“EJ’s tale of a college baseball star and the demons he fights is powerful and captivating. Once you’re involved in Ernest’s world, you are invested for the ride. Fans of this genre will say EJ hit it out of the park!” Alex J. Cavanaugh, Amazon bestselling author of the Cassa series
”Great cast of characters. Lots of fun humor. Romance. Win! Definitely recommend!”
“It is an inspirational, heartwarming story in which any reader is likely to get lost.”
“This story made me laugh and cry and it was so great to read something sweet and awesome from a guy.”
“Perfectly Ernest offers an emotionally genuine tour through depression, friendship, and love.”
“It’s wonderful when a story’s voice is so strong as to drag you into someone’s head so it feels natural. I devoured Perfectly Ernest.”
“…captured my heart from page one.”
Neyle tottered over to a far corner of the room and snatched a jar of jellybeans from a shelf. He moved to our circle and chose a spot between Abbey and Baker. After handing the jar to Abbey, he unfolded his seat. He grunted as he straddled the makeshift chair and let his hands rest on the curved top of the cane. He waited as Luther powered down his machine, smiled as Sing checked her watch for the thirtieth time, arched his eyebrows as Baker picked his nose, and furrowed his brow at the way Abbey grimaced over the candy jar like someone had asked to her hold dirty underwear.
He never made eye contact with me.
“I’ll take those back, Abbey dear. Alright, y’all know the drill.”
I considered raising my hand to inform him I had no clue what thedrill was—and that I was alive and not a ghost in the room. But he continued before I got the chance.
“Progress report, I’ll start. The good: My physical therapist says I’m making real strides. The bad: I still can’t write with a pen, and my darn right foot doesn’t always do what my left-brain tells it. Laura says she can sympathize with my left-brain, because I don’t always do what she tells me, either.”
He chuckled and grabbed a handful of jellybeans before passing the jar to Baker. Neyle had a slight droop to his mouth that was hard to see under the bushy mustache. Stroke maybe?
Baker tossed back several beans. “Good: Totally made it to all my classes but two last week.” There was a chorus of surprised murmurs. “Bad: I only remember going to Algebra, man.”
Groans rained down. Baker shrugged and snatched another handful of candy. He shoved the jar into my hands. I immediately attempted to hand them over to Luther, but he simply regarded me with wide-eyed incredulity—like I’d used the Holy Water at a Catholic mass to wash my armpits or something.
I watched Neyle. My gut tightened. Did he expect me to participate in confessional on my first night?
“I really don’t know why I’m here—”
Neyle held his hand up. “Maybe start with your name.”
“Right,” I mumbled. “My name is Ernie. I’m a sophomore. I play … I played baseball here at South State.”
I tried to pass the candy off once more. Luther shook his head, so I grabbed a few out of the jar and tried again. He still wouldn’t take the damn thing.
Neyle coughed. “Nice to meet you, Ernie. How about your week? Anything good or bad to report?”
“For real?” I hoped to find some kind of support but only got a toothy grin from Abbey and a frustrated eye roll from Sing for my effort.
“Okay, guess I’ll go bad first since there’s been a lot to choose from lately. I managed to royally piss off my new English teacher. Good…” I scratched at my chin, which was beginning to stubble over for the night. Surely I’d had something worthwhile happen. “They had corn chip chili pies in the cafeteria on Monday?”
“Those are awesome, bro.” Baker leaned forward. “You put that nacho cheese on them?”
Abbey made a dramatic gagging sound. In spite of my annoyed mood, I couldn’t hold back a smile.
I popped a jellybean into my mouth, then handed the jar to Luther and was almost giddy when he took it. I thought I caught the hint of a wink from Neyle.
He relaxed on his seat. “Lex, what was up with you?”
“Bad: Dad is still an asshole. Good: I didn’t actually have to talk to him this week. Next.”
Luther placed the jar near Sing and fished out a handful of candy.
“Whoa, hold up.” Neyle leaned forward. “You didn’t have your mid-week check in with the Sergeant?”
Luther shook his head, making his glasses wobble. “Nah, he and Mom went to Vegas to meet up with some of his Army buddies.”
“That’s progress at least. You must feel like a free man,” Neylesaid and laughed.
“Not really. He had Mom inform me that re-charging my meal card would have to wait until he got back, so he could go over my purchases from last month. Apparently, I went a little heavy on the snack bar. Guess he’s decided to starve me out for insubordination.”
“No way,” Baker said.
Abbey quit fiddling with her nails.
Would his dad really let him go hungry to teach him a lesson?
Not for the first time in my life, I reminded myself that not having a dad around could actually be a bonus. Especially if he was a shitty dad.
“Do you have enough money to eat until then?” Neyle asked.
“Yeah, I’m cool. I’ve got rations stashed in my dorm for such an emergency. Plus, Mom’ll send me some cash if she can sneak out to a mailbox.”
Neyle’s gaze stayed locked on Luther. “Sing?”
She had arranged six jellybeans into two symmetrical rows in front of her on a piece of seamlessly folded tissue paper. Each candy was a different color—white, green, yellow, black, red, and blue. Judging by how she composed the room earlier before sitting down, she seemed like a girl who had a reason for the order in which she did everything. I couldn’t fathom the meaning of this, though.
“Good: I stopped by the housing office and asked for a roommate request form.”
Neyle grinned. “That’s great, Sing. We’ve talked about you getting a roomy for a couple of semesters now. You know, Laura and I probably wouldn’t be married if it weren’t for Hyena Brown, my old college roommate. He’d eat anything, and we often had to because we were so poor. If I could survive a year with Hyena, I knew Laura’s cooking wouldn’t kill me, either. Don’t tell her I said that. ”
“Bet you didn’t even take an application, did you?” Luther asked.
Sing turned on him, teeth bared like a prim-but-very-wild, animal.
“Of course I didn’t. The student secretary bimbo behind the desk was eating cheesy chips and put her gross hands all over it. I asked for an application, not a passport to her personal island of disease and filth.”
Neyle crossed his arms over his chest. “You didn’t say that to her, did you?”
Sing fiddled with her candy, not making eye contact with anyone. “That’s actually my bad thing for the week. They threatened to call campus security if I didn’t leave. So I told them I’d gladly go with security—or anyone—with table manners beyond that of the common house rat.”
Neyle sighed. “Well, I can print one up for you I suppose. That leaves you, Abbey.”
She sifted through the candy jar and selected a single, pink bean. She took a tiny nibble and set the other half of the piece on the floor in front of her with a satisfied, and gorgeous, smile.
“Give me a break.” Luther moaned.
She narrowed her eyes. “It’s called portion control.”
“It’s called neurosis, aka why we’re freaking here,” Luther replied.
If a look could gouge eyes out, Luther would’ve been left with an extra set of nostrils in his head. Abbey’s fury didn’t last long, however.
“Good: Becca wanted me to go on this new diet with her, where you eat nothing but green juices for a month.” She stuck her chest out and smoothed her hair. “I said no.”
“Doesn’t take a genius to know you can’t survive off liquids,” Luther said. “I’m not sure that’s a win.”
“Not true, bro,” Baker said, his voice taking on the quality of a wise surfer guru. “I once bet my brother’s friend he couldn’t survive a month living on those diet meal replacement shakes. Gained like twenty-five pounds.”
“Your bad thing?” Neyle asked. An edge of impatience in his voice told me he was trying desperately to usher us beyond the introductory round at this point.
“So, I was at the mall last weekend, and I tried on this ultra-cute top. It had this amazing scalloped lace on the sleeves and a deep neckline. Which I totally adore, because I think my collarbones are my best feature and—”
Neyle cleared his throat, again.
Abbey’s eyes widened. “Anyway, they only had an extra-small in the mint color I liked. I tried it on and it made my arms look all bulgy. I mean totally like cookie dough covered in plastic wrap. But I bought it anyway.”
“You got the shirt even though you didn’t look good in it?” Sing asked. “Sounds like a good thing coming from University Barbie.”
Had to admit, I was slightly impressed this girl got something that she felt was less than flattering on her.
Abbey stared at the ceiling and crossed her lean arms. “I figured I could squeeze into it if I made good food choices during the week. So I decided to skip food on Tuesday and Thursday. The top is really cute, though…”
The silence got uncomfortable, quick, and I felt bad for her.
“You skipped a meal on a couple of days. Seems okay to me,” I said.
I scanned the group, not understanding why no one was backing me up. She didn’t need to beat herself up over what I was sure every girl did on occasion. When Neyle retrieved a packet of travel tissues from his shirt pocket as a tear worked its way down Abbey’s cheek, I knew.
I’d misunderstood. She literally didn’t eat anything two full days because she thought a shirt looked funny on her. The true burden of what we were doing settled over me in that moment. These weren’t quirky people. These were sick people. They needed medicine—be it a figurative ointment for the soul or a very real pill for the body—or their disease was going to kill them. And I was one of them.
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