FIRST 3 CHAPTERS
People often stopped Jenny on the street to ask if the child by her side was her younger sister, but she was not embarrassed to say, “No, this is my child.” Yet some of the looks she drew from others certainly bothered her.
Jenny had to seriously think about her past and her future. She was 16 years old when her life changed forever. Despite being raised in a Christian home with strict religious values, some of her choices were careless… and they came with weighty consequences.
Today as the mother of a teenage daughter, she views the world with the eyes of an adult. She looks back and clearly sees how different she viewed life back then - so childishly irresponsible. Her family stood behind her during those difficult times but she did not truly appreciate their support. Recalling her rebellious years, she hopes Janie will not follow in her footsteps.
A strange combination of sadness and joy overcome her when she turns back the clock. Names and faces float through her mind like ghosts that still haunted her, but as always, a smile forms on her face and she remembers only love.
This may seem like a typical teenage story, as you read of her getting into trouble like most teenagers do - you will smile, you might even get mad, and at some points you might also cry. However, her name is Jenny Federigo, and this is her story. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.
1. The Present Day
Jenny fervently pushed down on the gas pedal. It was 3:25 in the afternoon and she was anxious to get home. As she drove her green Camaro on a warm windy day, tiredness consumed her. She had run all day at work, talking to customers and writing receipts. She worked for the city helping people acquire permission for legal additions to properties – not the most difficult job but she was also a single mom, with plenty of chores to do when she got home. However, she still needed to go shopping for the party, and fought off the exhaustion.
Jenny glanced into the overhead mirror. The image staring back at her reflected her mother’s rich Italian features as well as her father’s distinctly Indian traits. Her skin was a beautiful olive color, her hair long and dark, and her eyes a deep brown.
Her daughter Janie, usually went to her grandmother Marie’s house after school. She had promised her that after school that day they would go to the mall. Entering her mother’s driveway with the windows rolled down, she could hear the wind ringing through the chimes on the front porch. As she strode up the sidewalk to the front steps many memories of growing up in that two-story house embraced her. The screen door was open so she let herself in and it slammed behind her.
“Janie?” her mother called. “Is that you?”
Marie thought it might be her granddaughter arriving home from school. She had just taken chocolate chip cookies out of the oven and hoped to surprise her.
When Jenny entered the kitchen she sucked in a big whiff. It was a familiar smell that she remembered from childhood. She shut her eyes for a moment to reminisce. As her mom placed the cookies on a cooling rack, Jenny walked over and planted a soft kiss on her cheek. It felt good to be home in familiar surroundings.
“Isn’t Janie home yet?” Jenny asked.
“No,” Marie replied, brushing a few grey hairs from her temples.
Marie had been busy in the kitchen for hours, and the warmth of the day along with the heat of the oven left her feeling somewhat bedraggled. Even so, the 50-year-old still looked younger than her years with only a few lines around her eyes. She had also baked a cake because another one of her grandchildren was celebrating her first birthday. Raising a spatula, Marie scooped some white frosting out of a bowl and spooned it onto the cake. Jenny grabbed a hot cookie, tossed the treat hand to hand and blew on it to cool it down before taking a bite. Then she went to the fridge for a glass of cold milk - the perfect drink in which to dip the cookie. This was a habit she had acquired and loved while growing up.
As always, Jenny glanced at two framed pictures on the wall leading from the kitchen to the living room. One contained a newspaper article about the bridge that was finally built over a set of railroad tracks near the local high school. Jenny had pushed for that bridge, and was proud of that accomplishment. She had quite a struggle getting the town to accept the idea. She gathered countless signatures so the city would create a traffic statement to determine if a bridge was really necessary. The other frame displayed a train smashed into a pickup truck – a devastating accident that added fire to her determination and still pulled painfully at her heart. She finished her cookie, put two fingers to her lips, kissed them and gently let them touch the picture.
Entering the living room, Jenny stared out the front window. Then she turned and scanned the room. It had undergone a complete metamorphosis over the years. When she was young the couch was a swirl of pastel pink and blue in a unique design. In front of it sat a big blue throw rug with a pink and blue border. The television was an old-fashion console model with pictures of five small children sitting on top. She now saw a color scheme of brown and beige with light beige carpeting - one thing her parents would not have when she and her siblings were young. There was also a modern plasma TV. The picture window, which used to be covered in drapes tied at each side, now, had only shades. She marveled at how so many things had changed over the years, yet so many other things remained exactly the same. An odd mixture of past and present melded together into the present day.
Jenny began to pace the living room. Where is Janie? She wondered.
Marie entered and immediately sensed her daughter’s concern.
“Settle down,” she said. “She should be here any moment.”
Marie gently squeezed her daughter’s shoulder. As a mother herself for thirty years, she knew full well what it was like to worry about one’s child. Jenny’s body tensed as she leaned by the front door peering out a small side window. Her angst was evidenced by her crossed ankles and tightly wrapped arms around her waist.
“She should have been home already, mom.”
Although Jenny tried to remain calm, fear overcame her and once again she paced the room. Why is she so late? Her imagination ran wild with thoughts of Janie doing something she knew she shouldn’t. Remembering her own teen years, she feared that her daughter might be involved with the wrong crowd – hanging around after school smoking and taking drugs. She hated the way her mind conjured up such dreadful images. Why can’t I just be positive instead of envisioning such awful things?
Janie was on her way home but became sidetracked when two boys grabbed her trumpet case and backpack. She raced after them forcing her legs to run faster without letting them trip her up. She should have turned right at the corner but they ran to the left, which left her no choice but to go the wrong way to catch up with them.
“Come on,” huffed Janie with a lighthearted giggle. “Please stop!” The wind howled down Martin Street making it difficult to run.
“Ha, ha,” Carl laughed as he ran.
Whenever she got close, he turned inadvertently. For a second she thought she caught him, but he swiftly jogged to the right catching her off guard. Then she fell, twisted her ankle, and landed on her knees. She knew she would be in trouble when her mother saw the grass stains on her pants. She always thinks the worst, Janie thought.
“Oh, Janie,” Jose sang playfully, “I have something that belongs to you.”
They ran off the sidewalk and veered onto a green pathway where a couple of dogs ran with their owners and some kids played catch. She ran in between them trying to grab her belongings sometimes closing in, yet they always managed to get away.
Marie put her arms around Jenny and offered a gentle hug.
“I’m sure she’s fine,” she said in a comforting tone. “She’s a good girl. Remember when you were 14?”
“Yeah, I remember,” she replied. “That’s why I’m so worried.”
Jenny automatically touched the silver heart locket around her neck. Even though she felt a sense of accomplishment for being able to care well for her daughter, she wanted more for her. She definitely did not want her to make the same mistakes she made at that age.
Marie recalled her daughter’s difficulties and winced. She would do anything to wipe away Jenny’s memory of those times, but knew that those unexpected and difficult problems helped mold her into the kind of woman she was today.
“Let’s go back to the kitchen,” she suggested. “You can help me frost with the cake. I’m sure Janie will be here soon.”
Marie took her daughter’s hand and coaxed her to follow. Just then the door swung open and Janie ran in laughing. As she entered, the door slammed against the wall prompting her to yell, “Sorry!”
She was thirty minutes late. Not only was she huffing and puffing but also her hair straggled around her face and her braid was a mess. Her knees were covered with grass stains and her shirt stuck out of her pants. She stood for a moment in the hallway and took in the scent of fresh-baked cookies. She could not resist. Completely forgetting about the mall, she headed for the kitchen.
“Mm… cookies,” she squealed running past her mother and grandmother.
“Stop right there, young lady!” Jenny hollered wagging a finger. “Where on earth have you been? And look at you! What in heaven’s name have you been doing?”
Marie turned and left the room to give mother and daughter some privacy.
“You know you’re supposed to be home right after school,” Jenny added leaning over Janie’s slender form. Her body stiffened and her hands clutched into fists at her side. She wanted answers – and fast before her awful thoughts made her even more upset. Janie hung her head as she listened to her mother.
“You were only ten minutes from here,” she said. “You know you’re not allowed to stop and talk or visit with anyone.”
Janie shot her head up and glared at her mother the second she stopped talking. What did I do wrong? She wondered as she focused on her mother’s questioning eyes.
Janie tossed down her backpack and instrument case, crossed her arms, spread her legs and stood rigidly – defiantly so - in front of her mother. She was tired of all the lectures. Why can’t she just let me have a little fun now and then?
“I’m not like you, mom,” she said finally, her face flushed with anger. “You taught me right from wrong and I didn’t do anything bad.”
Janie was just beginning to notice boys but even though teenage hormones were coming into play, she still acted more like a child. She did not care about makeup or what she looked like. Even so, she figured a few of the boys liked her anyway. Heck, they would not pull her braid or take her things to make her chase them if they didn’t. She had to admit that she enjoyed the attention; it was just innocent fun.
Tears formed in Janie’s eyes because she knew what her mother thought. She hated being accused of something before they even talked. How dare she think that way, Janie thought indignantly. I’m a kid and I have friends. Why doesn’t she trust me?
She paused to take a breath and recalled her mother’s lectures on not following the crowd or taking drugs. She already knew about sex because mom was honest and open about life.
“I’m not going to make the same mistakes you did,” she blurted out, and immediately wished she hadn’t.
The ensuing silence was deafening as mother and daughter glared at each other. Jenny focused on her daughter’s eyes and could see Jacy all over again. Sometimes it hurt to see him in her, but she did not want to forget the times they shared together.
They stared at each other for a long moment. Then Janie sighed aloud, turned and headed for the stairs. She deliberately pounded her feet on each step and when she reached her room, she slammed the door forcefully. Marie heard the noise and joined her daughter in the living room.
“Don’t you think you’re being a little too hard on her,” she suggested wiping her hands with a towel.
She could see the pain in her daughter’s eyes and felt helpless. She knew Jenny had only good intentions for Janie but she also realized that even the best of intentions could lead one to overreact. Jenny began to cry and turned toward the front door. Again despite her better judgment, she had considered the worst.
“I’ve got to get some air,” she said. Jenny pulled her car keys from her purse, and hurried out the front door.
Jenny was raised in Fort Wayne, Indiana. In that corner of the world, the Federigo family enjoyed all four seasons: spring as it blossomed with fresh new life, the sweltering heat of the summer, fall with its amazingly colored leaves, and the chilly snows of winter. Her doting parents, Jim and Marie, offered a loving and protective environment to their children. Jenny’s carefree life was filled with softball games and soccer teams, as well as bike riding like most families in the area. One of her favorite places to go was the local children’s zoo with its skyline and train ride. They usually stopped to see the giraffes, lions, and kangaroos, but she really loved the petting zoo where she could help give bottles to the baby animals.
Fort Wayne was referred to as the City Of Churches, a nickname that stretched back to the late 1800’s when the city was a hub for regional Catholic, Lutheran and Episcopal faiths. Jenny’s family attended a Fundamental Baptist Church where they sang in the choir and volunteered their time with fundraisers. Jenny volunteered once a month by helping in the nursery where she loved caring for the babies during the church service. The youngest ones sometimes became frightened, but she sang to them in their bassinets to calm them down. Once they reached about six months, she held them, rocked them or fed them their bottles. Thus her maternal instincts developed when she was still a teenager.
Jenny’s best friend and reading buddy was Ashley - a slightly overweight girl with red hair and pale skin. They became friends as young children, and continued to remain close into their teen years. They both preferred to keep their noses in books instead of hanging out with the kids at school. Who
needed other friends when you had a reading partner?
Jenny took part in sports, but only because her mother insisted. She much preferred delving into a good book, while her siblings watched television. She particularly loved the series Sweet Valley High and The Secret Garden. At school, she was a good student who kept up her grades much to the delight of her teachers. She liked school, especially chatting in the halls with Ashley whenever the opportunity arose. She enjoyed her first year of high school as a freshman and looked forward to the next three years. Little did she know, this was not meant to be.
During the summer before Grade 10 began, Jenny’s father came home with startling news. Jim was offered a promotion and increased salary to take a job out of state. He managed a large baking company that planned to open a new plant about an hour outside of Oklahoma City. The family would have to move so he could start up the plant, and Marie would need to quit her job at the beauty shop. After discussing the pros and cons of such a move, Jim and Marie came to the conclusion that the kids were still young and could adjust. They figured that their eldest daughter, Kristina, would likely be the most distressed since she was a senior in high school, but agreed that the move would further Jim’s career, and prove to be beneficial overall to the family.
A family meeting was held amid much protest, moaning, and groaning from the children. As they expected, Kristina complained about leaving her friends, and graduating with a bunch of new acquaintances instead of all of those who were already dear to her. However, her parents reminded her that in just one more year she’d be leaving to attend college anyway, and she might just as well learn to make new friends. That did not go over well. At the other end of the spectrum, Jenny’s brother Erik was excited about this new adventure while Jenny’s younger sisters, Jessica and Regina, were too young to care.
Since her parents had already made up their minds, the plan was put into motion. By the end of summer, Jim had secured appropriate housing, their Indiana house was packed up and the movers picked up their belongings. Jenny cried when she said goodbye to Ashley, but promised to write. She did not have many close friends at school, and really did not care, but she and Ashley were like peanut butter and jelly – they just fit together and were linked at the hips like sisters. They knew each other so well and the thought of leaving her best friend broke her heart.
Jim drove his 1994 GMC Safari with Erik and Kristina in his car. The drive was long with bathroom and snack stops along the way. Erik wore his headphones with Metallica blasting in his ears, while Kristina read books. Although uncomfortable about driving so far, Marie followed him in her 1994 Pontiac Grand Am with Jenny and the little ones. Jessica and Regina played games in the back seat along the way and every few miles asked, “Are we there yet?”
As the sun began to set, Jim stopped at a hotel because he knew Marie feared driving at night. The children were happy to stop because Jenny’s parents made the trip an adventure. They enjoyed swimming in the hotel’s pool and going out for dinner. After a good night’s sleep, the morning sun reminded them to get back on the road. By the time the next evening arrived, the family reached their new home. However, they could not stay there because the movers were not due until the following day so it was off to another hotel for the night.
When they went back to the two-story house, the movers had arrived. The house had five bedrooms, which meant Jessica and Regina would share a room. Marie let the kids take part in decorating their rooms, picking out the bedspreads and sheets, and letting them choose the colors of paint for the walls. Disgruntled, Jenny could not help noticing the lack of greenery in the area. The landscape was entirely different with flat plains stretching as far as the eye could see.
It was a warm and windy day when school began that fall. All the children would be the new kids on the block. They had never experienced this before, and each took it differently. Kristina decided that keeping her grades up was more important than making friends. Her new school did not accept the same credits as the last one, so she took it upon herself to take extra classes and study. Erik and the youngest girls did not seem to mind their new school. As for Jenny, she definitely did not like being a sophomore with students she did not know. After just a month, she had had enough.
“Mom,” she groaned, “why did we have to move here?”
“You know why, honey,” said Marie. “Your dad got a new job.” She opened the fridge to see what she could make for dinner.
“I hate it here,” Jenny replied sullenly.
She was quite unhappy and wanted her mother to know it. Marie glanced up at her daughter. She looked so down in the dumps and Marie could not help feeling badly for her. However, she also knew that sometimes it was necessary to make sacrifices in life. Although it was difficult to uproot the entire brood, Jim obtained a position that would help the family out more than before.
“Honey, you haven’t given it enough time,” Marie noted. She grabbed frozen vegetables and chicken from the freezer just as Jessica and Regina ran into the kitchen.
“Dinner ready yet?” They chimed in unison.
Marie caught and kissed both of them on the forehead. In response, they squeezed her tightly around the waist.
“Not yet. Did you do your homework?”
“Awe,” they moaned retreating back to the living room.
“And turn off the TV,” she shouted behind them. Marie stirred the pot of vegetables and turned toward Jenny.
“Haven’t you made any friends yet?”
“No,” Jenny replied stubbornly. “No one wants to be friends with someone who is new and not a freshman. No one even talks to me,” she added slumping into a kitchen chair. She crossed her arms on the table and let her head rest on her arms. “I miss Ashley,” she muffled.
Marie drew near, played with Jenny’s hair and gently caressed her head. She knew her job was to encourage her daughter and get her motivated to make friends - not an easy task.
“Honey, sometimes you have to be a friend, before you can make a friend,” she soothed, but Jenny did not respond. “Give it some more time. By the way,” she smiled, “I got a job at a beauty shop here in town.”
“Great. Someone even likes you already,” she whined and rolled her eyes. It’s just not fair, Jenny thought. How am I supposed to find another Ashley?
“Come and help me set the table,” Marie suggested. “Tomorrow will be another day.”
3. New School – New Friends
The following day, Jenny was far from thrilled with the prospect of trying to make new friends but to her surprise someone did talk to her.
“Hey,” she heard as she sauntered along the hallway.
A petite pretty young girl dressed entirely in black with dark lipstick and a gold chain around her waist stood in front of her. Jenny had seen her in the halls before but did not really take notice. And she was not the kind of girl her parents would like her to know. However, no one else had befriended her yet so she was happy that someone approached her.
“I’m Sandy,” the girl announced. “Do you have a smoke?”
Jenny’s eyes grew as big as saucers. The last bell rang and lockers slammed shut while other students pushed and shoved their way down the hall to get out the school doors. Jenny dropped one of her books and stooped down to get it. Then she looked up at Sandy and shook her head.
“No, I don’t smoke,” she said softly.
“New around here?” Sandy asked sincerely.
“Then come and meet the gang?”
A red flag flew up in Jenny’s mind and she hesitated for a moment but then chose to ignore it. No one else seemed interested in her and just the fact that Sandy said hello made her feel better. Letting her guard down, she followed Sandy across the street to a spot where a group of teenagers stood smoking and chatting. They looked like they were having a good time.
“Anyone got a smoke?” Sandy yelled.
Jenny stood awkwardly next to her and let her eyes scan the ground.
“Here,” said one of the boys throwing her a cigarette. “Need a light?”
Sandy inhaled slowly before letting the smoke escape through her nose.
“This is Jenny,” she announced between coughs.
As Sandy introduced her to each of them, she glanced up shyly. First there was Susan, medium height and skinny with short red hair that waved around her face. She wore thick black eye makeup and lipstick, with long dangling earrings. Then there was Amanda, a tall and lean girl about a year older than the rest with long dirty blonde hair. Her skirt was so short that if she bent over, her behind would show. Amanda did not have enough credits to progress to the eleventh grade so she was a year behind. However, she did have a car and a driver’s license. Gary was lanky with a shaved head except on the top where there was some black spiked hair. Jenny noticed his tight jeans and cute smile. Last but not least was Jacy, a tall muscular Native Indian with long black hair pulled into a ponytail, dark brown eyes and an irresistible smile.
“Hi,” said Jacy, his eyes twinkling. He held out his pack of smokes and shook it until a cigarette popped up. Then he offered it to her.
“No thanks,” Jenny replied. What am I doing here? She thought.
Jacy took the smoke out and lit it. “So you’re new around here?” He asked, the cigarette hanging from his mouth.
Jenny suddenly felt flushed and her hands became sweaty. As the teens continued to talk, the sun played between the clouds making shadows on their faces. The wind was warm, offering the only comfortable feeling at the time. She recalled how she avoided kids like this when she hung around with Ashley. The warning signs told her to run but her legs did not respond.
“Where did you move from?” Jacy asked.
“You a freshman?”
“Sucks being you.”
“Tell me about it.”
“Where do you live?”
“Menard Street and 108th,” she whispered, her head still down and kicking a stone.
Jacy’s eyes widened and a huge smile formed on his face. He took another drag of his cigarette letting the smoke slowly stream from his mouth.
“That’s where I live,” he laughed.
Jenny’s eyes flashed up at him and noticed that he was looking past her. She turned and followed his gaze.
“Got the feeling you missed the bus,” he said.
Jenny let out a long sigh. The walk home would be a long one.
“Got to go,” she said shrugging her shoulders.
Jenny stared at the ground ahead as she walked away. She knew her mother would grill her with questions by the time she got home so she picked up her pace. Then she heard Jacy call out her name.
“Come on,” he said attempting to catch up to her. “You’re on my way. Want a ride?”
“Who’s driving?” Jenny asked.
“Amanda. She always drives me home. We got room,” he added, his eyes beckoning.
Jenny paused for a moment. She was not allowed in a car with a teenager. Not yet anyway.
“Your call,” Jacy said with a grin.
He took the last drag of his smoke before throwing the butt on the ground. Then he turned around and followed the rest of the group to the parking lot. Jenny felt conflicted. She could hear her mother telling her that accidents happened because kids often act so irresponsibly in cars. They did not understand how important it was to leave the driver alone, not blast the radio and wear their seatbelts. Then she thought of the long walk ahead of her.
“Wait for me!” She yelled.
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