Flicker blue 1 plain jan.., p.7
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       Flicker Blue 1: Plain Jane, p.7
 

          
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Chapter VII

  Flicker Blue

  On March twenty-first, Jane awoke to the sound of a revving engine below her window. What the hell? Jane thought as she yawned and rubbed the sleep from her eyes. She went to the window, pushed the yellow lace curtains to one side, and yanked the window open. There, on the driveway in front of the house, was Cristobel Marquez in her BMW.

  “What do you think you’re doing?” she called down to him.

  His wide grin nearly split his dark face in two. “Happy birthday, Janie! Get your butt down here already!”

  “Cris! It’s only,” she glanced back at the alarm clock on her bedside table. “It’s not even six-thirty yet! I haven’t even started to get ready.”

  “Well, hurry up! I thought we could go riding around before school.”

  Jane took a breath and closed her eyes. Boys, she thought irritably. “Whatever. Give me a few minutes, will you?”

  “I’ll be right up!” He yelled as he switched off the car ignition and sprinted around the side of the big house for the kitchen door.

  “What?! No!” Jane was too late—Cris was already out of earshot. “Crap,” she groaned to herself as she jumped into her closet. She stripped out of the old t-shirt she’d slept in and pulled on the first bra, jeans, and sweater that she could put her hands on. She was tugging a green sweater top over her shoulders when Cris began banging on her closet door.

  “Hey, Janie—are you in there?”

  She jerked the door open and pushed him back so hard that he tripped and fell backward across her bed. “Damn you, Cris! I know you want to play with my car, but it’s my birthday, and we’ll leave when I’m damn well ready to go!”

  “Well, come on. Get ready, then, so we can go.”

  What a creep, Jane laughed to herself five minutes later, as she pulled a flat iron through her mouse brown hair. Cris was still lying across her bed, watching as she toiled at her vanity table. At least I took a shower last night. He probably wouldn’t have left me alone to do that, either. As soon as she thought it, her face flushed with color. She focused on her reflection in the mirror, trying to concentrate on her hair.

  The moment she put the iron down, Cris jumped up. “Are you ready now?”

  “No, I’ve still got to put on some make-up.”

  “What? You never wear make-up!”

  “Well, I want to today. It’s my birthday, and I’d like to look nice.”

  “Are you kidding me? The very first day you have an awesome car to drive, you decide to spend extra time getting ready? Girls are freaks.”

  “Why’s that?” Jane asked as she fanned a powder brush over her face.

  “Well, whoever you’re getting dolled up for is going to be way more impressed by your car than he is by your ‘volume pumping lip gloss.’” He was reading from a clear tube that he had picked up from her pink plastic box of make-up supplies—just a few more of the items Angelita had decided she couldn’t live without. “You’ve been acting so weird lately.”

  “Hand it over, Marquez. You know perfectly well that I’m not trying to impress anybody. There,” she added as she twirled her mascara wand through her eyelashes. Instead of looking like a thirteen year old, she looked like a thirteen year old in make-up. That’s just great. At least she had a tan. “Well, that’s as good as it’s going to get, anyway. Guess it’s a good thing I’m not out to impress anyone, huh?”

  “Huh. I wouldn’t be so sure.” Cris watched as she stood from the vanity stool and smoothed her top. “You really do look nice, Janie. Happy birthday.” Their eyes met, and a clumsy silence followed.

  “So…you’re not technically allowed to drive the car yet,” she said to break through the awkwardness, “but we could probably get away with you driving to the end of the neighborhood.” She arched an eyebrow. “Want to?”

  “Hell yeah, I do!” Cris grabbed her hand and pulled her out of her room and down the stairs, jingling the car keys all the way.

  The reaction from the students in the parking lot at school wasn’t what Jane had expected—it was worse. The weather had continued its warm trend, and nearly every student in the high school was hanging out in the lot, procrastinating in the sunshine until they absolutely had to go inside for class. Jane was glad that she’d spent a little extra time getting ready. Everyone was watching her, and she noticed more than one jaw literally drop, as she pulled into an open spot. Very inconspicuous…ha! Jane could hear Gregory’s little joke echo in her head, and she drew up her eyebrows in frustration. She did not like to be the center of attention. To make matters even more mortifying, as soon as Cris climbed out of the passenger door, he donned a ridiculous pair of sunglasses and pushed his hair back along both sides of his head.

  “That’s real badass, Cris.” Her sarcasm was completely ineffective. He grinned and met her at the trunk of the car, where he grabbed their backpacks and shrugged both of them over one shoulder. Jane could feel the stares of her fellow students on her back. Cris, who had not dropped his fervent smile from the second they sat down in the car, took Jane’s hand and began walking toward the school building. “Come on, Janie.”

  “I’m not going to walk with you if you insist on strutting.”

  “I’m not strutting.”

  “Ha!”

  “Well, at least I’m not cowering like you are. They’re only watching because you look great, the car looks great…even I’m looking pretty good for the moment, and that doesn’t happen too often.”

  “Why do you care what they think? You’ve never struck me as that kind of guy.”

  “I’m not. I’m just having a good time. If you’d try loosening up, you’d probably be having a good time, too. And, for the record, you’re the one who seems more preoccupied about what everyone thinks.”

  Maybe he’s right. Jane pursed her lips. “You really think I look great?”

  Cris laughed. “Definitely.”

  The hours between eight o’ clock and noon passed in a whirlwind of “Happy Birthdays!” from random classmates, half of whom Jane didn’t know. She could hardly concentrate on her morning classes because of the stares and whispers that surrounded her. Everyone was curious about the new car, but they wanted to know other things as well. Did she get anything else? Was she having a party? Was she dating that Cris guy? No, no, and no…I don’t think so. That last one always seemed to be the question, and it always made her wonder what her mysterious neighbor was doing—whether he ever thought about her. Probably not. When the lunch bell finally rang, Jane bolted for the cafeteria.

  Cris was there, of course, waiting with his books reserving the seat next to him for her. Anna sat in the spot opposite Cris. Hannah Grace was squished between Josh and Brandon; Josh appeared to be winning the Hannah Grace game today, and Brandon was taking the rejection pretty badly. He sat facing the table with his eyes focused on his tray. Jane rolled her eyes and moved to the seat next to Cris.

  “Hey,” she said as Cris moved his books to make room for her.

  “Hey, Jane,” Brandon said abruptly, removing his gaze from his overcooked broccoli. “So, uh, you really get the stuff in Biology, right?”

  A mocking smile tugged one corner of Jane’s mouth. “The stuff?”

  “Yeah, you know. The stuff on the next test.”

  Jane tried not to notice the light reflecting on his gleaming bleached spikes. Not that he would have minded—she figured he’d spent more time on his hair than she had. “You mean the test on cellular respiration?”

  Brandon smiled. “Yeah, exactly. Cellular respiration. Do you think you could give me a hand studying some time?”

  Hannah Grace’s head popped up from the conversation she’d been having with Josh.

  Cris stood and put his hand on Jane’s shoulder. “Janie, I’m going to get another Coke. You want anything?”

  “Sure, a—a Diet, I guess. Thanks.”

  “No problemo.” Cris walked toward the end of the cafeteria where the vending machines stood, and Brandon took advantage
of his momentary absence.

  “So Jane, what’s the deal? Are you two an item or what?” In the moment that Jane hesitated, she noticed Anna peek up at her from a tray of chicken tenders and broccoli.

  “Who, me and Cris? We—no, we’re not dating. Cris is….” What the hell is Cris? “He’s just, I mean, he’s like my best friend. We’re not together.”

  “Cool,” Brandon replied as Hannah Grace nudged him and said “See, I told you so” under her breath. Jane blushed and tried to spend the rest of the lunch period concentrating on the granola bar she’d pulled out of her backpack. Except for mumbling thanks to Cris when he set a can of soda on the table in front of her, she didn’t breathe another word. After twenty-five long minutes of listening to Hannah Grace, Anna, and the others (even Cris) brainstorm about Spring Break plans, lunch finally ended.

  “Hey, uh, Jane? Could you give me a lift home this afternoon?” Hannah Grace asked as the bell sounded and the deafening shuffle began.

  “Yeah, sure. Meet us out in the parking lot, okay?”

  “Great. See ya later, birthday girl.” Hannah Grace crooned teasingly as she packed up her things and left the table, flanked by Josh. She was up to something.

  “Bye, Jane. Happy birthday.”

  “Thanks, Anna.”

  When only she and Cris were left at the table, Jane began to pack up her own backpack.

  “Janie?”

  “What?” She dropped the backpack onto the table and whirled around to face him. He was closer than she expected, and she had to look up to see his face.

  “Are you—you’re not having a good birthday, are you?” He gazed down at her and took one of her hands.

  “Ugh, I don’t know. I kind of was before—and I had a good time with you this morning, even though you woke me up way too early.” He chuckled in response. “But I wasn’t expecting—I mean…Brandon just made me a little uncomfortable, that’s all.”

  “What did he say?”

  Here we go, Jane thought. “He asked if you and I were dating. I think he might be interested in me.”

  “That doesn’t surprise me. Are you interested in him?” Cris tried to make his face neutral as he waited for her to reply.

  She didn’t mean to snort. “Are you kidding? Me, interested in some guy who’s done nothing but drool over Hannah Grace until the first day I drive to school in my ridiculous car? This is exactly what I was afraid of—I just don’t like this kind of attention. It seems so insincere. I wish that I’d just let Uncle Mederick buy me my own car in the first place, so I could have picked out a minivan or something.”

  “That would’ve been cute.” Cris took Jane’s other hand. The cafeteria was empty now. Quiet. “So, what did you tell him?”

  “I told him that I thought it was too big a gift, but I didn’t—”

  “No, Janie. What did you tell Brandon…about us? I’d kind of like to know the answer to that question myself.” He smiled at her and intertwined his fingers through hers.

  “I—I told him that you’re my best friend.” Jane’s face was on fire.

  “You’re my best friend, too.”

  Jane swallowed. She felt like the floor was about to be swept out from under her feet, like the course of everything was about to change depending on how she reacted to this conversation. She did like Cris, more than any other guy that she’d ever actually met, but she wasn’t sure if that was enough. Not when she knew how attracted she could feel—did feel toward somebody else. And could she really handle a relationship with anybody, even Cris, with everything that was already happening to her? She couldn’t be honest with him, and that was bound to become a problem at some point. She looked into his black eyes, and what she found there made her nervous. He expected this…he really wanted this, wanted her, and that felt…good. Is that so terrible? He was her best friend, after all. He would understand if she wanted to be with him, but couldn’t let him in on all of her secrets. He respected Dr. Sylfaen’s space but still thought of him as family. Couldn’t he do the same for me?

  Of course he could, she decided. As she smiled up at him, Cris wrapped his arms around her waist, twisting her hands, which he still held tight, behind her back. Jane raised her heels off of the floor and tilted her face upward. He grinned back as he bent his own face down to meet hers. Their lips touched, just brushing lightly at first and then becoming more eager as the kiss continued.

  Jane did not stop kissing Cris, but she opened her eyes. What am I thinking? Her vision became tinged with blue around the periphery. This is my friend…this is Cris. What am I doing? Cris must have sensed her hesitation, but he began to kiss her more fervently instead of letting her go.

  Blue flames flashed in a ring around her field of vision. What is going on? She shut her eyes again, and as she did, she imagined Cris as she wanted to see him, seated next to her on the old porch swing. That was the way she thought of him—the way she thought of them. She had to stop this before it went too far. What if this doesn’t work? What if we can’t be friends after this?

  Jane opened her eyes again and began to pull away from Cris, to explain, but the blue flames were back. Suddenly, the porch swing flickered into her vision, like it was there, bathed in an eerie blue light and suspended from the ceiling of the cafeteria just a few feet away from where they stood. What the hell?

  Jane shoved Cris back with both hands, her eyes wide and heart pounding. The porch swing flickered in and out of her vision, faster and faster. The cafeteria tables and walls and linoleum floors wavered and became more indistinct with each flash—they were disappearing into a pool of violent, cobalt blue. The view behind the cafeteria windows faded from the student parking lot to a rolling lawn of green grass as the porch swing flashed in and out of the space before her. Jane couldn’t breathe; she felt pulled between two places, present in two places at once. Flicker, flicker, flickerflickerflickerflicker—there was a loud snap, and Jane was gone.

  Cris opened his eyes in shock. “Janie?” he screamed. “Jane, where are you?” It was no use; she had disappeared into thin air. He had seen it happen.

  Sylfaen! He had to find Dr. Sylfaen!

  “Can I help you, dear?” asked a heavyset cafeteria worker who had lumbered out of the kitchen in response to his cries.

  “Uh—uh, no. No ma’am.” Still shocked, Cris snatched Jane’s backpack from the table where she had dropped it before she vanished. He dove his hand into the front pocket and groped madly until he found her car keys. He grabbed both of their bags and dashed through the cafeteria doors.

 
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