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When Life Gives You Lemons (Preview)
We all want things.
The reality of it all is that the only thing that keeps most of us holding on, is in the back of our minds, a little flame is lit, reminding us that no strings are left loose in the end.
In the end, everything makes sense, somehow. Always.
The way I see it, the end is never close enough.
The Chapter Before One
“Worthless brat.” He hissed, like a snake digging its fangs into its prey, his words stung. No more than usual, but they still stung.
Okay. Maybe that analogy wasn’t the greatest, but I’m running out of things to say about my monster of a stepfather. Snakes are pretty vicious, right?
He squinted and me and his bottom eyelid twitched a little. “Keep your comments to yourself from now on.”
“Ditto.” I seethed. Oh this? This little spat was nothing. I was just getting warmed up. “It’s really none of your business anyways. You’re not even my father.” How many times have I pulled that one on him?
“You wretched little—“
The vase came in contact with the wall and my mother’s picture of a wolf howling at the moon came crashing down, just as shards from the broken glass clinked to the floor.
“You can’t tell me what to do,” my voice was low and raspy. “You can’t even get my name straight.”
“If I had it my way you’d be in foster care!” He roared.
“Up yours, Keith.” I snapped and stormed upstairs.
“I’M NOT FINISHED WITH YOU.” He bellowed at me.
I slammed my door so loudly, I’m surprised the walls didn’t just collapse there on the spot. He hollered a series of curse words at me, only I drowned him out as I cranked the volume of my speakers to the max.
I glanced briefly at my calendar.
Three years, three months, and exactly one more day, and this dump I dare call home would be out of sight, out of mind. I’d be onto new things, new adventures, and on the move.
Once I’m eighteen, I thought, I’ll never stay in one place ever again.
When the sheets suddenly get hot and sticky, and no matter how wide your window is open and how fast your fan is spinning, there are just some nights that are positively unbearable. I hate those nights. If I’m not sleeping or eating, I’m thinking. And those restless nights leave me nothing to do but reminisce. Being alone with my thoughts is a dangerous scenario.
That particular night, the air was humid felt like sweat.
So I replayed the scene with Keith I’d had less than an hour before. The clock read 1:34 am, and though my eyes ached from being open, even when I closed them I could still see Keith cursing at me.
My mother was in LA for the weekend.
Keith was without a doubt drunk.
The neighbors had phoned our house, telling us to keep it down.
I hadn’t had dinner.
What else was new?
I pictured myself, twenty-something and out of college, bright-eyed and open minded, exploring the world. Staying in Greece for a year or two, maybe being a fortune teller in Rome for a couple of months, settling in a Barcelona villa for a little, or moving along to Paris to live in an apartment. It all sounded so glorious.
I fell asleep to the soft hum of my speeding fan and an image of me floating along the Reno di Lei on a gondola.
The light streamed into my room, illuminating every little detail—the lyrics and poems scribbled along my walls, the cut-outs and paintings tacked to the doors, pressed flowers dancing up from the floor to the ceiling, and little home-made paper lanterns strung from one side of the room to the other. Every time I walked in, I felt the drape-y, gypsy-like feel and let myself get lost in the vibrant colors and silky fabrics.
I’d awoken to a rude rap at my window—a woodpecker, and a dumb one at that—and rolling out of bed, I didn’t even have to sneak a peak downstairs to know Keith was gone. I realized if Keith could leave, so could I. He couldn’t lecture me for “running away” when he was supposed to be the one taking care of me.
The house felt empty, so I turned up some music and danced my way out of the comforts of Dreamland, allowing myself to wake up in the real world.
And so began yet another lazy day in June. You know, when the sun stays up for hours after seven, and the grass is always soft and warm, and you could just sink your toes into the mud forever, even if the soccer moms stare. I like those days.
They’re like countdowns, until the first day of summer.
The morning I woke up, the morning after my screaming fit with Keith—where he’d called me a worthless brat for the umpteenth time—I packed up a little bag, stuffing it with deodorant, a toothbrush and toothpaste, my phone (even though my mother wouldn’t call to ask where I was, and I wasn’t planning on picking it up even if she did) and its charger, and three Ziploc’s full of my Starbursts.
I’d taken my bike around town for a few hours, stopping here and there to get maybe some free smoothie samples, or piece of gum from a stranger, until it got dark. I’d slept in an alley way between a Rite Aid and a Barnes and Nobles, using my bag as a lumpy sort of pillow.
The next few days continued on like this, wandering from place to place, sleeping in alleys or park benches, behind or on play-structures, brushing my teeth in public restrooms, getting free bottles of water from Starbuck’s. My phone never buzzed once, so after the third day I just turned it off. I’d ridden by Florence’s Book Store a couple of times throughout the days, but it was dark and empty. Disappointed, I’d ride away.
By the fourth day, the Starbuck’s barista told me I’d have to start paying for my beverages, so I waited until he took his break to sneak three more bottles into my bag. This way, I wouldn’t bother him for the next couple of days, and he wouldn’t get fired for handing out free drinks. It’s a win-win situation.
That night, I slept on the trunk of a truck that’d been parked outside VONS for the past three years. I figured the driver wouldn’t be coming around any time soon.
Day five, however, was different.
That particular day, June the 18th, was the day that I went into Hannah’s Coffee Shop, for the first time. I’m not really sure why I even did it. I’ve passed by Hannah’s for quite some time, in fact, I knew the whole Belmonte Valley Strip Mall like the back of my hand. (Maybe due to the fact that’s where I’d been sleeping for nearly a week.) I never once bothered to go into the little coffee shop.
But I was bored.
Bored with sleeping on itchy grass fields.
Bored with getting kicked out of Starbuck’s.
Bored with the workers in the outdoor mall asking me if I needed to use a phone to call home.
So I headed towards Hannah’s.
Reaching into one of the Ziploc bags, I pulled out a lemon Starburst. I always like to carry them around. I have them ordered, specially, so that I can buy a bulk of 400 in all the same flavor. It’s a bit ridiculous, actually, to have so many lemon Starburst lying around my room, but that’s how I like it.
I don’t know what I expected to find there, in that shop, because I did not have any money. But my feet carried me in anyways.
It smelled like vanilla and strawberries, in Hannah’s. It was a sweet, sugar coated smell. Like pink 50s skirts and peppy cheerleaders thrown into a giant blender. Normally, I would have walked away immediately, but I guess something there made me stay. A faint Priscilla Ahn song played from a speaker in the corner. The clinking of silverware in the kitchen in one ear, the quiet chatter of two ladies in the other.
The feel of Hannah’s was warm.
I walked to the counter.
“You’re the girl everyone’s been talking about, right?” The boy at the cashier asked me. His smile was relaxed and easy. He looks a little young to have a job, he can’t be much older than me, and I always thought you had to be sixteen to get a job permit.
“Sorry?” I squinted at him.
“The girl, who practically lives here.” His grin was nearly taking up his entire face.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I brushed him off, coolly.
“Alrighty then,” he shrugged. “What’d you like to order?”
I fished around my pockets. Luckily, nobody was behind me, because I knew I would be a while. I found some knick-knacks, but unfortunately, no mooh-lah, at least not American.
“What can I get for a Starburst wrapper, half a paper clip, a Canadian coin, fifty pence, and the corner of a receipt to K-Mart?”
I must’ve seemed dead serious, because he looked at me—really looked at me—trying to read me. Then he chuckled.
In my head, I remembered: Take nobody seriously. They will, indeed, disappoint you in the greater scheme of things. I did not say this aloud.
“Depends on the flavor of the wrapper, no?”
Skeptically, I glanced down at my palm. It was lemon, what else?
“If it’s orange, you’ll have to buy your drinks elsewhere. Strawberry is tolerated here, but certainly not green, it’s much too tart.” He continued, as if what I was about to receive next all depended on the flavor of my wrapper.
“Well, lemon’s tart.” I countered. Who was he to have anything against tart? Personally, I liked sour.
“Lemon’s the best, though. It’s got just enough kick to the tart, that it’s sweet. Lemon is accepted.”
I handed him the lemon wrapper and waited for his next move.
He walked over to the blender and began throwing things into it, like strawberries and a sliced fruit I couldn’t quite make out, and mixing every now and then, some pink liquid with yellow liquid. I studied him, carefully, wondering what he was brewing. I didn’t mean to notice all of this, but it was hard not too. I also took note of a few other things. One, he had dark skin. Like coco beans. Two, he had stunning brown-green eyes. I’d never seen anything like it before, and I wondered what ethnicity he was. Three, no facial hair. I don’t know why I even bothered to think this to myself, but ever since I was a little girl, I’d told my mother that facial hair was icky. And four, he seemed to have this recipe memorized, because he didn’t glance once at the mixing chart.
He scooped some ice, the cube kind—not sharp and edgy—and tossed it into the blender as well. Then, finally, he finished with a grand finale, by making a big show of pressing the blend button.
When he handed me my cup, I just stared at it. I must have looked rather stupid, because he handed me a straw and said, “you’re kind of supposed to drink it.”
And I did.
It was a strawberry-lemonade smoothie.
My best friend isn’t a blended-juice person. She would have smiled and walked out, if she were in this position and not me. But I didn’t leave the shop, because strawberry-lemonade smoothies are kind of my favorite.
I guess Lemonade Boy picked up my vibe. “You like it, huh?”
I nodded, then sipped some more. It was cold. And sweet. But there were just enough lemons to make my lips pucker in such a way, I think he might have though it was too sour.
“I can make another one, sweeter, if you want.” He offered, now seeming intensely interested in what my verdict was. But it didn’t seem like he wanted to. Make it sweeter, I mean.
“Please,” I scoffed, sounding haughtier than I intended, “I can take sour.”
“So, I suppose this means you don’t like things sweet?”
Who was this guy, anyways?
Right after I’d thought this to myself, I caught a glance at his name tag. Apparently, he was Simon Jones. And Simon Jones seemed to be the nosy type.
Just like Keith. He always had to know where I was going, who I would be with, and why I was leaving. But he knew the answer to all of these. I was always going to the Belmonte Valley Strip Mall, about two miles from our house—which is where Hannah’s Coffee Shop is, I was always alone, and I left because I hated him. I wondered if this boy even cared what I thought about his drink. Maybe he’s really not even interested. He’s just humoring me. Besides, who cared what I had to think about a summer beverage? My opinion was inferior, I’d thought.
“I do,” I said cautiously. “But when things are too sugary, sometimes I question whether or not—“
“It’s good for you?” He says now, startling me.
I pause, and then sip some more. I’m realizing just how citrusy it tastes. And how he said exactly what I’d been thinking. I like it. The drink, I mean, not him.
“Jasmine.” I say, before I can think. First I’m letting him know I prefer sour over sweet—it took me months before I told Erica, my best friend, my pallet preference—and now I’m introducing myself? No, no, no. He is a male, and all males have a tendency to lie about small, mediocre things and big, important things. Males do that.
“What a pretty name… Like the tea, no?” Simon states, simply. I notice he does not tell me his name. If I wasn’t reading his face, right now, I’d think he was being dry and sarcastic—bored, even. But the look he has on is not bored. It’s alert, and friendly. Like he wants to know more.
I nod, slowly. “Yes, like the tea.”
I suddenly ached to pour out all my angst from the past several days.
“Well, the next time you come, try the tea. We have iced.” And he gives me a winning smile. “And bring more lemon wrappers, if you’re out of money.”
I would have been offended, because he is implying that I’m broke. But I am not offended because it is true—I am broke. And there is something about the look in his eye and the hint in his words, “the next time you come,” that make me wonder—instead of doubt—when I will be back again.
I nod, for the umpteenth time that day, and know this is my cue to leave. I stuff the paper clip, receipt, and foreign currency in my pocket and head out the door, suddenly realizing I’d been clutching them all tightly in my fist the whole time I was talking to Simon Jones. I was… nervous.
My pence is now warm and clammy, and the Canadian coin is dull, not as shiny as it used to be. The reason I have all this foreign currency, is because I travel. The Canadian coin was a gift from my sister, Tarren, when she went to Vancouver with her girlfriend, Lees. (Her real name is Lisa-Anne, but she prefers Lees.) The pence, is from the time my biological father, Hiram Finneley, went to Europe with my mother years before they split. He brought me back £500, which is a lot of U.S Dollars, and about £10 of it was in change. I carry some pence wherever I go, and I was surprised that I even brought it out when Simon asked what I had. I never take out the pence, unless I’m putting it in my jar by my bed.
The whole walk to Florence’s Bookstore, I wonder why the pence left the cozy ditch of my worn-out denim cut-offs.