Lorene Connel was wondering why she had gotten up so early that morning, if for no other reason than to say goodbye to her brother. She could have very easily mumbled a fond farewell to Brady in-between snores on her pillow, but for some reason or another, the sixteen-year-old thought that a fresh start at dawn was going to help in the process of figuring her life out. It wasn’t working to the degree that Lorene had hoped, as she sat on the dark green couch in the living room, mindlessly flipping between reruns of ER and Saved by the Bell on cable.
The varying levels of intensity for some reason or another had managed to balance her out. The possibility of death on one channel, while an unrealistically cheesy façade of what a bunch of old television execs thought would appeal to a younger generation of high school students (And surprisingly enough did) both having it out for her diminished attention span. The plots couldn’t have been much more ridiculous on both channels, and yet, if nothing else, they helped the morning pass. Lorene, still in her pajamas, patiently awaited the spark of motivation she at least thought existed somewhere up until that point.
At eleven, after both programs ended pleasantly, no white “To Be Continued” warnings flashing before the credits, Lorene retreated from one static screen to another. She stationed herself behind the white desk and flat monitor, checking all the remedial teenage websites like the routine had been beaten into her at the beginning of time. Lorene kept her eclectic iTunes library on shuffle in another window, making sure to skip past all the slow and abysmal songs she knew wouldn’t necessarily help her mood, but instead only make her think of him.
Of course, the Internet wasn’t exactly helping her recent process of recovery, which had begun the previous night with tears. Doyle Booth’s Myspace picture, which filled the very first position of Lorene’s Top Eight, instantly made her feel like shit. He was standing off to the side of a Quinn Pitman’s crowded living room, that one weekend her parents went to Chicago, visiting old college friends. In Doyle’s right hand was a foamy green bottle of Heineken, his left securely holding Gina’s hip, pulling her in tighter. Both looked beyond happy, and had maintained the cardinal sin of having the same profile picture for some time, before Gina cowardly retreated to a solo effort: the day she got Quinn to cut her hair short.
That picture was towards the bottom of Lorene Connel’s lined rows, a constant courtesy and unexplainable problem she couldn’t necessarily get rid of. Lorene knew she had to reluctantly play the friend card with Gina, and Quinn for that matter, because, if nothing else, it was one of the few ways she would still be able to see Doyle more often than not. The notion as such made her a little uncomfortable inside, faking smiles and topics of diminished conversation, all for a guy she knew wouldn’t necessarily get wise, even after a drunken kiss in her laundry room.
In any case, on that Monday morning it seemed necessary for her to pick up some of the proverbial pieces in the only way a hapless spectator of her generation could. Lorene clicked on Doyle’s profile, first checking to see if any new comments had managed to stir the pot. It was the same long chain of emoticon kisses from Gina, and idiotic comments from his reliable strain of gutter punk friends. However, before Lorene scrolled back up towards the top of his page, she did notice a change that seemed a bit confusing. The top four position of Doyle Booth’s profile page had somewhat fluctuated.
Gina was still first, Lorene fighting it out with her next door, and then as if some kind of unexplainable bond had occurred between the two of them the previous afternoon, Benji Tate’s solemn picture filled the next space, Quinn finishing off the line. Lorene wasn’t exactly sure why he had moved her neighbor so far up in rank, and wouldn’t necessarily come up with a reason until more time passed, but in any case, the smallest act of rearrangement would make her contemplate Doyle’s action for the longest of times.
Lorene moved her cursor over to the “send message” icon and reluctantly clicked the link. She stared at the blank space surrounding the now smaller picture of her best friend and the scamp that had been following him around since October. Lorene Connel couldn’t necessarily think of a title for the subject line of the message, well aware that Doyle would very simply understand its purpose, the second he religiously checked his own Myspace page after work.
She scratched her brain for the right sentiments, knowing that it wasn’t the type of message to say everything she wanted to. Lorene had failed miserably at such an act the previous night, and now with a clear spinning head full of hands pulling her back towards the status quo, the sixteen-year-old knew that it would be much simpler to write her number one infatuation somewhat apologetic tidings that would hopefully make everything cool again. She took a large breath and started to meticulously type her curbed thoughts.
Hey, so I don’t know why I’m doing this, but I guess it’s just easier for me to send this to you now, when I have the time. I’m sorry about last night Doyle. I was really drunk, and I don’t know, I guess seeing everybody kind of pairing off made me lonely or something, but anyway, I hope it’s not a big deal, because it’s just like whatever, ya know?
So you don’t have to send me one of these back or anything. I just figured it would make more sense if I did this, rather than leaving you a voicemail or something. Anyway, give me a call later tonight if anything’s going on, or we could all hang out here maybe. I think there’s still some liquor left that all the assholes in this town didn’t get to. So, okay, talk to you later.
She nervously sent the message, before standing up from her desk and trying desperately not to think about it anymore. It would prove to be about as difficult as the previous night had been spent rolling around in bed, searching for spots dry of her tears. Lorene Connel couldn’t recall a time in her life, especially during the summer, when everything felt so light and heavy at the same time. Possibly it wasn’t just her, but rather the ability of every other inhabitant of North Shade, Illinois to somehow magically blow, even the smallest of happenings, completely out of proportion. In any case, it would be some time before she coolly and calmly understood the difference.
Lorene showered and got ready for the world outside of Derby Street faster than even she was used to. For some reason or another, the sixteen-year-old saw no point in going out on limb with her appearance. She was more than ready to simply settle on the idea that not trying to look good, in a way, was better than all her desperate previous attempts at such.
Lorene regularly wasted her mornings before school, making sure she was just out there enough to make Doyle notice her without completely noticing her. Sometimes it worked like a charm, his eyes getting much wider than both were used to upon her entrance into the scene. Other times, the shear ignorance of Doyle Booth’s round about way, made Lorene Connel doubt herself to an unhealthy degree. She didn’t know if much of anything would ever stick, and in that way her insecurities, more often than not, consumed her.
After squeezing into a tight pair of dark blue cut-offs she hadn’t worn since the previous summer and a dark green North Shade Track and Field T-shirt, Lorene went for the leftovers on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. It was a scientific certainty that Joni Connel would always purchase or order far too much food for any planned social event, and while the reheated fried chicken and potatoes were a pleasant change from the past lunches her mother had concocted that summer, it still wasn’t necessarily the best of meals Lorene could remember having.
Upon finishing up her plate and turning the television set off, the syndicated scraps offering her with little to no emotional solace, Lorene Connel noticed something strangely beautiful. The pure silence ringing true throughout the entire house, in complete contrast to the previous morning’s frantic features, was beyond comforting. She felt proud of herself for bailing out on the rest of the family, if for no other reason then because it allowed her the proper amount of time to reload. Lorene grabbed the spare black set of keys to her mother’s blue Mercedes and headed out into the garage. Possibly it was the right time to put her life back together again.
The North Shade Mall didn’t necessarily offer Lorene Connel the expected change of pace she was looking for. While she had set out at around noon to ask for various applications and hopefully find some kind of promising job opportunity, instead Lorene found that her vanity was inevitably taking over. She charged a light red top to Joni’s credit card, not giving the whole concept a second thought. Lorene figured, if nothing else, she had earned such a self-inflicted gift, especially after the previous drunken night.
The only problem with such spontaneous purchasing was that instead of it helping the teenage blonde bombshell stand alone in the big and bright world surrounding her, an independent women, free of male chauvinistic conventions, Lorene was regrettably wondering what Doyle would think of her in it. It was a familiar bad habit, which quickly subsided, the second she walked out of American Eagle, and into the first floor of the mall.
Will Leidy swung his bag containing a brand new pair of Nikes back and forth with a satisfied, albeit nerdy look on his face. Lorene froze dead in her tracks for a millisecond, before the most humanistic of juvenile escape plans started to run its course through her mind. Will was possibly far enough away not to notice her, the mall-sized Borders Bookstore chain only two outlets away. Lorene tried not to look in the least bit frantic or obvious as she very casually took the few nervous steps before walking into the deep comfort of the fiction section. Her head turned back as it peaked up over some trashy romance novels and saw Will obliviously glide by. It was a close one.
Lorene then took a long and winded sigh, before noticing what section she was in, the burly bare-chested men holding their dainty picks in a sweet and sinful embrace instantly turning her off to such a brash concept. Real romance didn’t exist anymore, and certain people, mostly housewives like Joni, could only soak themselves in ignorance for so long before their skin eventually dried up. Lorene quickly headed straight for the long and plentiful magazine rack, searching for a cover headline that helped her forget what she was desperately trying not to think about.
However, that day, whether it was fate or some kind of varying cliché intervention of circumstance, proved to be interlaced with alternative possibilities. Lorene casually flipped through an issue of Seventeen, not exactly sure why she was instantly drawn to its sparkly exterior and airbrushed underage model on the cover, that confused girl’s mother having no moral issues, chipping in on her daughter’s upgrade from an A to a C cup.
He walked in, a little full of himself, and started to peruse the opposite side of the rack. Lorene instantly noticed his tight blue jeans and white Sonic Youth T-shirt, the loners from the Goo album cover, somewhat paralleling the more often than not talked about hypothetical situation. Fleeing from the homeland in black shades, with not one, but rather too many reasons for doing so. She thought he was cute, but not in the same way that Doyle was. This defunct member of North Shade society carried with him a certain edge that Lorene Connel wasn’t exactly used to seeing in the youthful community. More importantly than not, though, he was different from the majority of the others in the sense that this particular gentlemen caller didn’t take long to notice her a few a feet away, and furthermore didn’t hesitate to walk over.
“Ya know, it’s sad that they can get away with printing the same articles from fifty years ago, as if nothing ever changes?” The mystery man said at a formidable distance.
“What?” Lorene replied, pretending that she hadn’t noticed the smooth fashion to which he moved closer to her, browsing the titles.
“Seventeen, it’s like been the same recycled bullshit for years, hasn’t it?”
“Yeah, I guess. I mean, I don’t know. I was just looking,” Lorene smiled with her lips, before putting the issue back on the shelf.
“Well, I was just saying. It’s kind of weird is all, ya know?”
“I guess,” Lorene replied softly, shifting her weight, and turning back to the magazines.
“Sorry to interrupt your deep thoughts or whatever, though.”
“No, it’s okay. I wasn’t really enjoying them or anything.”
“Well cool,” he paused, taking an audible deep breath and then starred right at her with his dark green eyes. “So, I don’t know you, which is weird… I mean, usually, in small towns or whatever, you know everybody, but… well you don’t go to Saint Simon’s, do you?”
“No, I’m a public school person,” Lorene said, nodding her head, trying desperately not to sound like a dork.
“Oh, well that explains it. I mean, I don’t particularly enjoy the whole God, peace-be-with-you thing, but it makes my mother happy.”
“Uh huh…” Lorene’s sudden lean towards indifference made her new suitor even more uncertain of himself.
“I mean, it’s not like I’m some goody-good Catholic kid or something.”
“I guess not,” Lorene slowly but surely started to walk down the magazine line, before hiding her small smirk the second she noticed him following her.
“Anyway, I’m Paul, if ya know, you wanna do that whole thing,” He took a breath, and waited for her response.
“Lorene,” she said, nodding her head once again, as if her body language was a surefire tell for Paul to get a move on with the courting.
“Well it’s nice to meet you or whatever.”
“Yeah, you too, Paul.”
“So have you ever been up on the mountain? It’s like past Lakewood Drive, you take a left into the woods and ya know, go from there.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Well anyway, I guess there’s like a party or something going on up there tonight. I mean, it’s a lot of losers from Saint Simon’s like me, but maybe some people from North Shade are gonna be there too. I’m not completely sure, but if you wanna go, you can. I mean, I’m gonna be there, so we could continue this conversation, possibly, maybe, what do you think?” Paul’s eyes got wide as he waited for Lorene’s response.
“Yeah, that could be cool. I’ll have to see what my friends wanna do.”
“Okay, well awesome. But I think I’m gonna go look around in fiction, so Lorene, this was Paul, attempting to set plans for later tonight,” Paul smiled nervously, the grin contagiously catching Lorene off-guard.
“Alright, I’m sure I’ll probably be seeing you.”
“Well cool, that’s the best response I’ve heard all day.”
“So does that mean you’ve been walking around the mall, asking everyone?”
“Actually, you’re the first, but try not to think about it too much, okay?”
“I’ll see ya,”
Paul somewhat frantically walked towards the back of the bookstore. Lorene, trying her best not to seem obvious, gave the slightest of looks in his general direction upon her exit from the alphabetical shelves. She felt strangely giddy all of a sudden, not as if their brief and awkward encounter was necessarily the start of something gigantic, but at the same time, she knew it was more than what she expected that day at the mall.
Lorene Connel picked up applications from the record store and some other trendy clothing outlets, before calmly retreating to the parking lot, and driving her mother’s car back home. Doyle would call her later that night, having heard news of the same party from a few disgruntled employees at the Eleventh Street grocery store.
Lorene felt beyond content in her pre-existing knowledge of said events, as for once in her life, she had a reliably succinct backup plan. Paul Ashbrook, the self-proclaimed punk skater from Saint Simon’s would provide her with all the remedial companionship she desperately craved, for about two weeks or so. That was what it meant to be young and unemployed during the summer. A lot of chances taken on random encounters.