Hello! Thanks so much for reading! This story is a collection of My So-Called Life vignettes spanning from several years before the series to many years after. I am not writing these stories in sequence; as such, though I'm inserting them chronologically, new chapters may be hard to find. You can find the new chapters in the story description, and also by posting date and left-justified position in the table of contents below.
A note about the writing: My early MSCL ff pieces were mostly composed in script form (dialogue only); when I started posting here I developed them into full prose. I realize now, after much more writing, that so many of these chapters have to be revised and further developed. I'm slowly starting now to work through these chapters to update them; I apologize for the roughness throughout.
A note to readers: A lot of these chapters have turned out to be just about Jordan, and follow him from high school to his adult life. I know some readers don't really care for adult character MSCL stories, so if that's the case for you, while my recent posts have mostly been later years chapters, don't worry, there are many high school chapters still to come.
Most importantly, THANK YOU SO MUCH for reading, I really truly appreciate your feedback!
(On that note, this site does not allow users to leave multiple posts on the same chapter, which can be difficult for this story as the chapter numbers are constantly being re-sequenced and revised. If you've run into this problem, you can find another chapter to post to, or post under your username but logged in as a guest. Thanks, and happy reading!)
* Created characters, as well as Tino, are written with actors in mind. PM me if you would like the list :)
TABLE OF CONTENTS
[the more recent stories are left justified, older stories are centered]
1 Try This : 9/23/12
2 Moving Out : 9/2/12
3 Losing It, part I : 3/31/14
4 Moving Out, part II : 9/2/12
5 The American Pastime : 9/2/12
6 This Wasn't Anything : 9/9/12
7 Losing It part II : 3/31/14
8 Happy Birthday to Us! : 9/4/12
9* Not in the mood, to be treated like dirt : 9/23/12
10 Off screen: Stay away from drummers : 4/14/13
11* Off screen: Tino loves hospitals : 9/4/12
12 Off screen: Like how you are : 9/4/12
13 Off screen: The house : 9/4/12
14 Off screen: This isn't working for me : 9/4/12
15 Off screen: You look like shit : 9/4/12
16* Off screen Aftermath : 9/8/12
17 It doesn't have to be this way : 11/7/12
18 Life in progress : 2/5/13
19 Performances : 5/22/13
20 Our 'thing' : 11/2/14
21 Waiting and Contemplating : 7/30/13
22 Isolation : 1/19/14
23 Getting closer : 1/27/13
24 You're up : 9/1/12
25 C'est Moi : 9/5/12
26* Get Your Thug On : 9/3/12
27 He would be the guest, not the meal : 9/23/12
28 Trying something new : 11/6/12
29 Stay : 9/16/13
30 Here Comes Marie : 9/3/12
31 Futureman : 9/23/12
32 Tino schools in the art of war and music : 1/10/13
33 Another Saturday Night : 11/6/12
34 Not such a big deal : 9/6/12
35 Outlaws : 1/1/13
36 Happy Birthday : 9/2/12
37 10 to 1 She Smacks You : 9/8/12
38 So, this is what they mean, by : 9/23/12 ; 1/20/13
39 On the Market? Post Breakup : 1/20/13 ; 9/1/12
40 Whudda'ya think? : 9/2/12
41 Senior Year : 4/22/13
42 I see what you're doing : 12/2/12
43 How many girls? : 12/30/12
44 Should old acquaintance be forgot : 11/27/12
45 Put on your red shoes and dance the blue : 6/11/13
46 New Girl : 1/2/13
47 Growing things : 1/21/13 ; 4/12/13
48 Kathy with a K: And I can Hear it Now : 8/2/13
49 Yearbook : 11/12/12
50 K's Song: There but for the Grace of You : 8/5/13
51 Congratulations : 1/20/13
52 Sigh no more : 8/11/13
53 Man on deck: 1/4/15
54 I have a photograph : 1/5/14
55 California Here We Come : 1/5/14
56 California II : 7/12/15
57 California III : 10/29/16
58 California IV: Love - Love : 11/18/16
59 So long, Papa Catalano : 1/27/14
60 Guess Who Came to Dinner : 8/5/16
61 Uncle Tino : 2/23/14
62 Three: 1/4/2015
Set before the series; this is the first of a couple of small moments that serve as the 'origin story' for the Jordan Catalano we see in the series — at least in terms of his interactions with the opposite sex. The following scenes mark time passing between each of them and span almost a year, '88-'89.
Down by the river, messing around on his bike under the shade of the trees, Jordan cuts off and on the gravel path, tuning out the noise of traffic from the road above. He's been riding for hours already, keeping clear of the house. At eleven-years-old Jordan Catalano spends the bulk of his time outside, playing baseball, bouncing from friend's house to friend's house, and goofing on his bike. That bike, ever since his old man got it for him two years ago, has been the one thing he cares most about in the world. It's freedom. Two wheels, pedals, and speed, his own transportation, powered by himself — into the world, away from whatever is getting to him. Freedom. Running tracks from Metallica's ...And Justice For All through his head, he pops a wheelie, jumps a small mound of dirt, then grabs at a low hanging branch as he passes by.
Down a path through the trees and brush approaches another cyclist. Eleven also, this rider takes her time down the trail, riding first up one bank then the other. Standing as she pedals, her gauzy white sundress flutters behind her while her long flaxen hair blows loosely about her tan and freckled face. From the corner of his eye Jordan notices her, but continues riding.
He knows her, sort of. Shelly something. They're not in the same class, they don't talk, but he's seen her. He's always just looked past her. He does that.
Shelly, slow to smile, and ever watchful with her large green eyes, crosses his course, swerving in zigs and zags. "Hey."
Pedaling backwards, Jordan discreetly sneaks a longer look at her, then casts his gaze again back toward the water. "Hi." He pedals in reverse a moment more, then stands and swerves into a wide looping circle.
Circling also, the girl continues pedaling from a standing position, never really pulling her watchful eyes from him. She is a solemn looking creature, despite there being a taunting glint behind those impish green irises as she blinks at him. "You ignoring me?"
Jordan, keeping his eyes predominantly to himself, doesn't answer right away. "No."
Sharply she swerves off in the opposite direction, never looking away from him for more than a moment at a time. "...It's okay if you are."
Coasting, he looks at her, intently, "I'm not." He resumes pedaling, throwing her a head nod as he passes, "What're'ya doin'?"
Riding through the low hanging branches of the riverbank willow trees, she snatches a handful of tiny leaves as she passes beneath, then releases them to scatter in the breeze as she rides on. She looks at him. He looks away. She looks away. She looks back. Theirs is an exchange of furtive stoic glances, measuring one another, mutely, neither known for being rambunctious or overly boisterous.
Her voice is low for a girl of her age, and sweet, and steady. Her dark lashes shadow over her grey eyes. "Seeing how long I can stay out till anyone comes and looks for me." By this point they're circling round each other in big lazy loops and figure eights.
Jordan throws in wryly, "Bet I'd beat you."
Interested, intrigued by this tiny sardonic glimpse of bitterness and irreverence, Shelly looks back at him over her shoulder, "How come?"
Wordless, Jordan only shrugs, and instead of answering he attempts a wheelie.
"That needs practice," she observes candidly, not at all concerned with sparing his feelings or offering unearned flattery. Jordan registers this, thinking he likes it. Lately so many of the girls in his class have gotten silly, and giggly; it's irritating. His young eyes, blue as the sky, open and observant, watch her as the girl again stands on her pedals, managing a double bounce that lifts herself and her bike an inch or so off the ground. Upon landing she swerves again, glancing over her shoulder at him as she does. "You smoke?"
His father does. Most days more than a pack a day. Jordan's often sent to the kitchen cupboard above the range to fetch more. The whole house smells of his stale smoke, and so too the old man's car. There are cigarette burns in the furniture and in the bedding on his dad's full sized bed. Cigarettes can make his father act the philosopher, but usually too that's the booze. Cigarettes are what can sometimes shut him up for a bit, or calm him down, and sometime they're the stubby burning bullets he flicks at his own kids. Unblinking, Jordan shakes his head.
"I'm down to my last one." Saying nothing more she cuts away, turning the bike down to a small trail leading down closer to the river. As she rides, Jordan's view of her is quickly obstructed by brush and branches. Through the vegetation her young voices reaches back to him. "You coming?"
Jordan, who in that hollow of gravel and growth had stopped riding, kicks hard off the ground then pedals standing to follow, dust trailing after. The tangled overgrown path breaks through to a tiny mud and pebble beach on the river bank. He finds her there, standing astride her bike, motionless and waiting. From her cotton halter dress, fastened with a rubber band, she produces a single, slightly crushed cigarette and book of matches. He watches her place the thing between her thin straight lips, leaving it to dangle there, like she could be an Old West cowboy more than five times her age. Shielding it from the breeze she strikes a match, and lights the cigarette. The girl inhales, her wild blonde tresses wisping and breezing round her aloof little face. Exhaling a smoky cloud she extends her hand to pass it to Jordan. He glances at her, and at it, then edges closer, and takes the thing from her, their fingers just faintly touching as he does. His eyes still watch her as he lifts the cigarette to his lips and takes that first drag.
She watches him inhale a few times. "They say it gives you cancer," she remarks offhandedly — his sky eyes flash to her. She shrugs coolly, "But, so does the sun, and cherries — maraschinos — and that doesn't stop people." Jordan coughs, and she looks at him sedately. "You'll get better at it; if you try." Jordan laughs. Being told to practice something is nothing new; he hears it all the time at school — 'Work harder' 'Try' — but he'd never expected to hear it in the context of vice, and this girl said it so matter-of-factly, the way she says everything. Jordan smiles. She's still watching him, "You don't talk a lot." She blinks. "I like that." Jordan looks at her as he hands back the cigarette, taking all of this in.
Pedaling fast, Jordan races his bike through the streets of his neighborhood, down the track, off the road and down to the riverbank where he finds her, like he'd guessed he would. Like he has, those past few times, without their ever saying a thing about it. It's been becoming a thing they do, these past weeks, meeting by the river. She isn't always there, but more often than not she is, and they've been meeting like this, just the two of them down by the small pebbled beach for weeks now. Shelly sits with her feet in the water, her rusted blue bike dropped and left up bank behind her. Jordan coasts to a stop, steps off, and setting his bike down on its side approaches. He taps her shoulder with a slightly crumpled half-full pack of cigarettes. He watches as she turns her head to him and smiles. Her face completely changes when she smiles. Mostly its a wry teasing smile he gets from her, but sometimes it's completely unfettered by her stoic cynicism and her features brighten, almost seeming to dance. He can't always elicit that sort of smile from her, but he feels the gratification of it when he manages it.
Her smile not yet faded, the girl takes the pack and the boy takes a seat beside her, his thrashed sneakers keeping clear of the shoreline. "They're my dad's."
Peeling back the broken cellophane and foil, she doesn't bother to turn her head to look at him. "I usually smoke menthols." Her head tilts some reflectively. "Well, my grandma does." She removes a cigarette and places it gingerly between her lips. Jordan produces a book of matches and strikes one for her; she leans in for him to light it, their eyes meet. Again Jordan notices the small cluster of freckles beneath the bridge of her nose. He blinks. "Th'nks." She exhales just to the side of his face. The sensation of her breath and the smoke against his cheek excites him in an unknown sort of way.
He knows about girls. He's seen his father from time to time with the loud women he's dragged home. He's seen his older sister spend time with boys behind closed doors and down in basements. He's seen the pilfered magazines. But none of that is him.
Jordan runs his hand along the pebbled shore and finding a few flat stones at his feet leans forward to skip them across the water. They watch the stones bounce and skip, two, three, four times. His best record is seven. Today he gets one to five.
"I can never get them to hit the water more than once," she observes.
"That's called 'throwing'," he remarks dryly. Though he doesn't look, he thinks maybe there's a sort of smile wryly edging in at the corner of her mouth. "Here—" he says, selecting a choice contender for her, "try this." He hands the round flattened stone to her. "You gotta use your wrist."
The sky darkens as clouds pass through the sky above them. The river has become their place. Skipping stones, racing bikes, sneaking cigarettes, it's a place they come to, without maybe even knowing why. At school their friends are different, and all the stupid kids in too big a hurry to grow up make too big a deal of a thing like a girl being friends with a boy. They don't go near it. He doesn't go to her house, they don't go the movies or the mall, they just come here, or ride along a stretch of the river. They don't even talk much. The water splashes as Shelly and Jordan plunge and swim; their bikes, shoes, and extraneous clothing strewn out carelessly on the embankment behind them. The water is cold, fucking cold, but used to it they stay in, letting the current sort of drag them along. As the minutes pass the cold returns and eventually Jordan emerges, lean and wet, still laughing a bit, and lies on the warm ground, mud and rocks sticking to his thin back. Seemingly immune to the chill, Shelly swims a bit longer, diving like a porpoise to the river bottom then floating on her back, just barely fluttering her hands to stay afloat, staring at the sun for as long as she can stand it. When the clouds drift again across the sun she too comes ashore, and settles beside Jordan on the warm pebbles, disregarding the large black ants moving across her feet. She watches him lying there, his eyes closed to her, the river, and whatever's in the world he's avoiding when he comes down there.
She lifts herself onto her elbow. Leaning over him she watches as her long hair drips cold water on him. He flinches at the shock, but his eyes remain shut. Wordlessly she smudges the drops away from his bronze face, then bends down and kisses him.
The blind sensation of it stops him; Jordan's breathing hitches in his young chest. He was unprepared for this, and not correct reaction occurs to him. But it's over so quickly he doesn't have to react. Once again she's lying beside him, eyes closed, enjoying the sunshine on her tanned skin. Her lips had been soft, and cold, and the kiss had smelled and tasted like the river.
The weather eventually changed, months passed and swimming was ruled out, and really so too was riding bikes for pleasure for a while, or hanging by the river, but still they came, some days, roughly regular, seeking out this undefined space away from home, and school, and all the people who know them in different ways. The chill never seemed to stop them. In one respect at least, Jordan finds his house much colder than the ride to the riverbank.
This day the cold has nearly broken; he rode the whole way there with his jacket zipper undone, enjoying the wind as it beat against his shirt chest and blew his jacket out behind as he coasted at high speeds down hills. He is windswept when he arrives, his cheeks and nose red from the pedaling and cut by the early spring gusts. Happily recovering his breath from his hard ride there, Jordan stashes his bike in the brush and walks the path down towards the river to where he knows she'll be.
He finds her sitting on a rock, smoking, looking off across the river, her bike on its side in the tall grass. "Hi." She doesn't answer, she doesn't look, only keeps smoking. "What's up?" He moves closer. It's not like her to ignore him so fully. "Shell." He kicks a little dirt and rock at her with a shuffle of his foot, provoking her to at least acknowledge him.
Still staring blankly ahead, cigarette perched between her fingers threatening to drop ashes to her knee, she answers flatly, "We're moving." Stoic and deflated, she flicks off the ashes just before they drop.
Jordan shuffles closer, clears his throat, "When?""
He kicks again at the dirt, snorting disappointedly at the blow. "Where're you going?"
Jordan sinks to sit also. "Sucks."
She takes another resentful drag, "No kidding."
Guardedly he casts a glance at her, but she does not move, does not falter from that unknown point across the river at which she so soberly stares. They sit, and the river flows past them, babbling and splashing. Wordless, Jordan scoops a handful of river stones at his feet. He runs them through the touch of his fingers, letting the smallest pebbles filter through and drop from his grasp. Without the nuance of skipping, he chucks them, one by one, into the water, listening for the dropping plunge. "And, you're not, coming back?" He watches as her head shakes in the negative. He bites his lip against this, and resigning himself to the learned truth that people who leave do not return, Jordan does what he has learned: "Hey," he remarks with summoned offhandedness, "no more snow, right?"
"I like the snow," she retorts stubbornly.
Jordan pushes her shoulder good-naturedly, "You only say that in summer." In spite of herself this absence of sentimentality elicits from her the shaping of a smile and a rueful chuckle. "It could be cool," he tries. "Right?"
Exhaling a cloud of smoke, she knocks the remaining stones from his hand with an easy switch of her wrist. "I don't want to feel better about it."
Jordan nods. He watches the running water slap against the muddy water's edge then rises, shifting his weight and kicking silently at the ground. Wordless, he pulls her up from where she sits. Artlessly he kisses her. Shelly, breaks from him, carefully puts out her half-smoked cigarette, balances it on a rock for safe keeping, then kisses him in return.
In three and a half weeks she moved. She, her older brother, and her mother packed their weather-beaten station wagon and drove 1,400 miles south west to a new start. Two months after the move something arrived in the post addressed to him. He never receives mail. Never. The time was when he would search through bills and junk ads, looking for word from his mother. But word never came, no letter ever arrived, and he'd learned to stop waiting. The mail was nothing to him then, nothing but bills for his father to gripe over. Then one day came the stiff blue envelope, compact and well-sealed.
He knew the sender before seeing the return address. Slipping it from the stack of unopened mail on the kitchen table, Jordan takes it, unseen, to open in his room. On sky blue stationery with sketches of this and that in the margins, she'd written him a letter, two pages. She told about the drive, about the new apartment, the town, and the Colorado River. He manages through it, and the letter gets stashed away somewhere in his room. It takes him eleven weeks to send back a postcard. It says next to nothing, not much more than a hello and how's it going; on the reverse side is a photo of the Ohio. Eventually, weeks later it is answered by another letter, this time written on a torn out sheet of spiral lined paper. From the looks of it and the scrawl of her writing it was written covertly, no doubt at school, interrupted in its progress by lessons and breaks. Included with it came a wallet-sized school picture. She looks older. Her wild hair is tamed and she's even smiling. Jordan holds onto the photo, but never does get around to replying to the letter.