Short-listed Entry: Fiction Category
By: Brianna Soloski
As I rode my bike down the hill, the crisp autumn wind blew through my hair. Riding downhill was the best feeling ever – I felt like I was flying. I glanced behind me to see how Shane was doing. He had practically been on my tail a few minutes ago, but now he was a couple hundred yards back. I slowed as I reached the bottom of the hill and waited for him. I got off my bike, set the kickstand and stood for a minute to catch my breath. When he arrived, he got off his bike and bent over, trying to catch his breath. “Feeling a little out of shape?” I asked, laughing.
“Just…a….little….” He paused between words to take a breath.
I unhooked his water bottle from its mount on his bike and handed it to him. He took it and grinned at me. “Thanks. That was amazing! How’d you get down the hill without so much as breaking a sweat?”
“Years of practice.” I winked at him. “When I was a kid there was a huge hill near my house. My cousins and I used to go there all the time and ride. We’d have races down the hill to see who was faster.”
“I take it you were always the winner?”
“Almost always. My cousin Sam is just a little older and he was super fast. I think sometimes he just let me win so I wouldn’t feel bad.”
As I waited for Shane to relax so we could ride back to the cabin, my thoughts turned to Elise and Jen and the love-fest that was probably going on back home. I was supposed to be there, but Elise and I had had a fight earlier in the week and I didn’t particularly want to see her.
Maybe I should go back to the beginning. Jen, Elise and I have all been friends since birth. Well, Elise and I have. My mom didn’t meet Jen’s mom until we were a few months old. Anyway, my family moved away in second grade, but moved back in fourth grade. Somewhere in there, Jen and Elise became best friends and added Jake McDougal to their little posse, I guess as a replacement for me. By the time I moved back, there wasn’t room for me, but I pretended to fit in for a while and they pretended to let me fit in. During high school, Elise went off to performing arts school, but Jen and I went to public high school, along with Jake. During that time, Jen and I grew closer and she made an effort to include me in the stuff she did with Elise.
But for some reason, Elise felt like I was intruding on her time with Jen and Jake and rarely talked to me. She was cordial, but mostly she just made me feel excluded. I figured it wouldn’t really matter after high school – the four of us would go our separate ways and not really see each other again, unless we ran into each other when we were home on vacation.
Sadly, I was wrong and Elise and I unknowingly ended up at the same college. At first, I was annoyed, but then I realized this was my chance to rekindle our friendship without Jen around. So, when we had an entrepreneurship class together, I took a chance and included her in my business planning group. She accepted and we started hanging out outside of class. It was nice to just be friends with Elise, rather than with JenandElise. When it’s just the two of us, it’s just like old times.
And really, up until last week, things were great. We had planned on hanging out at our town’s fall festival during the day and then Jen’s mom had invited us all over for
dinner. You’re probably wondering what the heck happened to screw things up so badly and why I’m mad at Jen when she isn’t technically involved in any of this.
Last week, Elise mentioned that Jake was coming to the fall festival with us. I didn’t think she’d even kept in touch with him after graduation so this was news to me. I’ve had a crush on Jake forever, but he has never returned those feelings, so when Elise told me he’d be hanging out with us this weekend, I got really nervous. I hadn’t seen or talked to him since graduation. While I was distracted by the thought of seeing Jake, Elise was still talking and saying something about how he had asked her out over the summer and that they’d been dating since July.
“Wait! What did you just say?” I asked, coming back to reality.
“I said Jake is coming with us to the fall festival this weekend. I’m so excited to see him. It’s been two months since we’ve been able to see each other,” Elise replied.
“No. Before that. Something about dating.”
“Oh. We’ve been dating since July. I thought you knew.”
“No, I most certainly did not know! How would I have known?”
“It’s not exactly a secret. Jen knows. My Facebook reflects that I’m in a relationship with him. I don’t know why you’re so upset.”
I gritted my teeth. How could she not know why I was upset? She knew I had a crush on Jake. I thought we were becoming close again, but apparently I was mistaken. Last I checked, friends told each other when they were dating someone new, especially if the person was a mutual friend. I vowed I wouldn’t go ballistic on Elise.
“I have to go,” I said, standing up and gathering my books and papers.
“What’s wrong?” Elise asked. “Are you really upset that I’m dating Jake? I know you had a crush on him in high school, but I figured you were over it by now.”
“Yeah, sure, I’m totally over it.” I rolled my eyes as I grabbed my bag and stalked out of the library. Over it? I thought. Not a chance. What does Jake see in Elise anyway? It’s not like she’s his type.
I thought about my recent conversations with Elise. I couldn’t recall her mentioning her and Jake being together. I didn’t remember Jen mentioning it, so I called her immediately after storming out of the library.
“Did you know Elise and Jake McDougal are dating?” I asked as soon as she answered, not even bothering to say hello.
“Yes, I did. They’ve been together since the middle of July, give or take.” She acted as if it were common knowledge and had been plastered on the cover of People Magazine for the entire world to see.
“Well, I did not. I thought Elise and I were friends, but apparently not if she felt like she had to keep something major like this a secret from me.”
“Calm down. It wasn’t a secret. She probably just figured you already knew or that I had told you. I’m sure it’s just a misunderstanding. Hang on, I’m getting another call.”
I waited, tapping my foot impatiently while she took the other call. “Kate,” she said a moment later. “It’s Elise. Let me call you back.”
I hung up the phone and stuck it in my bag. I needed coffee. I always turned to coffee when I was upset. I went back to my dorm room, grabbed my car keys and went in search of Shane. Shane was my best friend at school, the best friend who wouldn’t stab
me in the back over a boy. He wasn’t in his room, but his roommate told me he was over at the science lab, working on a project. I thanked him and headed over to the lab.
“Hey Shane!” I said, knocking as I walked into the lab.
“Hey Katie Lou,” he replied, grinning up at me. I loved his nickname for me – he’s the only one who can get away with calling me that.
“What’s up?” I asked, pulling a stool up to the counter so I could talk to him while he worked.
“Not much. I’m just working on a make-up lab for chemistry class. What’s up with you? You look annoyed.”
“I’m just mad because I found out my so-called best friend is dating the boy I had a crush on in high school.”
“That sucks, but what’s the big deal? Did she steal him from you?” Shane was always so logical about things. He never immediately assumed the worst like I did.
“Well…” I hesitated. “No, but that’s not the point. The point is she’s dating a guy I had a crush on in high school.”
Shane paused what he was doing and gave me a long, hard look. “It was high school, Kate! You should be over all that pettiness by now. I think you should be happy for your friend and support her in her relationship. But that’s just my opinion and you can take it for what it’s worth. You know I’ll always be honest with you.”
I stared down at my hands, not sure how to respond. Shane was right. I was being petty and selfish. I should be happy for Elise, but somehow, I just couldn’t bring myself to do so. I stood up. “I’m going to Starbucks. Do you want to come with me?”
“I can’t leave right now since I’m in the middle of a make-up lab, but I’d love it if you brought me something back. You can even stay and keep me company, if you want.” Shane grinned at me to show there were no hard feelings.
“You got it. You want your usual?”
“Venti please. I have a long night of studying ahead of me.”
I headed out and got in my car. Maybe Shane was right, but I would probably never be okay with the fact that Jake and Elise were dating. I was supposed to hang out with them this weekend at the fall festival and had been looking forward to it, but suddenly I just wasn’t in the mood. Maybe I’ll just stay at school and hang out with Shane and our other friends, I thought.
By the time I got back to school, I was feeling a little better. Not enough to apologize to Elise, but I knew I couldn’t change the situation. Elise had betrayed me, whether she wanted to believe that’s what she’d done or not. And based on what I already knew, Elise needed to be right all the time. I debated calling Jen back to see what Elise had told her about what happened, but decided against it.
After Shane finished his lab, we headed for the dining hall to get lunch. I noticed Elise sitting at a table by herself. She looked upset, but I didn’t go over to see what was wrong. She’s probably just upset about what happened this morning, I thought. I grabbed a plate and started making a salad. Shane loaded his plate with meatloaf and mashed potatoes and got dessert for both of us. I followed him to the register and swiped my meal card. We went outside to sit in the sun.
“What do you want to do this weekend?” I asked as we settled at a table.
“I thought you were going home to hang out with your friends?” Shane replied.
“Nah. I decided not to. My parents are going to be out of town anyway, so it’s not like I’ll miss out on seeing them. I’ll just go see them another weekend.”
“Well, in that case, I vote we get out of here for the weekend. Let’s just go and see where we end up. Do you have any classes on Friday?”
“No. My statistics class got canceled, so I’m free. Since neither of us has class, what do you say we head out late Thursday and just see where the wind blows us?”
“I think that sounds like a great idea. Maybe there’s something fun going on somewhere this weekend. I’ll look online later and see what I can find.”
“Perfect.” Shane grinned at me.
I grinned back. Maybe this weekend would end up being awesome after all, especially since we were getting out of town for a few days.
I left Shane after that because I needed to get to class. I had a test in my psychology class today I couldn’t be late for. As I walked toward my class, I noticed I had a little spring in my step. Let Elise do what she wants, I thought. I’ve got an amazing best friend and that’s really all I need right now. Besides, their relationship couldn’t last forever. Long distance relationships rarely worked out.
As I waited for class to start, I reviewed my notes one last time. I felt prepared and we could use notes for the test, but I just wanted to make sure I had everything in order. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Elise walk in.
I busied myself with my notes, hoping if I pretended not to see her she wouldn’t come over and talk me. I looked up and noticed she had taken a seat near the front of the room, near the white board. Great, I thought, I get to stare at the back of her head for the next hour and a half. I was thankful there was a test so we wouldn’t end up in a small group discussion together. The last thing I wanted was to get into a debate with her.
The test went well and after I finished, I headed down to the library to finish my paper for child development class. I’d been struggling to find a third source so I wandered over to the education section and found a book on preschool aged children that would be perfect.
When I got back to the table where I’d stashed my stuff, Shane was waiting for me. “Hey,” I said, sitting across from him.
“Hey,” he replied. “How’d your test go?”
“Awesome! How was work?”
“Decent. Listen, I was thinking about this weekend. What do you think about heading to Tahoe? My parents said we could use their cabin and the weather is supposed to be really nice for the next few days. We could do some hiking or take our bikes and ride around the lake.”
“That sounds fantastic. I haven’t been to Tahoe in months. You’ll have to drive, though. Both our bikes won’t fit in the back of my car.”
“Sweet. What are you up to now?”
“I have some studying to do and an assignment for photography, but I figured I could get some pictures this weekend.”
“Definitely. I have to finish this paper or I won’t be going anywhere. Want to get dinner later, though?”
“Yep. I’m going to go hang out with my roommate and try to study for a while. Call me when you’re done and I’ll come meet you.”
“Ok. See you later.”
Just as I got settled into my paper, my phone rang. I glanced at it. Jen was calling. I let it go to voicemail. I really didn’t feel like talking to her right now. I was sure she’d be annoyed at me after talking to Elise anyway. It was probably better if I just bowed out gracefully, before things got worse. I put my phone on silent, stuck my headphones in my ears, turned up Lady Antebellum and focused on my paper. Two hours later, I was finally done. I went back to the beginning and read it through to make sure there were no errors. Finding none, I printed it off and tucked it in my child development folder to turn in the next day. I packed up my stuff and listened to my voicemails. I had one from Jen and one from my mom. I hit the number three on my phone to call Mom back.
“Hey Mom,” I said when she picked up. “Sorry I missed you. I was working on a paper that’s due tomorrow.”
“That’s okay,” she replied. “I just called to see how you’re doing.”
“I’m okay. Shane and I are going to Tahoe this weekend to hike and ride our bikes. His parents said we could use their cabin. I’m really looking forward to getting away for a few days.”
“That’ll be fun. When are you leaving?”
“Late Thursday and coming back late Sunday. What are you and Dad up to?”
“We’re going to Sonoma to see Aunt Debbie and Uncle Mark. We wanted to stop and see you, but since you’ll be away, we’ll just come next weekend.”
“That sounds great. It’ll be nice to see you and Dad together for once. I feel like lately I only see one or the other of you.”
“I know, but your dad has been so busy with work and taking care of Grandpa that he just can’t get away as often as I can. He misses you, though, and can’t wait to see you.”
“How is Grandpa doing? I need to call him.”
“He’s hanging in there. His leg is healing nicely, but he might need surgery on his arm to fuse the bones together. They just aren’t healing the way they should.”
“That’s too bad. I’ll give him a call tonight and say hi.”
“Good. I know he’d love to hear from you. He misses his girl.”
“Well, tell Dad I love him and I’ll see you guys next weekend.”
“Ok, hon. Talk to you later. Tell Shane we said hello and have fun this weekend.”
“Will do. Bye.”
After I hung up with Mom, I called Shane and asked him to meet me in my dorm room.
All through dinner we talked excitedly about our upcoming weekend. It was going to be great to get away for a few days, especially after my fight with Elise. I just needed to escape.
“I’m so excited we’re getting out of here for the weekend,” Shane said.
“Me too. I am definitely ready for a break from school and work and certain people.” I rolled my eyes as I thought of Elise and Jake. I was sure I’d be a topic of conversation this weekend, but I didn’t care. It was no longer my problem.
“Are you still stuck on that Elise thing?” Shane asked.
“No, I’ve decided I don’t really care. Elise can do what she wants. You were right, it’s not like she stole him from me. It was just a silly high school crush.”
“Good for you. Besides, you’ll find someone way better who won’t drag you into petty drama and I’m sure you and Elise will work out your differences eventually.” He winked at me and grinned.
“Of course I will. I’m not exactly looking right now, but I’m also not saying no, if someone came along.”
After dinner, Shane and I went our separate ways. I had a few things to finish for my classes tomorrow and he wanted to go to the photography darkroom for a while. I hugged him and told him I’d see him later.
The next morning, I woke up thankful it was Thursday and Shane and I would be on the road to Tahoe in a few short hours. But first, I had to get through child development and bio lab. Thank goodness lab was only an hour. I was so not in the mood for it today. I briefly considered blowing it off, but my grade wasn’t that great and I needed all the extra help I could get, which meant going to lab twice a week.
I packed clothes for the weekend and left my bag on my bed so I could grab it as soon as classes were over. I gathered my books and made sure I had my paper for child development and my finished lab report and headed out the door. I stopped in the cafeteria to get a bowl of fruit to take to class with me. When I got to child development, the TA was there and there was a note on the board. It said our professor had had a family emergency and we should give our papers to the TA and enjoy the time off. I turned in my paper and headed back outside. I had an hour and a half before my lab started so I decided to give my grandfather a quick call.
“Hey Grandpa. How are you?” I said when he answered.
“Hi Katie,” he replied. “I’m hanging in there. My leg is healing okay, but they might have to do surgery on my arm.”
“Mom told me. That stinks. I’ll keep my fingers crossed the doctor decides you’ll heal without surgery.”
“Me too. What’s doing with you?”
“Not too much. Just keeping busy with school and friends. My friend Shane and I are going on a little road trip to Tahoe this weekend.”
“Wonderful. How are your grades?”
“Good, except for biology, but my professor is letting me come to an extra lab each week to help bring my grade up. It’s not fun doing the same labs twice, but it’s really helping me understand them better. I have class in a little bit and will be checking on my current grade then.”
“I’m glad to hear it. Your education is very important, even if science isn’t something you’re interested in pursuing in the future.”
“I know, Grandpa, and I’m working hard. I really love all of my other classes. I have to decide on a major by the end of the semester. I’m leaning toward psychology, with a minor in journalism.”
“Good for you. You’ll be wonderful at both of those things. Did you know your great-grandpa was a journalist with the New York Times?”
“No, I didn’t. That’s very cool. Did you save any of his articles?”
“Unfortunately, no. A lot of those things were lost in a fire your grandma and I had at our house, before you were born.”
“That’s too bad. It would have been neat to see them.”
“I would have loved to share them with you. I need to go get ready for my doctor’s appointment. Your dad should be here any minute.”
“Ok, Grandpa. I’ll talk to you soon. Love you.”
“Love you, too. Have fun this weekend.”
I hung up and headed over to the student union to get a smoothie before class started. It was so nice out; I hoped the weather in Tahoe would be just as great. I was eager to get out and be active; going to the gym just wasn’t the same.
After what seemed like the longest bio lab in the history of bio labs, class ended and I went to speak with the professor about my grade. He did some checking on his laptop and said I had raised my grade to a B. If I did well on the final, I might end the semester with an A. When he told me that, I very nearly squealed. An A! I was pretty impressed with myself, going from a low D, to a solid B, to the possibility of an A. I was going to have to study my butt off for the final, but the news of a good grade got my weekend off to a great start.
I headed for my dorm room to dump my school stuff and grab my overnight bag. I still needed to get my bike out of my locker. I texted Shane on my way and asked him if he was ready to go. He said he was and had already loaded our bikes into his SUV. I’d forgotten I left my bike in his locker last time we went riding. It had been so long since we’d had time to do so. Since my bike was taken care of, I headed back to my room – there was something I needed to do before we left. I took the necklace Jen had given me for Christmas last year and the bracelet Elise had given me and stuck them in an envelope, which I then sealed and shoved in the bottom of my desk drawer.
I found Shane outside the dining hall and we headed to his car. I stuck my bag in the backseat, pulling my iPod and my phone out of my backpack. “What should we listen to?” I asked as we pulled out of the school parking lot.
“Hmm. I’m kind of in the mood for The Decemberists. It’s been a while since I’ve listened to them. I went through a phase over the summer where they were all I listened to,” he replied.
“I do that, too. I’m on a country kick right now. I can’t get enough.” I pulled up The Decemberists on my iPod and The Engine Driver came on.
“Nice! I love this song.”
We drove in silence for a while, both of us lost in thought about whatever. I was thinking about Elise and how she was probably going to tell Jake about our fight. I shook my head, as if to erase her from my brain. “I am so excited to get out and ride my bike this weekend. It’s been way too long since we’ve ridden,” I said.
“I know! I’m so glad we were able to get out of here and have decent weather.”
“Definitely. I don’t know about you, but I’m getting kind of hungry. We should find somewhere to stop for lunch.”
Shane laughed. “You know me. I’m always willing to eat. How about In ‘n’ Out?”
“That sounds good. I love their milkshakes.”
“Me too. When I was a kid, my sister and I would get one strawberry milkshake and one chocolate milkshake and then mix them together.”
“That sounds really good.”
“It is. We should totally try it.”
Shane pulled off at the exit in Auburn for In ‘n’ Out. We headed inside because the line at the drive-through was insanely long. We ordered and grabbed a table while we waited for our food. As we ate, we talked about the weekend. We planned to go to the grocery store and get groceries first thing.
“I want to go down to the beach and watch the sunset,” I said.
“That sounds good,” Shane replied. “I thought we could go for a night ride. I know of a place close to my parent’s cabin, but far enough away from town that we’ll be able to see the stars.”
“I’ve never been on a night ride before, so that sounds like fun,” I said.
When we got to the cabin, we unpacked our stuff and headed for the grocery store, getting stuff for meals for the next few days. After we got back, we changed into comfortable clothes and grabbed our bikes out of the garage. I followed Shane and we headed down toward the beach. We rode for quite a while, but it was a nice ride and the scenery was absolutely beautiful. After a bit, Shane turned off and led me down a secluded path to a section of beach that was empty.
“Wow!” I exclaimed as I stared out at the lake. “This place is amazing. How did you find it?”
“A buddy and I found it two summers ago when we were here with my family. I come here sometimes when I need to escape. You’re the only other person I’ve brought here.”
“It’s a great spot. I’m so glad you did.” I rolled up my pant legs and walked down to the water. This water is probably freezing, I thought, but who cares? I cautiously dipped my toe in to test it out.
“The water’s not bad,” I called to Shane, who was skipping stones not too far away.
“No?” He walked down the beach toward me, rolled up his pant legs and joined me in the water. I had waded a little further out. It wasn’t exactly warm, but it wasn’t bitter cold either. I was glad I’d decided to bail on Jen and Elise this weekend; this was turning out to be way more fun.
“This place is pretty great, eh?” Shane asked.
“Yep. I can see why you come here when you need to escape. It’s the perfect spot.”
We sat on the beach for a while, watching the sun set and the stars come out. Shane pointed out some of the constellations to me, which was cool. We talked about a lot of things we’d never really talked about before. I had a feeling this weekend was going to bring us closer than we already were.
When it was totally dark, we headed back to the cabin to make dinner. We’d gotten the fixings for pizza and I cut up veggies as Shane made the sauce. He was using his mom’s recipe and it smelled delicious. My mouth was watering just thinking about the finished product.
“Should we start a movie while the pizza cooks?” I asked.
“Yeah. There’s a bunch of DVDs in the cabinet under the TV. If we don’t find something there, we can see what’s on one of the movie channels.”
I walked over and opened the cabinet. There were two neatly organized shelves of movies. As I scanned the titles, I pulled out the ones that caught my eye. “Okay,” I said. “We can watch Garden State or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”
“Let’s start with Garden State,” Shane said. “I love that movie.”
“Me too. Your parents have good taste in movies.”
“I know, right? A lot of those are movies I enjoyed and then bought for them.”
“That’s cool. I wish my parents had this good of taste in movies. They do love Alfred Hitchcock films, though.”
We settled in to watch the movie. About half an hour in, the pizza finished. Shane pulled it out of the oven and cut it into slices. He brought the pan and a couple of plates over. I grabbed sodas out of the fridge and we dug in.
“This is delicious,” I said. “We’re good cooks.”
“Heck yeah we are,” Shane replied.
We spent the rest of the weekend riding to different areas around the lake. It felt so good to be out in the fresh mountain air. I couldn’t help but feel happy. School was good, I had great friends and I was going to see my parents in a few days.
When we got back to the cabin on Saturday, I noticed I had a few missed calls and voicemails. I listened to the voicemails, all from Jen or Elise, looking for me and hoping I was okay. I briefly debated calling them back, but decided it would just annoy me, so I erased the messages and headed into the kitchen to help Shane with dinner. I wasn’t going to let anything ruin this weekend.
“Who called you?” he asked, sensing I was slightly annoyed.
“Jen and Elise,” I rolled my eyes. “They want to know where I am and if I’m okay.”
“Are you going to call them back?”
“Not right now. Maybe when we get back to school. I don’t want them to ruin my weekend.”
“Good for you. Want to help me with this?”
“Sure. What can I do?”
“Can you toast those English muffins? I’m making eggs Benedict for dinner tonight.”
“Yum! That sounds great. Breakfast for dinner is one of my favorite meals.”
“I had the best time this weekend,” Shane said as we settled down to eat.
“Me too. We definitely need to come up here more often. It’s really great and it was so nice of your parents to let us use their cabin,” I replied.
“I know. They’re pretty cool about letting me use it whenever I want. We’ll have to come up some time when they are here. My sister and her fiancé usually come with them and I know they’d all love to meet you.”
“That would be nice.”
After we cleaned up from dinner, we settled in to watch a movie. Catch Me If You Can was on TV, so we watched that and ate ice cream. It was the perfect end to a perfect weekend. That was what I loved most about Shane, we were just friends. There was no pressure from either of us to make it more.
I glanced over at Shane and grinned at him. He grinned back. I thought I noticed a twinkle in his eye, but told myself it was just the way the light was hitting his eyes. I turned back to the TV screen, but I couldn’t help wondering if Shane had been referring to himself when he said “you never know when you’ll meet someone.”