Three Times Perfect
It always seems like an unbearably hot day on graduation. All of us graduates are sweating under our caps and gowns. Even though we are all uncomfortable there is a nervous, excited giddiness rolling through the sea of green. Standing in a crowded room, surrounded by all the kids that I’ve grown up with, I look to my right to see a tall girl in dull red heels, her name is Sara. When we were in elementary school, we were best friends, but eventually we just drifted apart. She got a new group of friends and now her hobbies include; boy watching, drinking, and watching makeup tutorials, none of which I’m particularly interested in. I remember when we would go to her house. We’d had so much fun sliding down the stairs engulfing ourselves in the massive pile of pillows at the bottom. We would dress up and have tea parties. I miss those carefree days.
I look to my left and see a short, nerdy looking boy staring at me. He is my best friend’s little brother. It’s obvious to me that he has had a crush on me for the longest time, however, he doesn’t know that I know. I look down at my feet, trying not to let memories engulf today. This is a day for making memories, not wallowing in them. However, it does seem that the closer this event has been coming, the more memories dredge up from the depths of my mind. Some making me want to get as far away from this place as possible and some making me hesitant to leave. I see in front of my size-seven flats appears a pair of large worn-out dress shoes. I crane my neck to look at the owner of them and see the mousy face of my best friend, Jacob. He smiles at me, giving me the same feeling I’ve always had when he smiles. I immediately feel the grin of the lonely little middle schooler who he asked to hang out with, spread across my 18-year-old face. “You’re late,” I say, tamping down my smile to try to look strict and angry. It doesn’t work… at all. We both start laughing. Our lighthearted greeting gets interrupted by a voice booming down the hallway. It appears that it’s time to start lining up for the precession. I turn back to him and say, “Well, it looks like you slipped in right under the wire.”
“Yeah, it appears that way,” He says, “Are you sure you’ll be able to find your spot? I know that you sometimes have trouble with the alphabet?” He asks me jokingly. He always likes to make fun of my intelligence.
I playfully hit on the shoulder and say, “Just because I’m not a genius like you doesn’t mean that I can’t find my way by myself!”
He nods his head and mouths I know, “It’s just so much more fun to make fun of you about it.”
I role my eyes and turn around, walking in the general direction of the front of the line. When I figure out who I’m supposed to be standing next to I start to procrastinate taking my place in line. I’m supposed to be standing next to Vivian. She’s a very nice girl, but she’s one of the ones who put on so much perfume that it smells bad. I take one final deep breath and step up next to her. She smiles and gives a small wave before looking back down to her phone. I turn to search the end of the line for Jacob. I, being one of those too-short-for-it-to-be-convent kinds of people, have to go up on pointe to be able to see over the mass of teenage bodies. Soon my toes and ankles start protesting to the abuse, so I return to my regular height.
The precession starts moving, so I turn back around to face the front and paste a smile on my face. After we all file through the isle and sit down the ceremony starts. I zone out until my name is called, then I snap myself out of it and make the slow, agonizing trek up to the stage. I receive my diploma and shake hands with a few of the school officials that I never liked. They smile at me, pretending that they care. That’s one thing I’ve learned about my school. The staff don’t care unless it has something to do with sports, the gain of money, or the gain of power. I walk back down to my seat and look at the kids that I’ve grown up with. There are many reasons to leave floating, like little wisps of cloud, around the heads of them. Some want the freedom of being away from their parents, some just believe that they deserve more then what they have. There are some who want plainly to move on, and then those who are tired of the tedious, mechanical brainwork of increasing one’s own knowledge. As for me, in a way, I identify partially with all of them.
I force myself to pay attention of the rest of the presentations. At the end we all throw our hats in jubilee and flow, a tidal wave of freedom, out onto the track to be applauded and congratulated on our survival of high school. Jacob runs up to me, lifting me up and swinging me in a large circle around him.
“We made it!!” he exclaims.
I giggle as he gently sets me back on the ground. “Yeah, we did,” I said slowly. “It was torcher sometimes but yeah we did.”
I hear a voice from behind me call my name. I turn and see a familiar voice and form barreling towards me. I smile again and run to meet my favorite cousin. When we meet, we hug each other tightly.
“I’m glad you made it,” I whisper in her ear.
“Me too! It was close though, we just barely snuck in the door when it started.” Jacob walks up behind us and stands there awkwardly. She glances at him then back at me with a look of sudden understanding. She, being my favorite cousin, is one of the first people that talked to about my best friend/crush. She opens her mouth to say something then I give her a look, begging her not to speak.
“Jacob, this is my cousin, Samantha.”
“Oooohhhhh, I’ve heard a lot about you!” he tells her.
“Likewise,” She replies.
I see the crowd of teenagers slowly starting to make their way to toward the school. I tell her that were not quite done with graduation yet and that we’ll meet her at the house once it’s over.
We have a tradition that all the graduates walk though the school one last time. Staring from the kindergarten hallways then through upper elementary, middle school, and finally high school. It just gives us a little while to go back through the memories of our school career. We all walk through together through the dark school, and even though there are quite a few of us it’s quiet. Most of us are stuck in our own heads, reliving memories of us running down the carpeted hallways or waiting in anticipation for lunch. We remember summer days spent on the playground and cold winter twilights when our parents were late picking us up. All in all, the senior walk through took around 45 minutes. After emerging from the High School, we take one last long look, most of us with mixed feelings. The kids who transferred to the school halfway through don’t feel such a strong attachment, but those of us who have lived here all our lives feel like it’s a second home, in a way. I slowly turn away and start walking toward my car. Jacob runs up behind me and grabs ahold of my hand, a gentle reassuring gesture. We’ve talked about leaving before and it seems that he’s the only one who can see through the façade of needing to go on and never look back. He knows that I’ll miss it here, even if I don’t want to admit it.
We both get in my car and drive to my house. He can’t drive yet so, as his best friend, it’s my job to chauffeur him around. I don’t mind it driving, so it’s not a problem for me. We also decided to host our graduation parties together at my house.
When we arrive, my driveway is full of cars. I’m forced to park on the curb a few houses away.
I live in a fairly small house, but the set up of the kitchen is good for parties and get-togethers. Its got a large table area and a door out onto the back porch, which has a wooden privacy fence and a set of chairs and tables under an awning.
When we walk in a cheer erupts from the room. Since we did the memory walk most of our relatives have not yet had a chance to congratulate us. We quickly get grabbed and passed around the room from embrace to embrace. Once I’m finally able to escape I make my way into the kitchen. I smell nachos cheese and the little pulled pork sliders my mom made. I see her standing in the corner, waiting to help anyone who needs assistance getting food or finding the bathroom. I walk up to her and ignore the wetness in her eyes as I give her a big hug.
“ I’m so proud of you baby,” she whispers in my ear.
“I know momma,” I reply, trying very hard to not tear up.
All throughout the party Jacob and I get our ears talked off, get asked about pans for the future, and are forced to listen to suggestions, and financial plans that neither of us will follow.
Eventually we got bored, politely excused ourselves, and made our way outside to my trampoline. At night we love to sit out there together, watching the stars. It isn’t completely dark yet, but it’s almost there. I find that when I come out here with him, I often feel safe. I feel like the way the light reflects off his pale skin makes the world around us look less dark and ominous. He turns to me with his green eyes and asks, “What? Is there something wrong?”
I look away to the hills, “No, I’m just thinking about this summer and college. I feel like we should go earlier, so that we can have some time to adjust to the environment.”
“I think that would be a good idea, but where would we get the money for the extra time?”
“Well, we could start our jobs a little early, too. Well, I can start mine and you can find one.”
He smiles at the jab, knowing I beat him to that one. “That’s true, but we’d still have to ask your mom and both my parents. They are going with us, remember?”
“Yeah, how could I forget,” I say sarcastically. We’re going to New York, so mom talked me out of taking me car, but it’s going to destroy me to leave it behind. If anyone was ever known to love their car it would be me. I’ve got to admit that my little Honda has gotten me through many rough situations. I look at Jacob and say, “I can’t believe that I’m leaving my poor car behind.”
He looks at me and then we both burst out laughing. “It’ll be worth it,” he promises.
“I have no doubt about that,” I reply. We sit out there in peace for a few more minutes then decide that we should go back inside and spend the rest of the night immersed in the combination of joy and sadness that come with the progression of a life.
The weeks fly by, between finishing track and the start of the summer, both Jacob and I have been busy, but we always try to find time to hang out with each other. A lot of the time we get is after track, he comes over and just chills at my house for a few hours. Usually we end up sitting on the trampoline and talking. Lately most of what’s been on our minds is college. We both asked our parents about going early, I got a surprising reply. My mom said that if we were going to go early, we should go closer to the beginning of the summer. It would give us time to find a church, find a job for Jacob, and start to find our own friends before term starts. Jacob’s parents, however, had a bad reaction to the idea, they said they he should stay with his family as long as he could, after all friends might come and go, but family will always be there. Personally, I agree with my mom, but I’m not going without him, so we really need to work it out. I already feel the summer slipping away, hours and minutes ticking by, a constant drip of water falling onto the cave floor from a half-grown stalactite. Indecisiveness is something that I don’t like about my best friend. He will take hours on a decision that should have taken minutes.
“I know this is really stressing you out,” I pause, not wanting to upset him, “But you do need to decide soon what you’re going to do. I think it will be easier if we stay together, so I’ll probably go with whatever you decide on.”
“I know,” he says, looking down at his hands, “It just seems that no matter what I choose I will be hurting someone.”
“Well to be honest, I don’t think that I would prefer going if I didn’t have the support of my mom. You don’t have to worry about me, I will support your decision, whatever you choose.”
He turns to me and gives me his mischievous grin, I immediately start backing up with the thought of: no, not the grin, what are you planning?! Before I have a chance to get too far, he tackles me and starts poking my sides, which he knows are very ticklish. I thrash around trying to fight him off me, laughing all the while.
“Dinner’s ready,” Mom calls from the porch. Thankful for the distraction I push him off and start sprinting for the house.
Before I can even reach the steps of the porch he grabs hold of my waist and spins me to face him. His smile is bright, and his face is so familiar. I lean my head against his chest and just stay there. It feels so good to be there with him. He makes me feel safe and like everything will be alright.
“Your Mom is probably waiting for us.”
I just nod and slowly let go of him.
Together we walk inside, going straight to the kitchen.
The pizza is good. The cheese sticks to the top of my mouth as I slowly chew on the gooey bread. I really hope he decides soon. I look across the table at him, his mousey face, his slouch, and his messy dirty blond hair. He looks up at me with his green eyes. He puts down his pizza. “Mrs. Cingly, may I ask you a question?”
“Go for it,” mom says.
“What would you do in my position?”
She also puts down her pizza. “It doesn’t really matter what I would do. It’s your choice and you must make it on your own. There are a few things I thing you should think about to help you make the decision. One: Is this what you want and if so, are you ready? Two: What is holing you back? Three: What is another choice, if there is one available?”
He nods solemnly. “Thank you, I hope that will help me decide.”
She smiles at him. “You’re very welcome.”
Once dinner is over, we go back outside and start walking down the dimly lit streets.
“I’m going to miss your mom,” Jacob says.
I laugh, “Yeah, me too. I will still most likely call her like every day though, so hopefully it won’t be too bad.”
“I’m going to miss my parents, too.”
I realize that he’s still trying to puzzle out what he should do. I put my hand on his arm and turn him to face me. “Do you want me to help you answer those questions?”
“That would be nice,” he replies.
“Ok, the first one I can remember is; is there a third option?”
“Well, I mean we could go halfway through the summer that would be kind of in the middle of both plans.”
“Okay, we can talk to our parents about a happy medium between the two ideas. The next one; what’s holding you back?”
He looks at his feet and says quietly, “I’m scared. After we leave, life won’t be the same.”
That hits me. I’ve been feeling the exact same thing. I’ve lived here all my life, it’s been my home. I feel moisture in the back of my eyes and I try to keep my voice from catching as I say, “I feel that too,” I pause, letting the darkness conceal a tear sliding down my face. “The last question.”
“Technically it’s two,” Jacob points out.
I giggle, “Yeah, I guess it is, but you still need to answer them, do you think you’re ready?”
“No, yes? I don’t know. I don’t feel ready but I know that I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.” He drags a hand down his face, “I thought these were going to be easy to answer.”
“When a decision has an effect on the future it is never easy. That’s why you have people who care for you. They are here to help you figure out what’s best for you.”
“I hope you consider yourself a part of that group.”
“I don’t know. I’m too selfish, I wouldn’t think about what’s best for you, I would think about what I want you to do.”
He stops walking and turns to face me, “Which is?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“It does to me.”
I take a breath, “I think that we should go as soon as possible. There will be a long period of change and adjustment. I would feel better if we get that out of the way before school starts.”
“When you say it like that, I agree. My family can’t afford for me to fail any classes.”
I laugh, “If I know you at all then there is no way you could ever fail a class.”
“I’m not perfect you know,” he says, tucking a strand of hair behind my ear.
“I know, but you don’t have to be.”
He smiles, “I needed to hear that.”
“Well, I’m glad I was able to help,” I lower my voice, “The last question is; do you want this? I know it was kind of my idea to go to New York. Is this what you want”
He looks off into the distance. “Well, it wasn’t originally, but I always wanted to stay with you. Also, Berrett has a really good Astronomy program, so even if it wasn’t what I was thinking of originally, I think it will be really good.”
“What did you want originally?”
“Well, I wanted to stay closer to my family.”
“That makes sense.”
“I also want to stay close to you though,” he pauses, “Jen I…”
I shiver as a cold breeze flows across my bare shoulders.
“Maybe we should get you back inside.”
“Wait no, what were you going to say?”
“It’s not important,” He says, turning me toward home. I raise my eyebrow at him, “Seriously Jen, don’t worry about it.” I shake my head at him, and he laughs, “I don’t want you to freeze to death.” He puts his arm across my shoulders to keep me warm and we start the walk home. Even in the darkness, I feel safe in the familiar presents of my best friend.
Hello, this is the first chapter of my finished book Three Times Perfect. I wrote this mostly for young adults, but I think some adults would enjoy it as well. The genre is a little hard to categorize, it's action and romance with gang theme. I think my project is a good fit because I've tried and can't think of any other books like it as well as the fact that the beginning is very relatable to a lot of people. The mix of anxiety and relief about graduating high school and the process of moving to college. The word count is around 59,800 words.
Synopsis - Imagine dreaming of alternate realities. In this novel, Jennifer Cingly does. Her seemingly normal and relatable life takes on an intense challenge after a choice regarding a deadly car crash, she starts seeing visions of two other paths her life could’ve taken. One she knows is safe, another she knows is familiar, and the last is a feeling of utter exhilaration… Sadly it is too late to ask herself what the best choice was. Is she destined to give up her life for a world of gunshots and smoky backrooms or are the fates planning to give her another chance at the life she always thought she’d have?
My name is Bailey Juhl, I go by the pen name Erin Bailey. I am going into my Junior year at South Dakota State University. I am a double major in the French Language and Broadcast Journalism with a minor in English. I don't have much experience with publishing however, I have been entering short stories contests for a long time, one of which is the Scholastic Arts and Writing festival in which I have earned the achievement of Silver Key on multiple works, including my novel, at the regional level.
I hope to hear from you soon, Erin Bailey