When I started writing m ‘Pulled’ a few years back, I had never written anything for pleasure before. After I got a taste for fiction, however, I couldn’t get enough. I promptly enrolled in a fiction writing class at the Hutchinson Center here in Belfast, Maine with Professor Jim Bishop (he talk Stephen and Tabitha King back in the day). In that class, the first assignment he gave us was to write a short story about two characters who hadn’t seen each other in awhile. At the time, I was also struggling with my novel. It wasn’t seeming to go anywhere. Enter my short story, ‘The Apple.’ Although this short story doesn’t involve any of the same characters, I found that one character dynamic in the short story was EXACTLY where I needed one of my main characters in ‘Pulled’ to go. As soon as this character revealed himself, the rest of the book wrote itself. I owe a lot to this story and to Mr. Bishop’s class.
Because this piece is so close to me, I haven’t really let many people read it, but you, dear readers, I consider friends. So without further adieu, I give my first real short story.
I saw Jackson sitting exactly where I knew he’d be; secluded from everyone else in this hellish cafeteria. He had positioned himself strategically in the shadows of the room, which when coupled with his punk black V-Neck, and midnight skin made him all but disappear from view. I blamed myself for his isolation from the rest of the school. And so did he.
Staring at him from across the room I almost chickened out. Almost changed course to be the good, little popular-girl everyone else wanted me to be, but then I saw his eyes. The most beautiful chocolate-brown eyes I used to get lost in. The same eyes I turned away from, fearing what they might do to me.
Parading across the room with the full haughty air that was expected of me, I tried desperately to avoid the stares and hushed whispers as I passed by ‘my’ table towards the darkened corner where one only went to commit social suicide. With each step I felt the noose tightening, but I kept walking, needing his redemption.
I flung myself into the hard, metal chair next to Jackson, hearing their thin legs scrape loudly against the freshly waxed linoleum. That would tick off the janitors.
Carefully, I glanced behind my shoulder and saw Zach. His eyes narrowed, ordering me back, but I stayed put knowing I’d be safe here, at least for the moment. He would never condescend to be seen over here.
“Asshole,” I whispered carefully, fearing the betrayal in my tiny voice. I ordered myself to look casual, but all I managed to do was sink deeper into the chair, cowering like a child.
“Asshole, huh? Well, I’ve been called worse,” Jackson said, shifting his guarded posture a bit.
It was amazing, but even under this horrid, florescent lighting he was still radiant. I felt a blush threatening to spread across my face which couldn’t be revealed, so I started to twirl my hair nervously, attempting to hide my face from Zach’s watchful glare.
“You lost?” Jackson quipped. He was trying to play it cool, but I knew him too well; I had his expressions memorized and recognized the gentle playfulness forming around the corners of his soft lips, which made me hopeful that all was not lost.
“No. I’m just stupid,” I sighed.
“Ain’t we all,” he muttered. He picked up an apple from his tray and rolled it over to me. A peace offering? Taking it in my hands, I turned it around absently, placing my thumb against the small circular bruises against its skin. Positioning my mouth over the largest of the blemishes, I bit it off.
“What do you want, Stephanie?” Jackson asked. His voice was thick with annoyance. I was struck by how bitter he sounded. He hadn’t forgiven me yet. Not that I could blame him. I had been weak last summer. I had done the unthinkable and had given into my parent’s orders to stop dating ‘the black boy,’ and crossed over that invisible line to walk with the puppets of the popular.
“What do you want?” he asked again, but this time with such malice that it shook me. Scared me.
“I don’t know, okay? I just needed to sit somewhere else today. Is that alright with you?” Please don’t send me away. Please don’t send me back to him.
“There are 50 other tables in this room. I’m sure any one of them would love to have ‘Queeny’ sit with them,” he spat. His once warm eyes went cold.
And right there–right in that exact moment, my world dissolved. He didn’t want me anymore. I was too late; I had failed.
Although I knew I didn’t deserve to his love, the rejection stung just the same.
“You know what?” I growled. “You were right. He’s not the asshole. You are.”
In that moment, I became acutely aware of the weight of the apple that was still sitting heavy in my hand. My eyes burned with tears that would be forbidden to fall, and I let the apple slip from my palm and onto the floor, bruising it yet again.
Dazed and numb, I turned my back on Jackson, and found my way over to Zack. His arms pulled me hard into his tight, possessive embrace, marking his territory. I could already feel the blood pooling against my arms where his fingers were constricting against my skin, ripening up a fresh batch of bruises the rest of the world would be forbidden to see.