How to Disrupt Inertia

Submitted into Contest #153 in response to: Write about a character trying to heal an old rift.... view prompt

18 comments

Coming of Age Friendship LGBTQ+

This story contains themes or mentions of mental health issues.

Out of all the people in class, he was the LAST one I wanted to be paired with for the semester.

I raised my hand.

Coach Campbell’s feet rested on top of his desk. He raised an eyebrow, maintaining his focus on the Sports Illustrated magazine. “Yes, Miss Lawson?”

“Can I be reassigned to a different partner?” I cast a sidelong glance in Nathan’s direction. “If I’m going to keep my spot as head cheerleader, I really can’t fail physics.”

After our breakup last summer, I’d rather work alone.

Coach Campbell smirked. “You’ll be fine.”

I pressed my lips into a pout, hoping the coach would reconsider. Surely, he had heard about the drama between me and Taylor, right? If the football team had said nothing, the cheerleaders would have.

My stomach clenched after he rolled his eyes and flipped to the next page of his magazine.

“Fine.” I huffed, opening the textbook to the first problem. “A book rests on a table, applying a downward force. The table applies an equal and opposite force on the book.”

Nathan mussed his black hair, tapping his pencil on the desk and staring at a notepad filled with D&D notes. 

“Nathan, do you know the answer to the first problem?”

Instead of being helpful, he scribbled more notes about D&D—NOT physics.

Was he ignoring me?

I sighed. “Whatever. I didn’t want to work with you, anyway.”

We sat in silence while the other students casually chatted around us. Sitting this close, he smelled of faint exotic spices—perhaps cloves, or sandalwood. Though different from what he wore for me, it was still intoxicating.

The chime of my phone broke through my foggy haze, and a rush of adrenaline replaced the brief heaviness that had settled on my chest.

[Taylor] Can we talk after practice tonight?

It would have been so easy to type a scathing response. To put Taylor in his place. Years of friendship provided a complete arsenal of ammunition to fire below the belt. How he still wet the bed in middle school. Or the awkward braces and headgear phase. The stash of naughty magazines he asked me to buy for him. The possibilities were endless.

My heartbeat pounded. I stared at the words as if he spoke them at a eulogy I didn’t want to hear, drowning out the surrounding sounds. And as much as I wanted to kill him with a thousand text messages, I couldn’t do it.

The period bell rang, and my breath hitched as I jumped in my seat. Backpacks shuffled around us while Nathan worked on his D&D campaign, oblivious to the rest of the universe. 

It’s no wonder they held him back.

I grabbed my purse, tucking it underneath my arm as I stood with my chin held high. “I’ll text you. We have a lot of homework this week.”

My breath slowed. He flashed a smile—the one he used to save only for me—at the drawings in his notebook. Tears pricked my eyes as I stormed out of the classroom. On the surface, he looked peaceful, calm… even beautiful. 

But what was going on inside?

#

Monday, 2:37 PM

[Elena] Available to study tonight? (Read 2:39 PM)

[Nathan] Sure, I’ll come over after school

...

Tuesday, 8:45 AM

[Elena] Where were you yesterday? (Read 10:20 AM)

[Nathan] Shoot, I got distracted. I can come over tonight

[Elena] I have plans tonight. Tomorrow? (Read 1:05 PM)

[Nathan] Sounds good

...

Wednesday, 12:01 PM

[Elena] Still good for tonight? (Read 2:02 PM)

...

Wednesday, 3:31 PM

[Elena] Hello? (Read 7:11 PM)

...

Thursday, 7:15 AM

[Elena] wtf? Where have you been? (Read 7:27 AM)

[Nathan] Been working on a new d&d campaign. Why? 

[Elena] Umm, physics?! We have that big project next week. Remember? (Read 9:53 AM)

[Nathan] Right. I’ll come over after school

[Elena] What time? (Delivered)

...

Friday, 11:22 AM

[Elena] seriously? (Delivered)

[Elena] I’m going to talk to Coach Campbell. If you want to fail again, that’s on you (Delivered)

#

Newton’s first law

The law of inertia: a body at rest or moving at a constant speed will continue unless acted upon by a force.

I scribbled on the notepad to solve the physics problem. Of course, Nathan skipped class for the rest of the week. AND he ignored all of my text messages to work on projects. Part of me was relieved, spared from the awkward silence and the forced small-talk. But my jaw clenched, dreading all the extra work I’d have to do by myself this weekend. 

In the olden days, I would’ve just asked Taylor for help. 

My mouth dried from excessive, unwanted thoughts, but instead of hydrating like Kim Kardashian would have suggested, I reached inside the freezer for comfort. I popped the lid off the tub of Ben & Jerry’s, scooping a heap of Chunky Monkey into an oversized spoon. Taylor’s favorite—if things were different, we’d be sitting on his couch right now, watching RuPaul’s Drag Race and enjoying the frozen confection of diabetes-inducing sweetness together.

“I thought you didn’t eat any carbs after seven,” my mom said with crinkled eyes.

“It’s Friday. I’m cheating.” My throat burned as the words passed through.

She set a gift bag on the table, studded with polka dots and filled with yellow tissue paper. “Taylor left this for you.”

I shrugged, ignoring the churn of my stomach. “Okay.”

“You want to talk about it?”

“Not really.”

“Must be really bad for you to ignore Tay.” 

I shoved another spoonful of ice cream into my mouth. It was difficult to swallow, almost choking. Taylor was the first one to console me when my dad left for a business trip, but never returned home. This was the longest we had ever gone without speaking.

Pressure pricked the corners of my eyes. Whatever happened to our pinky promise? ‘Queens before peens’ as we used to joke when scoping men at the mall. 

Was he worth it, Taylor?

My mother brushed aside my hair and kissed me on the forehead. “Don’t stay up too late, okay?”

Feigning a smile, I nodded and strolled back to the kitchen table, resigned to finish my homework. Staring at the problem for several minutes, I cursed the girl who flipped a coin into a wishing well—after high school, who would ask me to calculate velocity? 

Taylor’s gift rested on the table, beckoning for me to open it. The tissue rustled as I reached inside, pulling out the familiar packaging of my favorite morning beverage—Mango Tango Tea. On Saturday mornings, we used to lounge at the cafe, Taylor sipping his venti caramel macchiato, extra shot, extra hot, extra whip, and sugar-free while whispers of marigold, passionfruit, and mango tickled my nostrils.

I swiped on my phone, typing a message back to Taylor. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to talk about it, right? On the plus side, I’d have my best friend back, and we could return to him doing my homework while we mused about the latest Real Housewives scandal. But on the flip side, could I forgive him for pouring an entire salt shaker inside an old wound?

I pressed my lips into a thin line, deleting the message. No, this was silly. Nothing he could say or do would absolve him from his actions. And when men crossed me, they’d have to walk on scorched earth with bare feet to stand a chance at forgiveness.

Even Tay.

As I ascended the stairs to my bedroom, banging sounds crashed into the front door. I held my breath as I approached, my hand on the baseball bat beside the front entrance. Who would visit at this hour?

When I peered through the peephole, my heart stopped inside my chest. I swung the door open, gripping the baseball bat, halfway tempted to use it.

“What the hell are you doing here?”

Taylor’s labored breathing fogged up his glasses. Bent forward with his hands resting on his knees, he wore a simple t-shirt and shorts. He had been running. 

“It’s Nathan,” he said in between gulps of air. “He’s missing.”

#

Newton’s second law

The force applied to a body can change the magnitude of the momentum, its direction, or both.

We walked beside one another, each holding a flashlight. I crossed my arms over my chest. It was a cool night, and the whispers of the wind mixed with the gibberish of trees, rustling together to fill the silence. It was as though the world tried to communicate something, to decipher some code, or piece together what was broken. 

Ironic, how the guy who came between us was now the same reason we were together. Was it hopeless? We shared so much history, but the heaviness of the past weighed on me, building up like a stone rolling downhill with the inertia of a hurricane, unable to stop.

“Remember that Halloween when we lost Marshmallow?” Taylor asked.

Something fluttered inside my stomach as I remembered my old Maltese. “Yeah, we dressed her up as a pumpkin that year.”

“Which backfired on us.”

I nudged him, a smile tugging on my lips. “How was I supposed to know she would hide in a pumpkin patch?”

He chuckled, pointing his flashlight at a row of bushes. Taylor stayed with me that entire night, searching the neighborhood high and low until we stumbled upon Marshmallow. She zipped and zoomed along rows of orange, surrounded by the laughter of children dressed in colorful fanfare. Tay was the one who caught her.

“I miss you, Elle.”

Tears pricked my eyes as I shoved the memory away. This was the past, sneaking up on me and tugging at my back with its fingers creeping up my spine. All I wanted to do was run from it. But why couldn’t I?

“I miss us,” he added.

“I know,” I said.

A long silence hung between us. The trees spoke their gibberish again, as if taunting one of us to speak. Who would give in first?

“When did you last see him?” I asked.

“We had our first argument,” Taylor said.

“About what?”

“That’s the thing. I don’t even know.”

I pursed my lips. “That makes no sense. How don’t you remember?”

“We were just talking. Then he got all excited about something he was planning for D&D. He asked me to draw something, but when I told him I was busy with all of my college prep classes, he just left in a frenzy.”

“Strange,” I said. “He was much more stable with me.” 

My belly knotted, and though I could no longer take it back, part of me wished I could. This was Tay, and in any other scenario, we would have commiserated over shared pains with the men in our lives—something my dad made super easy for me.

“Ouch,” he said. “Though I guess I deserve that.”

“Damn right.” Beyond my control, heat flushed through my body, a storm unleashed after swirling silence. “What were you thinking? I thought we were friends.”

“We are friends, Elle. I wasn’t asking for any of this. It sort of just… happened.”

“Oh, so you accidentally kissed my boyfriend? How does one do that, exactly?”

“It’s not like you made it any easier. You kept shoving him in my direction. D&D. Math tutoring—”

“So this is my fault now? Taylor Montgomery, you are in so much—”

“Shh. What was that?” he asked with bewildered eyes.

Adrenaline still surging through me, I clenched my hands into fists to contain them. “What? Is someone going to mug us? Because if I don’t punch you first, I’ll happily punch a criminal right now.”

He held his hand in the air—to shush me—while he turned his ear. “There, under the bridge. It sounds like… crying?”

I inhaled a cleansing breath, following Taylor with my hands gripping the back of his shirt. The only thing I hated worse than the dark was a dark, creepy space. What could be waiting under that bridge?

“Why are you hiding behind me?” he asked.

“Because if I need to run, this gives me a fighting chance to escape.”

He sighed, then flashed a light underneath the broken bridge, towards the whimpering sound. The moon illuminated silvery specks of water on the wet pavement. Muffled gasps intensified as we approached. Not quite a dog, and definitely not a thug. But when we spotted a familiar head of mussed black hair underneath a hoodie, we found what we had been looking for.

“Nathan!” Taylor ran towards him, pulling his face up with both hands.

Nathan sat there, underneath the bridge, both knees pulled to his chest, curled into a ball. His eyes were a different shade of gray tonight—not like the clouds in the sky on a summer day, but this time the color of a tropical storm, wreaking havoc and devastation from within. 

He was hurting.

“You’re going to be okay,” Taylor whispered. “We’re here now.”

Tension in my body and mind washed away, replaced with an uncomfortable sensation in my belly. I dialed for help as Taylor held Nathan in a warm embrace.

#

Newton’s third law

The action-reaction law: the actions of two bodies on each other are always equal in magnitude and opposite in direction.

[Taylor] Can we meet up at our usual spot?

[Elena] Sure, what time?

[Taylor] 9:45 am?

[Elena] See you there

Taylor stared at the teacup in front of him, fumbling with the spoon. When I sat down across from him, he slid over a second cup for me.

“How are you?” I asked.

“Fine.”

“How’s Nathan?”

“Asleep.” He frowned while he stirred. “I don’t have his parents’ phone number.”

“I texted them,” I said. “Told them where he was. Asked if they knew what was going on.”

Taylor furrowed his brows. “And?” 

I pulled some papers out of my purse, having spent hours researching on Google, and slid them over to him.

His mouth slackened as he scanned the information. “Bipolar?” He turned away and covered his mouth.

Nodding, the missing pieces of the jigsaw puzzle came together at last. Nathan’s absences in school. His D&D fixation. The forgetfulness, despite constant reminders. All signs I saw when we were together, but chalking it up to him being an artsy type instead of sitting down to pay attention.

“Was he like this with you?” Taylor asked. He crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair. 

I shook my head. “His mom told me she found his pills. He hasn’t taken them for a while…”

Taylor buried his hands in his face. “Did he stop taking them because of me?”

I hated seeing him like this. He’d always been there for me when I needed him most, and if I was being honest with myself, our relationship was one-sided. In the bank of Taylor and Elena, his account balance was negative from all the withdrawals I’d made over the years. And not once did he ever collect on overdraft fees.

It was my turn to make a deposit.

“Hey,” I said, reaching across the table to take his hand, “we’ll figure this out.”

He sighed, and his eyes sparkled as pooled tears reflected the sun’s morning rays. 

“Do you remember what you said when we finally found Marshmallow?” I asked.

Taylor shook his head, unable to speak.

“You told me you didn’t like seeing me sad.” I squeezed his hand in mine and pulled out a tissue from my purse. “So now it’s my turn to help.”

He took the tissue from me to dab at his eyes and blow his nose. “Thanks,” he said in a scratchy voice.

I leaned back in my chair, taking the cup of tea in both hands. Subtle notes of marigold, passionfruit, and mango warmed my chest as I sipped.

“Besides, you’re an ugly crier and you’re embarrassing me,” I said.

He laughed, rubbing at his eyes and sipping from his teacup.

I titled my head. “No venti caramel macchiato, extra shot, extra hot, extra whip, and sugar-free today?”

“No.” He shook his head. “You keep telling me I should drink more tea. Figured I’d listen to you for once.”

“How do you like it?”

He scrunched his face, and his glasses moved up with his nose. “It’s growing on me, I think.”

I smiled, then took another sip. For a while, we sat in silence, enjoying our Saturday morning ritual that had been postponed for too long. Before Nathan shook things up, we had always been moving in the same direction.

Then, a sudden force disrupted our world, pushing us on opposite trajectories. Kind of like the law of inertia, where both of us couldn’t stop. Or maybe we didn’t know how to stop. But now, it was as though we reached a new equilibrium, still Tay and Elle, but changed—both of us course-corrected towards a common goal.

“What about us?” he asked, rubbing the back of his neck. “We good now?”

I leaned forward, meeting his soft gaze with a gentle smile. “It’s growing on me, I think.”

July 05, 2022 03:03

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18 comments

05:50 Jul 22, 2022

2858 words! Ill have to read this in parts.😂 Seriously though, I'm jealous of how you can fill a page and nothing is fluff!

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J.C. Lovero
22:45 Jul 22, 2022

LOL yes. I do find that 3k is not quite enough for some of my stories! Appreciate the compliment.

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Amanda Lieser
21:47 Aug 02, 2022

Hi JC! Oh gosh! You brought me right back to high school in such a beautifully brilliant way. I fell madly in love with each of these characters! My favorite part was the incorporation of text messages. This was such an interesting take on a bigger issue and I love how you had your characters immediately start googling the information. Nice job on this piece! I just finished up “Midnight Snack” and I’d like your thoughts on the character interactions because I was specifically hoping to create something readers can become attached to quickly...

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J.C. Lovero
01:51 Aug 07, 2022

Hi Amanda, Thanks for stopping by to read and comment. I took a week off and am just now getting caught up on my Reedsy activity. Will definitely check out your story!

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Zack Powell
04:13 Jul 09, 2022

My favorite hermit! I completely forgot to leave you a message on here - forgive me! I just read this again, and it's just as good as before. I could read about this trio of characters forever. You know how I feel about Nathan/Taylor, and Elena's personality adds a nice, sassy dimension into the mix. Just in case I didn't say it before: I love the use of Newton's laws to structure this story, your dialogue is authentic as always (you really nail the High School character voices), and I'm sure your diehard fans will appreciate the various cal...

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J.C. Lovero
02:38 Jul 10, 2022

Hey there Zack! So happy you stopped by for a reread. Appreciate your early feedback on the story. The fans have been asking for a Nathan/Taylor/Elena story, so who am I to deny them? 😍 🥰 😘 I still have big plans for this group of kids, but until then, we can enjoy this little vignette. Glad to hear you are competing in Globe Soup! There are many Reedsy peeps throwing their hats into that ring, myself included. What genre are you writing in? Let me know if you want a beta read before the deadline. You know how to find me 🤩 As for Reedsy, ...

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Jay McKenzie
09:02 Jul 07, 2022

J.C! I was a few sentences in when I thought "hang on, I know these characters!" Great to see them back and lovely to hear Elena's voice. I love the use of the 'laws': I think they scaffold the plot beautifully. I hope we're going to see them all again soon.

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J.C. Lovero
10:18 Jul 07, 2022

Hello Jay! Thanks for stopping by to read and comment. Yes, I've had some requests to bring this crew back, so it was time to do something about it 😆 😅 😂 Looking forward to checking out your next story, too!

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Jay McKenzie
11:58 Jul 07, 2022

Think I'm sitting the next one out. Too much Globe Soup editing to do.

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J.C. Lovero
12:42 Jul 07, 2022

For sure! I’m about 1k into mine. Looking forward to seeing yours!

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Story Time
16:54 Jul 06, 2022

I love having returning characters appear on Reedsy. Setting stories around a theory or idea, to me, is always a huge challenge, and you did a great job--as always.

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J.C. Lovero
01:10 Jul 07, 2022

Hello Kevin! Thanks for stopping by! I also enjoy bringing characters back, and I had several requests for another Taylor/Nathan story, so I figured "why not?" Appreciate the compliments. I'm very behind on Reedsy stories but hope to get to yours, too! Good luck with the contest.

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Michał Przywara
21:05 Jul 05, 2022

A fun read :) I remember these characters from an earlier story, and frankly giving an Elena POV was a great call. She's an integral part of the story, and this lets us see the characters from another angle. I now assume there will be a Nathan story :) I like using inertia and the three laws as a device to frame this piece. This is particularly the case for the first law scene. It would have been perfectly understandable – realistic, even – for Elena to shutdown and stew in her misery. And that might have been an interesting story too, b...

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J.C. Lovero
22:47 Jul 05, 2022

Hello Michał~ Always a pleasure to get your thoughts and feedback on my work! First, let me get the business out of the way: appreciate the notes about the double "instead" and the whole sliding papers sentence. I reworked those based on your comments. Appreciate the assistance! These kids are in high school, so I wanted to ground them in high school things. For "The Bad Best Friend's Diary," geometry played a huge role in developing the Taylor/Nathan relationship, so for this piece, I wanted to use physics as a way to relate Elena to what...

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Seán McNicholl
19:11 Jul 05, 2022

JC, great story here and loved the three laws!! Flows really well. Great characterisation, especially Elena! Such a lovely heartwarming ending too! Also enjoyed seeing the pumpkin outfit make an appearance!!

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J.C. Lovero
22:33 Jul 05, 2022

Hi there Seán~ Thanks for the read and the comment. I wanted to provide an Elena POV given what happened in the last story "The Bad Best Friends Diary," if anything to give the readers a look inside her perspective. Glad you enjoyed it! Also, appreciate the idea of putting a dog into a pumpkin outfit. Totally worked 😅 😂 🤣

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Riel Rosehill
10:18 Jul 05, 2022

Heyy! Love the changes! Reads very convincing and natural to me, and you definitely got all the feels across here. My favourite line in the first section: "My breath slowed. He flashed a smile—the one he used to save only for me—at the drawings in his notebook. Tears pricked my eyes as I stormed out of the classroom." - Perfection. Love seeing the universe of Taylor and Nathan grow, and it's nice getting to know Elena! It for sure adds another layer to the story. and I only hope their friendship will last the test of time. Can't wait for...

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J.C. Lovero
11:36 Jul 05, 2022

Ri Ri~ Thanks for stopping by the hermit hut! AND I appreciate the early read/feedback. Definitely helped me to make the story stronger. I've had a few people ask me to release another Taylor/Nathan short story, and although this one is a little bit different, I wanted to show Elena's POV in this installment. And don't worry! We are not yet done with this group 😆 😅 😂

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