Authors: Liz Maccie
Tags: #JUVENILE FICTION/General
A Division of Diversion Publishing Corp.
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Copyright Â© 2014 by Liz Maccie
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
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First Diversion Books edition November 2014
The night before my life changed forever, I put up a good fight. I really did. I marched right into my parents' bedroom, arms crossed, attitude oozing from every inch of me, and I screamed at the top of my lungs, “I'm not going!”
Now, granted, it was around midnight, the room was pitch-black, and my mother was sound asleep. So, I guess it was plausible that I actually did scare her “half to death,” thinking I was a “murderer,” as she argued after her initial shock subsided.
“What are you doing, Roberta?” she finally asked after reaching over to flick her bedside lamp on. Her hair was covered in those puffy, foam, pink curlers that look like they belong to an entirely different era altogether.
“I just told youâ¦I'm not going.”
My mother sat up and leaned her back against the headboard, adjusting a few curlers on the side of her head. “Yes. You are,” she said rather calmly for a woman who is prone to spontaneous outbursts of grandeur.
I crossed my arms even tighter around my stomach, as if that somehow shielded me from what I didn't want to hear.
“Do you want me to call your father?”
My dad was a truck driver and had been on route up to Canada for the last couple of days on a delivery. I'll fully admit that my father is my weak spot. I never want to feel like I'm disappointing him. Even though I know I've done so countless times before.
“No,” I said.
“Look, Roberta, I'm not going through this with you again. You are going to Meadowbrook Academy. Tomorrow morning. Plain and simpleâ”
“But I want to keep going to West Orange High. For once in my life, I finally have friendsâ”
is not your friend.”
My mother used the word “she” when referring to my one and only friend, Christine.
is a user and a bad influence and you should be thanking me a thousand ways to Sunday that I am getting you away from her.”
“Her name is Christine,” I said with just enough 'tude to make my point.
My mother often referred to me as having a “tone.” I don't like your “tone,” young lady. Or you better change that “tone” of yours. By the look on her face, I could feel it coming.
“I don't like your tone, Roberta. Go to bed. You're giving me heart pains,” she said as she flicked off her bedside lamp.
“Do you have any idea how hard this is going to be for me? To just pull me out of one high school to go to another? Do you want to carry that burden the rest of your life?”
“I'll take my chances.” She turned over onto her side, facing away from me.
Standing there in the darkness, I debated spewing out a few more combative words, but to be honest, my arsenal was void of any new retaliations. Over the course of the past two weeks, I had tried every ploy, every excuse, and every factual reason as to why my parents were unequivocally ruining my life by sending me to Meadowbrook Academy. And none of them worked. None of them.
“Fine,” I said and stormed out of her room, right back into my bedroom. Exactly where I had started off.
I got into bed and pulled the covers up over my head. This was such a disaster. An utter and total nightmare. My life was about to completely change and I had absolutely no say in the matter whatsoever.
“Roberta, the police are here!” my mother screamed up to me.
I quickly went to my bedroom window and peered through the curtains. The damn tree in front of our house was blocking my view, but a slight breeze shook the leaves just enough for me to catch a glimpse of the black-and-white cop car parked halfway up our tiny driveway.
Oh my God, my mother had called the cops on me.
I stepped away from the window. Around six this morning, my mother started threatening that she would call the police to bring me to Meadowbrook if I didn't “get with the program.” I never thought she would actually do it. Turns out, I was wrong. Really wrong.
Pacing around my bedroom, I finished buttoning up my long-sleeved, stiff, white, collared shirt and tucked it into my light brown AG cords, which I worked painstakingly long hours all summer at The Cone Zone to afford. The shirt hung all the way down to my knees. I shook my head in disgust. My mother bought a man's shirt, size small, because they were on sale instead of buying me a girl's shirt. She insisted it would be fine, and since I didn't own any other collared shirts that fit Meadowbrook Academy's stupid dress code, I was out of luck.
With really no other options, I grabbed my faded purple canvas backpack off my bed and ran downstairs to the kitchen. A plethora of Entenmann's cakes were sprawled out across the counter like a picked-through PTA bake sale. My stomach grumbled at the sight of the half-eaten lemon danish twist, the poked-at cinnamon filbert ring, the ravaged cherry cheese danish, and the unopened raspberry-filled crumb strip. As one of his main routes, my dad has delivered dry ice to Entenmann's main production plant in Hanover, New Jersey for the past eighteen years. Free pastries were just a perk of the job.
My mother was in the living room spraying her curled hair with AquaNet. I watched as a cloud of fumes engulfed her. It absolutely amazed me how, even at seven in the morning, she managed to have a full face of makeup and a salon-inspired updo.
I grabbed a hunk of lemon danish and walked toward her. “Ma, didn't you hear me? I told you not to call the police!” I said as I threw the pastry into my mouth.
Then the doorbell rang.
She poofed out her hair with a brown plastic pick and clicked the AquaNet cap closed. “Believe me, Roberta, I didn't want to call the police, but you insisted on giving me heart pains, telling me you weren't going to go to school.”
I quickly swallowed what was in my mouth and tried to remain calm. “I never said I wouldn't go to school. I said I wouldn't go to Meadowbrook. And if you would take two seconds to remember, I went to West Orange High all last year, where, I might add for the millionth time, I was happy.”
The doorbell rang again.
“You should've thought about what you wanted before you decided to put cancer sticks in your mouth and flunk out of ninth grade,” she said.
“I didn't flunk. I got C's and D's.”
“You got one C. It was in home economics, and your second cousin was teaching. This topic is not open for discussion.”
The doorbell rang one more time, followed by loud knocking. My mother quickly moved toward our front door as I anxiously followed close behind.
She stopped one last time to fix her hair off her reflection in the framed Blessed Virgin Mary painting we have hanging above our mustard-yellow couch. “Don't you think I was your age once, Roberta?”
“Honestlyâ¦no, I don't because you won't listen to anything I'm trying to say. And besides, what does that have to do with it anyway?”
My mother smirked. “Trust me, it has
to do with it.” She moved to the door, opened the top lock, and put her hand on the knob.
I pulled on her arm. “Ma, please! I'm begging youâ¦I promise I'll do better. Just give me another chance at West Orange.”
No such luck. She swung the door open and Tim Tarulli walked in.
Tim just became an officer for Essex County's police department, and he also happens to be the son of my mother's oldest and best friend. I've known Tim my entire life, and he's always been sort of like an annoying older brother, but then approximately four years ago, this horrible thing happened. He became hot. Like oh-my-God kind of hot. And even though he still finds it hilarious to hold me down and fart in my face, I have to admit, I often wonder what he would look like naked.
“Tim,” I said, trying to be reasonable, “this is stupid. I'm not going to show up to high school in a squad car. Somehow I don't feel like that would lead to my immediate popularity.”
Reacting to my attitude, my mother dramatically sighed and sat down on our living room couch.
Tim leaned in, so only I could hear. “Roberta, it's actually Officer Tarulli when I'm in uniform. Even Officer Tim would work fine, but I have to conduct some type of order here.” He backed up and cleared his throat. “What you are saying, if I have heard you correctly, is that you will indeed arrive at said location at said time without the assistance of your local police enforcement?”
As deadpan as I could possibly be, I said, “Yes.”
“There shall be no need for any physical force of any kind to get the stated party, which is you, to said location for prompt arrival for the first day of school?”
“No, I mean, yesâ¦I don't even know what you're asking me. Yes, I will go to Meadowbrook Academy to make everyone else happy. Okay? I will live an intolerable existence to make everyone else happy! Does this make you happy?” I finished my outburst, and as Tim looked at me, puzzled, I realized I was directing my anger at the wrong person.
My mother immediately chimed in. “See, Tim, I told you it was an emergency.”
“Yes, I see, I see.”
Our old grandfather clock, which has been in my family for about a millennium, went off, bells ringing, indicating that it was 7:15 a.m. My mother has rigged the clock to go off every fifteen minutes, which makes me feel like I live inside a church organ.
Tim looked over at the clock and nervously rubbed his chin. “Uhhh, Mrs. Romano, I've actually got to get the car back to the station, soâ¦”
My mother stood up and I caught her wink at him. “Oh, yes, of course. Thanks for coming by, Officer Tarulli, but I think I can handle it from here.”
“No problem, Mrs. Romano.” Tim took on a formal tone again. “You have a nice day now and don't hesitate to call if said party continues to be a problem.” He turned back toward me. “You might want to loosen up a bit, Roberta. No one's gonna want to be your friend if you show up with your panties all in a bunch. You have to want to bring something to the table, like elevating conversation about the current political situation.”
“Thanks, Officer Tim. I'll keep that in mind when I'm talking to the other fifteen-year-olds.”
Without even looking at me, my mother said, “Don't be a smart-ass, Roberta, it's not feminine. Thank you, Tim. I know how busy you are. Tell your mother I'll call her later. Oh, wait! I almost forgot I made a little plate of ziti for you to take with you.”
My mother flitted back into the kitchen and came out with a gigantic cardboard box full of tinfoil-wrapped food. At first Tim protested, but then that lookâthat look that I know all too wellâcame over his face. Never, ever reject the fruitful bounties of an Italian woman, as you are sure to always lose. Tim thanked my mother and hauled his lunch, for the next five days, out the door.
I sat down on our couch, tightly hugging my book bag, anger and embarrassment swelling in my chest.
My mother crossed past me and walked into the kitchen. “Well, you've made a fine mess of things. You better get ready. We have to leave in the next ten minutes to get you there on time.”
I pushed my brown curly hair out of my face. “I've made a mess of things? You're the one who called the cops! And look at this shirt you have me wearing.” I tugged at the thick, starched white collar. “It's a man's shirt. It's like you want me to be humiliated.” I waited for a response, but got nothing. “This whole stupid thing is about you. You don't think I know, but I do. Now you can tell all your friends that I'm going to some private school just so you
can feel good. But I have news for you, Ma, we still live in a crappy little house, and dad's still just a truck driver, and you're stillâ¦we're justâ¦we're nothing.”
My mother came out of the kitchen, crossed her arms, and stared at me. There was hurt and disappointment written all over her face. “I'll accept your apology later when you realize you didn't mean what you just said.”
Sometimes things come out of my mouth and it's like an entire other person is saying them. This person is someone I don't really know, and to be honest, it's someone I don't really like. And rather than just apologizing, I don't know why, but in that moment, being right becomes more important than being honest. “I'm not sorry,” I said, already full of regret.
She looked at me the same way she had looked at me when she found the cigarettes in my underwear drawer over the summer. “You know, I simply don't understand you. What girl wouldn't be grateful to go to a private school? We have made significant sacrifices to give you this opportunity. Have you even stopped to think how we're paying for Meadowbrook in the first place?”
I shifted my weight and looked away from her piercing stare.
“You might want to consider that,” she said.
The truth was, I hadn't thought about how my family was paying for Meadowbrook. The only thing they told me was that we couldn't afford the bus.
“Get ready,” she said as she walked up the stairs.
“I am ready.” Tears began to swell in my eyes. Under my breath, I quietly added, “I hate you.”
From upstairs she called down, “You can hate me all you want! You're still going to Meadowbrook!”
I swore this woman had the hearing of a bat. I threw my backpack on the ground, my anger, my hurt, my shame all bursting out of me. “Fine, but I'm not going to drive with you, Ma! The only way I'm going is if Anthony drives me!”
Anthony is my older brother. He just turned eighteen and graduated high school last May. He got a job as a cashier at Gino's Pizzeria and is going to Essex Community College for the time being. Anthony is the smartest person I know. He has some kind of ridiculous IQ like 140 or something. I would always hear my mother whispering about it to her friends, like if she actually said it out loud, he might lose it and become stupid. My brother is the first person in my family to even go to college. Everyone is very proud of him, including me. I am his biggest fan.
“Don't you start again, Roberta!” my mother screamed.
Just then, Anthony's voice came to my rescue. “Ma, I'll take her! I told you last night that I'd take her!”
I feel it's fair to say, although I'm stuck going to Meadowbrook, that at least I did it my way. In my family, the taste of victory, however momentary, can be very, very sweet.