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FroM ThE DESK OF :         Jenny Morelli.
 

On the Edge of Then and Now.

Have you ever felt like the wrong people were listening and the right ones weren’t?  

     It’s how I felt that summer between high school and college, between my last days as a child and my first as an adult. I was on the edge of then and now, embracing possibilities, my needs and wants colliding with no instruction manual; with no one to tell me how clueless parents could be, how fickle friends could be, how forceful boys could be.  

     I didn’t know what I could handle until I had no choice; didn’t know what I was capable of until I was forced to find out. I was on the edge of a scream, on a bridge above a creek whose current ran deep inside me as summer shoved away spring and kissed fall; on the edge of space and time, struggling to assemble the pieces of my broken world.  

     Have you ever stood on that edge, just close enough to feel the pull? 

It’s how I felt that summer… 

Chapter 1 

Becky 

Rebecca: 

Maiden of beauty,  

modesty, kindness. Trap or snare. 

~Aunt Becca 

 

    I’m chewing my bite of pizza and staring at the dog-eared page in my aunt’s leopard-print diary where she wrote what our shared name means, copying her words into my notes for my final English project.  

    I love that I secretly found Aunt Becca’s diary a month ago without Mom knowing, but what I love more is how my aunt’s emotions seem to fall out of her onto the page like a waterfall, as if she can only deal with her sadness when she writes it into poems like her bad feelings are friends and not enemies eating away at her until there’s nothing left. What I don’t love is that, in the end, that’s exactly what happened. 

    I tap my pen against my notebook. Trap or snare? Am I the snare or the one being trapped? A shiver runs through me at the thought of my aunt feeling trapped in her own mind up until the day she ended her life. Mom insists my aunt never asked for help as she spiraled.  

    I fold my greasy paper plate into a rough paper plane and soar it into a nearby bin, then pull out my phone to study the latest photos I took of my aunt’s grave, ones I plan to use for my photo-poem project. When I zoom in, the angle of my shot makes it look like her stone is scraping the sky. A monolith touching heaven.  

    It’s weird seeing my name, Rebecca Renolt, on a grave. Weird that we share a name, Aunt Becca and me, but never met, since she died just after I was born eighteen years ago.  

An object in the far distance of the photo catches my eye, something I didn’t see before, a blurry shadowy silhouette near another grave. I squint and adjust my glasses as another chill creeps up my spine. Is that a ghost? 

    ‘Done!’  

    Lisa’s voice startles me back to here and now. She spills her ratty leather bag and denim jacket she painted full of cats onto the table and folds me into a hug, somehow still smelling like bubblegum after hours of working in a pizza place.  

    She falls into a chair, blows a lock of hair off her face. ‘So? Psyched for the party?’ 

    ‘Sure.’  

    I’m more nervous than excited at the thought of another countdown-to-graduation party with my boy-crazed, super-social best friend. I often wonder how we remained friends once boys took over her every waking thought this year, our last in high school.  

‘We better meet new boys tonight,’ she says, wiggling her eyebrows. ‘Maybe even surfer boys wearing nothing but swim trunks!’  

    ‘Uh-huh,’ I say, still focused on the photo as I spiral into a familiar series of what-ifs.  

Ever since I read my aunt’s diary, her thoughts and fears, I’ve become obsessed with her emotional downslide, afraid it might one day happen to me. What if I fall for the wrong boy like she did, someone charming with an uncurrent of anger? It’s why I’ve only ever gone on double dates with Lisa, who’s right now waving her hand in front of my face.  

    ‘Earth to Becky. You in there somewhere?’ 

    I nod.  

    ‘You’re thinking about her again,’ she says with a sigh, glancing at the diary.  

    I shove it back in my bag, where I always keep it. ‘I can’t help it.’ 

    ‘Becks, you can’t live in fear,’ she says for the thousandth time. ‘That’s not living at all.’ 

    ‘You’re right,’ I concede, knowing I never win arguments with her. I crumple my greasy pizza       napkin, hurl it at her. ‘Let’s have fun tonight.’ 

    ‘Yay!’ she cheers, tossing the napkin into a trashcan. ‘Beaches, bonfires and boys!’ 

    Lisa. Always full-throttle. It’s hard to keep up with her, but soon, it won’t matter. She’ll be off to college three states away, and I’ll be in a state school due to my parents’ money-sapping divorce. At least far I’ll be far enough away from their drama to no longer drown in it.  

    I’ve been counting down the days before we graduate and both leave for college. Lisa insists that college won’t break our tight-knit friendship, but lately, the edges have started to fray. I’m absent-mindedly adjusting my glasses and rubbing my half of our Best Friends necklace, the Be Fri half that’s worn smooth after several years, when she grabs my hand, laces our fingers and pulls me up. ‘Come on. You’re late for work.’ 

    We stroll down the cracked strip-mall sidewalk toward the theater lost in conversation until a scruffy dog trots up to us, whining and panting and barking. As Lisa heads to the dollar store for some water and treats, I keep the poor pup company, scratching its floppy ears and squinting in the blazing sun as I look around for an owner, since it has no collar. When Lisa returns, the desperate dog laps up the water she pours into a small plastic bowl as a group of skaters approaches. I spot him as I stand and my stomach does a nervous flip.  

    I tug on Lisa’s sleeve. ‘Jesse’s here.’ 

    He’s wearing a neon-pink baseball hat and white smiley-face tee shirt, executing with ease some difficult skateboard flips on the smooth concrete.  

    ‘Ah, yes,’ Lisa sings. ‘Your movie theater boyfriend.’ 

    ‘Not my boyfriend,’ I argue. Just a cute customer I’ve risked flirting with at work.   

    ‘Introduce me,’ Lisa whispers.  

    My heart accelerates when he sees me and smirks behind his white-framed sunglasses, causing me to smile, too.  

    I adjust my glasses and wave awkwardly. ‘Hey, Jesse. Cool sunglasses.’ 

    He dips his head, squints up at me. ‘Hey, Beautiful.’ 

    My face heats as Lisa elbows me. ‘This is my friend, Lisa.’ 

    He removes his pink hat, smooths back his long blonde hair, his eyes locked only on me. ‘Heading to work?’ 

    ‘Yep,’ I say, still searching for the pup, who ran off.  

    I loop my arm through Lisa’s, pull her along as Jesse’s ‘See you there’ trails us.  

    ‘He’s really cute, Becks!’ Lisa gushes.  

    ‘Maybe,’ I say, still wavering because my friend GK from work finds him creepy, probably because Jesse’s seen every movie more than once but keeps coming back.  

    ‘He seems into you, too,’ Lisa continues. ‘You have to invite him to the beach party!’ 

    I bark out a laugh. ‘Like that would ever happen.’ 

    ‘I’ll make it happen,’ she says, ramping my anxiety up another notch.  

Cade 

    I wake to a humid blade of June morning sunbeam stabbing my temple. 

    A steaming cup of coffee’s under the warped wooden backyard bench I slept on.  

    Curtis’s way of waking me for work.  

    Fender mewls. Weaves between my legs as I sit up.  

    I rub sleep from my face. Wince at my sore eye and split lip from last night’s brawl with Dad.   

    Shake my sweat-damp hair from my face as Curtis comes out.  

    He smells of aftershave and confidence. 

    The bench creaks when he sits. ‘Morning.’  

    I grunt. Gulp the coffee. Drop the mug into the wet grass. 

    ‘You okay?’ 

    ‘Fine.’ 

    I scrape my scabbed knuckles. Fresh blood snakes down my fingers. 

    ‘Need some Bandaids?’ 

    I dip my head. It spins with fresh pain. ‘I’m good.’ 

    He’s like his mother, who died four years ago. Tries too hard to help. 

    Having a friend like him for a neighbor is help enough. Sleeping in his yard is enough. 

    Curtis swishes his coffee. ‘What’s your lineup today?’ 

    ‘Wilson’s Harley.’ 

    ‘Big job.’  

    Yes, it is. 

    His older brother Danny gives me the best customers at Bryson’s, their family’s car shop.  

    And Wilson is our best town cop. I’ll get his motorcycle done today. Priority service for cops.  

    Curtis stands. Stretches. Yawns. ‘Two more finals, then graduation.’ 

    A graduation I’ll miss, thanks to a bad fight with Dad a few months back.  

    Concussion. Blinding headaches. Blurry vision made it hard to read.  

    Fell behind. Dropped out. Not proud of it, but at least I have a job. A good one. 

    Cars are my life. I’ve worked for the Brysons for years.  

    Curtis and Danny’s dad taught me everything he knew before he died. 

    According to his will, I could become part owner when I turn twenty-one. 

    If I can survive three more years.    

    ‘Curtis!’  

    Danny’s holler sends stars through my pounding head.  

    ‘Coming!’ Curtis yells back as I groan for them to shut the hell up.  

    ‘Hurry! We’re late!’ Danny sounds so much like his dad in the morning. 

    Curtis rolls his eyes.  

    Mumbles an apology when he sees me holding my head like it might explode.  

    He plucks my mug from the grass. ‘Shower’s free. See you at the shop later.’ 

    And then he’s off to school.  

    I feed Fender. Take a cool, well-needed shower. Then, Fender and I head to work at the shop.  

    It’s a good job with long hours.  

    A home away from home. And time away from home is good enough for me.  

Chapter 2  

Becky 

Friendly:  

Adj. Kind, pleasant;  

Flirty. Playful attraction.  

Is there a danger to friendly or flirty? 

~from Aunt Becca’s diary. 

 

    GK’s opening the door to the movie theater for Lisa and me in epic GK fashion, with a sweep of his arm, a toilet paper sash draped across his huge frame and a popcorn bucket crown balanced on his mop of woolly hair.  

    ‘Hello, my darlings!’ he sings, striking a pose and waving like a pageant contestant.  

Ah, GK. Everything in this drab world is brighter in his presence. He’s one of two Kevins who work here and has declared himself GK, the ‘happier one with more flare and personality.’  

He’s not wrong about that.  

    ‘Hey, GK,’ Lisa says as I bow and greet him with ‘Well, Hello, Sir Miss America, Sir.’  

He returns my bow, then folds us both into a coconut-scented bear hug, smooshing my glasses askew before tearing off his sash to prepare for the rush, which is more like a trickle on this warm June day; mostly frazzled moms with broods of children eager to see this week’s classic Disney movie replay Beauty and the Beast.  

    Lisa leans on the outside of the counter-island to watch us dance around each other within the small box-office island to sell tickets, candy, soda and popcorn.  

‘So,’ she says with a goofy grin once the lobby has emptied and the movies have begun. ‘Come to the beach bash, GK! Lots of shirtless boys to drool over.’ 

    ‘No thanks, Chica,’ GK says as he counts and organizes the ticket money. ‘I have my man and graduated two years ago, but have fun prowling the boards tonight.’ 

    ‘We sure will,’ Lisa sings, smacking her bubblegum like an exclamation mark.  

    I continue counting the refreshments money, staying quiet until GK hip-checks me. ‘Any prospects on the ocean’s horizon, BB, besides the weird boy who keeps coming in?’  

    He likes to call me that. It’s a nickname he gave me lifetimes ago when I was brooding over something stupid and forgettable.  

    ‘Not yet, GK,’ I say, ‘but you’ll be the first to know.’ 

    Lisa stands up straighter and clears her throat, her eyes glued to something behind me. Not something. Someone. We turn to Jesse, who’s standing at the ticket counter, his white sunglasses now perched on his pink hat. How did I not hear him walk in? I also didn’t notice before that his smiley face shirt says It’s My Birthday Bitch!  

    ‘Speak of the devil,’ GK mutters, walking back to the ticket machine.  

I elbow him and smile at Jesse, wondering how long he’s been there listening to us as I force the butterflies in my tummy to settle.  

    ‘You’re back,’ I say. 

    ‘I am,’ he says. ‘One ticket, please…’ 

    ‘…for Beauty and the Beast,’ I chime in with him, laughing as GK shoots a hard look my way. ‘Aren’t you sick of that movie yet?’ 

    He doesn’t blink as he says no and hands GK the money, casting another glare my way. I adjust my glasses, glimpse a wink from Lisa as Jesse walks around the small square counter to the snacks side.  

    ‘So what can I get you?’ I ask, a little too enthusiastically. 

    Jesse cocks his head, raises a pierced eyebrow. ‘You know what I want.’ 

    My stomach flips again as his superblue eyes pierce through me and some of his long blonde hair slips from his hat, drops over one eye. I do know what he wants. He’s ordered the same thing every time he’s come in. Small popcorn, medium coke. I fill his order and slide it to him, reach for the money he’s holding and for a moment, there’s an awkward tug-of-war when he doesn’t let go, which makes me giggle.   

    ‘You gotta pay to get the goods,’ I joke. ‘Nothing’s free in this world.’ 

    He laughs, but then his smile slips as he strokes my finger before letting go of his bill.  

    A wave of heat rolls through me as I try to compose myself. ‘Thank you, Sir, and enjoy the show. Again.’ 

    As he turns to leave, I add, ‘Oh and have a happy birthday.’ 

    He looks back at me, brows furrowed, and I point to his silly shirt.  

    ‘Thanks,’ he says. ‘I will now.’ 

    And just before he slips into the shadows of the theater, he turns and nods at GK. ‘Nice popcorn hat, by the way.’  

    And then, he’s swallowed by the slow-closing theater door as the film’s prologue concludes, the narrator’s words drifting out toward us: Who could ever learn to love a beast? 

    GK shivers, tears the popcorn bucket off his head. ‘There’s something real creepy about him... but I must admit his style is on point with those cute pink Chucks that match his hat.’ 

    GK calls Converse sneakers Chucks for some reason I’ll never understand.  

    ‘Come on, GK. He’s just being friendly,’ I sigh. ‘He’s awkward, which is kind of cute.’  

    ‘And he’s so into you,’ Lisa gushes from the peanut gallery side of this conversation.  

    ‘Awkward, my ass,’ GK scoffs. ‘He’s seen Beauty and the Beast three times this week. By himself.’ 

    I wave him off. ‘He’s harmless.’ 

    ‘Yeah,’ Lisa chimes in. ‘Harmless and a potential boyfriend.’ 

    I roll my eyes. ‘You never give up, do you?’ 

    ‘You should go for it, Becks.’ 

    ‘Still undecided.’  

    She moans, sprawls dramatically over the counter, long wavy hair spilling around her. ‘You’re awful at making a move. You’ll never get a boyfriend your way.’ 

    I may want a boyfriend, but I sure don’t need one to define me the way Lisa does. I pick up a rag and wipe the counter, smearing congealed butter more than really cleaning, and then he’s here again. Holding his bloody finger out to me like a three-year-old.  

    ‘What the…’ I stutter. ‘What happened?’ 

    He laughs sheepishly. ‘Popcorn box got me.’ 

    ‘What? How’d that happen?’ 

    He just shrugs as GK’s brow hooks up to convey his suspicion.  

    ‘Well,’ I say, turning away from GK’s snarky look and back to Jesse. ‘Sorry about that.’  

    I dig into the small metal First-Aid box beneath the snacks counter and hand him a band-aid, then inspect the smooth popcorn bucket that clearly has no sharp edges. He clears his throat and when I look up, the strip of adhesive is dangling from the tip of his finger.  

    ‘I could use a little help.’  

    I hesitate, taking great effort not to glance at GK or Lisa as I help him fix his finger. When I’m done, I hand him a new bucket of popcorn.  

    He smiles without blinking. ‘Thank you.’  

    ‘You know,’ Lisa says too loud. ‘I hear salty air heals wounds.’ 

    I wince as GK clears his throat to get her to stop, his eyes wide and glaring.  

    She doesn’t. ‘There’s a party at the beach tonight,’ she tells him. ‘You should come.’ 

    His eyes flicker my way and I shrug nervously, so he looks back to Lisa. ‘I’ll be there.’

Jenny Morelli.jpeg

On the Edge of Then and Now is a 70,000 word dual narrative young adult novel whose central charcter, Becky Renolt, is about to graduate high school and is eager to head to college when a date with a cute boy ends in sexual assault. When Becky reports this to the cops there’s not enough evidence, so she seeks to pursue her obsessed assailant on her own.

Becky worries that if she doesn’t stand up for herself, she’ll spiral and lean toward the suicidal thoughts which claimed her late aunt of the same name. When She asks for help from Cade Reeves who witnessed the attack, he agrees, but his own worst fears come true when he starts to fall for her. Deep down he knows he must confess the secret he’s been hiding...

This book would appeal to fans of Ellen Hopkins’ Impulse, which deals with domestic abuse, and Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, which addresses sexual assault and not being heard when crying out for help.

Jenny Morelli is an English teacher who lives in New Jersey with her husband and cat. She enjoys drinking Chai tea in her yard, reading, and writing poems, stories, and novels while feeding peanuts to her many yard pets. She’s inspired by her students and the memories they evoke for her, which have helped her write two young adult novels about self-discovery, self-acceptance, defying expectations, empowering oneself, and breaking cycles of abuse and suicide. Having experienced the effects of abuse and death by suicide, Jenny is also firmly invested in shedding light on these topics to help others. Her hope is that her young readers will feel empowered after reading her novel, and feel like the heroes of their own stories, not victims. 

She has recently been published in the literary magazine Fireworks for a supernatural flash fiction piece she wrote. She’s also written for the non-profit organization Project Write Now, and is part of their Teacher Ambassador Program and their book inc (bookinc.org), a writing collective for writers dedicated to helping each other realize the potential of their work (Project Write Now Author Page). She is also a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

Twitter: @JennyMo31725980
Instagram: @jennymorelli1230
Facebook: @jenny.morelli.90

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