It had been her mother's idea for her to move back in for a while after finishing at UCLA, and with the springs of her old bed digging in Julie's back, she wondered just why she'd agreed.
She could have stayed with Yancy at her place in the city and out of the suburbs, but her and Peter were always so...in love. Which was never a bad thing – never – just... It took its toll after a while. There were only so many morning kisses over breakfast and sounds coming from their room at night that she could take.
Julie looked through the dark around her. Her room was falling apart at the seams – too few visits home and no one caring for her stuff while she was away meaning some strips of wallpaper were peeling and dust covered most surfaces.
The first thing she'd done had been to clean her desk, set up her laptop, and peel off all the stickers there. (Including the ones that had still held down Steve's photograph.) But after that...well, her dad's fried Twinkies had called and she couldn't be bothered to settle in properly.
The only other thing she'd brought herself to do was to set up her easel, but that was more out of habit than planning to actually use it.
Everything seemed...dulled – not like she was numb, but more like nothing affected her the way it used to.
She turned onto her side and tried to fall asleep.
The next morning brought blueberry pancakes and fruit salad, with her mom trying out her new cookie cutters. Julie ended up with rabbit-shaped pancakes and heart shaped banana slices.
After breakfast, she begged off doing 'family activities' (probably something embarrassing during the day and then Scrabble that night,) to which her mother exclaimed that she hadn't seen the neighbourhood since last year and that so much had changed.
Their neighbourhood never changed, but Julie smiled and nodded like she wanted to see these 'changes' and left so fast that she wouldn't have been surprised if she left a trail of dust in her wake.
The tote on her shoulder held nothing but some spare cash, her cell, and her pencils and sketchpad as she took the long route through the streets, past the high school, around the skate park, and towards the lake.
Not that it was really a lake, more like a pond, but she took what she could after living in brick the past three years on campus.
She sat on one of the wooden benches and watched the murky turquoise water, the ducks floating across, and tried desperately not to call Yancy or Farrah. She failed.
"Farrah Campbell speaking."
"Hey, it's me, Jules. Don't you check your caller ID?"
Farrah laughed on the other end of the line. "Not really. What's up?"
Julie bit her lip, watching as a kid struggled by with five leashed dogs which were walking him rather than the other way around.
"It's just home, you know? I didn't think it would be different, but I thought there'd at least be something to do. I'm kinda...bored."
"What about Ren?"
Julie rolled her eyes and sat back on the bench, shrugging off her bag. "He's meant to be coming over for dinner tonight, but, you know, he's got his business now and I never really see him anymore."
"Didn't he visit you at UCLA?" She asked quickly before saying something to someone else on her end, and then Julie heard some shouting in the background.
"Yeah, he did, but he spent most of the time telling security how crappy their systems and cameras were – that was both before and after he was kicked off campus."
More shouting. "Look, Jules, I have to go. Paolo's gone crazy – neons, Jules? I mean, he knows better. Just find a distraction, okay? Paint! Isn't that what you went to college for anyway?"
And then she was gone.
Julie put her cell back in her bag and wondered if she should look up Steve, or even his mom who she'd gotten on so well with before the whole relationship went south. Literally. The great Steve Phillips had been taking off on skate tours of the US for the past two years, but that hadn't been why they'd broken up.
He'd been young when they first hooked up, and she'd been even younger, and when she looked back at it she wondered how they even survived junior high, let alone high school. Once she'd planned UCLA, it had all gone to hell on a fast-train.
Steve had gotten back into his boarding, Julie had been preparing for college, and he'd asked her if she'd mind waiting to be together again.
No, she'd told him, she wouldn't mind. But he had, and it hadn't been a week in when he'd asked to put their relationship on hold a little more permanently. Some girl had caught his eye on some trip, and Julie had known that it wasn't going to last, waiting for him that is.
She didn't want to be some girl on a backburner, with Steve running through streams of girls while waiting for her to be available again. It was strange, and awkward, and it didn't feel right. If he wanted her, then he'd wait, but he hadn't, and so she took the only thing she could from that: he didn't want her as desperately as she'd thought.
So she moved on, hooked up with a couple of guys at UCLA, went to parties, but nothing ever...stuck.
She felt like a flake, always moving onto the next thing instead of sitting and waiting for what she really wanted.
It was then, at that thought, sitting on that bench, waiting in front of that lake, that something happened. Something she could never have anticipated in a million years.
He knew it was her, even from clear across the lake, because no one – and he means no one – could ever have those crazy, flawless curls or desperately smooth skin but her.
She looked up, stared for a second, and the first thing she said was, "Where's your lisp?"
"So, it is you." Russell couldn't help the grin that lit his face. "Impediment went south, by the way."
"Yeah, you can say 'impediment,' now." She seemed stunned. "So...so, how have you been? You and Staci, right? I heard you two moved in together."
"Like two years ago," he snorted, taking a seat on the bench next to Julie. "We broke up a while back. She, uh...well, you know."
Julie just made a vague noise. "Yeah."
He was being stupid, talking to her, he knew it, but he couldn't stop. How long had he been in love with the youngest Corky? Forever? Yeah, pretty much forever.
He was about to ask her about Steve when she suddenly turned to him.
"You wanna get a drink?"
Why she had asked, she didn't know, but there she was, in Starbucks, with Russell Barber, A.K.A. SpongeBob. And he hadn't ordered a milkshake.
No, he'd gotten coffee, just like she had, and he took it with brown sugar. What was happening to the world?
How could someone like Steve, an A-plus student and all-around 'good-guy,' become a show-boarder, and then someone like Russell, a no-plus student and thorn in her side, sit and drink coffee with her, and talk, like he had all the time in the world, just for her?
It made no sense.
Julie stirred her coffee. "So...how'd you get rid of the lisp?"
"Staci was kind of keen to be rid of it." Russell rolled a shoulder. "I didn't mind, you know, after us taking so long to get together, 'cause I was just happy to be there with her. Her dad footed the bill for a therapist, said he didn't mind helping me. For her, of course."
She'd already stopped playing with her coffee once he'd mentioned Staci wanting to 'get rid of it,' but as soon as the therapist came into it Julie just stared.
"You said it just went south," she managed.
He half-shrugged again.
"That's not going south. That's putting it on the first flight to San Diego."
His smile did something strange to her, because he wasn't just dark blonde curls, an insistent lisp, and three headbands anymore. He'd grown up. And, she thought, she might have as well.
"You're funny. Always were," he told her, watching and grinning, and she couldn't help but smile down into her drink.
"So, what do you do now? Boarding?" She asked, steering the conversation back to topics with less heated stares on his part.
He frowned. "I haven't touched a deck in years. What about you?"
"Neither have I." Julie eyed Russell's white t-shirt and blue jeans, wondering what they were hiding. "Didn't have much time for it."
"But you have time now though, right?" He suddenly asked, and the intensity of his dark gaze speared her.
"Sure." She shrugged. "All the time in the world."
They sat at the top of the battered half pipe the neighbourhood skate park offered. Russell had found two boards in his garage and persuaded Julie to ride with him, and after dropping off her stuff at home, she had taken to skating just like she always had: well.
She laughed out-loud.
Russell turned to her, eyebrow cocked and smile in place. "What's funny? You were good."
The sun was setting and his hair had suddenly turned a bright golden-red where it was touched by the light, like the corona of the sun. The colour touched something inside of her. His face had thinned of baby fat too, just like hers, and suddenly nothing was funny anymore. She had laughed at the way she was sitting with SpongeBob after having fun skating with him, talking to him, just being around him, but now...
He was attractive, in the unconventional sense, and suddenly all she wanted to do was kiss him. So, she did.
She wasn't the same self-conscious teen she had once been. She'd grown up and grown quickly. University had done that to her, finding her art had done that to her, and she wanted Russell.
Her lips met his quickly, no hesitation whatsoever, and they stayed there, pressed to his, until he suddenly jerked his head back. She'd felt warmth, tasted coffee, and she'd liked it. Hadn't he?
Julie tilted her head at him. Russell looked shell-shocked.
"Are you blushing?"
"Jesus," he muttered, rubbing his face and turning back to her. "Sorry. Uh, I just...didn't expect that."
"Right," she said slowly, urging him on.
He smiled, teeth bright against his flushed lips. "Can we try that again?"
She touched his jaw with her hand and kissed him again, slowly, deeply, and as soon as her mouth parted against his, his arms were around her and he was kissing the crap out of her. In a really nice way.
He touched her thigh, both of them pulling back at the same moment. They both looked and sounded so breathless. She could feel a fire inside her, wanting him. Nothing was so very dull anymore.
She clutched a handful of his curls and kissed him so suddenly both of the boards were kicked from their perch and went skidding down the slope. Neither Julie or Russell went after them, both of them being too busy to bother.
She'd found one hell of a distraction, Julie thought as Russell palmed her thigh. But she knew, not even that deep down, it was much more than that. She liked him, God help her.
Author's note: Just a jaunt, because I love this film and a lot of people underrate the feel-good cheesiness of it.