Willow Grove Chapter 1
Welcome to Willow Grove, a story told week by week. The best part? YOU get to choose how events unfold. Read Chapter 1, then vote for what you think should happen next!
Chapter 1: Scarlett
You never know the day your whole life is going to change. You’re just going along and then BAM. Everything is different.
For me, it happened the first day back from spring break in 10th grade. I’d just come back from my annual family ski trip, which mostly involved me studying chemistry in the heated lodge while my brothers Cameron and Kellen obsessed over their latest snowboarding tricks.
Up until that day, my life had been pretty predictable. I live in Willow Grove, which is quite possibly the most boring town in the universe. The houses look the same, and the streets are full of grocery stores and mom-and-pop diners and strip malls. The weather is drab: never too sunny or hot, never too rainy or cold. Life revolves around high school sports, which I don’t care about, and who is asking whom to the prom or winter formal. Everyone’s grown up together, so we know each other’s stories. There’s nothing to learn here, nowhere to grow. Most people don’t care about that. They don’t want to leave.
Me, however, I thought about leaving since I was five years old. That’s when I met my best friend Lizzie Wade, back in the kindergarten sandbox when we both wore pigtails and thought we were going to grow up to be Dora the Explorer. Lizzie and I were the smartest girls - heck, the smartest people - in our grade, and we knew it. Even as kids, we dreamed of leaving Willow Grove for something more, something bigger. She’d be a television writer in Los Angeles, I’d be a world-changing entrepreneur in San Francisco.
By the time we reached high school, we were closer to our dreams and beyond close in our friendship. I could look into her electric blue eyes and read her mind before she even had to speak. She knew when I was sad, or stressed, or confused, just by the way I styled my dusty blonde hair. We spent lunch at our corner table in the cafeteria, reviewing last-minute vocabulary words or cramming for the latest history quiz. We’d make plans for our future while laughing at our classmates who only wanted to live in the present. Who cares if Hudson Walker asked Adley Robinson to prom? They’re never going anywhere in life. In those moments, it didn’t matter that we were stuck in this town for two more years, or that we didn’t know where we’d get into college - or if we had the money to go. We had each other, and that meant we were going to be okay.
Monday morning, the first day back from spring break. I should’ve known things were different when I woke up ten minutes past my alarm (this never happened, I usually got up earlier than I needed to) and had to sprint into the passenger seat of my brother Cameron’s beat-up car. As Cameron pulled out of the driveway, I put in my contact lenses and rubbed on clear lip gloss, using my iPhone’s selfie camera as a mirror.
“Scarlett Smith, running late,” Cameron teased, turning up the Travis Scott track playing from the stereo. “Are you trying out a new personality now that spring break is over?”
“Just slept through my alarm for some reason,” I muttered, tying my hair in a ponytail. I wasn’t in the mood to joke, not with a chemistry exam in five hours. I looked out the window. “Wait, is it actually sunny out today?” Another sign that things were different.
“Yeah, and Mom said it’s gonna be like 70 degrees later,” Kellen said from the backseat, yelling over the sound of whatever punk band was playing in his headphones. My brothers agreed on snowboarding, annoying me, and baseball, but couldn’t seem to enjoy any of the same music.
“Weird,” Cameron and I said at the same time. We looked at each other and smiled. We’re only 11 months apart, which makes it easy to get mad at each other and go right back to getting along.
At first, school was the same as ever. My English teacher handed back my essay on The Great Gatsby (Grade: 98, Comment: Scarlett, you’re brilliant!) and my math teacher handed back our latest pre-algebra quiz (Grade: 100, Comment: Keep this up, Scarlett, and you’re headed for an A+ this quarter). I didn’t like to brag, so as usual, I slipped the papers into my backpack and waited until lunch to really look them over. Even when I did well, I always knew there was room to improve. Willow Grove smart isn’t the same as San Francisco smart.
I had nearly forgotten about the chaos of the morning as I walked to lunch. It was so warm that I could tie my sweater around my waist and just wear my dark wash jeans and lavender tank top. Backpack draped over my right shoulder, I walked into the cafeteria and toward my corner table.
Then, I stopped and blinked. Were my contacts deceiving me? There was Lizzie, her jet-black hair perfectly straight and down to her bellybutton, her well-worn ivory Keds tapping against the cafeteria floor. But she wasn’t wearing a hoodie and leggings like usual, and she wasn’t doodling in her trademark purple notebook.
Lizzie Wade was wearing a sundress. A pink sundress. And she was laughing with a girl I’d never seen before in my life.
“Scarlett! Come over here!” Lizzie’s slightly high-pitched voice was recognizable, even if nothing else was.
I walked over with more caution than normal. “Uh…hey,” I said, more to Lizzie than to the new girl.
“Kara, this is Scarlett,” Lizzie said. She was talking fast and tucking her hair behind her ear, which meant she was nervous. “And Scarlett, this is Kara.”
I looked at Kara. The first thing I noticed was that her eyebrows were perfect. Her skin was natural and glowing, and her light brown hair was flecked with shades of golden sunlight. Her teeth were as white as her linen sundress, and her toes were painted fiery red in her beige sandals. She looked like she belonged on a beach in Malibu or a reality show in The Hamptons. She didn’t look like Willow Grove.
“Nice to meet you,” I said awkwardly. There hadn’t been a new student in Willow Grove since Danny Hudgens in the sixth grade (he’s the football quarterback now, but Lizzie and I still remembered him as the math class nose-picker). “Did you just move here?” Of course she did, Scarlett. Why do you sound so dumb?!
“You too!” chirped Kara, flashing me a warm smile as I sat down. “Yeah, my dad just got transferred here for his job. I’m from Chicago.”
“Cool, cool.” Why was I talking like I’ve never heard the English language before?
“Kara’s dad is my mom’s new boss,” Lizzie said proudly, taking a bite of her turkey sandwich. “I met her at the company picnic last weekend, and we basically hung out all spring break.
“Lizzie’s showing me the ropes,” Kara said, giggling, as if she was the one who’d known Lizzie for a decade.
I took a deep breath. Inhale, exhale. Be cool, Scarlett. “Well, it’s so nice to meet you,” I said, with all the warmth I could muster. She seems nice. There’s nothing not to like. “I hope we can all hang out soon.”
I took my English paper out of my bag and started to read through Ms. Walsh’s comments. “Woah, that’s a really good grade,” Kara said, leaning over the table to look.
“Thanks,” I mumbled, turning the page. Nosy much?! I flashed Lizzie a knowing look, but she just stared back blankly.
“Scarlett’s, like, really smart,” Lizzie said to Kara.
I frowned. “So are you,” I said without looking up.
“Not as smart as you,” Lizzie protested, more to Kara than to me. “I mean, I got a B on that essay. And I worked on it way more than you did.”
“I worked hard,” I said, suddenly feeling the need to be defensive. “And you get better grades than me on plenty of things.” That wasn’t really true, but I’d never heard Lizzie compare herself to me before.
“Whatever,” said Lizzie, crumpling up her trash. She looked unsure for a second, glancing at Kara, then back at me. “So, Scarlett, what are you doing later?”
I shrugged. “Studying, probably.” There was a long pause, too long, so I looked up. “You?”
“Well,” said Lizzie, tapping her foot and playing with her hair, “Kara’s having a party later, and I thought you might want to come.”
“It’s Monday,” I said, confused, and immediately felt uncool.
“My parents have to go back to Chicago for the night,” Kara said, shrugging, “so I thought I’d take the opportunity to get to know everybody.”
“Is it just going to be the three of us?”
Kara shook her head. “I invited some people from my math class,” she said. “I know Adley Robinson from summer camp, so it’s mostly her and whoever she wants to bring.” Well, at least that meant Kara was in the easy math class. Then, I felt bad for thinking that.
I tried to shoot Lizzie a look. Adley Robinson wasn’t exactly our BFF. I’m pretty sure she didn’t even know my name. But Lizzie wouldn’t look at me.
“It’ll be fun,” Lizzie said, staring at the window. She twirled a strand of hair. “Cameron can come, too, you know.”
“Sure, why not?” Lizzie shrugged, looking down at the floor. “The more the merrier.”
“Exactly!” Kara said, throwing her hands in the air. “It’s a party. 7 o’clock, 314 Harwood Court. Be there or be square.” She got up from her seat. “I’m going to get another iced tea.”
Lizzie looked at me, her blue eyes wide and pleading. “Just come, Scarlett,” she said, as if she could read my thoughts. “Give her a chance.”