So it's been over two years since I've posted anything on here. Holy crap. I've been working on getting some stuff published, and it's proven to be no simple task. That and college has basically sucked my entire life into a dark hole, and that being said, it's lovely to be back here.

First off, huge thanks to the people who continue to read my old stories. I still get e-mails from this website about favorites and reviews, and I can't tell you how much I appreciate that.

Alright, then. New story. It's way long. Like, way-longer-than-three-shot long. I just finished it this evening (it's been my summer project-done with six days to spare) and it's about 45,000 words. I plan on posting the whole thing here within roughly a month.

It's rated M for language, because apparently my writing's gotten a tad bit more vulgar since I used to post on here. Woops. Also, it's written in an alternating-between-past-present style. Slightly confusing, but it's one, then the other, and all the chapters are dated, so it shouldn't be too hard to follow. I hope.

Lastly, you guys are awesome for checking this out. Especially since I fell off the face of the earth for so long and just plain don't deserve it. Here goes.

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

To anyone else in that coffee establishment, I'm pretty sure I looked normal. Exceptionally, unworriedly normal. Professional, even—pinstriped skirt pulled over my crossed legs, and chin resting casually in the palm of my hand.

Under the surface, though? My insides must've resembled scrambled eggs, and I don't think there's an emotion in the English language that could've accurately portrayed just how unpleasant that resemblance felt. Still, just to give you a vague idea, the thesaurus futilely suggests: anxious, apprehensive, nervous, petrified, rattled, timorous, and scared shitless.

There was something horrifying about being back in this town. Maybe it was the fact that everyone here looked like a sewing machine had eaten a plaid factory and then thrown up on them. Or maybe it was the fact that, five years ago, this town had taken whatever was left of my self-esteem and had beaten it into submission with an iron mallet.

What's even worse, this place had barely changed, suggesting that it was more than capable of doing the same thing all over again. The faces and the street signs and the porched houses were exactly as I'd left them—like they'd all been preserved in Carbonite, Han Solo style—and this month old Starbucks was seemingly the only improvement to this middle-of-nowhere hellhole. The mixed scent of new paint, coffee beans, and fresh linoleum was making me sick to my stomach.

A lump rose up in my throat, and I was dangerously close to losing both my outward composure and the Cocoa Pebbles I'd ingested earlier this morning. Then I stopped, caught, and steadied myself. When I let my tongue run over my teeth, I didn't feel any metal or rubber. When I dragged my fingers through my hair, they didn't snag on the smooth, knotless strands, and when I blinked, my world wasn't outlined in thick paisley rims. Screw that, I thought. This town might not have changed, but I sure as hell had.

One: I anchored my shoulders to the chair behind me. Two: I let my chest swell with air. Three: I held my breath for several seconds. Four: I opened my mouth and let the tension leave with the carbon dioxide. Five: I adjusted my posture, set my jaw, raised my chin, and reclaimed the title of "Coolest son of a bitch to ever walk this earth."

It was a breathing technique my therapist had taught me (except that last step there—that one was all mine) and it worked miracles. It made me remember the differences between then and now, specifically that I was no one's doormat anymore, and just like that, I was good. I was prepared for anything. I was a brick wall—no, a lead wall—and a talking one, at that. I was capable of verbally ripping someone to shreds, and I wouldn't hesitate to do so if anyone crossed me this summer.

The door swung open, and my eyes jumped to the front of the coffee house. There was a girl standing there in a smock and hyde boots. Her dress would've been shapeless had a belt not gathered the fabric around her tiny waist, and her brown hair would've been all over the place if it hadn't been twisted carelessly in a hair tie. She looked right at me, held her stare for a few seconds, and then turned her back so she could search the rest of the shop.

"Jordan!" I called.

The girl whipped around again, and her eyes narrowed. She pushed her glasses up so they were at the very peak of her nose. They were bright red, and matched absolutely nothing else she wore. "Charlotte?" She gaped.

I grinned at her. "Holy hell, Jordan. Don't you know people are supposed to gain weight in college? You're as skinny as you were when we were thirteen."

Jordan wasn't listening, though. She was inching towards me, her mouth still hanging open. She let her small body drop into the chair across from me, but her eyes never left my face. "Oh my God, Charlie," she murmured. "There's no way. There's absolutely no way."

Then Jordan's mouth began to curve, and in a matter of seconds, it'd gone from a straight line to the biggest grin ever. She was cackling hysterically, snort and all, just like I remembered. "You trendy New Yorker bitch! Look at you!"

Everyone in the place was watching her freak out, but I couldn't have cared less. I'd missed her offbeat humor and her quirky snorting and her inability to keep from offending every single stranger within a thirty foot radius. "Yeah," I said, beaming back at her. "I know. The big city's taught me a few things, let me tell you."

"A few things?" Jordan repeated. "You don't even look like the same person, Charlotte! What, are the streets there lined with flat irons and estrogen pills? You look goddamn amazing!" Then she paused, and her expression went quizzical. "Did… Did you get a boob job?"

"No!" I exclaimed, and I covered my chest with my arms.

"Woah. Seriously, girl." She bobbed her head like she'd never been more impressed with Mother Nature in her entire life. "You've done some hardcore filling out since I last saw you."

"Uh, I would hope so. We were in eighth grade."

Jordan started up again with her snorts, and they only made me grin harder. "I missed you. I seriously fucking missed you," she said.

"I missed you, too," I told her. "But, listen. You sure you're not the one who's been living in the Bronx? Your level of vulgarity's increased to truck-driver status."

"Right? I can't even help it. Bobby's always bitching at me for it, too. He hates when I curse."

"Bobby?" I said, and I tilted my head to the side. "Bobby Duncan? You guys are still friends?"

If I had been Batman and Jordan had been Robin, Bobby Duncan would've been Alfred Pennyworth—still fundamental, still in the loop, still a good friend, but ultimately in the background. He'd typically been known as the nerdy redhead who would tag along with us everywhere, and though I didn't mind having him around, it was dead obvious that 'Robin' was his main motive. So a homosexual Alfred Pennyworth, I guess.

She laughed. "Something like that. We're dating."

"No shit!" I said, though I really wasn't all that surprised. "For how long?"

"Almost three years," Jordan told me. "You missed a lot, Charlie."

"I know," I replied, even though I didn't know, because I didn't believe it in the slightest. You couldn't miss what wasn't happening, I figured, and next to nothing happened around here.

Jordan got up to get a cup of green tea—she'd been drinking the stuff her whole life, the hippie—and when she sat back down, she asked me the question I'd been waiting on. "So what the hell are you doing here? I swear, I couldn't believe it when I got your text."

"I've got a summer internship over at Maude Publishing," I told her. "A paid one, too. I'll be here 'til early August."

"Yeah? Really?" Jordan asked, and I could practically pick the skepticism right out of her voice. "I didn't even know that place was still open."

"Yep. Forty-seven years and still going strong," I said, although that wasn't true in the slightest. Maude Publishing was actually struggling a whole lot; business had plummeted to less than five publications per year, and justifiably so. The genre of Religious Fiction wasn't exactly what you'd call "hot and trendy" right now.

I wasn't about to tell that to Jordan, though. She was already wondering why the shit I'd choose an internship in a town that didn't budge, and for a company that I didn't care about. Hell, especially since New York had some of the biggest publishing houses in the country, and my college had internship programs for just about all of them.

"You seriously came all the way back here for Maude Publishing?" Jordan deadpanned, figuring she'd give me one last chance to tell her what was really going on.

"Yeah." I shrugged. "And, you know. To see what was happening around here. I kind of missed it."

Jordan's eyebrow peaked over her red-rimmed glasses, and even after all this time, her bullshit-radar was still dead accurate. Or maybe it was just unbelievably obvious that I was lying.

Five whole years, and I hadn't once come back to Hills Ridge. I didn't care what was going on, and I sure as shit did not miss it. What I missed was my bedroom and the sound of city traffic and my boyfriend. Still, Jordan did me a favor and changed the subject.

"So where are you staying?" she asked.

"Over at the Roland's bed and breakfast. They gave me a room for a really good rate. Two-fifty a week, which is awesome," I said, and I was thrilled to move away from the former topic; it was way bigger than some crappy publishing company, and I definitely couldn't explain it now—not here, not with the way everyone knew everyone else, and not with the way gossip spread like the plague.

For now, I had to pretend like I was here solely to edit suicide-worthy manuscripts all goddamn summer. But the real reason I was back in East Bumblefuck, Pennsylvania? The real reason's name was Shane Griffith, and let me tell you: he was way more suicide-worthy than any manuscript, and he was dangerously close to the end of his reign.