In The Beginning There Was Us

 

 

Title: In The Beginning There Was Us
Author: Ingrid Jonach
Date of Publication: April 28, 2015

 

 

 

What would you do if you were God? If you had the power to not only give life, but take it away in the blink of an eye? These are the questions that haunt fifteen-year-old Abbey Baxter after she resurrects a boy, long lost to the ages. 

The achingly beautiful and eternally melancholy Cole not only serves as a welcome distraction from her long-time crush, Elwin, but also eases the heartache that persists since the sudden passing of her younger brother, Junior, four years earlier. 

As the intrigue of her relationship with Cole deepens, so too does the mystery that surrounds a growing phenomenon sweeping through her small West Virginian town, transforming the lives of its residents. Around her, two bedroom cottages are transforming into mansions without explanation and residents are waking up to bank balances that have tripled overnight, all under the watchful gaze of the sinister American Laboratory for Particle Physics, located on the outskirts of town. 

As Abbey searches for answers in a bid to solve the mystery in partnership with Elwin, she’s forced into a realization that that some things are better left buried, including her newfound love, Cole. 

This cautionary tale of heartache and obsession explores the endless possibilities of the universe and its devastating impact on two young lovers from different worlds.

 

 

Amazon  ≈ Smashwords

 

 

Chapter Four

WE HEAR THE music before we see the crowd.

The Coal River Volleyball Tournament’s an annual event for Albert Falls and at least a quarter of its population’s standing around with cans of soda and hot dogs, or stretched out on blankets on the grass, wearing their masks like Elwin.

This year there are a few rubberneckers too—those who have travelled from nearby towns just to see the infamous Albert Falls.

“I thought it would be standing room only,” Mali complains, looking at the empty seats in the bleachers.

“Not with half of the town still in lockdown,” Elwin says.

“Really?” I ask. “I thought they'd lifted it last Tuesday.”

“Not for West Albert Falls.”

Mali suddenly stops in the middle of the crowd to dig around in her shoulder bag for her anti-perspirant. “Damn. Where did I… Aha!” She sprays her palms openly, ignoring a look from a woman with a hot dog shoved halfway down her throat—like she can talk.

Elwin spots his friends—a group of college kids who are sprawled in the shade next to one of the courts. They all dress alike, like they belong in a commercial for Coca Cola, or Abercrombie and Fitch.

Buck’s there too. He high-fives Elwin and then sinks onto the grass with the rest of his friends. I check the time on an oversized clock next to the nets. His game’s on in twenty minutes. My stomach sinks as I realize how much the day’s going to drag on without Cole.

I slip a hand into my pocket again, reminding myself that he’s here. If I close my eyes I can actually see him, walking through the crowd towards me. He smiles and gives me a wave as he walks around a family spread out on a picnic rug.

I open my eyes, but of course, there’s no Cole. Instead, I see a girl with cropped blond hair kneel down behind Buck and start massaging his shoulders. Crap.

“Want to grab a hotdog?” I ask Mali, blocking her view of her crush and his touchy-feely friend.

Mali holds her stomach and sticks out her tongue. “Blergh.” But then she brightens. “I could use a hit of caffeine though.”

I arch an eyebrow. “Did NASA call? Do you have a moon mission?”

“I only drank two cans this morning,” Mali protests.

“One more and we have lift off,” I quip.

“Hilarious.” Mali rolls her eyes at my ongoing joke about Buzz-O-Rama being like rocket fuel. “Dibs on getting the food. You can find us a spot.” She points at me as she walks backwards towards the long food lines. “Close to the court. Get it?”

“Got it.”

“Good.”

I locate a patch of grass in the shade about fifteen feet from the court and about fifty feet from Elwin, not wanting to cramp his style. As if he wants to hang with his little sister and her best friend when he has his own buddies.

I sandwich myself between a family with about six kids and an older man who’s watching the girls with short skirts, instead of the volleyball. I pull on the hem of my own skirt again as I sit down, crossing my legs awkwardly and then drawing my knees to my chest, before finally deciding to stretch my legs out in front.

My stomach growls and I realize I skipped breakfast. I scan the crowd for Mali. I need a hot dog stat. Dammit. She’s chatting with Buck, who’s finished his massage and is now doing stretches next to the court with no shirt on.

Mali looks like she’s warming up too, bouncing from foot to foot. I know that bounce. It’s her boy bounce.

It had started in fifth grade with Jed Jefferson—Jay-Jay. Talk about OCD. If that boy even looked at the clock on the wall above her head Mali would be bouncing back and forth. In seventh grade, it had continued with Sandy Waxman. And since eighth grade, it had been all about Buck.

The next round of games are being announced over the loud speaker. A cheer goes up when the announcer reads out “Buck Dartmouth” and Buck walks onto the court, waving his clasped hands around in the air, like a pro-wrestler entering a ring. His groupies line up courtside, including Mali. Double Dammit.

I think about getting my own hotdog, but the heat’s like a heavy blanket that makes me want to lie down and go to sleep.

I give in to it about five minutes into the game, stretching out on the grass and closing my eyes. The intermittent thwack of the volleyball and the resulting “Oohs” and “Ahhs” fade into white noise, along with the sound of the bees droning in the nearby honeysuckle as I doze.

I’m dreaming about Cole and in my dream, he’s lying beside me on the grass, listening to me talk nonsense. And I mean that literally. It’s a dream after all.

We’re talking about how we’re getting married in the Fall. When I ask whether he wants to get married in Albert Falls or Italy, he tells me his hometown had been part of the European Apocalypse.

I stop speaking mid-sentence as Cole brushes my cheek with his fingers. He leans towards me, his porcelain skin dappled in the sunlight that filters through the leaves.

“Abbey.”

I open my eyes. I’m curled up on my side with the grass tickling my cheek. I blink owlishly at a pair of red skate shoes. “Cole?” I mumble.

I roll onto my back and stare up at a wide smile and a mop of light brown hair. “Elwin. Hi.” I return his smile as I realize he’d just called me Abbey, instead of Quasi.

I sit up too quickly, moaning at the rush of blood to my head.

“Are you OK?” he asks, crouching down and steadying me with an arm around my shoulders.

“Head spin.” I rub my temples, trying to get rid of the black spots in my vision. My heart’s thudding like a bass drum, but that’s because I’m in his arms, not because of my blood pressure.

“Have you had lunch?”

I shake my head.

And thus begins the best thirty-five minutes of my life. Elwin buys us hot dogs and sodas, before settling down beside me on the grass to watch the game. It feels like we’re on a date.

“Do you like volleyball?” he asks.

I choke on my mouthful of hot dog as I laugh.

Elwin grins and nudges me companionably. “I forgot. It sends you to sleep.”

“I shut my eyes for like a second,” I lie.

“You were snoring.”

I gasp and nudge him back. “I was not!”

He chuckles, flashing me a picture perfect smile.

I look straight ahead at the court in case I swoon. Is this another dream? It’s been years since I’ve had one-on-one time with Elwin.

I can remember having heart to hearts with him after Junior had died. Mali would be lapping their indoor pool and we’d be stretched out on the chaise lounges talking. It had been good to be able to take off my Moretta mask for a while—even Mali had been speechless when it came to Junior.

That was when I’d started crushing on Elwin majorly—like stealing strands of hair from his comb and hiding a photo of him in my underwear drawer majorly. Yeah. I know. Stalker.

“How was New York?” Elwin asks, tilting his head and studying me with gold-flecked eyes.

The key chain in my pocket digs into my thigh and I shift my weight as I’m reminded of Cole. “Good,” I say.

“How was your mum without…” He doesn’t even have to add “Junior.”

I shrug as I give my earlobe an absentminded tug. “OK.”

“At least you got a full week with the folks,” Elwin muses and I think about his own parents. It’s been about six months since they were last home and even then I think it had only been for three weeks.

“Have your parents called?” I ask.

He nods. “I told them not to come home. I’m not sure they would have let them in during those first two weeks anyway.”

There’s something in his tone that makes it sound like coming home hadn’t even been a consideration for his parents.

They’d often talked about moving to New York or Los Angeles since they'd launched Buzz-O-Rama, but the Kendricks have lived in Albert Falls since their great-great-grandfather emigrated from Ireland. Mr Kendrick likes to joke that he bleeds coal dust and I actually think he misses working at Albert Falls Coke & Co.

Elwin gives a whoop as his eyes return to the court.

“What happened?” I ask.

Elwin shrugs. “Buck hit the ball,” he says and then touches his finger to the side of his nose. “Between you and me? I hate volleyball too. All I know about it is that it involves a ball and a net.”

I laugh, my face flushing as I finish with a snort.

Elwin grins and then reclines on his elbow on the grass. There’s no conversation for six lots of five seconds. I actually count each tick of the clock on my watch.

I’m about to put myself out of my misery by commenting on the weather when Elwin finally speaks, as if the thirty seconds had been one second.

“Did you hear about the Hallifords?” he asks.

I could kiss him for starting a conversation. Correction. I could kiss him period. “No,” I say, making myself look at his eyes, instead of at his lips.

“Do you know their house on Fourth Street?”

I nod. Albert Falls is hardly New York. It’s not even Brooklyn. It’s a duplex in Brooklyn. My dad’s on lean-on-the-fence-and-talk-for-two-hours terms with Mr Halliford, who works as a janitor at Albert Falls Elementary. And my mom used to be friends with Mrs Halliford, who’s expecting their third child in October.

“I think it’s about twice the size of our house now.”

“What?” The Hallifords live in a three-bedroom cottage that looks like it needs a lick of paint and a new roof. It’s definitely no Buzz-O-Rama Mansion. “How?”

“It literally happened overnight,” Elwin says. “I spoke to Jeremy Blundall this morning,” he continues and then pauses. “I think you know his sister Katie. She’s your age. Maybe older.”

Katie Blundall? She’s thirteen! “She’s two years younger,” I correct him and he shrugs, not noticing my flushed cheeks as he continues his story about the Hallifords.

“Jeremy said he went to bed next door to a cottage and woke up next to a mansion. You’d think he would have woken up if there was a house being built next door. He said Mr Halliford was just as stunned as everyone else.”

“Hmmm… Weird.”

“Welcome to Albert Falls,” Elwin says with a nod to one of the soldiers.

I frown. “Do you think it’s connected to the accident at the Lab?”

Suddenly, an enormous cheer erupts from the crowd.

“Is it over?” I ask, squinting at the court again. “Did we win?”

“Looks like it,” Elwin says as he follows my gaze to where the players are giving out high-fives. “You’d think they’d just won the Super Bowl.” He climbs to his feet. “I guess I should join in the backslapping. Coming?”

My heart flutters as his hand curls around mine and I’m thankful not to have hyperhidrosis like Mali as he hoists me to my feet.

As I follow him through the crowd of spectators that has converged on the court, a guy covered in tattoos spills beer on my shoes. “Yuck.”

“Are you OK?” Elwin asks, bundling me under his arm like a protective boyfriend.

I look up at him and smile. “Definitely.”

My smile lasts about three seconds. “You got sunburned,” he says.

I hold out my arms and see that they’re pink, like the inside of a hotdog. Fantastic. I bet Elwin never gets sunburned in the shade. Cole would though with his chalk-white skin, I decide.

My hand slips into my pocket and closes around the key chain, like a security blanket.

“Abbey!” Mali explodes out of the crowd like a firecracker. “Did you see that spike? Buck was like ‘Bam!’ And then he was like ‘Pow!’” She spikes an invisible volleyball, her fist narrowly missing a woman with a pusher, who gives her a dirty look.

Mali suddenly stops her instant replay. “You got sunburned,” she says, pinching my arm.

“Ouch! Mali!” My skin feels tight, like I’m wearing spandex. I need a cool bath stat to avoid third degree sunburn.

I scan the crowd for Elwin, who’s being crushed in a hug. Buck’s like a silverback on steroids. I’m sure he’s about to start beating his chest and baring his teeth.

Mali spots them too. She grabs my hand and drags me towards Buck. “Congratulations Buck,” she says coquettishly, twisting her hair around her finger, as if it needs to be curled.

Buck throws a sweaty arm around Mali. “Thanks, babe.”

Babe?

“Are you girls coming to the after party?” he asks, as if we’re at the Oscars. “I have a band lined up.”

Buck’s known for hosting the biggest and best keggers in town. Girls at school would tear out their hair extensions for an invitation to a party hosted by Buck Dartmouth.

His parents are divorced and his mom’s constantly out of town, chaperoning his younger sister and international catwalk model, Sylvia. It means he basically lives on his own.

“Yes!” Mali says, bouncing on the balls of her feet.

“No,” I say at the same time as Elwin.

Mali gives us a what-the-hell look.

“Last time I checked, you were both sophomores,” Elwin says.

“Juniors,” Mali corrects, even though it’ll be another two months before we can say that without our fingers crossed. “And when did you turn twenty-one?”

Elwin’s not giving in. “Maybe I should have a chat with the National Guard,” he says.

“Maybe I should have a chat with the National Guard too,” she responds stubbornly.

Elwin sighs. “Ready?” he asks me.

I nod and Mali gives me the stink-eye for siding with Elwin.

“See you soon,” Elwin tells Buck.

“Winni!” a girl calls out. Winni? His name’s Elwin. El. Win.

The girl has long blond hair that radiates in the sunlight. “Are you going to the kegger? Can I get a lift?” She bats her eyelashes at him. They look fake, like they belong on a doll.

I look her up and down, noting the black push up bra under her white shirt and the strip of bare skin above her Daisy Dukes. One more inch and she’d be trailer trash.

“Sure,” he says, smiling too wide for my liking. “I have to drop the kids home though.” He tilts his head towards me and Mali.

Mali rolls her eyes as I sigh inwardly.

Elwin introduces the girl as Dana. She looks bored as he tells her our names and when we get to the Thunderbird, she climbs into the front seat without calling shotgun.

I watch her turn up the radio and wind down the window as we roar down the street. Her long hair flicks around in the wind like a whip and I press myself against the back seat, in case it cracks me in the eye.

I watch her bobbing her head along to a song that sounds like two pots being bashed together over and over again and again. My heart sinks when I see that Elwin’s drumming his fingers on the steering wheel.

I reach into my pocket and squeeze the key chain, telling myself that Cole would hate this music and he’d hate girls like Dana.

I close my eyes and imagine Cole sitting beside me in the backseat, instead of Mali, who’s still sulking, slouched in her seat with her arms crossed again.

Cole’s smiling at me though. His fingers inch across the vinyl towards me, until his hand finds my thigh. I lean into him, resting my head on his shoulder.

“Ow! Get off!”

I sit up straight.

Mali’s laughing. “Are you hitting on me, Abbey Baxter?”

For a moment, I’m completely confused. Where’s Cole? My thigh tingles from his touch. But then I realize I’d been daydreaming again. I blush as Elwin glances in the rearview mirror.

“I mean I love you,” Mali’s saying, “but—”

I force myself to laugh. “You know you want me, Mali Kendrick.” Last names are mandatory when we’re being stupid.

Elwin pulls up at my house. “You girls behave yourselves. OK?”

I cringe. Girls. Kids. Rub it in, Elwin.

“Yes, Dad,” Mali says facetiously, as she slides out of the Thunderbird.

We stand on the sidewalk and watch her brother drive off with a toot of his horn. Dana barely bothers to wave. In fact, she might have just been shooing a gnat or gesturing to Elwin.

My stomach clenches as I think about them hanging out at the party. I can see her batting her eyelashes at him. I can see her clutching his hand as they walk through the crowd. I can see her leaning in to kiss him and then he’s kissing her back.

I realize my jaw’s clenched tightly and I release it, before clenching it a second time and then a third time, thinking that if I clench it five times Elwin won’t even talk to Dana tonight. No. Scrap that. He won’t talk to her ever again.

“How about we sneak into the party?” Mali asks, interrupting my OCD.

Her eyes light up when she sees it cross my mind, but then I shake my head. “I need to smother myself in aloe vera and turn up the AC,” I say with a grimace. “I think I have sunstroke.”

It’s the half-truth—my head’s starting to throb and my mouth’s as dry as cotton balls—but the full-truth is that I’ve decided to make up for not spending the night with Elwin by spending it with Cole.

Mali frowns and sticks out a hand to feel my forehead.

“Ow! Sunburn! Remember?”

“Fine. You owe me though. For the two weeks you spent in New York, plus tonight.” Mali pouts. “Pizza for one. Here I come. Again.”

I wince. “Sorry.”

Mali shrugs. “I would give you a hug, but—”

“Sunburn,” I repeat with a small smile.

I take the stairs three at a time, yelling out “Hi” and “Bye” to my parents.

I hear my dad respond from his study, his voice muted by the closed door. My mom’s probably in the bathroom. She likes to read romance novels in the tub until the pages are waterlogged and she shrivels up like a prune.

I almost pull the ladder down on my head in my haste to get to Cole. And when I do reach the top, he’s waiting.

“Hi,” I say breathlessly.

“Hi,” he responds, standing up from the couch.

 

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Ingrid Jonach writes books for kids and teens. 

Her young adult sci fi romance novels When the World was Flat (and we were in love) and In The Beginning There Was Us are available now. 

She is also the author of the picture book A Lot of Things and the chapter books The Frank Frankie and Frankie goes to France published by Pan Macmillan Australia.

Ingrid has worked as a journalist and public relations consultant, and has a Bachelor of Arts in Professional Writing with Honors in Communications.

She lives down under - in Canberra, Australia - with her husband Craig and their pug dog Mooshi.

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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