School . . . was . . . OUT!
At the sound of the bell, the fifteen hundred students at Tooler High
all screamed a simultaneous cry of triumph and pounded towards the exits.
Three months of sweet sweet summer lay stretched ahead - time to rock and
Jake McBride hoisted his backpack onto his shoulders, walking a bit
slower towards the bus loading zone as everyone zoomed past him. He yawned
- the break ahead was much needed. In a few days he'd reconvene with these
many unnamed faces at the senior graduation - since his roommate Sasha's
older sister was graduating - but until then, Jake didn't want to think
about anything but rest and relaxation.
"Jake! Come on over here, man!" Felix was waving him over to where
The Gang had crowded.
Jake smiled and hurried his steps along a little bit. He and his
friends had arranged a big get-together over at Paige's for later in the
night. Everyone was gathering now to discuss details.
"So are we doing the usual? Pizza, movies, that kind of thing?"
Garland was asking as Jake pulled up. Garland's arm was slung over Gen's
shoulders - since everyone had gotten back from the Spring Break
extravaganza a couple months ago, he and Genesis had been more of an
official item than previously in the school year.
"Actually, I think my parents are going to order out a ton of Chinese
take-out. My mom's been on a big Oriental food kick lately," replied Paige.
"They found a really great place over by the north side of downtown that
"Ooh . . . Chinese food." Arizona licked her lips. "Can't wait!"
"I think at the end of the night, all the girls are crashing at
Paige's," added Morgan. "I figured all us guys could walk over to my house
and sleep there."
"Sounds like a plan to me," replied Sasha. He was standing beside
LeeAnne, but not totally 'with' her, as Garland and Gen were standing
'with' one another. Though LeeAnne's feelings for him had been out in the
air for a couple months now, Sasha still felt a bit awkward on the topic of
'relationship' and had made little to no progress with her at all. "Jake?
"Ah'm up for anything," Jake answered with a shrug. "Be nice to have
a bit of time with jest The Gang before all yer relatives get in next
Sasha rolled his eyes, grinning. "Ain't that the truth." For Rachel's
graduation, most of Sasha's large extended family (including a couple fly-
ins from Italy) would be arriving in the days to come. "If you think next
weekend's going to be hectic, try the week or two AFTER that, when Mom's
stomach finally pops." The new arrival to the Blake Clan, child number six,
was due to arrive in another two weeks.
Mariah giggled. "Makes her sound like a giant bubble."
"Hey, have you seen the belly Mrs. Blake's carrying around?" asked
Jake, laughing. "Poor woman. Half makes me wanna sterilize mahself just to
make sure ah never made a girl go through that kahnda pain."
"You might want to sterilize yourself anyway," joked Garland. "Just
to make sure that planet earth doesn't have to go through the pain of
"Ha, ha." Jake rolled his eyes.
The evening was a hit. Everyone had a lot of fun, digging into food
and playing games, veering away from "the usual" Gang get-together. At one
a.m. they called it quits, and the guys went over to Morgan's house next
door. Sasha commented on his relief at being able to smoke inside again,
taking up a seat in Morgan's dad's armchair next to an ashtray. The other
four guys plunked down on the couch and the floor - they were away from the
girls, but far from sleep.
"I'm so excited it's summer," marveled Felix. "When I moved here at
the beginning of the year, I thought time was going to drag on and on and
on. If I hadn't met you guys, I don't know where I'd be right now. I'm
really looking forward to Breanna coming down and meeting everyone."
"Lazy days," agreed Garland. "Of course . . . not entirely lazy . . .
I don't know about you guys, but I'm going to be looking for a job."
The others murmured that they'd be doing the same.
Sasha nudged Jake. "Are you okay, man? You've been a little bit
quieter this last week than usual. I figured finals were just dragging you
"Oh, they were." Jake nodded emphatically. "Ah think it's a little
bit more than that though . . . ever since Winter got pregnant Ah've been
thinking a lot about my family. You know, about my mother and all. Ah wish
there was some kind of way Ah could find her. Just to meet her or
something." He sighed. "I don't know, I guess it's just, lahk ah said,
Winter, and Sasha's mom. But it's been on my mind a LOT."
Morgan frowned slightly. "Do you know her name?"
"Sure." Jake shrugged. "It was Ellen Laurn before she married mah
dad. But it would be kahnda hard to find her now. Ah mean, for all ah know
she could be remarried or somethin'. Ah don't know what name she goes by.
Plus we don't know where she left to . . . what state or anything."
"She grew up here in Tooler, didn't she?" asked Garland. "You could
probably at least find a picture of her or something if you did the whole
yearbook search thing."
"Yeah." Jake looked doubtful though.
"I wish I could help you out, Jake," said Morgan remorsefully. "But I
think I'm the only one whose parents grew up here. Well, my mom and
Arizona's mom. But they're a lot older than your parents were. My mom's
class was graduated by the time your mom and dad's class even got to high
"Yeah, that would probably help you out a lot," said Felix. "If you
could find some people who were close with her back in high school.
Somebody's still got to be in touch with her. You don't just say goodbye
without turning around to people you grew up with."
Jake looked into Felix's eyes and tried to reply tactfully instead of
angrily. "She did that to mah father."
Sasha shook his head. "One of us has to have parents who grew up
here. Didn't Mariah's mom live here when she was younger like that? She's
about your dad's age."
"Mariah's parents met in college," corrected Jake, shaking his head.
"Her mom moved her when she was about twenty. Had Mariah a couple years
Garland was frowning, thinking the hardest, and then he snapped his
fingers. "I've got it! Jacob Valentine!"
Jake furrowed his brow. "What are you talkin' about?"
"His dad grew up here, like, from birth. Went to college in Atlanta,
that's where he met Val's mom. But he's really young too, probably the same
age as your dad, Jake." Garland was nodding to himself, excited. "See if
you can't get in touch with Val and find a number for his father. I'll bet
a million bucks he knew BOTH your parents."
"Do you really think Val would be willing to do that?" Sasha lit
another cigarette, chain smoking tonight, staring Garland in the eye. "It's
not like he and his father were exactly on the best of conditions when he
left here, Gar."
"They're doing better now," Garland reassured him. "Earlier in the
school year, Mr. Valentine went down there and apologized to Val, got back
into his life a little bit. They're not exactly best friends but they do
talk pretty often now. Val told Paige all about it."
Jake leaned his head back against the couch. "Ah guess it's worth a
shot," he admitted. "Ah just don't want to get mah hopes all up and then
have everything crash down again."
"So don't get your hopes up." Felix shrugged. "You expect everything,
anything seems like nothing. But you expect nothing, anything seems like
everything. Worst case scenario, Mr. Valentine's never heard of Ellen
Laurn. Best case scenario, he's got an idea of how you can contact her.
Either way though, there's nothing to lose."
Morgan grinned. "Let us know any way we can help out, Jake. We're
there for you, buddy."
Jake smiled back at him. "Thanks, Morg. Hey, you have any chips back
there in yer kitchen?"