I found Jeanie playing hacky-sack with a circle of friends outside the theater building before school started and asked her to walk with me.
“This is going to be strange, and kind of embarrassing, but I have to tell you something,” I said as we walked.
“Claudia, you can tell me anything,” Jeanie said, concerned.
“OK,” I said, halting and looking around to make sure no one was listening. I took in a deep breath. “I can predict the future by reading the patterns in toast.”
“Toast?” Jeanie asked.
“Yeah. Toast patterns.”
“Like, bread toast?” she said, raising an eyebrow.
“Yes, Jeanie. Toast.”
Jeanie blinked at me, then shook her head. “That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard.”
“I know, but just listen,” I said, rubbing my thumb over my forearm. “This morning when I was having my breakfast I saw something bad. You can’t go to chemistry second period today. Seriously, something bad is going to happen.
“Wow.” Jeanie rolled her eyes. “That’s one of the more creative excuses I’ve heard for skipping class.”
“This isn’t about skipping class. It’s about avoiding danger,” I said.
“Sure, sure. The danger your toast told you about,” Jeanie said.
I stuffed my hands in my pockets and sighed.
“So, what?” she said, smirking. “Every morning you have a slice of toast and a peek into the future?”
“Yeah. Most mornings,” I said.
“If you can tell the future that way then why don’t you just eat toast all the time?” Jeanie asked.
“Well, bread is fattening,” I answered. “But that’s not the point. Please listen, Jeanie. You can’t go to chemistry class. Promise me.”
I pleaded to her with my eyes more than my words. Jeanie’s smile shrunk and she placed her hands on her hips.
“OK, Claudia, what happens?” she asked with a flick of her wrist.
I moved closer to her.
“I don’t know why, but Linda and Caroline are going to get into a fight,” I said, barely above a whisper. “I didn’t see exactly what happens, but I saw glass breaking and people getting hurt. You were one of them.”
“Pfft, Claudia,” Jeanie said, backing away. “You’re being crazy.”
“I knew you’d say that. I knew you’d react this way. This is why I’ve never told anyone,” I said, now rubbing my hand aggressively over the opposite arm. “I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true.”
“Wait,” she said, “so no one else knows about your toast powers?”
“Um, no. You’re the first person I’ve told,” I said.
“Awe,” Jeanie said, placing her hands over her chest. “That’s so sweet.” Then she shook her head. “No, what am I saying? This is ridiculous.”
She turned to walk away, but I stepped in front of her and placed my hand on her shoulder. “Please, Jeanie, you have to believe me. Or don’t believe me. Whatever. Just don’t go to chemistry today. Please?”
“Claudia,” Jeanie said, taking my hand off her shoulder. “You’re freaking me out.”
Jeanie walked past me back towards the theater building.
“Jeanie, wait!” I chased after her. “Look, you know how I always know which TV shows are gonna get cancelled? Well that’s how I know.”
“Uh-huh,” she said and kept walking.
“Remember when we were at the county fair? I totally knew Travis was going to crash that go-cart.”
“Everybody knew Travis would crash that night,” Jeanie said.
As we neared the front door, I grabbed her by the arm and pulled her towards the bike racks.
“OK. OK. Jeanie, seriously listen to me,” I said and let go of her arm. “Two weeks ago your cousin Alex died. When your mom told you, all you could do was sit and watch TV. You didn’t cry or anything. You were just numb. For hours you just watched Gunsmoke reruns until you decided to get something to drink. But your fridge’s ice machine wouldn’t work and you got so angry you broke off the lever and fell to the floor. I know this because I saw it in the toast.”
Jeanie looked to the ground and brushed her hair with her fingers for a moment before looking back up to me.
“Is this for real?” she asked.
“Really for real,” I replied.
“You can tell the future?”
Jeanie breathed deeply and nodded. “Okay then. We have to do something.”
“We can’t do anything. We can’t change the future,” I said.
“But you’re changing the future by telling me, right?” she asked.
“I guess. I don’t know.” I shook my head. “I don’t usually mess with this stuff. I just couldn’t let you go there today.”
“Well we have to try,” Jeanie said. “What if Linda and Caroline kill each other? We have to stop that fight.”
“I don’t know, Jeanie,” I said, letting my hand fall limp from rubbing my arm.
“Yes you do, Claudia,” Jeanie said, placing her hand on my shoulder now, smiling. “You were given toast powers for a reason. Maybe this is the reason.”
I smiled back. “Maybe. But what can we do?”
“I don’t know, Toast Girl, but we’ve only got through first period to figure it out.”
(Fiction and Photography by Wesley Martin)