I'm halfway through and am determined it will be out before Christmas.
Children dream of things that can never be – rocket ships, unicorns, leprechauns, imaginary friends, the ability to fly – and yet are somehow never disappointed because, despite what their parents tell them, even if they can’t see their dreams with their eyes, they still believe. Those snatched glimpses, those brief seconds of flight before the bike tires touch pavement…the magic is there, woven into the fabric of every day, winking at them and giving them one of those sly, palm-slide handshakes. Fairies and dragons, magic beanstalks, hidden civilizations and closet monsters – they all exist.
Teenagers dream of the here and now. Cars, fast and shiny. Cell phones. Stolen beer. Late nights out. Chapstick kisses and hands under girls’ sweaters. Perfect hair and trendy clothes, swimming pool summers and gossip-between-classes autumns. Football. Yearbooks. And the lofty notion that if it weren’t for parents, or lack of transportation, if only high school was over already, they’d all be somebody. Fame and fortune are just out of reach and ninety percent guaranteed. Everyone’s a star on the rise. You can do whatever you set your mind to…and all that shit.
Those teenagers grow into graduates, into disillusioned college students who are struck by the unfairness of the world, as shattered as glass on pavement. There are those dogged optimists who persevere in their notion of self-worth. But there are many and more who let go of their dreams completely. Not just the fairytale castles and moon shoes, but the fame and fortune too. The big house on the hill, the thick wallet. All of it turns into hopes for pocket change, groceries and rent.
Jordan Walker was no exception. He dreamed of Olympic medals and golden shoes, of cheering crowds and endless stretches of red track laid out before him. Then he dreamed of state and nationals, of college scholarships. He dreamed of the unending support, the shining face of that angelic, flawless first love that gave him wings.
And then reality reached out with jagged claws and crippled him just as surely as if he’d torn an ACL. Reality was more damaging than any injury.
Jordan stopped dreaming, and he didn’t see any reason to begin again. It was a nasty habit anyway.
“Oh, come on. What the hell, guys? I don’t wanna see that.”
Tam and Jo were in Dad’s oversized chair, making out like they intended to suck each other’s faces off. Jordan caught a very unwanted glimpse of exploratory hands and out of place clothing while he busied himself with shucking his shoes. The two of them broke apart with a sudden leap, red-faced and breathing hard. Jo straightened her shirt and sat back against the arm of the chair, teeth worrying at what was left of her lip gloss, guilty. Tam was at least cool about it, raking a casual hand through his hair and pretending he hadn’t been caught between come here, baby and oh God, I can’t wait till we get upstairs.
“How ‘bout a little warning?” Jo said, indignation coloring her voice. “I thought you were Dad.”
“How ‘bout you guys don’t defile the furniture I sit on, okay?” Jordan returned. He saw a frown forming and didn’t give her a chance to respond, cradling his prized envelope against his chest and going into the kitchen so he could open it under the lights. Forget that it was the middle of the afternoon, he needed all the wattage he could get shining down on the letter when he opened it.
As he pulled out a stool at the breakfast bar, he heard footfalls that signaled he’d been tailed, and he glanced up to see that the busted lovebirds had followed him. He didn’t have a problem with the two of them together – he thought they should just fess up to Mom and Dad about it rather than hide – but it was still an odd shock to be reminded that Tam and Jo weren’t just friends anymore. And Jo, seventeen and high as a fucking kite on the kind of feminine love she usually wrinkled her nose up at, was emotionally invested to a point that worried Jordan a little. He wasn’t her big brother by much, but he was still older, and it was still his duty, to some extent, to make sure she was okay.
“College letter?” she guessed, eyes going to the envelope he’d set on the bar. She put her hands on the counter and an excited gleam stole over her eyes. “Open it.”
Tam stepped up behind her and looped his arms around her shoulders and across her chest, his chin on top of her head. “Where’s it from?”
“University of Florida,” Jordan said, a grin stealing across his face. He could have just said “Florida” and they would have known he meant the home of the Gators, but something about saying the whole title, throwing the “University” in there, made it all more prestigious.
“Open it,” Jo repeated.
The little orange and blue wink of the school’s seal up in the corner of the envelope sent a quick flush of excitement flooding through his system as he lifted it and slid a thin finger beneath the flap. The tear of the paper was almost musical. By the time he had the letter out and began unfolding it, his pulse was thumping in his ears. Jo had both her small hands clasped around Tam’s wrists in front of her, chewing at her lower lip, excited for him, which seemed to amuse Tam in a good natured sort of way.
Before his eyes found the words, he was overcome by a familiar, welcome certainty. He got that way sometimes – certain – so certain he wondered if he wasn’t a touch psychic, deep down, in a secret, curious place. Sometimes, before a meet, before a race, before the starter’s pistol was fired, that kind of certainty was released as if a lever had been pulled, and his whole being filled up with the sure, welcome steam of it. He felt that way now, calmed and cooled by the assuredness that what he thought was in the letter was actually in the letter, and his pulse slowed, his mind sharpened, and he smoothed the paper across the breakfast bar with still, quiet hands.
“’Dear Mr. Walker’,” he read aloud. “’We are pleased to announce that you have been accepted –‘,”
That was as far as he got before Jo gasped excitedly. “I knew it!”
“How many does that make?” Tam asked, and even if not excited, he wore the gracious smile of a friend who was happy for him, and not jealous. Tam didn’t do jealous.
“Seven,” Jordan said. He fought a smile, but couldn’t help it. He detested bragging, but the truth of the matter was, he had a total of seven colleges – to date – trying to woo him with track scholarships.
“And every one of them out of state,” Jo said proudly to Tam.
Jordan glanced up at them, at the smile Jo was shooting back over her shoulder, and imagined how sweet it was going to be to pass the news along to Kelsey. Whichever school he picked, whatever city and state lured him in, she was coming with him. She was already investigating the beauty schools in four states, mapping a future around him, and all those whispered dreams that tasted like wine she’d snitched from her mom and smelled of the thick cedar bench in her backyard were starting to come true.