Okay, here's the deal: to be perfectly honest with all of you wonderful readers, I have no clue where the heck this idea came from. It just randomly occured to me one day, and I had already created a group of seven girls that were best friends (because I do stuff like create characters when I'm bored, that's just how cool I am) so I kind of melded the two ideas together. I don't really know where I'm going with this, or how it's going to end, so suggestions and feedback are extremely welcome. I didn't really know how to start this, either, so the first chapter is a little lacking (if you ask me), but it has the fundamental information needed. I might eventually change it, depending on how things go. Anyways, enjoy!
I sighed as I gazed around the discount outlet from my post at the cash register. A few elderly women slowly browsed the clothing section, making their way around the bulging circular racks one hanger at a time. A tall, balding man was surveying the chocolate bar display, occasionally stooping to examine a label. Country music played throughout the store, and the almost blinding fluorescent lighting was a startling contrast to the quickly darkening skies outside as dusk approached.
My stomach growled loudly, and I lifted my arm to glance at my watch. It read 5:55pm. Five minutes to go. Then I could walk home and eat. Another grumble of protest sounded from my stomach as I pictured my mom standing over the stove, making a wonderful warm meal.
To be honest, this wasn't my idea of a perfect Friday evening, starving behind the cash register of the local Deal-mart, watching bargain-hunters linger and counting down the minutes until closing time. However, since the job paid nine bucks an hour and my family wasn't exactly rich, this was a typical Friday evening for me.
Actually, there were days when I didn't mind my job. Days when I was in a really good mood, all energetic and cheerful. Those were the days when I could handle scanning, calculating, counting, bagging, and chatting politely to customers and co-workers. During the slow times on those days, I actually tapped my foot to the country music playing in the background.
However, more often than not there were the days when I didn't really like my job. Days when I stood idlely for my entire shift, instructed to stay at the register in case someone did come in while all of my older co-workers got to walk around, restocking shelves and hanging up clothes and moving. Days when I was hungry, and impatient, and wiped after a hard day of school. 'Blah' days, as my best friend, Eddy, called them.
There was no way I would ever quit just because I was bored, though. The main reason why I got this job was because it was a relatively quiet place to work, where I could learn how to work cash registers and do inventory and all that jazz while not feeling pressured. Also, it was a discount outlet. None of the snobby people from school that I just couldn't stand would ever come in here, and the less I saw of them, the better.
Melanie, the other casher, picked up her intercom extension and announced that it was now closing time. My favorite part of my shift today.
I rang up two chocolate bars and a hand towel for the tall, balding man, then headed to the backroom to hang up my red Deal-mart smock while Melanie locked up. I grabbed my coat and my bookbag (I usually walked there right after school, and did some of my homework during my break), double-checked the schedule to make sure that I was definitely off the next day, and then said goodbye to Melanie and Barb, the manager, who was straightening up the shelves.
I shivered in the cool air as I walked past the other stores downtown that were also in the process of closing down for the night. It was February and the snow was finally starting to melt, but we kept having light snowfalls at random intervals, which kept the temperature well below zero most days.
My parents had offered to give me a ride home from work on several different occasions, but I always declined. Six o'clock was usually a crazy time for my family in the evenings. My mom served supper, my dad got home from work (he was the assistant manager of the biggest grocery store in the town), and my seven-year-old sister, Caroline, realized that she had homework and threw a tantrum. I didn't want to add to the chaos and besides, I kind of liked walking home, even if it was cold outside. It gave me a chance to clear my head after a long day of school and work, and it provided me with a bit of exercise.
When I arrived home, I was welcomed by an unusual sense of calm. My parents were both sitting at the table, eating their supper and chatting quietly, and Caroline was parked in front of the TV, watching a cartoon.
This was weird on a number of different levels. For starters, my parents never let Caroline and I watch TV during dinner. It was supposed to be our family time, which apparently required us to all sit around the table.
Also, it was oddly quiet. My parents, unlike myself, are loud talkers. By the time I come home, they are usually discussing Caroline's troubles at school and my dad's wacky co-workers at high volume. But tonight, for some reason, they were talking at a normal volume, and my dad wasn't talking with his hands and flinging roast beef on to the floor.
The only normal thing about my family on this particular night was Millie, my Cocker Spaniel. She ran over to the front door to greet me the second I entered the house, her hindquarters swaying from side to side as her stubby tail wagged furiously. I gave her a quick pat on the head while she snorted and snuffled at my pantlegs and bookbag before I headed into the kitchen to dish up my own supper. I was so hungry I could barely see.
I took a seat with my parents at the table in the dining room, choosing to ignore the fact that Caroline was watching TV during dinner. I figured that she had had one of her tantrums, and our parents had been too tired to deal with her, or that she'd had a really rough day at school and our parents had let her do something special out of sympathy.
"Hi, honey. How was your day?" my mom asked me as usual. Things appeared to be normal, but I could tell that something was going on. However, since I had just shoved an enormous amount of mashed potatoes into my mouth, I could not speculate on this or answer my mom's question.
"Fine," I said after I managed to swallow. I decided to let my parents tell me what was happening. They tended to get a little frustrated when I asked a question before they had a chance to explain the way they had been planning to.
"Do you have any homework for the weekend?" asked my dad.
He had a huge interest in my homework and my schoolwork. Apparently he had big plans for my future, including college and a high-paying, respectable job. He wanted me to have a better life than he did, and I didn't blame him for that, but he put a lot of pressure on me to get good grades as a result, which wasn't exactly something I appreciated.
"Just English homework," I said, shrugging.
I noticed my parents exchange a quick glance, and automatically I was worried. The weird way my parents were acting might have had something to do with me, not Caroline.
If they had exchanged this glance at my mention of math class, it would have made a lot more sense. Math definitely wasn't my favorite subject, and I didn't exactly excel at it, either. But English was my favorite class, and I had a really good mark in that class (ninety-eight percent overall, thank you very much), so why in the world would my parents be getting all quick-glance-y over my mention of it?
And it wasn't like I was one of those kids that behaves horribly at school, either. I wasn't one of those kids that behaves horribly anywhere, ever. I knew there was no possible way my parents could have gotten a call from my English teacher about my grades or my behavior in class, so what the heck was wrong?
"Ellie called for you around five. She wants you to call her back when you get the chance," my mother mentioned, resuming a collected expression and tone of voice.
Okay, so we went from my parents giving each other a glance and me freaking out about it to my mother telling me to call my best friend back. That definitely did not make a lot of sense.
"Alright, I'll call her after dinner," I replied, gazing suspiciously at my mom and my dad in turn.
"What's going on?" I asked slowly.
"What do you mean?" my dad asked simply.
"You guys are acting really weird."
My mother's eyes flicked up from her plate to meet my father's. Another weird glance thing.
"How?" she questioned, confused.
"Caroline is watching TV during dinner. You guys are talking without getting all excited about anything. And when I mentioned English class, you guys looked at each other in a weird way," I receited.
"We decided to let Caroline watch TV tonight because she didn't do so well on her spelling test," my mother explained in a low voice.
I narrowed my eyes. Whenever I got a low mark, I was punished. Caroline 'doesn't do so well' on a simple spelling test and she's rewarded with extra TV time. How unfair. I reminded myself that that was another issue for another day, and focussed on the current situation.
"And just because we sometimes get excited when we talk doesn't mean that we can't have a normal conversation," my dad put in.
Okay, that made sense. My dad didn't always talk with his hands, and there were occasions when my parents managed to have a simple discussion at a normal volume. It was quite rare, but it did happen from time to time.
"And the English thing?" I prompted.
"Pardon me?" my mom asked innocently.
That's when I knew that something was up. Whenever my parents want to avoid explaining something, they try to act like they didn't hear the question in hopes that I will give up or forget what I was talking about. Real compliment to my drive and intelligence, I know.
"You guys looked at each other funny when I mentioned that I had English homework," I said slowly.
"Did we?" my dad asked.
"I hadn't noticed," my mom agreed.
They were definitely up to something.
"Oh, Lily, would you be interested in going out for coffee tomorrow afternoon?" my mother asked.
I frowned. Coffee? My parents had been giving me the lecture on how coffee is horrible for me to drink since I was five years old. And now, after ten years of persuasion, they were offering to take me out for coffee? This had to be either part of their plot or a clever way to distract me.
"Your father and I have been meaning to check out that new coffee shop downtown for a while now, and you have tomorrow off work and all, so we thought we'd invite you along," she explained.
"What about Caroline?" I asked. If they were going to allow my seven-year-old sister to drink coffee, I was going to flip out. They usually favored Caroline, but if they were going to hand her a cup of java after I had been campaigning for one for years, I was going to blow a gasket.
"The Jensens are taking her and Isabelle to the movies," my father said. "It'll be just the three of us."
They were planning something. I was certain of it. I hadn't had an afternoon alone with my parents in maybe three or four years. Every once in a while they would take Caroline out to the movies or to a hockey game, but they always assumed that I would be busy. Many a fight had sprung up because of this very issue, and never had my parents treated me to an afternoon with just the two of them, no matter how much I yelled. Now all of a sudden they are asking me out for coffee?
"Sounds great," I said, forcing a smile. I wasn't sure what my parents had up their sleeves, but whatever it was, it had me worried.
"And then they just carried on like none of this was out of the ordinary!" I exclaimed. It was a few hours after the weird dinner, and I was recounting the strange details to Ellie on the phone.
"I have to admit, it does sound a little odd," Ellie said carefully on the other end.
Good. I wasn't insane. I tended to overreact sometimes, but Ellie Watson was the most rational person I had ever met. If she had given this entire thing her customary careful consideration and had found it odd, it definitely was odd.
"Why do you think they're taking me for coffee?" I asked. "I mean, coffee? The only time I ever get away with drinking coffee is when I'm not with them. I have never consumed a drop of coffee in the presence of my parents for the entire span of my life! How do they even know I like coffee?"
"Well, they're taking you and only you, which means that they probably have something they want to tell you specifically, something that they don't want Caroline to know about. And coffee is generally a symbol of maturity, so whatever it is they have to talk to you about, they are expecting you to respond in a mature, responsible way," Ellie reasoned.
"Do you think I'm in trouble?" I asked.
"It's hard to tell. I'd say probably not. If they were going to call you out on something, I highly doubt they would do so in a public place like a coffee shop," she replied.
"Good point," I said. I thought for a moment. Maturity...coffee...just me and my parents...
"Jeez, Elle, do you think they're going to give me 'the talk'?" I asked, cringing.
"Public place, Lily," she reminded me.
"Oh. Right. Well, that's a relief," I said, sighing heavily. To be honest, I couldn't see my parents giving me that kind of talk ever. They could discuss the life out of any topic, and even rant about teenage pregnancy rates, but I couldn't picture them actually talking directly to me about sex.
"I wonder what it could be about, then, " I said.
"You said that they gave each other funny looks when you mentioned English class, right?" Ellie asked.
"Yeah," I said. "Weirdest thing ever."
"Maybe whatever it is they need to talk to you about has something to do with English, then," she said.
"I don't know why they would need to discuss anything privately with me about English class, though!" I exclaimed. "That is my best subject and I never do anything even remotely inappropriate in any class, especially that one."
"Who says it has to be a bad thing?" Ellie asked. "Maybe Ms. Henessey called your parents and told them that you were an amazing writer or something. Maybe she can hook you up with a publishing company, and you can write a book!"
This was a valid point. It didn't necessarily have to be a bad thing. Ms. Henessey was really nice, too. I sometimes discussed books with her after class, and she would recommend a few to me.
Only...I wasn't that great of a writer. I was okay, but nothing compared to my friend, Chloe. She was seriously into writing, and wanted to be an author when she grew up, and she was really talented. I just happened to know how to construct a well-structured paragraph and use a variety of sentence openers, things that my class learned in the fourth grade.
I mentioned this to Ellie, and she agreed with me - well, she said, "You are both really talented writers, but you have a point." Typical Ellie behavior, not wanting to make it seem like she was on anyone's side, or that she favored anyone above anyone else.
"Well, I guess you'll just have to wait until tomorrow afternoon to find out, then," Ellie said.
"Yeah," I sighed.
I didn't really expect to magically discover what my parents had up their sleeve. Knowing my parents, it could be anything, from something ground-breaking and earth-shattering, to something miniscule and nearly insignificant. But it would be nice to know what to expect all the same.
Review, people, review! (...please.)