Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language.
“The first step in solving a problem is recognizing there is one.” - Will Mcavoy
My name is Stella Becker and I have a crush.
Could’ve, Would’ve, Should’ve
I stood in the bleachers staring at the boy who could’ve been mine. Jack Chung. I lost my chance last year when I told him,
“I don’t want a boyfriend…” I bit my lip waiting for Jack to answer. He didn’t.
The noisy sound of the band playing filled my ears as I stood squeezed between my classmates. The football field was the oven and we were the cookies placed too close to each other causing us to overlap. The hot sun burned the top of my head and sent beads of sweat down my back. The cheerleaders and dancers yelled their optimistic chants along with the music. Jack was sitting in the first row of the bleachers with his friends, grinning at something they said. His eyes never left his girlfriend, Celeste as she cheered at the top of the pyramid with her irritating smile. She was holding a blue and white sign that said “Go Melrose!”
I felt someone tug my mousy brown hair and turned around to see Westcott. “Doesn’t this make you want to kill yourself?” he asked as a sudden gust of wind blew his blonde curls all over the place making him look like one of those exotic birds.
“No more than usual,” I rolled my eyes and turned back around to see the cheerleaders finish their performance, it contained a whole lot of “yeah”s and “Melrose!”s. Celeste skipped over to Jack and fell in his arms, her head resting against his chest. He swayed with her in his arms a little, laughing with his whole body and spirit. I sighed.
The school bell rang just as I was leaving the football field and returning the class I left my backpack in. I let out a deep breathe as I stepped into the air conditioned deserted hallway. In the distance I could hear underclassmen giggling and laughing from the French classroom. I glared at them as I walked past and into Ms. Patton’s classroom. I started gathering my things and putting them back into my black bag that was covered with pins I’ve collected over the years. Some of the pins were from Disneyland and Disney World, and some of them were from local places in Burgundy Bay. I’ve always liked pins. People say I’m like my grandmother but she collected stamps. I miss her.
Suddenly, Westcott stuck his head through the doorway, bright blue eyes shining like a cloudless sky. “Stella! You walked away so fast!” he laughed, warmly.
I giggled myself, deepening my dimples, and replied, “You know how much I hate pep rallies.” It was true. Large groups of people were stressful and made it hard for me to think. Jack also made it hard for me to think like how I normally do. Being near him was like all my mind could process was Jackjackjackjackjackjackjackjackjackjackjackjackjackjackjackjackjackjackjack.
Westcott nodded, “Anyway, want to come over?”
I sighed, “West, you know I don’t like being asked the day of.” He frowned. I guess it won’t hurt. It’s just West. “I’ll ask my mom,” I replied, giving in. Westcott’s frown disappeared in a blink of an eye like magic. He watched eagerly as I talked to my mother on the phone. She asked me if I was staying for dinner and I told her that I didn’t know yet but that I’d ask Mrs. Walters when I get to Westcott’s house. When the conversation was over I hung up the phone and smiled. “Guess I’m coming over then.”
“Awesome,” Westcott grinned from ear to ear.
I grabbed my backpack and followed him out of the high school building and into the busy parking lot filled with excited cheerleaders and football lovers who were leaving for the game. Westcott and I never liked sports especially football. He whistled as we walked to the very back corner where his Jeep was parked under a red maple tree that grew itself around the chain linked fence. We hopped into his car and closed the doors, muffling the rambunctious uproar. I turned up the radio that was on the Pop station as Westcott pulled out and drove through the crowds of socializing students. We moved through them like the air was syrup and began driving to his house. I looked out the window at the white picketed fences surrounding cottage like homes and the blue ocean that peaked through the evergreen trees that extending their branches towards the clouds. A flock of birds flew above us in an organized triangle. Even the simplest days were the prettiest days in Burgundy Bay if you looked hard enough or simply paid attention.
“How are you?” Westcott asked, looking at me with his ocean blue eyes. A true Burgundy Bay boy, I thought to myself.
I had to think about my answer for a few silent minutes because I replied, “I’m fine.”
Westcott laughed, “It sure took you a long time to think of that lie.”
“How do you know I’m lying?” I raised my eyebrow.
Westcott sighed, “Because I saw you staring at Jack, Stella.” I swallowed at the sudden stab in my heart and looked out the window again focusing a bird that fell behind, flapping its wings desperately. “What are you thinking?”
I spoke softly, my words not more than a whisper, “I have to keep reminding myself that I don’t like Jack.” My voice cracked slightly at his name.
“Yeah. It sucks but you can still talk to him,” Westcott reasoned, giving a reassuring smile.
“It’s not that simple,” I sighed. Westcott didn’t understand how I felt. I can’t trust him anymore. Anything I say he could tell Celeste. It’s not Jack and I anymore. Things will never be the same. It’s Jack, Celeste and I, and I hate that. “I just wished I didn’t care. He doesn’t…why should I?” Westcott shrugged.
The rest of the drive we listened to the music in silence which wasn’t unusual for us. Music was something to be listened to. It wasn’t made for the background.
“Can I play my music?” I asked him, pulling out my phone, “I found an indie band that I’m newly obsessed with.” They were called Contain Her and they were a band of two Australian girls, Chinna and Amity. Chinna was the cool looking one with blue hair and a resting bitch face. Her voice was raspy and and her glare was sharp. Amity on the other hand was an innocent looking ginger with a sweet smile and a high clear voice. Their opposite combination was a perfect combo for the ears and the eyes.
I used the bluetooth to connect my phone and started playing a song by them called Low Tide. It was a mellow angsty song about moons and love―well lack of. My style of music has always bounced around from Pop to Indie to Hip Hop back to Pop and back again to Indie but Westcott always listened. I closed my eyes and envisioned myself singing the words, my voice as clear as water. Some days I felt like Chinna and some days I felt like Amity. I think that’s one of the reason why I liked Contain Her so much.
Westcott nodded with the music. I knew he was listening to the lyrics that were poetically written. He’s always loved literature―novels, poetry collections, lyrics, etcetera―when we were little he wanted to be an author. I wasn’t sure if he still dreamed of it or not. The song ended as we pulled the Jeep into his driveway and parked. I disconnected my phone and got out. Our feet crunched against the gravel and kicked up dust as we walked into his backyard. Westcott opened the fence and we entered his mother’s small garden. It felt like something out of a fantasy story. All the plants were lush and overgrown messily. It was still beautiful though like those girls who can throw their hair up and still look pretty. I eyed the almost ripe vegetables and kept walking to the end of his backyard. I could hear the ocean wishing and washing against the rocks.
“Stella!” Mrs. Walters clapped joyfully. I turned around to see her face beaming. She had a bit of flour on her wrinkled cheek.
“What are you baking today, Mrs. Walters?” I asked with a giggled, goosebumps spreading across my body in ripples as the ocean’s air tickled the hairs on the back of my neck.
“Oh!” she exclaimed dust off the flour on her apron that written in big letters said World’s Best Mom, “Vincent just got me a bread maker!”
“We have enough sour dough bread to feed the entirety of Africa,” Westcott groaned, rubbing his eyes.
“That’s a lot of bread,” I replied with a hint of sarcasm and a smile.
Mrs. Walter shook her head at her son and went back inside, still talking to me from her kitchen. “You can have some if you like, Stella darling.”
I skipped inside, “Thanks!” and grabbed a slice of warm bread, fresh out of the bread maker. Westcott walked in sluggishly, yawning, and shaking his head at his mother who offered him more bread.
I followed Westcott up the stairs to his bedroom. It was the only room on the top floor besides his bathroom. It used to be the attic until Mr. Walters―Vincent―turned it into a bedroom for Westcott so he wouldn’t have to share a bedroom with his older brother. Jamie didn’t live in Burgundy Bay anymore though. He went to England for university to become a lawyer.
Westcott collapsed on his bed with a flop, the bed squeaked against his weight. I laughed and ran my hand along his bookshelves reading the titles. Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Eragon, Lord of the Rings, The Hunger Games, etcetera. Evidence of our geeky years. Some might even say they never ended.
“What’s this?” I asked bending down to look at a bunch of dusty old boxes piled up in the corner of his room.
“Old stuff of mine my dad found in the garage when he was cleaning it out,” Westcott muttered, distracted by his phone, chuckling at the bright screen.
Curious, I wiped off the layer of dust and opened a box. Staring back at me were old textbooks and yearbooks from middle school. I took them out and placed them in stack beside me. At the bottom of the box were old toys, rocks, pins― God, I love pins―and pictures from a different time in our lives.
I picked up a picture and stared at the image. My stomach turned with nostalgia. It was all four of us sitting on Westcott’s back porch. Darla was posing dramatically aware of the picture being taken. Westcott was smiling photogenically while Jack and I were were huddled together laughing at a book we were reading. He was looking at me with a smile as I read the book.
“Hey, can I keep this?” I asked showing Westcott the picture from his bed.
He looked at me, blonde curls disheveled and shrugged, “Knock yourself out.”
Westcott drove me home at seven-thirty or sometime around there. All I know is that the sun was setting and my stomach was full of sourdough bread and laughs. My house was further down the coast where the sun was setting behind the mountains and trees in vibrant orange and pink hues. I thanked him and hopped out of his Jeep. Westcott smiled at me as he left my driveway. I waved him goodbye and pulling my keys from my backpack, I opened my front door.
“Mom!” I yelled into my dark empty house, “I’m home!”
“Stella!” my mother called from further in the house. I followed the sound of her voice and found her sitting in her office. “Come look at this,” she beckoned me to get closer to her computer screen. I leaned in and stared at old documents.
“What is it?” I asked. My mother’s hobby was ancestry, our family ancestry. I thought it was interesting too. My mother was really good at finding dead people and finding where they belonged. She had been spending days on this one person. I remember her telling me about her but I hadn’t listened.
“Look,” she pointed at the screen. “Victoria Becker,” my mother fake nails tapped the screen, pointing at different places in time. “1678, 1743, 1832, 1860. She keeps reappearing in documents in different times.”
“Maybe there is more than one Victoria?” I shrugged but my mom shook her head.
“I doesn’t make sense…” she muttered.
I nodded and changed the topic, “What’s for dinner?”
Silence replied and with a sigh I turned around and went upstairs to my bedroom. A small room, too small―in my opinion―to be considered a bedroom but too big to be considered a closet. My bed took up most of the space, with white sheets, knitted blankets and pillows. The floor was stained carpet from the old owners and my own stains from grape juice cartons and makeup.
I threw my backpack next to my desk and sat down on the chair. My computer chimed as I turned it on, the white screen blinding me. As I checked my social medias all I could think about was the picture. I pulled it out and stared at it again.
It was all four of us sitting on Westcott’s back porch. Darla was beautiful as ever, her black hair falling like a waterfall, her almond eyes gazing in mine as if a camera lens could not separate us. Westcott was smiling in his warm nature that never failed to make me feel like I was drinking hot cocoa in front of a fire. Jack and I were were huddled together laughing without a care. I don’t remember having to think in those days.
With a groan, I hurried to open Instagram and open up Jack’s profile. Every few pictures was a selfie with Celeste. Both of them smiling carelessly.
That could’ve been me…I pouted.
I looked at the image again and tried to remember that day. The sound of the ocean, the smell of sea salt and Mrs. Walters’ cooking. The feels of Jack’s warm breath tickling my neck as he laughed, staring at the comic book and then looking at me with his chocolate eyes. I could hear Darla kissy sounds as she jokingly kissed the camera and tossed her hair around. I laughed and looked up from the picture that had turned into a Garfield comic book before I realized the transformation. That my reality had become the picture.
“Are you done taking the picture now?” Westcott groaned with his smile still on display.
His father laughed, “Yes. You kids have fun okay?”
“Okay! Thanks Mr. Walters!” Jack smiled politely.
I gaped at the scene. I could remember everything that was going to happen before it happened. I went back in time! My heart slammed in my chest. I looked around frantically. How did this happen? How am I going home?
“Is something wrong?” Jack asked me with a worried look.
I stared at him. I couldn’t believe the realness of the closeness of his face, his body, his skin, him. The Jack I knew hated me or at least never talked to me. “Yeah,” I looked back at Westcott who looked over at the scene I created, “I’m fine.” Even back in time Westcott produced a stability no one else could replicate.
Westcott nodded at me as if to confirm my safety in the world. The beast of my anxiety, pulled away as it ceased to growl in defense. I closed my eyes for what seemed like an eternity―when in reality I was sure it was only a second in time―and tried to decipher the situation. I traveled back in time. I knew that much but how and why? Was my will strong enough? Were my memories strong enough for me to travel through them? Maybe this is my second chance. Maybe God or some magical being living in the sky wanted to end my suffering and give me this.
Darla yawned, bringing an end to my internal dialogue. “I should probably get going. My parents are having a work party tonight and I need to be home in my room, pretending not to exist before the guests start arriving.” She rolled her eyes. I knew Darla and I knew that it hurt her to live in that kind of family. It must hurt to grow up in a family that lacks the fundamental of family. Darla watches and reads books and movies with happy families, but she doesn’t relate. I wonder how many people live like that.
“Yeah I should get going too. Tell your mom thanks for the food, West.” Jack smiled and stood up, wiping his hands on his blue jeans. He pulled his phone out to check the time and nodded to himself.
“Sure,” Westcott smiled.
“Want me to walk you home?” Jack asked, looking at me with starry eyes. I avoided my instinct of looking at Westcott and stared Jack in the eyes. My heart was beating rapidly and though I knew Jack was dating Celeste that was in the future and in that moment I was reliving the past.
“Um...yeah okay!” I smiled sheepishly.
I waved goodbye to Westcott and Mrs. Walter’s who was washing dishes and looking out at us from the window above the sink. Jack pulled the squeaky white fence closed behind us. What is happening? I worried to myself frantically. Even though I realized what was happened I still couldn’t believe it. I felt like an excited child receiving a gift and I couldn’t believe someone would do something like that for me. I kept trying to remember what was happening next but my memories were muddled together. And suddenly I did but it was too late.
“Stella?” Jack turned around to look at me, it was like a scene in a movie. The ocean waves crashed against the black rocks in the distance. We were standing on a sidewalk in an average, typical American neighborhood. Down the street, neighborhood kids laughed and yelled, riding their bikes and skateboards down the slight hill.
“Yeah?” I squeaked, my hands were shaking. I knew what was coming. I knew it was coming.
Jack broke the stare and looked behind him at the kids. “I...I was wondering if you wanted to go out sometime…” he mumbled.
“Go out?” I laughed, nervously, “Jack we ‘go out’ all the time.” I teased slightly because it made me feel better. We teased each other, that’s what we did.
“Yeah,” he smiled shyly, “But I mean like...that.” He was so cute, running his hand through his hair and avoiding my eye contact, but he still wore a cute smile.
I froze and could feel my face burning up and my cheeks blushing, blooming with color like flowers. “Oh…” I bit my lip waiting for Jack to answer. He didn’t. My mind raced. This is my chance to say yes. Say something, Stella! Say something! But I couldn’t my mind had frozen, my body had frozen. This needed to be perfect but before I thought about what “perfect” was―
“I’ll leave you here. You’re house is just around the corner.” Jack awkwardly smiled and walked away. His hands were clenched as he walked in the opposite direction but that wasn’t the way to his house.
It wasn’t until he down the street that I could finally speak or move. “Jack,” I gasped but it wasn’t loud enough. The shock and disbelief of being able to try again captured me that I couldn’t take advantage of it. Suddenly something was in my pocket of my jeans and it was stabbing me slightly as if it was folded up awkwardly. I sniffled away my distress as best as I could and took out a folded piece of paper. I unwrapped it to see a photo. It was sixteen year old me sitting at my desk in my sixteen year old bedroom. And suddenly, the world seemed to change. The smell of the ocean vanished and the heat turned into air conditioner tickling the back of my neck.
I lifted up my head from the picture and stared at my computer that was still blindly white and blindly sad as it stared at Jack’s profile. That was my second chance. I let out a dry sob. That was my second chance…