Saving Grace- chapter 1
Elizabeth, New Jersey March 1996
Gracellen Whittaker slipped easily through the throngs of people at her local high school. No one glanced in her direction. The crowd closed up where she had once been, and went on as if she hadn’t ever existed there. She let her mane of dark, almost black, mahogany hair hide her dark brown eyes that always seemed to brim with something undefineable. Her dark hair brought out the startling alabaster color of her clear skin. She would have been considered reasonably attractive, if she bothered to smile or bothered to care. But still, she was forgotten. If a teacher was asked about her, they would say, “Gracellen? Gracellen Whittaker? She’s around here somewhere. Such a quiet, shy little thing.” She wasn’t popular, didn’t have the prerequisite blonde hair, blue eyes, and tanned skin of the cheerleaders, and she wasn’t a loser, because she didn’t have the friends to classify her. So Gracellen was just there, a fixture in her high school class. And no one gave any thought to the black loose leaf spiral she carried with her everywhere.
Gracellen softly shut her locker door, as to not attract the attention of the two blondes parading past, talking a mile a minute. She doubted they would have seen her even if she had sprang right out into their path. She wasn’t one to dwell on things she couldn’t change, didn’t WANT to change, and so she grabbed her notebook and added her ever-present spiral that served as a security blanket. Another day dripped by like rain sliding down a window.
When the bell rang, signaling the end of classes, she quietly got up from her last row seat and filed out 2 steps behind the rest of the students. It was Friday, and everyone was in a rush to get out of there. She wasn’t. There was no place to rush to. She made her lonely walk home, thinking as she always did. When you’re alone for most of your life, you get used to yourself. You get to be comfortable in your own skin, as she observed that so many others were not. She liked to sit back and observe, to watch from afar and evaluate things as she saw them.
As a result, she was an expert at reading people, although she did not know them and they did not know her. She could have graduated high school early, she was exceptionally smart with a near genius IQ and straight As and more high school credits than she knew what to do with, but what else was there for her to do? Help Annie, her foster mother for the past year, at the club she ran, but what would she do in the other hours she would have free? So Gracellen kept on going to school until her last year, her senior year. The best time of a teenagers life. Gracellen had discovered that her senior year was exactly like all the other years of her life since her parents abandoned her, empty and void of something that she didn’t quite know the name of. But there was something right here in Elizabeth, New Jersey, that she felt was different. It was called The Club.
She entered the small house through the front door, stopping to stow her coat and backpack in the front hall closet. She had finished her homework in study hall, like she did every day. She had been in foster care since she was 7, and this was the first place she had stayed in for more than 4 months. Maybe it was because she actually liked Annie. Or maybe it was because Annie was usually so busy with The Club to pay much attention to Gracellen. Whatever it was, Gracellen liked it. Annie was the manager of The Club, actually called Starlight. But Gracellen privately referred to it as ‘The Club’, because that’s what it was.
Starlight was a run down bar/club that the locals loved and few out-of-towners visited. No one from Gracellen’s high school frequented it though, preferring the bigger, better, brighter clubs just miles into New York City. A note was on the kitchen table, just as there always were.
"Grace (she always shortened her name)- There’s leftover spaghetti in the fridge. Come to club when you get done." Annie always signed her notes differently. Today it was block printed. "MOM ANNIE."
Now she was in a rush. Gracellen tossed the note in the trash, opened the fridge, and popped the container of spaghetti in the microwave. When it beeped, she yanked it out, ate a few quick bites, put the rest back, and ran down the hall to her room to change. Black tank top, blank miniskirt, black boots. A chunky silver chain, and smaller, more delicate one with a single charm dangling off of it was clasped around her thin neck. She softly touched the gold one, and gently tucked it under the neck of her tank. She ran a brush through her hair, and gathered it into her usual messy ponytail. No makeup. She snatched up her knapsack and jogged out the door, heading for The Club. At least people noticed her there.
The Club was thick with locals, people swaying to the music spun by DJ Brandon Cleary, a music mad senior at the community college just outside of town. As usual, Gracellen had slipped in the back door. She was met with a harried looking Annie, who immediately shooed her into a back room to drop her stuff.
“Go, go,” she prodded. “People are already wondering about you.”
About her. Ordinary old Gracellen Whittaker, the invisible girl. Not here. At The Club, she was recognized, respected, because she had something that no one else did. Gracellen nodded at Annie, her eyes sparkling, something that happened only on Friday night. She dropped her bag in a dark room, and headed for the main part of the club. She walked confidently over to where Brandon sat, bopping his head to a beat he could hear in his head, and tapped him on the shoulder.
He turned. “Gray! Are we ready? Jake and Mouse are already set up.”
Jake Thorton and Mouse Woods played the drums and the piano, respectively. Mouse was a tiny guy, taller than Gracellen at 5 feet, but still short, about 5’3. The nickname Mouse was a holdover from his high school football days. He was now 23, and working Starlight part time to pay for his college education. Jake was immensely tall, topping six feet and towering over Mouse. Together, they made an odd pair. Interestingly enough, they had been good friends since high school and now worked and went to school together. Jake had given Mouse the nick name. Both were very talented at what they did, albeit a bit raw around the edges.
Gracellen directed her attention to The Club’s makeshift stage set up just for her on Friday and Saturday nights. The club was closed on Sunday. Sure enough, Jake’s beat up drum set and the old piano were in their positions on stage, waiting patiently for their owners. She spotted Jake and Mouse laughing at the wooden bar, flirting with a cute redhead and her friend. She recognized them as college buddies of theirs that occasionally showed up to watch them play. She couldn’t remember the redhead’s name, but knew Jake and Mouse must have introduced her to them.
Just then, Brandon gave and earsplitting whistle, loud enough to be heard over the pounding music, and Jake and Mouse ambled over. They slapped her five, and Jake asked, “Are we ready?”
Gracellen nodded, smoothing her skirt. “Yeah.”
She nodded again, her eyes shining. “Yeah.” And once again, Brandon, Jake, and Mouse realized just how beautiful she really was, when she smiled with those amazing eyes.