This is an excerpt from last year’s failed NaNo novel. But failure is relative, as I’ve continued to plot and love this ya story. And just to give you bearings, the “I” is True Spencer, a 17-year-old girl living on the run with her mother. Yup, the baddy is the dad.
Monday morning, I drag myself from bed and dress in the dark for my first day at a new school. Mom’s still sleeping, exhausted from working a double shift at the hospital. She’s happy with her new job and furious when townsfolk continue to pop in unannounced, bringing home-baked goodies that smell heavenly and taste even better. She refuses to answer the door, so I smile and greet each one like it’s the most natural thing in the world to accept their hospitality.
Mom grows more distant with each visit and the only thing holding us here is her job. I have to change that. I have to keep the townsfolk a safe distance from us so she’ll settle down and we can stay.
Because, that’s what I want to do.
I want a chance with Jeffersonville’s elite gymnastics team. I want a shot at a college scholarship. I want a chance at normalcy.
I grab my backpack and head down the mountain, slipping in the fresh snow that continues to fall. The road’s too narrow for a school bus to navigate and there’s no turn around at the top, so I was told to wait at the Blue Line Diner.
I wave to Polly who’s setting up for the breakfast crowd and shuffle from foot to foot. My toes are frozen. My breath hovers in front of my face like a little gray cloud. I’m expecting a large yellow bus, so I don’t know what to do when a white van pulls up.
The door slides opens. “You True Spencer?” The woman calls from inside.
I nod. My teeth are too clenched to talk.
“Well, come on before you freeze to death.”
I climb inside the weirdest school bus I’ve ever used. It’s a mini-van—the kind parents use to drive their children to the mall, or to the park. It’s the kind of car that represents everyone else’s normal.
I don’t know the kids sitting in the two bucket seats and they don’t acknowledge me. Each stare out the window like it’s uncomfortable acknowledging a stranger. I climb into the back and plunk down on the bench seat, knowing they’re right to keep to themselves because I’ll never be more than a stranger.
Jeffersonville High School is set in a valley, sandwiched between jagged snow-capped mountains. Like every cookie-cutter school, it’s made of ugly brown brick. I find the main office, hoping my fake paperwork will be good enough. Mom’s been too busy to work her usual magic and that left me scrambling, trying to figure out a story and how to doctor up some documents that look official.
I tap my fingers on the formica countertop as I wait for the secretary to finish on the phone. Maybe I am too quiet, or my presence doesn’t register with her, so, when she hangs up and begins typing on her computer, I clear my throat.
“Be right with you,” she says. Each word is snapped out like I’m a bug buzzing her ear.
Another harassed school secretary, hating their job. Why are they always so nasty? Do they start out that way or does the job change them, draining away any ability to care?
Any hope I have that she’ll be lenient disappears with her impatient shuffle to the counter. It’s going to be a hard sell—my documents aren’t as official looking as the ones Mom should have created.
“Yes?” She says. Her glasses are too large and worn too far down on her nose. Makes her sound like she has a cold.
“I’m True Spencer. I’m transferring here from Texas.”
Why do they always use one word? It’s like a game—see who can use the fewest words. The one who speaks in a full sentence loses.
“Sure thing. Here you go,” I say and slide an envelope toward her on the counter. She leaves me staring and looking around while she goes back to her computer, my bogus paperwork in hand.
I hate waiting in a school office. I always feel like I’ve done something wrong. I breathe in and breathe out and count the seconds until I can get out of this office.
The secretary huffs as she looks through her glasses at the computer. My hands go cold and clammy. Huffing is never a good sign.
“I have no record of a transfer from this school.” She remains behind the desk, leaving me to lean in to hear her better.
“We moved just before the holiday break,” I say. “Maybe it’s delayed?”
She shakes her head. “This paperwork makes no sense. I can’t use it to record a transfer without something directly from your sending school.”
My breathing stops. This, I have dreaded since the moment I woke up. No transfer, no gymnastics.
“Can you give it a few days?” I say. “It should come through soon.” I need to buy time for Mom to get the bogus paperwork in order.
She disappears from the office without acknowledging my question. Kids don’t rate polite conversation, at least not to this woman.
I’m digging my fingertips into my palm and jigging my foot as the first period bell rings, summoning kids to their homeroom. I’m entering the school mid-year. I’m trying not to think about the catchup work I have ahead of me when the secretary reappears, carrying my fake paperwork.
She stamps it, writes something on it and finally approaches the counter carrying a clipboard.
“You can enroll. Fill this in. Until I receive confirmation from your sending school though, no teams, no sports.”
My heart drops to the floor and breaks into a million pieces. I rush my words. “But, when you get the papers, I can join up, right?”
“That’ll be up to the Board to decide.”
The Board, as in School Board? “Is it that bad?”
She looks at me over the top of her glasses. “Too many discrepancies. Too much missing information. No sports until your enrollment is all sorted out.”
The secretary returns to her desk, ignoring the kid that’s just arrived and waits behind me, leaving me to stare at paperwork I have no idea how to fill out and an empty place where my heart once existed.