Sunday, November 21, 2010

Don't Make a Scene: An Excerpt

If you've been following me on Twitter, you'll know I've decided to take a break from OBSESSION to work on something a little more light-hearted. This semester's been insane, and I really needed a story that was more uplifting than a high school shooting.

Enter DON'T MAKE A SCENE. I wrote this one back in high school/freshman year of college. The first draft is just over 82,000 words, so it's a decent length, and as it was the first YA novel I ever completed, it has a special place in my heart. There are a few plot points that definitely need to go, and some characters that need fleshing out, so I've decided to rewrite/revise this one over the next month or two. I'm hoping to have it ready to query by early next year, and if I keep up with it, that shouldn't be a problem. As you can see by the sidebar, I'm doing pretty well! So, in the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday, here's a snippet from chapter one! Enjoy!


New Girl Encounters Demon Child

“You can do this,” I muttered under my breath, nervously hiking up my tank top as some guy walking past let out a low whistle. “Piece of cake.”

Staring up at Adams Morgan High School, a brick prison bordered by an endless wasteland of black tar, I couldn’t help but wonder what my mother had been smoking when she’d uprooted us from our happy home in Wisconsin and registered me for the upcoming school year in our nation’s capitol. Kids of every size, shape and color hurried past, forcing me closer and closer to the building looming before me. I had absolutely no desire to walk up those steps and give in to the yearly torture session commonly known as The First Day of School. I hadn’t even made it past the parking lot and people were already trying to kill me.

“Get out of the way,” I heard someone yell, and leapt onto the sidewalk just as a large blue van screamed to a halt where I’d been standing only a second ago. A middle-aged woman was behind the wheel, glaring at me as I swallowed back a scream.

She rolled down the window and called out a warning. “Watch it. People don’t always look where they’re going.”
Clearly, considering the fact Soccer Mom had just nearly turned me into a pancake. Which reminded me that I hadn’t bothered to eat breakfast, and would be paying the price soon enough. Somehow, I always ended up as That Kid. You know, the one whose stomach rumbles all through class and annoys everyone until someone hands over a granola bar, and no matter how much you try to stifle the noise with your hands or a backpack, the growling just gets louder.

“Great,” I muttered, scowling as Soccer Mom pulled away after depositing a blue-haired boy in tattered jeans on the sidewalk. No wonder she seemed so miserable.

Figuring the chance of being run over would be significantly reduced if I went inside, I turned to face the school, taking a tentative step forward.
And ran straight into something very solid. And wet. A boy had been raising his coffee cup to his mouth when we collided, and now something hot was seeping into my clothing. He managed to get off scot-free, but he didn’t look happy about being deprived of his caffeine.
“Thanks a lot, kid,” he snarled, tossing his now empty cup into the trash before storming off. His hoodie covered most of his face, but it was impossible to miss that Roman nose and jutting cheekbones. I wasn’t sure what color his hair was, but I knew it was dark. Unlike most of the other guys I’d seen so far, the coffee spiller had definitely been hot.
Then I remembered my skin was burning. Glancing down, I couldn’t hold back a groan. A large, awkwardly shaped brown splotch had soaked through my thin white t-shirt, and plenty of the boy’s drink had managed to dribble down my leg as well. The August heat wasn’t helping the situation and, bemoaning my coffee-stained clothes that were now suctioned to my body, I figured it was about time I caved and went inside. At least I could see if the office had a spare shirt I could borrow.
Trying to look inconspicuous, despite the poop-colored stains, I made my way up the steps and shoved open the front door. Straight ahead was a set of stairs, and I knew from the map I’d been given that my locker was somewhere on the lower level. I made a beeline through the crowd forming just inside the doors, relaxing when no one else bumped into me or spilled coffee down my shirt.
But my relief was short-lived. Just as I’d put my foot on the first stair, a booming voice cut across the lobby. “You! White t-shirt girl! Get back here.”
As if my day couldn’t get any worse at the moment, when I turned around, a burly security guard was waving me over with a scowl on his face. Everyone was staring, a few shooting confused looks at the coffee stains. I heard someone ask their friend if I was new, but missed the response as the guard, whose faded nametag read ‘Robert Bukowski,’ turned a severe eye to me. “New this year?” he asked in a bored tone, arms crossed over a paunchy stomach. I glanced at his waistband; he didn’t even have a gun. Just a battered old nightstick that looked as though it had been manufactured in 1700.
“Is it that obvious?”
He held out his hand and I stared at it, wondering if he intended for me to shake it. When he just continued to frown, I tentatively placed my hand in his and pumped it twice. Behind me, someone snickered.
“Bag, please,” Robert ordered. It wasn’t hard to miss the annoyance creeping into his voice. There were two other security guards, but I was clearly holding up the line. I handed over my backpack and watched as he made a cursory glance though my belongings. Secretly I wondered if this could be considered an invasion of privacy. Then I had to ask myself why there were security guards going through our things in the first place. The school’s brochure hadn’t mentioned any recent school shootings or bomb threats, but I suppose that’s not the kind of thing you’d want advertised. Maybe Mom was secretly hoping someone would knife me so we could sue the school, win a bunch of money, and move out of my grandparents’ house. It was conniving, but I wouldn’t put it past her.
Eventually Robert handed me back my things, satisfied that I wasn’t trying to smuggle in a pipe bomb or an AK47. I moved off to the side to dig out the scrap of paper with my locker number on it, and when I looked up, realized I hadn’t actually taken in my surroundings yet. I guess it was probably a good thing, though, since what I saw made me want to vomit.
I’m not sure what I’d expected from Adams Morgan High School, but coming from a small town high school that was pretty old, I’d figured this place would be a step up or two. Boy, was I wrong. AMHS made my old school look like a palace. Everything just screamed “tacky.” The floors were covered in black laminate, a few squares coming up at the edges. The walls were tiled in some kind of puce green, decorated with colorful posters I could only assume had been printed to cover the obvious monstrosity. The lockers were probably the worst of all, though, alternating between salmon and forest green, all of them sporting a fair amount of rust and dings.

Afraid of what else I might find should I allow myself to linger, I headed back toward the stairs and spent the next ten minutes tracking down my locker, which was tucked in the corner of a random hallway, next to the boy’s bathroom. It wasn’t even 7:30, and already it smelled. Awesome.

It took a few tries, but eventually I managed to get the thing open. The puke-green metal was rusted, and the door had a massive dent in it, but at least I had one small space in this school I could call my own. I dug out a few photos from my backpack, along with the tape I’d stolen from my mom’s office, and got to work. As I hung pictures of me and my mom, my grandparents, and my old house, kids ran back and forth down the hallway, rushing to beat the bell. Since I had a meeting with Principal Webber first thing, I didn’t really care if I was late; I’d just tell him I’d gotten lost.

After I finished with my locker, I headed back to the main level. The lobby was blessedly quiet, the hallways empty. Robert the security guard was nowhere to be seen, but neither was anyone else. I looked around for a sign that might point me in the right direction, but AMHS apparently had no desire to help their students in times of crisis.

With a dejected sigh, I leaned back against a pillar, blowing brown fringe out of my eyes. I’d pulled my hair back into a ponytail, but already pieces were falling out of the elastic, tickling my shoulders. I tucked them behind my ear, but after a few failed attempts, gave up. I’d tried to change my look before moving to D.C., but I still wasn’t sure I liked it. This morning, nothing was going my way, and even if I’d still had long hair, I doubt it would’ve been cooperative.

Knock it off, I told myself, squaring my shoulders as I looked around the lobby. Enough with the pity party. I had a meeting to get to, and I was already late; at this point, I wouldn’t even be lying when I told Principal Webber I’d gotten lost. The walls were all void of helpful signage, but there was a hideous two-story mural and an outdated bulletin board. I could just make out a poster advertising last year’s prom, and what looked like a sign-up sheet for volunteering at the local soup kitchen. From what I could tell, it was empty.

Deciding I’d never get to the office if I didn’t even try to find it, I eeny-meeny-miny-moed it and ended up taking the hallway to my left. Surprisingly, it didn’t take long to find the main office. In fact, other than the cafeteria and the gym, there was only one other door on this side of the school. Lucky for me, it was the one I was looking for.

The administration’s inner sanctum was a step up from Adams Morgan’s grimy halls, but not by much. Walls that I assumed had once been white were adorned with cheap imitations of famous paintings, and an ancient chalkboard listed this week’s goals for both students and staff. The office smelled of coffee and stale donuts, a plate of which was sitting out, undisturbed. There was a row of orange plastic chairs along one wall, so I dropped into one, tapping my foot nervously in time with the oldies coming from the radio on the receptionist’s abandoned desk.

The office was completely empty, and I spent a good fifteen minutes watching the hands on the tiny clock tick away the time. At one point I decided that the room smelled more like cat lady than stale donuts, and when the receptionist finally returned and took down my name, I knew why. She flashed me a warm, albeit toothy grin, then disappeared down a narrow hallway that led away from my seat. Doors lined either side, and all but one of them was open. The closed door labeled ‘M. Webber’ was closest to me, and I could hear muted voices arguing behind it. Being a girl, and thus inherently nosey, I scooted the chair over a few inches, hoping to make out part of the argument. I wasn’t much for gossip, but I knew absolutely nothing about this school, and I needed some kind of assurance that the kids here weren’t all blue-haired hooligans, drug addicts, or sweatshirt-wearing douche bags.

Nobody had come in since I’d taken a seat nearly twenty minutes ago, so I wasn’t worried about looking weird as I leaned to my left, my anxiety rising as the voices behind the door grew progressively louder. Still unable to make out more than a few words, I scooted the chair even closer, unaware that I was leaning so far that the only thing supporting me was the chair’s two left legs. Just as I’d made out a few curse words and someone beginning a Hail Mary, the door flew open and I toppled over.

“Out of the way,” someone snapped, and I glanced up to see the guy whose coffee had ruined my outfit. I’m not sure if he recognized me or not, but this time I made sure to get a better look at him. It wasn’t hard, considering he had to stop and find a way around me. I gave myself props for guessing correctly this morning; definitely brown hair. In fact, it was probably closer to black than brown. His hood was down, and though it looked like had hadn’t taken the time to brush his hair this morning, the disheveled look worked for him. I’m sure a smile would do wonders for his face, if the kid even knew how. Right now he was glaring at me like I was the antichrist.

Eventually he just decided to step over me, and I watched in bewilderment as he stormed out of the office, a stack of papers falling to the ground as he whizzed past.

“Lacey Radner?” a disgruntled voice called out.

Glancing up from where I sat sprawled on the orange shag carpet, I spotted a weathered old man poking his head out of the door Demon Child had just exited. He looked confused to see me on the floor, rather than in a chair, but made no comment.

“That’s me,” I squeaked, gathering up my things and scrambling to right myself and the chair I’d been sitting on.

“I’m Principal Webber,” the man said, extending a hand. “It’s nice to finally meet you.” And though he didn’t say it, I heard the double meaning in his words: Please don’t let this be a repeat of my last meeting. I couldn’t blame him.

“Nice to meet you, too,” I replied, thankful that at least this man wanted to shake hands; my earlier encounter with Robert had made me wary.

The office I stepped into was missing the shag carpet of the outer office, and the chair Principal Webber offered me was new and made of leather. I breathed a sigh of relief, plopping down onto it and dropping my bag to the floor. The wall behind me was decorated with plaques and photos of the school’s sports teams. Someone must have painted recently, because the dingy eggshell I’d seen earlier had been replaced with a fresh coat of white, and the bay window let in plenty of light. Though most of what I’d seen of AMHS so far had not been pleasant, I was happy to see that at least one person took care of their space.

“So,” the older man said, taking a seat behind his desk and placing his hands on his paunch belly. “What brings you to Adams Morgan? Needed a better education?” His eyes twinkled in amusement. I spotted an open file on the desk that contained my transcripts. Even from where I sat, I could see the straight line of A’s down the page.

“Something like that,” I said, smiling politely. I saw his eyes drop to the stain on my shirt, and quickly pulled my backpack into my lap to try to cover it.

“I have your schedule here somewhere,” Principal Webber muttered, shuffling papers across his desk. “Give me a minute.” When he finally extracted it from beneath a large book entitled Administration 101: How to Make Your Students Like You While Still Remaining an Authoritative Figure, there was a large tear down the middle. “Nothing a little tape won’t fix,” he proclaimed with a smile, handing it over.

“No worries,” I replied, taking the battered piece of paper from him. Despite the man’s obvious lack of organizational skills, I found that I liked him immensely. Maybe because he reminded me a bit of my grandpa, or maybe because he was the only person this morning who’d even bothered to smile at me. Either way, he seemed perfectly harmless.

“I see that you’re taking nearly all AP classes. Very impressive, Miss Radner.”

“Lacey,” I corrected. “And thanks. I think.” Skimming over the courses listed, I felt a wave of anxiety wash over me as I spotted a rather unexpected, nasty surprise. “Um, Mr. Webber?” I pointed at the undesired class. “I never signed up for P.E.”

He chuckled, ignoring my horrified expression. “Everyone here has to take four years of P.E. You’ll be fine.”

I was pretty sure P.E. would be a nightmare, knowing how uncoordinated I was, but I didn’t want to make a fuss. There was no way I’d be able to get out of taking it, especially considering the fact that I’d never had to take a gym class in my life.

This day was just getting better and better.


  1. I didn't think anyone could capture all the ways high school is loathesome so well! Ugh, PE!

  2. Thanks, Rowenna! It's weird going back and trying to remember just how much high school sucked :-p

  3. I really liked this. It captures the high school horrors very well! Especially PE. My god. Sometimes it seemed like the words were a bit too much like with the black tar line in the beginning.