Kassandra Kush

Picture Perfect

Posted on: May 18, 2013

Going Live in 5…4…3….2….1….

Some of my older writing, but I thought, why not share?!

CHAPTER ONE

 

            Valerie Young rubbed the chalk into her palms, for once enjoying the feeling of it on her hands. She turned calmly and looked at the high bar set in front of her, narrowing her eyes as they traveled from the vault, to the lower bar, to the highest bar, and then back again.

            Then without further warning she gave a little hop and ran, jumping off the vault and catching the low bar in her hands. Swinging one full time around it, she propelled herself powerfully upward to catch the high bar, smiling as she felt the perfection of her performance.

            Valerie finished her routine in similar good fashion, and when she swung off for a perfect landing-which she stuck-she put her arms up to the sound of clapping.

            “Excellent, very good! You’re as ready for this competition as you’ll ever be,” Her coach, Julie, said proudly. “Do you want to go over anything one more time or are you ready to go home?”

            “Home, most definitely,” Valerie, or Val as she was known to most people, answered while unscrewing her water bottle. “I have to shower, do my homework, and clean my room, or else I can’t go to the football game tomorrow night.”

            “Heaven forbid,” Julie said, but she was smiling. She knew the importance of high school football games.

            “Hey, it’s a big game,” Val said, picking up her bag and pulling her shorts and t-shirt on over her leotard. “I have to be there to cheer on my team.”

            “Are you at your mom’s or your dad’s this weekend?”

            Val’s face lost some of its normal cheery light and she looked down to fiddle with the zipper of her jacket.

            “Mom’s,” She said. “Which means I’m walking home with Evie, so I need to get a move on. I bet her practice is over.”

            Julie, who had coached Val since the first grade, pulled her in for a little hug. “Have fun tomorrow night, but don’t stay up too late, I want you fresh as a daisy on Saturday.”

            Val smiled again, almost back to her normal self. “You’ll have me the daisy and Evie the thorn bush. She’s coming and she’s always a bear in the morning.”

            Julie threw up her hands as Val headed toward the doors. “God help me! She always stands with us in the pit too!”

            Val shook her head and smiled a little as she walked out of the gym that was her truly her second home. First was Evie’s house, then Eastern Gymnastics, then her mom’s, where she spent most weeks, and then her dad’s where Val spent every other weekend and some weekday nights.

            Val’s relationship with her parents wasn’t the best in the world. They’d divorced shortly after her tenth birthday, but had fought ever since she could remember. Things hadn’t changed much. They were still in fierce competition with each other, though now it was over who could be the better parent. Valerie had always gotten everything she wanted; a car when she turned sixteen, a credit card, brand name clothes, two Christmases and birthdays with other extravagant gifts. But the one thing she sorely lacked was love, plain and simple, from her parents.

            In their battle to best each other, they had forgotten about the point of their fights, and she had become just a tool. After almost seven years of it, Val was sick and tired of getting everything she wanted for all the wrong reasons.

            “Valerie!”

            A singsong shout pulled Val from her musings, and she looked up to see her best friend Evie walking towards her from the hip hop dance studio that was next door to Eastern Gymnastics.

            “Hello Evangeline,” Val replied, mimicking Evie’s singsong voice and the use of her full name. “How was practice?”

            “Amazing! Guess what I learned?”

            “Hm?” Val questioned as they turned their footsteps towards home.

            They both lived in the very small town of Polka Springs, Rhode Island, where the main attraction was the mall and everything was under a twenty minute walk away. Almost everybody knew each other-the population was under three thousand-and knew even more about each other’s business.

            “The dance to Work It Out, from High School Musical Two!” Evie said, bouncing up and down as they walked.

            “Nuh uh! Let me see!” Val stopped dead in the middle of the street. It was only about nine at night, but it was a chilly mid-September evening.

            Evie obliged, immediately tossing down her dance bag and starting to sing the chorus of the song. The dance required some fancy foot work, but just like Val spent four hours in the gymnasium almost every night, Evie did the same with the neighboring dance studio and had the dance down pat.

            Val cheered when she finished. “That is so cool. I wish I could dance!”

            Evie picked up her bag and they resumed walking. “Yeah, and I wish I could do back handsprings and cartwheels on a balance beam. I think we’re even.”

            They both laughed.

            “Ready for the football game tomorrow? I’m still staying over to come to your competition, right?” Evie asked.

            “Yeah, and we’re making our shirts and stuff for the game tomorrow, right? Do you think they’ll be dry in time?”

            Evie pursed her lips as they entered the neighborhood. “Yeah, we’ll take a fan and set it to blow on them. We’ll be looking fly.”

            “Fo sho,” Val said, and then laughed at herself. “I’m excited; it should be a good game.”

            “I’m excited for the football players. I mean, in those tight pants and everything? Delicious.”

            Val rolled her eyes. “You would be. Ever think of going to a football game and actually watching the game?”

            “Ever thinking of going to a football game and scouting for guys?” Evie replied meaningfully.

            Val made a scoffing noise. “Boys are dumb. Throw rocks at them.”

            Evie laughed, knowing Val’s favorite saying about the opposite sex. But she quickly turned serious. “I know that you’ve been with some jerks in the past, but don’t you think it’s time that you gave men another chance?”

            Val fiddled with her zipper again. “After Bryan, I said that I was done with guys, and I’m sticking to it.”

            Evie shook her head. Last year, Val had gotten hurt and sworn off boys. She’d stuck to it this whole time, even during the summer. Evie was running out of ways to try and convince Val to give love another chance. So, as they stopped in front of Evie’s house (Val’s was just next door), she decided to finally tell Val what she had been hoping for the past couple months.

            “One of these days a boy is going to come along, and you might tell him no, but he won’t accept rejection. He’s going to become your worst nightmare because he won’t give up until you fall in love with him.”

            Val shook her head. “Please. Nobody has that kind of attention span these days. Especially not a guy.”

            Evie shrugged. “You never know. Goodnight Val. I love you.”

            Val hugged her best friend, who had been there for her for longer than she could remember. “I love you too. Goodnight.”

            They both walked up their driveways, giving the traditional wave at the doorstep before walking inside the house.

 

            It was a loud, cheery group that began their quick paced walk out of Val and Evie’s neighborhood. The game started in just over an hour, and Val linked arms with Evie and gave a little skip of excitement. Football games were the big attractions of the small town, and everybody went.

            “Aren’t you excited? This is such a big game!”

            Evie also gave a hop, and soon they were skipping down the sidewalk together. “Of course I am! And we’re looking supa fly!”

            Already they’d gotten numerous compliments on their outfits; decorated shirt with their graduation year on the back, and jean miniskirts they had sprayed with glitter and painted ‘PSHS’ on the back in their school colors of black and light blue.

            Val rolled her eyes. “Are guys seriously all that you can think about?”

            “Yes.” They both couldn’t help but laugh and slowed back down to a walk. “But I’m serious about what I said last night. Someone is gonna come along and sink their teeth into you, and not let go.”

            “What a wonderful thought,” Val said dryly. “My soul mate is a pit bull.”

            “Stop,” Evie said, sounding irritated. Val knew that her depressed outlook on love and men rubbed the wrong way on her friend, but she couldn’t help it. Past experiences, her parents, bad luck and her own lack of hope had taught Val tough lessons, and where boys were concerned, she was forever unattached.

            “I’m telling you, it will happen,” Evie said as they walked into the school parking lot, where the sounds of crazy fans and tailgaters mingled with the normal town noises.

            “Fine, whatever. Now can we just focus on the game and having fun tonight?” Val asked shortly.

            “Sure. Whatever you say.”

 

            Halftime was when it happened. Val didn’t think she would ever forget the event, how everything had fallen into place and how they’d met. It was an event she’d eventually come to treasure for the rest of her life.

            Evie had complained of her thirst, so Val accompanied her down to the concessions. Already annoyed because Evie had decided to be thirsty when the lines were at their longest, Val stood woodenly with her friend, who had just happened to get in line behind a group of boys that Evie knew.

            They’d moved a single step forward when Val realized that one of the boys was staring at her. She casually perused him and inwardly cringed.

            He was a skater-sort of. Ew.

            It wasn’t that Val didn’t like skater types, but then again it was. They really just weren’t her crowd, and never had been. He had longish, very dark brown hair, blue eyes, extremely ripped jeans, and an Etnies shirt. Vans sneakers were on his feet and his laces were tucked inside his shoes, not tied. Val frowned. She couldn’t understand how people didn’t tie their shoes. Her own always felt like they would fall off. He also carried a skateboard.

            Val’s thought that he was almost a skater came from small facts that she always noticed about people. He had no gages, not even piercings. No hat or beanie, no wristbands or jewelry, and his hair looked very clean, not greasy and dirty. In fact, he had amazing hair. It looked to be naturally straight, was thick and shiny. He couldn’t be that hardcore.

            After several moments of perusal, Val realized that she had been staring at him, and he was smiling at her. She quickly looked away.

            Evie had noticed the looks, and though she only casually knew the boy, she decided that it was time to take action. She was tired of Val’s bad outlook on love. Caiden might actually be the one that Evie herself had told Val about. He struck her as that kind of person. But they were so different. . . . .

            “Val, I don’t think you’ve ever met some of these people before. This is Ethan, Nick, and Caiden. Caiden, this is Val.”

            “Hi,” Val said shortly, and turned back to staring at the cotton candy hanging above the concession stands.

            Evie bit her lip. Why couldn’t Val just start a conversation? It wasn’t like Evie was trying to set them up (though she hoped she would get a chance), but then again, Caiden was still looking at Val, and it appeared that he was liking what he was seeing.

            Evie could understand that. It was most boys’ reaction to Val. She was gorgeous. Her mom was from the Philippines, her dad Caucasian. Val resembled her mother a little more because she had very long, dark brown, almost black wavy hair, brown almond shaped eyes, and a good smattering of freckles across her small nose. She was short, barely topping five one, and very thin. Boys usually fell over her feet, though she’d long since become immune to them.

            The more Evie thought about the idea of Caiden and Val, the more she liked it. In fact, they even looked similar, sort of. She knew that Caiden’s dad was from Japan, so he had the same almond shaped eyes and dark skin. He was fairly tall, which would look good with Val’s lack thereof. Val was just up to his shoulder. Evie could see him being persistent enough to break through the walls that Val had erected.

            Evie desperately wanted that to happen. Val didn’t deserve to be alone.

            Silence fell as they all bought their food and drinks and then moved out of the line. In the brief pause before they said their good byes, Evie made her move.

            “Does anyone want to come up and stand with us?” There was a pause, and she had known that most of them wouldn’t want too. That didn’t matter, because she knew one that wouldn’t mind standing with all the overexcited football fans. “Caiden, come on, we’ve got a spot right in front. You can stand with Val and me.”
            “Sure,” Caiden agreed, looking sideways at Val.

            Evie smiled when she heard Val’s small annoyed sound. This was going to work out perfectly.

            She hoped.

 

            Caiden managed to get a spot right next to Valerie without even trying. Evie, it seemed, was on a mission, and had maneuvered it to be so.

            Valerie pretended to ignore him and focused on the football players warming up on the field. For some reason that was completely beyond him, she seemed to find him annoying. And for another reason that was completely beyond him he found it attractive. There was something about Valerie, her arrogance and coldness toward him, which made him want to get to know her better. Not to mention the fact that she was so good looking.

            He leaned forward, hands on his skateboard for balance, and looked at Valerie from the corner of his eye. He liked how she didn’t wear very much make up, and the little she did have on was neutral skin tones. Caiden had never been attracted to the fake bake, make up dependant girls that mostly populated Polka Springs.

            Her hair was a wonder too. Thick and hanging almost to her elbows, he wanted to run his fingers through it to see if it was as silky as it looked.

            “You actually like football?” Caiden asked Valerie. He could tell she wanted to ignore the question, but it had been aimed directly at her.

            “Yes,” she said in a clipped manner, and didn’t even look at him.

            Caiden couldn’t help but smile. “Sweet. I like your shirt, it’s pretty cool.”

            “Thanks.” This time her voice warned him to shut up.

            The rest of the game proceeded in similar fashion, Caiden asking questions that required answers, and Valerie answering them in as short of sentences as possible. It wasn’t until there was only three minutes left in the game that she finally turned to look at him.

            “Why do you keep talking to me?”

            Caiden shrugged. “Cause you’re pretty, and you don’t want me to talk to you,” He could see that the first part of his response stunned her, but only for a moment.

            “That’s right, I don’t want you to talk to me, so go away.”

            “Why don’t you want to talk to me? What have I ever done to you?” He didn’t ask it to be mean, only to point out the obvious.

            “You haven’t done anything. Well, scratch that, you haven’t shut up for the past half hour,” Valerie said, crossing her arms and turning to look at him.

            “Hey, I’m just trying to get to know you.”

            “Why?”

            “Well, for one, like I said, you’re hot, and for another, you caught my attention for some reason. I was just trying to see if it was worth it to get to know you.”

            “Well, now you can see that it isn’t, so shut up and go away.”

            “Actually, I think you’re more than worth my time. We should hang out,” Caiden said. He enjoyed watching as her face changed from surprised, to puzzlement, and then to rage.

            Her response was cut off by the sound of a phone ringing, and they turned to pull their phones from their pockets. It was Caiden’s dad calling to tell him to come home.

            “Hey, I’ve got to go but,” Caiden plucked her phone out of her hands before she could make any move to put it away. It was a Verizon enV, just like his own, though she had the orange one, not silver. He smiled at the irony of it. “I’ll give you my number.”

            “Oh, thank you for the wonderful privilege,” Valerie said sarcastically. “I suppose you want mine in return?”

            “Nah, I won’t bother to ask. I hate rejection,” Caiden said easily as he handed the phone back to her.

            Valerie all but snatched it. “Well if you don’t leave me alone, you better guard your heart against it.”

            Caiden just laughed.

            And Val couldn’t help but notice that he had a great smile. His teeth were extremely straight and white. Then she shook herself. He annoyed her to the extreme. And he was a skater. Puh-lease. So not her type.

            “I’ll see you around, Valerie.”

            “It’s Val, and no, you won’t.”

            Caiden just waved and walked away through the stands.

            “Come on, it’s the victory lap! We won!”

            Val felt her arm being tugged, and she followed Evie onto the track that surrounded the football field and ran with her, cheering for the team. The band played, the team gathered in circle and cheered, and the fans stood together milling around, waiting so they could mingle with the athletes.

            Val stood to the side and opened her phone with the full intent of erasing Caiden’s number, but then she saw that he hadn’t just entered it under ’Caiden’. No, he had typed ’Caiden My Lover’. Val couldn’t help but laugh, albeit a little sourly. She didn’t have to see him again, not if she didn’t want to. This was a small town, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t avoid people. Besides, next time she and Evie prank called someone, she had the perfect number.

            Looking up, she saw Evie was surrounded, as usual, by a crowd of guys. Val sighed, wondering how long till she was finished flirting.

            “Hello, what’s this?” A deep voice asked, and Val felt her phone get snatched out of her hand.

            “Hey!” she cried, and turned to see Bryan Alden holding her phone. Her chest clenched. Six foot tall Bryan, her ex boyfriend, sweaty and dirty from the game, and still looking deliciously sexy.

            This was her type. Her type was a person who wore Abercrombie and Fitch, and Hollister, and American Eagle-a prep. People who enjoyed real sports like football or basket, maybe lacrosse. Heck, even soccer. Not skateboarding.

            But then again, Bryan was a bad example, seeing as he was at the top of her list of reasons for being anti-boys.

            “Who the hell is Caiden My Lover?” he asked.

            “None of your business,” Val snapped, grabbing the phone back from Bryan.

            “Hooking up with someone behind my back, Val?” he asked, taking a step closer to her.

            Val took a step back, disgusted. “We stopped dating over six months ago, Bryan. It’s time you realized that. Now go hang out with your groupies and thick headed friends. I don’t want to talk to you. Ever.”

            “Come on babe, why don’t you want to hang out with me anymore? We always had a great time together.”

            “Yeah, until you started acting like an ass.”

            “What are you talking about?”

            “Bryan, you know what I’m talking about. You-”

            “Hey Bryan, sweet game,” someone said, hitting Bryan on the shoulder.

            Bryan’s face contorted in anger, and he turned. “Shut up Matt! Can’t you see I’m trying to talk to Val?”

            Matt took a step back, hands up in the air. “Sorry man, I’ll leave you two alone.”

            Bryan turned back to Val, about to continue talking.

            “There! That-” Val flung an arm in Matt’s direction, “is exactly what I’m talking about! I bet you don’t even remember when you treated me like that!”

            Bryan’s face was mask of disbelief. “I would never talk to you like that. I loved you, Val. I still do.”

            Val snorted. “Yeah, right. I could barely take a step out of my house when you weren’t with me. And if I did, you got mad and yelled at me! I wasn’t your girlfriend Bryan. I was just some, some prize or trophy that made your perfect life seem even more perfect. And I’m done. Stop bothering me.” Val turned and began walking away.

            “Val!”

            Val turned around.

            “Don’t tell me you’re tired of the way I made you feel. When we kissed. I know you never got sick of that. You loved it.”

            Val shivered a little bit and her gut clenched. Because. . . . . That part was true. She’d gotten over Bryan. But she hadn’t gotten over the way he made her feel.

            Since she didn’t make a move to walk away, Bryan must have taken it as a hint that she’d given in. He walked over, dropping his helmet on the ground and cupped her face in his hands. And then he kissed her.

            Val felt her toes curl, and a flood of memories attacked her mind.

            All the football games sophomore and freshman year where she would run out for the victory lap and Bryan would just kiss her there in front of everybody. He’d never been shy.

            But then the bad memories began to crowd out the good.

            How Bryan would always miss her gymnastics meets for no reason. How he would have absolutely no sympathy when her parents fought and all she wanted was a shoulder to cry on. He’d even gone so far as to accuse Val of trying to spend more time with Evie instead of him.

            All of this took barely twenty seconds to pass through Val’s mind. It took all of her willpower, though, to lift her hand and slap Bryan on the cheek (the kiss was, as always, the best she’d ever had).

            Bryan put a hand up to his cheek, look stunned.

            Val took a step back. “Don’t touch me again Bryan. I’m going to find someone who likes me for my body and my mind, or no one at all.” Because that was all Bryan had cared about-looks. Val had figured that out after nearly a year and a half.

            Bryan laughed outright, in her face.

            “Screw you,” Val said, and turned to go find Evie. 

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Guardian Blurb

Lyla Evans just wants to be left alone; to fly under the radar and not attract attention. After seventeen years, she knows how the game is played. Her parents are hardly ever home, and when they do show up, they’re quick to anger and even quicker with their fists. With foster care comes the threat of being separated from her two younger siblings, and Lyla would die before allowing that to happen. She’s learned to keep her head down and depend on no one but herself and God to get by.

When a strange man starts paying too much attention to her and her siblings, showing up to rescue them and then disappearing without a trace, Lyla begins to panic that everything she’s been hiding is about to come out. But as she slowly becomes friends with Rafael and even trusts him with her deepest fears, Lyla learns he has secrets far bigger than her own that will turn everything in her world upside down.

In this story of abuse and rescue, love and faith, angels and demons, an unlikely friendship grows into a fantastical love story appealing and appropriate for readers young and old alike.

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