more bearable.”

Wait, I thought you liked those parties.”

I did the first few times. Then it got kind of old as everyone started to be like 'oh mer gerd I'm so wasted.' But since my teammates don't know what else to do when we hang out, I just end up going so I can look after them.”

Well, just so you know you made my first real party kind of fun actually.”

Cool, I know you must've been dying with all those people there. So I was thinking that maybe next time you and I can hang out...you know...one on one.”

Like, a date?” Jennifer panicked. Her heart was racing, unsure of how he would answer or why she even asked. She should have just played it cool with like a 'maybe' or 'we'll see.' Stupid!

Doesn't have to be. I wouldn't mind just hanging out as friends at first until we see where it goes, you know?”

I'm not sure what...well what I mean is...”

Don't stress about it; it's not like I asked you to marry me or anything,” Jean grinned. “Unless that's what you want; then I can drive us over to Vegas right now.”

Oh shut up!” Jennifer laughed, finally starting to feel a little at ease. Then suddenly, her eyes went wide as her panic returned. “Oh shut up! My dad is coming!”

Jennifer slouched as low as she could in her seat, praying her dad did not notice her too. The knock on the passenger side window let her know that her prayer went unanswered. Jean rolled down the power window, which whined loudly due to its old age. Jennifer sat back up, fixing her hair and checking her clothes despite having done nothing but sit in the car.

Hi, dad,” Jennifer shuddered nervously.

Hi Jen,” he replied coldly, his eyes searching the inside of the car. “Where is Stacey?”


She had to leave early,” Jean interjected. “I offered to give your daughter a ride back home. I'm Jean by the way.”

Jean leaned over to stretch his hand out across the seat.

Edward Allen,” her father reciprocated, and shook his hand firmly.

Nice to meet you Mr. Allen.”

Thank you for giving my daughter a ride home. But next time, don't hesitate to have her call me if she needs a ride. Are you ready, Jen?”

Yes,” Jennifer jumped at the sound of her name, and quickly exited the car.

Bye!” Jean called out from the still open window as her and her father walked away.

Bye!” Jennifer chirped and waved back with a smile, feeling a drop of nervous sweat roll down her face.

You know you're in trouble, right,” her father reminded her.

Yep,” she choked.

* * *

I thought I taught you better than to get into a car with a stranger,” her father fumed.

He's not a stranger, he's a friend from school,” Jennifer defended.

If he's such a good friend how come I've never heard you mention him before?”

I have! He's the guy that walks with me to class sometimes.”

The one you say is always harassing you? It's a good thing I went out there before that horn dog took advantage of you.”

Dad, you're overreacting. Jean would never--”

Please, you hardly know him! You don't know what that thug is capable of.”

And what makes him a thug, exactly?” Jennifer dared to ask.

Come on: beat up car, hooded jacket, dark...he just looks like a thug is all I'm saying.”

Are you saying that because he is black?” Jennifer accused with fire behind her eyes.

I'm saying that because I want to protect you!” her father shot back. He took a breath to compose himself before continuing. “I want you to stay away from that kid for your own good.”

But dad...” she pleaded, tears of anger building up in her eyes.

And the next time you go out with Stacey and she has to leave early, you go with her and then call me to pick you up. Am I clear?”

Fine,” Jennifer stormed off to her room before she unleashed her anger and was given more restrictions. She crashed into her bed and let out some of her tears before she reached into her purse to withdraw her phone.

Jen: Thanks for ditching me

Stace:So u guys made out after all?

Jen: No my dad saw him drop me off and I cant hang out w/ him anymore

Stace: S**t, I'm sorry

Stace: I didn't think your dad was gonna be so pissed Stace

Jen: Me neither

Jen: Anyways I'll ttyl at school

Stace: k

Stace: And I really am sorry Stace

Jennifer threw her phone off to the side as she laid face up on her bed. She stared at the ceiling, replaying the conversation with her dad over and over again until she was too exhausted to think. Somewhere between hating Jean, hating herself, and hating her dad, she fell asleep.

Honey, it's time to go to service. Are you ready?” Jennifer's mother called through her bedroom door.

Jennifer rolled over in her bed, her hand automatically reaching for her phone on the night stand. She sat up after failing to grasp it and noticed it was lying on the bed next to her. She attempted to unlock it to check the time, but the battery had died.

Jen, did you hear me?” her mother called again.

Yes, I'm sorry mom! I just woke up, so I'll get ready really quick,” Jennifer finally replied.

She stood up, placed her phone to charge on the nightstand and ran into her closet to change.

The drive to church was silent, with both Jennifer and her father refusing to speak for fear of either party triggering another argument. Jennifer's stomach churned, both from hunger and the possibility of seeing Jean while at church. His mother, Cécile, regularly attended service, while Jean and his father were only present during holiday parties or events. Basically, anytime the church was giving away free food. However, given their interaction yesterday, she was hoping he would make an exception. Or rather, maybe she was scared he would make an exception. She was still reeling a little from his proposal to go on a date. It brought to light how real whatever she was starting to feel towards Jean; and it was terrifying. The moment the car pulled to a stop in the parking lot Jennifer jumped out.

See you inside,” she muttered before she slammed the car door shut.

There were small crowds scattered throughout the outside of the Sanctuary. Jennifer scanned each group for Jean, still unsure of how she would feel if she spotted him. She walked more confidently into the building once she was sure he was not present. Once inside she went to her family's usual seats and saved two for her parents. She looked around one last time and noticed not even Jean's mother was present, which was very unusual. Jennifer's own parents took their seats only moments before the pastor approached the pulpit. Jennifer stared straight ahead at the pastor to avoid eye contact with her father.

Hello everyone,” the middle-aged pastor greeted her congregation. “Before we begin, I would first like to make an announcement. Sister Cécile will not be present today due to her son, Jean, having been in a car accident last night. He was seriously injured, and will be in surgery through most of today. She requests any well-wishers to contact her family tomorrow when most of the surgeries will already be completed. Until then, let us all join in prayer for her and her family.”

The whole congregation bowed their heads as the pastor prayed something about strength and recovery and accepting of spirits or something like that; Jennifer wasn't really listening. The shock of the news deafened her to everything going on around her. A sudden squeeze of her hand from her mother brought her back to reality and she let out a small gasp, interrupting what appeared to be the end of the sermon. How long was I spacing out just now?

She mumbled an apology, and the pastor concluded her sermon without further interruption. The congregation rose from the pews once dismissed, and Jennifer managed to rise despite her trembling legs.

I'm sorry about your friend, honey,” her mother consoled.

Thanks, mom,” Jennifer bemused.

She glanced over at her father, who remained stoic as they made their way through the parking lot. He's not going to say anything?

Is it okay if I go to visit Jean after school tomorrow?” Jennifer requested.

Of course. I planned on doing the same to see how Cécile is holding up.”

I'm not sure if that is such a good idea,” her father suggested.

Why not?”

He remained silent, smiling politely to members of the congregation until they entered the car.

Why not, dad?” Jennifer asked more adamantly since they were now behind closed doors.

Like I said yesterday; I think it would be better if you just stayed away from him.”

What did he do that was so terrible that I can't even go to visit him?”

I don't want to argue,” her father deflected.

I'm not a kid! 'Because I said so' just isn't good enough anymore.”

Well,” her father seethed, angry at being compelled to communicate his reasons. “You have been telling me this guy has been harassing you at school for weeks, then he has the audacity to drive my only daughter home without ever meeting or talking with me, not only that he did it while he was drunk and by some miracle got you home before his luck ran out and crashed into someone else.”

What are you talking about? He wasn't drunk.”

Come on, don't cover for him. The whole congregation was whispering about how it was a drunk driving accident between him and another kid.”

Did it occur to you that he might have been the victim?”

It doesn't matter whether if it was him or not. He took you to a party with drinking and God only knows what else. Either way, he's bad news and I want you to stay away from him.

Mom already said I could go,” Jennifer pouted as she folded her arms.

I thought you said you weren't a kid anymore.”

Edward,” her mother chastised, letting him know that he crossed the line.

Her father, as well as Jennifer, simply remained silent the rest of the ride home.

But that's not fair!” Stacey bellowed after Jennifer finished recounting what happened over the weekend.

I know!” Jennifer agreed, finally feeling validated.

Well I guess you're just going to have to pull the rebellious teenager card,” Stacey counseled. “He's left you no choice.”

What does that mean?”

It means I'm taking you to visit Jean after school. Now, I know you don't really like to break the rules...”

Let's do it,” Jennifer affirmed.

Or maybe you're just so sprung you don't care anymore,” Stacey concluded.

I told you I'm not sprung. But I am tired of my dad treating me like what I say doesn't matter.”

Jennifer looked over at Stacey, and saw she had her mouth agape.


Nothing. Just that my little girl is growing up.”

Shut up,” Jennifer laughed.

* * *

Jennifer lightly tapped on the hospital room door, and gently pushed it open as the hinges squeaked in protest.

Hello?” Jennifer squeaked as well.

Inside the room to her left she noticed an old man snoring loudly as his arms were wrapped around the various IV tubes and wires like a security blanket.

Maybe we got the wrong room...” Stacey whispered to keep from waking the old man.

The curtain in the back of the room drew back, causing Jennifer and Stacey to jump. Cécile smiled at them in recognition as well as amusement in their collective nervousness.

Hi Cécile,” Jennifer stammered softly so as not to awaken the old man.

Oh don't worry about him,” Cécile admonished. “They have him so sedated a herd of wild horses could run though here and he would never even turn over in his bed.”

Jennifer held an awkward smile and shared a look with Stacey in response to Cécile's teasing of the elderly patient. They then looked over and saw Jean asleep in the hospital bed and took in his injuries: his right leg in a cast and the purple bruises on his face just barely a noticeable contrast to his mocha skin. Aside from the cast, the only other noticeable injury was some of the butterfly bandages from his hairline to his right eye brow. He looked so vulnerable lying in the hospital bed, unmoving with the exception of the slight rise and fall of his chest as he breathed; which felt strange to Jennifer since she always thought Jean looked like he was so much in control.

He's asleep; maybe we should come back at a different time,” Jennifer choked as the uneasy feeling overwhelmed her. She began to take a step back but Stacey wrapped her arm around her friend to reassure and prevent her escape.

Don't be rude! I think we should stay for a little while to at least show some support to Mrs. Olivier,” Stacey objected, gently nudging Jennifer forward.

Yes, please stay! I would love the company. Besides, he's not really asleep; he's just joking with you. Jean, open your eyes before you scare the poor girl away,” Cécile ordered, smacking his hand lightly.

Jennifer cringed at their perceived imposition, but then shook her head in annoyance as Jean smiled wide with his eyes still closed.

You were supposed to stay quiet until I jumped up to scare her, mom,” Jean responded before finally opening his eyes.

I refuse to be an accomplice in your childish antics,” Cécile chastised.

You jerk!” Stacey laughed.

Jennifer returned to her awkward smile as she watched the exchange between all of them, but then began to feel more at ease; if they were able to joke then his injuries must not be that severe. Stacey felt the tension leave her best friend's shoulders and then withdrew her hold; but still took position directly behind to block any more sudden escapes.

Oh, hi Wendy!” Cécile acknowledged someone behind the two girls.

Jennifer froze as her mother stepped into the room. She had forgotten her mother was also going to visit today.

Hi Cécile...Jean...girls,” her mother replied as she took the other spot beside her daughter. “I just wanted to stop by and see how Jean was doing and wish him a speedy recovery.”

Thank you so much. The doctors are still doing some tests but say the worst is behind him.”

That's really good to hear. Where's Maurice?”

He's at home, sleeping. He stayed up all last night during the last of the surgeries and I went home to get the most restless sleep I've ever had in my life. But, I'm grateful for the doctor and the good Lord for saving my son's life.”

Yes. Oh, and the congregation sends their best wishes as well. Pastor Kay led the most beautiful prayer at service yesterday, right Jen?”

Oh, yes, it was very moving,” Jennifer lied. She was too much in shock to remember anything about the service yesterday. She was fighting the urge to panic and break down to her mother and apologize for disobeying. Stacey squeezed her hand in support, sensing her crumbling resolve.

Cécile looked over at Jennifer, and noticed how uneasy she had been since her mother's arrival.

I'm famished. Girls, would you please keep an eye on Jean for me while Wendy and I go to the cafeteria?” Cécile proposed.

Um, sure...” Jennifer croaked. She and Stacey gave her mother a side long glance to check if she was in trouble for being somewhere she was not supposed to be.

You'll be just fine, honey. I promise,” her mother reassured with a wink, conveying her hidden message of approval.

Sure thing, Mrs. Olivier,” Stacey affirmed.

Wonderful!” Cécile lilted as she and Wendy made their way to the door. She then looked back and looked sternly at her son. “Make sure you behave, Jean.”

What kind of trouble can I get into?” Jean taunted, pointing at his cast.

Mmmm-hmmm,” Cécile warned before leaving the room.

So how long until you can take him home?” Jennifer heard her mother ask as they walked out of earshot.

Jennifer remained still, unsure of whether she should approach his bedside or not. She was not sure what the proper etiquette was for visiting a friend (or was it more than friend?) in the hospital. Stacey provided her with another nudge to get her going again.

You don't really look all that bad,” Stacey commented. “I was expecting like a full body cast or something.”

It takes more than a car to damage these good looks,” Jean replied.

And your ego, apparently,” Stacey shot back. They both shared a laugh and Jennifer watched, feeling woeful like she did when they talked in the classroom only a few days prior. The room went silent as they both looked at Jennifer expectingly.

Ummm….How are you feeling?” Jennifer sputtered unsure of what else to ask besides the obvious.

I don't really feel that bad, actually. The only thing that really hurts is my head,” Jean answered, downplaying her awkwardness as usual.

Oh, did you want me to let you rest or bring you some water, or call the nurse, or--”

Or you can breathe and relax a little,” Jean recommended.

You know what might help her relax? Some Xanax,” Stacey added. “I'm gonna go hit up the the pharmacy to get her some.”

Jennifer's eyes went wide in silent protest, but Stacey's eyes squinted in tenacity. Stacey walked out the door, and gave them both a wink before disappearing from the door frame.

Is she serious?” Jean wondered.

If she really thought it would help, she would,” Jennifer answered.

Why are you so tense, anyways?”

Sorry. It's just I have never really had to come to the hospital for anything other than visiting some girls from church after they had a baby.”

Scandalous!” Jean implied with a smile.

Most of them are married, you jerk,” she laughed, starting to relax.

You said most, so that means not all of them are.”

Oh my God!” Jennifer shrieked, causing Jean to wince in pain from the loud noise.

Sorry,” Jennifer whispered, drawing the curtain close after checking to make sure she did not awaken the old man.

So how long do you have to stay in the hospital for?” Jennifer resumed the conversation.

They want to hold me here a couple of days, see how much I improve...and make sure there are no complications from, you know, the surgery.”

The nervous tone and hesitation was so unlike Jean had when he spoke. She reminded herself that he had just survived a near death experience, and that would make anyone nervous about their recovery.

A knock on the door tore through the silence that had built up between them momentarily.

Just letting you know your parents are back...” Stacey proclaimed. “Just in case you guys need to throw some clothes back on.”

Relax, we're decent,” Jean confirmed, shaking his head.

Just making sure; I saw the curtain was drawn so I didn't want to interrupt.”

Blood rushed to Jennifer's face as she realized what her friend was insinuating. Sound of rushed footsteps filled the room and the curtain was quickly drawn back by her mother, who had overheard Stacey. It only made her blush even more from embarrassment.

Mom!” Jennifer whined.

Sorry, it was just my motherly instinct,” her mother explained.

I think I should go before the doctors declare me dead from embarrassment.”

Okay then,” Jean said in between fits of laughing.

Stacey was also holding back laughter, and this time did not protest her friend's suggestion to leave.

Bye!” Jennifer hugged Cécile, and then hesitated as she thought about hugging Jean farewell. She had never hugged him (or really anyone) before who wasn't family or Stacey. Most of the time she was telling Jean to leave her the hell alone, so the sudden change in their relationship (is that what this is?) left her frozen in place.

Don't be rude; hug him good-bye,” her mother prompted.

Jennifer took a breath and then hugged Jean. Her hands touched bare skin due to the opening in the back of the hospital gown, and her heart pounded in her chest as she noticed how smooth it felt. She then quickly let go, mumbled good-bye again, and rushed out of the room before he or Stacey could make any more fun of her blushing.

After Jean was released, Jennifer continued to visit him at his house everyday after school for the rest of the week. Stacey stopped going with her to encourage her to feel more comfortable being alone with him. However, After Jean had his follow-up appointment with the doctor she noticed Jean's usual spark seemed to have diminished. He smiled less, and he stared out into the window, as if he was being held prisoner. From what she could tell, he looked like he was doing better. Besides the cast on his leg and bags under his eyes, he almost looked back to normal. Finally, one week since the accident, she decided to ask what was bothering him so much.

So what's been going on with you?” Jennifer inquired as Jean stared out the window that Saturday morning.

I've just been tired from my physical therapy, that's all,” Jean answered stoically, his gaze fixed out the window.

I feel like there is something else,” Jennifer prodded, determined to get to the truth. She gulped before she spoke again. “Is it me? Am I bothering you? Because if it is, you know, bothering you that I'm around so much, you can always let me know and--”

Sorry,” Jean interrupted, looking over at her for the first time since she arrived an hour ago. “I know I haven't really been a good friend or host or anything. It's nothing to do with you, I promise.”

Right, of course,” Jennifer flinched at her own selfish need for reassurance. “Sorry, I just wanted to make sure everything was okay between us...Not like, us, but like...you and me...as two separate people...spending time together...”

Smooth, she thought as she looked down at her feet in embarrassment, her heart racing at a hundred miles per hour. She swallowed the awkward feeling before looking back up, but Jean paid her no attention and was already staring back out the window.

Alright, well...um...I've got to get go help my mom with some stuff around the house.”

Okay,” Jean stated, smiling weakly as he turned to face her again.

I'll see you later?” Jennifer voiced, adding the inflection at the end out of anxiety.

Yeah...see ya.”

Stupid Stupid! Stupid!” Jennifer mumbled insults to herself after she closed Jean's door behind her. “Of course he didn't want to talk about relationship stuff, he's still in a cast! Guys don't like to talk about it under normal circumstances why would he want to talk about it now! That's if he even wants a relationship. That's even if I want a relationship.

She stopped her self-deprecation to say hello to Jean's father, who had gotten up to check on her; but it did not stop him from looking at her strangely. She smiled conspicuously at him as she straightened her hair and regained her composure. He simply nodded and then returned to the living room sofa to read his newspaper. Jennifer walked out of the hallway just in time to run into Jean's mother.

Hi, Jennifer!” Cécile greeted her as she entered the house from the garage. “I just got back from the grocery store. Would you like to stay for lunch? I haven't had a chance to talk to you ever since I went back to work.”

Actually I was just about to leave, but thank you,” Jennifer reluctantly declined. She wanted to put a little more distance and time between her most recent embarrassment.

Well in that case, I just want to ask you something really quick. How do you think he is doing?”

Um, okay I guess,” Jennifer hesitated, unsure of what to say. “He's been staring out the window a lot more these last few days.”

I know!” Cécile confirmed. “Ever since the doctors told him he might not be able to walk on that leg again--”

Wait, the doctors said what?” Jennifer gasped.

I thought he told you. He told me not to tell anyone, but since you're the only one he even talks to anymore I just assumed you knew. The doctors say they won't know the extent of the damage on his leg for months before they know if the leg is healing correctly or not.”

Jennifer stood stunned in front of Cécile as the new information sunk in.

You know, I forgot to tell Jean something,” Jennifer continued in a daze as she imagined all the rage she wanted to unleash upon him for keeping such a big secret. “Do you mind if I excuse myself for a moment?”

Sure, I'll just put away the groceries while you talk to him some more. Maurice! Come help me with the groceries!”

Jennifer charged past Jean's father, who gave her a wide berth.

You lied to me!” Jennifer hollered as soon as she threw open the door to Jean's room.

About what?” Jean asked unfazed as he continued to stare outside the window.

You're mom told me about your leg. How could you keep such a huge secret from me? And what's worse is all that staring out the window means you've probably given up.”

I didn't give up walking; it was taken from me!” Jean contended sternly as he looked her dead in the eye.

Your mom said the doctors won't know for sure about your leg, but that also means there's a chance it'll heal all the way.”

Oh, shut up! You don't know what it's like! No one does! I'm the one that has to live with a useless leg, not you...not my mom...NO ONE!”

The room filled with silence following his outburst. Jennifer took a moment to organize her thoughts before speaking again.

If that's the way you feel then why did you even let me visit? Why stay quiet until now?”

Because I pity you for the same reason you pity me. We're both useless and weak; mine just happens to be literal.”

I don't pity you, Jean,” Jennifer dejected.

Then why else did you suddenly show an interest in me? When I was free to move and choose who I could be with I chose you and you blew me off. Now that I can't move and had all my choices taken from me you decide to spend time with me,” Jean snarled.

I admit, I thought at first you were some conceited jock trying to get into my pants. But then after spending time with you I got to see you differently. The accident...I don't know. It just made me realize how much you really mean to me.”

Well it doesn't matter anyways. I'm not that guy anymore; I'm nothing.”

You're alive is what you are! Be grateful! It's not like being some jock is the only thing you got going for yourself.”


God, what is it that you want?”

God? What I want is for God to get off his lazy a*s, come down here, and fix my damn leg! But right now, what I want more than anything is for you to get the hell away from me!”

Jean, listen--”


Jennifer fought back tears and the urge to slap Jean for making her feel this way. She stormed out, feeling even angrier than when she went in. She brushed past his parents on her way out and took in a deep breath of the cool morning air. Jennifer kept moving, afraid that if she stopped even for a second the tears would flow and never cease. The argument with Jean repeated over and over in her head, clouding all of her senses as she walked aimlessly into the city.

Suddenly a car horn blared at her and she realized she was walking in the middle of the street. She looked over at the driver and saw that it was her mother in the car, slowly keeping pace behind her. Jennifer looked at her mother, bewildered.

Cécile called me,” her mother answered, and gestured for Jennifer to get into the car.

Jennifer huffed, and then went around to enter the passenger side of the car. Sure enough, before she could get a single word out the tears began to flow.

What happened?” her mother coaxed.

Jennifer shook her head; the only response she could muster. Her mother stayed silent the whole drive home, and Jennifer was thankful that the tears had stopped by the time they pulled into the driveway. She could see her mother staring at her in the corner of her eye, but kept her head forward. If she saw the look of concern and sadness on her mother's face she would lose herself to the tears once again. Instead she muttered thanks as she trudged up the stairs to her room, and once again stared at the ceiling.

When did life get so complicated? She thought in between the millions of times she replayed every interaction with Jean in her head. First it was my dad ruining things and now it's Jean...or is it me? What did I do wrong?

There was a gentle knock on her door, which suggested it was her mother.

Not now,” Jennifer denied. The door opened despite her protest, and her mother crept in slowly with a plate of food. “I'm not hungry.”

You've been in here for three hours and its getting late; you need to eat something,” her mother persisted.

Fine,” Jennifer relented. She took a small bite and swallowed in order to placate her mother. After the first bite, however, she suddenly realized how hungry she was and devoured the rest of the plate in just a few minutes. Mothers really do know what is best for their children.

You don't have to tell me what happened if you don't want to; but just know that I'm here for you if you need to talk,” her mother offered as she collected the plate. She walked slowly, and paused almost imperceptibly at the doorway before reaching out to close the door.

Do you think I'm weak, mom?” Jennifer blurted, unable to contain her thoughts any longer.

Who told you that?” her mother blustered, her maternal instinct to defend her daughter taking over momentarily.

Jean said he pities me for being weak, and he's mad at me because he thinks I'm pitying him too.”

Just because he was in a car accident? I mean I know he was hurt pretty bad but at least he got to walk away from it.”

Jennifer looked away, wishing her mother already knew the severity of the injury instead so she would not have to repeat it to her.

Mom, the doctors aren't sure if he'll ever be able to walk on his leg again, and...”

She paused to let some tears stream down her face before continuing.

I think I'm to blame for it. He wouldn't have gotten into that car accident if he didn't give me a ride home. And I keep thinking to myself that I should have been more adamant about calling dad for a ride home--”

Listen to me,” her mother objected. “It's not your fault; there was no way you could have known what would happen. You're not weak either; you're one of the strongest people I know. You take after your father in that way. He's never afraid to make a decision when he has to, and since I'm always so indecisive he has to make them all the time. In fact, the last time I was firm on a decision it was because you inspired me to.”

What do you mean?”

When your dad made the decision to keep you from visiting Jean in the hospital, I didn't really agree with it. But I kept quiet to keep the peace like I always do. When I saw you that first day in the hospital visiting Jean after he told you not to, it made me realize how important he was to you. I went back to your father and made the decision to let you keep visiting. I also reminded him that you're growing up and that he has to respect your wishes.”

So, what should I do then?”

I wish I could tell you exactly what to do; but you're at that age where only you can make that decision. All I can say is, maybe Jean is scared, like I was, and needs some inspiration to be brave like you.”

Jennifer stayed silent; unsure of what, if anything, was left to say. Her mother stroked her hair as they sat in silence. Jennifer felt her racing thoughts slowly begin to fade as she surrendered herself to sleep.

* * *

What an a*****e!” Stacey decried after Jennifer recounted the dramatic events over the weekend. It was already lunch time, but it was the earliest the girls were able to see each other in person while they were at school.

Right?” Jennifer agreed, feeling grateful for her friend's affirmation.

If he didn't want to be pitied then he needs to stop acting so pitiful...staring out that window all effing day. It's one thing to be mad when people pity you when you're acting normal; it's a whole other thing if he is acting all mopey.”

Yeah, but what do you think, Stace: was he really showing me pity when he talked to me and invited me to the party?” Jennifer pressed.

Yes, Jen. All those times I saw him checking out your tiny white girl a*s when you weren't looking was totally out of pity,” Stacey answered, cocking her head to further accentuate her sarcasm. “What possible other motive could he have to talk to a smart and cute classmate?”

Okay, okay, I get it,” Jennifer conceded, blushing slightly at the thought of someone checking her out. She could always count on Stacey to play devil's advocate and give her a reality check.

So dude lied to you, huh. Have you ever thought about why he lied?”

It's obvious, right? He must not really care about me if he was trying to hide something that big from me.”

Oh really,” Stacey wondered aloud. She then looked over and tapped the shoulder of a boy sitting behind her dressed all in black. “Hi there! I wet the bed until I was eleven.”

The boy, and Jennifer, stared at her awkwardly until they realized there was nothing more to that random statement.

Okay...” the boy said and he turned back around to finish his lunch.

What was that?” Jennifer hissed.

That was a big embarrassing secret about myself that I don't really care if he knows,” Stacey responded nonchalantly. “Why? Because he's a stranger and I'm never going to see him again. Except...now that I think about it we might be in the same English class...”

Yep,” the boy confirmed as he picked up his tray and walked away.

Damn it! Well the point is: people don't hide things from someone unless they care about what that person thinks of them.”

So since Jean hid from me the life-changing possibility of becoming disabled he actually cares about me?”


Jennifer absently sipped her milk carton as she mulled the idea over. Could it be that simple? Even if it was, why would he say such hurtful things to her?

I don't know,” Jennifer doubted. “Maybe I should just give up on this whole thing and just go back to having a drama free life.”

Maybe you should.”

Jennifer blinked in surprise at her best friend being so agreeable all of a sudden.

I thought you were supposed to tell me what I don't want to hear.”

I am.”

Jennifer glared at her, and knew that she was right. She did not want to give up on Jean, be it out of love or friendship. He was a part of her life now, and she a part of his.

Jennifer knocked on the front door to Jean's house and waited for someone to answer. She looked around nervously after no one did, and she wondered where everyone was. She knocked again but the only response was silence. She called Jean on his phone but it went straight to voicemail so she hung up. She then called Cécile to find out where they were.

Hello?” Cécile answered the call.

Hey Cécile it's me, Jen. I stopped by your house to visit but no one is answering the door. Are you guys out?”

Maurice and I are at work for another hour, but Jean should be home. There's a spare key hidden under the windowsill on the far left corner. Go ahead and use it and check on Jean for us. Doctor says he needs to start getting up and walking around for at least half an hour.”

Okay, thanks. I'll put the key back.”

Don't worry about it, you can just leave it on the table if you'd like. Anyways, I have to go. I'll see you when I get home?”

Sure,” Jennifer answered, feeling very unsure of that possibility.

Jennifer found the key and used it to get inside the house, which was eerily quiet. All the other times she had visited there was at least either Cécile or Maurice listening to the radio or talking to each other. They did not have a TV, which she thought was kind of odd at first; but after she thought about it it made sense given how Jean had revealed why his vocabulary was more advanced than the average teenager. She looked over at the pictures on the walls, taking in each photo in more detail given this new level of freedom to roam the house.

She noticed that almost all of the pictures of Jean without his family where of him playing sports or in his soccer uniform. The impact of what Jean could possibly lose was starting to become much more clearer. While Jean was definitely not just a dumb jock, he was a brilliant athlete. So much of his life was centered on his ability to run and push himself. It was the freedom to be who he wanted to be that was at stake.

How did you get in?” Jean called out from the hallway. His voice boomed through the still house, causing Jennifer to jump.

You scared me!” Jennifer howled.

You scared me too. I wasn't expecting anyone home for another couple of hours and I heard someone come in.”

Jean walked into the living room with her, using a pair of crutches. Jennifer tried hard not to stare at the crutches as he approached her, and her mind raced to find something to say.

Well since you're up already, want to walk around outside and talk for a bit?”

My mom told you about the walking thing, huh.”

I mean, if the doctor said you should then--”

Whatever. Let's get this over with,” Jean muttered and then walked out the door.

Jennifer hurried to catch up to him. A mixture of fear and anger flooded every chamber of her heart and all she wanted to do was just cut her losses and run back home. Instead, she willed her heart to pump out the fear and anger as quickly as they came as she kept pace next to Jean.

So you must be excited to finally be able to go outside again,” Jennifer started.

I would be more excited if I could get rid of these crutches,” Jean dejected.

They continued through the rest of the block without exchanging any words. Jennifer could now recognize the fear hidden behind his cynicism, and instead of getting mad she felt okay with it. She thought about what to say next, with words right at the tip of her tongue yet so far out of reach. She felt if she waited any longer to figure out the right way to start the conversation the words would all slip away.

It was now or never.

I was afraid,” Jennifer blurted.

Jean looked up at her, his face conveying only confusion.

The reason I started to care for you wasn't out of pity. I kept blowing you off at first because I was scared to like you. I never had anybody flirt with me or anything like that before. The accident just made me realize I was more scared of losing you than accepting the fact that I actually care about you.”

Jean stopped in his tracks, let out a sigh, and used the crutches to ease himself on the curb. He then looked up into Jennifer's eyes.

I don't know if I like that any better,” he simply replied.

What do you mean?”

Whether it was out of pity or out of fear; either way it was because of my accident that you started to feel differently. How do you even know if it's for real? That you wouldn't have just kept blowing me off forever and then live our separate lives.”

I don't know. All I do know is that I feel something and I'm not afraid of it anymore. I mean...not as afraid I guess. Not enough to keep me from wanting to see where this goes.”

I don't like making decisions like that based on fear. You can't trust yourself in those moments of intense emotions.”

Well what about you? You're afraid too. You're afraid you'll never be able to accept your...condition...as a part of yourself. You've just given up and taking it out on everyone who cares about you.”

Jean stared intently at her as he contemplated her words.

Now why did you have to point that out? Now I feel like an a*****e.”

Sorry, I didn't mean for it to come out so harsh. It's just--” Jennifer stammered.

It's okay! You were right...mostly. I didn't really see what I was doing to everyone else. But I'm not scared of accepting my leg as it is; I think no matter what happens I'll accept it eventually. I'm scared that I'm going to try so hard to get better with all the physical therapy and casts and follow-up appointments and then all that work will be for nothing. I'm scared that I don't have any control over what the outcome will be no matter what I do,” Jean admitted.

Well, you don't have to go through all that alone, you know,” Jennifer offered.

Thanks, but I'm going to need some time before I figure all that out. I really appreciate you coming out to talk to me; it helped a lot. You're a really good friend.”

Sure thing, pal,” Jennifer winced at her poor attempt at being nonchalant. How do you graciously accept being friend-zoned?

Bye,” was his only reply as he stood up and started walking back towards his house.

I'll see you at school?” Jennifer asked.

Maybe,” Jean answered with his trademark wink.

Jennifer rolled her eyes in return, smiling widely.

© 2016 Juan More Story

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I love this piece. My only criticism is to change either Jen's or Jean's name. They are too similar and it would be to the reader's advantage, so it's not a matter of having to double check each time.

Posted 6 Years Ago

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1 Review
Added on May 4, 2016
Last Updated on May 4, 2016
Tags: Step, Forward, Teen, Teenage, Car, Accident


Juan More Story
Juan More Story


I have a strange perception of the world. I look at it in such a negative light that it tends to exceed my expectations, making the world seem beautiful. As a result some of my writing doesn't have.. more..

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A Chapter by Juan More Story