I open my eyes that next morning at nine O’ clock. I then stretch and slip out of bed. It’s nice to not wake up to an alarm going off in the morning, though I have to say it does keep me on schedule.
After I shower, dress and then grab some breakfast, I head back up to my room to get on my laptop. Although I had sent my next query to Bessie Johnson at the Johnson Literary Agency, I was still waiting to hear back from two other agents. One was from the Outback Literary Agency in Lucke Palmas, and the other from Lucienda Wrights Agency, in Riverbank Falls. I had queried both agents over two months ago, and both of their response dates had passed.
Just as I think I am still at a loss, I see a new e-mail from the Outback Literary Agency. It reads:
Dear Elizabeth Drake,
Thank you for considering me for your manuscript. While your story was intriguing, I have elected to pass on this project.
I wish you luck on your future endeavors.
Outback Literary Agency
Exhaling deeply, I exit out of my e-mail. I have become accustomed to getting rejections, but it never gets any easier to receive them. All it does is remind me that I still have a long way to go. Thank God, I was going to Marina Beach in a few weeks. I could definitely use the distraction.
I stay on my laptop surfing the internet until I hear the sound of the doorbell downstairs. Knowing that my dad was probably in his study and would be too busy to answer, I shut down my laptop and then head downstairs to the door.
And what a happy surprise it is! As I open the door, I am pleased to see Michael smiling up at me.
“Babe!” I say, giving him a kiss. “What are you doing here?”
“It’s the weekend, so thought I’d come up and see you. I’m sorry I had to leave your graduation so quickly. I was supposed to have the day off, but you know Karl.”
Oh yes, I did. Karl Gates, was Michael’s hard-headed boss from Zenco Software. I swear he worked his workers to death and hated them having days off. If he could have them all work 365 days a year, he totally would.
Still, the job had a great payout. Michael was now renting an amazing small, two-story house that he just loved. It was a big step up from the apartments he had been living in while he was still at Aberdale U.
I smile and take his hand into mine. “I totally understand, but, hey, at least you made it to the party later.”
“Just barely.” He then pulls me toward him.
“So, you happen to be free? I was thinking you could finally come check out the house.”
Michael had been trying to get me to come up to see his place, but every time I made plans, I would get busy doing something else. Spring quarter had been pretty crazy for me.
“I’d love to,” I say, and then lean forward to kiss him lightly on his neck; the crease just before his ear. He’s a bit ticklish there and he always trembles slightly when I kiss him, which I can’t lie, I absolutely love.
Grinning, Michael leans down and kisses the space between my neck and collarbone, causing me to let out a noise sounding like a cross between a squeal and a giggle. I may still not be completely ready to take “that” step with him, but I have to say, every time he kisses me there, I get closer and closer.
Michael then laughs and takes my hand into his and together we walk toward his car.
It’s about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from my parent’s house to Michael’s place, but the time seems to go by fast. Maybe that’s due to us chatting non-stop and listening to music from the radio. Michael and I have found a mutual radio station that we both love; one that plays a variety of music, from his favorite, soft and alternative rock, to my favorite, which is a mixture of the same, but including R&B and pop.
Eventually, we pull beside the curb of a small, two-story house, with a nice staircase leading up to the door. Not bad at all.
Michael then leads me around the yard all the way to the back. I have to say, I really do like the landscape. It’s small, but very manageable.
“Nice so far,” I say, with a grin. “Now for the inside.”
Michael laughs and the shows me to the door.
A moment later, I enter into the family room. It is also small, but very cozy. I love the warm feel of the room. There is a nice deep green sofa with a wooden coffee table in front and towards the wall, a medium-sized flat screen T.V. Very nice indeed.
In the corner of the room to the right of the couch, is a small white bookshelf and further back from it, is the dining room and kitchen. The rooms are all conjoined, but I really do like the homey feel it gives.
When Michael heads into his downstairs bathroom, I wander upstairs to the bedroom. There, I see his queen-sized mattress with a bedside table and a desk off to the side. The room is small, but for a petite rental house at $970 a month, I think it is very reasonable.
“So what’s the verdict?” Michael asks as I come back down the stairs.
“A plus,” I say, nodding my head. “It’s quite an upgrade.”
“I thought so too. It’s not much, but I really do like it. Glad I got your approval.”
Michael then moves closer to me. “You know, there is one thing that would make this more like home.”
I feel my stomach start to tingle slightly. “Oh? And what would that be?”
“Having you here with me.”
I raise my eyebrows. “You mean like, move in?”
“Yah. I would love to be able to see you every day. Not to mention when you start University of Maurana City in the Fall, you won’t have to live in a dorm.”
“That’s if I get accepted there. They may reject me too, just like the Outback literary agency did. I got their e-mail back today.”
“Hey, it’s their loss. Your story is amazing and one of these days an agent is going to wise up and see it.” He then reaches over and pulls me closer to him. “And I know you’re going to get into the University of Maurana City.”
“I sure hope so. I’d hate to have to be accepted somewhere far from you,” I say, and give Michael a peck on his lips.
“Moving in will also give you a quiet place to write,” Michael then says, and I can’t help but laugh. He is really trying.
“Not mention, I can do this all the time…” He then kisses the tender spot on my neck making me squeal softly.
“Mike!” I say, still laughing. “Okay, how about this. I’ll think about it. A lot.”
Michael grins and kisses me gently. “All right. Don’t think too long though.”
We then spend the rest of the afternoon watching movies and cuddling on his sofa. All the while, I keep thinking about his offer, and I can’t lie. It is sounding more and more appealing. Being able to lay in his arms almost every night? What could be better?
Noticing it is almost two O’clock, I let Michael leave to drop me off. With it being a two-and-a-half-hour drive, I want to make sure I am home before it gets too late. Another reason why moving in with him would be so great. No long distance drives to see each other.
I arrive home at six-thirty and after kissing Michael goodbye, I head off toward the front door. I then get distracted when I spot Judy and Thomas hanging out on our old playground equipment.
Not being able to resist, I turn and walk right over. Maybe Judy would be in a better mood today. Besides, at the moment she happened to be laughing.
“Hey guys,” I say cheerfully, when I finally reach them. “What are you two up to?”
Judy, who is sitting at the top of our slide, rolls her eyes. “Nothing, Lizzie. We’re just talking.”
I arch my eyebrow. “Care to elaborate?”
Clearly whatever was going on with Judy was still in effect today.
I decide to try a different approach. “Well, how are you doing Tommy? I haven’t seen you in quite a while. You’ve really grown.”
Judy rolls her eyes again, but Tommy smiles slightly. “I’m good. Just glad summer is here.”
I nod. “Me too. It’s been a very hectic quarter. I still can’t believe you and Judy are going to be sophomores. It’s crazy!”
At this point, Judy scuffs loudly. “Liz, do you mind? You just budded into our conversation, again. Could you just go and leave us alone?”
I blink a few times, still in shock by Judy’s aggression towards me. What was going on with her?
Still, I don’t want to make a scene in front of Tommy, so after looking at her for a moment, I just shrug. “Sure.”
I then turn and head inside.
My dad of course is still in his study hard at work on his computer, so I decide to prepare dinner for everyone. With the fridge so bare, it takes me a while to find something to throw together. It’s almost as if no one has gone grocery shopping in weeks. Some of the vegetables and fruits are even spoiled, so I just plug my nose and throw them out. It’s a bit strange since the fridge is always stocked. My mom always made sure of it, at least when she was in the house. Exactly how long had she been staying with my grandparents?
I ponder about this and Judy’s strange behavior, as I cook some Masala curry on the stove, along with some rice in the rice cooker. It seemed like since I had arrived back, everyone was acting so strangely.
Then again, maybe it had started before then. Back at the afternoon of my graduation, things had seemed kind of tense between Judy and me. She had been so quiet and had barely made eye contact with me. Had she been angry at me then as well?
I finish dinner an hour later and knock on my dad’s study to let him know. He tells me he will be out in a few minutes.
I then poke my head out the front door to tell Judy, but see she is still chatting with Tommy. Only now, they had moved to the porch and seemed to be in a very intimate conversation.
“Um, Judy?” I call over.
She lets out a puff of air and gives me an annoyed look. “What Lizzie?”
I sigh. “I’m not trying to bother you, I just wanted to say that I cooked dinner. Come in if you want some.” I then turn around and leave before she can snap at me again.
Five minutes later my dad joins me at the table, along with Judy and Tommy. Tommy is a bit reluctant, but my dad tells him that it is no problem and that he can certainly join us for dinner.
We eat for five minutes in total silence, but it feels like an eternity. All that can be heard is the sound of spoons and forks scraping upon plates and the friction of teeth chewing. The tension is so strong that you would need a saw to cut though it.
“So,” my dad says suddenly, and I jump in my seat a little. “You’re a graduate now, Lizzie. A college grad.”
I chuckle slightly. “I am. I still can’t believe it myself.”
“Not to mention valedictorian. What a feat.”
“What’s the big deal?” Judy remarks. “She’s done it before.”
My dad frowns. “It is a big deal. Being chosen to speak at a university of that caliber and size out of all those other applicants.” He shakes his head. “It is quite an honor.”
Judy throws my dad an irritated glance and then takes a bite of her rice.
“Have you heard back from the graduate schools you applied too?” My dad continues.
“Just one. From Riverbank Falls. It was a rejection, but it’s okay. That school was just one of my backups. I’m still waiting to hear back from five other schools.”
Of those five were, Columbia Heights, Alfred State, Riverview U, Bridgeport U and most of all, University of Maurana City. I was really hoping for that one, for it was just slightly over two and a half hours from here and would be perfect for if I moved in with Michael. After all, his Zenco computer software company was stationed just outside of Maurana City.
“Well, I’m sure you’ll get in,” My dad then says, “Those schools would be crazy not to accept a bright woman like you.”
“Give me a break,” I hear Judy mutter quietly, but I decide to ignore her. Tommy’s eyes shift over to her, but then back to his plate.
“And how are things with your novel?” My dad asks, while taking a sip from his water. “Still querying?”
I nod. “I’m afraid so. I heard back from the Outback literary agency today. They weren’t interested.”
“I’m sorry. I know that’s like the twentieth one or so.”
I shrug. “It is what it is. It’s hard to find the right agent.”
“Or maybe it’s the story,” Judy mutters through her teeth.
At this point I have had enough.
“What was that?” I say loudly, and both my dad and Tommy look up.
“I said, maybe it’s your story,” Judy repeats loudly. “Maybe it’s just that your story sucks like sh** and all those agents are just too polite to say it.”
“Judith Marie Drake!” My dad shouts, looking at her in surprise. “Do not talk to your sister like that! What is wrong with you?”
I am so shocked that I can’t even speak.
“Apologize to your sister at once!” my dad snaps.
Judy scoffs. “Forget it.”
“NOW! Or you will be grounded for a month!”
Judy looks at my dad hard for a minute and for a second I actually think she is going to defy him, but then she rolls her eyes once again.
“Fine. I’m sorry.”
We then spend the next five minutes eating in silence; me still stunned at Judy’s outburst. It was like she was a completely different person.
Tommy then suddenly cleared this throat. “W-well I should be getting home before it gets too late. Thank you for having me for dinner.”
“Anytime,” my dad says with a smile, and he gathers his empty plate to take to the sink. I stand up to do the same, but in sync with Judy.
“I’ll walk you out,” Judy says, and she follows him to the front door.
I just stand watching after them. Where on Earth has my sister gone?
“I really don’t know what is going on with her dad,” I say to my dad a minute later. “She seems so filled with anger. Did something happen while I was away?”
My dad clears his throat, looking uneasy, and reaches over to collect the last few plates. “I-I think your sister is just going through some things right now. You know teenagers. Try not to pay her too much mind. That said, she needs to watch that attitude. I’ll be having a talk with her later.” My dad then takes the dishes to the sink and after washing them, he heads back to his study.
I stare after him and shake my head. His reaction to my question was exactly the same as my mother’s had been a day earlier. There was something going on and I needed to get to the bottom of it.
After washing the dishes, I enter into the front foyer and see that Judy is still there with Tommy. It is very obvious to me now that there is really something going on with the two of them. Something more than just being friendly…
“I’ll pick you up tomorrow at seven,” Tommy was saying, as he held Judy’s hands in his. “That okay?”
Judy nods. “Sounds perfect. Night.” She then makes a move to do what I suspect is to kiss him on the cheek, but when she notices me standing there, she moves back and lets his hands go.
“Night.” Tommy says, and then he turns and heads out the door.
After he leaves, Judy glares at me. “Could you be any more of a buzzkill?” she says, and she starts up the stairs.
I have just about had it. “Judy wait,” I call, hurrying after her, “I think we need to talk.”
“Well, I don’t want to talk to you,” Judy snaps. “So leave me alone.”
She is almost to her room when I finally catch up to her.
“No Judy,” I say, blocking the door to her bedroom. “I’m not letting you go until we talk. You’ve been rude to me and acting so weird for the past day and a half, and I want to know why.”
Judy steps back and raises her eyebrows. “Oh? So now you care? Now you suddenly want to know what’s going on in my life? Now I’m suddenly so important to you?”
I blink feeling confused. “What are you talking about? Of course, you’re important to me!”
“Yah right! You have a funny way of showing it!”
“I tried for two whole months to get a hold of you to talk about something important, but each time I tried, you either wouldn’t answer, were too busy, or out with your sorority sisters! Every time Lizzie!” Judy clenches her fists. “You were just too busy with school and your new sisters to even remember you have a real one!”
After she says this, I instantly feel awful. It was all starting to come back to me. I did remember Judy trying to get a hold of me back around late-February and early-March. Around that time, I had been finalizing my graduate school applications as well as planning and hosting the Beta Gamma Kappa annual homeless fundraiser. I had actually even left my phone in my room a few times in my rush to leave, and when I checked later, I did see missed calls from Judy. At the time, I figured that whatever it was, if it was really important she would just leave a message.
“I-I’m so sorry Judy,” I say then. “I should have called you back. I was so busy with school and the Beta Gamma Kappas that I didn’t have time for anything else. Also, I figured we could talk when I came home for Spring break-”
“And did you?” Judy interrupts. “No! You didn’t! Instead, you called me on the phone and said you weren’t coming home because you and your sorority sisters were taking a sisterly bonding trip to Lucke Palmas Luxury Casino! Very nice, huh?” She then curses.
I swallow sharply. I was now starting to see why Judy had been acting so cold to me, and honestly, she had every right to be.
“So don’t you dare stand there and say you care about me and that I’m important to you, because you don’t give a crap about me! All I wanted to do was call and talk to you about everything that was going on here, but you were just too busy to listen! So, I had to go through all of it alone!”
That catches me off guard.
“Wait, Judy,” I say quickly, “what are you talking about? What do you mean ‘“go through all of it alone?”’ Go through what alone?”
Judy then gets quiet and turns away from me. Her face goes from one filled with rage to one of hurt and pain.
“What are you talking about?” I ask again.
“It doesn’t matter anymore,” Judy snaps. “It’s too late.”
“Too late for what?”
I am still so confused, but then suddenly my mind thinks back to my mom and dad; their strange behavior the past two days and my mom leaving to go to my grandparents.
“Judy, is something going on with mom and dad?”
“Now you care.” Judy shakes her head. “When I called to talk to you about it, you wouldn’t bother to answer.”
I feel my heart to start pound in my chest. “Judy, what’s going on with them?”
“Why should I tell you? You didn’t care to know before-”
“Judy! Just tell me!”
“Fine! Dad threw mom out!”
I just stand staring at her after she says that. “He what?”
“He threw her out. They got into a really big fight and he kicked her out. They had been getting in fights for weeks and that one was the worst of it. That day they were yelling at each other for almost two hours. I couldn’t hear exactly what about, but I heard him yell for her to leave. She’s been gone for almost three months.”
That explained it. Why my mom was so eager to leave last night even though it was so late. It also explained the nearly empty refrigerator and spoiled food. My mom hadn’t just been visiting my grandparents. She was living with them.
“You would have known if you just bothered to check in,” Judy continued. “Just to pick up the phone just once. But whatever. Now you know.”
She then wipes her eyes with the back of her hand and I can see it is stained with tears.
“Judy,” I start, but she holds up her hand.
“Just stop Lizzie. I’m going to bed.” She then pushes past me into her room and closes the door behind her.
I want so badly to go in after her, but I decide to hold back. With everything she was feeling and had gone through for the past few months, the least I could do was leave her alone. Although walking away when I could hear her weeping through her bedroom door, was the most difficult thing to do.
A few minutes later, I crawl into bed feeling like the worst sister that has ever lived. How could I have been too busy to answer Judy? How could I have let myself get so caught up in myself that I had missed her calls for help? She was right about me. I was the worst.
My phone then beeps with a text I’m sure is from Michael, but I feel too awful to even look at it. Sleep was what I needed. Then maybe I could figure out a way to get to the bottom of this and try to help, if there was anything left to help with.
(Thank you for reading! I know it has been a very long time since I posted a chapter so I thank you for those who are still reading. Being computer-less has caused me a lot of headache over the past year. I am very happy to have one again, even if it is not the top notch laptop for high end simming. However, that will not stop me from doing my best to continue my stories! I will post once a week and twice if I can! So please stay tuned and enjoy! 🙂 )