J a c k .

Chapter 7: Some wait longer than others...


Sunday, Halloween Day, around noon.

"Hey, Nicole! I'm going to the park," Alex shouted at me over the noise of our vacuum cleaner. I turned it off.

"What?" I wiped the sweat from my forehead. All morning I had been cleaning, a duty I had neglected since last Saturday. The messiness of this place was getting on my nerves.

"I said," he repeated and moved his dark brown sketchbook behind his back. "I'm going to the park. They're having a festival for the local middle school down there. I figured that there would be plenty of sketch opportunities there. My teach is looking for something new." He tilted his head to the side and shrugged.

"All right," I replied, then turned the vacuum back on and continued vacuuming. It was normal for him to take off to somewhere odd, on the chance that he would get some good live sketches. I heard the door open, shut, and Alex was gone.

When I finished the living room, I sat on the couch and stared at the vacuum. I didn't really feel like finishing the rest of the house; I felt like going outside. So, I changed clothes and grabbed the two dirty laundry bags sitting by the front door. Mine was blue plaid, Alex's was tye-dye, and both were so full that they would hardly close.

As soon I as opened the door to leave, the phone rang. I set the bags against the wall, shut the door, and walked into the living room to pick up the phone. I plopped down on the couch, and answered it. "Hello?"

"Hey, babe, it's me."

"Hmmm...sorry," I told him innocently. "I don't know a me. But I do know a Nathan Lewis that sounds a lot like you." I noticed my scarf on a chair across the room, got up, and walked towards it.

He chuckled. "How are you?"

"Good. Just about to run out and get some laundry done. You?" I reached the scarf and began pulling it on with one hand. My neck began to instantly sweat from the heat the scarf kept in and the temperature of our apartment. I unzipped my coat and tugged my scarf away from my neck to give it air.

"Great. I'm really sorry I didn't call sooner...I got held up at work. They are killing me down here."

"No problem."

"Hey, wanna have lunch, say, Tuesday?"

"Sure. Meet you at Wiley's at...12:30?"

"Sounds good. Well, gotta go, I'll see you then."

The laundromat wasn't far from our apartment. The day was a little chilly, but the air was crisp like I liked it, so I decided to walk. Usually, during the late spring and summer, when I do take our dirty clothes to the laundromat, I start them on a wash cycle, ask Cary the guy who runs the place to watch my stuff, then head over to the deli across the street and get a sandwich for lunch. But today was cold, so I went to the coffee shop next to it for coffee instead.

I sat down at a tiny table for two and the waiter came. I ordered a decaf in a styrofoam cup, in case I didn't finish it in time.

I stared blankly out the large window at the leaves sweeping down the sidewalk while I carefully sipped my coffee, my mind wandering to school, and Cecilia's pregnancy, and eventually, Jack...

"What do you think he will be like, Jack?"

How do you mean?

I sat on a thick branch of a tree in my backyard, picking at the bark and staring at the stars. Jack wasn't really there, as in I couldn't see him, but I knew he was right there. Right next to me as I sat on a limb three stories in the air, prepared to catch me if I fell. Helping me, a ten year old with legs too long and a chest too flat, to figure out how my future would be. How I wanted it to be.

"What will he look like? How will I know it is him?"

Trust me. You will know. You may not know at first, but you will know. You are smart.

I never had to say what I was thinking about. I never had to speak the heavier things on my mind out loud. He always knew what I was talking about. He knew, now, that I was talking about the man I was going to spend the rest of my life with. The man that all girls know is out there at ten years old and can't wait until they get old enough for him to come along. Some wait longer than others. Some don't have to wait long at all. Some spend their whole lives looking for him in all the wrong places.

"I think he will be smart. And blonde. I really like blonde guys. Some of them look like surfers. I saw a high school guy the other day. He had blonde hair and a little goatee. It was really cute."

You shouldn't focus on the outside. The inside is what counts. With time, his looks will fade, but he will always be the same man underneath.

"But a good looking guy is always nice." I giggled and knew Jack was smiling, just a little bit, too.

"Hello, dear."

I turned to find Elise standing behind me with a styrofoam to-go cup steaming in her hands.

"Hello there, Elise."

She sat and in one quick snap of her head, she flipped all of her long dark hair over her shoulder. "I was going to get a coffee and go home, but I think I'll sit and chat a while with you. That is if you have enough time to spare for your lonely old neighbor." She raised an dark eyebrow in question, which caused me to laugh.

"I always have time for you, Elise."

She looked at me dubiously. "Have you taken the time to read that book I gave you then?"

It was my turn to raise a brow. "That big book from last week? You wanted me to read it?"

"What did you think I expected you to do with it? Use it as a coaster?"

"Well...I'm sorry. It just slipped my mind, really."

"How old are you? Twenty-one? Twenty-two?"


It didn't throw her off at all. "Oh. Well, I am fifteen plus years your senior and I am telling you now: you have to read that book. The important parts are highlighted and dog-eared. Please."

I frowned. "Of course, as soon as I get the chance. What is it about?"

"You'll find out." She stood. "I have to go. Will you come by the shop as soon as you read it? Soon?"

"Sure. " My face rose with her. "But, Elise..."

"Nicole." Her face turned stern. "Read the book." She walked out of the coffee shop, coffee in hand.

My frown stayed fixed. What was her problem? I told myself as soon as I got home I would get that book and read it.

I suddenly didn't want to sit anymore. I stood up, laid money for my coffee on the table and walked out of the coffee shop. I took a left and followed the sidewalk until it ended into a large mass of flat concrete that sat next to the docks. It served as a parking lot for trucks (empty today for some reason) and wasn't more than a quarter of a block away.

Despite the chilliness of the wind that whipped through the trees laden with colorful branches, it was a wonderful day out. The sun came out from behind a rogue cloud. I grinned at the sunshine and felt instantly better. I tossed my coffee in a wastebasket and walked across the expanse of grey concrete, childishly jumping over cracks.

"Step on a crack..." I jumped over another, and came face to face with the fence at the edge of the water that overlooked the calm, blue-grey water. I turned quickly with a hop as though I were playing hopscotch and stared at the concrete mischievously. "Break yo momma's back."

I giggled. Sometimes you just needed to act like a kid.

I bent over and picked up a rock. I stood, rolled the rock over in my hand and reared back with my entire body, intent on skipping the relatively flat rock across the pavement.

"Having fun?"

I stopped in mid swing, the rock dropping out of my fingers like...well, a rock. It bounced a bit and settled.

I looked towards the voice. It was Michael, grinning smoothly at me. He stood off to my side, about ten feet, his hands resting easily in his coat pockets. Today he was wearing light toned, artfully faded blue jeans, a white turtleneck sweater and a black trench coat that reached mid calf. His coat was open and the wind rustled the bottom.

I sucked in air. I was able to contain my cool, though. I was beginning to see the difference between Michael and Jack, especially after dinner last week, but every time I saw him, his appearance and likeness to Jack, such as his smile, would catch me off guard. Especially his eyes; they were identical.

"Why, yes, I was," I replied easily, returning his grin and berating myself for being thrown off.

He pulled out a hand and motioned for me to continue. "Please, don't let me interrupt."

I shrugged, picked the rock up, and successfully skipped it across the pavement. It jumped about a dozen times before running out of energy and stopping thirty feet from us. I looked back up at him.

"Believe it or not, that was the most fun I have had in a while."

He gave me a look of mocking disbelief. "You mean getting out and about with Alex doesn't exhilarate you like skipping rocks?"

I rolled my eyes. "By 'getting out' I hope you don't mean getting stood up."

The edges of Michael's mouth turned downward just slightly. He still held ghost of a smile. "He's been standing you up?"

"Not really. Just walking out early in the morning and not coming back in until after dark. But, I allow myself not to get upset because it is in the pursuit of art and bettering oneself." I pretended to wave my annoyance off with a royal swish of my hand.

I began walking towards the laundromat. He turned on his heel and fell instep beside me. "So, rumor has is that you are a psych student."

"Wow, for once in my life, rumors about me are true."

He chuckled. "I heard it from several different people at the party last Saturday. I assumed it was true. 'A psychiatry student who will soon be the best in her field.' To quote a reliable source."

"I'm not even really the best in my class or even near it," I admitted. "I look and act the part, so they assume." I stopped at a bench in front of the laundromat. He preceded to take a seat next to me, lean back, and stretch his feet out in front of him. His hands were still in his pockets.

"So, do you have many job offers yet?"

I nodded. "It's amazing what kind of instant connections you have when your aunt is a senator and your uncle is a huge corporate lawyer."

"Very true," he remarked.

"Michael! Nicole!" Across the street was a girl with long, dark brown hair, jumped up and down, trying to get our attention. She wore the outfit that belonged to the nearest private middle school: grey skirt, navy knee socks, and a white top. Her coat was the most obnoxious shade of hot pink you've ever seen. She had bought it just to annoy the teachers at her school, who could not really do anything about it. Some kind of loophole in the rules they had yet to fix.

I knew this because I had taken her shopping for it on her birthday.

The girl ran across the street. She jumped on Michael's lap, causing him to snap out of his relaxed position, and wrapped her arms around his neck.

"Woah!" He groaned in pain, fake or not, I didn't know. "Emilie, calm down," he laughed, hugging her back. Emilie was the third daughter of the Lewis family, Brittany and Nathan's little sister. She was thirteen, looked a lot younger than she was, and showed the beginning of the beauty that her sister had.

She leaned backward. "You didn't come visit me," she pouted. Then she turned her dark brown eyes to me. "And you didn't either."

"Well, I thought after the last visit, I was entitled to at least three months of peace and quiet," I retorted, my nose indignantly high in the air.

"Sounds reasonable," added Michael with a ruffle of her hair.

She settled herself on Michael's lap because she was the perfect size to do so. "You two know each other?"

She gave me an innocent look that clearly said what she hadn't: Is there something going on here? She was smart for a thirteen year old. A bit nosy and a little presumptuous, too. You couldn't help but love her.

I crinkled the bridge of my nose and bit and shook my head slightly. Just enough to get the point across without attracting Michael's attention. She nodded as Michael responded to her spoken question.

"We're getting there."

"What are you doing down here?" I asked, switching the direction of the conversation.

"Me? Oh, I was at the deli with my friends. We were on our way to the festival. I saw you two, which was odd, then I told them to go on ahead." I had never heard a thirteen year old use the word odd, other than myself of course. She turned to Michael. "And my friend Mandy, she thinks you're hot. But don't tell her I told you. She'd kill me."

"Really?" He acted as though middle-schoolers proclaiming him 'hot' was an everyday occurrence. "Tell her I think she is pretty, too."

"Okay then. Should I tell her that you saw her from across the street when we left the deli?"

Michael nodded to Emilie. He was teaching her to lie! I grinned and covered it with my hand.

She smiled. "Okay. Hey! Do you guys want to come down to the festival? It'll be great. I helped set up some of the booths. And I helped make the caramel apples. You have to get one. They're yummy."

"Sounds good." Michael turned to me. "Would you like to come?" He smiled.

My heart skipped a beat. Good gracious, he really needed to stop smiling at me. I recovered quickly, however. "Well...I was doing laundry. I would have to put everything in the dryer real quick."

"Okay," Emilie chirped. "I'll help."

Emilie was right; the festival was great. There was crepe paper hanging from the trees everywhere, all in fall colors of red, orange, yellow, and brown. Booths were set up in rows, every color and type: funnel cake, roasted corn, sand art, face painting, darts, goldfish, and more. Teachers stood in booths and in walkways, observing. Handfuls of middle school children ran the booths. Emilie pulled us along as fast as she could, but Michael and I wouldn't go any faster than a leisurely walk. Emilie was make me tired just watching her bounce around.

We walked past a booth covered in small goldfish bowls. Four children were unsuccessfully trying to toss ping-pong balls into them to win goldfish. A boy with a paper megaphone was trying to get peoples attention and bring them to the booth but he was practically ignored. He put the megaphone down and handed a girl who had won a bag with a quarter sized goldfish in it.

"Hey! Goldfish!" exclaimed Emilie. She turned to Michael. "If I win, I'll give it to you, okay?" She handed her caramel apple to him.

"What would I do with a fish?" he asked dubiously.

"Well...it will give me an excuse to visit you. I will be the only thing keeping it alive." She ran through the bustling crowd to the booth and paid for a handful of balls.

"She's right about that," Michael mumbled under his breath. I laughed and took a bite out of my apple.

We sat down on a bench. We had barely been sitting there a minute and a leaf from a maple tree above me fell into my lap. I picked it up and examined it as I finished chewing.

"That's good luck, you know," commented Michael, crossing his feet at the ankle in front of him and taking a bite, also.

"What is?" I twirled the leaf and licked my lips of the caramel.

"Having a leaf fall in your lap. Actually, it only works with a maple leaf."

I turned to him. "Liar," I remarked playfully, a grin creeping up on my lips.

He smiled. "Yep."

I laughed and rolled my eyes. Over the noise of the crowd, I could hear Emilie's squeal of delight.

"Good gracious. What am I going to do with a fish?" He shook his head, amused, and stared up at the trees above us. I looked up, too. Light streamed through the multicolored leaves and wind rustled the branches. A few leaves fell off the tree and fluttered to the ground on the wind.

I grinned. "Feed it to your cat." We continued to talk and look at the trees above us.

"Hmmm...what would I do with a cat?"

I shrugged. "That I can't help you with. I'm more of a dog person."

"Why don't you have one?"

"Alex would freak."

"Why? Traumatic experience? Puppy eat his goldfish?"

"Heh. No, he's allergic. He couldn't come over to my house when we were younger because of our golden retriever. If I even had one gold hair on my sweater, he wouldn't come within ten feet of me."

Emilie ran up and we both looked at her. Her face was flushed with excitement. "Look!"

She held up two bags. They both held large orange goldfish with cheeks that were bigger than their bodies. "I got two! I won twice!"

I was impressed. They were the expensive goldfish that were the top prize at the booth. They probably only had ten of them behind the counter to give away. And she had two.

She made fish faces at them through the clear plastic bags. Then she took one bag in each hand and held them out. One to me and one to Michael. I leaned sideways, away from the bag, as though the fish carried a disease. "I think not, no. What am I going to do with a fish?"

Michael chuckled and traded her apple for his bag. "Why, feed it to your cat of course."

"Oh, be quiet," I grumbled as Emilie set my bag on the bench between Michael and I.

"Now, I have the perfect name for your fish, Nicole."

"Hey, doesn't Michael get a name for his fish, too?"

"No, I only have one name."

"Why?" I asked, pouting.

"Because there is this boy as school who is really hot and I want to name it after him."

"Can't you keep the fish and name it after the hot boy?"

"Nope. My sister is allergic to goldfish."

It took a few seconds for the comment to sink in. Michael fell into hysterics on the other side of the bench. Emilie rolled her eyes. I ignored him and looked at Emilie very seriously. "Hon, people can't be allergic to goldfish."

"Well she is. That's why I can't have fish."

"She lied to you. I doubt Brittany is allergic to anything...she's too much of a- ah, never mind." I smiled sweetly to cover up the slip.

Emilie raised an eyebrow, then grinned. "Suuuure. Anyway, don't you want to know what his name is?"

I twirled my leaf and waved a hand for her to continue. "Lay it on me." Michael was laughing so hard next to me that he had to put his head between his knees to breathe. I turned my eyes to him. He looked up at me and our eyes locked for a moment. Green jewels sparkled at me with laughter. My breath caught in my throat and I felt a blob of nausea at the pit of my stomach. I felt a wave of heat go over my face, despite the outside temperature.

"His name is...ta da! Jack." I dropped my leaf in surprise as I was shaken out of my reverie by the name. The shock quickly cooled my face and stole it of the newly gained color.

Michael stopped laughing and looked to her. I looked at her as well. Was the entire world trying to make my life miserable?

"Jack?" asked Michael, sobering.

"Yeah. What's wrong with it?"

"Oh, nothing," he said truthfully. Yeah, if you didn't have a particular childhood friend by the same name, I scoffed in my head. "It's kind of weird, though. That's my first name."

"Oh!" she exclaimed. "Well then. That makes it twice a good!" Her face was nothing but pure delight. Gee, thanks Michael.

"Uh, Emilie, I don't think my goldfish likes that name," I tried.

"Oh course he does." She shook a finger forcefully at me. "And don't you let him die. If you do, its a sure thing that the real Jack will die, too. Then who would I have to look at during third period?"

I paled slightly at the words real 'Jack' and 'die' being used in the same few words.

"You can't argue logic," Michael added in, laughing again.

I groaned in my head as I watched Michael drop his caramel apple in the grass from laughing.

"Look at this one."

I walked over next to Michael and looked at the painting he was pointing at. It was an cubist oil painting of a rose in a vase, using only shades of red and black. The kid who painted it sat on the other side of the table. He was wearing the typical school uniform, except for a few leather bracelets around his left wrist. He had thick black hair and eyebrows and his lips were twisted into a scowl. Typical put-out, 'everybody sucks' preteen.

"Hmmm...it's good," I admired, speaking lightly. "The strokes are nice. Good use of the brush. Lighting, too."

Michael nodded. The kid behind the table glared at us. We were standing under a white cloth tent used to shade the paintings that were laid out on the tables and to keep the wind and leaves off them.

"You know," he snapped. "You don't have to say it's good just because I'm sitting here."

"Hmmm..." Michael looked at him levelly. "How much?"

The kid's eyes widened. "What?"

"How much do you want for it?"

"I- uh, I don't know. I- this is just a showing. I never really intended to..." He spoke slowly, as though he had a sneaking suspicion that he was about to be tricked.

Michael handed me the two bags with the fish in them. I cradled them in my arms as I watched him pull a black leather wallet out of his back pocket and pulled two fifty dollar bills out. "Is this enough?"

My wide eyes went back and forth from Michael's face to the kid's. The kid's face changed from uncertainty to excitement at the sight of the cash. "A hundred bucks? Of course! You really want to buy it, mister?"

"Yes. But on one condition. The money goes to your teacher, and it is only used to buy you good art supplies."

The kid nodded. "But...why?"

"You have talent. You should take compliments like mine and this woman's right here." He motioned with the handful of money at me.

"Sure, man. You got it."

The kid's teacher walked over behind the kid and Michael began to speak with her. I turned, leaned against the table, and looked around at the people walking around outside the art tent. A little girl with blonde pigtails ran in front of me, tripped and landed with a mouthful of dirt and leaves. I smiled as her daddy picked her up and placed her on his shoulders. She held tight to two fistfuls of his hair as he walked away.

I heard laughter in the distance. It sounded familiar. I turned my head towards it. I saw a flash of a dark red shirt through the crowd. I smiled and began to walk towards the direction that Alex's laugh came from.

"Where are you going?" asked Michael. I turned.

"Oh, just going to say hi to Alex. He said he was coming here." I turned back, away from Michael.


I turned back to Michael as he shifted his new painting from one hand to the other in order to take the fish out of my arms. "Alex isn't here."

"But he said that he was heading down here."

"He was here. He called me and told me that he was going over to Brian's."

"But, I could have sworn I heard him laughing."

"It's not very likely. Well...we have to go find Emilie, because I have to meet up with Brittany in a half an hour and you have to get back to your laundry. If we don't say goodbye to her, there will be hell to pay." He grinned. "And you don't want to endure Emilie's wrath."

I shrugged. "If you say so."

"Nic! I'm home!" yelled Alex from the front door. I glanced at the clock. 7:27 p.m. He had been gone for seven and a half hours.

"I know, stupid. I could hear you stomping up the stairs. So could the neighbors, probably," I replied, rather grumpily.

He shut the door and walked into the kitchen. He slung his jacket and sketch pad up on the table and sat backwards in a chair. "What are you doing?"

I looked up through the clear glass of the large salad bowl. "Introducing my fish to its new home," I grumbled, the turned my attention back to the fish that was swimming back and forth in the water. I was laying on my arms, which were crossed on top of the table. I frowned through them.

"Since when do you have a fish?"

"Since Emilie won me one."

"You saw Emilie? When? And what do you mean 'won you one'? Place looks good by the way."

I sat up and took the bowl in my hands. I moved it to the center of the table. The table was now clean due to an intense cleaning and organizing job that had taken place after I had gotten home. I had been amazed to find out that there was still a table under all that mess. Several plastic containers full of art supplies now sat on the kitchen counter. Towards the end, I finally came to terms with the fact that the fish was here to stay.

"Thanks. When I was doing laundry, I ran into Michael and Emilie. Emilie dragged us down to the festival and won us both fish."

"You actually conversed with Michael?"

"Hey, we have made progress, okay? You did strand me at dinner last week, unless you have conveniently forgot. I couldn't exactly run out of there after I hung up with you."

"Heh heh," He laughed guiltily. "Yeah. So, why are you mad at the fish?"

"I'm not mad at it."

"You were just growling at it."

"He has a name, you know," I retorted mockingly.

Alex's mouth curved into a smile. "Oh, really? And what is his name?"

I screwed my face up in annoyance. "Jack."

Alex's jaw dropped and his eyes went wide. "You named the fish Jack?"

If I hadn't been so annoyed, I would have laughed at his expression. I shook my head. "No, Emilie did. Said it was after a hot guy in her third period."

Alex's smile returned and he looked relieved. "Oh, good. I thought you may have finally snapped. That's why you're mad at it."

"No, I'm mad at it because she said that if I let it die, the real Jack might die. It's a bit morbid, but I'm afraid to let it die now."

He covered his mouth to smother laughter. "So you are mad at yourself, for being so stupid."

"Shut up."

"What did Emilie name his fish?"

"She didn't."

"Why not?"

"Because she doesn't have another hot guy in her third period, that's why." I glared at the fish derisively and stuck out my tongue at it.

Alex chuckled, picked up his stuff, and began to walk out of the kitchen.

"Hey," I said, making him stop, turn on his heel, and raise an inquiring eyebrow. "Can I see your sketches? Get anything good?"

He moved the sketchpad behind his back again, like he thought I was going to pounce on him and strangle him to get at it. "Naw, nothing really good."

"Oh...okay then."

The pattern was unusual. This was the second time that I didn't look over his sketches. Maybe he was in a slump. He had been through a couple through the years and they had been hard to pull him out of. The trick was the find him the right subject and use it as a crowbar. Just pry him out of his slump, if you will. I walked into his room and he hung his jacket on the back of a chair. "Michael paid a thirteen year old a hundred dollars for a painting today."

Alex turned to me. "You're not serious," he said disbelievingly.

"Yeah. Made the kid serious about his painting ability. May have just bought a painting from the next Picasso. It was cubist."

He grinned. "Mike sure can pick'em. The kid'll probably go spend it on drugs and become a heroine addict at thirteen."

"Nope. He made him spend it on art supplies. Very crafty, that one."

"I'll say."

I made a move to walk out of the room but Alex tugged a bit at my sleeve. "Hey."

"Hmmm?" I looked up at him. He smiled gratefully.

"Thank you for meeting Michael. I realized the other day that the reason you were a bit put off by him is because of his name. I didn't think."

I smiled and patted his hand. "Dear, if you just act like that, you will have a girlfriend in no time."

He laughed and I squealed with laughter as he pulled me into a brotherly head lock.

Monday, mid morning

The phone rang. I stopped writing notes, put down my pen, and picked up the phone.


"Hey, Nicole."

"Hey, Cecilia! How did the doctors appointment go?" I asked excitedly, happy for the break from my work.

"Wonderful. The doctor said the baby is as healthy as possible. Joe is ecstatic."

"Oh yeah!" yelled Joe from the background. I smiled.

"Hey," asked Joe, who had taken the phone from Cecilia. "What do you think of Kirstin for her name?"

"Her?" I asked.

Cecilia pulled the phone back, laughing. "Honestly, he is the only man I have ever seen that hopes he has a girl over a boy."

"Well, be happy he is so enthusiastic."

"His enthusiasm scares me. He is already buying paint supplies for the baby. Put in the order by phone this morning while we waited for the doctor."

I groaned and picked at the edge of my desk.

"Hey, Nicole, speaking of paint, do you want to help me move everything out of the extra room and paint it? Say, next week?"

"Of course! What color are you thinking?"

"Hmmm...not sure. I'll figure it out by then, though. The boys all mentioned something about contributing. Anyway, I have to go. Got to calm Joe down enough to go out to our celebratory dinner."

"Don't spend too much. Babies are expensive," I teased.

She giggled. "All right. Talk to you later."


I sighed happily. It made me happy that she was so happy. She deserved it.

Tuesday- 12:30

Wiley's is an odd place. They never have the same specials. It's as though they aren't quite sure what kind of restaurant/eatery they want to be, so they change it every week. This week it was deep dish pizza. When I arrived, Nat wasn't there yet, so I snagged a table inside and played with my napkin. Usually, he and I would have ate outside, but it was a bit too cold for that.

So I sat. And waited.

And waited.

And waited a little more.

After almost an hour I was getting ready to leave, when, to my surprise, he finally showed up. He practically ran up to the table, out of breath. "I'm...sorry...I'm....so late."

I glared at him for a moment, then motioned for him to sit down. "Is there a suitable excuse for your apparent tardiness?"

He ducked his head down low in a nod and pulled off his scarf. His red-streaked brown hair was mussed. "My mother and my sister had a fight. They were at each other's throats when I walked through the door on my way out." He pulled off his jacket.

"Trouble in paradise?"

"Apparently. My mother had the gall to ask exactly why she was marrying Michael."


"Of course, Brittany didn't have an answer." He continued with an exasperated roll of his eyes. "After that, nothing was able to be agreed upon. One wants lilies, one wants roses. One wants a long veil, one wants a short one. One wants a honeymoon in Italy, the other in Cancun. They can't decide on anything anymore." He bobbed his head as he spoke, his gritted teeth showing his annoyance, his several hoop earrings shaking and hitting against each other.

"Uh...I'm not very familiar with wedding planning, but shouldn't the bride and groom be planning and choosing this stuff and not the bride and the mother of the bride? Shouldn't the mother just pay for it? It is his wedding, too, is it not?"

"Yeah, well, I think Michael is in the best position he can be. All he has to say is 'I do' and his job is over. Plus, he doesn't even have to be around and referee."

I grinned. "Well, that's what they have you for."

He groaned. "Don't I know it."

"So...the special this week is deep dish pizza. Are you up for some?"

"With everything?" He asked with a mischievous grin.

"Everything but anchovies." I wrinkled my nose.

He laughed and went up to the counter to order. We he got back, he had to drinks, and popped the top on his Coke as he spoke.

"So...I have a question to ask you that's been bugging me. You don't have to answer if you don't want."

I popped open my Pepsi and took a sip. "Shoot."

"Who's Jack?"

I eyed him warily. "Where did that come from?"

"Well, last week at the party, when you were asleep, you mumbling to someone named Jack." He leaned forward slowly. "Do you have a secret boyfriend? You can tell me."

I laughed at the absurdity of it. "Oh, of course not, Nat. And if I did have a boyfriend, why would I feel the need to keep him a secret?"

"There could be a million reasons, I was just wondering."

I grinned. "I know its still killing you, so I'll tell you. Jack is an old friend of mine from when I was younger. I was dreaming about him that night because...I don't know."

"How'd you know I was going to ask?"

"Women's intuition. You know us girls."

"Can't live with them while they are planning a wedding, can live without them?"

I laughed. "No, silly, that's family."

He grinned.

"Well, speaking of family, I heard from a certain pissed off sister that you went to a festival with her fiancé."


"Now...Nicole, you know how jealous Brittany can be."

"What?" I asked, a bit disgusted. "Who cares? We weren't making out under tables or anything. Sheesh...ask your sister, Emilie. She can back it up. Michael and I walked around and talked the entire time. "

Nat's lip quirked upwards. "Emilie was there?"

"Yeah. Why? Where was she supposed to be?"

He shook his head in amused disbelief. "Study group with her friends."

"Well, they were studying the hot guys, that's for sure. Also, your little sister has a knack for naming fish."

"Last year she got me one and named it after some boy band member."

"Isn't Brittany allergic to fish?" I asked sarcastically.

"Yes, well that was before her sudden allergy. Actually, it was the cause."

"Great. That fish just caused one exactly like it to be living in a large salad bowl on top of my kitchen table."

"A bit unsanitary, isn't it?"

"He's the cleanest fish you will ever have the pleasure to meet," I replied, my nose in the air.

He laughed. "Well then, I think I will have to come over to your apartment one day and meet this...what did you say his name is?"

I sighed. "Jack."

"Good name. Better than whatever she named mine."

"Not nearly."

Wednesday Morning

I shuffled into the kitchen at ten in the morning, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes. Alex, who was sitting at the table, quickly closed the sketch book that he had been working on.

"Whatcha doing'?" I asked as I got myself some coffee.

He scowled. "Nothing." He tapped at the side of his mug with his fingernails. They made a light, pinging noise as they hit. "Hey, I have another one of those psyche questions."

I sat across the table. "Shoot."

"Why is it that a girl can go from being the most wonderful person in the world one day, and a complete and utter bitch the next day?"

My brows raised. "Who's got your panties in a twist?"

"Brittany. She called me yesterday on my cell after you went to bed and told me that I was no longer invited to the wedding because she didn't need people who associated with," he made quotes in the air by wiggling his first two fingers on each hand, "and I quote, 'lower life forms'. Then she hung up on me."

How is she a most wonderful person to begin with? "Hmmm...very creative wording. For her, that is."

He shot me a pointed look.

I took a sip of my coffee. "Don't worry about it. I'm sure you are still invited. She was just having a little confrontation with her mother yesterday about the wedding."

"I don't want to go anymore, anyway. And how do you know all this?"

"Alex...what do you mean you don't want to go anymore? You don't want to attend Michael's wedding? He's one of your best friends!" I asked, as though he just claimed to adore his middle name.

"Not if he's marrying Brittany, I'm not!"

"What? Can't you just go for Michael? Sit on the groom's side?" I reasoned.

"Nicole...she was talking about you."

"Yippee for her."

"No, she bashes you too much. I am not going to put up with it anymore. It's crazy. She needs to figure out what she hates about you and get this shit over with."

"She doesn't hate me, Alex."

"Oh yeah? Well what do you call it then? Sure seems like hate to me. Or strong dislike, whatever."

I sighed and set my coffee down. "Alex, this is your first lesson. Women come across choices in their lives. In one case, they can to chose to be happy with who they are and lead a happy life, or they chose to not to be happy with who they are and lead an unhappy life. Brittany is unhappy, and in turn, decides to make everyone as miserable as she is and to try and fill her void with men and money."

"That's the stupidest thing I have ever heard."

I shrugged. "It's all true. Second lesson. Women are the most vicious animals on the face of this planet. Jealousy is one of the reasons for it."

"You're telling me that Brittany hates your guts because she's jealous?" He leaned forward on his palms, taking everything in.

"Very good, grasshopper." I sipped my coffee. "Now, this jealousy can be pretty much over anything. With Brittany and I...I'm not quite sure what it is. She is jealous of me and this is the way that she tries to make me miserable."

"Then why do you hate her?"

"Me?" I touched my chest with my hand and gave him a look. "Don't make me laugh. I'm not jealous of her and I don't hate her. I just don't like the way that she treats people and the way she thinks they are lower than she. That and I like to yank her chain whenever I can. It's fun." I finished with a smile and a wink.

He looked a little drained from the information overload. "I think that I have never been happier in my life to be male. Ever."

I laughed, leaned over and around the salad bowl, and patted his hand. "You have much to learn. Now are you going to the wedding?"

"Yeah, I guess so." Alex stared at the salad bowl. "Why is Michael marrying her? She's such a bitch sometimes."

"Very good question, but I'm not psychic."

Later That Day

The phone rang. I grouchily put my pencil down and picked up the phone on my desk. "Hello?"

"Hello, dear."

I froze in shock. "Mom?"

"Of course."

"What are you calling for?"

"What? Can't a mother call her daughter and check up on her without a motive?" she replied, her voice saccharin-sweet.

"Of course, Mom." I sighed.

"I was wondering how you were doing while you were studying to become a....what was it dear?"

This is why I strongly dislike my parents, the maternal half particularly. My mother has felt the need her entire life to make it seem like she is becoming of a mother, the whole while trying to pretend she isn't and hold a steady, lucrative career as a popular jewelry designer. I like my father a bit better, but he hasn't made the effort that my insane mother has. My father and I might have had something in common when I was a child, but he never took the time off work as a surgeon to even attempt to get to know me. Recently, he has taken to talking to me a bit. With my mother, however, it's worse than ever. She has started this campaign to get me married, settled down, and have her 'grandchildren'. It makes me sick that she couldn't make time for me, but will do back flips for the kids I haven't even had yet.

"A psychologist, mother." I drawled. So I can figure out what it is that makes you so freakin' stupid, I thought hatefully. I know I shouldn't be so mean, this is my mother and all...but she is so fake that I can't stand it sometimes.

There was that, and the fact that this was third time this semester that she has asked me what I am studying.

"Oh, yes, of course, now I remember. How is this going?"

"Great, Mom. Just fabulous."

"That's wonderful honey. Now, have you found yourself a nice boy?"

Boy, did she get straight to the point. What she meant was marriage material. Rich marriage material. She assumed that I like to live as lavishly as she did. She reminded me of Kit Lewis in this aspect. Although, I did have to give Kit credit for questioning Brittany's marriage motives.

"No, mother."

"Why not? Aren't there a lot more boys there than there were at home? Its is New York." Anyone within a ten year age range of me was considered a 'boy' to her.

"Yes, mom, there are more boys here, just not many that fit your criteria."

"But, sweetie, you shouldn't date a boy because I like him. You should date one because you like him."

I sighed. Oh, man, was she laying it on thick today.

"Yes, Mom."

"Good. Oh, I also called for something else."

"What?" I picked up my pen and tapped it against my desk.

"Well, you know it is your father's birthday in November. I would like you to come for a visit. You haven't been back home since you left."

"Correction." I pointed my pen at the air in front of me, as though my mother were actually in front of me. "That's not my home. My home is on the East Coast. I did not grow up in Colorado. I have never lived in Colorado," I retorted sternly.

She laughed shortly, her voice still full of its sweetness. She was growing tired of this conversation quickly, I could tell. "You know what I mean, dear."

"Of course, mom." I rolled my eyes again.

"So, will you come?"

"I guess. I'll come down for Thanksgiving break."

"Good. And make sure you bring one of your friends. I don't want you to be traveling so far alone." Translation: she wanted someone other than her dull daughter to entertain and show off to for two days.

"Mom. I'm old enough to-"

Her voice turned stern. "Jessica Nicole. This a not a negotiation. I want someone traveling with you." Her voice changed back to sweetness. "Alex wouldn't mind I'm sure."

I sighed, swiveled around in my chair, and threw my pen against the wall in unspoken anger. "Yes, mother," I replied, keeping the edge in my voice down.

"Good, sweetheart. I sent the plane tickets already. You should have them in a couple days. Talk to you later, honey." She hung up.

I stared at the phone. She already sent the tickets? "Ugh! That woman is going to be the death of me!" I walked over to the wall and found the mark that my pen had made. I licked my thumb and angrily rubbed the ink off the wall.

Alex walked through the door. "Who were you talking to?"

"My mother." I snarled at the wall as I rubbed. "She tricked me into coming to visit them in Denver this Thanksgiving. I have no urge to go, whatsoever."

"Oh." He grimaced. "Good luck with that."

I turned, surprised at his answer. "Alex, she wants you to go."

He chuckled nervously. "Sorry, can't."

"What? Why not?"

"I have previous engagements."

My jaw dropped. "You are going to leave me alone with 'them'? Do you want me to come back alive? What previous engagements? You always have Thanksgiving with me!"

He took a step back. "Sorry, babe. I can't. You can handle them. They are your parents."

"Biologically, yes! In theory, yes! In actuality? No!" I fumed. Where did he get off making plans anyway? We have had Thanksgiving together every year since I was nine.

"Woah, Nicole, calm down. I'm sorry, but I already made plans. Can you change the weekend?"

"No. It's my father's birthday. Plus, my mother already sent me the tickets."


"Yeah. One for me, and one for my gentleman company. She insists that someone come with me. She doesn't want little ole me to be traveling so far alone."

"Oh. Well, just don't lie to the guy about your parents too much."

"That's the problem!" I whined. "I don't have guy. You were my plan, Alex. You can't not go. If I take someone she doesn't like, I'll never live it down. If I take someone she adores, she'll embarrass me like crazy and then try and hook us up. You are a medium." A normal person would be offended by this. Not Alex, God love him, he knew exactly where he stood. And it was right between me and my mother.

"Oh...the best friend medium," he mused in amusement. There was a knock at the door. Alex walked to open it. I followed him to the doorway of the room.

"Yes," I told him. "the best friend medium."

He opened it. "Sorry, babe. You'll find someone. You are very resourceful. I believe in you."

"With my luck, I will have to pay someone to take me."

"Take you where?" Michael was standing at the door. He stepped inside. Today he was wearing a black postman style bag over his shoulder.

"To take her to her parents house this Thanksgiving."

"They are horrible people," I grumbled as I walked into the kitchen.

Michael and Alex walked after me. I sat down at the table and looked up at Michael and Alex. "Are you two going somewhere?'

"No," replied Alex. "He just came to pick up a sketchbook from me. By the way," He turned to Michael. "It's in there on top of my desk."

"Thanks." Michael left the room in the direction of our desks.

I stared at the fish swimming around in the salad bowl. I refused to refer to it as Jack but Alex would call it nothing else, just to annoy me.

"You could always cancel," suggested Alex.

"Alex," I began, not taking my eyes off the fish. "Did you forget what my mother is like?"

"No, you're right. You'd never hear the end of it. Never mind."

Michael walked back in the room. His bag looked bigger

"Oh, here, I almost forgot." He pulled a container of goldfish food out of his pocket. It was the size of a soda can. "Emilie said to give you this the next time I saw you. For Jack." He grinned and tossed the container to me.

I caught it and stared at the label. "Does she remember that she only got me one fish? Not twenty?"

He laughed. "She got me one the same size. I wouldn't question it if I were you. She always has her reasoning."

I set it next the salad bowl with a shake of my head. "That girl..."

"Well, Alex, Nicole, I need to get going. I am late for a meeting of the wedding planners. For some reason unknown to me, I'm supposed to be there." He smiled, shrugged, then left out the door with a wave.

Alex rolled his eyes and pulled a Coke out of the refrigerator. "Why is her marrying her?" He asked more to himself than anyone.

I stood up and walked back to my desk. I realized I threw my pen across the room earlier and got back up to retrieve it. On the way, I caught a glimpse of the light grey sky outside and remembered my promise to Elise. I walked back over to my desk and lifted up a stack of folders. I frowned. It wasn't there.

"Alex?" I called out, moving more folders out of the way and picking up books to look under them.

"Yeah?" he walked into the room, taking a big swig of his soda. "What?"

"Have you seen that really big book that Elise gave me to read?"

"What really big book?"

I looked around the room. "You know, the big book, red, hardcover...something about souls."

"Never heard of it," he replied and walked back into the kitchen.

"Some help you are," I grumbled. I looked under the last stack and stomped my foot in frustration. "Damn. It's not here. Where could it have gone?"

"Thank you for meeting me on such short notice."

I gave Angela a hug. "What are you talking about? You gave me eight hours notice!"

We sat. "Well, shorter notice than usual," she amended. I'm telling you, if I were this woman, I would be a ball of nervous energy, not able to settle down. She was just as calm as normal.

"How are you?"

"Good," I replied. "You?"

"Better than ever."

"Shouldn't you be, uh, working?"

"Are you kidding? This is the only peace I have gotten in six months. If I win, work starts again tomorrow."

"Well, I am honored that you would chose to spend your down time with me." I smiled.

"Don't be silly. I wanted you to be here when I get the call."

"What about Uncle Rick? Or Alex?"

She sighed and rolled her brown eyes. "One's in Italy again. The other had 'previous engagements'."

I frowned. "He's even doing that to you?"

"Yes. I haven't had a decent talk with that boy in two weeks. He's always been busy."

"Did he say with what?"

"Sketches. And friends. And more sketches. You know, if he is sketching as much as he says he is, he is spending more on sketchbooks than you two do on food. It's crazy."

"Well, he hasn't bought anymore. He just keeps going out with the same one, over and over. I think he is in a slump."

"Oh, dear." She frowned unhappily.

"Yeah. But he hasn't mentioned anything about not doing so good yet, so I won't push him. Let him ask for help on his own. Just like before."

She just frowned at her fingernails and began to pick nervously at them. "I guess so," she said. She looked up at me. "Just watch him for me, okay? I trust his judgement, but I'm a bit worried this time. More than usual."

"Of course."

"Good. Now, tell me, what's new with you?"

"Well, my best friend is pregnant. She is so excited-"

Angela's cell phone rang. She looked up at me, excitement in her eyes, and answered her phone.

"Rowand." There was a pause. "Yes. Okay. I understand. Thank you, sir." She hung up, put her phone back in her bag and looked solemnly up at me. "Well...the votes are in. I...I won!" She grinned.

I jumped up out of my seat and laughed with excitement. "That's great! Angela, congratulations!" I pulled her into a hug. She hugged me back then sat, her face full of shocked wonder.

"You shouldn't be surprised that you won," I reasoned, trying to get her excited about winning.

She laughed. "Yeah, because I'm so absolutely fabulous!"

"Well," I said, closing my textbook. "I think I'll head off to bed."

Alex looked up. "Already? It's only ten." His face was slightly illuminated from the small lamp on his desk. He was wearing sweat pants and socks, and was curled up in his large desk chair looking through a rather large art catalog and marking it with a black Sharpie. Oh ho ho, Alex, you don't have enough time to shop for food and can't remember basic things like picking up the mail from downstairs, but you can remember Christmas is coming up?

I stood up from my desk chair. I was already dressed for sleep, in a tank top and loose satin sleep pants. "Yeah, I'm tired." I slipped my feet back into my house shoes and started walking towards the our bedroom doors. "Oh, and Alex?"


"If you find that book, will you tell me? You can't miss it. When you do see it, that is. I really need it."


"Thanks. Good night, Alex."

"Night, babe."

I walked into my room. I pulled back the comforter and slid under the sheets. I turned off the light and lay in the dark. Lights from the street entered through my window from outside and ran across my wall in smooth, fleeting blurs. A few blocks away, a car alarm went off and its screech broke the silence. I took a deep breath and felt my muscles relax. My eyes closed and I almost instantly fell asleep.

d r e a m

"Nicole! Over here!"

I turned from the drink machine as I pulled my Pepsi from the bottom and stood up. A tall, lanky boy with shaggy, bright blonde hair stood from his seat across the courtyard and waved me towards him. I grinned and walked toward him. When I finally reached him, he stepped away from the table and gave me a big hug. Then he took my lunch tray and Pepsi and set them down on the table next to his.

"You look refreshed! Did you get that dress in New York? Did you have fun? Did you go to the Empire State Building?" He asked interestedly. I smiled shyly at the attention and sat in front of my lunch tray. He slid in next to me. We sat at a wooden table under the shade of a large oak tree. Only seniors were allowed to sit out here, but they were in an assembly and the teachers couldn't see us from their posts around the cafeteria.

"Yeah," I replied quietly.

"Yeah what?"

"Yeah, I got the dress in New York. Yeah, I had fun. Yeah, I went to the Empire State Building." I looked at him, but shyly couldn't return his gaze. I focused on the small, dark beauty mark high on his left cheekbone.

He leaned forward and rested his chin on his palm. "Good. You deserved a vacation."

I twisted the ring on my finger nervously. "I- I got you something."

He raised an eyebrow. "You did?"

I nodded and reached into my purse. I pulled out a small snow globe with the Statue of Liberty standing regally in the center.

He grinned, took the globe from my hand, and shook it. He set it on the table and the little pieces of white fell through the globe slowly and settled on the bottom. When we had finished watching it, he turned to me and looked me in the eyes. They crinkled prettily at the edges. Bright aqua framed in long thick lashes.

"Thank you. It's great. I really love it."

I blushed and looked away.


I turned back slowly. "Yeah?"

He leaned forward and touched his lips to mine. My eyebrows shot up to my hair line. I was so surprised I forgot to breathe. He leaned back a bit and smiled at me. I took a shaky breath and smiled weakly. His hand found my fidgeting ones and grasped one on my lap. "I missed you," he whispered.

I turned pink from the top of my head to the tip of my toes. "I...I missed you, too."

He smiled.

I saw that.

"Saw what?" I asked innocently, hanging my book bag on my doorknob.

You and Patrick. I saw him kiss you.

I grinned as I remembered it, then my smile fell into chagrin as I recalled my stupid reaction.

It wasn't stupid. It was to be expected. Being your first kiss, that is.

"Where were you? I didn't see you. I haven't seen you in two weeks."

I'm always here. Even if you can't see me.

I sat on my bed. Jack stood against my desk with his hands in his pockets and his legs crossed at the ankle.



"I really like Patrick."

I know that.

"Well...how can he possibly like me as much as I like him?"

Jack smiled. Jessica, don't doubt yourself. Please. Listen to your heart. You know he genuinely likes you. Just as much as you like him, probably more.

I sighed happily. "Good."

Just make sure you watch out.

"For what?"


I took a deep breath. "Oh yeah...I forgot about her. Jack?"


"I think he might be him."

Him? Do you think so?

"Yeah. I think he might be."

We'll see...

He took a deep breath. "We're moving."

"Where?" I asked, upset and completely shocked at the news.

He rested his forehead on my shoulder and took a deep breath. "New York. Somewhere out in the country."

"New York? Why New York?"

"My dad's job. He's getting transferred to a job with a bigger paycheck and higher social status."

I placed a hand on top of his head and threaded my fingers through his thick, fluffy hair. "When?" I asked quietly.

"Two weeks."

"Are you serious?" I exclaimed loudly, then lowered my voice when he flinched. "This will be fine. We can figure out a way to see each other."

"Nicole. It's five hundred miles away. That's not a lunch date. And you are only fifteen. You can't drive."

I pushed his chin up with my fingers so I could look into his eyes. "We will find a way to see each other."

He smiled softly. "This must be the reason I like you so much."

I pressed a soft kiss to his forehead. "You know it."

/ d r e a m

A/N: Tha's the end people. Don't freak out, I meant the end of the chapter. God only knows when the next one will make its way out...it's written already, but you guys know that don't mean jack when it comes to my posting, lol. (pun completely intended )

I'm not even going to try and justify the long hiatus on this story. Anyway, you guys would probably just shrug it off with a "Yeah, w/e, just don't let it happen again grumblegrumble."

So...uh, no responses this time. Sorry, lovelies. I had several drafts of this over the year (gulp) and kinda lost track of who I responded to and who I didn't. Of course, that is a good thing in its own respect because it means I got too many to count! Much love to you ALL, especially the ones who are still with me after all that time sheepish grin

Also, I am going to make some last notes, and for some of you, I am going to make a few clarifications:

1. The Mailing List of Jack (MLJ) is still available. Hope you all got your emails.

2. I keep a roughly current log of how things are going on my bio page. Also shameless self promotion check out my two new stories, Savannah and Virginia. But don't even look at DNA. It's crap. I'm just not feeling it. goes to remove /shameless self promotion Thanks!

3. No, Alex and Nicole are not related. Uncle and Aunt are used loosely, because Rick and Angela aren't really related, but as close as family. And no, Jack isn't Michael's father. And no, I can't tell you all yet why he is marrying that horrible Brittany. Sorry!

4. Blame any grammatical errors on...the pesky conservatives. Or the radical feminists. That works for most people. XD

5. Thanks again. Love you ALL! snug