He once read in a fiction-writing book that the first line of a novel should pull you into the center of the story. So you'd think by the number of times he'd dreamed this story in his mind that he'd have been able to come up with a better opening line than this, but he couldn't. Because as many times as he'd dreamed this, he never for a second thought that he'd actually be writing it someday, so he was never able to create that perfect opening line.
His name was Zared Richard and contrary to family rumor, it wasn't a mistake. His two older brothers like to say that in the hospital when his father asked his mother what she wanted to name him she mumbled "Jared", his father mistook it for Zared, and put it on the birth certificate before she could correct him. In reality his mother had always liked the name Jared but due to a bad experience with an ex-boyfriend never wanted to inflict that name on her child. Just before he was born she came across Zared in a name book and thought it was a nice compromise.
Not that anyone remembered his name anyway. He was known as the writer of the "mystery-girl poetry", an identity which he thought he'd outgrow when he graduated high school last year. Now there he was, a freshman college student and he was still known by his poetry.
Of course, when the year started, Zared had tried to shed his reputation for the "mystery-girl" poetry. He tried to write about other things, other girls, anything else. No matter how hard he tried, his writing always came back to Sara. Come to think of it, everything in his life always seemed to start with Sara.
He was now living in a Boston University dorm which he shared with Shane Dillon, one of his best friends in the world. Every weekend Shane visited his family at home in Lowell, Massachusetts while Zared spent his time pretending he had a single room.
Shane never did nor will have a problem with girls. He was like Fonzie on "Happy Days", all he had to do was snap his fingers and they were at his side. As for Zared, he'd never had a girlfriend in his entire life.
Not that Shane appreciated them. With a new girlfriend every other day, Shane had left a string of broken hearts all over New England. His current was Annalise, a female version of Shane. Never had a serious relationship, never wanted to. That was why Zared was so surprised that they'd been going out for two whole weeks, a record for both of them.
"Are you sure you don't wanna come home with me?"Shane asked for the fifth time that day. Zared didn't know why he bothered anymore, since he rarely decided to come.
Shane crammed the last of his things into his forest green backpack."Your loss, man. I'll give Sara your love."
The only way that Zared could think to describe Sara was that she was an angel. She seemed to know it too, by the way that she had a fetish for jewelry and clothing that said "angel" on it. Zared always found himself staring at the chunky ring and necklace she always wore. With unnatural-looking (although completely real) blue eyes and long waist-length blond hair, she was the picture of perfection. Her smooth and fair skin only made him want to touch her more.
"So you're positive?"Shane asked, snapping him out of his Sara-induced trance.
Shane shrugged. He didn't know why Zared never wanted to come. Especially since he knew how much Zared liked his little sister. Oh well, Sara wasn't even going to be there. At least he didn't think so.
"Hey did Alyssa tell you that she and Sara are going to visit Mac tomorrow?"Shane asked him.
Zared nodded."Yeah. We talked on-line last night when I was finishing my paper."
"The killer one for Mr. Olsen?"
"The one and the only."
"You actually finished it? It's not even due until next week."Shane stared at him in disbelief.
"I wanted to get it out of the way."
"You're getting just like Sara. She still finishes stuff months before it's due."
"Yeah, I know."Zared glanced toward his guitar."Hey, are we still having band practice on Sunday?"
Shane slung his backpack over his shoulder."As far as I know. Hey, I'll have Sara remind Mac and you call Chris, okay?"
"Sure. See you Sunday."
"See you Sunday."
As Shane closed the door Zared let out a sigh of relief. Sometimes he really missed being alone. Shane and his endless parade of girlfriends could really get annoying after awhile. Especially for Zared. It was hard being friends with him when he'd never even kissed a girl before. Not that it was something he told many people. That was one subject that he preferred to leave untouched.
He lay back on his bed and reached over to the night stand, grabbing the falling-apart pad of hotel stationary that he and Shane used for an address book. He flipped through it, looking for Chris's number. Ah, there it was. Chris Daniel. Zared dialed the number. Busy. Figured.
With his big toe Zared expertly hit the "on" switch on his ibook laptop computer. He knew Chris well enough to know that he had to be on-line. Staring at the ceiling he decided to try Alyssa while he waited for it to boot up.
Zared was surprised when he recognized the voice. Mrs. Johnson never answered the phone."Is Alyssa home?"
"Zared! Of course, she's upstairs. Let me call her."
"Okay."He waited tapping his fingers against the phone until he heard Alyssa's familiar voice.
"Hey, Zared. What's up?"
"Not much. Just trying to call Chris but it was busy."
He heard her laugh."Let me guess, he's on-line?"
"That's what I figured."He smiled."I was actually about to go on but I thought I'd call you and say hi first."
"I'm surprised you aren't already on-line yourself."
"Hey! For your information I am not as big of a geek as he is."
"Stop making fun of me. You'll hurt my feelings."
"Hey, is there a point to this call? 'Cause I'm supposed to be at Sara's like right now."
He racked his brain, knowing there was a reason."Oh, yeah! I wanted to ask if you wanted to hang out with me around lunchtime tomorrow while Sara's with Mac."
"Bless you."He could hear the relief in her voice."I was dreading spending the whole day with those two. It's so boring it makes plucking my pits sound fun."
"Plucking your pits? Didn't I explain I don't want to hear about all your female things."
"Well, gee Zared, if I wanted to make you uncomfortable I could discuss waxing my bikini line."
"Ew! Alyssa!"He hated it when she said stuff like that.
"Sorry. Hey my mom's calling me so I've gotta go."
"What's she doing home anyway?"
"Her boss made her take a day off."
"Yeah. Personally I wish he hadn't 'cause she's been making me miserable all day. Anyway, I'll come by tomorrow around lunchtime, k?"
"Okay. Bye, Alyssa."
"Bye, geek boy."
* * *
When Zared saw Alyssa the next day standing in the doorway of his room he marveled at how she always managed to match her outfit with her hair. Today's outfit included purple and orange camouflage pants, a black tank top with orange paint splattered on it, and orange fingernails. Everything was tied together with the purple streak in her currently shoulder-length black hair. As if all that wasn't enough, he spied the that the black canvas sneakers that she was wearing had one orange lace in the left one and a purple lace in the right one.
"Hey,"she called, walking up to him.
"How did you get in here?"Zared wanted to know."There are no girls allowed on this floor. Who did you flirt into letting you up?"
Alyssa shrugged."I dunno. Some kid with nice eyes."
"You're impossible."He rolled his eyes.
She grinned."I know. So, where shall we go for lunch? My treat, I watched those bratty Thompson twins yesterday and their parents pay like ten bucks an hour."
"I thought you were never subjecting yourself to the torture of even being in the same room as the Thompson twins again."
"Did I mention that they pay ten bucks an hour? What can I say, money talks."
Zared shoved his sneakers on and grabbed his jacket."Wanna just go to Starbucks and get some decent coffee?"he asked.
Alyssa tapped the foot with the orange lace impatiently."You drink too much coffee."
"I need it."
"So you keep saying. How about you escort me shopping and we grab some fast food somewhere?"She gave him her best puppy-dog eyes."Please? I haven't been shopping since-."
He cut her off."Last night?"
"Please, Zared? I'll get you some coffee on the way."
"Deal."He knew that she would give in and buy him coffee. She always did. They always had the same fight about him drinking too much coffee. Then she'd give in and buy him a cup. That was one of the reasons that he loved Alyssa. She was a great friend, she stated her opinion, then let him do whatever he wanted to. After all, he never mentioned the fact that her hair changed color practically every day, almost as often as Shane changed girlfriends.
He followed her through Boston, knowing that he'd need more than one cup of coffee to survive a day of shopping with Alyssa. Especially if he was going to be expected to go with her to meet up with Sara and Mac later, which he was sure she would make him do.
Mac McMillan was actually his cousin, although he hated thinking that they were from the same bloodlines. Actually, mean as it will sound, he hated Mac. How could he not? After all, Mac had the girl that Zared wanted the most in the whole world. That was his biggest regret, not telling Sara about his feelings before she met Mac. Thinking about it wouldn't help things though, so he put the thought right back out of his mind.
"Oh, my word! That's so cute!"Alyssa squealed, dragging him into some consignment shop he'd never seen before. In one of the front display windows he spotted a neon green pair of shoes that probably made the original owner look like an idiot, but would look amazing with some other strange accessory in her wardrobe.
He groaned when he caught a closer view of the shoes. They appeared to not only be platform heels, but covered with some sort of fuzzy fabric or fur."Come on, Alyssa. Do you know how many Sesame Street monsters had to die so those shoes could be made?"
She rolled her violet eyes at him. He was pretty sure that they used to be brown, at least before she discovered colored contacts could be made for people with 20/20 vision."They're funky and I like them."
"Didn't I see a commercial that made fun of someone buying shoes like that?"
As usual, she ignored him and bought the shoes, which the store-owner insisted that her conscience wouldn't allow her to charge more than five bucks for.
Alyssa dragged him into several more stores, one of which was so girly that he was sure that anyone who saw him there would think he was gay. The day was just getting worse and worse.
"Forget coffee,"Zared mumbled when they finally made it back to the dorm,"I need a valium."He flopped down on his bed and stared at the ceiling.
Alyssa rolled her eyes.
The phone rang.
Zared looked over at her, hoping she'd pick it up for him so he didn't have to move.
She smiled, sweetly.
He groaned, rolling over to grab the phone."What?"he asked.
"Zared?"It was Mac.
"How are you?"
Zared sighed and switched ears."Fine. You?"
"Not to be rude or anything,"Zared said, rolling his eyes at Alyssa,"but does this call have a purpose?"
"Actually it does. Sara and I were wondering if you and Alyssa would like to join us for lunch."
Immediately Zared perked up."Sure. Where are you guys going?"
"Fanieul Hall. You know, that little Italian place we always go."
He should have known. Mac always went to the same place."Sounds good. Meet you there in a half hour?"
"I'll see you there. Bye, Zared."
Alyssa was now giving him a strange look."Where are we going?"she asked.
"After what you did to me this morning you should just go where I ask you to, no questions asked."
"Hmmm,"she said."Let me guess... Mac called and he wanted to invite us to lunch. And... we're going to... that little Italian place he always takes us."
Zared threw a pillow at her.
"Am I right?"
Zared sighed."I need coffee."
* * *
"And I got the cutest shoes,"Alyssa was telling Sara.
Zared rolled his eyes at Mac, who glanced at me knowingly."You know how Alyssa is."
He laughed."She has very unique taste."
"That's one way to put it,"Zared muttered.
Alyssa kicked him under the table."At least I have taste,"she retorted.
Zared glanced down at his T-shirt which said "Pearl" on the front and "The best way to play the drums" on the back."What's wrong with the way I dress?"he wanted to know.
"Too,"Alyssa searched for the right words,"um, I don't know. You look like you should be in a band."
"I am in a band."
"You don't play drums,"Sara reminded him.
"It's Shane's. I forgot to do my laundry this week."
"Mom probably did it,"Sara mused."Shane would never so his own laundry."
"True,"Zared agreed,"but still, there is absolutely nothing wrong with my shirt."
"If you say so,"Alyssa muttered.
"Anyway,"Zared said, turning back to Mac."Are we still planning on practice on Sunday or are we just scrapping it this week?"
"Doing it,"Mac said immediately."We might actually have a paying gig and we need the practice."
"Paying gig?"Alyssa looked at Zared with a confused look on her face."I thought they usually pay you guys to stop playing."
Zared rolled his eyes."There's a new club opening near the campus and they're looking for college bands. We're pretty far down on the waiting list, though." He was actually pretty excited, and, despite Alyssa's teasing, he thought that they might sound pretty good. All the live playing they had ever done had been at open mic nights and he hoped that that appearance might open the door to more club dates as opposed to kareoke nights.
He sighed. And maybe someday Sara would come and hear him play. She'd never been to see them before. Mac didn't care if she came so he always said that she didn't have to, but it really mattered to Zared. More than she'd ever know.
* * *
Alyssa tried to concentrate on the highway ahead of her, but all she could think about was how much she wanted to be living on her own like Zared and Mac were. Sara was fast asleep in the passenger seat, just like she always did on their way home from Boston.
Alyssa turned the girl rock group that had no talent but lots of angst that music was their only outlet for up a little. Sara stirred a bit, but she knew that no matter how loud she played the music Sara would sleep soundly through it all.
Stuck in traffic, and now bored out of her mind, she pulled out her cell phone to check for messages. She was obsessed with checking her voice mail for messages, like she had been when she first got an e-mail address. Since keeping it on all the time wasn't an option (the battery ran out way too quickly), she made up for it by checking for a voice mail about every ten minutes.
"Hey, Alyssa, this is your mother,"the single message began,"I just wanted to let you know that I probably won't be home until real late tonight, so if you're not staying at Sara's you'll have to find your own dinner, you know, fend for yourself."
I always fend for myself, Alyssa thought. She couldn't remember the last time her mother had cooked dinner. She couldn't even remember the last time that she had eaten dinner with her mom.
"Anyway, maybe I'll see you in the morning,"the message continued.
"Fat chance,"Alyssa muttered.
Alyssa unhappily turned off her phone.
Sighing, she turned the radio up even louder, like she was trying to tune out all thoughts of her mother. Now, happy only because the music was blasting in her ears and the bass almost making the car shake, she decided to plot her newest hair color.
She'd had the black for almost two weeks now and it was definitely time for a change. She stocked up on dye in advance so she could make last-minute changes without having to run to the store. In fact, she seemed to remember a color called "Crimson Princess" that she hadn't tried before. That, and maybe some sponge curlers, would provide enough of a change to satisfy her.
The traffic was now beginning to clear up and she turned the music down to a more ear-friendly level, now not needing the loud distraction anymore.
* * *
When Sara woke up, she was very confused. She was in the car, but it wasn't shaking from the loud annoying chicks-with-major-PMS music that Alyssa was usually blasting in her ear. All in all, things were pretty peaceful.
Of course, Alyssa wasn't even in the car. That certainly explained things. There was a not on the dash saying that she'd wanted to get home in time to dye her hair. That was Alyssa, always torturing her hair by stripping it and then forcing it into anther color. Probably a very unnatural-looking color on top of it all.
Sara took a quick glance at the clock to prove that it was now almost nine at night, and she just knew that she would not sleep at all that night because of her really long power nap. What she really wished was that Alyssa had woken her up when they arrived, instead of leaving Sara in her car, sleeping in her driveway. At least she'd had the foresight to lock her in, unless of course her mother had done that when she'd discovered her after work.
The trunk was empty, so she assumed that Alyssa had at least put her duffel bag in the house. She never left for Boston without a change of clothes with her, just in case she had to stay on short notice.
"Look who's risen from the dead,"her father remarked as she stepped inside, still a little groggy from the nap.
"Hey, Dad,"she said, sitting down next to him on the couch."Is Mom already in bed?"
"She isn't home yet,"he said, turning up the TV to hear some report on the news about elephants in Africa.
Sara had been about to go upstairs and get ready for bed when she stopped in her tracks."She isn't home yet?"she repeated.
It had taken Sara a little time to get used to the fact that her mother now worked outside the home, and that she wouldn't be home when she came home from school, baking cookies like she had in the past, but it was nine o'clock in the evening. Where in the world could she be."She still at work?"she asked.
Her father nodded."Said she had to work late tonight and to not wait up for her."
"Oh,"Sara said softly, heading upstairs. Everything was so different now.
* * *
I love you. Those were the three words Shane had been planning on saying to Annalise that night. Before he could even start to though, she had actually broken up with him. Part of him was crushed because he had really thought that it was love, and part was just hurt because no girl had ever dumped him before. Sure, he'd broken more than his share of hearts, but he'd never really known what it felt like until then.
"Are you all right?"Zared asked, surprised to see Shane before Sunday afternoon.
Shane had returned to the dorm, not needing to hear the hoots of laughter that he was sure would come from Sara's mouth. All he wanted to do was go to bed and ignore everyone. That, of course, wouldn't happen with Zared still awake.
"She dumped me,"Shane said simply.
Zared's mouth dropped open, most likely in disbelief. Frankly, Shane couldn't blame him. Those were three words that he's sure never thought would come out of his mouth. Girls never dumped him. They never even contemplated it. He practically had a waiting list for who got to be his next girlfriend.
Zared examined him closely."Are you okay?"he asked, probably already knowing the answer. He was most certainly not okay. He'd never told a girl that he loved her before, and on the night he was going to, she told him that they "had different needs". What the heck did that mean anyway? Different needs, what a load of crap. That was one of those excuses that guys used on girls to try and avoid making them cry too much. Like "I need some space" and "Its not you its me", which translated mean "you're driving me nuts" and "it is so your fault". He knew those excuses. In fact he'd used them more than once. But being on the receiving line of them did not feel good.
In answer, Shane shrugged and flopped on his bed, examining a greasy stain on the ceiling where he'd squished a particularly large bug. He knew his mother would probably be a little hurt that he'd left before she came home from work that night, and without saying goodbye, but he had not wanted to be there. He could just hear Sara's laughter. She always delighted in all his problems. Sara of course had no problems. "Little Miss Perfect" got perfect grades, the perfect clothes, and dated who she considered the perfect guy.
Of course, there really was nothing with Mac. After all, he was his friend and played bass guitar in him and Zared's band. He was just a little, well, boring. One of those people that always ordered the exact same dish at restaurants. Somebody needed to spice that boy's life up.
First Shane was going to need to spice his life up again.
* * *
Around midnight, Shane decided that there was no use trying to sleep anymore. Instead he spent half the night watching two of his favorite movies, Waterworld and Battlefield Earth. Afterwards, he left the dorm quickly, before Zared could wake up. He heard him stirring as he was closing the door. Figured. The guy slept through an entire night of sci-fi movies and was only disturbed when Shane tried to leave discreetly.
He wandered around campus for a few hours, finally stopping to eat some disgusting fast food breakfast sandwich that Sara always said was going to clog his arteries. Funny, because that was the girl who ordered the double cheeseburger meal, super-sized.
Band practice had been scheduled for noon, so he was forced to return to the dorm to pick up Zared and drive to Chris's house. Chris still lived with his parents in their house just outside Boston. It was closer than Lowell, so he had been keeping his drums there ever since he, Zared, and Mac headed off to college.
Chris didn't think that he had any need for college. Probably not, considering he was a brilliant self-taught guitar player. While chances were that the rest of them would end up with minimum wage office jobs, there was no doubt in anyone's mind that Chris was going to go places. In fact, Shane wouldn't be surprised if there was a Grammy in Chris's future.
* * *
"Hey look, the talent's here,"Chris joked as Shane and Zared stepped into the garage.
"I didn't know you cared,"Shane muttered.
Chris gave him a strange look, wondering what was up with the bad mood."Who says I was talking about you? I mean our song-writer over here,"he said, motioning to Zared.
Zared really had saved the band. A few years before, the only talent they'd had was Chris, and he couldn't write song lyrics if his life depended on it. They'd named the band Blank Paper, because that was all they ended up with when any of them tried to write songs.
Then Shane came across one of Zared's poems that he'd scribbled on a paper towel and forgot at his house. He'd thought it was really good, and when he showed it to Chris, Chris had said that they were the perfect lyrics to a chord progression he had just come up with that day. That and the fact that he was pretty good himself on the guitar led to Zared's speedy initiation into the band.
While Chris and Zared fooled around waiting for Mac who was continuously late, Shane sat behind the drums and waited silently, spinning a drumstick. He wasn't in the mood for jokes.
"Dude, are you ever on time?"Chris called out as they caught sight of Mac trudging up the driveway with his bass guitar in it's case.
Mac shrugged and started to hook the guitar up to one of the amps that looked like it could produce more sound than a nuclear bomb. In reality, Chris's mom had picked it up at a yard sale for a quarter and it never made more than a loud purr. However, when you connected it up to another amp. with about as much power left in it, they made a pretty decent sound. At least enough to last them until they could get some decent equipment.
They quickly played through a few simple tunes that they usually could play in their sleep, but everyone noticed that Shane wasn't playing to the best of his ability. First he was too slow, then when he tried to catch up, he was too fast. That wasn't like him.
Zared decided to take the pressure off him and pulled out something that would be fresh for everyone."I wrote something new,"he announced, passing out copies to the guys.
Then he sat back and watched nervously as everyone read them over."So, what do you guys think?"he asked, looking like a little boy who wanted a gold star on his paper.
Chris looked up at him and shook his head."I think if you ever leave this band we'll be sunk. You got a potential number one right here, dude."
Zared grinned. They always said the same thing when he showed them a new song, but he was always still so scared that they'd hate it.
The next hour or so was spent trying out various chord changes to try and find something that fit. Chris had a binder full of ones he'd come up with so they went through that, attempting to find some sort of melody that could work. Usually he didn't care how they used his lyrics, but he insisted that the song had to be a ballad.
They ended practice with a few of their best original songs, and without finding the right melody to go with Zared's latest creation. He wasn't concerned though, knowing that if anyone could write the perfect melody and chords, it was Chris.
"You don't have to talk to me you know,"Zared said, breaking the silence of the ride back to the dorm.
"Good,"Shane said. That was it. He just wasn't ready to talk yet. He just wasn't.