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Imagine That: Book One: Spark

© Jonathan M. Peterson 2015











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Chapter 1

            Sunday, August 26th

The clacking of computer keys was drowned out by the alternative rock music blaring from the speakers installed throughout the van. Jay McConnell's fingers glided at a surprising speed, his brown eyes darting from the dim laptop screen to the small notebook settled on the armrest. His best friend Dean Oliver drummed his hands against the steering wheel as he drove, but Jay had tuned him out hours ago when he started working on his stories.

            His mind was in a state of auto-pilot, his eyes registering the words on the notebook pages and transferring them to his laptop through his fingers with little time to think of much else. His imagination ran the scene through his conscious mind, immersing him in the emotions and experiences of each character involved.

            A playful punch struck his left bicep, snapping him back to reality with a jolt. He glanced over at Dean, who was driving with only one hand as he withdrew his dark brown fist, his dark eyes glued to the road.

            Jay pushed his crimson red rectangular glasses up the bridge of his nose, blinking away the effects of staring at a computer screen for hours. “What?” he asked.

            Dean pointed out the windshield at the sign they were quickly approaching. “We've reached Middletown,” he said, shouting to be heard over the loud music. “How do I get to the college?”

"All right, all right," the passenger replied, his fingers dancing once more over the keyboard. "Hold your horses already, I’m getting it."

            Jay didn't hesitate as he minimized the document he was currently working on and pulled up the directions he copied off the Internet. He paused the music as he relayed the directions to the African-American boy in the driver's seat, and ten minutes later, they turned into the west driveway leading into Severin University.

            Jay's mouth hung agape as he stared in awe at the large college campus for the second time in his life. It hadn't changed very much from when he and Dean had visited to investigate it, hoping to make it their first choice. But arriving as college freshmen made the entire experience feel much more different, accomplished.

            “We've made it!” he whispered excitedly.

            Dean smirked. “Hell, yeah, we did!”

            Jay closed his laptop and notebook and shoved them deep inside his messenger bag with some of his other belongings. He felt excited anticipation well up in his chest as Dean drove the dark blue utility van past dormitories, academic buildings, and the college's recreational center. College students of various sizes and shapes were scattered everywhere, hauling their belongings from cars to dormitories, hugging their families good-bye, even some just lazing about under the shade of lush trees.

            Dean pulled up to a two-story structure approximately the size of a small office complex and parked the van. “Let's hurry up and find out which dorm we're bunking in,” he said, grinning as he unbuckled his seatbelt. “I can't wait to check out the hotties!”

            Jay laughed as he climbed out of the van. “What makes you think that we're gonna be rooming together?”

            “Why wouldn't we? We asked them to put us in the same room when we got accepted. Aren't they supposed to honor requests like that?”

            The Caucasian shook his head, using an index finger to push his rectangular glasses back up the bridge of his nose. “I don't think things work like that, bro. Don't you think they get requests like that all the time?”

            Now that they were out of the van, the boys stretched their cramped and restless legs, and it was clear to anyone who passed by that Jay was at least six inches taller than his best friend, but was lankier. Dean had clearly defined upper body muscles, similar to a linebacker on a varsity football team, while Jay was more toned, like a runner.

            “Ugh! Remind me whose idea it was to drive all night?” Dean groaned, shaking the stiffness out of his legs.

            Jay smirked. “Yours―you didn't want to get here at night.”

            “Oh...right.” Dean pulled a rubber band from his pocket and tied his dreadlocks into a messy ponytail, leaving a strand free. “Why didn't you talk me out of it?”

            Jay laughed. “You're kidding me, right? In all the time we've known each other, I've never been able to talk you out of anything.”

            “True, but there's a first time for everything.”

            The taller boy rolled his eyes and brushed his long bangs back. “Let's just go get our information. I want to get unpacked by nightfall.”

            Dean started walking towards the building and glanced over his shoulder to make sure his best friend was following, then stopped abruptly in mid-stride. Jay noticed and turned around to look at what had captured the shorter boy's attention.

            A rather attractive woman that appeared to be in her mid-thirties walked towards them in a gray business suit, her matching high heels giving off staccato clicks with each step. She sported tortoise-shell glasses and had her dark brown hair tied up in a neat bun with an unsharpened pencil holding it in place. She carried a black leather briefcase in her right hand, and when Jay peered closer, he saw no evidence of a wedding ring.

            Oh, crap, he thought with a sigh.

            Dean rushed past him and stopped directly in front of the woman, cutting her off. She merely blinked without expression and halted in her tracks. Jay could already tell where this was going, and leaned back against the grill of the van.

            “Hello, there,” Dean said. He'd lowered his voice an entire octave in order to sound seductive. “I'm Dean. What's your name, beautiful?”

            Jay rolled his eyes at the African-American's ploy. Almost every time Dean came across an attractive girl, he goes into a state of mind where he dishes out cheesy pick-up lines to seduce them. It rarely worked.

            The woman was unaffected by Dean's “playboy” demeanor, and pushed her glasses up her nose to scrutinize him. “Young man, I am Rosalynn Stanley,” she said in a crisp, icy tone. “I teach English 101 to half of the freshmen students, which you two obviously are.” She frowned at Dean. “What are your first and last names?”

            Dean was taken aback by the fact that the attractive professor rejected him so blatantly, and Jay chuckled under his breath. “My name's Jay McConnell,” the taller boy replied. “This is my pal Dean Oliver.”

            Professor Stanley narrowed her eyes at the Caucasian boy and nodded slowly. “I see. I have you in my Tuesday morning class, Mr. McConnell, but you must be in the other English professor's class, Mr. Oliver. I have no record of your name in any of my rosters.”

            Dean gasped. “How do you know that without looking at any of your papers?”

            Jay chuckled again, a little louder this time. “Photographic memory. She remembers everything she reads and sees.”

            Prof. Stanley smirked. “Incorrect, Mr. McConnell, but I give you points for making a close guess. Eidetic memory―I've remembered everything since I was three years old.” She sidestepped Dean and waved at Jay as she passed the blue van. “See you around, boys.”

            Jay finally laughed loudly as Dean shook his head. “Where did I go wrong this time?” the African-American boy murmured to himself in disbelief.

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Chapter 2

Vanessa Rios looked up from her mystery novel as her father pulled into a parking space in front of the Severin University administration building. She placed a thin pink ribbon between the pages and closed the book, taking it with her as she wordlessly climbed out of the old, maroon SUV. She hugged the book and her large, worn-out purse to her chest as she approached the building.

            When she opened the front door, she was blasted by a wave of cold air that pierced the cotton fabric of her baby blue sweatshirt. Despite the fact that it was summer, and the heat was exhausting, she always wore sweatshirts that were two sizes too big, as well as bulky pants that hid her figure and her appealing olive, Latina skin. Her dark brown, nearly black hair was tied into two braids that fell halfway down her back. Her bangs draped over her forehead and covered the top half of her large, oval-shaped glasses, effectively hiding her brown eyes most of the time.

            She shivered as she entered the foyer and closed the door behind her. She glanced around and spotted a piece of paper taped to the wall on her left that read, “Freshmen Registration” with an arrow pointing to the first door on the left. A small line had formed just outside of it, and she joined at the end.

            She leaned one shoulder against the wall, opened her book, and was about to begin reading when her eyes caught some commotion a bit further up the line. Two boys―a short African-American and a tall, toned Caucasian―were talking in semi-hushed voices, and the shorter boy was hopping from foot to foot, shaking whichever leg he wasn't standing on. She couldn't tell what they looked like because their backs were turned to her, but she could tell their skin color from their arms.

            “Cut that out!” the taller boy hissed. “You're embarrassing me!”

            “I can't help it! My legs are itching to move so bad!” the shorter boy replied.

            “That's a side effect of you insisting on driving all night long! It's called restless leg syndrome!”

            “I need to stop the itching!” the shorter boy groaned. He started dancing around, scratching at his body. “Give me some tunes so I can dance the itch away!”

            The tall Caucasian stepped away and held up his hands. “I don't know this crazy person!” he exclaimed, half-joking.

            Vanessa snickered involuntarily behind her mystery novel, but nobody heard her. She peeked over the top of her book and peered at the two guys, who had finally calmed down. She frowned as she stared at the back of their heads. She couldn't tell what they looked like, but from the back, they appeared good-looking.

            “So did you finish any more chapters before we got here?” asked the boy with the dreadlocks. “I noticed that you were typing like a mad man all night.”

            The Caucasian slapped his friend on the back of his head. “Dude, what have I told you about mentioning my writing in public?!” he hissed in a low voice that Vanessa had to strain to hear.

            “Ow! Chill out, dude! Nobody's gonna figure out your secret identity! I doubt anyone out here even reads that magazine!” The taller boy slapped him again. “OW! Cut that out! I'm not like Dinozzo―I can't take that many hits to the head!”

            “Then quit talking about it! You know I don't want to deal with any crazy fans!”

            The shorter guy scoffed. “Whatever, McConnell.” Another slap. “OW!”

            Vanessa nearly dropped her book as her body froze in shock, and her mind raced a mile a minute to piece together everything she just heard. McConnell...writing magazine...McConnell...

            Then she understood: the tall man standing just six feet in front of her was J. McConnell, writer of the two hit literary series Game Master and Arena!

            She gasped loudly, and this time, she really did drop her book. It slammed to the carpeted floor with a booming THUD! The person in front of her turned to her as she crouched down to pick it up, and when she looked up, she saw J. McConnell enter the office as a girl exited. She stood back up and moved forward in line, reopening her book to her saved page.

            Is he really the J. McConnell?  Vanessa asked herself. His work seems like it was written by a guy in his thirties, not someone who's about to enter his freshman year of college!

            The short African-American boy groaned as he turned around and leaned back against the wall. She was tempted to walk up to him and question him about J. McConnell and his literary work, maybe even get an autograph.

            No, that's too lame, whispered a doubtful voice near the front of her mind. A busy author like J. McConnell has no time to talk to some fangirl like me! I'll just be a nuisance! She let out a small sigh, dropping her gaze to the floor. Besides, I bet he'll be like every other teenage guy. It'd be best not to talk to him.

            A minute later, McConnell emerged from the office with a thick envelope in his hand, and his buddy with the dreadlocks disappeared into the room. The tall, lanky Caucasian crossed the corridor and leaned one shoulder against the wall, opening his envelope to go through the papers given to him.

            Vanessa held her book low enough so that she can look over the top at the boy without seeming conspicuous. She closed her book, not having moved her pink ribbon bookmark once since she entered the building. She was suddenly very aware of the most recent issue of The Writer's Guild magazine tucked into her purse, underneath her wallet. Temptation urged her to take it out and ask him for an autograph.

            She shook her head. No way! Don't be some annoying fan girl! She remembered McConnell's words about not wanting to deal with some crazy fans. Besides, he might see me as a crazy chick that won't stop at getting his autograph.

            She stared down at the cover of her mystery novel, uncertain of what to do. She finally looked up, noticing that McConnell was going through something on his smart phone. She tensed up when he removed his gaze from his screen and met her eyes. She sensed a wave of warmth coming from the brown eyes behind the rectangle glasses, and her heart sped up as he smiled at her.

            “Yo! Let's get out of here!” exclaimed the rowdy African-American as he returned from the office. He waved his envelope in the air. “I want to get unpacked ASAFP! To the dorms!”

            McConnell broke the eye contact to grin at his friend, and the warm feeling evaporated. Vanessa turned to face forward, her olive-colored cheeks heating up in embarrassment, and she refused to look at him as the two friends left the building. When the door closed, she noticed herself start to breathe again, and realized that she had held her breath since meeting McConnell's eyes.

            She gulped. Just...who is that guy?

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