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The Wishing Stone - Chapter 1
Chapter One

“Seth Stratera.” Professor Allen glanced up from his podium, scanning the lecture hall. “Do you have a book?”
“Yes…over here,” Seth called. He raised his hand, his fingers clenched around the binding.
It wasn’t that Seth stuck out in a bad way. Mattie remembered him from high school. He pretty much blended right in, but here, at Oakridge Community College, he stuck out. Mattie was actually surprised he was enrolled in any classes. He seemed like more the vocational type, but what piqued her interest the most was that he had resurfaced and was back in town.
It was the first day back after the Christmas break. It turned out that after hearing all the buzz from Nicole about Seth’s return, he was seated right in front of her in her Intro to Literature class. She was never sure of his ethnicity, but became preoccupied with the possibilities all over again while Professor Allen’s voice droned on. They’d only had lunch the same period in high school. He wasn’t Latino. No…definitely not. Peruvian maybe? Somewhere in the South American region came to mind. For a guy, he always had the most beautiful hair she’d ever seen, hair that could sell gallons of shampoo to all the women who ogled over it.
It was dark and thick with a slight wave rippling through it. He had let it grow. It flowed down his back like a roaring river. He smelled like the woods on a rainy day. A rich, earthy scent, like damp soil or fallen leaves, drifted back, settling right under her nose. Seth leaned back in his chair, extending his long legs. The ends of his hair hung over the back of his chair. Mattie had the urge to touch it. Seth twirled a pen in between his slender fingers. His skin was a rich brown, like maple syrup.
Professor Allen closed his grade book and dove into the day’s lesson, which was religious undertones in literary fiction. While he babbled on about The Scarlet Letter and The Crucible, Mattie’s thoughts drifted off to the big party Nicole was planning for this weekend.
Nicole knew Seth was back before they even returned to classes. She knew everything. Her boyfriend’s sister worked in the admissions office. If there was anything you wanted to know, Nicole could find out. She would have every detail for you, from where they were born to what their major was, and all before lunch.
Professor Allen slammed his book and eyed the clock, then gave Mattie one of his famous winks, knowing she hadn’t been focusing. Instead of running for the door like she usually did, Mattie sat back and waited, wanting to see more of Seth. He pushed himself up and out of his chair, his long legs sauntering to the door. His hair lifted off his shoulders slightly as he gained speed with his strides. Mattie followed him but stayed back, blending in with the masses as other students rushed to get to their next class.
Mattie directed her steps toward the lounge and waited for Nicole. Out of the two friends she had, Nicole was the one who decided to stay home and go to community college. Jill had been accepted into the Rutgers School of Medicine & Dentistry. She’d been home to visit during the holidays. It hadn’t taken long for Mattie to see the change in Jill. There was a distance that Mattie hadn’t felt before she left. Jill had big plans, and the brains to go with them. Mattie fell somewhere in between. She had decent grades, but had to work at it. She didn’t know what she wanted to do yet.
She’d gone to vocational school and had gotten her cosmetology license while finishing her credits for high school. Her mother’s death had somewhat tarnished her dream. She and her mother had planned to open their own business. Her mother made her own jewelry, with hopes of opening up her own shop someday. Mattie and her mother had envisioned having a salon with an adjoining jewelry shop.
Taking these two classes seemed to appease her father for the time being. Nicole wasn’t sure what she wanted to do either, and really didn’t care. Her parents wanted her to take a few courses, so Nicole went through the motions. Nicole didn’t care if she sold socks at Macy’s for a living.
The three of them made for an interesting friendship group. Jill and Nicole were as different as black and white. Just by looking at them, one could make this analogy. Jill was fair-skinned with light eyes, a rich, creamy blue like a contented mood ring. Nicole was dark all the way around. Her eyes were black and shiny like inkwells. The black strands of her stiffly styled hair glared with a bluish tint, an added effect with the help of hair dye. Jill was conservative. Nicole was bold, her style and dress screaming at high volume.
Sometimes the three of them clashed, but Mattie had been the one to keep the peace between them most of the time. It was Jill’s intellectual reasoning that annoyed Nicole most of the time. Nicole often accused Jill of flaunting her brain, as one would a new purse or a pair of shoes. Mattie knew Nicole was glad to see Jill go away to school.
“Hey! Have you seen him?” Nicole asked sliding into the leather bucket chair, the rich, fragrant wind of Chanel No. 5 gusting between them.
“He’s in my Intro to Lit class,” Mattie told her. She bit into her Nutri-Grain bar, pushing a bag of pretzels toward Nicole.
“He’s back from Pennsylvania.” Nicole popped a few sourdough nuggets into her mouth. “He’s living with his father again.” She crunched around her words. “I wonder what happened. I’d figured we’d seen the last of him after graduation.” Nicole shrugged, rolling her heavily made-up eyes. “Did you know he’s half Brazilian?” Her dark brows lifted. “I never knew that.” Nicole stared at her, tongue in cheek. “That’s where those looks come from. I always wondered.” Her brows waggled. “He’s not my type, though.”
Mattie laughed and just listened. She didn’t want to interrupt Nicole’s flow. Mattie’s unspoken question was answered in the next informative breath.
“Maybe I’ll invite him to the party, a sort of welcome back, you know.” Nicole’s eyes flashed. She always had a plan. Her mind never fell short when it came to spinning an elaborate web, though this one didn’t seem to really benefit her.
“So,” Nicole’s hands rotated through the air, “did you talk to him?” Nicole’s mouth tipped into her famous seductive smirk, her wine-colored lipstick settling in the cracks of her lips.
“No. I just scoped him out.”
“Ah, come on, Mattie.” Nicole nudged her hand across the table. “Reacquaint yourself. “Come to think of it—”
Mattie cut her off. “I can handle it, if there’s anything to handle, thank you.” Mattie waited, thinking Nicole might be trying to sell her the benefits of an exclusive relationship. Nicole and Cody had been together for years, since junior high. Now that they were all in their early twenties, it seemed as if Cody was Nicole’s ‘forever man.’ Cody was a mechanic downtown. Nicole’s parents weren’t happy with the fact that Cody had been around this long. They’d hoped for a more polished man for their daughter, but after Nicole’s parents accepted that their daughter wasn’t going to heed their advice, they let the issue die.
Nicole’s parents immersed their lives into their jobs and their money, giving Nicole whatever she wanted so there was no friction. They were white-collar workers who commuted to New York and often stayed at their condo in Manhattan during the week, leaving Nicole alone to run things as she saw fit.
“Have you heard from our valedictorian?” Sometimes Nicole was just a bit too candid and sarcastic.
“Not since she went back to school, no.” Mattie leaned on the table, inhaling the smell of grease, suddenly craving a cup of fries from the café. The line was thinning out. While debating whether to ingest the additional 300 calories, Nicole nudged her leg.
“There he is.” She turned, watching Seth stroll out of the café with a pretzel dotted with gobs of mustard in his hand. He had a brown, suede backpack hanging off his shoulder. “Just look at the heads turn.” Nicole’s wide eyes flashed back at her.
“It’s the hair,” Mattie muttered. “It’s got everyone in an uproar. It did get long.”
Nicole faced her, raking the stiff, black strands of her own hair out of her eyes. “Gotta go. See you.” Nicole darted across the lounge, her pencil-thin legs skirting through the crowd, disappearing through the double doors.
Mattie opted out of getting the fries, picked up her tote bag, and went outside. The campus had an outdoor eating area. In the spring it was always busy, but on a raw day like today, she could be by herself, which was what she wanted.
College had turned into a big disappointment. Mattie just wanted to stop this mundane nonsense and start her life. What that entailed she wasn’t sure. She sat down at the table, the cold wood seeping through her jeans. A frigid wind blew, poking her cheeks like millions of frozen needles. When she thought about what type of job she’d like, it was always bittersweet. Her thoughts would always lead back to her mother, numbing her insides as if injected with Novocain. By the time her mother finally got the confidence to try her hand at running a business and run with her talent, a tragic car accident had taken her life.
The void Mattie was nursing was only thirteen months old. She reached into her pocket, fingering the wishing stone her mother had given her. It was a pale-blue stone with white, crystalized rings swirled through it. The whole point of the rock being called a “wishing stone” was that the rings, of course, were a series of closed shapes and they were all intertwined. No ring or circle stands alone. When you wanted to make a wish, you were supposed to hold the stone and caress it with your fingers.
She took the stone out and stared at it, running her thumb across its smooth surface. She silently voiced her wish. Mattie hoped that she had the opportunity to maybe talk with Seth. Though they never hung out with the same crowd when they were younger, a new social outlet might be nice. He did sit right in front of her. Something was definitely missing. She knew the empty space that her mother had left behind could never be filled with anything else, but there was another space, a void that was growing, consuming her with an ache that had her body feeling dormant and lifeless. A feeling a 21-year-old woman shouldn’t have.
Another component of Mattie’s pain was the recent news of her father having a girlfriend. This’d been dumped in her lap a few weeks ago. It almost seemed as if it was planned. Apparently her father thought if he waited at least a year, it would be acceptable for him to start seeing someone else. Mattie didn’t like Karen. Her father had brought her home last weekend for takeout, and to “get acquainted,” as he put it. She was not impressed.
Her mother had been down to earth. She liked simple things and often relished the basics. When her father began moving up in the company and earning more money, her mother always disregarded his ideas of wanting to put an addition on the house, or move to the more affluent side of town, where Nicole lived. Her mother didn’t need those things to enrich her life.
Karen was phonier than a pleather wallet. She liked money and nice things. She was a secretary at Eli Lilly Pharmaceuticals, where her father worked as head chemist. Mattie often battled the nagging, bad feeling that something may have been going on between them in secret, before her mother’s death. Karen had probably had her eye on her father for years. She came across as the stalking type. If Karen thought she was going to barge into their lives and change everything, she was sadly mistaken.
The lounge started to thin out. Mattie cut through the outdoor breezeway. She walked through the parking lot, heading over to the south side of the building. She had one more class and then could go home. As Mattie strolled to keyboarding class, a silver car caught her eye.
It was Seth. He careened around the parking lot, driving toward the exit, a bottle of Snapple balanced against the wheel. He must’ve had a light credit load to be leaving so early. He gunned the engine, an old Volvo 242, the brakes squealing at the stop sign. Mattie hid behind the pillar outside the double doors next to the B wing, watching him drive away.
* * *
Seth and his father lived in the eco-friendly house that sat on the hillside right behind hers. They’d moved in during her senior year in high school. Though she knew this was wrong, Mattie went into her closet and took out her telescope. She set the tripod up near the window and brought the naked winter hillside into focus. She could blame Nicole for her nosy sleuthing. The gossip she’d shared earlier had Mattie hungering for more insight into Seth’s return.
About six years ago, an environmentally friendly house had been built into the mountain behind her house. At first the neighborhood had been outraged, saying it was a modern-day eyesore, which only reflected their ignorance. It was a bi-level. The clapboard structure was a stained walnut color. A windmill slowly revolved behind the house, catching the winter wind. It had solar panels on the roof and tall, vertical windows. It was so open that if Mattie decided to star-gaze during the winter months when the trees were bare, she’d be able to see right through the windows, viewing the inside of the house with the aid of the lens.
If it’d been any other time of year, all she would be able to see would be thick, green foliage. Her house was surrounded by dense woods that led to the incline of the mountain into which Seth’s house was nestled. Two lawyers had had the house built. Once they realized what was involved in the owning and operation of an eco-friendly home, they just threw in the towel and put it up for sale.
She slowly turned the knob, bringing the image of Seth’s car into focus first. His Volvo was parked off to the side. A blue van was parked in front of the garage, the rear doors open. Mattie moved the tripod, wanting to read the white lettering on the side: Accent Carpentry. She slowly moved the scope, taking in the modernized monstrosity.
Mattie opened the window. Cold, brittle air sliced through her nose. A clamoring metal-on-metal sound echoed off the mountain. Seth filled the lens. He walked out of a smaller building in the back of the house, resembling a cottage. The siding was a vibrant, cardinal red with black shutters. It looked too big to be a shed or a workshop.
His body moved up and down with a graceful fluency. His hair was now tied back into a ponytail that rested over his shoulder. He gazed into the sky. Mattie’s breath caught, sticking to her ribs. His eyes were a delicious brown, warm, like steaming hot chocolate. She felt like she was falling into something. Something that was soothing. Was he someone who might be genuine and real? She was so tired of the social masquerade. At times Nicole was even part of it. This party she was having would probably be another stage full of thick masks.
Seth removed what looked like an easel and returned to the red structure, the door closing behind him. Mattie shook her head, trying to slough him off, putting the telescope back into the closet. She wouldn’t do this again. Guilt scraped over her, feeling like a nosy old lady. If she wanted to know about him, she would have to try talking to him. She didn’t have Intro to Lit until Thursday.
* * *
When Mattie walked into the curriculum office the next day to check her credits and saw Seth leaning on the counter, she felt her world shift, thinking that her opportunity may have come sooner than she thought. Could she pull off some small talk? Would he even remember her?
Copyright 2008 2013 - Justine C Szot
Email Justine at justine@jc-hotreads.com
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