Excerpt for Back on Track (The Jen-Jen Chronicles, Book 2) by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Back on Track (The Jen-Jen Chronicles™, Book 2)

By Mark T. Arsenault



Copyright © 2017 by Gold Rush Publishing.

All rights reserved. Published by Gold Rush Publishing at Smashwords.

Gold Rush Publishing, P.O. Box 582155, Elk Grove, CA 95758.

The Jen-Jen Chronicles and associated logos are trademarks of Gold Rush Publishing.

First Edition, Smashwords Edition

Published October, 2017


Smashwords Edition License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your enjoyment only, then please return to Smashwords.com or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


Table of Contents

Dedication

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

About the Author

Other books by this author

Connect with Mark


Dedication

For my wife, Margaret.

We ventured on the journey together, endured the challenges and sacrifices it brought, and you stuck with me through it all.

I love you.


Chapter One


Jennifer woke up refreshed. She hadn’t slept that well in a while. She rolled over and looked at her new clock radio. The screen showed “6:56.” She woke up four minutes before the alarm even went off!

“That must be some sort of magic,” she said out loud, laughing.

“What’s all the noise about?” Danielle called out from the next room.

“Just happy thoughts,” Jennifer said to her friend. Jennifer hopped out of bed. She strode out of her room and down the hall to the bathroom the two girls shared.

Danielle Arnold was Jennifer’s 10-year-old friend from school. Jennifer came to Danielle’s house for the weekend just a few weeks ago, when she and her dad were evicted from their home. When her dad didn’t show up that Sunday to pick her up, Jennifer had no idea where he was. She was worried about him. Jennifer stayed with Danielle’s family for two more days before he showed up.

Her dad and Danielle’s dad, Paul, talked outside for a few minutes. When she got to see him, her dad told Jennifer that she was going to stay with Danielle’s family for a few more days.

That was more than two weeks ago. Since then, two weeks turned into another month.

“Jen-Jen,” Danielle’s dad said, using his new pet name for her, “I told your dad that you were welcome to stay with us as long as you needed to, while he looked for a new place to live.”

Jennifer brushed her teeth as she thought about how lucky she was. She loved her daddy and she would go live with him again as soon as he found a house for them. In the meantime, she got to stay with her good friend from school, Danielle, who was like a sister to her. It was like having an extended sleepover vacation with your best friend!

“Move over, Derpy,” Danielle said as she walked into the bathroom.

Jennifer laughed, accidentally spitting toothpaste foam onto the counter.

“Ew!” Danielle said, flicking the foam into the sink and turning on the water.

Jennifer felt the water, then partially filled her cup, rinsed her mouth out, and spit into the sink.

“Sorry,” she said, sounding out of breath.

“Did you have a good night’s sleep, Danielle?” Jennifer asked.

“Pretty good, yes,” Danielle replied. “Did you?”

“Yes, I did. Thank you.” Jennifer always tried to be pleasant when she spoke to people. Her mommy used to tell her, you never know whose days you can brighten with a kind word and a smile. Jennifer tried to see how many people’s day she could brighten each day.

Jennifer walked back into her new bedroom. The walls were bare, except for a small painting Danielle’s mom made that was there before the Arnolds turned it into a room for Jennifer.

Jennifer looked at her two stuffed animals – Daisy, her bunny, and a little fox Danielle had given her a few months ago – sitting on the day bed. Her bed had new rainbow-colored little pony sheets and pillow case.

She opened the sliding closet door and pulled some clean clothes from the four-shelf organizer that hung in the closet. One shelf held her underwear and socks, one had her shirts, one was for her pants and leggings, and the bottom one held her sweater and sweatshirt.

Jennifer was only expected to be staying with Danielle’s family for a few weeks, until her dad found a new place for them to live. If Jennifer was going to be staying with the Arnolds for a longer time, they would have done more decorating and bought a regular dresser for her room, they told her.

Jennifer got dressed. She put on black galaxy-pattern leggings, a black “I ♥ Animé” T-shirt, and white ankle socks.

Jennifer met Danielle in the hallway and they both headed downstairs to the kitchen to get something to eat for breakfast.

Jennifer stopped in the family room to take her cell phone off the charger and look for new messages. She checked her phone each morning for messages from her dad. She was used to staying in touch with him through her cell phone.

Jennifer’s face lit up as she spied a text from her dad.


Good morning sweet pea. I Love You and Miss You Jennifer Hampton.


She noticed he sent it very late last night. He must have been working hard trying to find a place to live, she thought to herself. Jennifer smiled and quickly typed a reply.


I love you, too, daddy! Have a great day!


She sent the message and then skipped into the kitchen.


Chapter Two


Patty was in the kitchen, pouring two small cups of juice.

“Good morning, Jennifer,” Patty said. “I was just pouring you girls some juice. There’s cereal and milk on the table for you.”

“Thank you, Patty,” Jennifer said, smiling. Jennifer couldn’t remember the last time someone made breakfast for her. She was used to eating alone or making breakfast for her daddy when he was home in the morning.

Jennifer sat down at the table in “her spot,” next to Danielle.

Danielle’s dad, Paul, walked in.

“Good morning, Danielle-belle! Good morning, Jen-Jen!” Paul greeted the girls enthusiastically.

“Good morning!” they said simultaneously.

Patty walked over to the table and set down a large mug of coffee in front of Paul.

“You are so sweet,” Paul said. “How did you know I wanted coffee, honey?”

“You always want coffee,” Patty said, raising her eyebrows in mock surprise. She winked at him and turned to head back to the kitchen.

“You see, girls,” Paul said, sipping the hot beverage as he talked. “She is such a blessing. What would I do without her?” Both girls chuckled.

“You’d be stuck making your own coffee,” Patty said sarcastically.

“True, true,” Paul said with a laugh. “And I’d have no one to make stuffed mushrooms for.”

“Ooh, yum!” Patty said, licking her lips at the thought of eating Paul’s freshly broiled stuffed mushroom caps. Patty loved mushrooms. In fact, her love of mushrooms, of all different varieties, was almost legendary among people who knew her.

“So, are you girls all ready for school?” Paul asked.

“Almost,” Danielle said. “I just need to get my shoes on.”

“I sure am,” Jennifer replied quickly, eager to make Paul happy and barely able to contain her excitement about going back to school after missing nearly two months.

“I bet you are, Jen-Jen,” Paul said, “this being your first day back to school in a while.”

“Yup! I can hardly wait to see my friends again,” she said, nearly jumping out of her seat. “Plus, me and Danielle are both on D Track now and we’re in the same class!”

“We’re very happy that the school was able to get you into Danielle’s class,” Patty said. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” Patty looked upward, smiling with her eyes closed, as if praying.

“Okee doke, girls,” Paul said. “We need to get going in about ten minutes. Finish up your cereal and make sure you’ve got your shoes on.”

Paul worked 12-hour shifts at the jail for the first half of the week. The rest of the week were his days off. On his days off Paul enjoyed going with Patty to drop the girls off at school. Danielle and Jennifer both enjoyed the extra company in the morning.

“Isn’t someone’s birthday coming up?” Patty asked in mock confusion.

“You know, I think you’re right,” Paul said, following his wife’s lead. “Now, whose birthday would that be? Hmm…”

Jennifer smiled mischievously, rolling her eyes slightly.

“Mine,” she said playfully.

“It’s your birthday, Jen-Jen?” Paul asked. “Are you sure?”

“Yes…” she said.

“And you’re turning how old?” Paul asked. “Don’t tell me. You’re turning fifteen!”

“Really, dad?” Danielle said, incredulously. “Fifteen?” Danielle was used to her dad’s playfulness but sometimes she couldn’t help but shake her head when he was especially dorky.

“Nooo,” she said. “I’m turning eleven.”

“Oh, that’s right,” Paul said, sounding as though he just learned a great secret. “Eleven. That’s like half way from nine to being a teenager! Are you excited?”

“I am!” Jennifer said. “My dad said he’s having a party for me at Sky Jump Trampoline Park. I can hardly wait!”

“Honey, why don’t you finish up your cereal,” Patty suggested. “We need to get going soon.”

“Yes, Patty,” Jennifer said.

After they finished eating, the girls grabbed their backpacks and sweat jackets and headed toward the door.

“I’ll be right out, girls,” Patty said, looking for her keys.

“Don’t worry, honey,” Paul said. “I’ve got mine.” Paul held up and jingled the keys on his key ring. He opened the trunk for the girls using the remote button on the key fob.

“I’ll be right out,” Danielle said to Jennifer, shutting the door behind her.

“Hey, dad,” Danielle said. “I decided what I’m going to draw for Jen’s birthday invitation.”

“Oh, really?” Paul asked. “And what did you decide to draw?”

“I’m drawing a picture of Tsunami,” Danielle declared. “That’s Jennifer’s character in our warrior cats roleplay.”

“Oh, very cool,” he said. Paul knew a little about the warrior cats books, only because he read the first one to Danielle at bed time. He understood the girls’ shared story less, however.

“Do you want me to tell you about her?” Danielle asked.

“Sure,” Paul said with as much enthusiasm as he could muster.

“Tsunami is in Shadow Clan,” Danielle explained. “She’s the daughter of Blackstar and Russetfur. She has teal eyes, and she was friends with my character, Firevoice.”

“Oh, how nice,” Patty said, looking a bit perplexed.

“Well, I’m sure Jennifer will be very happy with your picture when she sees the invitation,” Paul assured her.

“She better be!” Danielle said, twisting her face.

“Come on,” Paul said as he put his hand on Danielle’s head. “Let’s head out.”

As they walked toward Paul’s sports car, Jennifer was already climbing into the back seat. It was a two-door so-called ‘muscle car,’ with a big engine and room for both girls in the back seat. It was surprisingly roomy for a sports car and, being a special edition, it had all sorts of comfort features like heated leather seats, an expensive – and loud – stereo system, and Bluetooth. Paul collected a dozen or so songs that the girls enjoyed on his smart phone, and the girls enjoyed listening to them in the car when they traveled.

Danielle hoisted her backpack into the trunk and set it next to Jennifer’s before closing the trunk lid.

Danielle climbed in on the driver’s side, behind her dad. Patty got into the front passenger seat.

“Everyone buckled up?” Paul asked as he shut his door.

“Yes!” the girls said together.

“Who’s ready for an awesome day?” Paul asked, backing his car out of the driveway.

“Dad,” Danielle said, “why do you try to be so excited about school? It’s just school. It’s not that exciting.” Danielle was often very practical in her perspective. As a result, sometimes she had a hard time getting excited about things.

“Not that exciting?” Paul gasped, in pretend to disbelief. Jennifer laughed out loud. Patty shook her head, trying not to laugh. She knew Paul was trying to get Danielle more excited about school, to see it from a different perspective.

“It’s just school,” Danielle repeated.

“Just school?” Paul said. “My dear, it’s a magical place where you get to learn how the world works. You get to study ancient civilizations, learn foreign languages, and understand why things are the way they are today.”

“So?” Danielle said.

“Everything that exists today was influenced by something in the past,” Paul said.

“What do you mean?” Danielle asked, not quite understanding what her dad was trying to explain.

“Everything,” Paul continued. “The laws. The way our government works. Voting. Ice cream. Cars. Medicine. Video games. Everything we enjoy is either a new invention or an improvement on an old one. Learning about history and how the world works is the most important thing you can do to make sure you have a chance to have an impact on the world!”

Patty raised her eyebrows, impressed at the speech Paul was giving.

“But dad,” Danielle said, “I’m only ten years old.”

“Yeah, we’re only ten,” Jennifer added. “We can’t change the world.”

“That’s where you are wrong, ladies,” Paul said. “Besides…” he paused a moment, “…today’s pizza day.”

“Dad!” Danielle yelled, leaning forward to try to bump his seat. Jennifer and Patty began laughing. Paul smiled as Danielle sat back in her seat, her arms crossed and shaking her head.

“You do like pizza, don’t you?” Paul asked, looking at Danielle in the rearview mirror. Danielle just stuck her tongue out at her dad.



Chapter Three


Paul pulled into the school parking lot. There were only a few school buses, and the school district charged parents for their kids to ride them to school. Most parents, like Paul and Patty, simply drove their kids to school.

Paul pulled up to the curb. The girls hopped out. After getting their backpacks out of the trunk and exchanging quick hugs with both Patty and Paul, they headed toward the gate to their class.

Paul and Patty got back in the car and pulled away from the curb. Paul looked at Patty briefly.

“I love this, you know,” he told her.

“Love what?” she asked.

“Dropping them off at school,” he said, smiling. Paul really did enjoy seeing the girls off at school. He loved his daughter very much. He was beginning to enjoy having Jennifer stay with them, as well.

“Come on,” she said. “Let’s check the post office box for mail then head home. I’ll make you something for brunch.”


* * *


Jennifer thought about her first day back at class just a few days before. As she and Danielle walked toward her new classroom, Jennifer started getting butterflies in her stomach. She knew Kailey and Megan were in Danielle’s class. Jennifer met them at the end of fourth grade, when she first came to live with her daddy and started going to this school. She wondered how many other kids in her class she’d know.

Danielle threw open the classroom door and made a dramatic entrance. Jennifer walked in behind her. Danielle walked to the row of wooden cubby boxes and coat hooks on the wall near the door. Hers was the second one. She dropped her backpack beneath the cubby and coat hook with her nametag above them and walked to the front of the class.

“Class, we have a new student with us today,” Mrs. Folk said. “Danielle, would you like to introduce her?”

“Yes, Miss Folk,” Danielle said. “Thank you.” She turned to talk to her classmates.

“Everyone, this is Jennifer,” Danielle said, motioning toward Jennifer, who was seated at her desk. Jennifer smiled and waved.

“She was on B Track but now she’s on D Track and in our class. She lives with me now and she’s like my sister. So be nice to her.”

With that, Danielle returned to her seat. She was proud to introduce Jennifer to the other kids on the class. It made her feel special, important maybe, though she wasn’t sure why.

“Welcome, Jennifer,” Miss Folk said as she walked back to the front of the class. “It’s a pleasure to have you in our class.”

“Listen, everyone,” she continued, “I want you to make Jennifer feel welcome. If you don’t know each other, I suggest you introduce yourself at recess. That includes you, Jeremy. I know you don’t like to talk to anybody but I’d like you to say hi to Jennifer, okay?”

A small, quiet boy with dark hair, sitting with his arms draped over his head, nodded at the teacher.

That was three days ago. Jennifer was starting to get used to her new teacher, to the classroom, and to the other kids in her class. She met everyone in her class, some of them more than once. A few kids weren’t very nice. Jennifer didn’t care for them very much, but she was still nice to them.

“You never know who just needs a friend,” she would say to herself.

The final buzzer sounded as a few more kids were walking into the class. Their teacher, Mrs. Folk, greeted all the students in her class and asked them to quiet down.

“Good morning, class. I need everyone’s attention, please.” Mrs. Folk snapped her fingers twice. All the students snapped their fingers twice, and were instantly quiet.

“Okay,” she said, “everyone take out your social studies book and open it to page seventy two.”


* * *


At recess, Jennifer stayed behind to talk with Miss Folk. Danielle went out to the playground with Kailey and Megan. The three girls stood by their favorite tree, at the edge of the yard.

Danielle, Jennifer, Kailey and Megan had all been friends since Jennifer started going to their school in the fourth grade, almost a year ago.

“So, Jennifer lives with you now?” Kailey asked Danielle, rather pointedly. “What’s up with that?”

“Yeah,” added Megan. “We thought she moved ‘cause she just stopped coming to school.”

“Nope,” Danielle said.

“How come she’s not living with her dad?” Kailey asked.

“Her family can’t take care of her right now,” Danielle said, “so she’s staying with us.”

“That’s cool,” said Megan, trying to imagine not being able to live with her own mom.

“So why can’t her dad take care of her?” asked Kailey. “Doesn’t he have a job?”

“I don’t know,” Danielle said, throwing her hands up. “Why does it matter, anyway?”

“I was just asking,” Kailey said.

“Here she comes,” Megan said, motioning toward Jennifer, who was walking across the yard from the classroom.

“What’s going on? Are you guys having a meeting without me?” Jennifer joked nervously.

“No, we were just talking.” Megan said.

“It’s nice to have you back again, Jen,” Kailey said.

“It’s nice to be back,” Jennifer said.

“We thought you moved away,” Megan said.

“Why?” Jennifer asked.

“Because one day you’re in school and the next day you’re gone,” Megan said.

“I know,” Jennifer said. “I’m sorry.” Jennifer felt bad that she was disenrolled and she hadn’t kept in touch with her friends.


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