Authors: Celeste O. Norfleet
As always, to Charles, my love, my heart and my best friend foreverâthank you for always being here for me. Also, much love to Christopher and Jennifer. You make this so much fun. I couldn't have done this without you.
I'd also like to thank my teens of the heart, Theo, Sasha and Vanessa Salnave and Michael, Christian and Amanda Silerâeven though you're miles away, know that you're always right here in my heart.
To my postteensâCharles and Prince and my very preteens, Damiah, Aniah and Charles, thank you for bringing so much joy into my world.
Special thanks to my sisters, Amanda Mitchell and Karen Linton. You are so special to me and a true blessing to my heart. To my mother, Mable Johnson, thank you for keeping me inspired and reminding me what I was like as a teenager.
To my sisters of the heart, Francis DeLoach, Andrea Jenkins, Paulette Jones, Michelle Monkou, Candice Poarch, Renee Salnave and Suzi White. Thank you for surrounding me with your knowledge, wisdom and positive energy.
Much love to the extraordinary women who keep me going and remind me that I can do anything. You never cease to amaze me. To my exceptionally talented editor Evette Porterâyou are brilliant! Thank you for challenging me and making me better than I ever imagined I could be. To my wonderful agent Elaine Englishâyou're a lifesaver. Thank you for always being there with words of encouragement when all I can see is a blank monitor page. Also, much thanks to Naomi Hackenbergâyou're the best.
Last, but certainly not least, thank you teachers, librarians and readers. It's a joy to continue writing Kenisha Lewis's story for you. There's so much more to come.
Please feel free to write me and let me know what you think. I always enjoy hearing from readers. Please send your comments to [email protected] or Celeste O. Norfleet, P.O. Box 7346, Woodbridge, VA 22195-7346.
To Fate & Fortune
The Way Out Is the Way In
“Goodbye. Au revoir. Adios. Arrivederci. Kwaherini. In English, French, Spanish, Italian or Swahili, it doesn't matter what language you say it in. It all means the same thingâ I'm out of here.”
time passes always amazes me. When you want it to speed up, it slows down. And when you want it to slow down, it zips by in a flash. Go figure.
Right now I really need to get out of here. I'm looking at the clock on the wall and impatiently tapping my pencil on the desk. All I've been thinking about for the past nine days is putting this drama behind me. So when Ms. Grayson announces a pop quiz and then puts the test on my desk facedown, it's the last thing I expect to be doing on my final day at this school. When I turn the exam over, I silently groan: a history quiz.
Are you kidding me?
I look up at Ms. Grayson, who is engrossed in a book and already in her leave-me-the-hell-alone mode.
halfheartedly at the top of the page.
Seriously, does it really matter at this point?
6th period/U.S. History
It's my last day here and I'm finding it way too hard to keep the smirk off my face. I look up at the clock again, then back at the test I'm supposed to be completing. It's fill-in-the-blank and multiple-choice. I have no idea why teachers think history is supposed to be interesting. Who cares what a bunch of dead people did a few hundred years ago? How is this supposed to change my life right now? It's not. So why even bother?
I start writing, but lose interest by the third question. For real, right now my mind is a million miles away. I've been spacing out for the last five days. The thought of going back to my real school and my real life is all I can think about. I tap my pencil on the desk again and notice my eraser is half gone. I have to get some new pencils and some new notebooks. I also need some new clothes and sneaks. The list I'm compiling in my head is getting longer. A new backpack and a new laptop would be sweet, too. What elseâ¦
“Psst, hey, what's number two?” someone behind me whispers.
I hear someone utter the wrong answer, almost immediately trying to cover up with a very loud cough. Everyone around me starts laughing. I do, too. It's so obvious how this game is played. Still, a few seconds later someone whispers
another answer. We all look at our papers to check if that's what we have. I do.
“What's number three?”
“Is there a problem back there?” Ms. Grayson says. No one responds, of course. It's an unspoken rule in high schoolâ“snitches get stitches.” So, did she really expect anyone to say,
“Yeah, somebody didn't study, so we're back here cheating our asses off.”
I look up toward the front of the class. Ms. Grayson is staring straight at me. I ignore her and look around the room at the other students in the class. I can count on one hand how many are actually paying attention. I guess we all feel pretty much the sameâbored. Three months into the first semester, and it feels like I've been here a decade. I don't know if it's me or the school or what, but something's gotta give. I look up at the clock and count the minutes until I'm outta here.
For the last two weeks things have been going pretty good for me, surprisingly. I'm slowly getting my life back together. School is okay. The students around here are still lame, but that's nothing new. It's just more obvious now. It's like everybody all of a sudden is losing their mind or something. Maybe it's the weather, or the phase of the moon, the sun and the planets, or just plain stupidity. Whatever it is, it's messing with everybody's head.
But that's their drama. I'm not really paying much attention, since I expect to be out of here in a minute. By
in a minute,
I mean today. Now! As soon as possible! By here, I mean Penn Hall High School. They call it “The Penn,” for obvious reasons. It looks more like a maximum security
penitentiary than a high school in the middle of Washington, D.C. All the classroom windows have bars, and there are reinforced steel doors everywhere and metal detectors at every entrance. Like that's supposed to actually stop drama from happening. Seriously, you'd think with all that, we'd be safe and secure. Wrong. There was a stabbing in a fight earlier this morning. Rumor has it that one of the guys fighting had a handgun stashed in a classroom. Real safe, right? But I don't intend to be around when the rest of the drama jumps off.
I'm being paroled. These other pathetic fools have to stay here for the next year and a half or more. I sympathize. Well, not really. It just sounds good to say that. I hate most of the students here. They're either users, fakes or wannabes. Either way, I'm out of here and glad of it.
My cell phone vibrates in my jeans pocket. I choose to ignore it. I know it's probably the same stupid fool that's been blowin' up my cell all week. Somebody with half a brain thinks it's funny to call me with some dumb stuff. What, am I supposed to be scared? Hardly, it just makes it even clearer: I need to be getting up out of here.
Hazelhurst Academy for girls is all I think about now. I don't care about Chili Rodriguez or Regan Payne and my ongoing drama with them. I just want out of The Penn. Everybody's acting all weird since everything happened with Darien and the police. So what? Darien got arrested. Big deal, he should have. He deserved to. He's a thug, a dealer and a bully. They think I snitched to the police on him. I didn't have to. His girl, Sierra, already took care of that. She told, not me. But still they think it's me 'cause
they can't imagine her turning on him. I can't say anything, 'cause that would be snitchin', so there it is.
I scribble a few more answers on the test paper. It's more from memory than actually studying, which I definitely didn't do. Most of this has to do with dates, names and places. I've always been good at memorization. I glanced at my notes a few minutes before the quiz was distributed. I remembered a few important names and dates, so most of it wasn't that hard.
I glance up at the clock again and see the second hand ticking a notch. I look down at the quiz on my desk and try to remember what I'm supposed to be writing, something to do with the Revolutionary War. Seriously, we're talkin' something like seventeen-whateverâwho the hell cares?
As I write another answer my cell phone vibrates again. I look behind me to the left to where Cassie sits. She's chewing on her pencil not paying attention. I still can't believe she tried to mess me up like that.
“Miss Lewis?” I look to the front of the classroom. Ms. Grayson is sitting behind her desk staring at me againâthis time like I have two heads or something. I look at her but don't say anything. “Kenisha.” Other students start turning to look at me. I still don't say anything. “Is there a problem, Kenisha?”
“No,” I finally say.
“You haven't touched your quiz.”
“I'm thinking,” I say firmly, giving her far less attitude than I expected, given my current mood.
“You need to get started, think and write at the same time. Class is almost over and this quiz will be reflected in
your interim grade.” She glanced at the clock on the wall then back to me. “You have fifteen minutes to finish.” Her warning is clear. She looks around to the rest of the students, who are equally distracted, and starts droning on about responsibility and purpose.
I glance up at the clock once more. But I see something totally different. I see freedom. I see Hazelhurst. I tap my pencil on the desk again waiting for her to finish her mini-lecture. She ends by staring at me again. “You're still not writing,” she says to me.
“That's because I'm still thinking,” I say slowly, enunciating each word as if she was a child. She knows my sarcasm is intentional and so does everybody else. They start snickering and looking at me.
“Miss Lewis, would you prefer to continue this conversation after class?” Ms. Grayson says as she glares at me.
I purse my lips together tightly and shrug. I know it's a veiled threat, so I'm trying hard not to say anything. I just look down at my paper. Either way it doesn't matter. There's nothing she can say or do to me that will change anything in my life right now. I am out of here. It's only a matter of time.
Ms. Grayson gets up and walks down the aisle to my desk and stands in front of me. I don't look up, but instead I tap my pencil on the desk again. She picks up my paper and looks at it. I smirk inside. She likes embarrassing students, she's sadistic. It gives her a rush, probably the only thrill she gets in her pitiful life.
She places the paper back down on my desk. She couldn't say a thing. I'd completed the exam except for the date.
“You need to check your attitude, Miss Lewis. I'm not one of your friends, I'm your teacher,” she says, her voice trailing off. I'm sure no one heard her except me. “Today is the twelfth,” she adds, loudly.
“You need to get out of my face,”
is what I want to say to her. But I decide not to. I won't give her the satisfaction. Ms. Grayson is the type of teacher you'd expect to be cool because she's youngish and dresses nice. She likes hip-hop and acts like she knows what's up, but really she doesn't. She has major attitude most days and seems to not care at all on others. I look up. She's standing there glaring at me, looking like she's confused about something.
“I want to see you after class. Understood?”
“Fine,” I say, knowing it didn't matter because I was out of here. She continues walking down the aisle, and I can hear other students around me snickering. Seriously, I am so tired of doing this. Every day it's that same stupid crap.
I just want to leave this place and go back to Hazelhurst. There, at least I'd be with my real friends, Jalisa and Diamond. For real, I need to hear something today, seriously. I took and passed the readmissions test. The letter said I got in, and the paperwork would only take a few days. It's already been two weeks. I've been counting. Nine days and six and a half hours. That's sixty-nine hours or four thousand-one-hundred-and-seventy minutes in total. I decided to stop there. I figured calculating the seconds would only depress me more.
A few minutes later somebody's ringtone starts playing. Everybody looks around and starts laughing and pointing. My heart jumps, but it isn't me, so I look around, too. It's
coming from the back of the room. I turn. Cassie looks dead at me. I know she hates me now, but I really don't care. Her drama is her drama, and I'm on my way out of here.
Ms. Grayson walks over and holds her hand out for the phone. Cassie hands it over while still glaring at me as if I'm the stupid fool who called her during school hours or as if I'm the idiot who was dumb enough to leave the phone on ring and not vibrate. Everybody knows to vibrate in The Penn. Well, everybody except Cassie.
“Do we need to go through this every day, people?” Ms. Grayson asks as she walks back to the front of the class. “Your grades should be important to you. Whether you're here or somewhere else, you need to be mindful of your future. I suggest you finish up as quickly as possible.”
My cell vibrates again just as the bell rings. Thank God. I'm out of here. I get up and drop my quiz on Ms. Grayson's desk. I see her talking to another student, and Cassie is waiting to get her cell phone back, so I just leave. I'm the first one out the door. “Kenisha, wait.”
I hear my name and turn around. Then it hits me who was calling meâCassie. I turn and keep going. She's got nothing to say to me. I head straight to the main office. It's my first stop every day for the past five days. All I can think about is picking up my transfer authorization and getting out of here, preferably before any more drama happens.
The new grading period starts Monday morning, so I know I'm almost out of time. I walk into the school office and look around. Students waiting there turn and look at me. They're all staring and whispering. Apparently everybody knows what happened. But they act like I'm the one
who did something wrong. Stupid Darien was the one acting like a fool, and now I'm the one everybody's blaming.
I just ignore them and go over to the same student services desk I've been checking with all week. There are already three students ahead of me with various issues.
After about five minutes it's my turn. I step up to the desk. The same emaciated-looking woman with long, need-a-serious-fill acrylic nails and bad hair weave with tracks that show looks up at me. I've seen her every day this week, but still she acts like she's never seen me before. “What do you need?” she asks impatiently, like I'm disturbing her very important life or something. For real, all she has to do is answer phones, transfer calls and hand out paperwork. How hard can that be?
But fine, we've played this game for the past few days. “Umm, yeah, my name is Kenisha Lewis. I was in here yesterday. I need you to check on my transfer paperwork. It was supposed to be ready last week. I need them for Monday morning.”
“What's the name of the school you're transferring to?”
“Hazelhurst Academy,” I say, not seeing why she can't seem to remember all this from yesterday and the three days before that.
“In D.C.?” she asks, as if she's never heard the name before. I just asked her about it yesterday. Seriously, is she a complete idiot or what? I don't know where they get these people.
“No, Hazelhurst Academy is in Northern Virginia.”
“Is it a private school?”
It's the same question she asked me yesterday. “Yes.”
“Do you have an education voucher?”
“No,” I said, having no idea what she's talking about.
“What's your name again?” she asks, still going through the papers in her sloppy folder. I repeat my name just as the phone on her desk rings. She grabs it and then transfers the call to another office while continuing her search for my paperwork. The phone rings again. This time, when she picks up, she smiles and laughs. She comments on the weather and somebody else whose name I don't recognize before transferring the call. She riffles through the folder a second time then looks up at me. “Okay, I'm not finding anything in here about a transfer for you. Are you sure you're supposed to transfer?” she asks.