Chapter Three

3. Joyride

Marissa was ravenous. The dull pain of an emerging headache pestered her. Confrontation did that, which made her wonder, again, why she’d chosen to major in International Relations at Abundance University.

I need junk food. Four blocks from Aardvark Pasta she found herself inside the town’s only gas station, stocking up on supplies for an impromptu roadtrip. Splurging was okay tonight, even if it meant paying convenience store prices.

Marissa scoffed as she walked past a large stand-alone display of WAAM energy drinks. The wisp of a girl in spandex on every label greeted her with a huge, fake smile. WAAM, the Weight-Loss, Anti-Aging, Agility-Enhancing, Memory Boosting supplement drink, was the latest snake oil offering from Mal-Chem. Scoffing was her customary response any time she was confronted with reminders of her father or his company. She scoffed often. Mal-Chem advertisements were everywhere. From print ads in sports magazines to displays in every gas station, people were constantly reminded Mal-Chem was the “Number one choice for energy drinks for the fifth straight year.”

Marissa opted for the less auspicious Electro-Lite diet energy drinks buried in the back by the chocolate milk and ordinary sodas. Electro-Lite made just as many preposterous claims as WAAM, but to Marissa it was the lesser of two evils.

With a six-pack in hand Marissa hurried off to find the good stuff— donuts— powdered sugar and crumb donuts to be exact. Shove them in the mouth and lick each finger individually kind of donuts. Decorum wasn’t a requirement when the next course of action was to belt out songs while rattling down the highway in a weathered 1965 Coup de Ville.

Marissa headed southbound on the interstate. She glared at the heavy clouds in front of her and pushed the gas pedal to the floor, urging her car to go faster. Considering the sorry state of her vehicle, fast was relative. Her landlords had taken pity on her and practically given her the car she drove. She imagined the Coup de Ville turned some heads fifty years ago, when it was more red than rust. People stared now, but only because they were incredulous the car still functioned. She gripped the wheel tighter to compensate for the vibrations which accompanied her car when forced beyond fifty-five miles per hour. I can’t slow down. I’m on the run, after all.

With a potent blend of melancholy and anger wailing through the car’s speakers Marissa launched into one of her familiar diatribes.

“They don’t know me. No one gets me. I’m tired of this town. I’m out of here!” Even as she said it, she knew she’d be coming back to talk to Jack in the morning. She needed a job to pay for school. But after that, I’m so gone.

Marissa caught a glimpse of herself in the rearview mirror as an SUV approached, then whizzed by. I should let my hair down more often. She meant it literally and figuratively. A messy bun was the most convenient way to manage her long, wavy auburn hair. She wasn’t trying to impress anyone. In the hierarchy of appearance she lay somewhere on the cute side of pretty. Last year when her high school senior picture was uploaded to the JudgeMeNow website she was rated a 6.5 out of 10— above average, but not by much.

Even though that rating came from a shallow source, Marissa was happy with the unbiased rating. She knew she wasn’t as gorgeous as the local suitors would have her believe. Under normal circumstances she wouldn’t stand out. Unfortunately for her, being the only child of Rex Mallory, the CEO of one of the country’s most lucrative businesses, was not a normal circumstance.

Marissa moved in with her father and his trophy wife, Lexie, shortly after Marissa’s thirteenth birthday. She’d tried hard to fit in and make friends, but it didn’t take long for her to realize people were more interested in who she was related to than they would ever be in her. In particular, one encounter while she was a senior in high school still left her jaded.

“Hello, is this Marissa?”

“Yep. Who’s this?”

“Jordan Summers. You know, from school.”

Jordan Summers! Why is a popular guy calling me? Stay calm. “Oh, hi Jordan. How’s it going?”

“Good. I’m just calling to ask you something.”

“Okay.”

“So—umm—do you have any plans for senior prom yet?”

Is he asking what I think he is? Don’t say anything stupid. “Give me just a minute and I’ll check my planner.”

Like that.

I mean no—no plans at all. I’m totally free that night. Why?

“Well I was wondering if you’d like to go to senior prom with me.”

“…”

“Marissa? Are you there?”

“Yes—right here. Sorry. I dropped the phone. And yes! I totally want to go to prom with you.”

“Cool. I can’t wait.”

“Me neither.”

“Oh, I had one other question.”

“Sure. What?”

“Is your dad going to be there when I come to get you?”

Marissa laughed. “Nope. He won’t be back in the States for another month. You don’t have to worry about meeting him at all.”

“…”

“Jordan?”

“Oh—uh—sorry Marissa. Something’s come up. I can’t take you to prom after all. Sorry.” He hung up without saying good-bye.

Marissa turned to PeepMeet to help her escape the drudgery of real life and its ulterior motives. There, cloaked in anonymity, she chatted with people who didn’t pre-judge her because of her name. Since meeting Conley, life seemed to get a little better every day.

Conley! How did I forget about him tonight? I knew I was good at compartmentalization, but this is ridiculous.

Maybe he’s right, Marissa conceded as she pulled over and turned around. I need to get a phone.

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