"And we are done!"
The words emanated from the bubbly blonde with the words Cheer Captain printed on the front of her pink t-shirt. Carly furtively glanced at her watch and noted the time with mild irritation. She hadn't counted on practice running this late and knew her friends would be waiting for her at the diner. As of right now she was already twenty minutes late. Carly was determined to make haste. She had begun to sprint to the women's locker room when she heard a voice calling to her. She immediately recognized that voice. In fact, it was hard to confuse its source.
"Where are you headed off to?"
Carly halted, turned, and waited for Susan to close the distance between them. Her first instinct had been to ignore Susan and pretend she hadn't heard her calling her name. But because Susan was in a position of power this year as the cheer captain, Carly wanted to stay in her good graces and not cause any friction. Her anxiety over being late, though, was making it hard to stay put to see what the perky blonde wanted. Particularly since the petite ball of energy could talk and talk endlessly without ever letting anyone get a word in edge-wise. Carly groaned inwardly at her misfortune.
"I'm headed to The Pit Stop to meet some friends, and I'm already running kind of late." She conspicuously glanced at her watch, hoping Susan would get the hint.
"Oh," Susan replied. "Well, some of the girls and I were thinking about getting mani's and pedi's in town. But I guess if you're busy you can join us next time."
Carly groaned inwardly again. This time it wasn't because Susan was holding her up, but because she knew the blonde was trying to integrate her into her popular circle of friends and Carly fully appreciated the kind gesture. And yet here she was blowing Susan off by declining the invitation. A feeling of guilt had prompted that groan and was now consuming her conscience. Not that Carly really cared to be a part of Susan's elite clique. She just figured that if she ingratiated herself with Susan and her friends she would have an easier time as a cheerleader this year. But Carly couldn't let down her real friends either, so she strategically replied, "How about this weekend we all go to Cleveland for a shopping trip. I think my parents are going to let me use their car on Saturday."
Susan appeared genuinely interested in Carly's offer because the cheer captain's face brightened to the same color as her platinum blonde locks.
"Sounds great, Cabrerra. Call or text me to let me know the details."
Carly was relieved to see that the conversation was over as evinced by Susan's retreat in the opposite direction. Susan turned around once, however, to quickly inquire who exactly Carly was meeting at The Pit Stop. Despite conjecturing Susan's true intentions about the inquiry, Carly willingly offered the sought-after identities and noted that one of the names seemed to spark Susan's interest. Her eyes twinkled and a smile formed on the blonde's lips before she replied, "Cool. Have fun."
With that Susan turned and was off.
After grabbing her personal effects from her locker, Carly made every effort to avoid any more run-ins with people she knew. She needed to get to the popular diner immediately. After a quick jog to her car and the toss of her duffel bag and purse into the back seat, she was finally on her way. Fortunately, it wouldn't take too long to get to The Pit Stop since Clanton was such a small town. In fact, Clanton, Ohio, embodied what many considered a typical rural town with just enough suburban flair to make living there tolerable for its younger residents. Long stretches of farmland surrounded the country road leading into town, with ranches and barns sporadically dotting the flat landscape. The city square of Clanton was probably the liveliest place in town, although the new strip mall being built would likely change that. Also, a few fast food "joints" and three sit-down restaurants provided some entertainment. One of those sit-down restaurants was owned and operated by Carly's parents. Mr. and Mrs. Cabrerra were both well-respected members of Clanton and owned a Cuban restaurant located on the town square. Carly sometimes worked there as a waitress during the summers. She didn't mind it but hoped her parents weren't grooming her to one day take over the place. She sometimes daydreamed about getting out of this small and stifling town to explore what else was out there. In fact, her current desire was to go to college in a big city such as Cleveland, which was only an hour-and-a-half southwest of Cleveland. That was the important stipulation, that the city had to still be within reasonable driving distance from Clanton. Because while she longed for an escape, she was still nervous about going too far away from home. She attributed this to her upbringing. Her parents had always been overprotective of their only daughter and had sheltered her all her life. Their nurturing had made her life very comfortable. But she now knew that it had also stifled her pioneering spirit and sense of independence. While she wished she could change some aspects of her childhood, there was one thing that she would never change - meeting Jake Harmon.
Carly easily recalled the day her parents had had the Harmon family over for dinner. The family was one of the more affluent ones in town, largely due to Mr. Harmon's status as head football coach and Mrs. Harmon's family pedigree. Mrs. Harmon was the daughter of one of the wealthiest families in Clanton, which owned and ran a dairy farm and a grocery store. Their son Jake only completed the picture of a perfect family. He was popular in school, good at sports, and was showing signs of having inherited his mother's attractive features and father's impressive height. Carly remembered how she had stared at Jake, who occupied the seat across from hers at the dinner table. She had especially marveled at the twinkle in his large blue eyes that hinted at an adventurous spirit she longed to experience. She felt the tickle of nervous excitement as the parents retreated to the living room, leaving her and this boy alone to play. Not shy in the least, Jake had risen from his half-eaten dessert and followed Carly outside in the yard. Running around in a dizzying game of tag, it didn't take long for Carly to decide that she liked this boy. It seemed as if they had played for hours and, after falling to the ground in a breathless heap, they exchanged names. Even though they had been formally introduced earlier, this was their own way of cementing the start of a friendship she couldn't wait to fully explore.
From that point on, their relationship had blossomed. Because Jake lived only a few houses up the street from Carly’s, she was usually over at his. It was more fun to play at his house because there were no rules and very lax adult supervision. Carly frequently marveled at how completely free Jake was to do whatever he pleased. To Carly, it appeared that Jake enjoyed all the freedoms of an adult, with no one telling him what to do or when to do it. In fact, she couldn't recall a time when either his father or mother had imposed a curfew on him or assigned limits on his play activities.
Although Carly was Jake's closest companion throughout their childhood, he also had had his other friends. Together they had formed a rambunctious band of boisterous little boys with nothing else on their minds but mischief. Carly always knew, though, that she was special to Jake, and sometimes she was allowed to hang out with him and his male companions. They all treated her like one of the boys and even included her in some of their neighborhood pranks – which often ended with her in deep trouble. Jake was rarely punished for his antics. Either it was because his parents were hardly ever around or because they simply did not concern themselves much with his daily activities. Mr. Harmon's head coaching duties kept him very busy and his mother either attended charity events or hosted them herself at the local country club.
Even now as Carly swung into one of the parking spaces in front of The Pit Stop, she could easily recall how deeply she had envied the leniency of Jake's childhood experience. She had no doubts at all that this is what made him such a strong, independent personality now. He always appeared so confident and sure of everything and easily took charge with little fear of failure. He was a leader, brave and unrelenting. That is what she and countless others saw when they beheld Jake Harmon, the golden boy of Clanton, Ohio.
Jake strummed the strings of his guitar, playing a tune for Garrett that he had written himself. Ever since finding the guitar tucked away in one of the spare bedroom closets five years ago, Jake had tenaciously learned how to play it. Whenever he had the free time, he would retreat in complete solitude to either his bedroom or the basement and do nothing but practice for hours. He found that he couldn’t put the instrument down, no matter how hard he tried. At first, the sounds that came out from under his novice fingers sounded like random notes converging to form something just short of a melodic tune. They desperately longed to be ordered into some harmonizing sequence. In time, however, Jake caught on to the workings of the instrument and immediately discovered a natural-born musical ability. He seemed to only get better at it. By the time Jake reached high school, he was playing tunes that only the most talented rock musicians could successfully tackle. Without reservation, Jake knew that playing music was what he was meant to do.
Amanda closed her eyes and took in the catchy melody. Having met Garrett at Clanton’s music store several weeks ago, she had discovered through idle conversation that Garrett was a local rock musician with his own band. She had enthusiastically bragged to Garrett about Jake’s phenomenal musical talent. So, Garrett had agreed to meet Jake and see what the kid was all about. Presently, Garrett nodded his head to the music that streamed out from beneath Jake’s gifted hand and immediately knew he liked what he was hearing. He silently admitted to himself that this kid was good. But he sure as hell wasn’t going to let him know that. He had dealt with too many cocky musicians to last him a lifetime. Jake’s fingers fell away from the strings and he looked up at Garrett, awaiting the verdict.
“Well, what do you think?” Jake asked expectantly.
“I’d say Amanda did me a favor by introducing me to you.”
Garrett looked at Amanda, who was grinning broadly at the magnanimous praise.
“How long have you been playing?” Garrett inquired, eyeing Jake intently.
“I was about twelve or thirteen when I found this old guitar in my parent's house. I started to play it and practiced whenever I could. Even turned on some old rock songs and tried to play along.”
“Yeah, like who?” Garrett asked, sitting up in his chair.
“Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC.”
“Yeah? Who was your favorite?”
“I think,” Jake began, not taking too long to think of his answer, “it’d have to be AC/DC. I like the hard rock and heavy metal feel of their songs. That’s what I wanna get into.”
“I like that,” Garrett said, laughing and nodding his head.
“I like this guy,” Garrett reiterated to Amanda. She flashed him an I-told-you-so smile.
“So you going let him play with the Flaming Dogs?” Amanda asked eagerly. She had a feeling it wouldn’t take much to convince Garrett to let Jake join the band. He had just witnessed Jake’s talent.
“We’ll see how he does,” he told Amanda, then turned to Jake. “Come by the studio for practice tomorrow night. You can meet the other guys, and then we’ll go from there. But if you always play like this, we’ll definitely have a spot for you. We need another guitarist, anyway.”
“I’m your man,” Jake said, grinning confidently.
"I think you might be right," Garrett replied.
Jake then packed up his instrument and thanked Garrett for his time so that he and Amanda could soon be on their way to The Pit Stop to meet friends. Their moods were elevated after the successful meeting with Garrett, and they couldn't wait to share the news with the others.
The diner was packed as usual. It had, in fact, become a popular hangout among the high school crowd, especially since it offered a casual atmosphere and live karaoke during the weekends. The fact that the pizza was a local favorite didn't hurt business either. They quickly spotted Aaron and Roy sitting at one of the booths and made their way over. Jake briefly noted that Carly was not there yet.
Before anyone could say anything, Amanda blurted out, "Jake may be a member of the Flaming Dogs soon!"
Roy's and Aaron's eyes lit up and they wasted no time congratulating their friend.
“Apparently, they need another guitarist. Isn’t that perfect timing?” Amanda added enthusiastically, wrapping her arms around Jake’s shoulders and squeezing him.
“How do you think your dad’s going to take it?” Roy asked, munching on a cracker he had pulled out from the basket on the table. Roy had known Jake for about three years now, having met him their freshman year on the junior varsity football team. Roy knew all too well how obsessed Coach Harmon was about Jake’s successful performance on the football field. In fact, Harmon's quest for his son to become a professional football player like he had been before his knee gave out had started early. Every year Jake had been a little league football player with his father acting as team manager and coach. Mr. Harmon had been hard on all the players, with the parents backing his controversial coaching style. They deferred to Coach Harmon's method of training the boys because his former status as an NFL player made him a local celebrity and well-respected pillar of the community. Also, his methods resulted in consistent wins. No one questioned him when it came to coaching football. While he was hard on the boys, he was even harder on Jake. It wasn't uncommon to see Coach Harmon ordering Jake to run extra laps for minor mistakes on the practice field. And it also wasn't uncommon to hear the coach's bellowing, raspy voice directed at Jake, berating him for slack performance. Jake very much understood Roy's concern, as he himself felt it too. But he refused to let his father dictate the direction of his life.
“My dad doesn’t need to find out right now. As long as I keep showing up for football practice and playing every Friday night like he wants me to, it won’t matter.”
“Let’s just hope you don’t have to play with the Flaming Dogs on a Friday night during football season,” Roy reminded his friend, popping the remaining remnants of the cracker into his mouth.
Jake was a bit worried about that as well but refused to show it. He shrugged to appear calm and cool about it and said simply, "It'll be okay. I'll figure it out."
The waitress then appeared at their table to take their orders, her pen and pad ready. She looked immensely pleased as she eyed her patrons and smiled sweetly at Jake and Roy.
“Well, we got us some local celebrities in here,” she said, flipping her curly blonde hair back and popping her chewing gum. “Two of Clanton’s finest. Congratulations on your win against Lakewood last Friday.”
“Thanks,” Roy said, grinning widely. He enjoyed the attention that their athletic status bred.
“Ya know, it’s been the talk all around Clanton that there were some college football scouts at that game last Friday. It makes me wonder if I shouldn’t be getting your guys’ autographs right now,” the middle-aged waitress stated, winking playfully.
“Can I have a strawberry milkshake?” Amanda interjected unexpectedly, growing impatient. Aaron tried to hold off a smirk. He knew his twin sister too well. She had a low tolerance for superficial frivolity and could be a hard-ass sometimes. She hadn't been the easiest person to grow up with, as her mostly blunt and to-the-point personality and inability to sugar coat things necessitated thick skin. But beyond her tough, tomboyish exterior she was one of the most down-to-earth, caring persons he knew. He was amazed, though, how despite their being twin siblings, their personalities had diverged completely. While Amanda was tough and into sports, Aaron was sensitive and into reading, math, and science. While Amanda was built for physical pursuits, his frail frame was built for mental pursuits.
Following Amanda's brusque comment, the waitress glared at her for a brief moment, then hesitantly wrote down her order and asked the others what they wanted. After she had finished writing everything down, she looked up and said to Roy and Jake in a flirtatious tone, “We’ll continue our conversation later, boys.”
With that, the waitress winked at the two male athletes and sauntered away.
“Ugh, I’m getting so tired of this place. Do we always have to come here?” Amanda mumbled under her breath, appearing agitated.
“I knew there were scouts at that game,” Roy said enthusiastically, ignoring Amanda's query. “I’ve seen them at the practice field, too, after school.”
“Maybe they’re here to check you out, man. You’ve scored more touchdowns than anyone on the team. The Panthers wouldn’t have made it this far without you,” Jake said.
Roy grinned and returned the favor. “I wouldn’t be able to help the team like I do without the best quarterback throwing me the ball.”
Roy’s jovial demeanor suddenly transformed as he said in a solemn tone, "I just hope I get recruited. I really need something to happen. This is our last year of high school.” He leaned back and stared dreamily into space. “I’m hoping Texas picks me up.”
Roy’s face was more serious than Jake had ever seen it. Jake just nodded.
“What about you?” Roy asked Jake.
“I’m hoping this music stuff works out,” Jake replied matter-of-factly.
Aaron, who had been consumed with an article in a science magazine, now joined the conversation. “What if you get the chance to go pro like your dad? Isn’t that what he wants?”
Jake just shrugged his shoulders and leaned back, feeling awkward in the ensuing silence as everyone waited for his answer. He didn’t know what to say at this point. He decided to change the subject to avoid further discussion on a topic that garnered so much uncertainty and apprehension.
“Where’s Carly? She was supposed to be here twenty minutes ago."
Jake reached into his pocket for his cell phone, but never got to dial her number because Roy soon announced her arrival. Jake glanced outside the large eatery window and saw her swinging into the parking lot in front of the diner.
“It’s about damn time,” Jake grumbled under his breath.
Before long, Carly had joined them, sliding into the booth between Jake and Aaron.
“Where’ve you been? We were about to send out a search party,” Roy teased while also rewarding her with his amazing grin that always brought out the dimples in his handsome face. She reciprocated the smile. She also couldn't help noticing how the tight tank top Roy wore accentuated his athletic build. It was hard not to take note of Roy's impressive physique, which probably explained to a large extent why he was one of the best players on Clanton's high school football team. That body also required discipline to maintain. Roy worked out at least 15 hours a week at the school gym. He also ran laps around the track every morning before school. Jake also had a toned body that corroborated his strong athleticism, although he was not as muscular as Roy. Jake was, however, taller than Roy. Whereas Roy was 6 feet 1 inches in height, Jake nearly hit 6 feet 4 inches. Jake was also a hot topic among the female student population. But then, most of the football players were. Jake, however, stood out for three reasons. He was the quarterback of the Lakeview Panthers, which naturally added to his prominence. He was also expected to eventually be recruited in the NFL just like his father had been. Of this, everyone had no doubts. Coach Harmon made sure to push Jake hard enough and the old man still had connections in the industry. Finally, his looks were beyond handsome, they were completely mesmerizing. It was easy to get lost in the depths of his large, light blue eyes. And the boyishly handsome smile on his chiseled face could make even the most prude girl blush crimson. Jake’s dark blonde hair had grown thick and ran nicely down the nape of his strong neck. Carly always seemed to notice that when Jake perspired from either a long workout in the gym or a Friday night varsity football game, the damp hairs curled slightly around the sides of his neck. She didn’t know why she’d notice such a minute thing like that. In fact, it was somewhat unnerving, considering Jake was her best friend.
“Sorry, guys,” Carly said to placate them, “but practice ran a bit late.”
“Ah,” Amanda replied in a mocking tone, “the important world of cheerleading. What happened? Was there a cheerleading crisis?”
Carly shot Amanda a disapproving glare before explaining.
“There were some issues with getting an extension just right. But we eventually got it. Susan always likes things to be perfect.”
Carly knew that Amanda couldn’t stand the cheerleading squad, particularly the head coach of it, and she definitely made her disdain known at every available opportunity. Amanda was not the cheerleader type. She was more of a soccer player type and had the body to prove it. Her athletic tone was most apparent in her strong legs, and Carly always marveled at the thick muscles of her calves. The female twin also wasn't into excessive primping as she usually had her long black hair swept back into a ponytail and only wore minute amounts of makeup on her face. Her tomboyish demeanor did nothing to hide the fact that she was a pretty girl, though. In fact, Carly admired Amanda's porcelain complexion that glowed in contrast to her black hair and shockingly green eyes. Aaron, of course, was the antithesis of his sister. Carly could still recall the day she and Jake had first met the twins. She had been over at Jake's house that day playing video games. He always did have the latest gaming system along with the latest game to go with it. They had played a car racing game for what seemed hours that afternoon. After finally boring of that Jake had suggested heading to the creek, which was a place she was not allowed to go. But no one had been there to stop them, save the inattentive baby-sitter. As was customary, the teenager hired by Mr. and Mrs. Harmon had simply greeted the kids, plopped down at the kitchen table with her school books, and immediately got on the telephone. Seeing the baby-sitter at the Harmon house had become more commonplace than seeing Jake's parents. Mr. and Mrs. Harmon were hardly ever home. Of this Carly was somehow grateful because Mr. Harmon intimidated her. He was such an imposing man and almost always had a characteristically stern look on his face. He was tall and athletic, definitely bigger than her own father. Mr. Harmon reminded Carly of some of Jake’s action figure men, strong and unyielding. There was another completely different side to Mr. Harmon, though, that revealed a very laid-back and easygoing nature, something Jake had inherited. This alternate nature often surfaced when Mr. Harmon was seated in front of the television watching a football game on a lazy Sunday afternoon. The tense and rigid Mr. Harmon popped back up when he was studying game footage from a Friday night high school football game. Mrs. Harmon was the exact opposite of what her husband personified. She was a petite woman with dark blonde hair, a pretty face, and friendly blue eyes. Fragile and dainty, she reminded Carly of a Barbie doll because she always looked so stunning in her beautiful dresses and with her carefully made-up makeup. Jake inherited his mother’s light blue eyes and dark blonde hair, and he inherited his father's enormous build.
She remembered that the sun had begun to descend into the horizon when she and Jake had hopped on their bikes. On the way down Winchester Road to the edge of the neighborhood where the woods started, their attention had suddenly been diverted to a green moving van parked in front of the huge brick house that had been vacant for almost half a year. They stopped their bikes and viewed the procession of furniture and boxes being hauled into the house with curious eyes. Their curiosity rose two-fold when they noticed the two children sitting on the front stoop, their hands cupping their pale, miserable faces. Both children seemed to be about the same age as Carly and Jake, and both seemed to be fraternal twins judging by their similar age and appearance. Both had the same wavy black hair, except the girl’s hair was a lot longer than her brother’s and was pulled back into a ponytail. The boy was a bit smaller than his stouter sister and also seemed to be the more miserable of the two. Jake’s curiosity grew to the point that he decided to postpone their trip to the woods. Carly reluctantly followed him to the house, all the while marveling at how bold and outgoing he was.
“You guys just move here?” Jake asked. The girl looked up at him and tried to smile in greeting, but her melancholy conquered the effort.
“Yeah,” she answered, her frown deepening. “I really don’t like it here. This place looks boring.”
“It’s not that bad. There are some fun things to do. My friend and I are on our way to the creek right now. If you want, you can hang out with us,” Jake offered.
He waited for a response. The girl finally allowed a grin to form on her lips and she said in a grateful tone, “That would be cool. What’s your name?”
“Jake.” He turned to point at his female comrade. “And this is Carly.”
The female twin introduced herself then nodded at her brother and said, "This is Aaron."
“We just moved here from Florida,” she continued.
“Florida!” Jake’s eyes lit up, “Wow, you guys seen real alligators down there?” At the mention of alligators, Amanda livened up a bit and started to reveal the tinges of a rather talkative nature. In fact, she explained to Jake all about the alligators she had seen at a sanctuary she had been to.
After the topic of alligators had lost its appeal, Amanda had asked, “So, what’s your school like?"
Aaron, who had been quiet the whole time, unexpectedly chimed in, “Does your school library have a good selection of science fiction books?”
“Library?” Jake wrinkled his nose.
“Ignore him,” Amanda sighed. “My brother is a nerd. All he does is read."
All three kids, save Aaron, laughed at Amanda’s blunt confession.
“Don’t worry, Aaron. You stick with me and you won’t get beat up,” Jake said.
“Does this mean we can hang out with you guys?” Amanda asked, almost too eagerly. She so desperately wanted to make friends so she wouldn’t be stuck hanging out with her dull brother all day. She loved Aaron, but reading was definitely not her favorite thing to do in her spare time. Jake had nodded his head in affirmation and then looked at Carly, who also nodded. She had liked the twins then. She liked them even more now. Presently, she glanced in Aaron's direction, noting that his glasses had thickened over the years. He had also outgrown his sister in height but remained slender and lanky. Just like his sister, his green eyes stood out in contrast to his fair complexion and jet black hair. Besides his engaging eyes, his other highly-notable feature was his amazing intellect.
Her ruminations were quickly interrupted when the waitress reappeared with the orders. She noticed the new addition to their group.
“What can I get you, hon?” she asked Carly, getting her writing pad and pen out of her apron pocket.
“Just water, thanks,” Carly replied, wanting to save her appetite for her father’s delicious empanadas tonight.
The waitress grinned at Carly and said knowingly, “You gotta keep your figure trim for these good-looking guys, huh? Don’t blame you. They’re gorgeous.”
Amanda groaned loud enough for the waitress to hear, or so she hoped. The waitress, in turn, scowled at the twin before leaving.
“I swear, if I had a dime for every time you guys get hit on, I’d have enough to buy this place. Again, why do we keep coming here?” Amanda growled.
“Because everyone comes here. It’s the place to be,” Carly explained matter-of-factly, as if Amanda should already know that. Amanda didn't appear to be appeased by that answer and simply rolled her eyes.
Carly only briefly wondered why it was such a big deal that Jake and Roy got hit on and why it irritated the twin so much. She was actually proud to be with such attractive company. Why the twin made it out to be such a negative thing only confounded Carly. The thought evaporated moments later when the waitress set the water in front of her and the milkshake in front of Amanda. Jake and Roy's food came out shortly thereafter.
After spending almost an hour with her friends, Carly decided it was time to interrupt the good time and excuse herself.
"Sorry guys, but I gotta go. I have to be home in fifteen" She quickly stole a fry off of Jake's plate.
Jake likewise looked at the time display on his cell phone and decided it was time for him to get home as well, but not for the same reason as Carly. Carly still had a curfew, even though she was seventeen years old. Jake, on the other hand, needed to get home because he wanted to get some practice in before meeting with Garrett and the Flaming Dogs tomorrow.
“You wanna come with me to the studio tomorrow?” Jake asked Carly, to which her eyes lit up. She blurted out, “Sure!”
“Hey, I’m coming too, right?” Amanda reminded him. Jake threw Amanda a look that seemed to suggest that she was crazy for thinking otherwise.
“Just making sure,” she replied sheepishly before consuming the vestiges of her milkshake.
After paying the waitress, Jake, Carly, and Amanda cleared the booth and walked toward the exit. Aaron and Roy decided to stay behind to finish their food and order dessert to go. As the trio left the diner, Jake noticed a few purposeful glances aimed at the girl walking beside him. He smiled knowingly. Everywhere they went, Carly always seemed to attract glances from the opposite sex. Jake knew quite well the reason for all the male attention. Carly was extremely attractive. Her body was absolutely amazing. Even though she stood no more than 5 feet 6 inches tall, her legs dominated her slender physique, making her appear taller than she actually was. And her tiny waist and full hips gave her svelte figure a natural hour-glass silhouette. Not to mention, the swell of her perky C-cup breasts never went unnoticed. She was also blessed with a beautiful, heart-shaped face, complemented by high cheekbones and a small straight nose. And her full and pouty lips and the brightest brown eyes Jake had ever seen completed the stunning picture. Jake especially liked it when she swept her long, dark brown hair into a thick ponytail, making her stunning facial features stand out even more.
“Jake, you picking us up tomorrow?” Amanda interjected suddenly, interrupting his thoughts.
“Huh?” Jake blinked somewhat sheepishly.
“For practice.” Amanda intentionally spoke the words with slow clarity so as to jog his memory.
“Oh, yeah,” Jake agreed, the mental fog clearing. Thoughts of Carly had temporarily dazed him, which was unnerving to him. He didn't like it when he got lost in thoughts pertaining to her looks. It confused him utterly.
He then heard a female voice repeatedly calling out his name. Beside him, Amanda let out a loud groan. When he turned to see who it was, he was nearly knocked over by Susan. The platinum blonde wrapped her arms around Jake’s waist to embrace him, then jumped back and spat excitedly. “Jake Harmon! I'm so glad I ran into you.”
Carly was momentarily stunned to see her here. But then she recalled the conversation she had had with the cheerleading captain after practice and it all made sense. Of course Susan would be here considering that she had been told that Jake would be here too. It was funny to Carly, though, that Susan would pretend in front of Carly that she had simply ran into him.
“He was just leaving, Susan,” Amanda growled.
Susan turned to face the twin and almost immediately grimaced, the sunshine on her face temporarily clouding over with an unmistakable sign of displeasure.
Susan rolled her eyes and said to the twin, “Didn’t see you there.”
The animosity between Susan and Amanda was so obvious it almost seemed comical. The perky blonde flashed Jake a dazzling smile and said, "I’m having a little party next weekend, and I really want you to come.”
Jake sighed and replied, “I don’t know, Susan. We’ve got an away game next Friday and I don’t…”
Susan cut him off with a sudden gush of desperation.
“Come on, Jake! It'd mean so much to me. You just have to come.”
Jake sighed again.
“It just wouldn’t be the same without you. We could really get to know each other.”
Amanda had finally grown tired of the ridiculous display before her and brusquely cut in. “Look, we have to go. Jake has more important things to do." The impatience and annoyance was unmistakable in the twin's voice.
Susan rolled her eyes and replied, “Whatever. This is between me and Jake. So why don’t you just mind your own business.”
Jake reacted with his quarterback reflexes, knowing Amanda too well. Before the twin could reach out and land her fist squarely into Susan’s nose, Jake had zipped behind Amanda and encircled her waist, pulling her away.
“Why don’t you go eat something, you anorexic slut!” Amanda growled, struggling to break free of Jake’s iron grip.
“You’re lucky Jake’s holding you back,” Susan instigated. Jake threw Susan a disapproving glance, and the tiny blonde immediately ceased her verbal assault.
“Jake, I hope you’ll decide to come,” the blonde said sweetly. "And you're invited too, Cabrerra," she said to Carly before finally departing with a wink.
Amanda relaxed and Jake released his grip.
"Why can’t I hurt your girlfriend just a little bit, huh?” Amanda snapped.
“She’s not my girlfriend,” Jake emphasized. "She’s not my type.”
“Not your type, huh?” Carly asked. “What is your type, Jake? Because you must know that you have a ton of girls vying for your attention.”
“I don’t know what my type is.”
Amanda rolled her eyes. “Come on, Jake. Stop trying to side-step the question.”
“Look, I don’t feel comfortable talking to you guys about this,” He said. He turned to escape from the awkward topic of conversation. Amanda and Carly had to sprint to keep up with him.
“Jake, come on. Enlighten your pals,” Carly pleaded.
“I don’t want to talk with my girl friends about this. Roy…yes. I can tell him. Aaron…again, yes. You guys…no.”
Amanda and Carly stopped abruptly, laughing as Jake fumbled for his keys in his pants pocket and struggled to unlock the door to his truck.
“What’s wrong, Jake? Never seen you this bothered,” Amanda teased, snickering with vicious delight.
“You girls are crazy.”
“We’re just teasing,” Carly said, still giggling.
“You still picking us up tomorrow to go to the studio?” Amanda asked as he climbed into his truck. .
After igniting the engine, he rolled down the window to answer Amanda's question. Smiling mischievously, he said, “I’ll think about it.”
Before Amanda or Carly could utter a single word in protest, he sped off.
After-school practice seemed to go rather well that Tuesday afternoon. Jake’s father had found only a few flaws with regard to Jake’s performance on the field, which was an extremely rare occurrence. Jake thought that perhaps his father was just in a good mood, although one couldn’t tell by the rigid expression on his weathered face. No one had been able to tackle Roy as he had zigzagged his way around the other players, making it to the end zone with impeccable ease. Coach Harmon appeared immensely pleased by Roy’s performance. Jake's friend Chad, however, had been moodier than usual, and Jake guessed it was because Coach Harmon had yelled at the poor boy earlier regarding a fumble. As punishment, Chad had been ordered to run extra laps around the field. Jake finished his assigned laps quickly before leaving practice. After showering and dressing, he entered the old gymnasium at the East end of the school campus. An infectious pop tune rang out from within the gymnasium, and Jake figured the cheerleaders were still practicing. He leaned against the doorway and watched the girls as they practiced a new routine for Friday night’s football game. Heavily entrenched in how revealing their attire was on their nicely toned bodies, he almost didn’t notice the music coming to an abrupt halt. Carly saw Jake and waved at him. Then she held up her finger to instruct him to wait while she grabbed her things. Susan, however, held her up in the locker room - which seemed to be happening quite frequently lately.
“Hey, you and Jake seem to be pretty close," she said. “Are you guys dating?”
Carly scoffed at the absurdness of that idea and corrected her. “No, we are not together. We’re just friends.”
"You're not like friends with extra benefits, are you?"
Again, Carly dispelled that assumption with a wrinkle of her nose.
Susan seemed relieved and quickly changed the tone of the conversation.
“Do you know if he likes anyone at Lakeview?” Susan pressed. “I know you must have the inside scoop, being his friend.”
Carly sighed impatiently, eyeing the clock on the wall.
“Look, he rarely tells me anything about stuff like that.”
“Can you find out?” Susan asked, her eyes alit with flickering curiosity.
Carly sighed again and asked, “Why Jake? I’m sure there are other football players you could date?”
Susan scoffed at the daftness of Carly’s comment and replied sardonically, “Are you crazy? Look at him.”
Carly became increasingly uncomfortable with the topic of conversation. To end it, she simply acquiesced to Susan’s implicit demand.
“I’ll do my best to find something out and let you know.”
“Great!” Susan piped, a satisfied expression on her face. “You can tell me everything tomorrow at practice.”
“Yeah, sure,” Carly replied before walking off as quickly as she could to get away. She breathed a sigh of relief when she finally reached Jake, who was waiting for her by the bleachers.
“Thought you’d never get out of that locker room,” Jake said, grinning. His large blue eyes twinkled.
“Yeah, sorry,” Carly replied, wondering why she was apologizing to him when it was partly his fault that she was late.
“We’re going to go pick up Amanda first and then head over to the studio. She’s at home waiting for us.”
Carly nodded at this and followed Jake to the parking lot, struggling to keep up with his long strides. When they finally reached his truck, he opened the door for her, and she climbed in. As he drove out of the lot, a sport utility vehicle pulled up next to them. It was filled with a rowdy group of football players still donning most of their football gear. As soon as they caught sight of Jake, they shouted, “Harmon! Party at Taylor’s Friday night! Be there!”
Several of them spotted Carly in the passenger seat and amended the invitation with frenzied shouts and hollers.
“Cabrerra, you come too!”
“We’re gonna beat those Westhill fuckers!” Chad roared from the driver’s seat. He then revved up the vehicle and sped off, tires squealing loudly. The roaring whoops and hollers could still be heard.
“Wow. Are they hyping themselves up for the game this Friday?” Carly asked, flabbergasted. Jake just laughed in response.
“Boys,” Carly sighed in exasperation, shaking her head.
“Hey!” Jake exclaimed, grinning.
Carly laughed and said, “You’re different.” She eyed him affectionately, a warm smile gracing her lips.
“You’re not like them. You’re…different,” she reiterated.
She continued to eye him until she felt an awkward tension building inside the cab, compelling her to avert her gaze out the passenger-side window. He must have felt it, too, for he nervously cleared his throat and affixed his gaze on the road ahead.
Thankfully, they pulled in front of Amanda’s house only minutes later. Carly eagerly volunteered to go and get the twin. Amanda immediately answered Carly’s knock. It was as if she had been anticipating their arrival.
“Let’s go,” she said excitedly, closing the door behind her.
Moments later they arrived at the recording studio. Jake knocked hard on the wooden door of the brick building and waited. He was nervously shifting his weight from one foot to the other when a darkly-clad young man finally opened the door and let them in. They followed the young man into a small room furnished only with a red suede sofa, a cherry-wood coffee table, and a few folding chairs backed against the far wall. The young man motioned for the trio to sit down on the sofa and then disappeared through a door marked “Studio.” After a few moments, the young man reappeared, along with Garrett and three other young men that Jake assumed were Flaming Dogs band members.
“Glad to see you, Jake,” Garrett greeted the new guitarist, then turned to Amanda and the pretty girl with the long, dark hair.
“Amanda, good to see you too.” He then turned to acknowledge Carly. There was a strange glint in Garrett's eyes as he stretched out his hand to Carly and said simply, “Hey.”
“Hi,” Carly returned. She sat down on the sofa and caught Garrett eyeing her as she crossed her legs. Thankfully, the awkward stare lasted only seconds.
“Fellas, this is the guy I was telling you about. He’s one badass guitarist.”
Jake thanked Garrett for the generous compliment and shook hands with the three band members, all of whom seemed to regard Jake with skepticism.
“How do we know you ain’t just choking our chain on this guy. He looks like he’d be too young to be any good,” Sid said in front of Jake.
“Yeah,” John concurred. “Plus, he looks like more of a jock than a musician.”
“Actually, I do play varsity football,” Jake conceded.
“Yeah, I know about you,” Sid said. “You’re the quarterback for the Panthers. Didn’t your dad play in the NFL?”
“He did. Until he injured himself.”
“What team did he play for?” John asked, genuinely interested.
“Guys, we’re getting off track here,” Garrett cut in. John seemed a bit disappointed at the change of subject but decided to go with it.
“Okay, this guy can play football, but can he play the guitar?” John asked.
Sid, the Flaming Dogs’ drummer, concurred. “Yeah, we haven’t even heard him play yet.”
Jake took his guitar out of its case and some papers with notes scribbled on them. He readied himself and set the papers out in front of him. He strummed a few warm up notes, then said, “I wrote this one a few days ago. It’s not really finished yet. But I’ll play a few notes anyway.”
As Jake played, everyone in the room fell silent, seduced by the hypnotic melody of the tune. Garrett sat on the armrest of the sofa, subtly nodding his head to the rhythm of the music, while Sid tapped on the coffee table, finding the song’s beat. Everyone else leaned back, tapping their feet or humming along with the tune. Carly just smiled to herself. She felt so proud of Jake and almost wanted to yell to everyone in the room how wrong their initial assumptions had been.
“Man, that was great,” Jerry, the young man clad in black, said after Jake had finished.
“Why don’t you perform a quick solo?” Garrett suggested. “Show them what else you can do.”
Jake nodded and proceeded to play the best guitar solo he’d ever played. He started slowly and softly, the electric notes seeming to flow from beneath his gifted hand like the gentle current of a mild river. Then he began to increase the intensity, like the torrents of a tempest and continued up to the raging crescendo, after which he began his melodic descent. When Jake hit his last note, Carly gasped with delight. She couldn’t help but marvel at his musical genius. She had never known that about him, as if he had kept it a hidden secret from everyone.
“I told you guys. He’s awesome,” Garrett said, grinning broadly and stretching his hands behind his head.
“You played amazingly well, dude,” Emi stated from the far corner of the room. Emi had introduced himself earlier as the band’s keyboardist and had seemed a bit standoffish toward Jake, as if doubting he could be any good at all. But now his attitude had completely transformed into one of pure respect. Emi approached Jake and shook his hand hard, all the while smiling at the newcomer.
“So, when’s our next practice before this gig at the Gypsy Lounge?” Sid asked Garrett. “’Cause we need to get this guy up to speed before the show.”
“Looks like you’re in, man,” Garrett said, still grinning broadly.