"Nope." Jane shook her walnut brown hair. "I absolutely, wholeheartedly, disagree with you, Cora."
"I don't care," Cora replied, snapping her head to look away. Her long, messy red locks nearly smacking Jane in the face. "You can like your idea of the greatest love story ever told and I'll keep mine." Cora increased her stride to keep up with Jane.
"It’s not an idea! Mine's a classic, written by a real writer."
"Mine's a classic, too! Defined a whole generation."
"You were nowhere near being born in that generation. You are at least twenty generations removed from that generation. What do you know about anything being able to define a generation?" Jane stopped at the end of the red bricked English building and tsked at her best friend as students walked around them. "Here I am trying to class you up with talks of Pemberly, Mr. Darcy, and Elizabeth Bennett, and you respond with -- "
"Han Solo and Princess Leia. Absolutely. There's no freakin' way you're going to class me up. I've already conquered that category, girl! Next to Princess Leia, I am the living definition of classy." Cora stood smiling and straightened to her full 5'4" height. To prove her point, she flipped her waist length hair, again. Slowly. "See that flip, full of class."
“Whoa,” said the male student behind her. Cora and Jane turned around to see the stranger standing alongside two girls, one on each side. His hands were outstretched, as if blocking an attack. “You almost hit me with your hair.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Cora apologized, smiling. She quickly looked at Jane and then back to the male student. “I didn’t see you there. I should have been more careful.”
“You need to pay attention,” said the girl on his left, glaring at Cora, her tone accusing.
"If you're going to flip your hair that much," said the girl on his right, the irritation was hard to miss, "you need to shorten it, so you're not using it as a weapon."
Having known Cora for three-quarters of her life, Jane saw Cora’s face momentarily harden before she whipped out her beautiful, Barbie smile. To many, it was a disarming smile and many guys fell victim to its allure. But Jane knew better, it was only a plastic smile meant to teach the recipient a lesson. Jane leaned down a little. “Don’t, Cora -- ”
“You’re right,” Cora agreed, nodding as her smile widened.
“Coo-raaa,” Jane tugged at her friend’s sleeve, the tone of warning was low enough to reach her friend's ears. Cora only batted Jane’s hand away, as if she were an annoying fly.
“I do need to pay more attention, “ Cora continued, nodding at the three strangers in front of her. "My hair can sure be a lethal force. Next time -- I’ll make sure -- that you guys are close enough so that when I do flip my hair, I can smack all of you knuckleheads in one swipe.” The last part was said in a very dangerous tone.
The other girl gasped.
Cora was done smiling. Her green eyes darkened. “Listen, I don’t need you nitwits to tell me to pay more attention when, you know as well as I do, that my hair nearly smacking you in the face, was not intentional. You could’ve said something, like, ‘Be careful’ just like I could’ve said something like, ‘Thank you.’ And then we could’ve all been along our merry way. Your life would’ve been gone on as it does and mine would have continued just the same. But don’t go making it out to be like I was out to get you.”
The trio could only gape while Jane shifted onto her other leg, smiling uncomfortably at the strangers.
“Let’s go,” the guy said to his friends, taking a few seconds to recover from Cora's response . "She's obviously nuts." They started to walk in a wide arc around Cora and Jane.
“And don’t go looking at me like I’m the one who’s nuts. I’m not the one wearing the get up you all decided to wear.” Cora shouted the last part as the trio walked hurriedly away. "You all look like you need to update your closet!"
"Wait, hold on! Don't go just...yet," Jane's outstretched hand dropped to her side as her voice trailed off. She battled the urge to chase after them. To explain that, in fact, Cora was a little nuts. Instead, she heaved a frustrated sigh and looked grimly at her companion of terror.
“What?” Cora turned to her friend, her face a question.
“Living definition of classy, huh?”
“Classy like Princess Leia.” Cora and Jane stared at each other for a moment. “Princess Leia could shoot.”
Jane laughed in defeat as Cora walked past her, resuming their trek to lunch, leaving Jane to follow. They walked past the cement planters of green, leafy foliage on the right and the old, gray Math building on the left. “Don’t let the laugh fool you, Cora. I am absolutely mortified that we’ll see them again.”
“So? Can you imagine what they’re thinking right now?!”
“No. Why would I care?”
“Exactly, you don’t care because you can probably knock them out with your fifth degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do if they ever decided to confront you. Me? I can only hide in bathrooms and – ”
“Pretend I didn’t see them.”
“I can teach you Tae Kwon Do.”
Jane's face lit with an excitement only displayed at Christmastime. “Really?! Say, that’s a great idea! And do you think I’ll be at black belt level before we graduate?”
“Absolutely. If you stopped daydreaming about the nonsense in your head and blowing everything up to goofy proportions. I bet you could. If you just focused on Tae Kwon Do, you’d get there by the end of this year. What? We're almost in October now, how many months does that leave us?”
By this time, Jane's expression had returned to normal. "Nevermind, Cora. It ain't gonna happen." She fixed her sight towards The Commons, the huge lunch area at the opposite end of their classes. Her heart was already beginning to speed up and her palms were getting damp.
“What was up with their get-up anyway?” Cora asked, glancing at her watch. They were dismissed pretty early from class, which meant they would have the best choices at lunch.
Cora looked up at her friend. Jane’s light hazel eyes were glazed and intense. She was already gone, focused on something else -- or someone else.
“What?” Jane asked, startled out of her wandering thoughts. She looked down at Cora. “What is it?”
“The get-up. Didn’t those three have the funkiest clothes on?
Jane rolled her eyes. “It’s Spirit Day, Cora. With a 70's theme.”
They arrived at The Commons at which time Cora and Jane were immediately jostled about in a sea of maroon and silver. Most of the students were wearing their school shirts, with a partial, silver outline of their mascot, The Knight. The words, "Fight on, Altridge!" in bold print underneath it. Still, a good amount of people, those who despised the boring school shirts, donned 70's era clothing with hints of the school colors. Since it was pleasant weather nearly all year round, the Spirit Day costume did not differ much from the normal attire of an Altridge High student.
Cora snorted in disgust as Jane scanned the landscape, from the Snack Shack and industrial picnic tables on the left, to the silver-domed cafeteria building in the center with the large green sports field behind it, and more industrial picnic tables set around large, shady trees on the right.
"Lemmings, all of them," Cora grumbled, shaking her head. "Who are we playing?"
Jane was still looking for him. "Oceanside. Roosevelt Grizzlies."
"What - "
Cora took a moment to observe her best friend. Her straight, shoulder length hair, the nose was more straight than flat, and she was a normal size, maybe a touch on the pudgy side. She could definitely use more exercise, be more toned -- it would help her get out of her mind. Her friend, the silly psycho, plain Jane. "You know where he sits, Jane. He hasn't sat anywhere else all of last year and this year."
Jane immediately flushed a bright red. "I, I don't know what you're talking about." Of course he sat in the same place all the time, the popular ones always sat at “The Stage”. The largest, grass covered planter in the center of all the planters.
They never sat there.
Currently, he wasn't sitting there, either.
"Oh, girl. If only you weren't so easy to read. You've only mentioned him every day for the past seven months. More than I ever wanted to hear of him over the summer. I think it's safe to say, you have a crush." Cora sang the last part.
"Be quiet." Jane walked towards the cafeteria, it was Cora's turn to follow.
"Oh, my psycho, nutty girl is all grown up!"
"Cora, I will knock all that red off of you."
"Oh, please. You mean you're going to pray all the red off me."
The first couple of times Jane met Cora Friedman, she found one of the few people in existence in which the name and face was a perfect fit. She was jealous of Cora's deep, scarlet hair. The kind of scarlet one would find on ripe peach. Come to think of it, the highlights of orange and red were the exact colors one would find on the inside of said peach. As their friendship grew, Jane realized Cora had a fiery personality that matched her long, straight tresses.
Cora only complained of two things about her looks. One, when she blushed, which often coincided with her temper, the way her freckles dusted her cheeks made her face look blotchy. Two, she could not do anything with her wayward hair, even though she refused to cut it any shorter than her shoulder blades. Its present length was a couple of inches above the small of her back.
Cora's dedication to her life's passions were unrivaled, of which there were only three: her siblings, her friends, and Tae Kwon Do. Even though Cora naturally stood proud and confident, she was still a few inches shorter than Jane's 5'6" stature. And she was nearly all muscle. Not many people knew that the small, petite red head was actually a powerhouse, able to take down grown men at least three times her size. She hid it all that power behind worn, ill-fitting clothes, a plastic smile, a less than perky nose, and jaded green eyes.
"I'm trying to help you," Cora said, bumping into Jane as the latter suddenly halted when they got in line.
"Not working," Jane replied, turning to look at the lunch board for the menu and specials. "Your hair looks like a peach."
"Yeah. Missed the entire Jane-and-Cora-having-a-conversation-in-your-mind-scenario that led up that wonderful comment."
"Well, hey, check it out."
“Gasp! They have tapioca pudding!” Cora squealed quietly, linking her arm through Jane’s. “And corn dogs, too! I am in heaven!”
Altridge High School's cafeteria was a lot like a college cafeteria. There was a grill for hot foods, stands of cold sandwiches, salads, desserts, and a steam table for the daily offerings and specials. Students were able to pick and choose their items and pay the cashier rather than waiting in line, accepting what lunch fare was being offered.
“Tapioca and corn dogs!” Cora sang with barely contained excitement, bringing herself closer to Jane. “If life could end in two minutes, I have just been served my last meal. Tapioca and corn dogs make the world a better place. Sing it with me. Ta-pi-ooo-ca aaaand cooorn dooogs maaaake me sooooo haaaaapy. C'mon, Jane, you know the lyrics.”
“You’re so weird,” Jane laughed. “There's all this other good stuff, and you go nuts over tapioca pudding and corn dogs. Yuck!”
“How can anyone resist tapioca pudding? It’s this creamy vanilla pudding and then, surprise! You don’t just savor, you chew! It’s like a two-for-one special.”
They inched towards the front of the line where they would enter, pick up a tray and choose their fare.
“But corn dogs?” Jane asked, making a face.
“Traitor!” Cora’s face was the epitome of shock. “How are you going to diss corn dogs? You love ‘em!”
“I love vegetarian corn dogs, I’ve told you that before.”
“But you’re not vegetarian.”
“I’m not, but the vegetarian corn dogs taste surprisingly better than the real ones. Plus, I don't have to worry about what's in them. Have you tried 'em yet?”
Cora shook her head and stuck out her tongue. “Ugh, never. Fake meat can never taste like real meat. If it does, I wonder what other chemicals and stuff they put in to make it taste like that. You might as well just live life to the fullest and eat real meat.”
"Hmmm, I'm wondering if I should tell you that I served it to you last week at my house."
"Well, should you choose to tell me that fact, I'll have to confess that that was the meal I fed your dog. Knew there was something off about that food." She looked away from the lunch line to Jane, a sly smile appearing. “So, you'll be interested to know, I heard some news today.”
“Hmm, can’t say I know what you heard,” Jane replied, pointedly looking at the steam tables. There were now only six people ahead of them. In fact, she did know, she heard the rumors earlier in the week and they had only persisted. But there were other people in line.
Other people had ears.
“Personally, I think he was caught,” Cora continued.
The lunch personnel let them through the turn style into the food area where they perused their choices from the grill to the steam tables. The staff always kept a close eye on each table, limited the number of students, and encouraged quick selection for the courtesy of others waiting.
Jane followed Cora as she took a tray and headed towards the corn dogs.
“Nope, it was her cheating on him,” Jane replied with certainty, wrinkling her nose at the sight of greasy brown batter engulfing a poor, tiny stick. "I don't see the dog in that corn dog." She scanned the table for the healthier option: pizza. “Had to be, there's no way a guy like that could stay with a girl like her. Besides, she flirted with every guy around, like there was no tomorrow.”
“I heard he was at a party,” Cora continued quietly, almost whispering now. “And he hooked up with this other girl from Roosevelt.”
Jane gasped. She did not know that little detail. Legend had it that the rivalry between Altridge Knights and Roosevelt Grizzlies, dated back to when California was first discovered. It was an epic kind of rivalry.
“If he was with me, he’d never have a reason to cheat,” Jane said with absolute certainty.
Cora genuinely smiled. “Hey, I know! If you weren’t such a freakin’ scaredy-cat about approaching him, he would be with you. Instead, I have to hear about you gushing over him.”
Jane sighed and looked up, her eyes dreamy. “But why would I want the real thing when I am so happy being with him in my head. Did I tell you Jeremy-in-my-head and I are moving to Idaho? Yeah, don't know why, but he thinks his chances of being a film critic will be better there.”
Cora sighed and shook her head. “Stop talking, Jane.”
“No, really. I've talked him into getting into a more respectable field like insurance fraud investigator, lien claimant, or tax collector. Something where the only highlight of his life will be coming home to me.”
“Seriously, stop talking. While you're at it, stop thinking.” She started pointing. “Those lips and that mind should not be working in concert.”
With lunch picked out and their tray almost full, Jane and Cora paid and left the noisy cafeteria.
Outside, they started towards their usual spot, a nice shaded bench near the library. Their seven-month old route always had them walk past The Stage, just so Jane could see one person. Cora gave Jane a sharp little nudge as that one person, and subject of their cafeteria conversation, was suddenly in sight.
Jane didn’t need the nudge, she already saw him, or more precisely, his hair. Popular, handsome, fellow senior, and Jane's huge crush: Jeremy Darby Jenkins.
Jane had a lot of time to think about him over the summer. More specifically, his name. Jeremy Jenkins was an attractive enough name. But, then add Darby.
It sounded adorable.
Therefore, Jane concluded, someone named Jeremy Darby Jenkins had to be an adorable, attractive guy one wanted to hug. And she wanted to do just that.
All the time.
And his hair! The color was rich, layered, and complex. Jane had a hard time finding a descriptive word for the color until one day she went for a walk in the park. A squirrel darted past her and up a tree. Eureka! Jeremy's hair was the color of that dark colored squirrel.
Jane should have known better than to have shared that comment with Cora. She laughed for half a day. The kind of laugh accompanied by tears. Still, Jane loved how his squirrelly, dark brown hair fell to the middle of his neck and naturally curled out a little and how he had to brush it aside to see. That moment was the highlight of Jane's day, if she happened to be looking at him, which, unbeknownst to him, she did every time she walked past.
And then Jane saw that the highlight of her day was about to begin. It was all happening in slow motion: his arm rising, fingers extending, reaching his rumpled locks, he carelessly, beautifully, and masculinely (a word that exists only when describing Jeremy) tossed his locks to the side.
“You’re drooling,” Cora said loudly, precisely as they walked past The Stage.
Jane had been staring at him, gawking really, while her food was slowly edging off the tray.
Horrifyingly, Jeremy heard her and turned to look at them.
Jane was of the opinion that her blushes weren't flattering, either, and could feel the offensive heat rising to her cheeks and ears.
“Cora!” Jane squeaked, turning her head away.
“Into your food,” Cora said loudly, trying to repair the damage. “You’re drooling into your food.”
Jane’s eyes widened.
Cora laughed loudly. “Well, something’s got you drooling, right?!”
Jane grabbed her Current Enemy's elbow and rushed off, her hearty laughter echoing down the outdoor halls. They got to their bench, which Jane chose because it happened to have a nice view of most of The Commons, including The Stage.
“Really, Cora, really?! Drooling…into my food? Really?!!” Jane demanded as they sat down.
Cora was laughing and breathing in gasps. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” Gasp, gasp. “I tried…” Gasp. “I tried to fix…” Gasp.
“If rumors start because of that statement, it’s going to be so very, very hard to forgive you.”
She only laughed harder.
Jane snatched Cora’s plate of corn dogs and took a large bite out of one. With her other hand, she took a spoon and dug into the tapioca pudding, opening her mouth and with relish, ate Cora’s most beloved food.
“Hey!” Cora stopped laughing now. She snatched back her corn dog and pudding. “I love my lunch! Aww, now I have less of it.”
Jane fought to speak around the food in her cheeks. “Nexht chime, I’rl rick your corn dogss and I won’t chell you which one.”
“Gross, Jane. Truly gross.”
Chipmunked faced, she lavished the best smile she could. Mashed pieces of food collected at the corners of her mouth, bits falling unattractively to the ground. Cora continued her complaining as Jane proceeded to chew.
She threw a quick glance towards The Stage and froze.
Jeremy was looking at her.
She stopped chewing.
She fought the wave of nausea coming up just as food was trying to travel down.