One Step Forward


Ariana Cimino

Continuing off of the first part of “Slow Burn,” the main character in “One Step Forward,” Jody, decides on a whim that she is going to spend a week in Los Angeles to attempt to move there. The location where Jody met Brooke for breakfast was inspired by the Omelette and Waffle Shop, a diner located in San Pedro, California.

Ariana Cimino, Staff Writer

Jody would never admit it to anybody aside from her inflated ego, but she didn’t really have any sort of clue where her life was going. Subtle nuances in grades, a lack of interest in the various prospects that once drove her to try harder and better than her peers, running with her hands tied behind her back from the invisible enemy of parental judgement and scorn – she was sure everyone could tell she was struggling once it got to a certain point. She would just never care to admit it to anyone but herself and her therapist. 

She wasn’t sure where the turning point was in her life that made getting straight A’s seem unappealing and the promise of possible antidepressants seem the opposite. Her mother, to Jody’s own unrelenting chagrin, had encouraged her to take her life day by day, making meaningless mantras of things that were supposed to make her happy but only making Jody feel worse in the process (but of course, how could she tell her own mother that?). Jody didn’t know what happy was after she got to a certain point. Maybe she never knew, and she just filled her own head with images of the bright lights of Los Angeles and past social outings to keep herself afloat. She wondered when it would stop working. 

She was supposed to travel to Los Angeles again in December and visit Marceline, if only for a week, but maybe it would help her in some way. She had learned to like Los Angeles throughout all the smoke and grit; the city had a backdrop of charm and a whisper of new beginnings. It wasn’t as if San Pedro didn’t have everything Los Angeles had to offer – it still had the grotesque apartment complexes and homely (but undeniably cozy) restaurants Jody had familiarized herself with – but something about Los Angeles inspired a part of Jody that in more recent times she had failed to get in touch with, and Jody liked that more than she’d admit to anyone but herself. 

Fake happiness was difficult. Fake happiness ended when friends started noticing Jody missing school, at first a few days here and there, then more, and more, and more, and then them commenting on it and making subtle insults that Jody wholeheartedly agreed with (but it still didn’t sting any less). Fake happiness ended when going anywhere alone with her own mother or father or friends resulted in a string of arguments and Jody breaking down in her room once she got home. Fake happiness ended when Jody gave up on all the talents she might’ve once had, or when Jody woke up every night at three in the morning tossing and turning, or when Jody relied more on melatonin supplements and vitamins than on her own failure of a body supporting her. Fake happiness ended when she realized she didn’t really care about her body image anymore, or her grades, or about where she lived or didn’t live – she just wanted to have a sense of control. 

Waking up was usually a disaster for Jody, whether it be because of her broken alarm clock, her habit of falling back asleep or her overcooking breakfast and setting off the smoke alarm. Regardless, taking her sweet time to wake up was something she did quite often, and that fact didn’t change the morning Jody had convinced herself she was to drive the 24 miles up the 405 to visit Marceline. Jody groggily sat up after a few (or twenty) minutes of bleak life contemplation, rubbing her eyes and taking a fearful glance at her clock. It read 11:34. Allowing herself a moment to breathe and think, she rationalized with her own disappointment that hey, at least she had gotten up at all, and at least she would have time to get brunch before throwing herself out the door and into her red piece-of-garbage Jeep Wrangler. She took a brief, cold shower, debated with herself for a few moments about her cooking skills, and then threw herself out the door and into her red Jeep Wrangler to go get brunch. 

The Omelet and Waffle Shop was an okay place to go for breakfast. Okay barely scratched the surface of how Jody felt about it, but for a diner with as dreary and dull of an exterior as this one, she figured it was a decently picked judgement. She wasn’t sure why she went there and not elsewhere – since she didn’t like waffles or omelets in the first place – aside from the fact that she didn’t have to drive there, and only had to walk the two blocks down Pacific Avenue from her apartment. Gaffey Street had other good options, she supposed, or if she was really feeling the effort one day, maybe she’d even drive up the PCH and grab something from her favorite bakery; however, she was content enough with her bland oatmeal and overcooked potatoes. Mostly, she was content enough with not having to walk or drive further than a hundred feet.  

Once inside, Jody slid into the booth across from the only familiar face she ever saw at the diner. Not saying a word, she picked up a menu, thanked the waitress and set it back down again, already having known what she wanted anyways. The brunette across from her scoffed, took a sip of her coffee, and shot her eyes right at Jody and through her shield of fake happiness. 

“It’s been three months since I last saw you and you still only get oatmeal and black coffee?” Brooke asked quizzically, narrowing her eyes at Jody. “I figured you’d have moved on past that part of the menu by now.” 

Jody’s stomach squirmed, but she didn’t say anything, at first, for a lack of better words. When she did manage to open her mouth and usher out a reply, all that came out was, “I’m not very hungry.” 

Brooke sighed a complacent “yeah, okay” and sank back into her seat, arms crossed and eyes calculating. After a moment’s thought, she admitted, “I didn’t mean for that to be an insult, you know. There’s nothing wrong with sticking to what you know, and you do that better than anyone else. It’s better than being indecisive.” 

Jody shrugged. “I’m moving to Los Angeles,” she countered.  

Brooke’s eyes widened slightly, her tilting her head to the side in a subtle motion. “Wow,” she hummed, drumming her fingers on the metal table. “What’s out there? I could never. I like San Pedro.” 

“I didn’t say I don’t like it,” Jody retorted, rolling her eyes. “… I just like Los Angeles a little better. Marceline is there.” 

“Still? I thought she’d moved to Newport.” 

Jody shook her head and eyed the waitress nearby in desperate anticipation of food and the bill. “I’m leaving today to try to find a place.” 

“You won’t live with Marceline?” Brooke asked, Jody shaking her head again at that and explaining that it would feel too much like she was depending on Marceline. Jody wouldn’t admit to anyone but herself that it was more the crushing fear of her closest friend seeing through her fake happiness. Marceline bought it – maybe that’s why Jody treasured her more than anyone else. Maybe that was a terrible reason to choose certain friends over others.  

“Well, there’s nothing wrong with that,” Brooke replied, pausing to smile and thank the waitress once her food arrived. “At first, I mean, while you’re getting your bearings. You never even go to L.A. after all – what’s with this? It’s not like you.” Jody questioned if Brooke did know her, really, or if she just liked to think she did after a few months of chatting over breakfast. Brooke laughed vacantly. She was always vacant. “Someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed.” 

“Look, Brooke,” Jody started, getting fed up with the brunette’s banter all too quickly, as she usually did. “I know Los Angeles is dirty, and it’s not any better than San Pedro, and I’ll still be the same as I am now if I go. I know it’s the same, but you know, it just has a lot of good memories.” 

“You’re right,” Brooke replied with her mouth full of food. “It is the same as San Pedro. But at least you’ve had better times there. Sort of.” 

“Sort of,” Jody agreed, and the pair sat in suffocating silence for the rest of their short-lived meal.  

Fake happiness ended for Jody when she couldn’t bring herself to eat.