This is my very first novel ever. I am about to send it off to an editor, and after that, I will have it self-published.
The story is aimed at preteens and early teens, as the protagonists are 13 years old. It is told in the first person, from the alternating perspectives of the main male character and the main female character.
The plot: Joshua is small for his age, and has been bullied relentlessly for years. All of his friends have drifted away from him. He is starting the first day of eighth grade and his life changes dramatically when he is assigned a lab partner in science class, a girl named Eve. Eve was just recruited several months before into the popular girls' clique by Rhonda, the most popular girl in school... but what Eve doesn't know is that Rhonda is also the ringleader of the four male bullies (the "bully squad") that have been tormenting and beating Joshua for three years. Eventually Eve is forced to choose between Rhonda's side and Joshua's, and the relationship that she ends up forging with Joshua ends up changing not only their lives but the complexion of the entire school.
Here are the first two chapters. The first is told from Joshua's perspective, the second from Eve's, as they start their first day of eighth grade.
I'd also like some feedback on the cover, for anyone interested in giving it. Here's a link: http://www.imagebam.com/image/150430362308129
DAY 1 - JOSHUA
Only one more year of this crap, I thought as I looked out the window of the school bus. One more year and I’ll be in high school. One more year and this will all be behind me.
It was the Tuesday after Labor Day, the first day of school, and I was already counting the days until graduation. I’d only turned thirteen a month before, and the growth spurt that I’d been praying for all summer still hadn’t kicked in. My mother, father and sister Alyson were all tall, but here I was, finally a teenager, and my height had only just crept over the five-foot mark.
Just like every year, I sat in the back row of the bus, my regular spot. There were a lot of fifth-graders on the bus with me, and most of them were acting like idiots, so I just tuned them out. In most schools around the country, I wouldn’t have to deal with kids that age, but my school’s system was a little different. There was no “middle school” or “junior high”… elementary school ran from kindergarten through eighth grade, followed by four years of high school. Half of the schools in my district took the younger children, while the other half took the older kids. Jeez, even some of the fifth-graders are taller than me already. If this is some big cosmic joke, I’m not laughing.
My school wasn’t the largest in the city, but it was still a good size. It was a public school, located in one of the more respectable areas of town. There were certainly much less desirable schools that I could have attended, but I’d learned that even in the best schools, there were problems. In my case, that was the bully squad: four guys who had made my life a living hell for three years.
I stepped off the bus, collected my course schedule and my assigned textbooks, and chose a locker for myself. I tried saying hello to some of my classmates, hoping that they had forgotten over the summer that I was still an outcast. No such luck. I locked eyes with Brent between second and third periods, and he smiled that horrible smile at me. No doubt he’d thought up a whole slew of new tortures that he and his friends could inflict on me this year, and now he couldn’t wait to try them out. Maybe I should just stand outside the nurse’s office so I won’t have far to crawl after he and his friends are finished.
Back in sixth grade, the bully squad hadn’t been much taller than I was, but now they towered over me. Brent had packed on a lot of lean muscle over summer vacation, as had his buddies Derek and Phil, and I was still a hundred-pound string-bean. Even Randy, the smallest member of the squad, had gained an inch on me over the summer. The little runt.
I was okay with the teachers whose classes I’d been assigned to, with one exception: Mr. Taylor for fifth-period science. Yay. My sister Alyson had him as a teacher when she was in eighth grade, and she’d had good things to say about him, but I couldn’t understand why. He’d been teaching at our school for as long as anyone could remember, and it was obvious from the way he addressed the class that whatever joy he’d gotten from teaching had run out years ago, and he was just counting the days until retirement.
When he entered the classroom, there were no hellos, no “welcome back’s,” no attempts at courtesy at all. He’d simply grabbed his seating chart and said, “Everyone stand up and go to the back of the class … girls on the left side, boys on the right side. NOW.” I figured that he was in a perpetual bad mood, as did everyone else, so we silently obeyed.
Alyson had told me that it was his practice to pair boys and girls together as lab partners and then grade them on teamwork. I’d wondered all summer long what girl would end up stuck with me.
I had nothing against most of the girls in my class, even though most of them seemed to have something against me, besides a height advantage. As I stood at the back of Mr. Taylor’s classroom, I quickly scanned their faces, and there wasn’t a single one that was sympathetic to my situation. When girls looked at me, if they looked at me at all, it was usually with contempt. All I could hope for was that I was paired with someone who had an open mind and a streak of kindness.
Two at a time, Mr. Taylor paired up my classmates, until finally my name was called. My partner was Eve Devereaux.
Eve and I had been classmates since the first grade, and in all that time we hadn’t spoken more than a few words to each other … at least, as far as I could remember. All I really knew about her was that after years of spending nearly all her time with her longtime friends Emily and Susan, she’d started hanging out with Rhonda, the most popular girl in school, this past spring. How did that happen? Sometimes it sucked not being part of the grapevine.
Eve was one of the prettiest girls in the whole school. She had short, neck-length dark hair, light skin, deep brown eyes, and a gorgeous round face. I would have bet actual money that she had never dressed for school as stunningly as she had today. She was a knockout.
In the past, she might not have objected to being my lab partner despite my unpopular-ness; she’d always seemed like a happy, friendly person before, but it looked like since Rhonda had gotten her claws into her, Eve’s personality had changed from day into night. Sure enough, the moment Mr. Taylor called our names, she started complaining. Like, right in front of the whole class. “Can I have another partner? Please, anyone else? Anyone but him!” Lovely. But Mr. Taylor, the crusty old fart that he was, wouldn’t budge.
Eve and I took our seats next to each other at the table in the back, and she made no effort to hide the fact that she looked upon our partnership as a punishment from God. She moved her chair as far away from me as she could, as if I was contagious. I wanted to say something, but she was running with the popular crowd now, and the unwritten rules of popularity stated that I wasn’t allowed to speak to her, or look at her, or breathe the same air as her, or whatever. We were being graded on teamwork, though, and we weren’t off to a very promising start.
My mother always asked me how school was when she got home from work, and most of the time, all I could say back to her was ’Fine.’ It was a better response than ‘I’m still alive, aren’t I?’
Three years of hiding in the shadows. One more year of this crap and I finally can get on with my life.
DAY 1 - EVE
It’s all for the better, I told myself.
I escorted Kirsten and Sophie to their bus stop, where plenty of other kids were waiting, before walking the three blocks to get to my own stop. My little sisters were so happy to start school again. Had I been that happy to go to school at that age? I honestly couldn’t remember. Enjoy it while it lasts, girls; in a few years things are going to start getting complicated.
While waiting for the bus, I replayed the events of the last six months in my head. How lucky I’d been to run into Rhonda back in March, like it was destiny or something. I’d been looking at improving my wardrobe at a local high-end mall outlet, holding outfits that were far too expensive for my mom’s tastes in front of me while I stared into the nearest mirror, when up Rhonda walked. It didn’t surprise me that she was there; after all, it was exactly the kind of store I figured she’d shop at.
Rhonda was the most popular girl in school, and you didn’t get that title unless you looked the part. Her face, her hair, her clothes were always so amazing. She’d been so friendly to me, treating me like I was her best friend even though we didn’t really know each other. She even helped me pick out some new clothes, things that she thought I would look great in, which was so cool.
Mom had let me spend the rest of the afternoon chatting with Rhonda, and all I could talk about was how much I admired her. I must have sounded like such a dork, but Rhonda just smiled. She probably got that all the time.
I was surprised when she asked me a lot of questions about myself, which I was only too happy to answer. I told her about my parents, my little sisters, and my best friends Emily and Susan. I was even more surprised when she’d asked if I’d started dating yet, which I hadn’t. I didn’t know many boys, and the few that I did know still didn’t have a clue how to talk or act around girls yet.
Rhonda had laughed when I’d told her that. She’d smiled broadly and told me, “Well, that’s because you don’t know the right boys, Eve.” She’d grasped my hand, leaned in and said, “I know a few guys that would love to go out with you.”
I’d gasped. “Really?”
She’d nodded. “I can set you up with one of them, if you like.”
Emily and Susan are not going to believe this, I remember thinking. A day of shopping had transformed into a possible change of lifestyle. I was ecstatic.
“But of course,” she’d said, “you’d have to officially accept my invitation.”
“What invitation?” I’d asked in disbelief.
“To come hang out with me every day.” She’d winked. “What do you say?”
I couldn’t believe it. This was like a dream come true. I’d nodded frantically and replied, “Yes!”
“Excellent,” she’d said. “We’ll talk occasionally at lunch until the end of the school year … you know, to kind of break you in slowly. There’s a lot for you to learn, but by the time we start eighth grade, you’ll be ready. I’ll see to that.”
I’d wanted to hug her, but I kept my composure. “I don’t know what to say, Rhonda… Thank you so much!” It didn’t seem like enough gratitude, but it was all I could think of to say. We exchanged phone numbers, and then she’d said her goodbyes and walked away.
When I’d told Emily and Susan that I was going to be spending more time with Rhonda than with them, they’d been disappointed, but they hadn’t objected to the opportunity Rhonda had given me. Emily had said that, given all the times we’d talked about Rhonda, she and Susan would probably have made the same decision, even if it meant spending less time with their closest friends.
For the last few months, Rhonda had groomed me for this day, the first day of eighth grade. I had biked over to her house many times over summer break, and I could never get over just how huge the place was. I mean, the house that I lived in wasn’t small, but hers was enormous. Her closet alone was half the size of my entire room, and it was filled with designer clothes. I won’t even go into the contents of her jewelry box. Must be nice to be the daughter of real estate millionaires, I often thought.
She had introduced me to some of her friends, who were also some of the most popular girls in school. Kendra and Chloe had been skeptical about my joining their clique at first, but Rhonda had quickly gotten them on board. They’d all coached me on how to walk, how to dress, how to accessorize, how to carry myself, and basically how to act like a popular girl. After all, if I was going to command respect from my classmates, I had to show them that I’d earned it.
I remembered, at the beginning of the summer, trying to convince Rhonda to have Emily and Susan take this magical ride with me. She had just shaken her head in disapproval.
“Why not?” I’d asked. “They’re really amazing girls. And they both admire you as much as I do.”
Rhonda had replied, “I’m sure they do, Eve, I’m just not sure they’re ‘popular girl’ material. Emily is a brainiac, I’m not sure she’d be a good fit. And Susan would never fit in at all … she’s the mousiest girl I’ve ever seen, and you can’t be that way and command respect.”
“But …” I’d pleaded.
“No ‘buts’, Eve,” she’d retorted. “I made this offer to you, and only you.” And that was that.
It’s all for the better, I kept telling myself.
As the summer went on, I saw Emily and Susan less and less. Their phone calls and texts kept coming, though, and with more and more urgency. It was getting very difficult, keeping one foot in my old life and the other in my brand-new one. Emily, Susan and I had been friends since we were six years old, and the further away I drifted from them, the less comfortable I felt.
With the start of eighth grade only a month away, Rhonda had sensed my growing reluctance. She’d put her arm around me and calmly said, “I totally understand, Eve. This is a huge change for you. You’re showing a hundred people that you’ve known for years that you’ve changed. But I will tell you right now, it’s worth it. Having people look at you with respect and admiration … well, there’s nothing like it.” That had pretty much eliminated all doubt in my mind.
Rhonda had also set me up on a blind date with Matt, one of the best-looking guys in our class. Girls would literally fight each other to have a chance to go out with him. The date had gone okay, right up until the point where he’d put his hand on my butt and tried to stick his tongue down my throat. I hadn’t complained, thinking it wasn’t my place to do so, but it wasn’t exactly the way I’d wanted my first-ever date to go. Price of admission, I guess. I could only hope that my next date went better.
Only a couple of weeks before school started, Rhonda seemed satisfied that I’d transformed my personality and self-image enough to be able to be seen with her in public on an everyday basis. And then the other shoe dropped: she told me that I could no longer hang out with Emily and Susan. “You can’t have it both ways, Eve,” she’d said, frowning. “I know they were your friends when you were little kids, but you’re not a child anymore … are you?” I’d just shaken my head.
So then I did something I never thought I could do: I called Emily up and told her that I couldn’t spend time with her or Susan anymore. I thought she’d understand, but all she did was hang up on me. I didn’t have the heart to make a similar phone call to Susan, as sensitive as she was.
It’s all for the better. I’d pretty much convinced myself of that by then.
I stepped off the bus feeling like a million bucks. I was wearing a brand-new black knee-length flirty dress and some low-heel shoes, along with new stud earrings and a new gold-strand necklace … all of which Rhonda had either lent me or helped me pick out. It was easily the most fashionable outfit I’d ever worn to school, and I figured that if I was going to make an impression on everybody, best to do it before the rainy season started. My mother had forbid me to wear a lot of makeup, so I just went with a little sheer lip gloss and some eye shadow. Thank God I didn’t have acne. That probably would have killed any chances I might have had with Rhonda before we’d even started.
I performed the usual opening-day rituals, trying to remember every lesson Rhonda and her friends had taught me about how to “act” popular. For most of the morning, I just did my best to be polite but not to get into any long conversations with anyone. A few girls commented on how great I looked, although they were a little puzzled as to what had happened to cause such a huge transformation.
Word hadn’t yet gotten around that I was in Rhonda’s inner circle, but that would come in time, she told me in the cafeteria at lunch. I was a little disappointed that I didn’t have any classes with Rhonda, but on the other hand, I was grateful that I didn’t have any classes with Emily and Susan either; I didn’t think I could handle spending an entire year being in the same room with them, especially the way Emily was acting.
I wasn’t looking forward to fifth-period Science class at all. It had always been my worst subject, and when I found out that I had Mr. Taylor, I swore out loud. Rhonda sympathized, telling me how she’d gotten stuck with some guy that she barely knew as a lab partner. I spent the entire recess period wondering who I was going to be paired up with.
Mr. Taylor had been teaching science at the school since practically the dawn of time. As the entire class stood around the outer edge of the room, I looked at all of the guys. There were about fifteen of them, and there wasn’t a single one that I really knew. Most of the guys were trying their best not to look nervous, but there was one who wasn’t looking at anything at all. Joshua Harper.
We’d been classmates for years, but I’d never really spoken to him. He always ate his lunch alone, and I never saw him during recess. Rhonda had coached me over the summer on which boys were okay to talk to and which to avoid at all costs, and Joshua was definitely on the “avoid” list. I was puzzled by this at first, but Rhonda went on to explain that Joshua had some very nasty secrets, and now I just felt really icked out by him. God, please let me be paired with anyone else…
Mr. Taylor called out names, and my classmates took their assigned seats and performed their awkward introductions. And then came my turn. “Eve Devereaux and … Joshua Harper.”
Shit. Not even a day into the school year and I have THIS crap to deal with? I have to sit next to the creepy kid for an entire semester? Really? “Um … Mr. Taylor?” I asked. He looked up from his seating chart, eying me with a frown. “Can I have another partner?”
“No, you may not,” he said.
“Please,” I said, looking at Joshua. He still hadn’t looked up. “Anyone else? I’ll take anyone but him!” I realized that I sounded like a total bitch, but that was still better than the alternative.
“Miss Devereaux,” Mr. Taylor said, glowering, “take your seat. Now, please.” Obviously, I wasn't going to change his mind.
I took my seat at the back table, and Joshua silently sat down next to me. I couldn’t believe my bad luck. One of the things I’d heard from Rhonda was that he had some terrible skin condition under his clothes, so I quickly moved my chair as far away from him as I could. He looked at me out of the corner of his eye but didn’t say anything. I have to work with him? Really? Jeez, just give me a failing grade right now.
I decided right then and there that I wasn’t going to tell Rhonda who my partner was. I’d just lie and say it was some guy I didn’t know, someone not on either one of her “lists.” I’d sacrificed a lot to get to this point. I was on the doorstep of popularity, and I wasn’t going to let this little freak ruin it.
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