This Orbit of Ours
Jackie didn't mind spending her Friday nights sober at home. What she did mind was spending them sober with her parents.
"The soup's a little bland," her father commented, pushing it around with the same expression he had when Jackie's brother came home in eighth grade clutching a pet snake.
"There's salt right there," Jackie said, glancing longingly at the empty spot where her brother usually sat.
"I think it's wonderful, dear," her mother said, before her phone started blaring out Mariah Carey. She glanced at the screen before running off to the kitchen, speaking frantically with whoever was on the other end.
"So have you started on your college applications yet?" her father asked, turning to give her a scrutinizing look.
Jackie smiled tightly. "Not yet."
"I heard the Hastens' son—what's his name, Melvin—has already applied to and visited at least five schools. Practically accepted what with the work he's done this past year."
"Awesome for him," she muttered, circling her spoon around a clump of peas.
"You should talk to him about that. See if he has any tips for filling out applications."
Jackie made an irritated sound. "I know how to fill out an application, Dad."
"You don't want to mess it up. Any mistake they see and your application will be headed towards the trash can faster than you can pick up your pen again. And don't forget to get letters of recommendation from your teachers. You should really do an internship too. When I was your age, we didn't have the same opportunities you—"
"I know," Jackie said, dropping her spoon with a loud clatter against her bowl. Her father glanced up, surprised.
"I'm only trying to help you, Jaclyn."
"Sorry," Jackie said in a small voice, picking up her spoon.
He nodded and continued, "Especially if you're going into law. Your mother and I have a lot of connections. Just say the word and I can talk to some of the professors at my old college," her dad said, taking a large gulp of water. He pushed the bowl of soup away and started picking at the lasagna Jackie made.
Jackie rubbed her temple. She didn't want to go into law. She didn't want to go to a school where her parents had a bunch of connections. She wanted to go somewhere far away where she didn't spent Sundays having stale conversations with her parents and could cook whatever the freaking heck she wanted without someone complaining about it. She wanted to paint beautiful blinding sunsets and sculpt beautiful blinding cities.
But it felt ridiculous to even think of mentioning any of that to her parents. When her brother, Greg, left right after he graduated to pursue a life in the music industry, her parents practically disowned him. As far as Jackie knew, they hadn't said a word to him in over ten months, and barely even acknowledged his existence in conversation.
She looked at her dad. Even Jackie—as crazy and reckless and irresponsible as everyone thought she was—couldn't go up against her parents.
"You should have let the lasagna cook a bit longer," her dad said, pushing the plate away.
Jackie went to Melvin's house after dinner, walking across the street with an almost full pan of lasagna. Although her father pretty much spat at the taste of it, she knew Mr. Hasten wouldn't mind. Especially since there wasn't really anyone around to cook dinner anymore after Melvin's mom died.
"What d'you got there, Jacks?" Mr. Hasten asked when she passed by the open garage. An open newspaper was lit up by the tiny golden lightbulb swinging above him. A song with a loud sax and low, throaty voice rang from a beat-up radio. Mr. Hasten was one of the only men Jackie knew who would choose an old, bulky radio over a fancy new flat-screen.
"Yum," he said, smiling. "Just leave it on the kitchen table. Melvin's upstairs."
Jackie left the pan on the table on her way through the house. The inside of the house reminded Jackie a lot of Mr. Hasten. Smooth colored walls with picture frames, books, and wooden knick-knacks bordering it. It was a quiet home, but more like the quiet of a closing sun, slipping its last streaks of pink and orange over the horizon. You could feel the good memories echoing off the walls inside, and even if it felt a little lonelier without Mrs. Hasten's presence lighting up the rooms, it didn't feel entirely empty the way Jackie felt sometimes when she was home alone.
Then again, sometimes she felt empty even when she wasn't home alone.
She shrugged off most of her frustration in the climb up to Melvin's room. His twin sisters, Meg and Macy, occupied two of the bedrooms on the second floor. Instead of sleeping in the spare room on the same floor as everyone else, Melvin decided to reside in the attic, which made absolutely no sense to Jackie. She hated the steep, creepy stairs that she had to clamber up with a bordering fear that she would slip and fall and have her body break into a million different pieces that even all the king's horses and men couldn't put back together again.
Halfway up the stairs, she heard a loud thud, followed by an even louder curse.
"Melvin?" she called. He answered with another curse.
She pushed the door at the top open and poked her head in. "Melvin?"
"Jackie? Wait, don't come in!"
"What, are you playing Tank Wars in your tighty whities or some—" she broke off in laughter when she spotted Melvin.
"Shut up," he complained.
"Are you working out?" she laughed, glancing at the dumbbell on the floor next to a bench. He glared at her, his hair and shirt dripping with sweat.
"There's a great thing in this world called privacy. The least you could've done was knock."
"You should've locked the door."
"My lock's broken," he said, mopping off his face with a towel.
"Not my fault. What is that—five pounds?" Jackie asked, pointing at the dumbbell.
He threw the towel at her face. She dodged it at the last second, watching it as it smacked against his navy colored wall. "Ha. You're losing big time here, Hasten—" her face took a wet punch of sweaty sock. She shook it off, yelping.
He laughed. "Now who's losing?"
She glared at him as she spit out sock fuzzies. "Charming. It's a wonder how you don't have a girlfriend."
"It's a wonder how you can't keep a boyfriend."
She stared at him for several moments, mind reeling from the low blow. "Whatever," she finally said, turning away. She hadn't come over to get made of by Melvin Hasten about her ex-boyfriend.
"I came over to talk to you about something."
"Sorry, I don't date girls who spend their free time vomiting on the side of the freeway every Saturday," he said, smirking.
Jackie crossed her arms. "I wouldn't be too picky if I had such a charming personality like yours. But listen—I need to talk to you. It has to do with Cassie too."
He sat on his bed and raised his eyebrows, waiting.
She stood next to his lamp and explained her summer's resolution plan. After Jackie listed the things on her list, he leaned back against the wall behind his bed, an incredulous look on his face. "So let me get this straight. You're giving up alcohol and boys?"
Jackie frowned, realigning all of the papers and books on Melvin's desk. "Yeah, so?"
He laughed. "Okay then."
Jackie stared at him crossly. "You don't think I'll do it."
He shrugged. "Jackie, I've picked up your sorry drunk ass more times than I can count on my fingers."
She looked down, rearranging his cup of pens and pencils so they were all grouped by color and height. He watched her as she did so, knowing full well it was no good trying to protest against it. "What?" she asked, looking up.
She stood up, slamming his cup of pens back on the desk. "Well yeah. For once, I'm trying to pull myself together and do something right, and no one's even acting like it's a remote possibility."
He leaned forward, meeting her eyes. "Look, I get that you want to change. And I'm not saying you can't. But I don't think you realize how hard it is to do it. You're talking like doing it's going to be as easy as writing it down on paper."
"I just won't go to parties anymore. It's not that crazy."
"Maybe. But if you see Luke standing in the middle of the street, talking to a cute girl, are you going to be able to just drop it like that? Walk away? What if you find out that Luke's going to be at a party with another girl? Are you going to be able to resist going?"
She stared at him. He stared right back, saying with that look that he knew how much his words were hurting her, grating against her heart, and that he would keep doing it until she understood the depth of his words. "Yes," she finally replied.
He shrugged. "If you say so."
She tapped her foot impatiently. "Okay, so does this mean you'll referee or not?"
"Oh freaking yes. I want to see this go down."
She stepped towards him, pulling a slip of paper out of her jeans. "Fine. Here's the first mission I'm giving Cassie."
He squinted, leaning forward to read it. He gave her a funny look. "That seems pretty easy. I was expecting you to tell her to do something like go teepee the principal's house or rob a bank."
She folded up the paper and slipped it back in her pocket. "I do have some intelligence, Melvin. If I tell her to do something completely crazy right away, she won't do it. Does this mean you approve then?"
Jackie turned to leave then, figuring that she ought to before they started going at each other again and someone ended up with that dumbbell thrown at their head.
She turned to him.
"Did I hear right that your last resolution was to be nicer to me?"
She made a sour face. "Maybe I won't last that long this summer after all."
He laughed, folding his hands behind his head. "Oh, this is going to be a fun summer."