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She wasn't sure she wanted the freedom. She liked the safety of Stony Brook High. She knew the school's world, the society, the way people connected-or didn't. It surrounded her in safety. She might as well have been sitting in a well-manned police station. She knew her role at Stony Brook. She didn't know what each day would bring, but it was always a variation on the same theme.
What would life be like out in the "real" world? From what she'd seen through her mother, it was hard, painful, lonely, and exhausting. There seemed to be a lot of empty striving. Reaching for things that didn't happen. A lot of pointless trudging to work, then home again. The same household chores popping up and demanding attention week after week. There was the momentary fun event with friends for distraction. But then it was back to the endless routine.
Jacie lifted the mortarboard and placed it on her curls. She moved the pointed cap about, trying to find the place where it set the best, where it looked the best. But no matter where she placed it, it didn't give her what she needed the most-wisdom about the future. Direction. She was still afraid. Still looking at a blank screen or one of those posters that looks like swirls and designs, but in reality has a picture in it if you look at it just right. As hard as she looked at her future, she couldn't see the picture.
She took the graduation gown and held it up to herself. The one-size-fits-all gown hung to her ankles. Good thing she was short. But black? Why black? To signal the doom of what lay ahead of them? Death too young?
Jacie threw the cap onto her unmade bed.
"They're here!" her mom's voice called.
Jacie threw open her bedroom door. "Come on up!"
Footsteps pounded up the stairs, voices floating ahead of them. "Shall we tell her now?"
"I'm not going to shush. It's a free country."
Jacie's grin started from deep inside where her friends had become intertwined with her soul. What would she do without them?
And then it struck her. They would scatter next fall, like leaves blown upon the wind. And then the winter of her heart would move in.
"What a mess!" Solana said as she burst into the room.
"Big deal," Hannah said, flopping onto the end of the bed. She picked up the mortarboard and put it over her face. "Maybe we should wear them like this," her muffled voice said.
Becca flopped onto the other end of the bed. "Might as well. In a class of 360 or whatever it is, you're pretty anonymous anyway."
"Not Jacie," Hannah said, lifting the cap from her face and sitting up.
Jacie dropped to the floor, grabbing Alex, her huge floppy stuffed bunny. She wrapped her arms around him. "Don't remind me," she groaned. "Whatever possessed me-"
Solana helped herself to a stick of grape licorice from a bag lying on Jacie's makeshift desk. "Probably the spirit of Darg who gets grads to do all kinds of weird things. Hence, Darg-'grad' spelled backwards."
"I can't talk to anyone without getting tongue-tied and-"
"We don't want to hear about it," Becca said, inspecting the pile of clothes scattered on the bed. "This is cute. New?"
"We need to go shopping again," Hannah said, holding up a darling skirt.
"Why don't you want to hear about it?" Jacie asked. "You're supposed to be my friends."
"We are," Solana said. "But-"
"Everyone's going to love you," Hannah said.
"You can't say that," Jacie said. "You don't know."
"They already love you," Solana said.
Jacie snorted. "Yeah, right."
"You are the most friendly person in the entire world," Hannah said. "Bar none."
"Read the Stony Brook High Times," Becca said. "Clear as truth. Right there." She jumped up from the floor and rummaged through the papers on the desk, pulling out the latest issue.
"Great photo of the elusive Morton the Moose, by the way," Solana said to Hannah, toasting her with the licorice. "He looks fabulous with the golden red of the rocks behind him."
"Thanks. Took me a week of darting in and out of the Glen Eyrie Conference Center grounds. I felt like a spy or something."
"See?" Becca said, opening up the newspaper. She had also taken a piece of licorice. She tapped the paper with it. "Right here. 'Senior Will and Testaments': 'Jacie Noland leaves to win the nicest person in the world award. She leaves to spread sunshine everywhere she goes.'"
"Oh," Jacie said sarcastically, yanking the paper from Becca's hands and tossing it back on the desk. "You expect me to believe anything you guys say?"
"I didn't write it," Solana said, sounding bored. "Why would I?"
"Wasn't me," Hannah said. "Too busy trying to capture Morton for the picture."
Becca shrugged. "I forgot. I was going to write Solana's, but someone else beat me to it."
"Cut mine out and make a poster," Solana said dryly. "I think I can say it by heart-'Solana Luz leaves to sass her way through UC Berkeley's science department, leaving a trail of brokenhearted boys falling behind her.'"
"Face it, Jacie," Becca said. "One of your adoring fans wrote it."
Jacie's face lit up and her heart warmed. Damien!
Solana shook her head. "Not Damien. I asked."
Jacie's mind fought to find other options, but came up with nothing.
"Fact is, Jacie, almost everyone in this school knows you."
"And likes you," Solana added. "Most people know me, but 90 percent of them don't like me."
"And the other 10 percent are guys," Hannah said.
"Hannah!" Becca said. "I can't believe you just said that."
"Believe it," Hannah said.
"I can't do it!" Jacie wailed. "I don't know why in the world-"
Hannah slid off the bed and hugged Jacie and the floppy bunny. "I know you're scared. I'd probably wet my pants if I were you."
Becca and Solana sat with their mouths gaping.
"What?" Solana asked. "No verse?"
"Wet your pants?"
Hannah looked at them, stroking Jacie's curls. "Sometimes the best answer is no answer." She looked at Jacie's wide eyes. "Truth is, I would be scared. Sometimes no verse will take away that kind of fear."
Jacie couldn't believe what Holy Hannah was saying. In the few short months since Hannah's Aunt Dinah's death in the train accident, they hadn't seen much of her. She'd been hiding out at home helping her mother care for the family while everyone grieved. Out-of-town family had come to stay for the local services. Hannah had cried and yelled more than Jacie had ever seen anyone do. The event had sliced Hannah's faith to nothing. She had fluctuated from peace to anger, questions to doubt, then back to the certainty of God's faithfulness again. Even now, she was barely holding it together. They all knew it. They could see it in her eyes.
"Thanks," Jacie told her.
"You'll do fine," Becca said. "Really you will. We wouldn't lie to you about that."
"If you need help-"
"Thanks, Sol. I do need your help."
"What can we do?" Hannah asked, leaning against the bed. She unfastened her hair, which fell around her in blonde waves.
"Let me practice the speech on you. And I want you to be totally honest."
Solana raised an eyebrow. "Really? You want me to be totally honest?" She wiggled the raised brow.
Jacie smiled. "Yes, Sol. I want you to be honest. I don't want to look like a fool in front of the entire graduating class and all the parents and all the sib-" Her voice drifted off as she could see the crowds of people in the World Arena all staring at her.
"And all the grandparents, friends, school supervisors, newscasters, and ..."
"Stop it!" Hannah said to Solana, laughing for the first time that Jacie could remember since before the tragedy.
"You are so mean, Solana Luz," Jacie said. She stuck her tongue out at her.
"So!" Becca said, leaning against the door. "Practice."
"I'm not ready yet," Jacie said.
"Why not? You already did it in front of the faculty."
"I've got lots of things to do to change it and make it real."
"Like?" Hannah asked.
Jacie took a deep breath. "I don't really know for sure but I'm thinking about creating a painting and how our lives are a painting and that we are the artists and I'm thinking about actually taking an unfinished painting and maybe even a finished one and maybe even do a little painting on stage but I don't think I can do that but I thought that might be really good to have some sort of a visual if I could paint while I talked or something."
The three girls sat, looking at Jacie.
"Are you done?" Solana asked. "Because I didn't want to jump in the path of that runaway train. Those words could have killed me."
Becca drew a sharp breath. "Sol!"
"Oh, Hannah." Solana slapped her hand over her mouth.
Hannah shook her head, tears in her eyes. "It's okay. It was funny. Really."
"I think that's a great idea, Jace," Becca said, reaching for another piece of licorice and offering the bag to the others. They all took one, chewing like a bunch of pensive cows.
"Let's see what you come up with first."
"The idea is awesome," Hannah said. "Perfect."
Their eyes locked. And Jacie knew. It was perfect.
"Here's another one!" Jacie's mom called up the stairway.
"Come on up, Tyler," Solana said, sticking her head out the door.
"How'd you know it was me?" Tyler asked, taking the steps two at a time as he always did.
"Everyone else is here."
"Except Nate!" Becca trilled about her boyfriend.
Tyler's face appeared in the door. "Great. Just what I was hoping for."
"Why are you all dressed up?" Hannah asked. "Have I ever seen you in a real dress shirt?"
At your aunt's funeral, Hannah, Jacie thought.
Tyler opened his mouth, and his eyes locked for a brief moment with Jacie's. She quickly looked away. He cleared his throat, put on a fake smile, and said, "I guess not."
"So what's the occasion?" Becca asked.
"I'll tell you in a minute," Tyler said, looking like he would explode if he didn't say something. But he turned Jacie's desk chair around and sat in it backward, straddling the seat and crossing his arms across the back.
"Are you sure?" Solana asked. "Because it looks like you're ready to pop a monkey if you don't."
Tyler just tapped his foot on the floor. "Oh, no."
"When do you plan on telling us?" Jacie asked, a look passing between them. It took her off guard. What was that?
"It depends." He threw a glance in Becca's direction.
No one said anything. Jacie played with the stuffed bunny's ear, feeling suddenly shy about Tyler being in the room. Hannah leaned against the bed, tracing sunlight patterns on the floor. Solana flipped through the school newspaper. Becca picked at the carpet. She sighed.
"Well, I have something to tell," Becca said. She continued to pick. She ran her fingers through the low shag, making designs in the pile. A fat tear dropped into the pattern.
"Becca?" Jacie asked.
Her voice choked. "Nate's moving."
Excerpted from Bad Girl Days by LISSA HALLS JOHNSON Copyright © 2005 by Focus on the Family. Excerpted by permission.
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