It’s hard to explain why some openings just don’t move you. Technically this one’s pretty decent. Perhaps in this case it’s just that when I read Cory’s protestation of undying love to Jenna underneath the bleachers, I was left entirely cold. In the process of submitting to agents you have to realise that sometimes your work will land on the desk of someone who’s just having a bad day (I’m not, but thanks for asking), or that your book just doesn’t work for them, right now. That’s the luck element of the whole process.
Title of the work: LAST KISS
Language: US English
Synopsis: When Cory’s father is convicted of a crime, he’s bullied. Only Jenna is on his side. A car accident leaves Cory kissing her bleeding body one last time before he blacks out. Believing Jenna is dead, Cory builds a new life in a new town while proving his father’s innocence.
My seventeen years hadn’t prepared me for Jenna’s question. The answer was stuck in my gut and wouldn’t pass through my parched mouth. I licked my lips. I did it again. It was a simple question.
“Well?” she asked.
Why was it hard to say the words? I had known the answer since we were little.
Sitting under the bleachers on the first base side of the high school’s vacant baseball field, Jenna’s eyes narrowed as she crossed her arms. “Cory Trent Masters, will you love me forever?”
Even with the bleachers above us casting a mid-day shadow on Jenna’s face, I saw that her eyes were now shinier. It would break my heart to see a single tear roll down her cheek. All of a sudden I said it, loud enough to be heard in deep center field where I had caught so many fly balls.
I pulled her hands out from under her crossed arms and, pressing them together as if she were praying, carried them to my lips. Her eyes got bigger when I kissed them.
“I will love you forever. More than forever. We’ll grow old together and then spend eternity in heaven together. I will always love you, Jenna, always. Now. Forever. On earth. In heaven. For eternity.”
The tear rolled down her cheek. With her hands still clasped within mine, I extended a finger to brush it away. My heart didn’t break. On the contrary, it threatened to burst with happiness.
BANG … BANG … BANG
I jumped and spun around. The assistant principle, Mr. Fargo, was pounding on the aluminum bleacher bench. He stepped back and stood with feet shoulder width apart and hands on hips. His tie flapped in the warm breeze.
“Mr. Masters, Miss Wayne, what are you two doing?”
“Just talking,” I said.
“It looked like more than that.” Pointing an accusing finger at me, he said, “I know about you, you and your family. Nothing but a bunch of—”
“All we were doing was talking.”
“Don’t talk back to me.”
I was about to say more when Jenna’s fingers squeezed my forearm. I turned. The look on her face expelled my anger. She was like an angel.
“I’m sending notes to both of your mothers,” Mr. Fargo said. Before I could respond, he added, “Miss Wayne, get back to class.” Once again he directed a finger at me. “And you, my office. You know you’re not allowed out of the building during your lunch period.”
Jenna and I scrambled out from under the bleachers.
“Why can’t Cory just go back to class like me?” Jenna asked.
“Talk back to me one more time, young lady, and you’ll be suspended.”
My fingers curled into fists as I took a step toward Mr. Fargo, but a quick shake of Jenna’s head stopped me. She placed a hand on my shoulder and stared into my eyes before rushing back to the building, twice glancing over her shoulder at us. I followed Mr. Fargo to his office and was told to wait outside.
Joe Birch was sitting in a chair in the anteroom. He was there so often I wondered if there was a nameplate on the chair with his name on it. The left side of his head was shaved, starting where a part would be. The rest was long, swept to the other side and hanging over his ear. The hair was blue.
He looked up at me with a smirk. “What are you doing here? You never get in trouble.”
“I was outside with my girlfriend.”
“Yeah, the mayor’s kid. Has she spread her legs for you yet?”
“Go to hell!”
“I heard that!” Mr. Fargo yelled from his office. “That’s another mark against you. Get in here right now.”
Joe Birch slumped down in his chair with his legs straight out. He clasped both hands behind his neck and, with elbows out, tilted his head back and closed his eyes with that same smirk on his face. I shrugged, stepped over his outstretched legs, and entered Mr. Fargo’s office where I plopped down in one of the two chairs in front of his desk.
Mr. Fargo scowled while tapping the eraser side of the pencil on his desk. I started to cross my legs, but stopped and sat up straight. I stared back. He put the pencil down and leaned on his forearms.
“Seen your old man lately?” he asked.
“We go to Woodland every Sunday. That’s when they have visiting hours.”
“Too bad we don’t have a jail here in Waynetown. Would save you the drive.”
“It’s not far.”
“Did he tell you where the money is?”
“He didn’t take it! He’s innocent!”
“So he says. So he says. All I know is he stole money from almost everyone in town. When he embezzled from the company pension fund he—”
“He didn’t do it!”
“So he says. We’ll see what the jury says. People here need their pensions to live. To put food on the table. You know, if he were to give the money back they would go easier on him. People just want their money back.”
“He can’t give back what he didn’t take.”
Mr. Fargo glowered before sitting back. “We’re done. Get to class.”
Being a year older than Jenna, we shared no classes so I didn’t see her the rest of the day. I did see Mr. Fargo when he stormed into my math class. My teacher stopped talking mid-sentence with her mouth gaping. He made a big production of handing me the note and announcing that I would not be allowed back in school without it being signed by my mother. The snickers around the room were, I’m sure, what he sought. They hurt.
It’s impossible to get a second chance in a small town. Jenna and I would have to find our way elsewhere. Maybe Woodland. But that was too near.
Editorial critique: If I was really moved by Cory’s affirmation of undying love for Jenna in the first few paragraphs of this book, then perhaps everything else would go swimmingly. But I’m not, and I don’t really see how I can be. I don’t know Cory, and I don’t know Jenna, and I don’t know anything about their relationship. Why should I care? It’s just a couple of kids underneath the bleachers (almost a cliche in itself). No-one takes teenager’s vows of undying love seriously, except the teenagers themselves, and even then only for a few weeks. Perhaps I’m just too old and cynical. 🙂
There’s a more significant criticism that nothing really happens, here, for four pages. Cory and Jenna do nothing much more than hold hands before Mr. Fargo catches them. There’s an allusion to Cory’s dad who’s in some kind of trouble, but Cory is adamant and seemingly secure in the knowledge that his dad is innocent (how much more nuanced would this be if Cory internally exhibited some doubt about this?). So Cory and Jenna just seem to be rather cut-out “good kids”, and it’s hard to feel much of anything about them, to be honest.
The story, from your synopsis, isn’t about Cory and Jenna, although that might be a significant sub-plot. It’s about Cory and his dad, who appears to have been a victim of a tragic miscarriage of justice. This seems far too much of a “nice” beginning to do justice to the plot.
Having failed to swoon at the beginning, there are a couple of things which, in perspective, are really tiny copyediting niggles, that somehow seem to gather importance and leave me irritated, probably unreasonably:
“Her eyes got bigger when I kissed them.” I bet they did, probably with shock. Did he mash her eyelashes against her eyeballs?
“Before I could respond …” I’m not sure a 17 year-old would use that word. I think they’d say “Before I could say anything …”
“while tapping the eraser side of the pencil” ‘End’ of the pencil, surely, rather than ‘side’? But if that’s the case, tapping an eraser doesn’t make a particularly significant noise, so why is it noteworthy?
“… from almost everyone in town. When he embezzled from the company pension fund …” Is it a one-employer town?
“People here need their pensions to live. To put food on the table.” There should really be an em-dash, rather than a period and a space, between these two clauses, since the second is very much dependent on the first. But only pensioners need their pensions (or indeed have access to their pensions) to put food on the table. Is everyone in the town of pensionable age?
But I’m nitpicking. It just didn’t work for me, I think because, as I say, I couldn’t invest in Cory and Jenna’s relationship, not knowing anything about them. It might well work for another ‘agent’, who, loving the beginning, would overlook the copyediting niggles and my slight concern over the 17-year-old Cory’s ‘voice’. I can’t, in all honesty, give it a gold star, because it didn’t grab me, but it doesn’t seem fair to reject it either!
Thanks for posting.