CHAPTER 1: Life Could Be Worse

"Ahh, this is the life," Hailey Manning stretched her curvy-tan figure on the lounge chair, "Least until tomorrow anyway." The thought of returning to Ferndale High School was the last thing on her mind. So much that she did not have her new class schedule nor did she really care.

"Yup, this is as good as it gets." Madie sighed, adjusting her sunglasses. She, unlike Hailey was looking forward to strutting through the hallways of Ferndale High once again. Besides, Trent Vickers would be there – late of course, but he would be there nonetheless.

Peering over her sunglasses, Hailey eyed friend. "If this is as good as it gets, kill me now."

"Ya know, it could be worse." Jenna pointed out. When she finished, she questioned her own words as she stared out at the barren land before them; nothing more than a few large rocks and stubbles of dried grass sprouting from the desert sand.

"Not much worse." Hailey reached for her margarita, thankful for lack of supervision by her parents, who were gallivanting about, only God knows where.

"We could be guy less." Madie bit her lip, the thought almost terrifying. Ferndale, California was nothing more than a wasteland. Dee's Diner, the only one of its kind was an occasional pit stop for hungry semi-drivers coming off the highway and a place for teenagers to loiter. Ferndale was not short of bars of course – most of the town's money coming from the pockets of sloppy drunks.

Hailey was not concerned; although the idea of being, 'guy less' did have its obvious downsides. It would give me a reason to get the hell outta this shitty town, Hailey thought.

"I stand corrected." Jenna broke the silence.

"We should do something tonight," Hailey propped herself up, "Go out ya know, do something. This margarita is just not cutting it."

"Did you forget?" Jenna leaned to look at her.

"Forget what?"

"School tomorrow? Books, homework, teachers?"

"Oh that, "Hailey snorted, "And school is at the top of my priority list." She rolled her eyes; of course, Jenna, miss-newspaper-editor and honor-roll student would remember school.

"Yeah, can you say lame?" Madie jumped in, trying to hide her enthusiasm.

"Besides, we are seniors now. We shouldn't have to show up for the first day, " Hailey complained, "I mean all you do is sit in a stuffy room, at a very uncomfortable desk and list to the teacher babble on about the upcoming year."

"So what did you have in mind Hail?"

Hailey shrugged, "I don't know. I said we should do something. I didn't say I had a plan."

"Well, count me out."

"Not a problem." If Jenna wanted to run home early, that was fine with Hailey. In fact, even better – Hailey did not need Jenna complaining, dragging down her evening.

Looking across the yard, Hailey waved and gave her best smile.

"Who you looking -." Madie paused, watching Levi Danvers come across Hailey's dirt yard.

"Ladies." Levi greeted them, not blind too their barely there bikinis. "Don't mind if I interrupt."

"Please do." Jenna smiled sweetly at her boyfriend, as he squeezed beside her on the lounge chair. "I thought you were out with Trent?" She caressed his arm.

"I'm on my wait out right now."

"Where too?" Madie asked, more interested than intended.

"The High School. Gonna play some basketball."

Trent and basketball, now that is a place to be – Madie bit her lip.

"How about we all do something, less…boring?" Hailey spoke up, "Go get Trent and tell him to call his brother and have him buy us some more drinks." She raised her margarita glass, before taking a sip.

"Isn't his brother in jail?" Jenna asked aloud.

"Since when?"

"Madie." Hailey clapped her hands, "Concentrate here."

"Hail its Sunday."

"Yes, Levi. I know that." Hailey sat up, Boyfriend just like girlfriend, she thought. "Why is everyone being party-poopers all a sudden? I bet if Trent was here, he'd wanna party."

"Call him up, but I gotta go." Levi sighed, turning to his girlfriend. "I don't think I can handle listening to Trent bitch for being late."

"What time is it?" Jenna reached for her purse. She knew that her mother would be home soon and absolutely exhausted from working all day. She decided she better get home to feed her siblings before their father came home. Besides, she wanted to spend some time with Levi, even if it were only a few minutes.

"Almost five o'clock." Madie glanced at her watch.

"Can you drive me home?"

"Sure." Levi nodded, as he stood slowly.

"So let me guess, your out too?" Hailey scowled at him. She had given him this look several times before, even when they were younger. But even more lately, since he met "miss goody-goody."

"That I am." He stretched, "Maybe later in the week we can do somethin'."

"Like Friday?" Jenna added, gathering her bag of clothes.

Friday?

Friday?

Hailey crossed her arms over her chest, "Fine, do what ya want. But you two are missing out."

"We can do something tomorrow."

"Tomorrow? Now there's an idea Madie. Good one."

"I'm glad I could help." Madie bit her tongue, Hailey's sarcasm obvious.

"Let me take that." Levi reached for Jenna's bag that overflowed with clothes.

"Oh thanks."

"Oh-thanks," Hailey mocked quietly as she reached for her margarita.

"Easy on the booze ladies." Levi directed his attention to Hailey.

"Cheers." She raised her half-empty margarita glass. I'm only getting started she smirked.

"See you girls tomorrow, bright and early."

"See ya."

"Bye Hailey." Levi stressed, waving them off as they walked towards Levi's house.

"Those two make me sick," Hailey shivered.

"Maybe it's the margarita."

Ignoring Madie's comment, Hailey could picture them making out across the torn leather seat of Levi's Chevy truck. "Oh God, c'mon." She stood abruptly, the images burning into her brain.

"What, where?"

"Where the drinks are. C'mon, let's go."

As they drove down Main Street, Levi glanced at Jenna, who was staring up at him.

"What?" Levi felt his cheeks grow warm, "Why you lookin' at me like that?"

"What, can't I look at you?" He reached for her hand. Her body grew warm, their fingers now intertwined. Levi Danvers was definitely not hard on the eyes; his shaggy golden hair, bright blue eyes and a hot, muscular body to match – he was indeed the perfect package.

"So how was your day anyway?"

Hesitating, Jenna could hear Hailey's voice echo in her ears. "It was uh, fine?"

Her answer made Levi smile; he knew Hailey all too well, she had a tendency to speak her mind and think later, or sometimes not at all. He was proud of Jenna for handling Hailey as well as she did.

"Sounds like you had an interesting day."

Any day with Hailey Manning was definitely interesting Jenna thought, her long blonde hair flowing in the luke-warm breeze. "Very interesting. Just laid around tanned and gossiped."

"What's the gossip around Ferndale now?" Levi asked, not interested in the drama of Ferndale in the slightest. In truth, he just loved to listen to Jenna talk. She was rarely negative and always careful with her words. One of the many reasons why he fell for her.

"Sarah Deacons cheated on her boyfriend, I guess. Enough about Sarah Deacon's issues how was your day?"

"It sucked. But it's better now." He winked at her, which made her smile. Sometimes she wondered what he saw in her, why he cared as much as he did. But she never questioned him, she was just happy that he cared.

"You know, I could always ditch basketball. We could head out to the old mines."

Jenna felt her shoulders droop, "I would, – I mean, I want too, "She bit her lip nervously. "But I have a curfew again." No fun for Jenna after seven o'clock, only sippy cups and dinner – the thought made her shoulders droop even lower.

She did not argue with her parents about her unfair curfew, she knew that would only be one more stress on the family, when there was already more than enough to go around. Especially for her father, who worked two shifts at an oil dig at a nearby town just to pay the bills that never seemed to stop piling up.

"It's all right. We can hang out after school." He squeezed her hand gently.

"And at lunch."

"And at lunch." He chuckled; he would be the first to admit that trying to fit into Jenna's schedule was difficult – between school, the newspaper, her job at Rose Bud's diner and now her curfew there was not much alone time.

"You aren't mad are you? Because if you are, I could probably have Gwen cover for me tomorrow. It's only layouts anyway, not that hard."

"I'm not mad, why would I be?" He turned down a dirt road, the gravel crunching beneath the tires.

"I don't know, I just thought maybe you were. And now with school tomorrow…"

"We can handle it, right?" He shot her that sexy half smile.

"Right." She said confidently, despite the shred of doubt deep in her stomach. As they pulled into the driveway, Jenna's smile faded at the sight of the aging white farmhouse.

Throwing his truck into part, he could see the disappointment on her face. "I'll see you in the morning." She faced him, her hand now on his cheek.

As they both leaned in, their lips met in a soft warm kiss. Not wanting to pull away, she felt his hand graze her thigh. Her legs felt silky against his rough hands, her lips warm and affectionate – he savored each passing second until she pulled away.

"I have to go." She whispered, "My Mom's gonna be here any second."

Closing briefly, he nodded. "Good night."

Scooting across the seat, she shouldered the door to get it open. Hopping down, she looked to see Levi who was staring at her. "Nite." She slammed the door, "Call me?"

"You know I will."