It Can Only Go Up From Here Chapter 1: “I’m Alright”

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The following is the start of the first chapter in the continuation of "To Be a Different Someone". I never intended to continue the storyline but I also thought that Jennifer's story was not complete.

While the first book did not concentrate on outside forces, this story does show the world attempting to butt its way into her life.

Chapter One
“I’m Alright

November 2nd 1999 came and went with Daniel Kane winning the election for state representative.
I couldn't care less. I didn't pay attention.
Actually, that's kind of a lie as his face was everywhere up to and beyond that day. I could be at the mall, his face was there.
Walking into class; there he was on the newspaper.
Billboards and on lawn signs...postcards in the trash and littered on the ground.
I quit watching television a long time ago so I missed out on the soundbites, thank God.

Mom ceased coming by a few days afterward. I would want to think it was because maybe she finally thought about leaving me alone but I never got to ask her directly.
"Did dad ever send his lawyers after her?" I asked Grans.
"Your Father?" She huffed over the phone. "Your father can get a paper cut on his nether regions for all I care. I doubt he will do a thing, Jen. No one likes to air their dirty laundry. Especially politicians."
"Yes, ma'am," I replied as I sat down on a chair in the kitchen. I could never bring myself to sit on the counter--a la Krys--as I talked on the phone. It was my house too, but out of respect to my adoptive parents I used chairs and kept my feet off of the walls.
"Did Lydia tell you everyone's coming for Thanksgiving this year?"
"Yes ma'am."
"And by everyone, I also mean you need to bring your boyfriend along too."
"Grans," I replied as I felt a flush of red to my face.
"Well, he is, isn't he?"
"Yes, ma'am, but I don't want Matt to think--"
"--In my day, the boy introduced his girl to family."
I stood up and paced as far as the phone cord would allow.
"Yeah, if they planned to court and possibly get married one day."
"Don't tell me you haven't thought about it." She replied as I closed my eyes.
"Of course I have, but, we're still taking it slow and if I bring him along--"
"I want you to bring him. I want to see him before the you two split up or ditch or whatever the word for breaking up is these days."
"Yes, ma'am. I'll ask him.'
Krys stepped into the kitchen and perched herself on the kitchen counter.
"That's all you can do, I need to let you go now, Jen, time to get some work done around the house before I retire for the night."
Krys held a slight smile on her face as she looked around the kitchen, in a futile attempt to pretend she wasn't listening.
"Yes, dear?"
"Tell mom hello for me."
"When I see her, I will."
"Goodnight, grans."
"Goodnight, Jen"
The line clicked off and I hung the phone up.

"How much of that were you listening to?"
"Just enough to know that Matt will have a room on the lower floor and we will be in the guest cottage."
I nodded in reply as Krys kicked her feet out and jumped to the floor.
"Okay, so, we need to work on something new for regionals."
"When are regionals?"
"Spring, not much time to get a routine going,"
"It's only November."
We walked out of the kitchen and to the stairs in the foyer.
"Like I said. So, come on, I need you to think of some stunts we can work on. How do you feel about being a flyer?"
"You're light enough and June's been suspended from the squad.."
"Alright! I mean--". June was considered the 'worst case cheerleader'--she never smiled and made a minimal effort to learn a lot of the cheers but she was extremely limber and light enough to throw into the air. And as long as she was flying, no one cared that she looked like was pissed off at life. All. The. Time.
"--I know. But the show must go on and we are down one flyer. So, starting tomorrow afternoon, eat light."
"That's very funny, Miss hyper-metabolism."
"I know, I know," she said with a cheshire grin and a slight curtsey.
"One day it's just going to just stop and you're not going to be able to eat all the ice cream or, or a plate of fudge brownies or a whole sub sandwich.
"Hmm-mmm. Now I feel hungry."
"Who know, you may actually have to go running with me!"

We walked into my room--it was a bit of mess with multiple sketchbooks all over the desk and fabric bolts leaning on the walls. There was a little spot in the center where one could actually see the rug.
"Are these all for prom?"
"Yep," I replied as I closed two of the books and stacked them on the corner of the desk in an OCD-infused process.
"Thought you already decided."
"We're going over matching outfits."
"Are you already planning a bridal design too?" She asked as she pointed at a sketch of a tuxedo.
I didn't answer as I closed and flipped the book over, but I didn't have to--as my face said everything Krys needed to know.
"Let me know when he gives you a ring." Krys stepped to the clear spot on the floor.
"You'll be the first to know."
"Has he actually hinted to you?"
"Well, we've talked about it. I mean you did too--"
"When I was six--and about Donnie Wahlberg. That's not going to happen now. Okay, come here."

We spent over an hour going over a complicated dance routine, except for the throws as Kris couldn’t lift me by herself and the ceiling was too low. However, after said hour our choreographed moves disintegrated into a mess of country line dancing mashed up with alcohol until we collapsed onto the floor.
“You should swing dance at your wedding.”
“Oh yeah?” I asked as I tried to catch my breath “I can hear the Macarena at yours.”
“Possibly,” Kris replied as she collapsed onto the floor.

I strained to stand up and wondered if I actually had to put in a little weight training to keep up with everyone. Sure, I could outrun the whole squad but they could prolly all arm wrestle me under the table...except for Lindsey and I would put up a hell of fight against Kris.
Kris stood back up, looked at herself in the mirror and bit her lip for a second. I didn’t say anything as it was very late by then and if she wanted to tell me she would.
“Your mirror hates me.”
“It’s cursed,” I replied as I walked to my dresser. “I’m going to take a shower.”
“Save me some hot water.”
“Of course,” I said—as my showers were kind of on the cool side. Not exactly ice daggers but I was sure that I was saving my uncle money on the gas bill.

I was only five minutes into my shower when Kris barged into the bathroom.
“Matt’s on the phone.”
“Okay,” I replied.
“You want to talk with him now?”
“Umm, not at the moment,” I said as I had shampoo in my hair. “Let him know I’ll call back.”
“Can I take a message? He want to know if he can pick you up in the morning. I mean pick us both up.”
“Sounds good,” I replied, wondering why Kris would come in the bathroom to tell me something that could have waited five, maybe ten minutes or an hour more. I mean, we would call each other almost every night and talk a bit but since we went to school together it wasn’t like I had to be tied to Matthew or he had to ask permission to do anything. If he wanted to come pick me up for school, since I was still grounded from driving until the end of the week, then he could. No problem.
I quickly tried to get my hair rinsed.
“We’ll see you in the morning.” Kris hung the phone up. “He seemed nervous.”
“Because he thinks you still hate him.”
“I don’t hate him, exactly.”
“Okay,” I replied.
“I have an awkward question to ask you.”
As if this situation wasn’t awkward enough.”Go ahead,” I sighed.
“Have you had sex with him?”
“No,” I replied without hesitation, with the episode that occurred less than a month ago still fresh in my mind, but it wasn’t worth it to remind her.
“Yes, really,” I replied. “We’re taking it slow.”
“Hmmm. Not what I expected.”
“What?” I asked.
“I just though that-“
“It has not been easy.” I said as I turned the water off.
“Has he asked?”
“No, that would be me, once. But he said he wanted to wait.”
“Until when, you get married?” Krys asked.
“Until after I meet his parents.”
“Mmm-hmm,” Kris mused. “Well, I’ll let you get out.”
“Thank you,” I replied as Kris walked out of the bathroom and closed the door behind her.

I waited a few seconds before I opened the opaque shower door—as Kris would come back in with an envelope stating that we had to enter some contest to win a prize or maybe with a radio blaring out some artist that we had to go see in concert. To tell the truth, she had been acting strange ever since the day I got back with Matt.
I thought maybe she was just testing him with being overly kind and joyful about everything. I also thought for a brief moment that she had plans to take him from me.
Bitchy thought? Yeah, I suppose so but that would be the first time that I ever saw her with an actual smile on her face that wasn’t forced by the fact that she was a cheerleader and had to live out to the code to be happy I’m and out of uniform—something that Lindsey and myself failed at doing—so Krys overcompensated for us—at least that was my thought. I really wanted to ask her but I wasn’t exactly great at asking the awkward questions, let alone prefacing my questions by saying that I was going to ask something awkward! I suppose that was a Laberdee trait, passed down from my uncle’s side.
My uncle Allen and aunt Lydia relaxed the restrictions they had on me after my side trip to Missoula, not that they had to worry I would leave after school and just go any place. I would normally be at home when they got back; either in my room or in the den with Krys and my homework. Sometimes, Matt would be there but when he was, Krys was there, keeping a watch over me; but allowing for a few minutes of alone time—which for some reason usually occurred before one of them would get home. It’s impossible to look innocent to parents, even if all you’re doing is holding hands.
We would have a late dinner together, sometimes with Matt eating with us. He was required to sit on the other side of the table, opposite of me and between my parental guardians with Kris to the other corner. He seemed to know how parents acted and would courteously answer them; even though everyone at the table knew of his past and the urban legends attributed to Matthew Modine Tracker,
“It’s was great-great-grandfather’s name. He a scout in the army and they couldn’t pronounce his last name so they made it ‘Tracker’ and it’s been our family name since then.”
Uncle Allen nodded as he sometimes seemed to stare into Matt’s soul—almost daring him to do something stupid in front of him but Matt never did. He would volunteer to help in the kitchen but Aunt Lydia would simply tell him thank you and ask me to take him into the den.

Uncle Allen nodded as he sometimes seemed to stare into Matt’s soul—almost daring him to do something stupid in from the of him but Matt never did. He would volunteer to help in the kitchen but Aunt Lydia would simply tell him thank you and ask me to take him into the den where we would sit and talk for a few minutes, usually with arm around my shoulder or the two of us leaning on each other as we whispered back and forth; which caused my aunt or Krys to walk past the room on guard patrol.

Only when we were outside in the driveway would he put his arms around me and we would get close enough with our foreheads touching in that, crazed, love-sick expression that makes your eyes go out of focus as you try to see theirs.
“Is it still too early to say I love you?”
“Nope,” I replied. “Please feel free to say it because I’ve wanted to since we made that rule.”
“It’s only been a few week, Jen,” he said as he took my hands in his.
“Feels like an eternity to me.”
“Okay. So, I can officially say it...and I can say it at school, right?”
“You better,” I replied with a smirk.
“I will.” Matt looked back to the house with a glint of fear in his eyes. “They’re not going to come out with pitchforks are they?”
“That happens during the engagement.”
“You’re serious?”
“Don’t tell me you never think about it.”
“I do.”
“There you go,” I replied as I moved close to kiss him.

And that was the night before, so I had to wonder if Krys was listening in on us or if it was just so obvious that we were over-thinking things in that “forever in love” stage of relationships. But of course I was. I had never had anyone else in my my life—past person in Missoula being the exception—that looked at me and made me feel that way. Perhaps if I had just avoided his glances at the library and stayed in my chair things; but, then I would not have found the way to rise from the ashes and learn those dark lessons about how people are.
I stared at my reflection in the mirror, seeing that my ears only had thin red lines—the scarring wasn’t as bad as I thought it would have been. A part of of me thought I should change my hair color, again, and maybe go to black or blond—or maybe I would would wear jeans to schools for once. I hadn’t worn a pair of pants in over two years.
The reflection in the mirror frowned and I hated to see her frown.
“You’re right,” I replied with my hands up in surrender. “Don’t make any changes. Everyone loves you for who you are, girl.”

In the morning, I raced out out the front door to find Krys already waiting inside the car.
“I’ve been thinking of dying my hair,” Krys said as she glanced between her compact and the passenger side mirror.
“No kidding? I had that idea too.”
“Black or blue?”
“Didn’t think about blue,” I replied.
“Oh yeah, something to be a little different out there. I’m tired of the way mine looks now.”
“Are you going to, like, cut it?”
In an earlier part of my life I would’ve started hyper-ventilating and crashed the car in sheer panic. Krystal Laberdee cutting her hair? The girl who could have been the model for The Brother’s Grimm, assuming they were time-travelers or had a premonition. I wanted to contact Crystal Gayle one day and tell her she had competition. I wanted to assume that Krys would one day use her hair as a whip or some form of lasso. I couldn’t imagine her chopping it off or coloring it like Marge Simpson.

“Okay, no coloring. But how about an inch or two shorter?”
“Are you tired of waiting for it dry or something?”
“No, it’s just that I feel the need to re-invent myself. I mean, Madonna does it and everyone’s like: oh my God, she has this new vibrancy! She’s like a whole new person.”
“Who’s singing about sex, men and tropical island paradises. Not a bad thing now that I think about it. When are you planning this?”
Krys shrugged her shoulders. “Not sure. Maybe after Thanksgiving. Maybe I’ll ask for Grans’ opinion.”
“She’ll be for a rainbow of colors and if you want to buzzcut your head.”
“I wasn’t thinking about going that for.”
Now it was my turn to shrug my shoulders. “We should have said the same thing to Lindsey.”

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