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Sometimes it’s hard not to laugh out loud. Like in class yesterday, when Alexis said that she would rather die than be seen at the goodwill store. I know she didn’t mean that she would literally keel over, unless something heavy fell on her head. And if that happened I’d be too busy laughing than to be embarrassed.
That may not sound like the nicest thing to say, but I go to the goodwill at least once a week. The stuff isn’t all that bad, and I’m sure even Alexis could find something to wear if she did manage to survive walking through the doors. They have toys and video games and dvd’s too. But what I like is that they have tons of books. Sometimes I just sit on the floor and read through the Goosebumps series until Mom taps me on the shoulder and tells me it’s time to go. Then I find a place to put the book and hope it will still be there when we come back. Because Mom ain’t buying books.
Miss Temple, our school librarian says that I’m probably her best customer, even when I’m late getting them back to her. Sometimes she even holds books that she thinks I'll like, new arrivals that I've been waiting for. But back to Princess Alexis and that thing about dying. Last night I got to thinking about all the kids in other countries who really were dying. Some from hunger or war, or maybe even here from gangs or shootings. We had a shooting just the other night, just two streets down from our apartment building. Mr. Peter’s, the old man in 3B and doesn’t do much besides sit outside and sip on coffee said that it was probably gangs. He likes to shake his head and say how kids these days aren't brought up but just grow up..
Mr. Peters can be a crank, but he likes me. He's got these twinkly eyes and a white gray beard that shines bright from his dark skin. Mom calls him a crazy old man but I don’t think he’s crazy, he just has what Mrs. Penton calls a strong will. He speaks his mind, like me, only he doesn't have to worry about getting in trouble for it at school.
But all of the daydreaming got me in a fix, because when I finally got around to looking at the clock it was already 7:32. I jumped up, yelling for Mom and then I remembered that she was already at work. I searched the floor, looking for something half decent to wear. I found my purple striped shirt and pink pants but then changed because I could just hear Alexis saying that I wore that on Monday. So I put on my blue jeans and sneakers. It was so late that I didn’t have time for breakfast. I stuffed my papers into my notebook, stuck my notebooks in my bag, and made absolutely sure to lock up when I left. I have to lock the door or Mom will go off. And she says I’m dramatic.
I tossed up a hand to Mr. Peters on my way out. The bus was already chugging down the street as he chuckled with gravelly laughter and slapped at his old legs. “Better hurry, Nita.”
I shot him a look and then bounded for the stop, where stupid Cole and Earnest were already climbing on the bus. I came to a stop just as they got on, thinking that at least I wouldn't have to stand there while they called me stick legs or Twiggy. Maybe I should be late every day.
When we got moving, Earnest must have found whatever Cole was saying to be hysterical, because he kept looking back at me and then falling back into his seat with laughter. I rolled my eyes, content to look out the window and let my stomach growl.
But still, even with those two fools I love the bus ride to school. The way the morning sun washes over those big old houses, making them look nice and fancy even though half of them need paint or are only a breeze away from falling to the ground. But there’s something in that morning sunshine that makes me feel strong.
And it was taking all the strength I could find not to hit stupid Earnest over the head as he and Cole were up there laughing and making a fuss.. I leaned forward and glared at them until they ducked down again. They’re what Mr. Peters would call knuckleheads. Earnest’s brother just got caught selling drugs again and he’d probably be going away for a while. So that's why I cut him some slack. But don’t get it twisted, I do not like Earnest Calloway.
And if I had liked him even a teensy bit, it was all forgotten when we got off the bus and he said, “Hey Twiggy, what happened, you couldn’t hold it?”
I spun around, my heart knocking because I had this creeping feeling about what he meant. “Hold what?”
Cole pointed to my waist and started giggling. That’s when my face got hot because I remembered what happened the other day in my jeans. Earnest joined in and I felt my whole body tingle and my nose started to burn like it does just before the tears. But I wasn’t about to let them see me cry.
I ran the whole way back home. Past the cluttered houses, past the filthy curbs lined with trash, up the steps and past Mr. Peters. When I pulled out my key, my hand was shaking I was so mad, or something. I put on the pink pants. If Alexis had anything to say about that she’d better duck.
My embarrassment was forgotten when I walked into school and headed to the office. I couldn't come up with much when the secretary asked why I was late, and then she asked if she needed to call my mother. I told her I was fine, which I was. At least until the thick wafts of butter and biscuits from her breakfast squeezed my stomach. By the time I got to Mrs. Penton’s classroom I’d been moving around so much that morning— running home and back--that I didn’t have enough time to really think about being hungry. But taking my seat, last night’s soup seemed like a year ago.
Mrs. Penton smiled right at me, then waved me over. She looked tired, with dark rings under her eyes. She had a baby over the summer, a cute one too. She’d showed me a picture on her phone, said his name was Cody. Whenever she talked about him her face lit up and I could just tell that baby got all the love in the world.
“Hi Nita, you okay?”
“Yeah, just a little hungry.”
“Oh, did you not have breakfast?”
I shook my head. The other kids were at their desk, tossing their bags onto the floor and laughing. Mrs. Penton looked around and then touched my shoulder. “I’ll be right back.
She left the classroom for a minute. Alexis breezed past me, smelling like lip gloss and flowers. “Hey Nita,” she said.
Mrs. Penton returned with Miss Washburn, the T.A. She motioned for me to come out to the hallway. I slipped out of the class, hopefully unnoticed. I’d had enough attention for one morning.
“Let’s see what they have at the cafeteria,” she said as we started down the hallway. My stomach growled its thanks.
The cafeteria looked closed, but Mrs. P went back into the kitchen, said something to the people in the back and returned with an orange juice and a biscuit. “Here Nita, you should always eat breakfast, you know the saying.”
“The most important meal of the day.”
She laughed, touching my arm. Her hair was pulled back but still wet. Maybe she was running late too. I jammed the straw through the foil wrapper on the orange juice and took a big sip. Then, I started to pick up the biscuit, but…I don’t know, I just…
“Nita, it’s okay, eat.”
“Yes honey, now eat so we can go learn,” she said with a smile. She hopped up, and I was glad because I was a little embarrassed with her watching and all. She even waited for me out in the hallway and after a few bites I was as good as new.
When we got back, Miss Washburn whispered something in Mrs. P's ear. I opened my book and began to read our lesson, but I could just feel Alexis’ burning stare barreling down on me. When the bell rang I waited for the rest of class to leave the room. Then I walked up to Mrs. Penton’s desk.
“Thanks again," I said to her, my eyes fixed on her pink shirt.
“Anytime sweetie. And if there’s anything you need, don’t be afraid to ask. Even if you just need to talk, okay?”
I nodded, then started for the door.
“Oh and Nita?” she said just before I got to the hallway.
“I like your pants.
I smiled, because when it came to style, Mrs. P seemed to know her stuff.