Rachel Thompson

Jack Canon's American Destiny

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Living Backwards by Tracy Sweeney (Excerpt)


I woke to the sound of my alarm. The radio was playing Smooth by Santana and Rob Thomas. The fabric under my cheek felt scratchy. I was wearing skinny jeans, and the walls were purple.


There was no way that this could actually be happening. As nightmarish as this situation appeared to be, I was clearly not dreaming, but I refused to accept that a pair of retro jeans had killed me. I couldn’t fathom that level of embarrassment. I’d also rather believe in a benevolent God that wouldn’t banish us back to high school when we died. I was a pretty nice person overall. Maybe I tried returning an outfit once after I had already worn it, but I was a good person who deserved the wings, the harp and the flawless complexion in my afterlife. So if I wasn’t dead, there had to be a logical explanation as to why I woke up in 1999. Actual time travel, while popular in a lot of movies, simply didn’t exist. Ashton Kutcher can create his Butterfly Effect and Peggy Sue can decide whether she should get married, but in real life there was no do over. The possibility that I was in a coma was more likely, but still didn’t explain the bump on the back of my head. It shouldn’t still hurt. Regardless, I was back in time without the cool De Lorean.

Now maybe I’ve watched too much TV—well, I know I’ve watched too much TV—but I began to think about how complicated time travel movies were. There were tons of rules. If you change part of one person’s future, it has a domino effect. Ashton Kutcher made one bad decision and—BAM—Amy Smart became a crack whore. This was serious business. There was no way of telling how or why I was here. I didn’t want to screw up the future or become a crack whore so I needed to get my act together as soon as possible.

I glanced at the clock. It was already seven o’clock in the morning. I had been pacing for too long and now I needed to get ready for school. A new wave of panic washed over me as I realized that I had no idea when school started, where my locker was located, or what my first class was. I remembered nothing. Maybe I had blocked out my whole high school existence as a defense mechanism. Maybe all the booze I’d consumed had made me soft. Either way—I was screwed. Peggy Sue never had to worry about that stuff.

I dragged my ass to the bathroom and heard movement downstairs. My mom would most likely be working at the hospital already. It was probably my dad. I wondered if he would still be around when I left for school or if he had the early shift at the station. I was kind of curious to see him.

Walking into the bathroom, I noticed some of my parents’ toiletries on the counter. I picked up my dad’s aftershave and smiled. I wasn’t far away in Seattle so I got to see them fairly often, but usually not for extended periods of time. The scent of his aftershave was always so calming. Part of me missed living here.

I formulated a plan while I got ready. I would head straight to the office when I got to school and ask to see my emergency card. I knew that every year we filled out a card so that Mrs. Jankowski, the school secretary, would know what class we were in if she ever needed to find us. It had our class schedule, locker number and if I wasn’t mistaken, our locker combination. I crossed my fingers because that would be ideal. I was pretty sure my locker was on the first floor near Pruitt’s bio lab, but I just didn’t remember the specifics.

As I was trying to curl my hair without a much-needed roll brush, there was a knock on my door.

“Jill?” my dad called from the other side of the door. “I’m leaving.”

I jumped from the seat in front of my vanity and darted across the room. When the door swung open, he jumped back. I was startled as well as I took in his appearance. His hair was jet black without the now familiar touches of gray. He clearly looked younger. The best part, however, was that he had a mustache—a freaking pornstache. I had totally forgotten his mustache phase. Why did I not find this funny ten years ago? I started to laugh and couldn’t stop.

“Jill?” he said again confused. “What’s going on? And why is your hair all….” He gestured wildly at my head. “You’re just going to school, right?”

I managed to stop giggling. “Of course, Dad. Why? Do I have a choice?” Maybe school was optional. He looked at me strangely again.

“No, of course not. It’s just that you looked kind of…fancy.” He shifted from one foot to the other uncomfortably.

“Oh! No big deal, Dad. Just trying something new.”

It’s called brushing my hair before I leave the house and not pulling it into a messy bun. I’m not socially inept anymore.

He cleared his throat, uncomfortable again. “Well, okay then. I’m going to go so…I’ll see you tonight.”

With that, he turned and headed down the stairs. I noticed that he stopped and glanced back at me briefly before leaving. My dad was a pretty perceptive guy. Detectives interrogated people for a living, but I was sure he’d probably chalk my behavior up to just being a teenage girl.

I gathered up my messenger bag and looked at the Word of the Day for April 30th.

Redux: 1. brought back; 2. resurgent.

Well, that’s a little obvious.

I headed downstairs and grabbed a Cinnamon Pop Tart from the kitchen. I jammed it into my mouth and headed outside.

Must remember to buy Cinnamon Pop Tarts after I dig the Korn CD out of my closet. Finding lots of hidden gems in 1999.

I saw the old Toyota I drove until it fell apart outside in my parking space. I called her The Red Baron. I had names for a lot of inanimate objects. I climbed inside, feeling sentimental. I loved this car. She wasn’t slick. She wasn’t fancy. She was a good old broad. But even the excitement of being able to drive my beloved car again couldn’t lift my spirits. I put the key into the ignition and headed off to school with knots in my stomach.

As I pulled into the parking lot of Reynolds High, I noticed how small the school looked to me now. I spent four years at NYU. My dorm was the size of this entire school. I noticed some familiar faces milling around; people who I hadn’t seen in years, but had been haunting my Facebook page. Tyler Burroughs was showing a group of kids a dent in his front fender. Newsflash, Tyler, your driving doesn’t get any better. Sarah Spellman was walking into school with her arms crossed in front of her chest. Oh Sarah, enjoy those perky boobs now because small and perky kicks big and wonky’s ass any day. Megan’s black convertible was parked next to Erik McDougall’s van. My heart sank. I wasn’t friends with Megan or Danielle yet. I didn’t even remember seeing much of Megan senior year. I couldn’t imagine going into school and pretending that they weren’t two of the most important people in my life. But maybe I didn’t have to. I was going to meet Danielle at orientation in little over a month. I wouldn’t really be changing the future if I befriended her a few weeks early. It was practically just a matter of days.

Meg and I didn’t have any classes together and I wasn’t what you would call social; however, Danielle was in my World Lit class. I’d see her in class—whenever that was. I could say hi or maybe chat about the weather. As much as it sounded like I was getting ready to ask her to the prom, it was actually more important than prom. This had to work.

As I entered the main hallway, my nostrils were assaulted. The place smelled like teenagers—all full of sweat and angst. If I was sent back to my college days at NYU, at least I’d be able to handle the inescapable smell of the burning incense in the dorm. This was just plain nasty. Pushing my irritation aside, I took a deep breath and headed for the office. Mrs. Jankowski was sitting behind the desk looking just as irritated. Swell.

“Hi, Mrs. J,” I squeaked. My palms were sweating and the day had barely even started.

“Jillian. Hello, how can I help you?” she asked with a wrinkled brow.

“Well, I was hoping to get a copy of my emergency card from you, please.”

Polite. Concise. I’m doing all right.

“May I ask why you need that? It’s a peculiar request.”

She eyed me cautiously. It didn’t occur to me that asking for a copy of my emergency card would sound weird, but now that I had actually said it out loud, it sounded really, really weird. There was no good reason why I should need her to make a copy for me, and because I obviously sucked at this, I never took the time to think of an excuse.

“Well, um, I’ve been taking a medication for…some dizziness that I’ve been experiencing.”

I felt really proud of my ability to think on my feet because Mrs. Jankowski looked genuinely concerned.

“It’s not a big deal,” I continued. “I bumped my head because—you know me,” I added rolling my eyes. “Super klutz. So, it makes me very forgetful, and I’m concerned I may forget my locker combo or my class schedule…” Or what year it is. I could see that she was buying my explanation so I trailed off, quitting while I was ahead. She walked around to the file cabinet behind her desk, searched for my card and headed to the copy machine.

“Here you go, dear, but please take care of yourself. We’d like you to make it to graduation in one piece.” She handed me the paper with a smile.

“Thank you so much, Mrs. J.”

I was a sweaty mess, but at least I could now find my locker and get the inevitable over with. Then as I turned the corner, I saw them. Danielle and Josh walking hand and hand. He stopped in front of a locker, spun her like a ballerina and kissed the top of her head. I had to catch myself from yelling “Josh, you nerd!” because, come on, who does that? But I held back, because I think if I randomly called a guy I’m not supposed to know a nerd, he’d be kind of pissed. Pretending not to know my friends was going to be harder than I thought. I had to talk to Danielle and fix this, so I needed to formulate a plan. Maybe I would see if she wanted to study together for…whatever we were studying. Then I would be my charming self and she would realize that I’m awesome and be my best friend.

I may need a more detailed plan.

Fortunately, I had some time to work on the execution because according to my class schedule, World Lit was after lunch. I had trig first period.

After a quick stop at my locker, I headed for Room 218. My plan for going to class was to arrive late after everyone was sitting down. Then I could just take the seat that was left. But as I peeked through the window, there were a number of open seats. It was three weeks to graduation and senioritis had invaded Reynolds High. After a sigh of defeat, I decided that if worse came to worse, I would stick with the head trauma story. It was completely believable because I was clumsy as hell.

“Ah, Jillian, so nice of you to join us today,” Mrs. Jacob snapped from the blackboard. “Maybe you can help us find the reference angle in the example on the board.”

I had no idea what a reference angle was and was fairly certain that I never actually did. I thought I was really good in trig, but I obviously didn’t retain information well. I was under the impression that angles belonged in Geometry. Clearly math wasn’t my strong suit.

“Um, no, that’s okay,” I responded casually. “I’m sure there’s someone else that would be more qualified to do that. I’ll just take my seat.” She looked stunned for a moment, opening then closing her mouth. I thought maybe I’d gotten out of answering the question except I noticed her staring as I sat down in one of the empty seats.

“Jillian,” she began. And I already knew what was coming. “Your seat is over there next to Valerie.” She pointed across the room and my eyes met the bane of my best friend’s existence.

Before I could think of an explanation as to why I was sitting in the wrong place, it hit me. I could fix this. I could make it so that Danielle and Val never go into business together. Maybe that was why I was here. It might be against the rules of time travel, but I doubt the laws of physics took Val Cooper into account.

“Jillian,” Mrs. Jacob repeated.

“Oh, I’m sorry.” I couldn’t stop grinning. “Um, I bumped my head last night and could I…”

“Why don’t you go see the nurse?” Wasting no time, I took off to start planning. With a note from the nurse, I managed to avoid classes for the morning. I was too nervous about having to set up my girl date with Danielle. It seemed silly since I had known her for over ten years, but it didn’t change the fact that I was freaking out.

By noon, I was a wreck. I decided that I needed to get some air and get away from the high school smell for a bit. Following the walkway around the side of the school, I noticed a small space behind the gymnasium facing the woods. There were a few milk crates turned upside down to sit on and the ground was littered with cigarette butts. It looked like a giant ashtray. I sat down on one of the milk crates, bending my knees and leaning my back against the wall. I closed my eyes and tried to take deep breaths to calm myself down, but it wasn’t working. I knew there was one thing that could help me relax, but it felt kind of wrong. It took me less than a second to decide I didn’t care. I grabbed the flask from my back pocket, unscrewed the cap and took a quick sip. The familiar burn warmed me once again. Bending over, I rested my head on my knees, closed my eyes, and imagined a life where Danielle ran her own successful company. No inappropriate behavior to deal with. No lost clients. Her reputation intact. I was still visualizing how happy Danielle would be when I heard a strange noise.

Standing near the corner of the building, lighting a cigarette and looking at me with a curious expression was Luke Chambers.

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Genre – Chick Lit

Rating – PG13

More details about the author & the book

Connect with Tracy Sweeney on Facebook & Twitter

Website http://www.tracysweeney.net/

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