Monday 3 June 2013

Orangeberry Book of the Day - Living Backwards by Tracy Sweeney

CHAPTER 1 - Jillian

I learned an important life lesson at Carrie Picalow’s slumber party when I was just ten-years-old: Horror movies are awesome…until it’s time to go to sleep. Sure they’re fun for two hours while you scream with your friends, but the following eight hours spent squeezing your eyes shut and attempting to fall asleep are torture. I made a vow to stay away from horror movies from there on out, but it never really worked. If I knew there was a scary movie on, I’d flip by the channel to get a peek. If I felt particularly brave, I’d stop and watch for a few minutes with my fingers partially covering my eyes. Even though I knew I shouldn’t—even though I knew I’d be up all night staring at my closet convincing myself that there wasn’t a scary little girl or a deranged clown inside—I’d watch. I couldn’t stop myself. And just as I would have predicted, I’d spend the rest of the night huddled under my covers.

I got the same feeling every time I stared across the room at the computer on my desk. When I’d sit down and open up my browser, I wouldn’t just check my email. I wouldn’t check the weather or the local headlines either. No. Even though I knew I shouldn’t—even though I knew it would only irritate me—I’d do something worse than watching a horror movie. I’d log onto Facebook.

Thanks to the so-called geniuses behind Facebook, suddenly people felt compelled to broadcast every thought, idea or mindless observation in their head on a minute-by-minute basis. But the worst part was that I couldn’t look away. It probably wouldn’t bother me as much if I actually knew any of the people complaining about having to go to work or needing their morning coffee. I didn’t. Not really. My timeline was full of people whose names I knew—kids who went to my high school and lived in my town—but I wouldn’t call them friends. Sure, I remembered that I had chemistry with that guy, and lived down the street from that girl, but I didn’t hang out with them. Or anyone really. Now, over ten years later, I knew every detail of their lives.

Last week, Tyler Burroughs tagged our whole Reynolds High School class in his Twenty-Five Things About Me post. I couldn’t understand why he thought I’d be interested. I hadn’t seen Tyler in over a decade and I barely knew him then, so I could say without a doubt that I didn’t care that he was still a terrible driver and almost lost his license twice. I didn’t care that he went to Comic-Con and met Joss Whedon in the men’s room. Unless Joss was whipping out long lost Buffy footage, it didn’t interest me. But for some reason, I kept coming back. Facebook had become the horror movie I was destined to watch every day of my life.

I blame my best friend Danielle who practically forced me into creating a profile. “Everyone is on Facebook, Jillian,” she informed me. “Even my papa. Don’t you want to be cooler than my papa?”

I couldn’t argue with that logic so I gave in and joined the world of social networking. Now thanks to Danielle, I was able to view people I barely knew discuss high school parties I hadn’t been invited to, dances I’d never attended and places I’d never been.

It really wasn’t her fault. High school was different for Danielle. We went to the same school, but we didn’t exactly run in the same circles back then. She was popular and outgoing, and I was…well…mute.

Looking back now, I didn’t have a lot in common with that girl anymore. People change. And in my case, for the better, I think. I left the shy me back in the school library, eating lunch alone and chatting with the librarian because everything was different once I left Reynolds, Washington, for New York City.

It was during Summer Freshman Orientation at NYU that I ran into Danielle. Literally. I was walking through the quad daydreaming when I nearly plowed over what I thought was a small child. My backpack and papers went flying in the air, and I landed flat on my ass.

“Jillian Cross!” she exclaimed. “What are you doing here? How did I not know you were going to NYU?”

I winced from the pain in my behind and looked up into the pale blue eyes of Danielle Powers. Danielle was someone I had occasionally said hi to, but it was never much more than that. She was in my World Lit class senior year, she was exceptionally perky, and after bouncing off her, ridiculously sturdy for such a small little thing. With her button nose and short, stylish bob, she reminded me more of a cartoon character than an actual person.

“Danielle, wow,” I stammered, suddenly feeling self-conscious. “I didn’t know anyone else from Reynolds would be here.”

“This is fantastic! Do you have a room assignment? We need to change it. You have to room with me and Megan.”

Megan Dunn, Danielle’s best friend, was practically an amazon—tall, beautiful and fierce with long, flowing blonde hair like the supermodels I envied as a kid. Megan was stunning, but she scared the living crap out of me. Although every guy in our class would seem to lose control of their motor functions in her presence, Megan never seemed to care. She actually always looked like she wanted to kick someone’s ass. Rooming with her sounded scary, but if I truly wanted a change of pace—a new life—I felt like I needed to say yes…and then make sure she didn’t want to kick my ass.

There was something about our friendship from the beginning; we just clicked. I wished I had known that in high school because it felt like we were destined to be best friends. Danielle pushed me to break out of my shell and live instead of watching life pass me by. And Megan, not so fierce after all, could always see through my bullshit and set me straight. She became my rock.

So when we headed back to Washington after graduation, Megan found an apartment in Seattle near an Irish pub that serves amazing nachos. It was only a couple hours away from Reynolds so that was useful, too. Danielle worked long hours as the co-owner of an interior design business. Megan scored a position at one of the area’s most prestigious art galleries, and I spent my days researching ways to remove stains from household furniture and water rings from wood tables for Homegrown Magazine.

Looking back, it was hard to imagine how I survived without them. Knocking Danielle over in the quad that day changed everything for me. I probably wouldn’t have been on a first name basis with the school librarian if I had figured out how great they were a lot sooner. Although Judy was lovely and her book club friends were very nice, they were kind of geriatric and not a lot of fun on a Saturday night. I would have given up the pass on late fees in exchange for the memories Danielle and Megan had of high school parties, dates and proms.

It was Danielle’s belief that I should make up for lost time. After insisting that I set up a Facebook account, she then decided that we actually needed to see these people in person. I nearly had a heart attack when she announced her plans for an informal high school reunion. I suddenly felt the need to retreat to the closest Reference Room for comfort.

“Jillian, I don’t understand why you’re so upset about this. You have us now,” she reasoned. “And this is your chance to show all of the people who never got to know you how awesome you are. Plus, you’ll get another peek at the Reconstruction of Sarah Spellman.”

After going to a less-than-reputable surgeon for a breast augmentation, our former classmate’s boobs were now crooked. We didn’t run into her often—only every now and then—but when we did, I couldn’t help but stare. The asymmetry was almost hypnotic. Like if you looked at them long enough, maybe they’d realign. That’s what you get for buying a plastic surgery Groupon.

“As much as I’m just dying to see Sarah’s bad boob job again, it’s not enough to get me excited about a high school reunion.”

“You can always bring Joan,” she replied.

Danielle knew my weaknesses well. Joan was my beautiful, pink rhinestone flask, a gift she had given me for my twenty-first birthday. Joan was my savior. Danielle named her after she caught me talking to myself one night in the midst of a particularly rough evening with Captain Morgan. Like Joan of Arc, I had been hearing voices, too. My voices, however, were alcohol-induced and coming from a pink, sparkly inanimate object. C’mon Jillian, you deserve a break. C’mon Jillian, you know you think he’s cute. C’mon Jillian, you love this song. C’mon Jillian, it’ll be fun.

It had been one of those typical drunk college girl evenings where I threw myself at a guy in my Philosophy class, danced on a table, fell off said table, twisted my ankle and ended up getting carried back to our suite by some burnouts who reminded me of Beavis and Butthead. When Danielle came home, I was pouting while nursing my throbbing ankle.

“It’s not my fault!” I cried, defensive under her condescending stare. “My good old buddy Joan wanted a shot at Mark Jensen. I mean have you seen that boy’s—”

“Jillian, honey, I’m so glad that you’re letting loose and enjoying yourself. Truly, I am,” she began carefully. “But it’s time to ease up on the cocktails once you start chatting with your flask. Talking flasks are not cool. Okay?”

But the truth of the matter was that I had more fun when Joan got me into trouble. I had spent so much of my time hiding in the library in high school. I wanted to go to parties and dance on tables and kiss cute boys. Joan helped transform me from the quiet girl who ate lunch in the library by herself to the charming and mildly-alcoholic woman I was today. And I liked that.

It had been Joan’s idea to go to the party that night. C’mon Jillian, you deserve a break. It was Joan’s idea to jump on top of Mark Jensen and shove my tongue down his throat. C’mon Jillian, you know you think he’s cute. It was Joan’s idea to dance on that table. C’mon Jillian, you love this song. And it was Joan’s idea to tell Beavis that I’d go to Laser Zeppelin with him the next weekend. C’mon Jillian, it’ll be fun. Unfortunately, in that case, Joan wasn’t right.

But even now, years later, Joan still had my back. Uncomfortable work function to attend? Trusty flask in my purse. Stuffy interior design conference with Danielle? Flask in my purse. Football game with Megan? Flask in my purse. No, Joan didn’t actually speak to me, but she always heard me when I needed her.

Sitting at my computer with a glass of wine by my side, I read through my timeline again. There was a message from Sarah Spellman in my inbox.

Danielle told me that you’ll be at the little soiree on Saturday night. I completely forgot that you even went to high school with us. Isn’t that crazy!? I always think of you as Danielle and Megan’s roommate. I’m sure we’ll have time to chat about good old Reynolds High on Saturday. Kisses.

God, I really hated Facebook.


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Genre – Chick Lit

Rating – PG13

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