By Rachel Barnard
Where are you? Nichole texted her best friend, Vanessa, her fingers stabbing at the keys. Nichole was terrified that Sharon, her mom, might discover Johnny’s wallet. The wallet he couldn’t find after their extravagant meal just minutes ago. Nichole had to fork over the cash, every second pushing her further and further into panic.
It had seemed like such a wild idea to do it on her mom’s bed. Where else could the wallet possibly end up? Sharon would flip if she found the wallet, not only because of where it was, but because of what was on it.
Nichole shifted her weight nervously from foot to foot and chewed on one of her fingernails, tasting the bitterness of the nail polish in her mouth. Her blonde-streaked hair caught on the jagged edge of her fingernail as she pulled her fingers through it. The messy ponytail she’d artfully put together before the date was loose and knotted.
Vanessa was late. Again. It’d been happening more and more as Vanessa got ready to go to college and didn’t pay as much attention to Nichole as she used to. Ever since the incident at Booker High School several months ago, Vanessa had been growing distant again. Quieter. Like she was before they became friends and Nichole brought her out of her shell.
Nichole stared up at the blinking gas station sign with resignation. She didn’t want to walk home in these shoes. Her wedges were great for her date with Johnny, but terrible for the poorly maintained Florida sidewalks. Besides, Vanessa promised to be here. The muggy early evening air pressed on her and she wiped beads of sweat from her face.
Nichole’s phone buzzed and then the ringer sang out one of Eminem’s rap refrains, loud and echoing in the warm Sarasota evening air. Nichole pushed "call" so hard the phone slipped out of her hand and she had to fumble to catch it before it fell to the ground.
“Where are you?” Nichole yelped.
“So sorry,” Vanessa said.
“Vanessa!” Nichole said in complete exasperation. Nichole kicked a toe into the pavement and stared daggers at some dude who immediately looked away from her chest as he went into the 7-11. She noted with dismay that she’d smeared grit into the toe her wedges.
“I’m like ten minutes away. I’ll be right there, chill,” Vanessa replied.
“Just hurry up, okay?” Nichole pleaded.
“Going as fast as I can,” Vanessa said.
Nichole punched "end." She shouldn’t be taking her frustration out on Vanessa, but it was hard to keep her growing panic to herself. A woman exiting the 7-11 wrinkled her nose at Nichole and steered wide around her. Nichole stood, leaning against the side of the building for another ten minutes, anxiously peering around for Vanessa’s Honda Civic. She slid to the ground in dismay, not caring if she got her short shorts and halter top dirty. After another ten minutes, Vanessa pulled up and flashed her lights.
Nichole rocketed up, accidentally slammed the car door as she got in.
“Sorry, Mom made me clean up after Bluster,” Vanessa said. “He puked all over the rug.”
Nichole crossed her arms after strapping on her seat belt.
“Why couldn’t Johnny drop you off?” Vanessa asked, pulling onto the road.
“I already told you. Mom doesn’t like Johnny.”
“So?” Vanessa said.
“Well,” Nichole said, looking away from her bestie. “I, uh, never told you but Johnny’s a bit older than me.”
Vanessa glanced briefly at Nichole before returning to driving.
“I didn’t want you to worry,” Nichole added.
“Nichole, how long have we been friends?” Vanessa asked.
“Four years. Ever since the beginning of high school.”
“Exactly. I thought you were done keeping me out of the loop.”
The unspoken words, "since last year" echoed in Nichole’s mind, making her wince. Yes, she’d fudged the truth to Vanessa when they were seniors in high school, but she’d eventually come clean. Besides, it was for Vanessa’s own good.
Nichole glanced briefly toward Vanessa’s upper leg where she’d been grazed by a bullet just months ago when that little lie had caused major consequences.
“You’re right. I shouldn’t have. Can you go any faster?”
“Why are you in such a hurry?” Vanessa asked.
Nichole chewed on her fingernail and shifted in her seat. “Johnny left his wallet at my house.”
“So. No big deal.”
Nichole’s right foot pressed down as if she could make the car accelerate.
“You can tell me,” Vanessa insisted.
“Shut up!” Vanessa exclaimed.
“No wonder your mom doesn’t like him.”
“She doesn’t know!” Nichole said vehemently.
“You sure about that? Where’s his wallet?”
Nichole sighed. “I don’t know. It, uh, might be in her bed.”
“No!” Vanessa said.
“You should have told me. I would have come sooner.”
Nichole shook her head. “You had to take care of Bluster. I understand.”
“I came as soon as I was done.”
“I can tell. What are you wearing, anyway? That shirt is past your knees,” Nichole said.
“It’s my corgi shirt and he looks just like Bluster,” Vanessa insisted
Vanessa always wore baggy clothes, but this one was like an ill-fitting dress. It was too big, even for a nightshirt.
“I only wear it around the house. And I know it’s way too baggy and I know you’re always telling me I don’t have to wear baggy clothes.”
“Well, fashion aside, I’m glad you came as soon as you did. I know how long it can take you to make dressing decisions.”
Vanessa smiled as they turned into their neighborhood. “You ready? What if your mom found it?”
“She would have sent Lewis to come get me.”
“Your mom’s harsh, but not that bad,” Vanessa protested as she pulled into Nichole’s driveway.
“It’s been getting worse all summer. She’s been on my case to do something and work harder and clean my room. She can’t even clean the house and she expects me to clean my room!”
Vanessa glanced over and narrowed her eyes. “Don’t chew on your fingernails,” she said.
Nichole pulled her finger from her lips and looked out the window.
“Whatever happens, you can stay at my house tonight, deal?” Vanessa said.
Nichole nodded her head, her eyes focused on the closed front door of her house. She got out slowly. Before she could take two steps from the Civic, Sharon burst through the door and threw something small at Nichole. It hit her square in the chest and bounced to the ground. A familiar red Rolling Stones sticker stared back at her.
“You lied to us!” Sharon barked.
Nichole bent down to pick up Johnny’s wallet.
“Don’t ignore me, Nichole. And you!” Sharon pointed a threatening finger at Vanessa who shrunk into herself as if her shirt was a security blanket. “You are a bad influence.”
Vanessa glanced back at Nichole and took a step back toward the car.
“This is my house. I don’t care that you’re 18. When you live in my house, you live by my rules. I will not have my daughter dating someone more than 10 years older than her! What they hell were you thinking?”
“Mom,” Nichole pleaded.
“Don’t ‘Mom’ me!” Sharon said, holding up a hand. “You’ve gone behind my back enough. I don’t know how you got involved with that boy at Booker, but now you’ve lied straight to my face about Jerry!”
“Johnny,” Nichole corrected, her eyes narrowing.
Sharon threw up her hands. “How do you know he’s not married? Hm? He could have any number of STDs! It didn’t escape my notice that I found his wallet under my bed.”
“Calm down, Mom!” Nichole shouted. She stepped closer to Sharon, jutting her chin out in defiance. She was still an inch shorter than her mother, so she placed her hands on her hips and glared.”
“Why can’t you go to college like Vanessa and meet a nice college boy?” Sharon said. “Someone closer to your age?”
Vanessa gasped behind Nichole.
“I don’t have to take this. Like you said, I’m over 18. I’m an adult,” Nichole shouted.
“Not in my house!” Sharon shouted back.
“Fine, then I won’t stay in your house. I’ll move in with Johnny. And he’s only 29!” Nichole yelled.
“What!” Sharon spluttered.
“You want me out? Then I’m out and I won’t be coming back.” Nichole stared over at Vanessa. “Come on Ness, let’s get out of here.”
Vanessa opened and closed her mouth several times before following mutely to the car and getting in.
“But,” Vanessa said.
“Just drive,” Nichole said, crossing her arms over her chest like a second seat belt. “I’m not coming back until she’s gone,” she added.
Vanessa backed out of the drive and idled in the street for a moment.
“Just go!” Nichole cried.
Vanessa gunned it and the car screeched off down the road.
“I don’t like this,” Vanessa said after they’d left their neighborhood behind.
Nichole sighed, her thoughts jumbling into one cohesive thought.
He was older, he would know what to do.
“I can stay with Johnny,” Nichole said. “I’m sorry you had to be there. You’re okay, right?”
“Yeah, I can’t believe Sharon yelled at you like that.”
“It’s been a long time coming. We’ve been arguing for months. Whatever.”
“Are you sure Johnny’s the best choice?” Vanessa asked.
“Not you too!” Nichole blurted, sitting up straight in her seat.
“Don’t take this the wrong way, but you barely talk about him and you just told me how old he is. You’ve only been dating for a month. Are you sure he’s the right one?”
“I didn’t want you to worry. After Ben and graduating and you going off to college, I didn’t want to create problems that weren’t problems. And we’ve been dating for almost six weeks.”
“And yet here you are. You don’t even have a toothbrush or a car,” Vanessa pointed out.
Nichole slumped in the seat in defeat. “I’m taking my car. It was my present after all. I’ll have Johnny drive me back tonight when Mom’s out at her shift. Lewis is almost never home.”
“Okay, it’s your life. I don’t like it, but I’m here for you.”
“Thanks, Ness. I owe you.”
“I’m still paying you back for saving my life, even though you lied about my Dad’s bucket list. I’d call it even.”
“Don’t even start on the bucket list thing again! I only lied about it because it was for your own good,” Nichole said vehemently.
“Have to keep you on your toes. And FYI, it’s only been a couple of months,” Vanessa said. “And besides,” Vanessa emphasized the word dramatically. “You A wrote a fake bucket list, B stashed it where I’d find it and think it was my Dad’s, and C only told me the truth after months had gone by and Ben nearly shot us.”
“I get it. I get it.” Nichole held up her hands in surrender and Vanessa smiled.
“So, where are we going exactly?” Vanessa asked.
“He’s South by the Westfield.”
“Nichole! That’s like Osprey!”
With a sigh, Vanessa nodded her head and made a U-turn, heading down to I-75. Nichole’s hands shook the closer they got to South Sarasota. What if Johnny didn’t want her to stay?
For more information on this excerpt please see Rachel’s website.
About The Author
Rachel Barnard’s greatest accomplishments have been eating an entire half gallon of ice cream in one sitting, winning a boot toss, and writing a novel about herself. Rachel Barnard wishes she were taller, that chocolate had no calories, and that books could be eaten after they were read. Rachel Barnard resides in the Pacific Northwest and loves to dress up, talk about writing and books, and dance. Rachel Barnard primarily writes young adult books, including Ataxia and the Ravine of Lost Dreams, At One’s Beast, and Donuts in an Empty Field (For the Love of Donuts Book 1).