MIND STATIC - Chapter One

     The morning of my eighteenth birthday I sit in front of our house, waiting for Nora’s white car to appear in the road, just like any other Friday. My feet impatiently push at a pile of broken stone underneath the step. Years ago when we bought this place it was really kind of charming, but now its flaws are starting to stick out like a sore thumb. In addition to the front step falling apart, the brown stucco siding needs replacing, the windows have begun to rot, and the tan trim needs a new paint job. Mom isn’t the fix-it-yourself type, and as a single parent she doesn’t have the money needed to do the repairs. Although she gets a check every so often in the mail from my father, it’s not often, and it’s never enough.
     Every few minutes I glance back at the kitchen window, expecting Mom to appear. Although she doesn’t have to report to work for a few hours, a part of me is disappointed that she didn’t throw frozen waffles in the toaster as she sometimes does while I’m getting ready, or even wake in time to wish me a happy birthday. Then again, that’s so her.
     I’m not really sure how to describe my mom. My friend Nora would probably tell you she’s a big ball of fun, while my friend Dallas would probably say she’s cool. Really, she’s like an older version of me with the same wavy red locks and cat-like hazel eyes, mixed in with a whole lot of crazy. Since it’s been just the two of us for as long as I can remember, we’re probably as close as a mother and daughter can be. We’re always shopping, watching old movies, going to concerts, or just hanging out nearly as much as I do with my friends. Mom’s a ton of fun, and doesn’t always remember to act her age. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s painfully embarrassing.
     Still, there’s the hint of a distant vibe I catch from her every so often, like she’s holding in some heavy secrets. She won’t ever talk about my father. I don’t even know how they met. She won’t tell me why he left us. All I know is it left a dark hole inside of her that must be difficult to talk about. While I’ve tried to swallow down the hatred for a man I haven’t ever known aside from seeing a few pictures, it’s a struggle—especially when I know just how much he hurt Mom.
     A bitter breeze with the slightest scent of freshly cut grass sweeps past, reminding me fall is officially here, and making me wonder if I have time to run inside to grab my coat. I check my phone for the time, wondering what could possibly be taking Nora so long.
     “Key!” a voice yells. My friend Dallas jogs my way, his green eyes sparkling beneath his shaggy brown hair.
     I stifle a heartfelt sigh.
     Because of what happened between my parents, I’ve never been too excited about the whole concept of falling in love, or even dating. Whenever things got halfway serious with one of the few guys I actually took the time to go out with, it felt as if a big metal door was being closed in front of me, and I’d break it off with them. I’ve always been afraid that if I find the right guy, he’ll eventually leave and break my heart—just as my father did to Mom.
     Then Dallas came along.
     When we were sophomores, he moved a couple of blocks down with his uncle, who never seems to be around, and I’ve never actually met. After introducing himself, he came by often as we’re the only two under forty in the neighborhood. We’ve become pretty much inseparable in the past year. Even though he’s a friendly enough guy, he doesn’t really have any close friends other than me and Nora, and hasn’t dated any girls in the time I’ve known him.
     After this summer, I began to realize he’s everything I’ve ever wanted in a guy. The two of us get along really well, we’re always making each other laugh, and he really gets me—my corny jokes, my horribly messy room that has a mysterious smell to it, my crippling dislike for cats and artichokes—everything. Plus his deep cheekbones, mostly straight teeth, and light spray of freckles on his narrow nose make him actually pretty cute, despite always wearing the same black Chucks, dark jeans and a random t-shirt.
     Part of me has wanted to tell him how I feel for weeks. But whenever I sit really close, touch his hand, slap his butt, or do anything to cross that imaginary friendship line to let him know I’m interested in something more, he’s quick to back away. I think it’s pretty clear that he doesn’t think of me as anything more than an annoying little sister. So I’m stuck with this secret crush like some cross-eyed school girl.
     “Happy birthday, Key,” he says, leaning down to pull me up on my feet. His arms wrap around me, pulling me off the ground for the kind of bear hug he probably thinks is brotherly, but it makes my heart flutter excitedly.
     “Thanks,” I say, once he sets me down. I step back with a smirk. “Although you realize it’s just another day, right? I don’t expect any extra attention. I mean I don’t actually expect a parade, or group of male strippers.”
     Standing before me, he shoves his hands into his pockets and grins, the small dimples on his cheeks popping into place. “Damn. There goes that plan.” His grin deepens. “So what’s the plan for tonight?”
     “Well so far it’s a toss up between flying to Paris, or hanging at my place. Since I’m broke and can’t speak a lick of French, it looks like hanging out here is the winner.” Looking at him proves difficult when I know he won’t like what’s coming next. My eyes skitter around the neighborhood. “And Nora invited some people over.”
     “Some people? How many?” I glance back to see he suddenly looks...worried? Annoyed? He forgets I know him so well that I can read his every expression. This one, however, is definitely new. I’m not sure what it is that flickers through his gaze, but there’s definitely something there.
     “It’s not like we’re going to require the secret service for crowd control or anything. It’s going to be a small gathering,” I say, reaching out to shake his arm in the hopes of making him smile.
     I’m not totally sure how the idea of this party even started in the first place. My kind of fun involves a movie on the couch with my friends, sodas and a box of Junior Mints in hand. Since junior year, Nora and I have gone to a few parties—sometimes even convincing Dallas to tag along—but it never once crossed my mind to have one at my house.
     “C’mon, don’t be mad,” I say, slipping my hand into his. “You can still hit me with a stick, or whatever it is they do at tame birthday parties.”
     “Well as tempting as that sounds, I think I’ll have to pass.” Although he squeezes my hand playfully, his eyebrows draw down. “Does Phoebe know about your little gathering?”
     I shrug, trying to avert his serious gaze. “Tonight’s GNO. She’ll show up late tomorrow morning with a whopper of a hangover that will take ten hours to sleep off. She’ll never even know it happened.”
     At first Mom insisted on staying home from her monthly dinner/drink-a-thon with her girlfriends to help me celebrate, but I told her I had plans with Nora, and didn’t want her to miss out on the tradition on my account.
     Even with my assurances, the unease in Dallas’s expression won’t let up. I’ve never seen him this way. Nora’s white BMW finally comes into view, saving me from the awkward conversation.
     Leaning out her window, Nora grins madly, laying on the horn. Her blond hair sticks out from her head in kinky curls instead of its usual silkening gloss. Knowing her, she was up all night, texting her latest boyfriend or being witty with all her thousands of followers on Twitter, and didn’t have time to get ready this morning.
     Though Nora can be a pain at times, she’s usually a lot of fun. She charmed her way backstage so we could meet Gwen Stefani (even though we were escorted out by security before we actually met her), and she’s the one who suggested we sign up for Spanish so we could go on the amazing trip to Costa Rica last summer. She gave my mom roses for her last birthday, and brought me to her cousin’s cabin up north for a week in July (where we were caught peeing off the dock after sneaking out her uncle’s beers). The list of epic adventures goes on, overtaking the less than pleasant ones. While she may have her flaws, she’s also the best friend I could ever hope for.
     “Happy birthday, Keyanna Jo!” she yells, honking again. A clip of Anthony Michael Hall singing the old Beatles Birthday song in Sixteen Candles blasts from the speakers of her car, making me giggle.
     “Since your ride’s here, I guess that’s my cue to go,” Dallas says, stepping away. When our hands break contact, my heart sinks.
     “What? Why?” I pull on his arm. “I know Nor can be scary in the mornings, but she stopped biting when she discovered Red Bull.”
     With a sideways glance at her car pulling into the driveway, he shakes his head. “I have to make a few stops before school.”
     If Nora wasn’t waiting a few feet away, I’d ask him what was wrong. But he’d never open up in front of her. They get along, but sometimes I think it’s only because they know they have to for my sake.
     “Whatever,” I huff, coiling my fingers around his arm. For someone who doesn’t work out, there’s an awful lot of muscle under the smooth cotton. “Just promise me that you’re not mad about tonight. It’ll be fun. You and I can invent new ways to embarrass Nora in front of her boyfriend.”
     “I’m not mad,” he says without looking back at me. The tone of his voice isn’t so convincing, either. “I may have something else going on tonight.” His eyes shift over to mine.
     “Really?” Slapping his chest, I click my tongue. “You’re considering skipping my party? What could possibly be so important that you couldn’t come?”
     “Let’s go, Key!” Nora yells from her car. When the Sixteen Candles clip is suddenly replaced by 50 Cent’s birthday tune, she throws her hands around in the air, doing a spastic version of what she calls “dancing”.
     “We can talk about it more later.” Dallas turns away. “See you at school.”
     “I’ll hold you to that,” I call after him. “You can’t stay mad at me forever!” Without turning back, he lifts his hand in a quick wave. Whatever his problem is, I don’t like it.


     In AP English, the back of my neck tingles as a slow rush of heat begins to creep into my ears. An all-around prickling sensation passes through me, making me want to shiver. Right off I know it’s that icky feeling you get when you’re being watched. Ever so slowly I turn around, bracing myself.
Nora stares at me like a stalker from one row over. “Do you feel any different?” Her eyebrows wiggle above her cool baby blues.
     Glancing over my shoulder, I check to see if Ms. Benderson heard, but the middle-aged spinster is hunched behind her desk, so wrapped up in her own book that we could probably start a dance-off in the middle of the room and she wouldn’t notice.
     I turn back to ask Nora what in the hell she’s talking about this time when the small clock on the boring white wall catches my eye. Eleven forty-seven. Right. It’s the exact time I was born. Of course I don’t feel any differently as it’s another minute of my life that has ticked by, just like the rest.
     “No,” I whisper before looking down to the blank essay lines asking for the deeper meaning of a book that I didn’t even read. I hate anything that wasn’t written in the past ten years, and don’t get the point of reading old books where the sentences are all wonky.
     I stare out the window, twisting a lock of my red hair between my fingers, wishing I could be anywhere but here. In a matter of months I’ll finally break free from these walls that seem to grow closer and closer with every day. Now that I’m eighteen, however, it’s like there’s an added pressure to decide what I want to do for the rest of my life. And that is yet to be determined. Just the thought of leaving my mom all alone makes me kind of sad. We’re so close, I can’t imagine what she’ll do without me.
     “Pssst, Key!” This time Nora makes absolutely no effort to whisper. At times I’ve considered strangling her, and think I would be okay with it. A few classmates look up, shooting me the evil eye. With a probably pathetic attempt at an apologetic smile, I sink deeper into my chair. At least Ms. Benderson is still engrossed in her steamy romance novel that’s probably all about different shades of smut.
     Whirling around to face Nora, I make no attempt to hide the fact that I’m getting very annoyed. But she’s not at all put off by my scowl, and continues to grin like a fool. One would think that she’s the one having a birthday. “Don’t get mad, but Justin’s bringing a few of his friends tonight. They said they’ll supply the you-know-what.”
     My normally pale face grows warm as I dig my fingers into the palms of my hands, trying to keep calm. Nora’s latest boyfriend belongs to a frat house known as the pinnacle of party places, and guys from the university always equal trouble. It only takes one opening their big mouth to another for the number to rise to disastrous levels. “A few?”
     “Shhhh!” someone hisses loudly on my other side.
     Lowering my voice, I say, “This party better not blow out of control, Nora. Mom will sell me to China for child labor if she finds out.”
     Nora flashes her infamous slow, flirtatious wink, her false lashes closing up like a spider catching its prey. Sometimes I think she forgets I’m her friend, and not one of the guys she’s trying to hook up with. “It won’t, Key. I promise.”
     Glancing at my unfinished paper, I sigh. While Mom has never mentioned what kind of punishment she would dish out if I were ever to do such a thing, she once grounded me from watching an entire week’s worth of Full House reruns after I told my teacher our “pet snake” ate our homework. The woman means business.
     “Keyanna!” Nora yells again.
     “Really?” a voice on my other side barks. Heidi Murphy, most likely to be the class valedictorian, glares at me from behind her trendy rectangular glasses with her mouth pulled into a straight line. Something about her ink black hair and her way-too-skinny-to-be-healthy combination makes me take her way less seriously than I should.
     “Sorry,” I tell Heidi. “Obviously obedience school didn’t pay off for her.” When I turn back to Nora, she’s still staring my way. I mouth the word, “What?”
     “Happy official birthday!” she squeals, as if ready to burst.
     With a shake of my head, I smile. Sometimes it’s hard to be mad at my best friend as her carefree ways can be quite contagious.
     The buzzer announcing the end of class finally sounds. All at once we’re surrounded by a flurry of books and notebooks being scooped up, and chairs scraping against the floor. Nora rushes to my side, looping her arm through mine as we follow the others into the monotonous hallway of white and blue, the school’s colors. Everything about the school is cold and sterile. It’s exactly how I’ve always envisioned a state penitentiary to look.
     “I don’t know how you can act so calm when now you’re able to buy lottery tickets and cigarettes.” Nora leans into me, the sharp scent of her floral perfume burning my nose, making me want to sneeze. “You could even go to a casino if you wanted!”
     I pull in a dramatic breath. “And just think, I can even vote!”
     Dallas appears at my side, handing each of us a stick of cinnamon gum. “So how’s life at eighteen?”
     Popping the gum into my mouth, I let out a funny noise that could probably be considered a chortle. “Why does everyone think I should feel any different?” I ball the empty wrapper up to throw at him. “Am I supposed to grow a pair of horns or something?”
     “Because you are different,” Nora chimes in from my other side. “You’ve become extremely fabulous. Dallas, tell her.”
     “She’s right,” Dallas tells me. “Although that’s...probably...not the word I would choose.”
     Glad he seems to have shaken the serious mood from this morning, I stop in the middle of the hallway, gripping his arm. “Please tell me you’re coming tonight. Someone has to be there to keep me sane when the madness ensues.”
     Dallas cocks one eyebrow. “Madness? I thought you said it was just going to be a small gathering.” A hint of disappointment flashes through his gaze, making my gut stir with guilt. I hate it when he gives me that look.
     “It was until someone told her boyfriend it was okay to invite some of his buddies.” I nudge Nora in the rib cage with my elbow, throwing her off balance.
     “Hey!” she yells, rubbing her side. “I’m only interested in giving you a birthday party to remember! It’s not every day your best friend turns eighteen!”
     I roll my eyes to the dotted ceiling. “Yes, because doing keg shots while being held upside down is such a memorable experience. I thought we agreed this was going to be a low-key party. You know, quiet. I don’t see how a bunch of Kappa boys could be involved in anything that fits that description.”
“Inviting anyone was a really bad idea,” Dallas agrees from my other side. “How are you going to stop it if things get out of hand?”
     “We’ll make you the designated fun police,” Nora tells him, looking over me. “If anyone looks like they may be enjoying themselves, or shows any signs of being anything other than straight-laced, you can lecture them on the dangers of teen drinking.” She slips her arm back through mine, making a primal noise at the base of her throat. “As much as we’d love to stay and listen to your delusions, Key and I have a lunch date.”
     Our “lunch date” involves shopping, although I don’t know what Nora thinks she’ll actually be able to accomplish in all of forty minutes. I throw a sympathetic look Dallas’s way, as if I need to apologize. His weary eyes lock on to mine. “Please, Key, just promise you’ll be careful tonight.” There’s an edge to his voice, like some dark, concealed warning. Although I’ve seen rare glimpses of his serious side, this is just...intense.
     I nod reluctantly. “Of course. If you promise me you’ll quit with the dramatic movie trailer voiceover. Seriously. You’re creeping me out.”
     Nora drags me away, raising her hand in the air. “She’s on it!”
     Dallas stands exactly where we left him, still watching me with that funny look.

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