Welcome back to this special edition of Flash Fiction Friday, Arrowheads! Today, I’m posting the first chapter of my debut novel, Can’t Beat the Heart of a Carolina Girl!
Can’t Beat the Heart of a Carolina Girl
Does the quality of a yearbook picture have the power to predict how a school year will turn out? If so, I’ve discovered why I’ve hated my past three years at Grahamwood Junior High. Scattered on my bedroom floor, my yearbooks create a time machine, blasting me back to times I wish I could forget. Any chance of a smile disintegrates as I stumble across my sixth grade photograph. Each yearbook picture I’ve taken acts as a stepping stone to the land of dorkdom since that horrid year. If it wasn’t for my cousin Grace’s lack of cosmetology skills, my flowing locks of golden blonde hair would still be intact. Suffice it to say that a mangled haircut was the last element needed to ensure three years of torture.
The gawks I received the first week back to school made me want to hide away like Quasimodo forever. My classmates were relentless, mocking my appearance and shunning me from all cliques. If it wasn’t the haircut that turned them away, it was my braces and the rubber bands I had to wear with them. Further dwindling my confidence, I’m far from my crush’s radar, let alone his league. But I can’t blame him for chasing after the goddesses that walk the halls of Linwood Whaley High instead of me. Brett Harvey is my next-door neighbor, and I’ve known him my entire life, though he’s so caught up in other things to ever notice his awkward little admirer over the fence. Aside from that, he’s two years older than me, the quarterback on the Linwood Whaley High School football team, and a goldmine of good looks. An infatuation going on seven years, which has yet to garner any results, I’m convinced that ever capturing his interest will be a futile feat.
To make matters worse, middle school was a terror trap in which I survived utterly alone. During a random fourth-grade recess, I learned that my best friend had moved away. When my classmates broke off into different cliques, I was left isolated, wondering of Lexie’s whereabouts. Once, on a confident whim, I approached the group of popular girls in an attempt to broaden my circle. Their ringleader took one glance at my new Aeropostale T-shirt and whispered to her clones, “Yeah, Aero’s definitely out now.” So, deem me a loner if you want; it’s nothing I haven’t heard.
Offensive or not, I’m through with falling victim to slanderous words. I’ve been insulted to the point I’ve grown a thick skin, shielding my heart from their meaningless comments. Yet this year, I plan to make my rebirth in the world as a girl people will love and respect.
This seemingly far-fetched goal became possible by subjecting my appearance to a major overhaul. Since the traumatic haircut, I’ve allowed my hair to grow into longer, luscious blonde strands. Only licensed stylists have permission to make any necessary changes (no offense, Grace). Having my braces removed in July became the last step of resigning from my dork-princess days. Needless to say, I no longer flinch when I catch sight of my reflection.
Closing the book, an epiphany arises, knowing that those days of torture will now be few and far between. I will no longer remain stepped on. I will not back down from fear. From this moment, I vow to take a bold leap into my new territory tomorrow at 8:00 a.m.: Linwood Whaley High School.
My first morning at Linwood Whaley High begins by following the droves of students to the main building from the drop-off area. The moment I walk through the front double doors, my stomach churns, as if urging my morning Poptart to make a reappearance. Though the maroon and charcoal walls decorated with past Arrowhead achievements evoke a welcoming atmosphere, the scowls on the upperclassmen do not. Despite my aspirations, my gaze remains glued to the glowing waxed floors as I attempt to navigate my way to homeroom.
Upon locating Room 4, I wait for the homeroom bell to ring, anxious in all aspects. An eternity seems to pass before other people start to settle into the seats around me. My luck, the first person I recognize from middle school is the inglorious Hailey Carson. My stomach performs a triple-flip as I imagine the horrors I will be facing for the rest of this semester. The fact that she offers a pitying glance at her cohorts as they walk by my desk confirms my fears.
Hailey, the bane of my existence since the fifth grade, is the original mastermind behind the rude comments made about my appearance. Holding the top-ranked spot on the list of people I detest most, she’s easily a ten on the obnoxious meter. But, being that her parents spoil her to the core, enable her shopping habits, and take up for her narcissistic ways, she’s merely a product of her environment, aka her world.
As if one dollar-diva isn’t enough, her two evil minions, Tiffany and Nichole, follow her in suit. “Oh great, best day ever,” I mumble to myself. Resting my head on the desk, I’m already praying for this semester to be as short-lived as summer vacation.
A sigh of relief escapes me as Mrs. Wilson makes her way into the classroom. The teachers at Grahamwood Junior High told us that she is one of the nicest staff members, though her teaching expertise is limited to electives like Home Economics. Mrs. Wilson passes out student schedules, and I’m elated to find that I have English this semester. Writing poetry has served as my escape since I picked up the hobby in seventh grade, and Language Arts was my best subject in middle school. Maybe there’ll be some hope for this year, after all.
Glancing back at my schedule, my hope falters when I notice that I’ve been sentenced to Earth Science for third period. Reminiscing back to junior high, flashbacks of suffering through labs and lectures fill me with dread. Being that I passed the class with a C in seventh grade (though I graduated at the top of my class) makes my stomach lurch more.
After Mrs. Wilson finishes passing out schedules, she reads aloud the school rules from the student handbook. Figuring that listening will be a waste of time since I’m not a trouble-making student anyway, I opt to write a poem on the back of my schedule:
Watch me defy gravity
With every step I take.
I’ll walk around air-free
At last carefree
Released of past mistakes.
I will not remain restrained.
I will not be cast into darkness.
I will not stand to be pushed down,
Because I’m marching on my own ground.
These dreams are my turf,
My destiny is my guide.
You will not control me this time.
No matter how hard you try,
I will discover my own way.
I will do as I say,
I will make something of myself.
Better than I was
Captive on the dusty shelf.
I’m free. I’m me.
At last, defying gravity.
As I’ve mentioned, I have been writing a lot of poems within the last year and a half, collecting them in a notebook stored beneath my bed. Momma read one of them once and told me that it was amazing. Deep down I hope it is, but still, she is my mother, and we all know how they love to tell us our creations are pure genius.
Soon the bell rings, dismissing us from homeroom. As I’m stuffing my schedule and handbook into my bookbag, Hailey prances up behind me, looking for a target. “Isn’t that like a loner to sit by herself and write all the time? Who needs a guy in their life when you have… hmm? What exactly do you have, Riley?”
Rolling my eyes, I scurry out of the classroom in silence. There’s no need to defend myself, for every time I’ve tried doing that in the past, I end up embarrassing myself more. My mind flits back to the sixth grade when I caught her bullying a younger kid that attends the same church as me. Quick to jump to his defense, I took the chance to stand up to Hailey for all the havoc she has wreaked. Instead of backing down, she shifted her ridicule to me, bringing to light every flaw that I was already aware of in myself. So yeah, I have my reasons.
Hmm, first period. Where is that again? To ease my confusion, I try to pull my schedule back out of my bookbag. Tugging and struggling with all my might, the stupid thing refuses to budge, being that it got caught in the zipper. Seconds later, it becomes unstuck, causing the whole thing to unzip. Spilling out of the bag, my notebooks scatter on the floor around me. I thank God for a second that I’m so invisible that no one saw that happen. Yet, as I bend down to pick up my belongings, I hear a voice a little down the hall.
“Hey, need some help?”
Looking up with an embarrassed semblance, I’m shocked to see Brett coming down the hall toward me. He walks past his friend Sawyer, calling over his shoulder that he’ll catch up with him at lunch. For a second, I debate if he’s actually coming toward me, or if this is yet another fake-out I’ll be mortified over for years to come. Instead, as he steps closer he offers a wave, and I’m caught up in the fact that he looks even better with a tan. With the apples of my cheeks tinting pink at his words, I strain for the nerve to reply, “Yeah, thanks!”
He squats, collecting a binder and a couple spiral notebooks. As you can tell, I’m that nerd who comes fully prepared on the first day of school. Rearranging them by size, he hands them back to me, revealing a soft smile. Awestruck at the fact that he approached me, I can’t help but become distracted by his eyes. A majestic dark brown, it’s as if they form a black hole in which I can’t escape from—a portal that allows me to look straight into his heart, into a future I’m convinced I’ll one day be a part of.
“Riley?” Brett whispers, producing a wary look. I must have been staring too long. Then again, I’ve never been able to be inconspicuous about these things.
“Oh, sorry!” I mumble, jolting back into a standing position when I realize I’m still on the ground. “Thanks again, Brett!”
I turn to walk off, but a question reels me back in. “So, what class do you have for first period?”
Pivoting around, I take another gander at my schedule, my hand shaking. “Looks like Career Management.” I force a smile, attempting to overshadow my nerves.
“Cool, I have Accounting. It’s right down the hall. Do you wanna walk together?”
You have no clue how much of a major breakthrough this is for me, being that this is the first time Brett has talked to me outside of our neighborhood. “Sure,” I reply, though hesitant, as we take off to the school’s business and technology building out back.
Our conversation involves what we did over the summer, my heart pounding harder with every step we take. Though I still feel as if I’m making a meager dent in the shell I oh-so-desperately want to escape from, there’s a hint of confidence in my voice. Every past attempt at talking to him has resulted in me either chickening out or saying something mortifying. However, now that he has approached me, this might have the potential to go somewhere.
We reach our classroom doors, departing to go our separate ways. Watching him wave goodbye to me, I decide that this year may possibly surpass my expectations.
©Allyson Kennedy, 2017. All rights reserved.
Thanks for reading, Arrowheads! If you’d like to read more about Riley and her journey at Linwood Whaley High, check out Can’t Beat the Heart of a Carolina Girl on Amazon, now available in paperback and Kindle format!