"Stop before you get me started,

Maybe I'll just go;

I'm not exactly broken-hearted—

And I think you already know

That there's more to the story than I'm giving up.

Maybe I should just grow up.

There's a picture of a girl somewhere that fits this empty frame.

And there's a song here somewhere with a happier refrain.

It came to me.

I think they call it an epiphany—

And that's a big word."

Epiphany

Bowling for Soup

11.

October 21, Sunday

"So…who's gonna be there?" Jackie asked. She and Chip were walking through the frigid autumn air towards the skate park. She had been begging him to let her meet his friends for days now, and he had finally agreed.

"My girlfriend—"

"Eva," Jackie said knowingly, nodding.

Chip chuckled, and continued, "Cat…Damien and Reisha…Rob, and Chris.Everyone, really."

"Uh-huh." Jackie pulled her jacket tighter around her slim figure. "So…are we almost there?"

He grinned. "We're almost there, princess." He pointed. "We're actually pretty muchthere."

She sighed longingly. "Oh, thank God. It's just so cold out," she stated, her breath creating a misty fog in front of her beautiful face.

"Well,usually, in October, things get a little chilly." He laughed at the expression on her face, and then glanced nervously into the skate-park. Yes, everyone was there. He just hoped that Jackie didn't embarrass him; none of the gang would ever let him live it down.

"Oh my Lord," Jackie breathed once they were inside the park, "these kids are so talented."

He snorted. Maybe he was just used to seeing them skate all the time, but none of them were amazing, by any means. Sure, Rob and Chris knew what he was doing on their bikes, and Damien looked good on a board, but they were no pros. And Cat was just…Cat.Everything she did was amazing. Chip didn't even dare think badly of Eva's ability. And Reisha only came to do homework today; she had totaled her bike last weekend.

"Hey, guys!" he called when they got close enough.

Eva pulled one of her infamous Endos, and glanced over her shoulder at Chip and his suspicious company. Rob smiled openly, leaning over his handle-bars to gaze at Jackie's pretty face. Where they were wrestling, Chris froze, and Damien took the moment to slap his cheek. Cat laughed at them, and glided to a stop in her skates, staring up at Chip. "Oooh, Chip, who's the pretty lady?" she asked playfully, her eyes sparkling in that way they did sometimes.

He grinned, and replied, "Guys, this is Jackie. She's my dad's girlfriend, and she's been dying to meet you all…so…yeah." He took her wrist and pulled her into the bowl, where everyone had been.

"Oh,you're Jackie," said Cat, skating over slowly. She held out her hand, smiling. "I'm—"

"Cat?" guessed Jackie, taking her hand and shaking it. "I guessed," she explained to the surprised expressions. "And…can I keep guessing?" Chip nodded, and she continued, "Alright, then. That's Reisha, right?"

Reisha blew a strand of purple hair out of her eyes, nodded, and walked over to shake her hand. "Hey, nice to meet you, Jackie."

Jackie smiled appreciatively, and looked over at the guys. "Hmm…Damien," she guessed, pointing to Chris.

He shook his head. "I will thank God every day that you're wrong," he laughed. Damien elbowed him in the gut, and held his hand out.

"I'mDamien, and that joker is Chris."

Jackie bit her lip. "The brown hair confused me," she giggled. "So that makes you Rob, right?" she asked Rob.

Rob nodded, and gave her a high-five rather than a hand-shake.

"And then there's Eva," said Jackie, pointing hesitantly to Eva.

Eva nodded and wheeled her bike closer. "Oh, Chip," said Jackie, "your descriptions didn't do her justice; she's much prettier than you said."

Chip blushed as Eva playfully smacked his arm. "I just couldn't find a way to put her beauty into words," he said sheepishly. Everyone laughed.

Jackie shivered and looked around at them all. "I'm sorry; I just wanted to put some faces with all these kids that Chip's been talking about non-stop. I figured that the only way I'd be able to do that was if I met you all." She laughed a little, and then shivered again. "Alright, well I'm gonna head out." She turned to Chip and planted an innocent kiss on his forehead. Rob wolf-whistled. Jackie said, "Don't forget; I'm making dinner, and I want you home by six."

She turned and climbed out of the bowl, a little less gracefully than you would expect, and then stalked out of the park with her head held high.

"Well, Chip, I must say," said Cat, skating away from the clump backwards, "she's certainly a top-notch new mother. Don't you think, guys?"

Everyone muttered their varied degrees of affirmation, and then went back to whatever they had been doing. Chip scrambled out of the bowl and sat down on the bench, smiling to himself. He knew that Jackie really was his ideal mother; he hoped that his father didn't mess things up with her.

It was then that a sweatshirt and sweatpants clad figure appeared at the entrance to the park. "Who is that?" Chip heard Eva ask.

"Oh, hey, Mel," Rob called to the figure, pulling his bike out of the bowl and leaning it up against the fence. He hurried to Mel's side and enveloped her in a hug.

Chip stared awkwardly at his shoes while everyone else avoided making eye-contact. Mel was obviously very upset; she was sobbing very loudly into the front of Rob's shirt.

After a few minutes of bizarre silence, Mel quieted down, and Rob had her sit with Chip. Rob grabbed his bike and dove back into the bowl, and everyone resumed their actions. Chip hesitantly looked over at Mel. She had her hood pulled up, but if you could see past that you would realize that her curly hair was ratted and knotted, and her normally perfect makeup was strewn across her face, messed up from her tears. She sniffed, and Chip looked back at Cat, who he had been watching earlier.

She glanced up at him, and smiled briefly upon realizing that he was watching her. Waving, she shook her head and turned her attention back to where her skates were going.

Chip willed his eyes to watch Eva, who was just donuting outside the bowl. She was making him dizzy, so he focused his attention instead on Chris and Damien, who were still mock-wrestling. Damien had Chris in a headlock, giving him a nuggie. Reisha rolled her eyes and stood. She walked over to Damien, took a hold of his left ear and tugged. "Let Christoph go," she demanded.

Her older brother whimpered; his hands flew immediately to his ailing ear. Chris laughed triumphantly and raised his fists in victory. "Ha-ha! I win!" he shouted smugly.

Reisha raised her left hand and smacked him upside his head. "Oh, shut up. Both of you," she growled at them.

Chip laughed, but was silenced by one icy glare from Reisha. He didn't quite understand her inexplicable hostility; Reisha and Chip generally got along quite well.

Mel sniffed loudly and stood. "Rob…I'm leaving," she called out quietly, her usually perky voice echoing across the park with tones so glum that Chip doubted it had actually come from Mel.

Rob slammed on the brakes of his bike and immediately pulled out of the bowl again. He was by her side in seconds. "You alright?" he asked quietly.

Everyone immediately became louder than they needed to be; no one reallywanted to intrude on the private moment.

"Fine," Chip heard Mel sigh.

"I'll call you tonight," Rob muttered, holding her cheeks in his hands. "Don't sweat it, Mel. Everything's gonna be fine." He kissed her lightly. "I promise."

She sniffed again. "I hope you're right," she said quietly. He embraced her one more time, and then she left.

Once he was sure Mel was out of earshot, Chip beckoned Rob over. Rob sat next to him, and muttered, "That sucks."

"What?" Chip asked in a hushed voice.

"Her parents are splitting," Rob said, closing his eyes. "That really blows."

"Oh," said Chip. He couldn't really empathize; his parents had divorced at a point in his life that he didn't—or couldn't— remember. "That does suck," he said, more to appease Rob than because he actually believed it.

"No, no, put me down!" Eva shrieked as Damien and Chris grabbed her legs and hoisted her up over their heads. "I'm not joking!" she screamed as they all laughed. Her face was bright red; they had been fighting and goofing off just minutes ago. "Guys! Seriously!" she howled, panic in her voice.

"Don't worry, Eva!" cried Chip in an obnoxiously heroic voice, "I'll save you!" He jumped into the bowl and ran up behind Damien and Chris, who exchanged glances just before dropping Eva. Chip caught her easily, and laughed when she wrapped her arms around him in gratitude. "And as for you!" declared Chip, letting Eva down and advancing on Damien and Chris. He continued the use of his overly masculine voice. "You...you…fiends!" He jabbed his index finger into Chris's chest. "Should you ever kidnap another fair maiden, I shall personally make sure you are decapitated in the least humane way!" He looked up into Damien's face with mock disgust. He shook his head and walked back to Eva, who was blushing a deep red.

"Myhero," she swooned mockingly, sweeping her hand dramatically over her brow. "How can I ever thank you, oh handsome prince?"

Chip grinned and pretended to think. "You shall have to give me your hand," he decided, kneeling down on one knee. She nodded her head, and he leapt up instantly. He swept her up and held her bridal-style. "We shall be wed in the morning!" he declared, kissing her cheek.

At this point, everyone was roaring with laughter. Everyone but Reisha and Cat. Chip pretended that it didn't hurt when he looked to Cat's eyes for approval and only received pure loathing. He pretended he hadn't seen it there, and shook his head, putting Eva down gently.

A car horn rang out in the afternoon air, and Eva jumped. "Oh, crap, that's my dad," she muttered. She snatched up her bike, and then hopped on.

"Hey, you!" Chip yelled as she raced out of the park. He scrambled out of the bowl and ran up to her, pulling her face to his in a tender kiss. "I'll see you tomorrow," he murmured against her lips.

She nodded, and then sped out of the park.

He grinned to himself and returned to the others. He couldn't help but notice the icy glare Cat gave him, and then was startled by Reisha's comment. "Pardon me whilst I barf," she said, pretending to throw up everywhere.

"Why so angry, Reisha?" Chip asked, folding his arms.

She raised her eyebrows, shared a glance with Cat, and then shook her head. "Oh, never mind, prince Chip. Don't worry about it."

She snatched up her backpack and sent a look to Damien. "Cat, you're staying over, right?"

Cat nodded stiffly, and then motioned to Damien. "Let's go." She skated over to Chip timidly, and then asked, "Do I get a hug good-bye?"

He wasn't sure what was causing her mood swings, but he nodded. "Alright, sure." He held her in a warm hug, but didn't let it last too long. Her arms lingered around him a second too long to make the hug innocent, but he imagined that they hadn't. "See you tomorrow."

"Later," she said, smiling up at him. "Oh, and for our little...trip. That's only if you can get a car, right?" Chip nodded vigorously, grinning. She laughed, and said softly, "I'm sure Jackie wouldn't mind lending you hers."

Nodding again, Chip mumbled, "An interesting idea. I'll run it by her and let you know. See ya, Cat."

She smiled at him again, and then skated off after Reisha and Damien, who had already left.

Once they were out of earshot, Rob laughed. "Well, Chip," he said, "I think you've got a little girl-drama on your hands."

"Yeah," agreed Chris, "looks like you've got some things to work out, man." He glanced over at Rob. "Well, I'm out."

"'Kay," said Rob, nodding and turning to leave. "I've got to get home and help my mom decorate anyway; the Halloween party is coming up soon."

"Ohyeah," Chris gasped as they walked out of the park together, "I can'twait for that, man. Last year was so much fun—Oh, bye, Chip!"

They both turned and waved at him. He grinned and waved back, watching them walk out. Sighing, he turned to look at the empty park. Cat had been right; this was an excellent place to think about stuff, or just get out of the house. He liked to think of it as his own small escape from reality.

Chip slowly meandered over to the bench, and then sat down, sighing again. What was up with Cat, anyway? She'd been less than friendly for a few days now, but did that really mean anything? He was going to be leaving soon anyways, wasn't he?

But then…maybe he wasn't. Jackie seemed really confident that she could change his father, and so far, she was right. His father was home every night at six, not drunk, for a family-style dinner. Jackie was no great shakes at cooking, but it was the best thing Chip had eaten in a long time, including Ann Hart's mashed potatoes and gravy. And that could just be the fact that his father was there,talking to him for the first time in years.

Chip thought hard. Jackie's words had been haunting him. "Are you sure you're with the right girl?" If they were staying…maybe she was right. The chances of Chip and Eva lasting through the year, let alone making it through life together…well, they were slim, and Chip knew it. He liked her, alot, too. But… "Are you sure you're with right girl?" And their conversation about how important your high school relationships had only made things worse… "Are you sure you're with the—"

No. He couldn't think about stuff like that. He knew they were leaving, soon enough, and once they did, all of this would only be a memory, anyway. Jackie wouldn't be mentioned in his house, his father would stop coming home on time—or coming home atall—and Eva would just be that girl from Tallenford, Massachusetts.

Yawning, Chip stood. He should probably get back to the apartment; Jackie liked him to be home while she was making dinner, so they could talk and hang out. It was strange how familiar he already was with this routine; things had only been this way for about a week and a half.

Once she'd met Chip, Jackie didn't like to go more than a day without seeing him, so she had started inviting herself over the house every day after Chip got out of school. From there, she'd started taking him for take-out dinners, and from there, making dinner. After three nights of this, she decided that 'Robby' needed to be home for the 'family-dinners', as she liked to call them. So, now they all joined together around the table at the end of the day, and talked. It was so strange, to have his father interested in his business. Chip didn't know if he preferred this dad to his father, because there was definitely something disconcerting about having his dad knowing everything.

Chip left the park in silence, walking more slowly than he normally would. He still had a few minutes to kill before he had to be home. There was no rush.

Eva's father had been taking her home more often than before. Maybe he, too, was going through a fatherly reformation. Eva had not been staying in Chip's room anymore, either. She said that something about Jackie made her uneasy. Chip couldn't understand what that might be, but nodded when Eva told him she would prefer to stay somewhere else.

It was another fifteen minutes before Chip arrived home, opening the door to the smell of spaghetti.