Tuesday, October 14, 2014

First Chapter Spotlight: FOREIGN EXCHANGE by Denise Jaden

Foreign Exchange
by Denise Jaden


Jamie Monroe has always played it safe. That is, until her live-for-the-moment best friend, Tristan, jets off to Italy on a student exchange program. Left alone with her part-time mother and her disabled brother, Jamie discovers that she is quite capable of taking her own risks, starting with her best friend’s hotter-than-hot older brother, Sawyer. 

Sawyer and Tristan have been neighbors for years, but as Jamie grows closer to the family she thought she knew, she discovers some pretty big secrets—not only from her, but from each other. As she sinks deeper into their web of pretense, she suspects that her best friend may not be on a safe exchange program at all. Jamie sets off to Europe on a class trip with plans to meet up with Tristan, but when Tristan stops all communication, suddenly no one seems trustworthy, least of all the one person she was starting to trust—Sawyer.

14+ due to sexuality, language, adult situations


Denise Jaden

Copyright © 2014

Chapter One

My best friend, Tristan, believes people can have anything they want in life. They just have to want it badly enough.
Of course, she has... Talent. Courage. Charisma.
When she first mentioned applying for a European academic exchange program, I admit, I thought it was too good to be true—that she might end up in Europe at the exact same time as my class trip to Spain.
She’d made it happen, though, just like she said she could. I have confidence she’ll make the next part happen too. She’ll help me find my dad over there.
Which makes me think: maybe getting what you want in life has something to do with having the right kind of friends.
“Everything will be fine, Jamie. You’ll see,” Tristan says into my hair as I give her a long, hard, goodbye hug. I try to believe her, but she’s so much better at playing things cool. I’d give almost anything for her confidence.
I’ve had daydreams that as soon as she leaves, I’ll be like some kind of budding flower or butterfly sprouting its wings. I’ll reinvent myself and surprise her when I show up in Europe in two weeks, totally carefree and fearless. Like her.
I take a deep breath, let it out slowly, and back away. Everything will be fine, Jamie. You’ll see. I repeat her words in my head, hoping they’ll infuse into me somehow. I paste on a nonchalant smile for the benefit of her parents.
As Mr. Bishop slides Tristan’s red duffel bag into the trunk, her older brother barrels out the front door and onto their driveway. I automatically avert my eyes.
Instead of a hug, he races up and tickles Tristan’s ribs. Tristan shrieks, not even caring about the attention she’s garnering from the neighbors. When you’re that pretty and have modeled in front of multitudes of people, I guess you wouldn’t.
Tristan smacks Sawyer on the chest, then pulls him into something closer to a headlock than a hug, to get him to stop tickling her. Now that his back is toward me, I can take him in. He was away for the summer and this is the first time I’ve seen him up close since he’s been back. They’re both almost six feet tall, but he’s bigger, broader than the last time I saw him. His dark hair slinks well past his shirt collar.
Before I can assess him further, Tristan catches my eye over his shoulder. I dart my eyes away, but then realizing how much it looks like I’m doing something wrong, I turn them back to him, and then slowly to Tristan.
She mouths the word “incest” to me.
I roll my eyes. Her theory is that since she and I are more like sisters than neighbors, me having any thoughts about Sawyer, other than how much of an annoyance he is, would clearly be incestuous.
It’s a moot point. Sawyer blows off the beautiful senior girls at Ainslea High. What on earth would he want with me?
Before I know it, Tristan’s squealing again and stuffing her carry-on into the backseat.
“See you all later,” Sawyer says, all drawly. He’s saying it just to get a rise out of Tristan, either to annoy her or as a joke to calm her down. I can’t tell. Normally, she’d come back with her own Southern mock-drawl, saying, y’all. But today she doesn’t say a word or even react to Sawyer, which tells me she’s actually really nervous.
“Arrivederci! Buona fortuna! Guadare!” I rattle off my own form of joking fun, and now she rolls her eyes back at me. I’ve been speaking to her in Italian for the last month, trying to convince her that the more she can pick up before she goes, the easier it will be to get around and deal with her schooling. It’s the one area I thought I could help, but she says she’ll get along just fine without my silly phrases. I look at her beaming smile, and her long, designer-clad frame. She’s probably right.
“You have your passport?” Mr. Bishop asks her.
“Yes, and my money and my traveler’s checks and all the emergency numbers you gave me. I’ll be fine, Dad.” Tristan’s teasing him, but she should appreciate her parents more for their concern. I glance next door and wonder if Mom has even noticed my early absence.
“And you’ll email when you get there? You should let us know when you get to Newark,” Mr. Bishop goes on.
“Yes, Daddy. I’ll be fine.” Tristan leans in and gives him a kiss on the cheek, then flashes Sawyer a thumbs-up. I’m not sure what that’s about, but I don’t often understand those two. Usually when they’re in each other’s vicinity, they’re arguing, but I guess the idea of having a three-month break from one another is doing wonders for their camaraderie.
Even though I’m certain I’ll miss Tristan the most out of anyone, at least I’ll get to see her in only a couple of weeks. She’ll be traveling from Milan to Barcelona with her host family and meeting me at the Barcelona airport when I arrive. Then we’ll find a way to get me away from my class trip, so we can travel back to Milan and meet up with my dad.
I give her one more hug before sending her off, but sense she’s eager to go. She gets into the backseat, telling her dad they should get a move on.
She keeps her eyes from mine, which means she’s definitely nervous too. She just hides it better. She doesn’t look my way again—I’m the only one who can read her this well—and I watch her dark hair in the back window until she and her parents have driven down our street and turned the corner.
Now that Tristan’s out of reach and will be in the home of a new family within twenty-four hours, it’s all on me to keep our secret.  
Soon, I tell myself for the fiftieth time. You can do this, Jamie. Just stick to the plan.
I concentrate on slowing my breathing.
“You want a ride?” Sawyer’s voice makes me jump and release my breath with a ridiculous, “Oh-whaaa?” sound. I snap my mouth shut, feeling my cheeks warm. I’m so used to avoiding his gaze that it takes me a second to turn and make sure he’s talking to me. But there’s no one else around.
Tristan has never allowed us to ride to school with Sawyer, even though we all go to the same high school. As much as they joke around, Tristan has a jealous streak for her brother that runs deep. The latest vein was opened in early Spring, when Mr. and Mrs. Bishop decided to share a vehicle and gave Sawyer their Jeep.
“Come on. Hop in,” he says, like he doesn’t notice my hesitation.
I glance at my phone, and it is already ten after eight. I’ll probably be late if I walk... not to mention, the idea of walking all by myself doesn’t sound thrilling. Tristan would understand. Or even if she wouldn’t, maybe she doesn’t have to hear about it. She’s not going to talk to Sawyer for three months, and I can keep a secret. I mean, what’s one more?
Besides, if I want to be a more confident Jamie––if I’m really starting now––this could be my first bold move.
I already have my book bag with me, so I walk across the driveway and hold my breath getting into the passenger side of Sawyer's Jeep. For all Tristan’s gone on about Sawyer’s slutty lifestyle, I’m expecting the whole interior of his vehicle to smell like sex. Not that I’d have any clue what that smells like. When he gets in on the driver’s side, I have to let my breath out.
All I smell is leather. And him—kind of a fabric softener/vanilla mix. His smell isn’t really like vanilla, I’m realizing as I inhale again. It’s spicier, and without thinking, I ask, “What cologne do you wear?”
He looks at me for a hint of a second, then back at the front of the Jeep. He hasn’t started it yet, and the pause before he answers feels long. I shouldn’t be doing this. I really shouldn’t be riding with him ten seconds after Tristan left.
“Jean Paul Gaultier. You like it?”
Mostly I like the way he says it, with a French accent, but not a completely natural one. It reminds me of when I was six and I lived with my grandparents in Quebec for the year. All my French vocabulary had sounded a little forced, but my grandparents looked so proud each time I tried. Sawyer really tries too, and I love the way it sounds on him. I swallow and nod.
After a few more uncomfortable seconds, he starts up the Jeep, and the leather seats hug me all the way down our street. They’re black, like the exterior, and there’s a console separating us. I keep getting flashes of Sawyer reaching over and putting his hand on mine, or on my thigh.
Each time one of these thoughts pops into my head, I mentally reprimand myself. Isn’t it bad enough that I’m catching a ride with him? If Tristan could see inside my head right now, she’d check herself into a psych ward, thinking she’d gone crazy. Or she’d check us both into one. The truth is, I don’t know what’s come over me. Tristan’s usually the one who can’t stop talking about kissing, and other things she has far more experience in than me. Maybe I am becoming more like her … but with her brother?
“So you don’t think it’s unfair that you always get to use the Jeep?” I don’t know why I ask this. Maybe I want to remind myself why I should not be thinking of him this way.
Sawyer pulls into the school parking lot and I’m amazed we got here so fast. “Mom and Dad got used to sharing and I need it for work.” He shrugs.
Work? Is that what he calls it when he prowls the college campus for dates on weekends? I obviously don’t know the whole story. He’s probably gotten some part-time job to convince his parents to let him take off to Detroit with the Jeep. But the way he says it, I’m not sure he understands that I was asking about the unfairness to Tristan
He pulls into a parking spot and lets out a breath. There’s already a group of girls headed toward his Jeep, which is nothing new, but I guess I had been hoping we could at least walk into the school together, so I wouldn’t have to walk in alone on my first day of junior year.
Since seventh grade, Tristan’s made me feel like I don’t have to be the shy kid that gets bullied or forgotten in a corner. Sure, we're a vertically ridiculous pair—especially when she wears heels—but at the thought of walking the halls on a “first day” without her, all those insecurities come creeping back. Suddenly the idea of reinventing myself in two weeks seems ridiculous.
I turn to Sawyer, not about to ask, but wishing he’d offer. With all the girls headed our way, I know I’m kidding myself. I’m not expecting him to even glance in my direction, but he does. And the second he does, what do I do? Do I smile and say thanks for the ride, like a girl who’s completely in control of herself around the guy with an ego bigger than the state of Michigan? No. My eyes won’t budge. They’re locked onto his with a magnetic force strong enough to wipe out any hard drive. I swear he does this intense-gaze-thing on purpose to get a reaction out of me. And to be honest, I’m not much of an eyes person. I couldn’t even tell you what color his are.
Okay, they’re brown. But it’s not like they’re some special, melted chocolate, dreamy, windows-to-the-soul type of brown. They’re pretty plain, really, as eyes go.
Okay, they’re not.
His smile falters, like everything is suddenly serious. For one long second, it feels like he’s as dazed as I am.
Then there’s a sound. A knock to the front of his Jeep, and it’s enough to kick me out of my stupor. A blonde girl, Jessica Leverman, is waving at Sawyer through the windshield. She must be the knocker. Or at least she has the knockers––much bigger ones than mine.
I take that as my cue and open my door.
 The girls have all reached Sawyer by the time he gets out. They giggle, all trying to talk over one another to say hi. I group these girls together in my mind because they all speak the same language. It’s a hair-flipping, nail-analyzing, arm-touching language. I specialize in languages—besides the four I speak, I’m also fairly fluent in ASL, thanks to my baby brother who can't talk. With all this language training, I consider myself somewhat of an expert in body language. So I know without having to do much analysis, these girls won’t say a single word to me, because the longer it takes me to back off, the longer Sawyer’s attention won’t be fully on them.
Sawyer lifts an arm to wave to me, but in the process makes himself more accessible. Not missing this, Jessica reaches over to touch his arm. As if he can feel it coming, he shifts away and pulls back.
Aw, two points missed for Jessica.
Seriously. There’s a whole point system and it’s written on the back of the disabled stall in the upstairs bathroom: Two points for touching Sawyer’s outer extremities. Five, for anything closer in. Twenty points if Sawyer touches you on purpose. There are only three twenty-pointers on the whole tally, and those are just hearsay, because none of them go to Ainslea High. I'm certain that's why Sawyer wears long sleeves so often—to tease us with his inaccessibility.
Sawyer’s grin tells me he’s eating up the attention. When I close the Jeep door, the girls stop and stare at me momentarily. Why would be getting out of Sawyer’s Jeep? The question is written all over their faces. Even if I am his sister’s best friend, everyone seems to know how not normal this is.
“Um, thanks for the ride, Sawyer.” I say the words more to his Jeep than to him, and back away, trying hard not to feel like the friendless geek of the group.
Girls always want what they can’t have, and I know in the recesses of my mind that’s the only reason I’ve never been able to take my eyes off of Sawyer Bishop.
Without Tristan here to keep me in check, I’m just like the rest of them.

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