Okay, you know by now I didn't make it. It's fine, really. I thought I had a shot, or I made myself believe I had a shot, but no dice. I think my writing does stand up, BUT, I did write the novel in a month, and though I revised it as much as I could in the two months I had, it needs more.
Plus, scanning the titles, there's a LOT of sci-fi/fantasy. I have no idea what this means. Maybe it means most the reviewers like that, or Penguin asked for that, or that genre just had great entries with brilliant writing. BUT, I kept hearing the Sesame Street song, "One of these things is not like the other" running through my brain. MEANING, my edgy YA about a school shooting did not seem to fit.
And rereading my excerpt, well, it's pretty edgy right from the get go. If my reviewer has something against violence, sexual content, and profanity, I didn't have a chance to begin with. I hope I'm not sounding bitter, because truly I'm not. It's just time to forge a different path.
That said, some of you said you wanted to read my excerpt, so here it is. Feel free to leave your comments, critiques, questions.
I like to watch people. I sit on the back of the bus as they enter one by one like cattle. I study their faces, their body language and try to figure out what kind of day they think they’re going to have. I’m able to stare, to study because I’m invisible to them. All of them. I’m average, nothing less nothing more. I hide behind hats and scarves, big coats and long skirts, undetectable. I don’t mind it really, in fact, I prefer it.
The first to enter the bus that day were what I like to call the Trinity of Assholes, Red, Zane, and Ashley. Red and Zane were on the football team. My first experience with Red was a memorable one. It was a couple weeks into freshmen year. He had a little brunette pressed up against the wall with his hand up her skirt. She struggled, trying to push him away, which only made him press harder. I was mesmerized and disgusted by the entire scene. I could have said something, or at least made some kind of noise, but I didn’t. I just turned around and walked back the way I came.
Zane was a horse of a different color. I caught him in the same kind of predicament, only it was consensual and it was with Brad from the track team. Zane ran around trying to screw every cheerleader in sight to overcompensate for his latent homosexual tendencies. He thought no one knew, but sometimes he was too confident in his indiscretions.
Ashley was one of those cheerleaders and Red’s girlfriend at the time. Blonde, beautiful, and a heinous bitch. Her favorite activity used to be making fun of anyone she deemed ugly, poor, or weird. He second favorite activity? Eating an entire package of Oreos, sticking her finger down her throat, and yacking them up. So much for perfection.
“Me and Kelsey, last night, her parent’s hot tub,” Zane said when they sat down.
Red asked, “So how many does that make?”
“That’s sick man. That only leaves four, including Ash, here, and it’s not even December.”
“You are not getting your hands on me, Zane,” Ashley said.
“Come on Ash, it’s for a good cause, every year, every cheerleader. It’s tradition. You didn’t complain last year.”
“I wasn’t going out with Red last year, asshole.”
“Good point. You call me if things change.” Red punched him in the arm.
“What?” Zane said laughing.
The three of them loved to punk and torture the losers, freaks, and geeks. Feared by most, revered by the rest, they were the King, Queen, and Prince of Jefferson High School.
They always sat at the front of the bus, first on, first off. I remember them giggling, chatting, Red whispering into Ashley’s ear, probably asking for a blow job, or something Neanderthal like that. I could tell by looking at them, they thought they were in for a great day.
Matt, followed closely by his friend A.J. boarded next, a couple of stoner gaming geeks. A.J was usually fairly animated, non-stop talk, outrageous hand gestures, laughed at his own jokes, probably OCD, ADD, and a few more acronyms to boot. His most annoying trait, repeating the last word of about every other thing he said. I call him a repitard.
I noticed something different in Matt that day. He normally would enter the bus, head hung low, not making eye contact with anyone. But he looked content, happy even, with a slight smirk on his face. He had his guitar with him too, and his new cheery disposition made me afraid he was going to pull it out and start singing Kumbaya. This wouldn’t surprise me from some of the Jesus freaks at school like Krista, but definitely would have been out of character for Matt.
Just before he passed the Trinity of Assholes, Red stuck his foot out sending Matt sprawling to the floor. The Trinity laughed their asses off.
Matt’s guitar case slid down the bus hitting my foot. I would have expected a look of fear to spread across Matt’s face, but instead he smiled as he stood up.
“Oh, sorry there dude,” Red said. “It was an accident.”
Matt merely bowed, did this chivalrous hand twirl, followed by the finger, and then began walking toward his guitar case.
“Hey!” Red was pissed. He started going after him, but Ashley stopped him. I’m sure she didn’t do it out of any kind of sympathy or kindness. More than likely she was plotting to get back at him.
Matt picked up the case at my feet. He looked me straight in the eyes. It gave me the eebie jeebies. People don’t normally look at me at all, and then to have someone look into my eyes when theirs are so full of, I don’t know, I guess I’d call it a joyous hatred, it creeped me out.
A.J slipped into the seat in front of me, Matt slid in next to him, holding his guitar case at his side in the aisle. A.J. continued to talk Matt’s ear off, while Matt just listened, ignored, or whatever, never taking his eyes off Red.
Red, Ashley, and Zane continued to conspire. They whispered, and kept looking back toward Matt, laughing. They were definitely planning revenge. I usually don’t involve myself or my emotions in such trivialities, but I feared for Matt that day. I’ve seen the trinity do some monstrous things. I had no idea it would be them on the receiving end that day, not then anyway.
We’d made a plan. After school, Williams, after a good beating, would get shoved in his locker, and left overnight. What a prick. No one disses me like that and lives to talk about it. I would have beat his ass right then and there, but Ash told me we could get him back bigger, better. That’s why I loved her, so incredibly devious.
When Zane and I got to the locker room and suited up, we noticed Williams sitting there holding something, staring at it. I smacked him on the back of the head and said, “Freak.” As I walked by, I saw what he was holding, a picture of Jenny Clark. I snatched it from his hand. He just took it like a little bitch. “Jenny? What would Jenny want with a loser like you?” I asked.
He hung his head and said under his breath, “Fuck you, Red.”
“What did you say? Fuck me? Did I hear you right? You want to fuck me?” Then I yelled real loud so everyone in the locker room could hear, “Hey Zane, you here that? Williams here wants to fuck me!”
Zane came over and said, “I knew he was a fag.” We were crackin’ up.
“That’s the pot calling the kettle black,” Williams said. I had no idea what he was talking about, so I ignored it.
“You wouldn’t be able to handle me anyway. I’d rip you apart bro,” I said.
Williams stood up. Damn, I never realized how tall that boy was. He looked down at me, straight in my eyes and smiled. “Let me rephrase that. Fuck off, Red.”
I turned to Zane, “No he didn’t.”
“Yes he did,” Zane answered.
I got right in his face and said, “You’re lucky I don’t kick the shit out of you right now. I’ve got bigger plans for you, my man.”
Zane and I started heading out to the gym. Zane turned back to him and said, “You better watch your back loser.” He put an “L” shape on his forehead with his thumb and index finger.
Williams just stood there, with a crazy smile on his face, and he said, “No, you better watch your back, Zane. Have a nice day gentlemen.”
“That dude is crazy. He must have a death wish,” Zane said.
“Let’s make him crazier. Let’s mess with his girl,” I said nodding toward Jenny Clark.
“Fuck Red Red,” I said when Matt sat down.
“No big deal,” he answered. Not very Matt of him. Normally, he would be raging, at least to me. He didn’t seem like himself.
“What do ya mean, no big deal? He’s a dick dick.”
“That’s a given, he’s a dick, he’s always been a dick. It won’t matter soon enough,” he said.
“What what?” I asked. He had me totally confused. I wondered if he and I were talking about the same thing. He just looked at me and smiled.
“Why’d you bring your guitar to school today?”
“Why do people usually have a guitar?”
“Yeah, but where you gonna play it it?”
“I don’t know, maybe I’ll join Krista’s prayer group and play God is Good for them.”
“Whatever man man. It was a legit question. I’ve never seen you bring your guitar to school before is all. So, you wanna do something this weekend? Hang out, get stoned, catch a movie or something?”
“Maybe,” he said.
“What what? You got other plans?”
“Then you want to?”
“That depends,” Matt said.
“On what,” I asked him.
“On what happens.”
He was starting to piss me off. “What the fuck are you talking about?”
“Fuck off A.J.”
“Fine. I’ll fuck off off.” I kept quiet the rest of the bus ride. It nearly killed me. When we got to school, Matt picked up his guitar and backpack and started heading off the bus without a word. He was being a dick that day, that’s for sure. “So, catch you later then then,” I called after him. Again, he just gave me this devil’s grin and got off the bus.
Needing my math homework, I caught up with Gelman right after he passed the fountain in front of the school. “Gelman, my man man ,” I said as I put my arm around his shoulders. I leaned in and whispered, “Where the fuck is my homework?” I had Gelman in my back pocket. He was scared shitless of me. Could be that I outweighed him by probably a hundred pounds and wouldn’t hesitate to beat the shit out of him.
He stopped, let out a heavy sigh, put his book bag down, and I say book bag instead of backpack, because Gelman carried one of those over the shoulder type bags. The kind only fags and chicks carry. He opened up his binder and handed me that day’s math homework. “Good work work,” I said, and slapped him on the back so hard he almost went flying face first into the ground.
“You know, you’re not going to learn anything if you continue to have me do your work for you. And what happens when I’m not around anymore?”
“We’re sophomore’s Gelman, I’ve got you for two and a half more years. Then what what? You think I’m going to college? Please please.”
I ran up to my locker, grabbed a notebook and pencil, sat on the floor, and began copying the homework in my writing. I mean, Mr. Frazier was stupid, but not that stupid. As I was finishing up, my hottie of the week, Heather showed up. She was tall, really tall, had at least a couple inches on me, and big boned, but I liked my ladies with a little meat on them. She had this long, straight black hair, and crazy gray eyes, wild and inviting, like a wolf.
“You ready?” she asked.
“Yep yep.” I held my hand out and she helped me up. I backed her up against my locker and shoved my tongue down her throat. Her lips tasted like strawberries. Out of all my girls, she was one of my favorites. She always had the best weed, and gave a killer blowjob. I was thinking about making it the real deal with her. Making her my one and only.
We went to Mr. Frazier’s class, and I knocked Gelman in the head as I went to my seat. I fucking hated math. After that day, I’d hate it even more.
I knew who was getting on the bus next before I even saw her, Kat, with her arm full of bangle bracelets, jingled with every step. I’ve noticed her twist them around her arm when she’s nervous. She also had this bizarre quoting thing going on, a quote for every occasion, a walking, talking Hallmark card. Freak. And she was chatty to the point of annoyance. Kind of reminded me of a Chihuahua.
Her boyfriend, Brady was one step behind. They were part of what I would call the secondary populars. They weren’t over the top popular like the Trinity, but the group they ran with was well known and well liked, but they weren’t toxic like the Trinity. They were the perfect little couple, all smiles and kisses. Sickening. I’m sure they thought it was going to be a great day.
We got off the bus, and Brady and I headed to our lockers, which were right next to each other. That’s how we met. I remember the first time I laid eyes on him I nearly melted. He has these sexy blonde curls that shine like the rays of the sun, a nice smile with perfectly straight white teeth, the cutest dimples you’ll ever see, and eyes so blue they’ll break your heart.
I’d try to talk to him all the time, small talk, about the weather or school, or movies. He wouldn’t say much. I thought he wasn’t interested. Then one day he walked right up to me and said, “Kat, I think you’re the cutest most interesting girl at this school.” My heart pounded loudly in my ears, and I could feel all the blood inside me rush up to my cheeks. We’ve been pretty much inseparable since then.
The day in question, I remember, I was leaning up against my locker and he whispered in my ear. I can’t remember now what he said, but I remember his words tickled, sent shivers down my spine and caused a break out of goose bumps down my arms and legs.
Matt’s locker was on the other side of mine. Whenever I saw him, I made it a point to say hello, to connect with him. We were friends once, best friends, really, all the way from kindergarten until about sixth or seventh grade. He lived across the street from me. We were the kind of friends that had our very own secret hideout, unknown and hidden from the rest of the world. The kind of friends that made pacts in blood, and the friends that promised each other if we were still single by thirty, we’d marry. But things change. People change. We began liking different things, hanging out in different groups, drifting apart. It happens.
I tried to reach out to him because I worried about the path he was heading down. His parents? They fought all the time, always have. I don’t know the why’s or how’s about it, but sometimes they were so loud I could hear them through my bedroom window. Matt turned to pot and video games to drown out their voices, to escape it. I don’t think they knew or cared very much, so who could blame him? I can’t imagine what it would be like to live with two people that hated each other, that seemed to hate their own child.
I remember going over to his house when we were younger, I’m not sure I ever heard his dad speak. It’s almost as if he lived in some alternate reality inside his own house. He was there, living alongside his son and his wife, but almost as if they didn’t exist to him, invisible. If I hadn’t heard all the fighting late at night when the house was dark and the shades were drawn, I might have believed it to be true.
“Hi Matt,” I said as he placed his backpack and guitar case on the floor, his coat in his locker.
“Hey Kat,” he said not even looking at me.
This time he looked at me and smiled. “Couldn’t be better.”
I smiled back. “Glad to hear it.” He shut his locker, picked up his guitar and his backpack and headed down the hall toward the gym. “Hey Matt,” I called to him.
He stopped, turned back toward me. “What Kat?”
“Have a good day.”
“Oh, I’m planning on it,” he said. “And Kat?”
He paused. It looked like he wanted to say something, but changed his mind. “Oh, nothing,” he said, and then continued down the hallway.
“That guy gives me the creeps,” Brady said.
“Folks never understand the folks they hate.”
“And who said that?”
“James Russell Lowell.”
“And who might that be?”
“He was a poet.” I don’t know why I do the whole quote thing really, it’s just something I’ve always remembered doing. I hear something I like, and it just sticks. I have thousands of them in my head just waiting for the right opportunity to be spoken.
“And really, Matt’s okay, just troubled.”
“He’s more than troubled, he’s disturbed.”
“Nah, he’s actually a nice guy.” Brady gave me a suspicious look. “No really, he is.”
“You know, you’re kind of sexy when you’re all nice and sweet like that, and that quote thing you do turns me on,” Brady said, leaning in, touching his forehead to mine, kissing me on the nose.
“You’re a goofball, let’s go or we’re going to be late,” I said. We finished dumping our stuff in our lockers, Brady grabbed my books, and together we walked to our first period class, Biology. That’s where we were when it started.
Jenny looked sad that day like she were about to cry. It was always curious to me when people got on the bus looking like Jenny did that day. Or if they looked pissed, or scared. I remember wondering what was going on with her that morning. Later, I thought maybe she was intuitive, you know, just had a bad feeling that day.
She was a transplant a couple years ago from someplace in the Deep South, maybe Alabama or Mississippi. She sported a set of shiny new braces with pink and green rubber bands around them.
Nothing very interesting about her, she’s just Jenny, smart, cute, nice, maybe a bit shy. She’s one of those people that you knew had all the answers, but was too afraid to raise her hand. One thing about her did stand out. She had this crazy heavy accent. You know, the kind that adds an extra syllable to every word, instead of there, it’s the-er, instead of lunch it’s lu-unch. She sat across the aisle, one row ahead of me.
Jenny watched Matt intently that morning. She was definitely crushing. I wondered if it was something new, or something I just hadn’t bothered noticing before. No way would I not have noticed; I figured it had to be something new. They made eye contact. She gave him a metallic smile, he blushed.
I don’t know, there was just something about him. He wasn’t all that good looking, but he had a certain air about him. I liked the way he walked. It wasn’t a confident walk or even a smooth, sexy kind of walk. He walked profoundly. That’s the only word I can think of to describe it. He often looked like he was in deep thought or just simply raging.
His dark hair was thin and wispy, a jagged uneven cut worn just above the shoulders. I often wondered what it would feel like to run my fingers through it. I would have bet it was silky soft. And his eyes, they were piercing green like lasers and blazing with emotion. There were times I wished I could be in that head of his, thinking what he was thinking, seeing the world through his eyes. I knew it would be frightening, like walking alone through a haunted house or an insane asylum, but I couldn’t help myself. He intrigued me.
I stared at him a lot. One day, he started staring back. Sometimes he would smile, which always gave me butterflies. He had a nice smile. It was more of a half smile, closed mouth, one side of his lips curling upward while the other side stayed in place. No one knew this, but we talked from time to time, little things. We’d say hi. He told me he liked my accent, once he even told me I looked pretty. Our eyes would connect in the hallway, our hands would brush.
I know how he came across to everyone else, a loser, a stoner, a freak, but he was sweet to me. I would have liked to know him better, but I’m not sure he let anyone really know him. He kept to himself mostly except for a few scattered friends. He didn’t talk much. It was almost like he was folded into himself, hiding from the world.
When we got off the bus, he brushed against me, and whispered something in my ear. I thought he said, “Stay out of the gym.” I had no idea why he’d say something like that, so I thought I misunderstood him. I was going to ask him later what he’d said. It ended up I’d find out soon enough.
Just another day, so it seemed. I stuffed my backpack in my locker and headed to the girl’s locker room. I absolutely hated having P.E. with Ashley and her air headed cheerleading friends. There’s nothing worse than standing next to three gorgeous blondes with long legs and perfect bodies in your gym clothes. Not that I’m ugly or anything, but anyone short of a super model would look revolting next to them. Plus, they’re just so catty.
I entered the locker room, and the three of them were standing in the middle of the aisle so no one could get around them to their lockers. I nicely said, “’scuse me,” my locker being directly behind Ashley.
Without even looking at me she said, “Go around.” So I had to walk the entire length of the lockers, around the end and to my locker, and I still had to excuse myself. She gave me a dirty look. God, she made me crazy like a loon.
After suiting up, we dragged our way out to the gym, and stood there waiting for Coach Kowalski to give us our daily dose of torture. I watched for Matt to come out of the boy’s locker room, but he never did. I remember worrying for him, hoping Red hadn’t done something horrible to him.
Coach came out from his office and began taking roll. “Anderson. Bell. Clark.” He’d call our names, and we’d say either present, or here, or merely raise our hands signifying our existence. When he got to Williams, there was no answer.
“Williams,” he said again. He looked up from his attendance sheet and said, “Anyone see Williams this morning?”
“He was in the locker room coach,” Zane said.
“All right. You guys relax for a minute. I’ll be right back.”
Red came up behind me as soon as Coach Kowalski went through the locker room door. He said in my ear, “When I left him, he was jacking off to your picture.” I froze. I didn’t even know how to react. “You two have something going on?”
“Leave me alone,” I said, so scared it barely came out a whisper.
“You know, Zane over here,” he said pointing behind him, “would do you. You don’t need a fag like Williams.”
Zane then walked up to me, brushed my hair back, and caressed my cheek. “Yeah Jenny, you’re pretty cute. I’d fuck you. What do you say?”
“Leave me alone,” I said again. I couldn’t stop the tears from falling.
Zane moved in closer and breathed in my ear, “That accent of yours is sure sexy. Don’t cry. I’ll be gentle with you, at first. But I do like the rough stuff. Will you meet me after school? Put up a fight? I’ll show you what it’s like to have a real man, not some loser like Williams.”
On a normal day I would be stewing, worrying, crying about this from first til sixth period. I’d be afraid to walk the halls, looking over my shoulder for Zane or Red. I would have been afraid to get on the bus after school that day. But that day was not a normal day. That day was a nightmare, one worse than any Zane or Red could ever dish out. Right at that exact moment things changed, turned, would never be the same. Right at that moment, we heard the first gunshot.