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The below story is my entry into the A Song from My Story, a Story for My Song challenge.
The song in question is ‘Sally Cinnamon’ by the Stone Roses. The tune represents all the various women in my life, both friends and lovers, who have shaped me into the person and writer I am today.
And a big thanks to my two draft readers. The story was vastly improved thanks to your critiques!
X X X X X
Mr. Warren unfolded the small strip of paper in his hands. “OK, next up is Thomas LaFontaine. And your partner is going to be…”
Sitting next to Matthew, Thomas folded his hands and looked towards the classroom ceiling. “Not a basketball player,” he whispered. “Merciful God, anyone but a basketball player, anyone but a basketball player…”
Thomas stopped chanting. “Did he say Cate Pittman?”
“Yeah,” Matthew answered, “he did.”
From their desks in the back row of Mr. Warren’s English class, Matthew and Thomas saw Cate turn in her seat on the far side of the room to look at her new partner. Thomas put on a beaming smile and raised a hand towards the cheerleader. Cate answered with a casual shrug that somehow mixed acknowledgment with indifference before turning away.
“Congratulations,” Matthew teased, playful sarcasm woven into every word. “You get to spend the first semester of senior year working with one of the Alpha Females of Emerald Pines. There’s a very good chance she’s going to browbeat you into doing most of the work on this project.” He motioned towards the black-haired cheerleader. “And there’s a very good chance you’ll allow yourself to be browbeaten.”
Thomas shook his head. “I’m going to approach this project with an open mind and presume the best about my partner until a time comes where I am shown otherwise.” He nodded firmly. “No assumptions, no jumping to conclusions. Ever since Cate drank deeply from the wine glass of puberty she’s been a fluctuating combination of beauty and bitch. Normally she’d eat me alive. However, with this being senior year I may have a chance to catch her when the two sides are in harmony.”
“Now you’re slipping into delusion. Even on Cate’s best days, the bitch is in charge…” Matthew fell quiet before shaking his head. “No. No, no, no,” he said in disbelief. “You are NOT thinking about making a pass at her.”
“I’m not thinking about making a pass at her,” Thomas answered. “I AM going to make a pass at her.”
Whereas once upon a time Matthew would have scoffed, now he rested his chin on his fist and fixed his gaze on his friend. “Alright,” he sighed. “Walk me through your thought process.”
“First, I’m me.” Thomas flashed the same smile he had sent in Cate’s direction, which caused Matthew to roll his eyes. “Second, it’s senior year. Everything’s on the table, and I do mean everything. Third, working in close proximity with someone often leads to a shared bond. And fourth…”
Thomas’ words fell away. As silence descended, Matthew felt someone looking in his direction. Both he and Thomas faced forward at the same time. Sitting at the desk in front of Thomas, Lana Vihn had turned in her seat to stare at the pair of friends with a raised eyebrow and an amused smile. The petite, athletic cheerleader chuckled quietly as she focused on Thomas. “You’re going to take a run at Cate,” she asked him.
“When life gives me lemons, I make lemonade,” Thomas answered with the self-assured confidence Matthew had always admired in his friend. “And when life hands me forbidden fruit I take the biggest bite possible.”
“Cocky,” she smirked. “Almost cute. You realize though that you don’t have a shot in hell. You’re in Drama Club…” Lana pointed at Thomas before turning to point to Cate. “…and she’s a cheerleader. Drama Club,” she said, motioning to Thomas once again. “Cheerleader,” she repeated. “Drama Club. Cheerleader.”
Thomas nodded in semi-agreement. “Drama Club,” he said, patting himself on the chest before gesturing towards Lana with a flirtatious smile. “Cheerleader?”
Even as Matthew gave an apologetic shrug to Lana, he felt a twinge of envy towards his best friend. Not even in his wildest dreams would he have considered making a pass at Lana Vihn, or anyone else on the cheerleading squad for that matter. The risk wasn’t worth the potential reward, especially considering that Matthew fell squarely in the middle of the Emerald Pines bell curve – 18 years old, an average height at 5’9″, an average weight of 148 pounds, black hair, and a social standing that gave him protection from being bullied but not enough to interact with the popular crowd. This stood in almost complete opposition to Thomas, tall and lean with brown hair, the hint of a French accent, and an infectious personality that had gotten his friends both in and out of trouble. It was a sort of irony that Thomas preferred being the head of the Drama Club’s Stage Crew while Matthew was much more comfortable as a perennial supporting actor in front of the curtain.
“You gaziantep escort wish,” Lana responded with good-natured humor. “I’d break you in half without breaking a sweat. Still, you are cute in an infuriating sort of way.” After a moment, she snapped her fingers. “Tell you what,” she laughed, “get Cate to write you a letter of recommendation and I might consider it.”
Thomas immediately turned towards Matthew. “You’re the witness,” he said eagerly. “So it has been spoken…”
“Matthew Turner.” All three students looked up towards Mr. Warren who was already pulling another strip of paper from the fishbowl. “Allison Pennington. Partners.”
Lana reached out and sympathetically patted Matthew’s hand. “Speaking of being fucked,” she said before turning away.
A slight feeling of dread settled over Matthew as he looked towards the rocker chick sitting at the desk closest to the classroom door. Allison didn’t appear to react to the assignment of a project partner. She continued to scratch away in her notepad, brow furrowed in concentration.
“All things considered,” Thomas remarked, “Allison’s a pretty good draw. If you’re looking for someone to deep dive into a poem with you, she would be one of my top picks. There’s a good bit of overlap between poetry and song lyrics.”
“I guess so, yeah.” Matthew waited for her to look up and glance in his direction, but she continued to write in her spiral notepad. “I don’t think I’ve ever talked to her. At least not enough to remember the conversation.”
“Understandable. Our social circles don’t quite overlap. Plus, getting within five feet of Allison tends to activate one’s ‘fight or flight’ response – her fight, our flight.”
“…and that’s everyone!” Mr. Warren looked up at the digital clock hanging in the back of the room. “OK, we’ve got a minute left. Today’s Thursday. By Tuesday I want three poems from each pairing. There’s a list of poems on the class Sharepoint site, but as long as it’s school appropriate you can pick any poems you want. Go ahead and start packing up.”
As Matthew put his English binder into his backpack, he once again glanced over in Allison’s direction. As far as he could tell she hadn’t made a move to pack up her belongings. Even while all their classmates got ready to dart to their next class, Allison continued to make rapid scratches against the paper in front of her with her pencil.
The collected students of Mr. Warren’s English class sprung from their seats at the sound of the bell. Most headed for the door, intent on navigating the crowded halls of Emerald Hills Senior High School towards their next class. A handful lingered behind, including Thomas. “See you later,” he told his friend before moving towards the front of the classroom and crossing paths with Cate at the door, a friendly and disarming smile already warming up on his face.
While Thomas met his partner, Matthew was craning his neck looking for his. Allison’s seat by the classroom door was vacant, the desktop bare, a ghost for Matthew to chase down later in the day.
X X X X X
The lockers at Emerald Pines were set up by class year and arranged in alphabetical order, providing Matthew with a rough idea of where to wait for Allison after the final bell.
Backpack slung over his shoulder, Matthew casually leaned against a locker trying to catch sight of his project partner. As the crowd of students rapidly thinned out, however, Allison was nowhere to be found. The hallways emptied after a couple of minutes, with the only sounds being the distant thump of a door closing or the words of a muffled voice. Matthew’s fingers began to unconsciously tap out a steady beat against the locker door. They easily fell into a smooth, continuous rhythm that was quickly accompanied by the tapping of his foot against the tile floor…
“You’re blocking my locker.”
The vibrant female voice caught Matthew off-guard. He turned his head to see Allison standing nearby, a look of minor annoyance on her face. “Sorry,” he replied, quickly taking a few steps to his left to allow Allison access to her locker.
Among a diverse student body with a wide variety of personalities, Allison Pennington still managed to stand out by overflowing with confidence and attitude. Her unkempt hair, dyed a deep jet black, sprawled loosely between the middle of her shoulders. A pair of silver hoops hung from her nose, one in each nostril, with a small silver stud punched through both earlobes as well. Her ensemble for the day consisted of black boots, loose black jeans, and a short-sleeved gray t-shirt displaying an affinity for the band Cold War Kids. The short sleeves allowed Allison to show off a spiral tattoo on her left arm. The look was completed by dull lip gloss. Her black shoulder satchel was decorated with numerous patches and band emblems.
Her hair, piercings, and style of clothing combined to give Allison an alluring aura. However, said aura was best experienced from a distance. While Allison didn’t possess the same level of bitchiness claimed by the cheerleaders of Emerald Pines, she still pushed people away more than she embraced them. Colleen Tombs, one of Allison’s handful of friends, once told him, “Allison wears all her emotions on her sleeve at the same time. If you manage to get to know her, you’ll never have a more dedicated, protective friend. Even then she’ll still shove you away on occasion. I love her, however, there are moments when I definitely do not like her.”
“You always spend your afternoons lurking in the hallway,” Allison asked casually, grabbing several books from her locker and stuffing them into the black satchel. “Or were you waiting for someone?”
“I was waiting on you actually.” Matthew fought the urge to take a step backward as Allison turned to glare at him. “I wanted to talk about our project for Mr. Warren’s English class?” He hadn’t meant for his statement to turn into a question. However, Allison’s expression, head slightly tilted and eyes narrowed, threw him off of what passed for his game. “We’re…partners? Our names got drawn out of the fishbowl?”
After a moment, Allison let out a throaty chuckle. “I’m fucking with you. I know we’re partners.” She gave him a smirk before turning back to her locker.
“Oh good,” Matthew said, more relief than he intended in his voice. “I didn’t see you react when he called our names out.”
Allison slammed her locker door shut. The echo of metal-on-metal filled the hallway. “I got bored and started writing song ideas in my notebook.” She patted her black satchel. “I heard him say our names, but I was in the middle of some lyrics and didn’t want to break the flow. Give me a couple weeks, some chords and a melody, I might have something. So, this poetry project. What do you want to talk about?”
“I was thinking that I could get your email address and we can bounce some ideas off each other?”
“No way.” Allison’s hair shimmered as she shook her head. “I don’t like emailing about projects. Too much back-and-forth, not enough dialogue. Same thing with Discord or Skype, only not as slow and with more typing and talking over each other.”
Matthew closed his eyes and lightly tapped his nose as he considered his options. “Do you have time right now? I have Drama Club in a half-hour but we can at least get the ball rolling.”
“I’m already late for a thing,” Allison sighed. “How’s Monday?”
“…Monday works, I guess,” Matthew said after a moment’s deliberation.
“Whoa, dial down that enthusiasm.”
“Sorry. Monday we’re going over the fall play. But if that’s the only day that works for you, then yeah. I can make it work.”
Allison’s response was to blow out a long sigh. “To be honest, I don’t want to wait until the last minute. We’re fucked if you run long.” She scratched at her ear for a moment. “Screw it. How does tomorrow sound? Spending the first Friday night of senior year sitting around the public library doing schoolwork still beats what I have planned. Unless you’re going to Nicole Metz’s back-to-school party?”
Matthew shook his head. “I’d never make it past the front door.” As Allison snorted at his comment, an idea flared to life inside of Matthew’s brain. “Instead of the library, why don’t we work at my house? If that’s cool with you,” Matthew quickly added as Allison raised an eyebrow. “We can sit in the kitchen and come up with our list. I’ll even spring for pizza.”
“Bribing me with food?” After a moment she nodded. “Deal, but only if you get the pizza from Fox’s.”
“Where else would I get it from?” Matthew put a hand over his heart, pretending to be wounded. “As if I’d serve a guest anything but a pie from the best place in town.”
“Knock off the theatrics.” Allison rummaged in her satchel and pulled out a scrap of paper and a red pen. “Text me your address,” she said, putting the paper against the door of her locker and scrawling her phone number on it. “Seven o’clock?”
Having shoved the paper against Matthew’s chest, Allison eyed him up and down before giving him a brief nod. “See you tomorrow night,” she told him as he reached for the scrap of paper. Before Matthew could say goodbye, Allison was already well on her way, quickly turning the corner and disappearing from sight. While Matthew pulled out his phone to text Allison his address, he couldn’t help but chuckle quietly. Underneath her phone number, Allison had scribbled ‘for academic purposes only!’ Maybe there was a sense of humor under her caustic personality.
Almost immediately after sending Allison his address, his phone buzzed. _Address received. Seven o’clock sharp. Don’t be late to your own house and waste my fucking time._
Matthew proceeded to put in his Airpods and pull up one of his personalized pre-rehearsal Spotify lists, hitting ‘random’ to allow the app to choose a song for him. When the song began to play, he quickly picked the familiar beat and began tapping his hand against his thigh. The feeling of his fingers against the denim helped Matthew prepare his brain for rehearsal. His melodic whistle filled the empty halls of the high school as he headed for the auditorium with the rhythm and lyrics of “I’m Falling” by the Comsat Angels flowing into his ears.
“I never thought this could happen, I never thought I could feel this way”
“Until this strange reaction today”
X X X X X
“Matthew! Your friend is here!”
Standing over the kitchen table, Matthew called out to his mom, “be right there!” It was taking his laptop longer than normal to log into the school’s Sharepoint site. He was just about to cancel the login and reload the page when the connection finally went through. After a final glance around the freshly cleaned kitchen, Matthew walked through the living room on his way to the front door. “Hey Allison,” he said as he entered the foyer, “what’s…” Matthew paused, both in motion and speech, as he laid eyes on his guest.
Allison had on the black boots that she usually did. However, instead of jeans she was currently sporting a calf-length black skirt. The hem fell an inch-or-two below the tops of her boots. Above her waist Allison wore a white tank top with red trim that had an old-school Pepsi Cola emblem displayed on the front. The tank top showed off her arms, shoulders, upper torso, and most of her back. Over the tank top Allison had thrown on a sleeveless black leather vest patterned with metal studs. Along the right side of the vest was a sewn-on patch with a pair of lips surrounded by the words ‘KISS ME I’M STERILE’ in black threading.
Matthew’s focus was torn between two things.
One, how attractive Allison looked in her current outfit.
Two, the fact that his mom was currently gushing over Allison’s ink.
“Seriously, where did you get that done?” Matthew’s mother was craning her neck, attempting to glance at the spiral tattoo winding its way along Allison’s arm. “It’s absolutely amazing!”
“Thanks,” Allison said with pride in her voice. “I got it done at Sins and Needles. I sketched it out and the artist did the rest.” She turned at the waist, showing Matthew’s mom the tattoo’s extension reaching across her upper back. “She did a fantastic job.”
“I’ll say. It makes me want to finally bite the bullet and get a tattoo of my own.”
“Great,” Matthew deadpanned from his spot in the doorway. “Thanks for kickstarting my mom’s mid-life crisis, Allison.”
His mother gave him a friendly huff in response. “Your father buying a home theater system was a mid-life crisis. My getting a tattoo is dealing with empty nest syndrome when you go off to college next year. So what’s the plan for tonight?”
“English project.” Matthew motioned over his shoulder. “I’m all set up in the kitchen,” he said to Allison. “Dad should be here with the pizzas any time now. I figured we could eat while we work…”
“You were going to work in the kitchen?” Matthew’s mom shook her head. “Your father and I were planning on watching some movies tonight.” She pointed towards the living room where a large flat-screen TV sat on a wooden cabinet, flanked by a pair of waist-high speakers. “The audio alone will distract both of you.”
“Oh.” Matthew turned to look at Allison. “Are you cool with going upstairs to my room to work?” She answered with a casual shrug, seemingly not bothered by the sudden change to a more private venue.
“Why don’t you just take your laptop out to the shed?”
At his mother’s suggestion, Matthew shook his head. “We can just go upstairs, it’s not a big deal…”
“No, no, it’s fine,” his mother answered with a wave of her hand. “If you’re out there you won’t get distracted by the movies. Maybe Allison would like to see your drum kit.”
“Drum kit?” Keen interest sparked in Allison’s eyes. “You have a drum kit?”
Matthew tried to get a word in, however, his mother was faster on the verbal draw. “Matthew bought himself some drums a few years ago,” she told Allison. “He practices out in the shed every chance he gets.”
“Really.” A predatory grin stretched across Allison’s face that almost caused Matthew to gulp. “This I gotta see.” She eagerly bounded across the foyer and grabbed him by the wrist, catching him off guard. Her manicured fingers, with nails painted the same color black as her hair, were an unexpected but pleasant warmth against his skin. “Grab your laptop and let’s go.”
“I’ll send the pizza out once your Dad’s home,” Matthew’s mother yelled as Allison dragged him into the kitchen. He barely had time to close his laptop and snatch it off the table before his project partner pulled him towards the back door. Allison kept a firm grip around his wrist as they stepped outside.
The clear sky was being chased by storm clouds threatening to drop a heavy late August rain onto the valley. The gentle breeze preceding the storm would have been pleasant had Allison not been urgently pulling him along. Tucked in the far corner of the tall hedges that surrounded the backyard was a wooden structure more like a large pioneer cabin than a garden shed.
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