Friday, June 15, 2012

Friday Feedback: Secret Order, Chapter Two

Hey Folks! This is the second chapter to my Upper Middle Grade manuscript, The Secret Order of Extraordinary Outcastz. (It used to be called Mojo Fingers).  Always looking for feedback!

Chapter Two
In Which There is At Least One Daring Feat of Courage
            Still glowing from my “moment” with The Adorable One, I grab my stuff and begin to walk out of the classroom with the rest of the crowd. But before I can get too far, I hear Mr. Little’s voice rise above the din. 
“Miss Tate?  I believe you and I have a conference scheduled for right now.  Please come back and sit down.” 
Almost made it.  Freedom denied.
The class empties out as I trudge back to my desk and sit down again.  Mr. Little gathers up his grade book and trundles to my desk, settling his bulk in the chair Madison recently vacated.  I know what’s coming next.  It’s pretty much the same speech both my science and language arts teachers gave me last week. 
“Joey, I’m more than a little concerned about your academic performance lately.  You started out the year so well!  What happened?”  he asks, almost plaintively. 
I don’t have an answer for that, so I duck my head and decide to see if I can wait him out.
Sure enough, “Joey, I know sometimes seventh grade can be an awkward time, and the transitions we go through as human beings into adolescence can be painful, but I don’t think this material is too hard for you to accomplish.  What do you think?” 
I’m trying not to cringe. Extra “Ack!” for mentioning both the word “awkward” and referencing puberty in the same sentence!  Gah!
He’s waiting for an answer this time.  What was the question again?  I slide a sad look in his direction, and nod uncertainly, hoping this will work as an answer to the question I didn’t pay attention to in the first place.
“I thought so.  So, it’s not a matter of understanding the concepts – it seems like you’re not getting the homework done.  It’s a question of what you’re doing with your time instead.  Why aren’t you doing your homework, Joey?” 
Grrr.  I don’t want to talk about this!
The real answer is that I’m doing…nothing.  Sometimes, I spend hours just being bored, wondering how everyone else seems to come up with the ambition to do all this…stuff.   Nothing feels worth doing this year.  It’s nothing personal, and it’s not like I want to get in trouble, but I just can’t bring myself to care about school right now. Better to escape into a graphic novel or a TV show or one of the comic books I’m drawing.
But I can’t tell my math teacher that.
Instead of an answer, I shrug.  This worked really well with my science teacher last week.  She didn’t expect me to answer any of her questions; she just wanted to get her frustration with me off her chest.  I guess she’s entitled.
“I’m afraid I can’t let this go, Miss Tate.” 
We’re back to “Miss Tate” are we?  I wonder if he thinks this makes him sound more important or if it’s supposed to make me feel more like a grown-up?
“Your grade in my class has slipped to failing, and I need to know that your parents are aware.  I’ve made a call to your home, and I need you to take this note home to your parents and have them sign it so that I know they’ve seen it.  I’ll expect it back, signed, tomorrow Joey. All right?”
“Okay.” I mumble, taking the sealed, official-looking envelope from him and shoving it in my back pocket. 
“Can I go now?”  I ask, as politely as I can, while still injecting some urgency into my voice to let him know that I really need to go.
He doesn’t look like he’s sure he should let me go.  He looks like he might be sizing me up for some more lecturing. I hold my breath, and finally, with a sigh of frustration he replies, “Yes, Miss Tate.  I’ll see you tomorrow.  Let’s see some corrections on that test and get your homework done tonight, please.”
“Okay, bye. Thanks! Sorry, Mr. Little.”  I try to cover all my bases, because the more satisfied I leave him with the impression of my goodness as a person, polite, nice, downtrodden – the less likely he’ll be to lecture me again soon or actually follow up on whether or not I do my homework or test corrections. 
I race out the door to my locker, just in time to run face-first into The Wall of Dougie that has suddenly appeared in front of me, spraying my folders, notebooks, papers and pencils in a thousand different directions.
Dougie Crowley is this giant kid who rarely, if ever, talks.  He has some other issues too.  Because he’s so huge, someone had the bright idea that he should play football on the recreation league team.  He totally looks like the kind of kid who could steamroll everybody else on the field, but he sort of…refuses to tackle anyone else. 
He’s super shy and, despite his huge size, he’s afraid of bugs – not something you want to be known for as a middle-school guy.  Once, I saw him pull his feet up onto his chair and whimper when someone spotted a spider crawling up the wall in language arts.  Another kid killed it with her copy of “Freak the Mighty” and Dougie looked embarrassed, but I totally get it.  Spiders are terrifying stuff.  
No one’s quite sure what to make of Dougie, so while he might have some big targets on his back, no one is brave enough to actually pick on this mountain of a kid…at least not to his face. 
 “Sorry,” he rumbles at me as he stoops to start gathering my papers together.
I’m so shocked that he spoke to me that I blurt out, “Wow! Your voice is crazy deep!”
He stops shuffling the mess in his hands to give me a long, vaguely disappointed look. I suddenly notice that I have possibly offended a six-foot four-inch seventh grader, and also that he’s the only one cleaning up my mess. 
I’m not only a klutz, I’m a rude klutz.  Way to go, Tate.
I close my eyes in embarrassment for a moment before dropping to my knees beside him to chase my math book before it gets kicked down the hall.  Everyone else is splitting to walk around us like an island in a stream.
“I’m sorry, Dougie.  I wasn’t looking where I was going, and I didn’t mean anything by what I said about your voice.  I think it’s cool, actually.  Kind of deep like a superhero or something like that, you know? Like Samuel L. Jackson.”
Shutupshutupshutupshutupshutup! I tell myself.
Dougie hands me the stack of papers from my math folder, which he has neatly piled together and reaches for my math notebook which is splayed on the ground like a seagull with a broken wing.  He pauses before handing it over to notice a drawing on the page it has opened to. 
It’s a cartoon of Mrs. Bonney, my art teacher, as a fairy godmother.  She’s sprinkling fairy dust over my pouty face with a sparkle in her eye. Her funky overalls and outrageous hair go so well with fairy wings and a wand, that I couldn’t help myself.  What can I say? She’s my favorite teacher.
“S’good,” Dougie grunts quietly, handing me the notebook.  He gets up and dusts himself off, then holds his hand out to help me up from the floor as well. 
Who does that?  I’m a little flattered, because it looks kind of cool and old-school.  I accept the help up gratefully, but before I can say anything else, he nods, cups his right hand into an ‘O’ shape and holds it out in a gesture that, from the serious expression on his face is either a gang sign or an attempt at some sort of sign language.  Then, nodding his head in satisfaction, Dougie Crowley trundles down the hallway without another word. 
Was he calling me a “zero”?  Maybe that was his sign for “okay”.  Weird.  I don’t even have a chance to ask him before he disappears around the corner.
“Joey and Dougie, sittin’ in a tree! K-I-S-S-I-N-G!” mocks a nasally voice from behind me.  Who even says that anymore?
I whirl on the group of Glamour Minions and their Back-Up Boy Band Minions that are standing around Madison Gridley’s locker just a few feet away across the hall.  I know I should just shut up and walk away.  Ignore them.  My mom always tells me to walk away from bullies, that you don’t want to give them a reason to target you.  But I’m suddenly a volcano ready to blow, and it’s either burst into tears or completely snap on somebody. 
I choose option B - to blow up all over Jacob Keckner, who may or may not even be the right target, but he’s laughing, so that’s all the reason I need.
“Really, Keckner? What are you, like, FIVE? Shut up!”  My voice cracks, I’m so furious. I can feel that heat that has invaded my face like a conquering army.  That’s fine, because it goes well with my boiling temper.
Jacob just laughs, and everyone else in his group does, too.  I can hear Evil Glamour Queen Madison snort right next to Jacob.  Doesn’t she know that it makes her sound like a pig?  Admittedly, even her hog snorts are kind of adorable. All right, a cute pig, but still a pig.
 “I just think it’s the start of a beautiful thing, Joey.  You and your new boyfriend can hang around  together. And I do mean AROUND.” Keckner the Lame gestures widely around his waist like he has an imaginary inner tube of jello around him.  Some laughter comes from the Back-Up Minions, but Madison just rolls her eyes and goes back to fixing her lip gloss.
Fat jokes.  Crap-tacular.
I can feel my face getting redder, but from embarrassment this time.  At the mention of my weight, my burst of courage dies a pathetic death.  I have nothing to say back.  Another “shut up” would be pointless since he didn’t shut it the first time.  At this point, I really am going to have to swallow my pride and walk away. I get ready to swallow my anger and walk away…again.
Keckner the Lame yelps and the rest of us jump as a finely manicured hand smacks the back of his buzzcut head.  Hard.
Jacob turns to see who has done him wrong and comes face to face with Deandra Timmons, the most fearsome girl at Tillman Middle School.  Stylish, smart, and strong, Deandra is in all honors classes, and never backs down from a fight.  She’s even rumored to have refused to back down from an argument with a teacher once, and as a result she hasn’t been seen eating lunch in the cafeteria since second semester of sixth grade year.  Kind of like the life sentence of detentions.
Right now, though, she has her arms folded, eyes narrowed and burning with anger at the lanky boy in front of her. 
“What have I told you about Dougie, Jacob?” she bites out in a steely calm voice.

“What the heck, Deandra! That hurt!” Keckner the Lame replies, trying to turn it around on the Battle-Priestess of Cool, Deandra.
“For real, Jacob? You’re going to make me ask you again?” She sighs like she is burdened with the weight of Keckner’s incredible ignorance.  He thrusts his chin out at her in a show of unwise defiance.
“Well…it’s your funeral.”  Deandra pins Jacob Keckner to the wall with her stare and begins to stalk toward him like a dangerous cat looking to swat its prey.
“What. Have. I. Told. You. About. Dougie?” Her words jab the air like pointy, awful weapons, and she concludes by taking a step just close enough to Jacob that he flinches back into the door of his blue metal locker. 
I want to cheer.  I want to run.  I want to stand behind Deandra and yell, “Yeah! What SHE said!” I want to ask her why she’s sticking up for Dougie Crowley.  I want her to stick up for me, too.
Instead, I take the “rabbit-in-the-grass” approach and stay as quiet and still as I can until I can bolt for cover.
“Dee, he just forgot.  He was just joking around with them. Lighten up!” Madison is looking to make peace now.
This, from The Evil Glamour Queen herself.  Joking? Hah!  I want to jump in and tell Deandra that no one was laughing but the Glamazons and Back-Up Minions. 
But Deandra doesn’t need any help from me.  She’s such a force to be reckoned with that I start expecting some sort of magical wind to whip up from nowhere and blow back Deandra’s hair as lightning shoots from her eyes.  Instead, smooth and deadly as a shark, she points an arched eyebrow at Madison, who suddenly looks very nervous.
“Step off, Madison. This is between me and Jacob.  You do not want to mess in my backyard.”
That clinches it! Deandra Timmons is officially who I want to be when I grow up!  She turns back to Jacob who is looking around for support and finding that all of a sudden no one will meet his gaze.  Apparently the ceiling and the floor are completely fascinating to his Back-Up Minions.
“Don’t make me wait any longer, Jacob. What did I tell you about Dougie Crowley?”
“Leave him alone,” mumbles Keckner the Lame with his tail between his legs.
“What was that?” Deandra cups her right ear and eyeballs the Back-Up Minions.  “I didn’t quite hear you. Say it loud enough for everyone to hear, because I want this widely understood, people!” She eyes the gathered crowd with frigid warning.
“Leave Dougie alone. Don’t mess with him.” Jacob finally grinds out loudly enough to be heard down the hall.
“That’s right.  Now, don’t make me have to pass some smacks on to remind you again. You already know I can back up what I say.”  She studies her teal blue fingernails like she’s contemplating changing the color instead of using them to discipline unruly boys twice her size.
Treated, Keckner the Pouty slams his locker closed, grabs his backpack and pushes his way through the crowd to stomp off.  The remaining crowd of Glamazons and Minions breaks up quickly and quietly, so as not to incur the Wrath of Deandra.  I want to make a break for my locker, but I feel like I should say thank you to The Battle Priestess of Cool. 
Before I can think of anything to say to her, Deandra eyes me for a second, sizing me up, she cups her right hand into an ‘O’ shape just like Dougie did, holds it out to me, then dismisses me with a single tilt of her chin. 
Again with the “zero”!  I suppose, in this instance, I’d rather be called a zero by The Battle Priestess of Cool than listen to fat jokes from Keckner the Lame.
Double weird, that she and Dougie have the same weird hand gesture, though.  I didn’t even know that they knew each other before today. 
Well, I’ll take it. 
As she disappears around the corner, I finally find my voice again. It peeps out a breathy, “Thanks?”
But the Battle Priestess of Cool has left the building. 
I heave a sigh of relief and head to my own locker, walking on some unexpected sunshine.

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