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Fifty First Times: A New Adult Anthology

J. Lynn

  Fifty First Times

  A New Adult Anthology





















  The Corner of First and Second




  A Little Too Scarred


  Once Bitten




  Under the Seryn Moon


  How to Be a Heart Breaker


  Two in the Morning


  Believe in Me


  Sharing Firsts


  Strike Out


  This Is My Sign


  Going for Broke


  For the Sake of Science


  Love in an Elevator


  Bunga Bunga


  With the Lights On


  Field Emotions





  About the Publisher

  The Corner of First and Second


  WALKING INTO A high school kegger was as close to being a goddess as I’d ever get, because nothing parted the sea of my drunk-ass former peers like the arrival of someone who had gotten the hell out of Beauford, Texas. Someone who had done that should be venerated, since it was no small feat.

  Especially for a girl.

  So I strutted through the crowd in my knee-high suede boots and a way-too-short checked skirt from Anthropologie, thankful that a finished semester at UCLA had garnered me some confidence along with a closetful of my roommate’s castoffs. I was probably the only person in the room whose wardrobe wasn’t one hundred percent courtesy of Kmart.

  In this moment, it didn’t matter that I’d spent the previous four years with my nose stuck in a book, or that I hadn’t been on the cheerleading squad—one of the three extracurriculars deemed appropriate for girls as Title IX had never gotten past the school board’s iron curtain. Beauford was a small town, so I knew everyone and everyone knew me, but I wasn’t the type that got drunk on the weekends or the girl who climbed into the bed of her boyfriend’s truck. It was exactly my lack of notoriety that got me out of Texas in the first place and made me a legend tonight. Only two people in our graduating class had succeeded in landing tickets out of town. It was a record year for Beauford High School.

  “Jacqueline Kelly!” A blond mop of hair attacked me with such force that I nearly fell over.

  “Tasha,” I said, laughing as I peeled myself off her. “You’re going to kill me.”

  “I’m not the one wearing sex-me-up boots.” She fanned herself dramatically as she linked her arm through mine and dragged me toward the back patio. It was unoccupied save for a few stoners who fled as soon as Tasha glared at them. Even though it was December, it was still warm enough in South Texas to sit outside, but someone had built a fire in the fire pit for good measure. “You look incredible. Chic and sophisticated. You’re a woman of the world.”

  I tugged at my jean jacket self-consciously. It was one thing to walk into a room of near strangers and feel like the center of the universe, but sitting here with one of the few friends I’d left behind, I was suddenly aware of how much had changed and how much hadn’t. “I don’t know about that.”

  “Whatever,” Tasha said. “California looks good on you. Although I have no clue why you came back to good ole Buttford.”

  “Christmas, remember?” A snort escaped my nose as I tried to hold down a giggle.

  We’d coined that word “Buttford” when we were five, and it still made me laugh. Trust Tasha to remind me of exactly who I was within five minutes of seeing her. She was that type—the girl who put everyone at ease. And fifty years from now she’d still be in Beauford. Girls like Tasha were the heart of small towns like ours. Something always caught them young, growing roots so deep that there was no hope of transplant.

  “Where’s Jesse?” I asked her.

  Tasha shrugged, but her face lit up a little. Tasha’s face had been lighting up for Jesse Buchanan since third grade. Jesse was Tasha’s root system. “Around here somewhere, acting like a damned fool, I’m sure.”

  That sounded about right.

  “Want a drink?”

  She laughed at me, but she stopped when I stared at her in confusion. Tasha had been the get-drunk-on-the-weekends type. For a second her face mirrored mine before she squealed and grabbed my hand. “What am I thinking?” she exclaimed. “You’ve been gone. Jesse and I ran off to Oklahoma! It’s the Las Vegas of the Midwest.”

  That was when I saw the glint of silver on her left hand. Nothing about Jesse Buchanan and Tasha Barnes running off together should surprise me, but I couldn’t quite attach reality to the idea. I had a married friend?

  I had a married friend.

  Question, statement of fact—it didn’t seem to matter. My biggest decision to make at the moment was whether to stay on the university meal plan. Tasha had actually vowed to stay with the same person for the rest of her life.

  I really needed that drink.

  “Congrats! I think that deserves a toast,” I managed to mumble.

  “Maybe it does, but—” Tasha patted her belly.

  “Ohmigod!” I blinked at her, my eyes flashing from her face to the hand resting on her stomach to her face again, waiting for her to say it.

  “I’m due in April,” she told me as the strangest smile settled onto her face. She looked like one of those paintings of the Madonna hanging in a gallery.

  “That’s awesome!” I gave her a quick hug around the shoulders and muttered a jumbled be-right-back.

  I’d been gone for five months and a girl I’d played kickball with at recess was married and knocked up. I was definitely back in Beauford, Texas.

  And then it hit me like a ton of bricks.

  I was back in Beauford, Texas.

  I had returned to a town that was still reeling from the closure of a mannequin factory ten years ago. Beauford was the kind of place where boys were taught that football was religion and girls still took home economics. I’d fought tooth and nail to get out of here and now I’d waltzed back into town eager to show off, hoping I might run into the one person I’d been avoiding for months. But there was no way he was going to be here, because he was smart enough not to come back home, even for a holiday. Once you got out of Beauford, you stayed out.

  Calm down, Jac, I ordered myself. It’s Christmas. That’s all.

  I grabbed for a passing tray, scooping up two Dixie cups and quickly swallowing back the Jell-O shots before I found a beer.

  It wasn’t just being back in Beauford though. I knew that. It was feeling like I was stuck between two stages in my life as though I was waiting for a light to change on the corner of first and second. Who cared if Tasha was pregnant? She was s
till sweet Tasha Barnes. Buchanan, I corrected myself. She was Tasha Buchanan now. Pushing my way through the crowd, I found her lounging in a plastic patio chair.

  “I wasn’t sure if you were coming back,” she said as I pulled another lawn chair up beside her.

  “Sorry. I was a little . . . surprised.” It felt nice to admit it.

  “I was, too. I mean they tell you you can get pregnant, but I never really thought about it.” Tasha’s hand was resting peacefully on her stomach still. If she was upset about the baby, it didn’t show.

  “Was it an accident?” I asked, but I wished immediately that I could take the question back.

  Tasha giggled and shook her head. “It wasn’t exactly planned, but considering we were fucking like bunnies as soon as we came back with that marriage certificate, I can’t really say it was an accident.”

  We lapsed into silence after that. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. Tasha was going to have a baby. She was married, and I hadn’t even . . .

  Hell, I couldn’t even finish the thought.

  “You seen Wes?” she asked me as though she could read my mind.

  I shook my head so violently that the beer I was holding spilled onto my lap. “We don’t keep in touch. New York is pretty far away.”

  “I thought maybe you two were getting together,” Tasha said. “These things weren’t really your scene back in the day.”

  Back in the day? Had I imagined the wistful tone in her words? Sure, I hadn’t been one to go out partying. In fact, I’d only gotten drunk once before leaving for college, and it was the memory of that night which made it completely and totally impossible that I was here to see Wesley Asher.

  Tasha raised an eyebrow, her face shadowy in the night. I guess it was my turn to surprise her. Wes and I had been inseparable once. Best friends. He was the reason I’d managed to stay focused enough to get out of Beauford and get into UCLA on scholarship. He’d kept me from going goo-goo-eyed over a boy, and I’d done the same for him with girls. Consequently, we had secured a matching set of get-out-of-Texas-free cards. Mine courtesy of UCLA and his from NYU.

  And I hadn’t thought about him in seven months. I hadn’t let myself. A jagged pain tore through my chest thinking about him now.

  “I just thought I’d stop by,” I said. “Is Wes back in town?”

  Why had I asked her that? I didn’t care if Wes was in town or not.

  “ ’Course he’s in town,” Tasha said. “He’s here tonight.”

  My vision swam and for a moment I forgot that I’d had two strong Jell-O shots and most of a beer. Instead I was back in a nondescript room at the Holiday Inn, rolling in my underwear on the queen-sized bed and swigging out of a nearly empty bottle of Boone’s Farm. I’d lost my dignity that night, but that was all I ended up losing.

  “Oh.” It was the only word I could remember in that moment.

  “Sorry.” Tasha leaned forward and bit her lip. “I didn’t realize.”

  “Realize what?” I asked, already planning my exit strategy. If I was careful I could climb over the padlocked gate and bypass reentering the party altogether.

  “That you were still in love with him.”

  Whatever I thought she was apologizing for, that was not one of the possibilities. “I’m not in love with him!”

  Tasha looked like she felt sorry for me.

  “I’m not!” I repeated. Wanting to see him didn’t mean I was in love with him.

  Her gaze drifted from me and paused on something over my shoulder. “Good, because he’s coming this way,” she announced.

  I shot to my feet. “I need to go to the bathroom.” But as I turned to scurry inside, I came face to face with Wes.

  No, that wasn’t quite right. I had to look up to Wes, which was a first. He must have grown half a foot since I saw him last. I didn’t even know growth spurts were possible at our age.

  “What they got in that New York water?” Tasha struggled onto her feet, looking more pregnant than she had five minutes ago. Or was I that oblivious?

  “God knows,” Wes drawled. Half a year in New York and he still sounded like a South Texas boy. I bet that drove the girls up there nuts. That and the fact that his new height had lengthened his torso, and if I wasn’t mistaken, he’d clearly been working out. A set of nicely chiseled abs were visible under his tight, gray V-neck. Gone were the baggy, plaid shirts of high school; Wes looked every bit the New Yorker from his artfully tousled dark hair to his tight jeans. The boy who took me to prom last year was all legs and arms—a tangle of awkward, skinny limbs. The man standing in front of me now was anything but a boy.

  His brown eyes skimmed over me, but his face remained passive. “Jac, it’s nice to see you.” Cold. Informal. There was no hint of friendliness in his tone, even though up until seven months ago we’d been best friends. Could I blame him for avoiding me after that awful night? I hadn’t even tried to see him before I left town.

  Wes turned his attention back to Tasha, and as he did I noticed faint stubble peppering his jawline. It was dark black like his hair. “I hear there are congratulations in order.”

  “Someone has to stay in Beauford and have babies.” Tasha smiled as she patted her belly. “With you two gone, we were going to have to redo the population sign.”

  “I only went to college. I haven’t left forever,” Wes said, but I heard the lie in his words. He’d take Texas with him wherever he went. I knew that, but I also understood that there was no going back to a town like Beauford after you’d escaped it.

  Just the thought of leaving school had made the air around me feel heavy and too hot. I was too far from the ocean here, and the world of Beauford felt dry and beige, each piece of its landscape a muted shade of brown. I didn’t know how Wes felt about New York, but I already ached for the vibrant sprawl of LA and its tall, yawning palm trees. I even missed the billboards pressuring you to see the latest Hollywood release or watch the newest fall television show. Soft, sandy beaches and the Santa Monica pier.

  “Yeah, you have,” Tasha said in a soft voice, but before he could deny it, she held her hands up to stop her. “I don’t blame you. I just wish you’d gone together.”

  I wished the ground would crack open and swallow me up. We were never together.

  Wes and I had made a pact to lose our V-cards on prom night, which other than being a bit cliché was the perfect solution to our predicament. There was no way in hell either of us was sticking around for the other person, and that meant no chance of getting trapped in Beauford.

  No one in Beauford’s 2013 graduating class was a virgin—except Wes and me. And if everyone in a podunk town in Texas had done it, sure as shit everyone in two of the largest colleges in the country had, except for maybe the super-religious types. Plus I’d known Wes forever. If I couldn’t strip down and let him stick me with it, how would I ever expect to lose it in LA among my vastly more experienced classmates? After all, my roommate, Jen, had already done it with three different guys.

  “Now y’all are on the opposite sides of the Earth.” Tasha interrupted my thoughts. New York and LA were hardly the other sides of the world, but I bet it felt that way standing in Beauford.

  “I’m not really a California kinda guy.” But his face said something else: I’m not really a Jacqueline kinda guy.

  He had made that clear on prom night when he’d failed to follow up on our plan and reinforced his rejection by dropping me off the next morning and avoiding me for the last seven months.

  “Excuse me.” I held my cup upside down. “Empty.”

  “When did you start drinking?” Wes asked, frowning as I pushed past him.

  About the same time you became a dick. I wanted to say it out loud, but I couldn’t, and I knew if I did, I would cry. In the kitchen, a group had gathered to play quarters and I jumped in, pretending like I knew how to play. Before long I’d lost track of how many beers I’d had to chug. A guy from my graduating class stood behind me, hovering close to my ear and urging m
e to drink more. I was just about to start on a line of shots when Wes yanked me away.

  “What are you doing?” I yelled at him, trying to pull free.

  “I’m getting you out of here before you make a fool out of yourself.” He led me toward the front door, past Tasha and Jesse, who were saying their good-byes to a few people. Tasha reached to hug Wes, giving me the chance to run. But all I did was take a few shaky steps back.

  “I don’t need you to take care of me.”

  From the look on Tasha’s face, I realized that my words had sounded clearer in my head, but I put a hand on my hip, hoping to look assertive.

  “This is not you.” Wes’s voice was calm and even. I bet he hadn’t had a drop tonight.

  “How would you know? You haven’t talked to me in seven months.”

  “Why are you drinking like this?” Wes challenged me.

  “I’m drinking like this because you didn’t fuck me!” I was pretty wasted, but even I knew that everyone was staring. So much for my goddess status.

  And then Wes did the last thing I would have ever expected. He walked over, grabbed me around the waist, and threw me over his shoulder, carting me out the front door to the cheers of the crowd.

  I tried to kick at him, but my coordination had been undermined by the drinking games.

  “Stop,” he said.

  “Where are you taking me?” I shrieked as he dropped me into the passenger seat of his rusty F–150. “I have got a cell phone with tracking enabled on it.”

  “Jacqueline Kelly, you’ve known me since we were six weeks old,” Wes said as he slid behind the wheel and shoved his keys in the ignition. “I’m not a serial killer.”

  “Take me home,” I commanded him.

  “You smell like you fell into that keg,” he reminded me.

  Good point. My mom would flip if I came home like this.

  “I’m taking you by Queenie’s. You need something in your stomach.”

  I didn’t try to argue with him, and when we pulled into Queenie’s drive-in, the familiar scent of fries and burgers made my mouth water. Wes ordered enough food to feed the football team, but when it came I ate more than I thought possible.

  “This is so good,” I told him, my mouth half full of french fries.