Jelly's Big Night Out

by Patty Campbell

Jelly's Big Night Out by Patty Campbell
After life took a tragic turn, Jelly Swanson had no time for men. Providing a nurturing home for her little sister, Emi, and running a successful boutique left her too busy for much else and forced the idea of a love life to the back burner.

Emi’s science teacher takes her completely by surprise. Not at all part of her plan.

Hank Palaszewski, Mr. Henry to his students, is not interested in romance. After a broken engagement, it was the last thing on his mind. Then Jelly arrives in his classroom for a parent/teacher meeting and he’s knocked for a loop.

She’s way out of his league — but the chemistry between them is undeniable.

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Release Date: June 14, 2022
Genre: Contemporary



Chapter One 

Simi Valley, California

Tuesday, 7:30 a.m.


“What? I have a conference with your teacher this morning?” Jelly looked at her kid sister. “I swear, Martha Elizabeth, you keep pulling this kind of baloney, one of these days I’m going to...” She mimicked a choking motion with her hands and scowled.

Emi stood glaring at her, her usual defiant stance. She was clearly trying for a mean look, but her sweet face at fourteen still had some rosy baby fat. The oversize Jonas Brothers tee shirt hung almost to her knees over faded jeans. Jelly struggled to keep a straight face.

“Don’t call me that! My name is Emi. Go ahead and kill me if you want to. It must run in the family. Then you can go up to Folsom and share Daddy’s cell.”

Jelly heaved a sigh. “Let’s leave Daddy out of it for today, all right?” She turned back to the mirror to finish her hair. “You must have known about this teacher conference for days. Why are you telling me now? Are you in some kind of trouble?”

Hands on her hips, Emi yelled, “No! I just forgot, okay?” She flashed her big sister a look of disapproval. “You can’t go see Mr. Henry looking like that. You wear way too much makeup and stuff.”

“Look, kiddo.” Jelly turned from the mirror and pointed at her face. “This is the way I look. This is the way I dress. Live with it. At least I don’t go around looking like I live in a homeless shelter.” She dropped her brush on the counter. “You know that today is the biggest sale of the year for Big Night Out. I’ve planned and advertised it for weeks. How am I supposed to take off for an hour or more in the middle of the morning? My new girl started yesterday. I haven’t even had time to train her.” She closed the door on the medicine cabinet with a sharp snap. “You make me nuts, Emi.”

“I know the feeling.”

Jelly mimicked her posture. “You know the feeling? Tell me, please, what is it that I’ve done so wrong in the past twelve years? I quit school to take care of you when Daddy went to jail. We were lucky this house was paid off, or we’d have been on the street.

“Aunt Martha helped to keep the Child Welfare people from putting both of us in foster care. I don’t even have a life to call my own!”

“Thank you, thank you, thank you, Jelly. Wait right here while I get the violin so I can accompany the sad story I’ve heard, like, a bazillion times all my life.”

“Don’t even think of touching Mom’s violin. I told you it was off limits unless you agreed to take lessons.”

“And play that dumb boring stuff you listen to?”

“Paganini is dumb and boring? Oh, well, how would you know? You’re probably deaf from that ear splitting crap you listen to.” She sighed again. “You’re such a smart ass.” Jelly finished with the hairspray and put on her shoulder length sparkly red earrings, pleased at how great they went with her russet hair and purple silk blouse.

“You care more about that dumb store than you do about me!” The hurt in Emi’s eyes was real, even though she bit her lip and did her best to hide it.

She reached out and put her arm around Emi’s shoulders. She tried to shrink away, but Jelly wouldn’t let go. “You know that’s not true, baby. The store is what keeps a roof over our heads and food on the table.”

Emi picked up her book bag when the doorbell rang. “Are you coming to see Mr. Henry at eleven or not?”

“Please tell me that’s not Marco.”

“It’s Marco. I’m walking to school with him. Are you coming at eleven or not?”

Jelly nodded. “Of course I’m coming. Don’t ask me how, but I’ll find a way to get there.” She walked with Emi to the front door.

Marco had backed away from the door and stood on the first step. When the door opened, he glanced briefly at Jelly and looked down at his battered shoes. He went dark red in the face and neck. Jelly was sure the kid had never looked directly at her. She shook her head with dismay at his grungy appearance, grateful that at least Emi hadn’t pierced her nose or had barbed wire tattooed on her wrists. God, how his mother’s heart must sink every time she looked at the little hoodlum. His frayed jeans hung so low on his hips they looked as if they were about to slip off. The only thing Jelly approved of was the colorful retro tie-dyed tee shirt he wore.

“Good morning, Marco.”

Face even redder, he gave Jelly a nanosecond glance and mumbled something that might have been an intelligent response. But how could she tell? Emi slung her huge backpack over her shoulder, said a quick, “Bye,” brushed past her, and closed the door.

Jelly turned back to the kitchen. The window was open, and she overheard their conversation from the front porch. She peeked out to see Marco and Emi talking while Emi sat on the step to re-tie her high-top tennis shoes.

“Hey,” Marco mumbled. His skinny shoulders were six inches above Emi’s when she stood with her head thrust down and forward under the weight of her book bag.


“Your sister really looks pretty this morning.”

“Pretty? You need your eyes examined, you geek.”

“You’re the one who needs an eye examination. She’s hot. She’s beautiful. I’m in love with her.” He gave Emi a big grin, which she returned with an incredulous and sour expression.

She shook her head in disbelief. “Huh. Well then, at least she has one guy in love with her. She’s never ever had a single boyfriend, you know.”

Jelly took exception to that remark and had to stop herself from saying so, thus giving away the fact she was eavesdropping.

“That’s because she’s so gorgeous she scares them all away. Every time I look at her, I wish I was eighteen.”

Jelly shook her head, and a smile bloomed on her face at Marco’s words.

“Eighteen! She’d still be ten years older than you. She’s too old now to ever, like, get a serious boyfriend. Anyway, she’s probably a lez.”


Marco flashed another lopsided grin in Emi’s direction. “You look a little bit like her, you know.”

“I hate you, Marco Roy Rogers.”

“No ya don’t Martha Elizabeth Swanson. You’re just jealous because I’m in love with your big sister. How’d she ever get a goofy name like Jelly?”

This elicited an evil little giggle from Emi. “I couldn’t say Julie Lea when I was little. I called her Jelly, and it stuck. Now everybody calls her that.”

Marco seemed amused by Emi’s self-satisfied remark.

“She dresses like a cheap hooker,” Emi grumbled.

“What do you know about cheap hookers?”

“I go to the movies. I watch TV.”

“Yeah, like they know.”

Jelly watched as the two of them stepped off the porch and headed down the front walk, turning in the direction of school.

Santa Susana Magnet High School loomed into view at the far end of two long blocks. Marco and Emi waved to a couple of kids. Jelly watched them for half a minute more and headed for her bedroom to look for her gold sandals with the ruby red fake gems. Below her pink broomstick skirt with hot pink hibiscus flowers printed on it, they added just the right touch to her outfit.

She wondered where her flamboyant taste in clothing and accessories had come from. Not Mom, surely. She was the quintessential lady. Aunt Martha? No, Aunt Martha was more like Aunt Bea on the old Mayberry reruns that Emi loved.

She gave herself the once-over in the full-length mirror, flipped up the ends of her hair, smiled with approval, grabbed purse and keys, and headed out. She’d have to figure out some way to be out of the store between eleven and one. Maybe ask Sally?

Jelly was a workaholic who ran her store single handedly until she finally gave herself a break and hired her first employee. She spent months acquiring discarded wardrobes of Hollywood’s biggest names for her once-a-year sale at the high-end, gently-used clothing store.

Movie and TV stars soon grew tired of their clothes. They had hundreds of pairs of expensive shoes that had been worn once, if at all. Women in the limelight seldom appeared at a fancy function in the same outfit twice for fear of making the front page of The National Inquirer.

Sally Lewis, her best friend, owned the travel agency next door to Big Night Out. Maybe she could come to Jelly’s store for a couple of hours and help her new girl. Jelly prayed she’d come to her rescue one more time.


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