The Truth about Us - Janet Gurtler

chapter one

I have fifteen minutes to get home. It’s a twenty-five-minute walk.

I’m so dead.

If I were smarter, I’d run, rise to the challenge or something, but I’m not even moving at all. Instead, I’m stuck, my feet immobile on the sidewalk, all because of a pedestrian sign flashing a red hand at me, commanding me to stay where I am. The Jeopardy theme song plays in my head as I wait for the green light. Penny and I used to love watching Jeopardy. She always knew more answers. I wonder if she still watches. I gave it up when Penny and I stopped being best friends and Nance took her place.

“Hey, Jess,” a girl says as she and a boy walk past. I wave and my cheeks burn brighter, because it’s awkward and weird to be busted with my feet refusing to move until a light turns green. The girl is a friend of my sister; I don’t know the guy. They obviously don’t share my hang-up about jaywalking, and they cross the street without even glancing around for cars.

No matter how hard I try to shake it off, choke its hold, and squeeze it out, some of my lameness still lingers in my cells, part of who I really am. Or who I was. I don’t know anymore.

“It’s not a good idea to walk all alone at night,” she calls back like she’s a friggin’ genius and I’m the poster child for bad choices. The light finally changes, and I step onto the road and walk, glancing down at my phone. My head is fuzzy and my heart pounds thinking about my dad at home waiting for me. I didn’t plan to screw up again, but apparently it’s kind of a gift, because I’m really, really good at it. Being late will equal no phone for a few days at least. My dad knows how much I hate to lose my phone.

I jump when a car toots the horn as it whizzes by. A boy screams something about my ass and whistles. My heart beats faster, and for a second, fear springs the hairs up on my arms and a swooshing sensation swells in my belly. Fear feels a lot like excitement. The fact that some pervert thinks I’m whistle-worthy might be the best part of my day. Of course, pervert is the key word. So he’s probably not that picky.

“Does your stupidity not know any bounds?” I hear my dad say in my head.

I worry it doesn’t. And wish he were away on one of his business trips so I wasn’t in this bind. In lots of ways, things are easier when he’s gone. I think about blaming Nance for my predicament. She does have a knack for getting me into these situations. Of course, I have a knack for letting her. Besides, responsibility for my own actions and all that. Blaming her will get me exactly nowhere.

Another car whizzes past, and I glance back to see if my sister’s friend is still behind me, but she’s nowhere in sight. They must have turned down another street or live somewhere close by. There’s another car coming now, and it’s driving slower. I know from every horror show I’ve ever watched that it’s not a good sign. Man, I know from what happened to my mom it’s not a good sign.

I force myself to glare at the car. It’s an old rust bucket, “an eyesore” as my dad would say. Not the kind of car usually seen in this neighborhood. I frown and peer inside, keeping my expression fierce. When