Authors: Elise Manion
Copyright © 2014 Elise Manion
All rights reserved.
TO my mom, who loves me unconditionally; to Nineveh, my best friend and resource to all things Assyrian; to Christie, my ZenFriend cousin and encourager of all things positive; and to Paula, my best friend, who no matter how much time goes by we can just pick up where we left off like there is never any time missing. Most importantly, to my husband, Tom. Without him, I wouldn’t know the meaning of romance. I love you, baby.
Fun Park was packed. By the looks of it, the whole school was celebrating tonight. The homecoming game had been a nail biter, but Julie’s high school had won. Her small town didn’t have much to offer teenagers for recreation except for Fun Park. It had miniature golf, a bowling alley and go carts. There was also a restaurant with a full arcade. It was
to be on a Friday night if you were over twelve and under eighteen.
She was happy to be spreading her wings tonight. As a freshman in high school, her parents had extended her curfew from 10:00 pm to the coveted witching hour of midnight. They now gave her more freedom to socialize; meaning she could hang out with boys unsupervised as long as it was in a co-ed group and they remained in public. The town was so small that even if she wanted to spend time alone with a boy, there was no question that her parents would hear about it.
Being in high school was so much better than junior high. Now, she socialized with kids who lived in all parts of her small town; kids from other neighborhoods, some wealthy, some poor; it was diverse and she loved it. She and Lauren (her best friend since first grade) had a new friend from the wealthy neighborhood in town; Josh King’s family was prominent in their community. Julie knew his dad from TV commercials he ran about his construction company. Even though he had money, Josh never acted like a stuck up snob. He was in a couple of her classes, and he was the one who befriended her first, so the three of them had become close friends. Josh was cute for a complete goofoff. He was always doing something totally random to make them laugh.
Josh had two brothers who also went to school with them. Julie didn’t know them except for their reputations. All three brothers were victims of a bad family trait; fighting. The King brothers seemed to live by some macho male code that if someone crossed them in any way, they would beat their ass. Jason, the middle brother, had the worst reputation according to the stories she had heard from other girls at school. Rumor had it that not only was Jason the toughest fighter in the school, but he liked to be with a lot of girls at the same time. Julie thought that was disgusting. She also didn’t understand how someone like that could be related to Josh, who was sweet and loyal. Jarod was the oldest brother. He was a senior. He was quiet, but it was rumored that he was the one who had laid down the “don’t screw with us” rule before his brothers got to high school.
“I can’t believe we won! Our first homecoming and we beat last year’s state champions! This is amazing.” Lauren stopped to slurp up the bottom of her milkshake before she said, “Gawd, did you see the outfits those cheerleaders were wearing? I mean, what kind of PTA board do they have at that school to let those girls wear almost nothing? It was like they were headed straight to the poles after the game,” Lauren said, shaking her head in disgust before polishing off her milkshake with a loud, gurgling suction from the bottom of the styrofoam cup.
“I thought they were HOT!” Josh waggled his eyebrows before doing his version of a cheer that involved a lot of hip-swiveling and crude gestures.
“You are such a slut, Josh. Only you would think those outfits were attractive,” Julie giggled.
“Yeah. He thinks little girls playing dress-up are righteous,” said a deep voice behind Julie. There were a couple of guffaws as Josh almost knocked her and Lauren over to get to whoever was behind her.
“Screw you, Jason! At least I like them my own age.” Julie turned in time to see Josh in a headlock with a big guy she’d never seen before. He had thick, brown wavy hair with sun streaks like he spent a lot of time in the sun. He was a few inches taller than Josh and quite a bit wider with well-defined shoulders and arms. He was wearing loose jeans, a tight black t-shirt and black boots. The bicep that was bulging around Josh’s neck sported a clear plastic bandage with a brand new tattoo underneath. It was black and reminded Julie of ancient Greece; it wasn’t the only image marring his skin.
She was about to start yelling for help when the beast proceeded to noogie Josh’s head and speak to him like he was a small puppy. “Who’s a good little brother? Who is? You, Joshie, you’re a good lil’ brother. That’s who!”
Josh was half laughing, half screaming. “Let me go, you bastard! I’m telling dad you beat me up in public!”
The other boy who had come in with Jason laughed, “He would just tell you to get out of Jason’s reach faster.” He looked just like Josh only much older. They were still chuckling when Josh was set free. Julie was relieved. Rough house games were not something they engaged in at home, although her little brother liked to spaz out on her from time to time.
Lauren was gaping at the older boys when she elbowed Josh and whispered, “Well?” She looked at his brothers, then back at Josh. “Introduce us,” she hissed.
Julie had just crammed her mouth full of sticky candy when Josh pulled her in front of Lauren. He laughed out loud at Lauren’s expression before he introduced Julie to his brothers. “Julie, these are my big brothers, Jason and Jarod.” He smiled and then said to his brothers, “The pain in the ass over here is our friend, Lauren,” who punched him in the shoulder.
Julie returned Jarod’s wave while trying to swallow the giant mess in her mouth and tried not to laugh at the same time. She attempted to get the candy down her throat without choking but it seemed to be getting bigger in her mouth as she chewed, when she glanced at Jason. As far as bullies go, he had the most beautiful green eyes she’d ever seen and they were boring into her like a diamond drill. Still struggling with the candy Jason lifted his eyebrows, mocking her. She still couldn’t get a word out. Finally he said, “Nice meeting you, Jujyfruit,” and sauntered off. He quickly turned his attention to some other boys who had just walked inside.
Julie looked at her feet as she finally swallowed her candy. She felt like an idiot.
“That guy was ridiculously good looking!” Lauren was bouncing on her feet.
“He thinks we’re children, Lauren.”
“Maybe but he waved! I can’t believe how much he looks like Josh, though. Maybe our goofy friend has a chance at a normal life after all.” She began to giggle at her own joke.
“What are you talking about? Josh’s eyes are blue. Jason’s are an amazing green, and he doesn’t look exactly like Josh.”
“Jason? No, no. I was talking about Jarod!” she squealed when she said his name.
Julie looked over to where the guys had grouped together. Their pack had grown in size. Jason was staring at her again, probably thinking she was the lamest baby he had ever met. She was trying hard not to be too embarrassed or mad about the situation when she noticed a boy shove Jason in the shoulder, then head in her direction. She glanced behind her to see where he was going but turned to see that he was on a definite collision course with her. He smiled at her when he reached her.
“Hey, I’m Billy.” He stuck his hand out to her. She blinked and put her hand in his.
“You’re a freshman, right?” he smirked. He said
like it was a dirty word. She noticed that he kept looking at Jason with that half smile on his face.
“Yes.” She was on her guard now not wanting to be further embarrassed.
“Well, my friend over there has a few girlfriends already. If I were you I wouldn’t count on anything serious happening with him.”
“I wasn’t thinking of him at all!” She almost shouted her denial.
“No? The way you were staring I thought maybe you were interested in him. My apologies but you seem like a nice girl. I just wanted to warn you about him. He’s not a very good guy when it comes to the girls. You know, he likes to be with more than one at a time. That sort of thing.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be his friend?” Julie wasn’t sure why he was telling her this stuff. She glanced over his shoulder to see that Jason was still staring at her.
“Yeah, I am. That’s why I know so much about him.” He half smiled, half smirked. He glanced back at Jason and shrugged his shoulder. He turned back to her with a smile on his face and asked, “Wanna see a movie with me some time?”
Julie jerked her attention from Jason’s heavy stare to Billy’s bright smile. He wasn’t quite as big as Jason, his eyes were an icy, light blue and he had blonde hair. He was dressed in new jeans, tennis shoes and a leather jacket. He reminded her of a modern day prince charming, and he was patiently waiting for her answer.
“Sh… sure. Yes, I’d like that. I would need to talk to my parents first.”
“Great! Why don’t I get your num…” He trailed off suddenly as they heard shouts from behind them. Some kids from the losing team had come into the arcade. They were pushing kids off the machines and causing trouble. “Excuse me,” he said as he hurried over to the King brothers who were already making a beeline to the action.
Julie watched as the confrontation unfolded. The creeps were pushing people and yelling at everyone. When Jason and his brothers had their attention, their ringleader stepped up toe-to-toe with Jason who towered over the punk. Jason spoke softly. The kid must not have liked what he heard because he swung a fist at Jason’s face. Quicker than Julie’s eyes could follow, Jason was on the kid. His punches were so fast she couldn’t count them. Josh and Jarod busied themselves keeping the other boys back until they too were engulfed in the fight. Billy, on the other hand, was keeping girls and the younger kids out of the way while yelling encouragements to Jason.
When all was said and done, everyone involved in the fight was thrown out by security. As Jason was escorted to the front doors, she saw him look her way before he was tossed outside.
STALKED BY A TOAD
Julie Armstrong lived her life for the only family she had left; her 17-year-old brother, Charlie. Like most women her age she had hopes and dreams of a future with Prince Charming and a family of her own. At 25, she might have had a chance at happily-ever-after, but she just didn’t have the time to put much effort into the search. For Charlie, she had to play many roles; mom and dad, counselor, teacher, protector, chef, cheerleader and taxi driver. She ran a small business just to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. She simply didn’t have time to look for a good man, even if one existed, which she sincerely doubted. The last good man that she had known was her father. Unfortunately for both her and Charlie, their parents were dead.
So when the chance to go camping arrived the weekend before Charlie’s senior year started, Julie couldn’t help thinking she was being stalked by a toad. Oh, he was a nice looking toad, physically fit with a well-defined body, bright green eyes that could see into her soul, brown hair now kissed by the sun and a killer smile. But the tattoos were a give away to his bad boy nature and he liked to boss people around; he would even use physical force if necessary. Jason King was no Prince Charming.
“Is that the Kings’ boat out there?” Charlie asked as he came out of his tent, hair every which way and his voice rough from sleep. The ski boat had woken him up, just like it had Julie. He squinted into the morning sun and scratched his belly as he walked over to the ice chest to grab a juice box. “I bet that’s Jason out there behind the boat. That dude can really shred!” He flopped himself onto a beach chair and watched the skier swish back and forth behind the boat as if he was watching a tennis match.
“I’m getting breakfast started now and Lauren should be up soon. Do you want pancakes or eggs and bacon?” Julie got out the pans, hoping he would choose eggs and bacon. For some reason bacon always tasted better when she was camping. It brought back some great memories of camping when she was a little girl, but it made her miss her parents even more than she already did. Funny how the smell of bacon could be bittersweet.