Two Days Until The Dance
He presses harder on the accelerator, his foot twitching inside his sneaker. His is an easy life, one he’s taken for granted for years, but now … now … things are so different. Jack Byers lives only for Lea Wright.
Jack comes from the richest family in Landry. They live on a hill, overlooking the valley where most of the town barely exists since the recession began, yet he’s never really been as bad as the rest of his family. Sure, he has movie star good looks, with his shoulder brushing mink brown hair, green eyes that tend to sparkle with repressed laughter, and a build that put him on the football team long before he entered school.
“Gotta hurry.” He glances at the clock on the stereo of his hot Mustang, wincing when he sees that he only has fifteen minutes to make it to school. “I won’t have enough time to track Lea down if I don’t get moving.”
The surprise he has planned for his girl will drop her jaw against the tile floors of Landry High School. Of that, Jack is so sure that he’s betting their relationship on it.
Oh, Lea, you have been so good for me. I was such a jerk until you came around.
Not that they’re a couple just yet. He hopes what he has in store for her will change that. For the first time in his life, Jack feels deeply for a girl—deeply enough to actually believe he’s falling in love.
A smile tilts his lips when he thinks of what he has in store for her today. She always tells him to keep his massive allowance for important things, like saving for the future. As far as he’s concerned, she is his future. Today will prove that to her.
They’ll graduate in a couple of months, three and a half to be exact. Everyone expects Jack to attend one of the more famous Southern colleges—famous for their football teams. He has to admit that those schools—Alabama, UT Knoxville, UGA, and Florida State—did try to recruit him, but he’s more than a jock.
“Thank you, Lea.” Jack swings around a slow moving tractor. “You showed me that I can actually like myself.”
His life until he literally ran over Lea in a hallway at the beginning of this year consisted of sitting through his classes, pretending to ignore the teachers while acing every single lesson, and being Landry High’s outstanding player on the football field. The local media came up with the most ridiculous excuses to interview him all year long, not just when the gridiron dominated the news. Girls fought each other on the off chance that he might ask him out, and Jack was totally bored with the whole scene.
Until Lea, nothing about his life appealed to him. Not his membership in Beta Club, where only people with high grade point averages had a chance of joining. Football had become a bore this year, and Jack hadn’t done his best on the field. Who cared if they won another championship? What would that do for him once football ended? And it would end. He is sure of that.
“Damn.” Jack swings the wheel of his Mustang, passing a school bus indicating it’s turning off the road at the last second. “What’s up with you anyway?”
He spares a glance at the bus, loaded with small children. The kids stare back at him, their expressions solemn, not happy as one might expect a couple of days before Valentine’s Day. None of them point at him and exclaim how they just saw Jack Byers.
“Weird.” Jack returns his attention to the road. “Shit!”
A massive black cloud moves toward him with the speed of a meteor slicing through the atmosphere. Within that cloud, red-orange flames shoot out. He can’t stop or turn around.
“No!” His desperate cry vanishes when the Mustang mashes into a large object he can’t make out.
Lea Wright stares in a mirror and giggles. She can’t help herself. So much good has happened to her this year. The only bad thing was her parents moving to this small Southern town only a week before she began her senior year.
“I thought I’d die living in the South.” She touches her reflection in the mirror. “That sure didn’t happen.”
A native of Seattle, Washington, she arrived her with her parents ready to hate all things Southern. Then Lea met Jack—and he turned her world upside down. Her smile widens while thinking about how he went out of his way to make her feel welcome without also causing any undue attention. Jack’s bluster and seeming inattention around most of the others in the school is more to do with his hatred of how people think he believes he’s entitled, when the opposite is true.
“Time to hurry up.” She blows a kiss at her reflection. “He’ll be here soon.”
She walks out of the bathroom and into the usual morning rush to breakfast and class. Lea isn’t very hungry… well, actually she is but she always waits for Jack to join her. He’s the one that introduced her to biscuits and sausage gravy, to fresh fruit and buttered biscuits, to scrambled eggs, a sausage patty, biscuits, and plain gravy. Every Southern breakfast—actually every Southern meal—she’s tried has given her a thrill.
Maybe it’s not the food. It might be Jack.
All she’s really sure about is that the food always tastes magical when he’s there beside her, explaining very old traditions and never once making fun of her when she’s not sure about something, like okra.
A group of girls amble past. All of them are grinning and carrying heart shaped balloons. She’s been told that it’s tradition at Landry High for couples to receive these balloons with their names on them in the days before the dance. Because she and Jack aren’t officially a couple yet, even though they won’t go out with anyone else, she’s certain they won’t get one each to tie around their wrist and wear all day.
“Did Jack ask you to the dance yet?” Trinity Davis asks.
“He’s supposed to today,” Lea says. “All he would do last night was hint at it.” She rolls her eyes. “Frustrating.”
“That doesn’t sound at all like Jack.” Trinity’s eyes go wide. “And he’s never dated anyone else all year.”
“So?” Lea shrugs her shoulders. “It’s not like we’re an official couple.”
She tries to act nonchalant but the thought of Jack dating another girl scares her. Lea tries not to think about that, but the terrifying scenario creeps in during moments like this—when he’s already ten minutes late showing up for school.
He sent me a text that he was on his way. What’s taking him so long?
Then memories she always suppresses try to rise to the surface. She shoves them into the corner of her mind, where all things related to Seattle are.
This is not happening again.
“Eating this morning?” Trinity asks.
“Waiting on Jack.” Lea forces her smile to be natural, to show none of the fear consuming her. “We always eat together.”
“He’d better hurry. Bell’s about to ring.”
Trinity leaves, soon catching up to her friends. Lea moves toward the rear door, to watch for Jack to drive into reserved spot one.
Those that ride the buses hurry into the building. She stares past the big yellow buses, toward the parking lot. A few students are running toward the doors, but spot one is still empty.
Lea retrieves her cell phone from her bag and sends him a text.
Waiting on you. Are you going to be late?
She stares at her phone, hoping he’s not in traffic and can answer. The bell rings, dragging her back to reality. This is the first warning. Only ten minutes until class starts.
Once the second bell rings, Lea reluctantly heads to her classroom. Her heart hurts so much as she tries to come up with a good reason that he isn’t around.