High School Soap Opera
“Are you out of your mind?” Jack asks, and I cringe. “Why would you say all that? The cops don’t need to know that Nick was fighting with everyone all day. Didn’t you think that would make him their prime suspect?” He’s shouting, and his arms are making big gestures to help him express his anger. We didn’t say anything until we had left the police station, so at least we don’t have a crowd of spectators like most fights in this town.
“I know, I should have thought more about it first…” I stand a few feet away, and I cross my arms across my chest defensively. I don’t know what to expect. Since Jack wasn’t a character I remember seeing on the show, he’s still a mystery to me. I’ve never seen him this mad, so I don’t know how to calm him down. Under the circumstances, I’m not sure I’d want to be calm, if I were him. He probably has a lot to say, and if I don’t let him say it then it will explode out of him later, probably at the most inopportune time.
“That’s all you can say. that you should have thought about it more? Jenna, do you understand what’s going to happen now?” He starts pacing. “Nick shot and killed someone less than a year ago. The police don’t care that he killed a bad guy. They’re going to use this to say that Nick has means – he knows how to shoot to kill. If he asks around, he’ll even hear that Nick sometimes goes to a shooting range to practice. Then they’ll look at the fight with Ambrosia. First, he fought with Ambrosia and ended up telling the whole town that his sister was just arrested for embezzlement and arson. Then, Ambrosia called his ex-girlfriend so she could show up at the bar with her new boyfriend. Then he fought with his ex-girlfriend, and got upset that she still doesn’t remember being in love with him. If I was Nick, I would be pissed at Ambrosia. And the police will call that motive. And last, nobody so far has been able to say where Nick was at the time Ambrosia was murdered. That, the police will say, is opportunity.” He stops pacing, closes his eyes, and puts his hands on his temples. “You might as well have nailed him in a coffin, Jenna.”
“I know, okay?” I shout right back at him. “I know I messed up. I know it, so you don’t have to try to make me feel bad, because I already feel horrible. But you know what? If I didn’t tell him about the fighting, he would have heard it from someone else. Everyone was at the bar, it was Saturday night! I’m not the only one who was there, and if I didn’t say it, maybe when they found out they would think I was aiding and abetting him.”
“Aiding and abetting? But Nick didn’t even do anything!”
“I know! That’s not what I meant!” Stop. Don’t cry, Jenna, that’s not going to help. “This looks really bad for Nick, but the cops would have found out anyway. And maybe if they bring Nick in for questioning, he’ll have an air-tight alibi and they’ll have to look for the real killer. Have you thought about it that way yet, or is your mind made up that I’m evil and couldn’t possibly be thinking clearly? I’m not the bad guy here, Jack. Neither is Nick. I swear on my life, I believe with all my heart that Nick is innocent. You didn’t see him after Olivia walked out on him in the kitchen, he wouldn’t have hurt anyone but himself.” Jack walks over to me, and my body tenses when he grabs my upper arms.
“What are you saying, Jenna?” His voice softens ever so slightly. “Did you talk to him after Olivia came out of the kitchen?” He lets go of me, thinking about it, and I can see his mind working it out. He takes another step closer to me. “Jenna,” he says, his voice almost a whisper now. “Jenna, what aren’t you telling me? What happened?”
“I went into the kitchen, and I heard Olivia and Nick talking in the pantry. I went to see what was going on, but when I realized they were talking, I didn’t go in. I heard her saying she’s not in love with him, and she doesn’t remember their past together, and that she wanted him to move on. He said that he will never give up on her. She said that if he really loves her, he needs to let her go. That’s when she left.”
“And Nick? Did you talk to him?” he asks. His eyes are pleading with me, begging for a clue that might tell him where Nick went last night. I don’t get it, why doesn’t Jack pick up the phone if he’s so concerned? I mean, I don’t know how I got here, but I didn’t arrive with my purse, let alone my cell phone… which is killing me, because I don’t even know if Twitter exists in this world, let alone what my friends are doing. But doesn’t Jack have one? I know cell phones exist, Ambrosia had one.
Ambrosia… I wonder if there might be a clue on her phone. I’m sure the police have that, though. For the investigation, they would have collected anything in the area that looked like it might be connected to the murder. And yet, I can’t help wanting to go check out the area for myself.
“I tried to talk to Nick, but it was like he didn’t even know I was there. He wasn’t himself. And then he suddenly just ran out.” All the hope drains from Jack’s face. “I’m sorry. I know that’s not what you wanted to hear…”
“No, it’s okay… He left so fast, I didn’t know how bad he was. I thought he was just mad, I didn’t know he was all messed up in the head.”
“I’m sure Olivia didn’t mean to screw him up like that, she just has amnesia and doesn’t realize how much it hurts him when she talks like that. But she probably gets confused and frustrated when he talks about how much he loves her, too, and she feels nothing toward him.”
“I guess…” Jack says. “I mean, I guess I never really thought about how she feels about it. That she doesn’t remember him… I should stop judging her for that. It’s not her fault.”
“No, it’s not. You can’t blame her, you have to blame Raul for what he did to her. And he’s already dead, so what’s the point?”
“It’s up to us,” Jack tells me, full of determination.
“What’s up to us?” I ask.
“Rodriguez has been waiting for a chance to lock Nick up for months, since he couldn’t get him for killing Raul. It won’t be a fair investigation, and he’ll probably doctor the evidence to make it look like Nick is guilty. We have to figure it out on our own, but we can’t tell anybody what we’re doing.”
“But what about Stargazer?”
“Closed on Sundays. And if I need to close it tomorrow too I will – maybe a sign saying that we’re closed until Nick is exonerated will build more buzz for us.”
I scoff. “I’m sure Selena will love that. It’s not like she’s skimming tips or anything.” Oops. Did I just say that out loud? GOOD.
“What?” he asks, incredulous.
“Do you have security cameras?” I ask. “Check the tapes.” Then, as an afterthought and clearly not really meaning it, I say, “Drat, I wasn’t supposed to tell you that.”
“Here,” he says, handing me a helmet.
“Are we going to Ambrosia’s house?” I ask, feigning innocence. I put the helmet on without needing his help.
“I’ve got more pressing matters to take care of first.” He straddles the motorcycle, then helps me up. “Security cameras record the bar and I can check it on the computer in my office. We’re going to the bar.”
Jack sits at his desk, and I stand next to him. He opens the video footage from Friday night, queuing up the part where Selena showed up to work. He watches for a few minutes, but everything looks above board. “Are you sure, Jenna? I can’t call her on it unless there is proof.”
“Does this have sound?” I ask.
“Does it record in the bathrooms?”
“That’s illegal, Jenna.” We watch a few more minutes. “Why?”
“She told me about it after everyone left that night. In the bathroom. She pulled out a big wad of cash and said that if I didn’t tell you, we could split it. She puts some money in the tip jar so you won’t get suspicious, then puts the rest down her shirt.”
“Did you take some of the money she showed you?” he asks. Here’s my chance to lie. He doesn’t have a camera in the bathroom, he won’t know. But I know Selena would tell him anyway, so I come clean.
“She gave me $50, and the next night I put it in the tip jar along with the rest of my tips.” On the computer screen, Selena lets a customer put a tip in her cleavage. “Right there! Did you see that?”
“No,” he says. He rewinds the tape too far. When she walks to the customer again, I point to the screen. He watches it. He rewinds it. He enlarges that part of the screen and watches it again. He picks up the phone and dials a number. “Selena, it’s Jack. I need you to come down to the bar. We need to talk.”
“I’m sorry for not telling you right away,” I say. “It’s not like she could blackmail me, she doesn’t have any dirt on me.”
“That’s ’cause you’re squeaky clean,” he says. I laugh, and it feels good after such a depressing day to be able to release some of the tension.
“How long does it take her to get here?” I ask.
“I think she lives about ten minutes from here,” he says as he spins his chair to face me. “But if she’s not there, then I don’t know how long it will take.”
“I might have an idea of what we can do while we wait for her,” I say. I kiss him. It feels natural now, and I can’t believe that it’s been such a short time since I felt nervous and awkward about it.
“I like the way your mind works,” he says. He leans in for another kiss, but I jump up excitedly.
“Sliders!” He laughs. That’s not quite what he thought I was going to say. “Come on, with all the fuss this morning we skipped brunch, I’m starving, aren’t you?”
“Fine,” he says playfully, “but you owe me later.”
I kiss him slowly, then whisper, “I think I can find a way to repay you.”
“Jenna?” Selena asks in shock, but quickly regains her snarky composure. “I didn’t realize you were going to be here. I guess you’ve been getting real cozy with boss man, huh.”
“As a matter of fact, I have,” I tell her. “We’ve even started telling each other secrets.”
“I hope they weren’t secrets about other people,” she says, her voice wavering just a little. “It’s not nice.”
“And you’re such an expert on nice,” I say sarcastically. It feels like the end of The Craft, when Rachel True and Neve Campbell go to Robin Tunney’s house to see if she still has powers, and they’re a little scared of her when they realize that she doesn’t just have her magical powers, but also the emotional power. They can’t scare her anymore now that Fairuza Balk is locked up and their own magical powers are gone. It’s weird, but having a job and a boyfriend, even just for two days, has given me this incredible sense of confidence. This isn’t like when I told Marnie what everyone else was afraid to tell her. She caught me on a bad day, and I snapped. I couldn’t take it anymore. But this? I’m not reacting. This is power.
“Selena!” Jack says as he comes out of the kitchen with a platter of sliders. He sets the food on the bar. “I see you and Jenna have been catching up since you left her at the department store yesterday.” She doesn’t say anything, and I try not to smirk at his passive-aggressiveness. “Jenna and I have been catching up too. In fact, she told me a fascinating story about you stealing tips instead of putting them in the tip jar.”
“And you’re gonna believe your little girlfriend here,” she says, saying girlfriend like it’s a dirty word, “over me, a loyal employee of two years? I thought you knew me better than that, Jack.” Either she’s really stupid, or (and this doesn’t exclude her from being stupid) she doesn’t know about the cameras. A thrill runs up my spine. But witnessing this is not in the cards for me. Jack is too much of a gentleman to fire her in front of me.
“I’ll be right back, Jenna. Enjoy the sliders, don’t let them get cold waiting for me.” Then he looks at Selena. “Follow me,” he orders, and he leads her away like an executioner leading a prisoner to the gallows.
I bite into a slider, but I can’t stop thinking about Marnie. This isn’t like that, is it? It’s not my fault she overdosed, and it’s not my fault that she transferred. And now, it’s not my fault that Selena’s getting fired. She’s getting what she deserves, karma coming back around to slap her in the face. No, this is not something to feel guilty about, this is justice. Justice for Jack, and for Ramon, and for poor old Gertrude, who thought she was getting more tips with Selena working at the bar, but was actually getting less than she should have. By the time I’ve finished the sliders, Jack and Selena are still in the office. I take the platter into the kitchen and wash it, then return to the bar to wait. It’s not long before they come out, Selena stomping ahead of Jack.
“And if you EVER come back here,” he calls after her, “I will not hesitate to call the cops!”
“Like I would even WANT to come back to this stupid place,” she says. “By the way Jenna, you’re right. Jack is SUCH a good kisser!” She slams the door on her way out, and I turn to Jack.
“Don’t listen to her,” he says. “She tried to come onto me, asking if I would let her stay if she would… Well, she thinks we’re doing something we’re not…” I remember how I let her believe that Jack and I slept together the first night. “She kissed me before I knew what she was doing, and then I immediately pushed her away.”
“I do believe Selena,” I say.
“No, Jenna-” but I cut him off.
“I liked the way it sounded when she called me your girlfriend,” I say simply. He looks like he’s not sure he heard me right. “You don’t have to convince me. I trust you.”
I’ve decided to post my NaNoWriMo novel on my blog this year, chapter by chapter. I hope you enjoy it! And remember, this is all about having fun and writing a whole lot in a short period of time, so please don’t give me “corrections.” I’m not planning on going for publication anyway. Start at the beginning: Chapter One