Books and stories with strong, influential, or missing father figures

Image: Pixaby

Fatherhood is a powerful theme in literature and what better day to look at some of the strong, influential or missing father figures in these titles:

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

A story full of great characters, including Marie-Laure LeBlanc, a young blind girl in Paris, whose entire world revolves around her father. This Pulitzer Prize winning story embraces important themes, and a plot that’s a wonderful mix of reality and fairytale. Set during World War II in the walled coastal city of Saint Malo, France. Check it out – one of my all-time favorite books!

Billy Bathgate by E. L. Doctorow

Billy Bathgate is a fifteen-year-old boy from the Bronx who becomes a protégé of the notorious Dutch Schultz, a hot-head New York mobster who made his money during the 1930s running beer and controlling the numbers racket. Published in 1989, this book won both the National Book Critics Circle award for fiction and the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. The 1991 movie stars Dustin Hoffman, Nicole Kidman, Loren Dean, Bruce Willis, Steven Hill and Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire).

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

This novella, a little over one hundred pages, is really a character sketch of Holly Golightly and her search for a father figure. If you have only seen the movie starring Audrey Hepburn, read the book to get a better understanding of what Holly is all about. For the record, Truman Capote was not happy with the movie version. He wanted Marilyn Monroe to play the part of Holly, and was dissatisfied with all aspects of the film.

I Refuse by Per Petterson

A grim story about a lost friendship between Tommy Berggren and his boyhood friend Jim.   It begins when, after thirty-five years, the two meet unexpectedly on a bridge near Oslo, Norway.

Petterson’s narration then jumps back to 1962 when Tommy is thirteen. His mother has abandoned them and the father regularly beats Tommy and his three younger sisters.  Everything changes when Tommy takes a bat to their father.  On their own, the children are sure they can manage.  But the siblings are separated when town officials send them to be raised in different homes.

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan

Historical novel about the charismatic American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, his creative style and innovative designs and his failed marriage to Catherine Tobin, whom he deserted (along with six children) to continue an affair with Mameh Cheney, the wife of a client. He created many amazing houses, but his personal life was a mess.

Onion John by Joseph Krumgold

Everything changes the year Andy Rusch turns twelve.  Until then, being a kid was easy in the 1950s.  And in the small New Jersey town of Serenity, baseball, friends, school and helping out in his dad’s hardware store fill Andy’s days.  Then one day, he befriends the town’s hermit, Onion John.

Mr. Rusch has big plans for Andy, including college at MIT and he doesn’t approve of the friendship.  He wants Andy to get out of Serenity and be the first man on the moon. Andy wants to please his father, but whose dream is it?

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

There is no stronger father figure than Atticus Finch. Set in 1935, in the fictional town of Macomb, Alabama, Harper Lee writes of people and family, of prejudice against blacks, of judgment and justice, of lost innocence, and of heroes.

Young Scout Finch gives an insider’s view into the complicated relationships that exist between blacks and whites, between the poor and the poorer, and between the educated, the illiterate and the ignorant. Forget how Atticus is portrayed in Go Set a Watchman. That book should never have been published. It’s obvious to me that Harper Lee was trying out, and revising characterizations in what is clearly a rough draft for To Kill a Mockingbird. Read my full opinion of Watchman here.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Is there a god in a world that is nearly destroyed and left covered in gray ash, dotted with wanderers and hunted by people who stop at nothing to survive? How does a father keep hope alive in his young son, except to say that they are the “good guys”, the ones who carry the fire? “This is what the good guys do,” he tells him. “They keep trying. They don’t give up.”

“The Year of Getting to Know Us” by Ethan Canin

A great short story about an adult son who visits his dying father in the hospital. Lenny, now middle-aged, forces himself to tell his father not to worry, that he loves him and that his father did all right by him. These words are met with the type of shut-down that plagued his small family during his childhood: “Don’t talk about things you know nothing about.”

When I Found You by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Nathan and Flora McCann have no children. That was their arrangement. But when Nathan goes duck hunting and finds an abandoned baby boy in the woods, his life changes in unimaginable ways. “I want to adopt that boy,” says Nathan, but his wife does not want a child…

I enjoyed this book very much, which takes many unpredictable turns. The author does a great job highlighting the contrast between bad choices and the need to be loved.

What books can you add to the list?

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!


Friday Fiction – Random chapter from an unfinished book – Jeff and Allie part two

Friday Fiction

Hello all!  Written long ago and gathering dust, here’s another random chapter from an unfinished book…


Part one began like this:

“I’ll be right there, hang on a minute!” Jeff’s head pounded.  He was thinking about what lay ahead of him.  A long drive, a hard discussion and a longer drive back.  He was shocked to find himself in this position because he had always been so careful about staying detached.  Now he was in it.

Click here to read the rest..

…and here comes part two:

Silently, Allie moved through the living room back to the kitchen.  She took comfort in small tasks and began to empty the dishwasher.  First the spoons, then the knives, then the forks.  Out of the basket and into the drawer.  How many hours before he’d be back?  How many hours to fill?  Next came the dishes, first the small ones, then the dinner plates.  Bottom rack finished, she started on the top rack.  Then, clearing the table, rinsing the dirty dishes, she placed them in the empty dishwasher.  While she worked, no answers came to her, only the sounds of a kitchen being put into order.  That was a small comfort.

If she had seen herself, she would have noticed that her face was tight, that she was chewing on the inside of her lip.  She would have seen that her hair had come loose.  If she looked closer, she would have noticed the bitten fingernails, a new habit of hers.

Wiping the table and the counters, she was making progress, controlling what she could.  She thought about the rest of her day.

The phone rang and she turned, watched it, turned again and walked away.  “Let someone think I’m busy,” she thought.  She went upstairs and forced herself through the morning rituals, shower, clothes, hair, make-up.

“Well, you look great!”  That was what her friends said to her once, after a break-up years ago.  It was funny to her and they all had laughed.   She looked at herself in the mirror.  Well, not great, but not falling apart.  No one would stare.

She used to have her girlfriends to lean on.  They would call each other and decipher their relationships.  “If he hasn’t called by Wednesday, you’d better make your own plans.”  They had a whole set of rules to apply when they were younger, acting older.  They were easy rules, and they made the process fun.  Ten years later, none of those rules applied.

Allied turned away from the bathroom mirror, turned off the light and went downstairs.  She checked her phone – no message.  She sat down on the couch.  Alone and silent.  She thought about Jeff and where he was going.  She hadn’t asked him, but she knew he was going to her.

The phone rang again and this time she jumped.  She felt a pounding in her chest and stared.  Her stomach churned.  She wondered if the same person was calling again.  “Don’t answer it,” she told herself.  After the fourth ring, the machine picked up.  This time, Allie walked over to the phone and watched.  After a moment, she checked for a message.  No message.

Jeff and Allie had been together for three years.  Not married, but living together.  They were in the stage of being an established young couple, working on their future together.  They had talked about getting married, but they were not engaged.  Jeff loved Allie and was happy.  Allie, too, loved Jeff and like many young women, was looking into the future and planning out their life together.  She didn’t share this part with Jeff because, at thirty, she already knew not to push.  She knew that much, but little else.  She knew not to put pressure on him, but she didn’t understand that he might never want to marry her.

Jeff was not having an affair, but he was close.  He had met Linnea three months ago and they became fast friends.  He let that happen because their friendship was so fun and easy.  At the time, Allie was busy with school and he simply filled his time away from her by seeing Linnea.  At first he didn’t even think about it.  He wasn’t doing anything wrong.  His conscience was clear.  Linnea didn’t seem like a threat.

When children find new playmates, they don’t think about their old friends.  They’re just happy to have another friend.  They are too young to understand anything more and are oblivious to another playmate’s jealousy.  Jeff was young in his thinking.  He didn’t hide his new friendship and early on he introduced Allie to Linnea.  And Jeff, too, was oblivious to Allie’s reaction.

Linnea was a nice person, but she was not naïve.  She was aggressive and confident in everything she did.  She had seen Jeff at a park and approached him, spoken to him.  She liked that he was sitting there reading a book.  Allie’s name didn’t come up the day he met Linnea.  All they were talking about was books.  They didn’t like the same books, but they had fun talking.  Linnea was good at conversation and Jeff was taken in by how effortless they were together.  It was one of those instant connections that his sister Jocelyn knew well.  Jeff might have noticed Linnea’s face and her eyes, but he was busy enjoying their conversation.

Jeff was the kind of person who observed a lot and kept his thoughts to himself.  He didn’t share his thoughts easily and Allie was used to this detachment.  To her friends, she called him “a man of few words.”  They had shared plenty of moments of closeness and honesty and that was enough for Allie to hold onto.

But meeting Linnea threw Jeff off balance and caused him to withdraw even more when he was with Allie.  And it caused a logjam of feelings he could not clear.  Allie noticed and worried to herself what it might mean.

The phone rang again.  This time she answered…

Thank you for reading.

Friday Fiction – Random chapter from an unfinished book – Jeff and Allie

Friday Fiction

Hello all!  Written long ago and gathering dust, here’s another random chapter from an unfinished book…


“I’ll be right there, hang on a minute!” Jeff’s head pounded.  He was thinking about what lay ahead of him.  A long drive, a hard discussion and a longer drive back.  He was shocked to find himself in this position because he had always been so careful about staying detached.  Now he was in it.

He walked into the kitchen.  “Here,” she said, handing him the phone.  He tried to figure out her mood by the tone of that one word.  It was his way.  Don’t ask a lot of questions, just try to get what’s going on by the clues you get.  Sometimes it was fun, a game he played.

He reached out for the phone.  Their hands did not touch.


“No, I know”

“About a half-hour”



He thought Allie looked tired and he tried to think of what to say.  If nothing came to him, he usually said nothing.  He wasn’t the kind to fill an awkward silence.  Nothing came to him, so he left the room and went upstairs.

She had been waiting for him to say something to her.  She wanted to hear him talk to her.  She desperately wanted to know what was going on in his head.  Whenever she asked him, his response was the same, “I don’t know.”  Even when the barriers were down, he didn’t know.

“One thing at a time!”  That was what his mother had always said when she was too busy to do more.  The problem was that she always said it.  As a child, he began to realize it was her way of saying she didn’t want to do something.  He adapted the phrase to his own needs, by saying it to himself.  If there was something difficult in front of him, he put it off with that thought.

Allie guessed that she had a half-hour before he left.  She knew not to ask.  She had come to accept his way and played it the same with him.  “He’s just not a talker,” she had always reasoned.

She was right.  They had a history together and that made them a couple.  “We’re living in West Chester,” she told her friends.  “We have a townhouse together.”  To Allie, the basic facts made a statement about themselves as a couple, established, committed.  She felt proud telling people where they lived, even if it was just a rental.  When they went out to buy something for their house, she felt good, as if they were putting in one more brick in their future.

Most of the time, Jeff didn’t like to think a lot about how he felt.  He went through his everyday life without much analysis, without thoughts of the future.  He was always very busy at work and when he was finished for the day, he wanted to relax, just live.  Today, it was the right plan to say little.  One thing at a time.  Jeff knew he couldn’t talk to Allie today.  He wasn’t sure what he was going to do.  He looked up as she entered the living room.

Jeff didn’t like to talk about their status as a couple, thought it unnecessary.  He cared for Allie, very much.  Of course he loved her, they were sharing a townhouse.  But he was always the type of person to lean inward and when something heavy was on his mind, he retreated to himself.  He didn’t think it was useful or wise to pull someone else through the process of his thoughts, especially if they might be upsetting, particularly if he reached a different conclusion in the end.  In his view, it was only important to share his final thoughts.  To Allie’s credit, she never pushed Jeff.  She understood that part of him and tried to believe that she respected him for the way he was.  Jeff recognized that Allie held back the questions, giving him room, and he appreciated the effort.  Still, he always felt like Allie was ready to burst with questions, statements and promises he simply didn’t want to hear.  In that way, Jeff did not think Allie was right for him.

As he was getting ready to leave, he thought about where he was going, to Linnea.  She had called Jeff last night on his cell phone as he was headed home. He had agreed to meet her today.  Jeff told Allie he had to go out.  “First I meet Linnea, then I figure out the rest,” he said to himself.

Allie heard him come downstairs into the living room.  She had thought of something to say and now she was taking her last chance.  She wanted to ask him where he was going and when he’d be back, but she knew she could not.

“Keep it simple,” she told herself.  When she saw him, she saw that his face was carefully composed, revealing nothing.  Her face was soft and vulnerable.  Jeff noticed.  He liked her face and he always noticed the details, but he couldn’t respond with words.  “She looks beautiful,” he thought.  If Allie had understood him more, she would have known that was how he felt.  That was his reasoning and maybe it was true.

Allie took a breath.  He looked at her, wondering what she would say.  He wanted to leave without talking.

“We need laundry detergent,” her voice cracked.  Can you get some?”

He was relieved.  “Sure.”


The door closed and that was all he had said.

Thank you for reading.

Friday Fiction – Random chapter from an unfinished book – Alex

Friday Fiction

Hello all!  Written long ago and gathering dust, here’s a random chapter from an unfinished book…

The music was loud.  Driving the route to his house, his home, his family, he was surrounded by it, lost in the sound of the music.  He was the car.  The road so familiar to him, the turns he had made for years on his way home.  He didn’t even have to think, just to be.  It was a wonderful feeling.

It was dark.  The weather was fine, clear and crisp, the air still and the moon shone.  The roads were dry.  There was no traffic.  It was 7:00 pm.  He would be home in fifteen minutes.  Home to Jocelyn, their children.  They would catch up with each other.  He would feel her arms wrap around him, see her smile.  He would ask about Danna, tell them all about the email he got from her.  The boys would tell him their latest news, his little girl hers.  Her stories about Kindergarten, her friends.  She might show him a picture.

Alex made the turns.  He listened to the music.  The song was great.  Everything was perfect.  A split second later, the scene would change.  His hand slipped and his car took on a different path, off the road.  His body suddenly changed.  Sharp electric signals raced from his heart to his fingertips, to his toes, his brain.  His car careened off-course.  The music was blaring.  The ride was bumpy, horribly different from the moment before.  He couldn’t concentrate.  He had no time.  He saw the tree, but he couldn’t process the thought.  It was an impossible moment, only seconds before the impact ahead.

No one could imagine that he was in the crisis of his life. Countless thoughts and images went flying through his brain, too many to process.  Thoughts of things he did long ago, things he hadn’t done yet, wanted to do.  Things.  His old house, his elementary school, a dime he once saw shining in the sun.  Water dripping from a faucet.  Faces raced past his vision, all kinds of faces, faces he had known and loved, then strange faces, people he had only known for minutes some only seen for seconds, people on buses, people walking past him.  Then voices, his mother, children playing, Jocelyn laughing.  This rush of places and people and sounds was strange and horrible to him.  Fear gripped him.

Alex didn’t remember turning the wheel.  He didn’t remember that action or why he turned out and not in.  His mind and body were overtaken by this intense struggle.  There was no one around him to witness these extreme efforts.  His own home only a few miles away.  His wife, his children couldn’t know he was fighting for that.

The car changed its course.  Still off-road, it sped past the tree.  Seconds later, a new problem, his car racing down the embankment tipping on uneven terrain, wild bumps and violent shaking, loud, unfamiliar noises.  Alex was captive, strapped in, like a rider on a roller coaster.  He tried to steer, to control his car.  Nothing was working.  The ditch came fast.  His car slammed down into it.

He didn’t remember the airbag, how it inflated and saved his head from breaking on the dashboard.  Seconds later, he opened his eyes and saw the damage, could not move, could not think, could only sob with the thought of all he almost lost.

Alex stayed there and sobbed, stunned at what had just happened.  He cried and screamed, knowing of nothing else to do.  The fear and strain and the danger of the previous moments flooded out of him.  He could not control his body.  He could only stay there and cry.

And then he stopped, sat there, looked around him.  As he moved, he yelled in pain.  His whole body hurt, his arms and legs, his neck, his back.  His stomach churned.  He managed to move his seat back enough to unbuckle himself.

He looked around him and thought.  For the first time since his car went off the road, he had the time to think.  It was an unbelievable luxury!  A strange euphoria washed over him.  He started to laugh.  Then he was consumed in laughter.  He laughed with joy, then at the irony of suddenly having all this time to think and laugh.  He laughed hysterically until he became exhausted, then Alex slept.

When he woke he was disoriented.  He couldn’t make sense of his surroundings, how he hurt, what time it was.  He managed to reach into his pocket for his cell phone.  He turned it on and checked the time.  11:00 pm.  He didn’t know what that meant.  Was he late?  Was he on time?  Where exactly was he?

He dialed the number he had been dialing for twenty years.  Twenty years of laughter and love and of memories too wonderful to speak of.

Jocelyn was at home.  Worry was the only thing she could do.  Her children upstairs or in bed, she sat alone, staring out the window, sick with fear.  She had kept busy with the boys and her daughter for most of the night.  Alex wasn’t always on time, she reasoned.  He would certainly be home soon.  Once the house was quiet, however, she began to panic.  She did not know what to do with the panic, how to manage it.  Time passed so slowly!  All she wanted was to hear him pull into the driveway, open the car door and walk to the door.  Those were the sounds she begged to hear.

She thought about praying.  “What good would it do?”  She didn’t know.   She kept willing him to come home.  “Come on, Alex, come home.”  She looked at the clock.  10:30 pm.  This was much later than he ever was.  She wondered why he hadn’t called.  She had called his cell but only got voicemail.  She tried again, same result.

Jocelyn got up and walked into the kitchen.  She tried to think of something to do to make the time pass more quickly.  She thought to empty the dishwasher, but it was still running.  Then she thought about the kids’ lunches for tomorrow.  Deciding that making them tonight would keep her occupied, she opened the fridge and pulled out the cold cuts and lettuce, then some apples and peppers to slice.  She grabbed rolls out of the freezer and set them on the counter to defrost.  It was 10:45 pm.

At 11:00 pm, Jocelyn was well into making the lunches when the phone rang.  Her heart jumped as she ran across the kitchen to the phone.


“Oh Jocelyn, I’m so glad you’re there!  It’s me.”

“Alex!  Where are you?  Are you alright?”

“I’m here, here in my car.  My car, it went off the road.  I’m sitting here down in a ditch in my car.”

“God Alex!  Are you hurt?”

“I think I’m okay.  I don’t know.  I have all-over pain.  I haven’t moved from my seat.   I guess I probably have some bruises, but I think I’m okay.  I’m so glad to hear your voice, dear.  You’re so dear.  I love you Jocelyn.  God, I don’t know what happened.  One minute I was on the road and the next thing I knew I was about to hit a tree.  Then I turned the wheel and went down into this ditch.  I’m stuck here and I think I’m going to need help getting out.”

“I think I should call an ambulance.  I’m calling an ambulance, Alex.  You need to get checked out.  You don’t know if you’re not seriously hurt.  You could be hurt and not know it.  Is your car badly damaged?”

“I don’t know.  I think I’m okay.  Don’t call an ambulance, Jocelyn.  Just come get me.  Then we’ll get a tow truck to pull out the car.”

“No, but what if you’re really hurt?  What if we get home and you’re hurt and you need a doctor?  Alex, I don’t want to take any chances.  I don’t care about the car.  I care about getting you checked out.”


“No!  Don’t argue with me.  I’m not taking any chances.  I’m calling an ambulance.  Tell me where you are.”

“Okay dear.  I think I’m okay.  I hurt a little.  I know my thinking isn’t clear.  I guess you’re right.  I’m here on 412, probably five miles from our house.”

“I’m going to call an ambulance, then I’m coming to you, Alex.  Stay right there.  Don’t move.  The ambulance will be there soon.  Don’t move.  I love you.  Stay there Alex.”

Thank you for reading.

Friday Fiction is back! Twelve: Chapter 12 – “Letter from School”

Friday Fiction

Welcome to Twelve, a new book of Friday Fiction! This story begins the summer Emily Kingston turns twelve and is about a friendship that changed everything.

I hope you enjoy it!


I went home from school with a letter from Mr. Kearny.  He told me I had to have both my parents sign it and give it to him the next day.  He also said that he and I were going to have another “chat” the next day at school.  I didn’t know what I was going to say to Mr. Kearny, but I put that out of my mind.

I walked up our street and thought about what I would tell Mom and Dad and I started to worry.  I only wanted to have it be normal at home, with no problems like me getting into a fight at school.

When I walked into the house, Mom was in the kitchen and, even though I hadn’t wanted to go in the house and tell her about the fight, it felt so good to be at home and to see her face.  Out of nowhere, tears welled up in my eyes.  I did the best I could to wipe them away before Mom looked up.

“Hi Emily,” she said.  She smiled, but when she saw my face, her face changed.  I don’t know how moms know this, but she took one look at me and right away she could tell something was wrong.  I had just been so glad to see her, but then when she looked at me and her face changed, all I wanted to do was run upstairs.

Mom asked, “Is something wrong, Emily?”

There I was on the spot again.  I didn’t like lying to people, but I didn’t see any other way to go.  I was starting to understand why people don’t always tell the truth.  I didn’t want to get in any more trouble by telling another lie, but I needed time to figure out what I was going to do.  So I said, “I’m okay, Mom.  I’m just a little moody.”

Mom looked at me for a clue.  Then her face changed.  “Ohhhhhhhhh….,” she said, with an all-knowing look.  I felt sick about it because I realized that Mom was probably thinking I had gotten my period.  Because I wanted to get upstairs, I let the idea stick.  “I’ll be in my room, Mom.” and she said, “Okay honey.”

Mom said, “Emily, if you need anything, just let me know.”

I answered, “Okay, Mom, I’ll be fine” and I ran upstairs.

When I got up to my room I sat on my bed, turned on the radio to make some noise and I called Jackie.  I told her everything that had happened, the fight, my talk with the principal, Mom thinking I got my period.  Then I told her about the note I had to have signed.

“Well, what are you going to do, Emily?”

“I don’t know.  I really don’t want to tell them about the fight.  If they find out, the next thing they’ll do is ask me all kinds of questions about how it started, and how I know Marcy and whether Marcy had ever bothered me before.  I just don’t want to tell them about all that.  If I tell them all that, they will tell the principal and the teachers and then I’ll be a total loser at school.  Marcy will torture me for who knows how long and it will be worse.  She’ll be even worse to me if I get her in trouble.  Plus I’m the one who started the spitting!  How am I going to explain that?”

“Listen, Emily.  You’re right.  No way can you rat on Marcy.  She will get back at you.  You don’t have to tell your Mom and Dad.  Bring the note to me and we’ll figure out what to do about the signatures.”

“I don’t know, Jackie.  I’m already in enough trouble.”

“Look, I’m not saying we’re going to fake the signatures, Emily.  Just bring it over here, we’ll look at it and see what we can do.”

I sat on my bed and wondered.  Would one more lie take care of the whole problem?  I had a bad feeling about Jackie’s advice, but I couldn’t see any other way out of the mess.  “Okay, Jackie.  I’ll come over.  I’ll bring the note, but I’m not saying I want you to do anything about it.”

I went over to Jackie’s apartment.  Her mom was already home, so we went right to Jackie’s room, shut the door and looked at the envelope.  Mr. Kearny had brought it down to 7th period and my English teacher had handed it to me at the end of class, so I never had a chance to look at it.  It was a school envelope and had “Mr. and Mrs. Kingston” typed on the front.  It was sealed.  That was already a problem.  If I opened it, how would I close it back up without Mom and Dad noticing?  If they never see the note, though, maybe Mr. Kearny doesn’t have to know I’m the one who opened it.  I felt sick.  I was already in trouble and I was getting deeper and deeper into a crazy mess of stories.  I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep track of all the things I was doing.

Jackie came over to me.  “Let’s see.”  She took the envelope out of my hand and looked at it.  “Okay,” she said.  “Let’s open it carefully, just in case we want to close it back up.”  I had no idea how she was going to do that, but she looked like she knew what she was doing.  I hadn’t noticed that the envelope wasn’t completely sealed.  Mr. Kearny must have just barely licked the glue on the flap.  After a minute, Jackie had successfully pulled the flap away from the back of the envelope.  It looked a little wrinkled, but we could probably fix that.

She opened the letter and said, “Want to read it first?”

I took the letter from her and read.  There were two paragraphs.  The first one started out with “I regret to tell you that today your daughter, Emily was involved in a fight with another girl…”  Mr. Kearny used a lot of serious words:  “Troubling, disturbing, worrisome…”  The second paragraph talked about my first “chat” with Mr. Kearny and Mrs. Smithfield and the one I was going to have with him the next day.  Sure enough, Mr. Kearny asked my parents to sign the letter and add any comments at the bottom.  Now things were getting even worse for me.

“Okay, Jackie.  Even if we do somehow get my mom and dad’s signatures on here, how are we supposed to put a comment at the bottom?  This is getting really bad.  I think I should just show them the letter, tell my parents the same thing I told Mr. Kearny, that it was an accident, and get it over with.”

“Emily, you know your parents aren’t going to let it go.  They’re going to ask you a ton of questions.”

Jackie went to her desk and grabbed a piece of paper.  I went over to her and saw that she was practicing signatures.  They looked terrible.

“Jackie, there’s no way Mr. Kearny will think my mom and dad signed that!  Plus, what if he compares it to other stuff that they’ve signed?  I’m dead!”

“You’re right.  Maybe I need to practice a few more times.”  I sat down in one of Jackie’s bean bag chairs and Jackie turned and we looked at each other.  Then Jackie said, “Wait, here’s another idea.”

“Listen to this:  what if we tell my mom and she signs her own name to it and says that you were staying with me for a few days while your parents were on a trip and that she will be sure to tell them when they get back?”

“That’s crazy!  Why would your mom agree to do that, Jackie?  That’s just one more lie on top of all the other ones I’ve told today!”

“My mom’s cool.  She would do it.  I know she would.  All we have to do is ask.  Come on, let’s do it.”

I don’t know why I said okay.  I was desperate for a way out of this mess.  I didn’t think Mom and Dad would understand at all.  I thought, well, Jackie’s mom was pretty cool.  And she was an adult.  It would be like I was taking the whole problem to her and she was taking care of it and I wouldn’t have to deal with any of the problems with the envelope, with Mom and Dad’s signature and comments.  So I said, “Okay, Jackie.  Let’s tell your mom.”

We went into the kitchen to tell Mrs. Conroy.  The radio was on.  She was sitting at the kitchen table, smoking a cigarette and reading a magazine.  There was a cup of coffee on the table too, half empty.  Jackie did all the talking and told her mom the whole story and sure enough, Mrs. Conroy was cool about it.  I thought wow, how many moms are there who would cover up for their kids’ friends?  She signed it and wrote the comments that Jackie said she would.  We put the letter back in the envelope and I was all set.  After that was done, Jackie’s mom said, “Emily, have a seat for a minute.  Jackie, go on down to your room for a bit, will you?”

Jackie said okay and went down to her room.  I looked at Mrs. Conroy.  She was so different from my mom.  And I couldn’t imagine what she was going to say to me.  I didn’t know what to say to her either, so I sat and waited.

“So Emily, I guess you’re wondering why I would cover for you by signing that letter.”

“Well, yes, but thank you for helping me.”

“You know, Emily, I like you and you’re doing me a big favor by hanging out with Jackie so much.  I mean, you know her dad and I split and, since I have to work, I’m not home as much as I was before.  I don’t worry as much when she’s with you.”

She had already finished her cigarette so she reached over to the coffee cup and drank that down.  Then she pulled another cigarette out of the pack and put it in her mouth, flicked her lighter and lit the cigarette as it bobbed up and down on her lower lip.  I couldn’t decide if I thought that was cool or disgusting, but since she was helping me out, I thought it was okay.

She took a drag from her cigarette, and she started talking again even as she was still breathing in.  I wondered how she could do that.

“You hang in there, kid.  Okay?”

I said okay and then I said I had to get home.  I told Jackie bye, and I left with the letter.  When I got back home, Mom said, “How are you feeling, Emily?”

I smiled and said, “Better now, Mom” and I really did feel better.  That wasn’t a lie.  I was glad to not be telling a lie, even though I was sitting on a whole pile of lies.  I figured the mess was finished.

I was so busy taking care of the problem with the letter that I still hadn’t thought about the talk I was going to have the next day with Mr. Kearny, but I decided I would just wing it.  Maybe I would say I was upset because my parents were away and I missed them and being at my own house and that when Marcy and I bumped into each other, all of that kind of came down on me.  Maybe I could tell Mrs. Smithfield, “girl-to-girl” that I felt kind of moody because I was getting my period.  That would be a crazy lie, but it might end the whole problem at school too.

Of course, on top of that, I still had Marcy to deal with, but maybe she would just be glad I didn’t tell about all the other things I thought she had done, and after all, I didn’t exactly know for sure that Marcy was the one who messed up my lockers and who threw the mashed potatoes in my face.  Maybe she would be relieved and would stop messing with me because I kept her out of trouble.

Dad was home and Tommy came into the house and to dinner with a face flushed from running around outside.  He had been in a big after-school game of football in a friend’s back yard and was full of stories about it.  I sat at the table, relieved.  And I was glad that Tommy had a lot of stories about his football game so that I could just sit and listen instead of answer a lot of questions.  And on top of that, I was glad that I had Jackie as my best friend, and glad her mom was so cool to cover for me.

I went to bed that night hopeful that my problems were behind me.

Mr. Kearny called me into his office during homeroom and asked me for the letter.  I handed it to him and, even though I was just going to let him read the note from Jackie’s mom, I told him right then that I had been staying with Jackie and that she had signed it.  He read the note, took off his glasses to rub the bridge of his nose.  Then he put his glasses back on and looked at me and said, “Emily, I’m going to ask you again what happened with Marcy in the hall yesterday.  You keep saying it was an accident, but I find that hard to believe.”

“It was an accident, sort of.”  Then I told him about missing Mom and Dad and then I didn’t know what else to say because Mrs. Smithfield wasn’t there and I thought about how I was going to tell her about maybe getting my period and being moody because of it.  But I decided that even if I didn’t want to tell that to Mr. Kearny, if I did, maybe he’d be so embarrassed that he wouldn’t ask any more questions.”

I went for it.  I told him the lie about my period and sure enough, Mr. Kearny was embarrassed and he sat down and said, “Okay, Emily.  Homeroom is almost over.  Why don’t you run along so you don’t miss your first class?  And watch where you’re walking in the hall.”

Sure enough, I was off the hook and out in the hall on my way to History class.  I got to class before Marcy and she walked in just as I sat down.  She walked down the aisle to her seat and as she passed me she said “Nice top” and nothing else.  I couldn’t decide what she meant when she said it, so I let it go.  Maybe she was making a joke, I don’t know.

Thank you for reading.

Just jumping in?  Click below to read previous chapters:

Chapter 1 – “Meeting Jackie”
Chapter 2 – “Mrs. Conroy”
Chapter 3 – “Downtown”
Chapter 4 – “Capture the Flag”
Chapter 5 – “The Fight”
Chapter 6 – “Lemonade”
Chapter 7 – “The Fort”
Chapter 8 – “School Starts”
Chapter 9 – “The Locker”
Chapter 10 – “Meeting Marcy”
Chapter 11 – “Fight in the Hallway”

Copyright © 2016 by Book Club Mom

All rights reserved.  All material on this blog is the property of Book Club Mom. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Friday Fiction is back! Twelve: Chapter 11 – “Fight in the Hallway”

Friday Fiction

Welcome to Twelve, a new book of Friday Fiction! This story begins the summer Emily Kingston turns twelve and is about a friendship that changed everything.

I hope you enjoy it!


School had become a problem. Every day, I worried about what might happen when I got there.  I was still hanging out with Rena and Amy and things seemed good with them, but I felt a distance between them and me.

Every time I went to my locker I worried that there would be something new scratched into the door.  And when I changed for gym, I worried that everyone was wondering why I had a flower power sticker on my gym locker and what I would say if someone asked me.

I began to pay more attention to Marcy because of what she said to me about my pants.  I wondered if she was the one who was behind all the problems I was having.  Marcy was popular in school, but she wasn’t the cheerleader type and she wasn’t super high-fashion.  But she did seem to be in charge of her world and she had a certain way of talking and looking at you with her eyes over to the side, and her face never looked totally interested in what she was saying.   Kind of like she was not only bored with you, but bored even talking about it.  She had a group of friends, but it wasn’t exactly a gang and some of the girls in her group were some of my friends too.  I thought about Jackie’s advice to keep an eye on Marcy or whoever it was who was messing with me.  Even though I wasn’t into plotting revenge, I decided that at least the watching out part of Jackie’s advice was good, so that’s what I started doing.

A few weeks went by and nothing happened.  I watched Marcy, but I noticed nothing different.  Then one morning on my way to first period History, Marcy came up to me and stood right in front of me and blocked my way.  When I looked at her, I saw she was staring me down.  I didn’t know what I could say to get past her.  I didn’t have a chance to say a word because Marcy opened her mouth and said, “Uh, Emily?  Wanna get out of my way?”  I couldn’t understand her reason, but I knew she was messing with me.  She was the one who was in my way, and if I was in her way, then she was going the wrong way because we were in the same class together down the hall.  All of this raced through my head, but instead of talking, I stepped to the left to get out of her way.  But as I moved to the left, she moved with me in the same direction so we were still facing each other.

By then kids had noticed what was going on and some had stopped to watch.  Everyone likes a good fight in the halls and I’m sure they were hoping to see one.  I was so surprised to see Marcy still standing in front of me and I couldn’t think of anything to say, so I moved back to the right to try to clear a path away from her.  And once again, Marcy moved right along with me.  She was expecting that, I think and when we were again positioned in the same place as before she opened her mouth again and this time she said, “Hey bitch, get out of my way!”

I froze and I felt my face grow red hot.  I could also feel everyone’s eyes on Marcy and me, and all their voices melted into one low throbbing sound that suspended me in time.   My whole body felt hot and shaky and in that short time, my mind raced through the few choices I had to get away from Marcy.  And out of nowhere, before I had the chance to decide if I was making the right choice, I moved in close to Marcy, opened my mouth and I spat right in her face.

To say that Marcy was surprised would be a huge understatement.  A look of shock passed over her face and when that look was gone, it was replaced by loathing.  And the next look I remember was pure rage and fury.  Then I felt a hand on my hair and she yanked it so hard that a tuft of it came out into her hand.

Now like I said, everyone likes a good fight in the halls at school, but usually those fights are between two boys.  To see two girls fight, that’s a rare event.  So when it happens, well you better believe a crowd will form and it will be a big one.  Before I knew it, Marcy and I were on the floor, kicking and scratching each other and pulling each other’s hair.  I could hear kids from all sides cheering us on, adding to the frenzy.

I don’t know what I was thinking by spitting in Marcy’s face and then getting into a fight with her.  This was my first fight ever and I was not very good at it.  After about a minute, it was clear to me and I’m sure to Marcy too that she had a huge advantage over me.  I didn’t decide to curl up on the floor and cover my head, I just did it.  And even after I had stopped kicking and scratching, Marcy was not through with me.  By then she was sitting on me and she had grabbed my arms and pinned them down on the floor, one on each side of my head.  I turned my head to look at her and I understood her trap too late.  She smiled a smile that looked anything but friendly and sort of made a slurping-in kind of sound with her mouth and I realized what was coming.  Just as she was spitting in my face, just as I was feeling the double humiliation of being beaten and spat on, Mrs. Smithfield came out of her classroom.

From then, all I could hear was her yelling at kids to move away and then I felt a hand on my arm and it yanked me up.  And by then I could that see our principal Mr. Kearny had done the same to Marcy.  Soon we were both being marched down to Mr. Kearny’s office.

My heart pounded, its beat was loud in my chest and I couldn’t imagine what I was going to say in front of Mr. Kearny.  When we got to his office, Mrs. Smithfield let go of me and told me to sit in the chair that was outside Mr. Kearny’s office.  Mr. Kearny led Marcy over to a different chair, away from me and told her to sit.  Then he and Mrs. Smithfield went into his office and shut the door.

My face was still wet from Marcy’s spit and the first thing I did was wipe it off with my sleeve.  I was glad I didn’t have any make-up on that would have been smeared all over my face by now.  I didn’t dare look at Marcy, but I secretly hoped the spit on her face had dissolved and smeared some of the make-up she had put on that morning.

We sat for a long time.  There was nothing to do but sit and I kept my head down hoping no one walking by would stare at me.  I wondered how bad I looked and if anyone would be able to tell I was missing a tuft of hair.  I looked sideways over to Marcy’s chair to see what was going on with her.  I figured she had already checked me out to see what kind of damage she had done.  Before I had the chance to do anything more, Mr. Kearny’s door opened and Mr. Kearney stepped out and asked me to come inside.

As I got up to go into the office, I walked by Marcy.  She lifted her head and said just loud enough for me to hear, “Just remember, bitch, you’re the one who spat at me first.”    I didn’t say anything, but I could feel my back muscles get tight.  I walked into Mr. Kearny’s office.  I had never been in the principal’s office before and, even though I was there because I had been in a fight and was probably in a lot of trouble, I couldn’t help but look around and notice the things he had on the walls and on his desk.  He went over to his desk and sat down.  Then he told me to sit down in a chair across from his desk.  Mrs. Smithfield was sitting next to me.

Mr. Kearny spoke first, but not to me.  “Mrs. Smithfield, would you please go get a wet paper towel so Emily can wipe her head?”  I didn’t realize it before, but I also had a big scratch on my forehead and it had been bleeding down the side of my face.  After Mrs. Smithfield left, Mr. Kearny looked across his desk at me and said, “Emily, I want to know what happened out there.  You have never been in trouble at school, but what I saw out in the hall was very disturbing.”

I wondered what exactly it was that he found disturbing.  Was it that two girls were fighting?  Was it that half the school was surrounding us cheering us on?  Was it that I was essentially getting pounded by Marcy?

There’s an unwritten law between kids at school and it is simple.  Friends or enemies, you don’t snitch on another kid, that is, unless you want to be pounded on and messed with again and again for the rest of time.  I definitely felt like it was Marcy’s fault for stepping in front of me and starting everything, but I thought about Marcy’s warning and decided I’d better say nothing bad about Marcy.  I also didn’t want to admit that I spat in Marcy’s face.

I gave it my best shot.  “We just got in each other’s way.  We were both in a hurry.  It was an accident.”

Mr. Kearny kind of laughed, but he wasn’t smiling.  “That was some accident, Emily.  I saw a lot of anger out there, a lot of kicking and scratching.  I want to know why you two were fighting.”

I started to feel trapped.  I don’t think Mr. Kearny had any idea what it was like to be a kid, let alone a kid who was just in a fight.  I thought about Marcy outside the door and I wondered what she would be saying to Mr. Kearny when he called her in.  I didn’t want to look at Mr. Kearny, but I could feel him looking straight at me.

“Emily, you need to tell me what happened out in the hall.”

I looked up and there was Mr. Kearny, staring into my face and he seemed to be way too close to me.  I could see right through his glasses into his eyes and looked at the rest of his face, his wayward eyebrows, his bald head, his ears that stuck out too far.  I wondered, if there had been hair on his head, would his ears have looked so big.  My thoughts wandered into a whole different section in my head, thinking about Mr. Kearny’s face that was too close.


I broke free from my thoughts and spoke, “Nothing happened out there, Mr. Kearny.  It was an accident.”

I knew my lie was ridiculous and I knew that Mr. Kearny could tell I was lying, but it bought me a little bit of time.  Just then, Mrs. Smithfield came in with her wet paper towel.  She came over to me and, instead of handing me the towel, she wiped my forehead herself.  I wanted to wipe my own head, but I didn’t think I had much of a choice, so I sat and let her do the job.  It was not a deep cut and when she finished she sat down and looked hard at me.

“Emily, you are a good student and have never been in trouble in my class.  What’s going on here?”

Here we go again, I thought.  But again, I did not want to talk about the fight or any of the problems I’d been having.

“I’m fine, Mrs. Smithfield.  I told Mr. Kearny that it was just an accident.  We were both in a hurry and we crashed into each other.  That’s what happened.”

They both looked at each other and Mr. Kearny stood up and said, “Okay for now, Emily, but we’re going to talk about this some more.  I’ll be sending a note home for your parents to sign.  Between now and then, you should think about what happened and be prepared to talk to me again tomorrow.  You can go to class.”

Mrs. Smithfield stood up too and added, “Emily, why don’t you stop in the Girls Room and clean up a bit before you go to class.  I called in a substitute, but I’ll be down to class in a few minutes.”

When I got out of the office, I quickly walked by Marcy and went down the hall to the Girls Room.  I looked in the mirror and I did look pretty bad, but at least I hadn’t been crying.  I splashed some water on my face to get rid of the rest of Marcy’s spit.  Then I dried it off with one of those terrible paper towels.  My hair was a mess but I had no brush, so I used my fingers to straighten it out the best I could.  I tucked my shirt back in. There wasn’t much more I could do.  I would have to act like I didn’t care about the mess in the mirror.

I did not want to go back to class.  I knew everyone would be wondering what happened to me and Marcy.  I hoped someone had grabbed my books during the fight.  All I wanted to do was leave, but I walked down the hall and into my classroom.  The room went silent as I went to my seat.  Another one of the History teachers, Mrs. Hinchman, was in the front of the class.  She walked over to my desk and handed me my notebook and my History book and said, “We’re on page 257, Emily.”

I wondered if Marcy would come back to History class, but she did not.  She wasn’t in my next two classes, but I saw her at lunch.  I stayed far away from her.  Amy and Rena kept asking me what had happened in the principal’s office.  They both had seen our fight in the hall and wanted the full story.  I kept saying, “Nothing.  Nothing happened.  Mrs. Smithfield wiped my face and then I went back to class.”

“Wow, Emily,” said Amy, “You two were really going at it.  I can’t believe you!  What were you thinking, spitting in Marcy’s face?”

“That was wild!” added Rena.  “I bet that’s the last thing she thought you were going to do.”

“Listen,” I said.  “I don’t want to talk about it, okay?  Let’s just finish lunch.”

The Amy said, “Well maybe you don’t want to talk about it, but it’s all everyone in the whole school is talking about.”

Thank you for reading.

Just jumping in?  Click below to read previous chapters:

Chapter 1 – “Meeting Jackie”
Chapter 2 – “Mrs. Conroy”
Chapter 3 – “Downtown”
Chapter 4 – “Capture the Flag”
Chapter 5 – “The Fight”
Chapter 6 – “Lemonade”
Chapter 7 – “The Fort”
Chapter 8 – “School Starts”
Chapter 9 – “The Locker”
Chapter 10 – “Meeting Marcy”

Copyright © 2016 by Book Club Mom

All rights reserved.  All material on this blog is the property of Book Club Mom. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Friday Fiction is back! Twelve: Chapter 10 – Meeting Marcy

Friday Fiction

Welcome to Twelve, a new book of Friday Fiction! This story begins the summer Emily Kingston turns twelve and is about a friendship that changed everything.

I hope you enjoy it!


It was getting colder and the leaves on the trees were turning.  We were two months into school and I hadn’t had any problems since the mashed potatoes in the cafeteria.  I’d started to make more friends at school, girls who had gone to other schools last year, and some boys too.  But I mostly hung around with Rena and Amy at school and Jackie on the weekends.  Rena and Amy had gone in early for orchestra practice that day, so I walked down Prospect alone.  I was full of energy.  I moved quickly down the hill and my purse bumped against my hip as I walked.  I smiled at that because I had on my favorite flair jeans, the ones with the studs down the side, and I thought they looked good with my purse on the side.

On my way to my locker, I saw kids in groups looking at me.  I ignored the stares, but I felt sweat under my arms.  I wondered if there was more trouble at the locker, but a quick look at the front and my locker looked okay.  I opened it, put my jacket inside and grabbed the stuff I needed for my History class. I saw Rena on my way to class.

“Hey Rena.”

“Hi Emily.”  Rena stopped and looked at me.  Not a good sign.

I asked her why she was staring at me.  “I’m not, it’s nothing,” she said.  “Did you do your History homework?”

I always do my homework, so I wasn’t sure why she’d ask me that.  “Yes, did you?”

She said she did and by then we were just outside the classroom so I didn’t have the chance to ask her why she was acting so strange.  When I walked into the classroom, kids turned and looked at me.  Our teacher hadn’t come in yet.  Some kids were standing around and sitting at different desks, but no one was near mine.  I said hi to a couple of kids and headed over to my desk.

When I sat down, a girl I sort of knew came up to me and said, “Hey, Emily.  Nice top.”  I looked at her.  “Thanks Marcy.”  I thought that would be it, but then she said, “It goes nice with those jeans, don’t you think?”  “Thanks,” I answered.  But then Marcy wouldn’t stop.  “I bet you had those jeans last year.  Am I right?”  They were from last year and I wondered how she knew that.  “I did, why?”  Marcy leaned over me and got about six inches from my face.  She smiled and opened her mouth to speak, as if she was getting ready to tell me something private, but when she did, her voice became much louder, loud enough for everyone to hear her.  “Well, I can tell because, well, tell me if I’m wrong, but did you think those jeans were so hot that you felt you had to cram your fat butt into them for another year?”

I knew that was the kind of question you didn’t answer, but that was the only thing I did know about that morning in History class.  My ears burned with the sound of kids laughing, at me.  I kept my face down.  I swallowed as hard as I could and thought again about a fight Tommy once had in the yard.  Which kid had he been when his fight broke out?  The the kid everyone was laughing at or was he the other kid?  In a wild flash I wondered if I could tackle Marcy and hold her down, like Tommy had done in the yard, or if she would be the one on top pushing me down.  The weight of the whole day ahead pushed down on me.  If this was how it had started, I didn’t know how I would make it until 3:00.  I looked over at Rena, but her head was turned, in friendship, shame or laughter, I didn’t know.  The laughter stopped when Mrs. Smithfield came in and announced, “Pop quiz this morning!  Put your binders under your desk and take out a pencil.”

Something happens when you’re at the bad end of a joke.  I was the elephant in the room, in last year’s jeans.  Would Marcy have picked on me if I had worn something else or had she only been waiting for the right moment?  Nobody bothered me for the rest of the day, but I knew the story had spread through the seventh grade.

I’m sure Rena and Amy had talked about it, but around me, they acted as if nothing had happened.  I was glad because I didn’t want to talk.  If they were my friends (were they still?) they would understand.  When I got home, I took off my jeans, threw them in the trash, and changed into a bigger size.  There was nothing wrong with me.  If Marcy messed with me again, I would show her that.

Just jumping in?  Click below to read previous chapters:

Chapter 1 – “Meeting Jackie”
Chapter 2 – “Mrs. Conroy”
Chapter 3 – “Downtown”
Chapter 4 – “Capture the Flag”
Chapter 5 – “The Fight”
Chapter 6 – “Lemonade”
Chapter 7 – “The Fort”
Chapter 8 – “School Starts”
Chapter 9 – “The Locker”

Copyright © 2016 by Book Club Mom

All rights reserved.  All material on this blog is the property of Book Club Mom. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Friday Fiction is back! Twelve: Chapter 9 – The Locker

Friday Fiction

Welcome to Twelve, a new book of Friday Fiction! This story begins the summer Emily Kingston turns twelve and is about a friendship that changed everything.

I hope you enjoy it!


By the middle of September, I was in a comfortable routine.  Every morning I walked to school with Amy and Rena.  The three of us, side by side, descended the hill of our neighborhood to school and the three of us surrounded each other with the comfortable laughter and chatter that comes from an easy friendship.

One Monday in September, I left the house and headed up the street as usual and, like clockwork, there were Amy and Rena.

“Hi Emily!”  Rena called over to me.  “Look what I got!”  I couldn’t see anything from the distance and, as I got closer I asked her “What?”

Rena flipped her hair back behind her shoulders and lifted up her chin, sort of pushing it out to me.  As she did this she smiled and turned her head back and forth and pointed to the gold posts in her ears.

“Rena!” I said.  “You got your ears pierced!  Wow!  They look great!”

Rena beamed.  “Do you like them?”

“Yeah, of course.  Did it hurt?” I asked.

“Well, a little, but not for long.  My mom took me up to The Jewel Box in Morristown and the jeweler took us in the back and he pierced them there.  He used this thing that looked like a stapler.  It was cool.”

“I’m still working on my mom to let me get mine pierced.  She says when I’m thirteen, but I’m hoping she’ll let me get it done before then.”

Amy looked at us.  “You guys are crazy.  Why do you want to put holes in your ears?  Seriously!  I’m not getting that done, no way.  You couldn’t pay me to do that.”

Rena laughed, “Amy, you will cave.  I know you.  Once you see the cool earrings that Emily and I start to wear, you’re going to be begging your mom to take you up to The Jewel Box.”

I looked at my two friends and smiled.  Maybe Rena knew Amy better than I did but I didn’t think Amy would cave.  I didn’t think she cared much about pierced ears or wearing earrings, not the way Rena and I did.  She didn’t join in what I was sure had been countless hours that Rena and I had spent talking about getting our ears pierced.  She had made it clear she was sure she had no interest.  I liked Amy because she had her own ideas and wasn’t afraid to be different from everyone else.  For the way Amy stood tall with her convictions, though, Amy was the shortest of our trio.  She had thick, wavy shoulder-length blond hair that was parted in the middle like mine and today she had it pulled into a pony tail that whished from side to side as she walked.  Her hooded sweatshirt jacket was several sizes too big and hung down low over her shoulders.  Probably her older brother’s sweatshirt, I thought.  She looked comfortable in her clothes and I thought it would be nice to have an older brother who let you wear his sweatshirt, kind of like a shield of protection when he wasn’t around.  Amy liked being comfortable more than anything else and I thought it would be good not to think too much about what I was wearing.

Rena was taller than Amy and me.  Her long brown hair was shiny and straight and today she had pulled two strands from either side and tied them in the back with a small red ribbon.  I thought she had probably thought about how she was going to wear her hair that day to be sure that everyone would notice her newly pierced ears.  Rena’s bell-bottom jeans were a good match with her blue and white striped shirt and I thought she looked a little bit like a sailor in her outfit.  She loved clothes and was proud of the way she dressed.  I laughed to myself and I thought about how different my two friends were and how much I liked both of them.

I was somewhere in the middle of my two friends when it came to style.  I was wearing my favorite jeans, also bell-bottoms with studs down the sides.  Unlike Rena, though, I had not thought about my outfit and had grabbed the first top I found in my drawer, light blue and non-descript.

“When do you get to change earrings, Rena” I asked.

“Eight weeks.  I have to turn the posts and put rubbing alcohol on them every night until then.  I already have two other pairs of earrings to wear.

We separated at the front entrance and I headed to my locker.  As I got closer, I noticed that something didn’t look right.  When I got to my locker I saw that there was a dent in it and the handle was bent.  I tried to work the key but it would not turn.  I looked at the lockers on either side of me and my locker was the only one that was damaged.  Then I looked up and I froze.  I saw something scratched into the metal.  “Bitch.”  The word wasn’t big.  But there it was, right at eye level, meant for me to notice.  I stood there and stared.  Who would do this? I thought.  I was shocked that someone put this word here for me to see.  A moment before, my only problem was how I was going to finish my math homework before class.  Now I had two more problems.  First, I couldn’t get into my locker and second, someone was calling me Bitch.  I stood there, staring at my locker, that word, written to me, about me and for everyone to see.

I could hear other kids walking behind me and some people were stopping at their own lockers, lockers that were not jammed and didn’t have Bitch scratched into them.  I didn’t want to look at anyone because, even though the word was small, I was sure everyone could see that I was the one who had been singled out.

I went to homeroom and told my teacher, Mrs. Holmes, only that my locker key didn’t work.  She said that Mr. Matthews, the Janitor would help me open it.  Mr. Matthews was in charge of all lockers and keys.  Some of the kids at school had already lost their keys and had to get new keys from him.  Kids said he always got mad when someone lost a key and I wasn’t looking forward to talking to him.  I also knew he would see what was written on my locker.

Mrs. Holmes sent me down to the Janitor’s Room and Mr. Matthews walked with me to my damaged locker.  He wore a big ring of keys that dangled from his belt.  When we got there he said nothing and went to work on the lock.  He tried my key first then one of his spare keys and when that one didn’t work he sighed and said, “Wait here.”  Mr. Matthews went back down to his room and came back with a crow bar and forced open the door.  It flipped open with a loud bang and I was glad homeroom had already started and the halls were empty.  I didn’t want to explain to anyone why my locker was being forced open.

“Go ahead and pull out all your things.  I’ll give you a new locker,” he said.  Then we walked down the hall to a different set of lockers and he pulled off the matching key from his key ring and handed it to me.  “Check to see if it works,” he said and I put in the key and it opened fine.

Then Mr. Matthews looked at me and said, “I’m going to pull off the door to your old locker and replace it with a different one.  This is your locker from now on.  You have any more problems with your new locker, you let me know and I’ll take care of it, okay?”

I said okay and thanks and Mr. Matthews said, “And don’t lose that key, kiddo.”  He smiled when he said “kiddo.”

Mr. Matthews said nothing about the word on my locker and I was grateful.  Maybe it was random, I thought.  Just as I got to homeroom, the bell rang for first period.  I had lost my chance to do my math homework, but my bigger problem was solved.

I told no one at school about my locker.  I figured that was the end of it and I filed that thought far back in my head.

Jackie called me after school and I didn’t even tell her about my locker.  But I decided I might tell her sometime if I needed advice.  Jackie was tougher than me.

The next day I got to school and there was nothing wrong with my new locker.  On the way to homeroom, I saw Mr. Matthews in the hall and he called over to me, “Hey Kiddo.”

I had gym the following day and when I got into the locker room and went to my gym locker, it wasn’t jammed like my hall locker but the same word was scratched into the door.  I got a horrible feeling in my stomach because this time the other girls definitely noticed.  I looked over at Amy and I could tell she had seen it.  When she saw me looking at her, she looked down and only said, “Hey Emily.”

I changed into my gym uniform and I did my best to forget about my locker and instead  figure out how to get that word off it.  I didn’t have the excuse that the locker wouldn’t open and I definitely didn’t want to tell my gym teacher about the scratched in word.  I decided that when I got home I would think of a way to erase the word so no one would notice.

At home that day I tried as hard as I could to figure out how to erase a scratched-in word off my locker but I couldn’t think of anything I could do so I looked in my room for a sticker that was big enough to cover it.  The next day I didn’t have gym, but during lunch I went into the locker room and put a big flower sticker over the word and hoped that whoever was doing this to me would stop.

I started to wonder if not telling Mom or Dad certain things that were going on with me was just lying or was it just being private.  Back when I was really little, I used to talk non-stop and tell Mom and Dad everything that flew through my head.  They got used to that and I wasn’t sure if they could tell that I wasn’t like that as much these days.  I spent a lot more time up in my room or with Jackie at her place, but that’s where I felt the most comfortable about stuff.  I didn’t want to have to explain everything and I also didn’t think my parents would even understand what it was like to be me.

One day not too long after my lockers got scratched I was getting on the bus after school and as I walked through the aisle to find a seat my foot got caught on someone else’s foot and I tripped.  I heard a lot of kids laughing and when I looked up all I saw was a lot of faces looking at me.  They all seemed to think my fall was funny.  I got up as fast as I could and found a seat that was empty and sat down.  I stared out the window and hoped that everyone would forget about my fall in the aisle.

Falling down in front of your classmates is probably one of the most embarrassing things to happen and there’s nothing you can do about it once it happens except move on and hope that something else happens to someone else fast so you’re not the only embarrassing thing that everyone remembers.  I tried to think about how I fell and why I hadn’t seen the foot that was sticking out in the aisle.  I even tried to think about whose foot it was that made me trip, but my mind was too flustered to remember.  I talked myself into thinking it was just one of those clumsy accidents, but I was very glad to get to my bus stop and get off and go home.  None of the kids who were my friends who got off at my stop said anything about it and we just kind of talked around the fall as we walked up our street.

A couple days after that I was eating lunch at school.  I was sitting at a table with Amy and Rena.  We were having a good time and were almost finished eating.  I had mostly forgotten about my lockers and falling on the bus, so my guard was down.  The three of us were laughing pretty hard about something stupid one of our teachers had said that day and I remember sitting there with my mouth wide open in the middle of a laugh when suddenly I felt something wet and gloppy hit me right in the face with some of it landing in my mouth.  I sat there in shock and automatically put my hand up to my face and discovered that someone had thrown a big batch of mashed potatoes right at me.  Kids started to notice and a lot of them were turned around in their seats, pointing and laughing at me.  The roar of their laughter grew as more people saw what had happened.

At first I thought that this was the beginning of one of those massive cafeteria food fights and that I just happened to get in the crossfire of the first strike.  But no more food flew through the air and I realized that I had been the one and only target.

I don’t know why people think it’s so funny when someone gets hit in the face with something.  I like my share of jokes, but I never laugh when I see a pie-in-the-face kind of thing.  So when these mashed potatoes hit me in the face, well I was horrified and mad and embarrassed out of my mind.  And again, as with the lockers and tripping on the bus, I didn’t know what to do.  This time, I grabbed my books and purse, leaving my tray at the table and just ran out of the cafeteria, with a face full of mashed potatoes.

I ran into the Girls Room and grabbed a paper towel and started wiping the food from my face.  The thought occurred to me that it was a good thing I didn’t wear make-up, because anything I had put on that morning would have been wiped away while I cleaned off my face, making me look worse in the end.  The potatoes smelled terrible to me and I went to the sink.  As I was bending over to wash my face in the sink, all the things that had been happening to me at school flooded through my brain and I started to feel terribly sorry for myself.  And the tears started to well up in my eyes and my throat felt tight and sore.  I was glad my face was in the sink in case anyone came in because then they wouldn’t have seen how I let the tears come out full force, just for a minute.

No one came into the Girls Room and I was lucky because when I lifted my head out of the sink and took a look at myself in the mirror, I didn’t look very good.  My face looked kind of like how my Mom’s face had looked the night she and Dad had their fight.  It was very blotchy and unnatural and some of my hair had gotten wet from the sink.  And my eyes looked red and sad.  The paper towels felt terrible on my skin, all rough and did little to dry me off.  I remember thinking that I would have done just as well with a plain piece of paper because the towels were so bad.

When I finally finished cleaning up I took another look in the mirror and, although I didn’t look great, I knew it was now or never that I had to go back out in the hall.  I couldn’t figure out how long I had been in there, but I didn’t hear any bells ring, so I walked out into the hall.  As I walked down the hall I poked my head into one of the classrooms to see the clock and saw that I had about one minute before lunch was over.  That was good, so I just went down the hall and over to my new locker to get the book I needed for my Math class and headed a little farther down to my classroom.

No one said a thing when they saw me in class and I hoped as hard as I could that not everyone had seen me get hit in the face with the mashed potatoes.  Amy was in my Math class and when I sat down next to her she said, “Are you okay Emily?”  I had pulled myself together so I knew I could answer her without crying and said, “Yeah, I guess so.”  And she said, “I don’t know who threw those potatoes, but I’m sorry they did it.”  “I know,” I said.  “I’m okay.”

When I got home from school that day Mom, as always, asked me how my day had been.  By then, my face didn’t look like I had been crying at all, so I said “Fine.”  On the way home on the bus, though, I started to think that all these things that were happening to me were definitely related and that there was someone at school who had it in for me.  I had no idea how to deal with it, so that day on my way home I decided I would tell Jackie about it and see what she thought.

I thought Jackie might have some good advice because, as I said, she seemed a lot more worldly than me, plus nothing seemed to bother her.  I wasn’t sure whether she had a lot of friends at her new school because she didn’t talk much about it, but I got the feeling she was a bit of a loner there.  After all, she and I spent most of our free time together so there wasn’t a lot of other time for her to hang out with her school friends.

When I got to my room, I called Jackie from my Princess phone.  “Hey,” she said.  “What’s up?”  I told her, “Nothing really…someone threw a blob of mashed potatoes in my face today and I think it was on purpose.”

“What?  Was there a food fight after that?”

“No food fight.  The potatoes were the only thing that were in the air.”  And I went on and told her about the lockers and tripping on the bus.

“Emily, someone’s trying to mess with you.  Do you have anyone there who doesn’t like you?”

It never occurred to me that someone wouldn’t like me.  I told her I didn’t know because I didn’t know everyone at school.  I didn’t think it was any of my old friends behind it either.  Jackie told me I should keep my eye out for anyone I might think didn’t like me and then to pay attention to that person and get an idea of what he or she was like.  She told me the best thing to do would not to do anything right away, but to go along as if nothing were wrong, all the while thinking of some kind of revenge and then striking when this person wouldn’t know what was coming.

Jackie seemed to get pretty excited about my problem and was making suggestions that I wasn’t so sure about.  But since I did ask for her advice, I listened carefully and tried to imagine myself getting revenge against whomever it was who was trying to “mess with me,” as she put it.

Thank you for reading.

Just jumping in?  Click below to read previous chapters:

Chapter 1 – “Meeting Jackie”
Chapter 2 – “Mrs. Conroy”
Chapter 3 – “Downtown”
Chapter 4 – “Capture the Flag”
Chapter 5 – “The Fight”
Chapter 6 – “Lemonade”
Chapter 7 – “The Fort”
Chapter 8 – “School Starts”

Copyright © 2016 by Book Club Mom

All rights reserved.  All material on this blog is the property of Book Club Mom. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Friday Fiction is back! Twelve: Chapter 8 – School Starts

Friday Fiction

Welcome to Twelve, a new book of Friday Fiction! This story begins the summer Emily Kingston turns twelve and is about a friendship that changed everything.

I hope you enjoy it!


Summer slipped by and the new school year came fast.  I woke up early on the first day, ready for the change.  As I set out to walk down the hill I smelled the September air, warm and thick with the green smell of cut grass.

My new purse swung from my left shoulder and I carried my paper bag lunch in my left hand.  I cradled my new binder in my right arm.  I met Amy and Rena as they came up the street towards my house and they too carried shoulder bags, brown paper bags and binders.

“Hey Emily!” they called.

“Hi Amy.  Hi Rena.”

The three of us fell into step.

“Good-bye summer,” moaned Rena.  “I’m not ready to start school again.”

“Who is?” agreed Amy.  “I had a great summer and now it’s over, just like that,” and she snapped her fingers in the air.

“I know what you mean,” I agreed, but actually, I was ready for the summer to be over. It had been a good summer, but in recent weeks I had grown tired of going to the pool and hanging out all the time with Jackie.  I was still mad at Jackie for kissing Tommy down at the fort and embarrassing him.  That day had been perfect until then and I didn’t understand why she had to ruin it.  After that, Tommy wanted nothing to do with Jackie and, for me, the spirit of the summer was broken along with the connection between Tommy and Jackie and me.

Jackie couldn’t understand why Tommy was still mad and, although she tried to make it up to him, he barely said a word to her in the two weeks that followed.  He spent his time with his buddies instead of us and for me the days passed as if we were just biding our time until school started.

“I really don’t get why you’re friends with her,” Tommy said to me a few days later.

I looked at him blankly and had no real answer.  Somehow that summer, Jackie had quickly become my best friend as if we had always known each other and I had liked that.  I liked that she liked me, that she thought I was cool when I was clearly not as cool as she was, that she had so many ideas.  I liked all the fun she created, all the excitement.  I felt sorry for her too and that made me want to be her friend.  Sorry that it was just Jackie and her mom most of the time.

As the days went on and Tommy stayed away, I think Jackie was sorry for kissing him, and maybe for the other tricks she had played on him over the summer.  But I don’t think she knew how to tell him that, so she just left him alone.

Jackie was not happy about going to an all-girls school.  “I have to wear a stupid uniform to school!” she complained.  “I have 3 revolting plaid jumpers and five ugly white blouses to go underneath.  I have to wear matching knee socks and rubber soled shoes.  We can’t even wear the earrings we want to wear.  They have to be small post earrings.  No hoops or anything.”

“Cheer up, Jackie,” I answered.  I thought about the mishmash of unmatched clothes in my closet and wondered if being fashionable was going to be important in junior high.  “At least everyone will look the same and you won’t have to worry about what you’re going to wear to school.”

“Yeah, we’ll all look like a bunch of dorks!  Well, I refuse to look like everyone else.  I’ll find some way.”

Jackie was not going to be consoled and so I gave up.  I didn’t see why wearing a uniform would be such a problem.  I thought the plaid dresses looked cute, but I didn’t dare admit that to Jackie.

I felt a little bit sorry for Jackie because she didn’t know anyone else who was going to St. Mary’s.  A lot of the girls had gone up through the grades there and Jackie would be the new one.  But I also thought about how in charge she had been this summer, over me and Tommy and the kids at the pool.  And she was the new kid there too.  Jackie knew how to get a group together and how to turn things her way.  I pictured Jackie with a group of girls around her at St. Mary’s.  I imagined how she would set the latest trend, just to look different.  Maybe she would hike up her jumper an inch or two or roll her knee socks down around her ankles to look like doughnuts and all the other girls would mimic her new style, to be just like her.

I remembered how one day at the pool Jackie arrived in a pair of cut-offs and a t-shirt over her bathing suit.  As she walked over to us, I noticed she had ripped open the outside seams of her shorts so the sides flared out and part of her bathing suit showed from underneath.  It was a small change, but soon other girls started doing the same thing, me included, and before long, almost no girl wore a normal pair of shorts to the pool.  Mom saw what I had done to my shorts and her eyebrows went up.  She told me I could only wear them over a bathing suit from then on.  I imagined other mothers telling their daughters the same thing, except, maybe Mrs. Conroy who would have thought they were cool.  I wondered if Mrs. Conroy had a pair of shorts like Jackie’s.

And then, as soon as every girl at the pool had adopted Jackie’s look, Jackie stopped wearing those cut-offs.  Not everyone noticed but I did and I wondered if Jackie had planned the whole thing just to see what people would do.  When I asked Jackie where her ripped cut-offs were, she said, “Oh, those.  I’m done with those.”  I never saw those cut-offs again.  I wore mine a few more times, just so it would look like I wasn’t copying Jackie’s every move and then I threw them out.

It felt good to see Amy and Rena that first day of school.  I hadn’t seen them much during the summer.  Amy had spent all of August in Maine with her family and Rena had helped her mom at a day-camp all summer.  Neither of them told me, but I got the feeling they didn’t like Jackie.  They were cautious around her ever since we played Capture the Flag together and Jackie buried the flag.  They didn’t play that way and neither did I until Jackie came around.   Amy, Rena and I had been an easy trio in sixth grade and, as we walked down the hill and chatted on the first day of seventh grade, I thought how effortless it was to be with my old friends.

The next few weeks were busy.  I liked the junior school and knew enough kids in my classes to be comfortable.  Amy and Rena were in a couple of my classes and we sat together at lunch.  We all played field hockey after school and walked home in the afternoons together.  I had not seen Jackie since the day before school started.

Jackie called me one day after school and Tommy answered.

“It’s for you,” he said and put the receiver down on the kitchen table and left the room.

I was in a good mood and when I heard Jackie’s voice I was happy to hear from her.  I had nearly forgotten about the fort.  It was hard for me to stay mad at someone for long.

“Hey Jackie! How’s school going?” I asked.

“Okay.  Ugly uniforms.  Nuns and teachers telling you what to do all day.  Homework at night and then it starts all over again.”

I couldn’t think of a way to respond so I waited.

“How’s your new school, Emily?” she asked.

“It’s good,” I told her.  “I like most of my teachers and, so far, the homework’s not too bad.  Plus, Amy, Rena and I are playing field hockey after school.  We’re not really a team, so we don’t play other schools.  We just play each other.”

“Sounds great, Emily,” she said flatly.  Then she paused.  “What are you doing right now?” she asked.

“Well I just got home and I’m going to eat something and then do some homework before dinner.”

“Oh,” she answered.  “Hey, want to come over here and do your homework?  Denny’s not coming home until about 6:30 tonight, and I’m here by myself.”

I hadn’t seen Jackie since summer ended, but I didn’t want to go over there and I didn’t think Mom would let me anyway, especially with Jackie’s mom still at work.  I had only been over to Jackie’s a couple times during the summer when her mother wasn’t home and each time it was only for a little while.

“I don’t think I can today, Jackie,” I told her.  I didn’t even want to bother asking Mom.

“Oh, okay.  Do you want to go to the movies together on Saturday?  The Godfather is still playing in Chatham.”

“Uh, Jackie.   We can’t see that.  It’s rated R isn’t it?”

“Well, Denny said she’d get us in.  She’s already seen it and said there wasn’t anything too bad in it.”

“I don’t think my parents would let me see it, even if your mom went with us, Jackie.”  I knew about the movie.  Mom and Dad had seen it.  The book was somewhere in our house and I had heard rumors that page 32 was the page to read.  I didn’t know what that meant but I was sure it was not a movie they’d let me see.

“Why don’t you ask, just in case,” she suggested.  “It doesn’t hurt to ask.”

I thought about that.  In this case, it probably would hurt to ask.  Mom and Dad liked Jackie, but they thought she had too much freedom.  They were careful about what they let me do and I think they were glad Jackie was at another school.

“Maybe, but why don’t we see what other movies are playing, just in case?” I suggested.

“Like what?” she asked.  Jackie sounded impatient.

“What about The Poseidon Adventure?”  Have you seen that yet?  Maybe we can find a theater where it’s still playing.”

“Already saw it, but we could pretend we’re going to see The Poseidon Adventure and see The Godfather instead.”

I was getting frustrated.  I had broken some of Mom and Dad’s rules, but I wasn’t going to lie to them about the movies.  “Listen, Jackie.  I’m telling you now, my parents won’t let me see The Godfather so if you really want to go to the movies, why don’t we look in the paper and find out what else is playing?  Then we can pick a movie my parents would let me see.”

“Well, okay,” Jackie conceded.  “We don’t have a paper here, so look in yours and call me back, okay?”

I agreed and we made plans to talk on Friday.  We hung up and I sat at the kitchen table thinking.  Jackie sounded different to me.  Almost too pushy.  I decided maybe she was just lonely at her new school and I let the thought leave my head.

We didn’t see The Godfather or The Poseidon Adventure that Saturday.  Instead, Mom and Dad took Jackie, Tommy and me to see Snowball Express.  Tommy didn’t want to go with us.  He refused to talk to Jackie and sat as far away from her as he could.  I was glad we all went together, though, because I thought it was about time Tommy forgave Jackie.

Thank you for reading.

Just jumping in?  Click below to read previous chapters:

Chapter 1 – “Meeting Jackie”
Chapter 2 – “Mrs. Conroy”
Chapter 3 – “Downtown”
Chapter 4 – “Capture the Flag”
Chapter 5 – “The Fight”
Chapter 6 – “Lemonade”
Chapter 7 – “The Fort”

Copyright © 2016 by Book Club Mom

All rights reserved.  All material on this blog is the property of Book Club Mom. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Friday Fiction is back! Twelve: Chapter 7 – The Fort

Friday Fiction

Welcome to Twelve, a new book of Friday Fiction! This story begins the summer Emily Kingston turns twelve and is about a friendship that changed everything.

I hope you enjoy it!



“Did you ever kiss anyone?” Jackie asked me one day.  We were sitting on the floor in my room, listening to the radio and reading magazines.  My skin flinched.  I was sure she knew that I hadn’t.  I didn’t want to tell her no.  I stalled for time.

“What do you mean, like kiss my mom or dad?” I asked.

Jackie corrected me.  “No, you know.  Did you ever kiss a boy?”

I had kissed no boys.  During the last couple years, I had liked a couple boys.  That was all.  I felt sweat on my back.

“Well, have you?” I asked, playing for time.

“I’m asking you.” Jackie countered.

I didn’t know why she had to know that about me, why she had to hear me say out loud that I had kissed no one.  I looked at her and she was staring right at me, with a grin on her face.  She was enjoying herself, sitting there making me sweat.  I only wanted to end the conversation.  I considered telling her I had kissed a boy, to get myself off the hook.  But I knew nothing about kissing boys and was afraid she would ask me more.  So I simply said, “No, Jackie” then I stood up and walked over to my desk.  I pretended to look through some papers.

Jackie waited.  I didn’t look at her, but I guessed that she was still smiling.  And I guessed that her smile was a little bit evil.  I was starting to know different sides of Jackie.  We were best friends, but I began to notice that sometimes Jackie seemed to like to make me uncomfortable.

“I have,” she said.

I didn’t feel like asking her about it, but I knew there would be more coming.

“Oh?”  I’d heard my mom use that small word, not as a sigh, but as an uncomfortable bridge between what was said and what was to come.  And I was surprised to hear it coming from me.  I was not surprised to hear Jackie say, “More than once.”

I didn’t know what to say after that.  I knew Jackie wanted me to ask her all about it.  I said, “That’s great.”  Then I walked over to the door and told her I was going downstairs.

On a morning in the middle of August I opened my eyes to a wonderfully cool day.  I pulled my covers up to my chin to keep warm against the cool breeze that was coming through my bedroom window.

As I lay in bed under the covers, I could hear Tommy and Mom in the hallway talking about the storm.  We had just had a string of especially hot and humid days, capped off the night before with a violent thunderstorm that shook our house and made our lights flicker.  “I’m glad the power didn’t go out,” said Mom.  “And thank goodness the heat wave is over!  I have so much to do around the house this morning and that heat had me worn out.”

I hopped out of bed and went to my window.  Puffy white clouds blew across the bright blue sky and the morning air was full of the scent of fall.  In two weeks we would be starting school.  I pushed the thought from my mind and put my face close to the window.  I looked out at our yard and felt nothing more than the promise of a day with no responsibilities.

We didn’t need to keep cool on this day, so instead of going to Morris Hills, I called Jackie to come over and spend the day.  After breakfast I went out to the back steps and sat down to wait for her.  Tommy came outside to look around after the storm.

He ran to the edge of our yard and picked up a branch that had broken from our tree the night before.  “I heard a lot of wind last night and look at all these tree branches!” he said, looking around.  “I bet there are a lot of broken branches down in the woods.”

“Probably,” I said, not really interested.  I didn’t usually go down to the woods at the end of our street, except to cut through to the next neighborhood, but Tommy and his friends spent a lot of time there, playing in the stream and building forts.

Tommy brought the broken branch over to the steps and sat down next to me.  He broke off some of the thin branches and then he picked up a stone and started scratching notches into the base.  I sat with my head back, facing the sky and felt the cool breeze blow against my skin.

Jackie rode up on her bike and stopped right in front of us, legs astride and balancing her bike.  “Hey guys!  How about that storm last night!  You should have seen the broken branches on the roads as I came over here.  I’m surprised that the power didn’t go out,” she said.

“Our lights blinked on an off a few times, but that’s all.” Tommy answered.  “Look at this branch!”  He held up his stick for Jackie to see.

“That would make a good hiking stick, Tommy,” said Jackie.  “What are the notches there for?”

“Oh nothing,” said Tommy.  I didn’t know what they were for either.  I would have liked to know, and I might have asked him too, but I could tell that Tommy didn’t want to say.  Sometimes when Jackie asked him questions, he deliberately avoided answering.  It surprised me that he was like that with her, because if I asked, Tommy usually told me what he was thinking.

Tommy and I were not alike in most ways, but we understood each other, the way a brother and a sister who have spent their lives together know how to be.  We weren’t the kind of siblings who fought much, and we leaned on each other when we faced the small, everyday problems that were part of our childhood.  I was the older sister, but Tommy had a confidence and ease that I admired.  And I like to think that Tommy depended on me to navigate us through some of the tougher times, if only because I was older and knew a little bit more.

Jackie was the kind of person, though, who wouldn’t let something go.  If she wanted to know something, she kept asking, especially with Tommy.  Sometimes she would get her answer from him, but other times Tommy would get mad and walk away.

I was hoping this time that Jackie would stop before she made Tommy mad.  We were at the start of a great day and I didn’t want anything to go wrong.  And this time, she did.  Jackie let it go and I was glad.  I hoped that Jackie was beginning to understand Tommy.

Jackie got off her bike and let it drop down on the grass.  She joined us on the steps and for a few minutes we just sat there, not talking.  Suddenly, she jumped up and said, “Hey, what should we do today?”

When Jackie asked that question, she usually had an idea already worked out in her head.  Her question was merely a way to present her scheme and any suggestions we had were usually put to the side to make room for her better plan.  And because we were sitting there without talking, I was sure that she had an idea.

I had learned this about Jackie, and I played along with her game and gave my usual response, “I don’t know.  What do you want to do?”  Tommy didn’t always take the bait with Jackie the way I did, but today his two best buddies were on vacation and I don’t think he had much to do.

I couldn’t tell if he had been thinking about how to spend the day, but he looked at us and said, “I want to go down to the woods and see what happened there in the storm.  I want to check on the fort Chuckie and Brian and I built.”

“Genius idea, Tommy!” said Jackie.  “I think we should go down there and, hey! Why don’t the three of us build a fort together?  We can build it and then hang out there.  Bring some Cokes and grab an old blanket to sit down on.  And wait, you could bring your radio and we could listen to tunes.  What do you say?”

I knew I wasn’t going to have a choice and a trip down to the woods didn’t sound too bad.  With some of the comforts of home, I thought, it could be pretty good so I said “Okay.”  Tommy agreed and we all ran down to the end of our street and headed into the woods.

Tommy’s fort was still in good shape so the three of us found a place to build our new fort.  There were a lot of fallen branches in the woods, too and we were thrilled to find so much to work with.  We spent most of the day clearing the ground, moving branches to the side.  One of the neighbors had recently cut down a tree and we stacked the stray logs to form a couple makeshift walls.  The ground was still wet and soft and in the middle of our fort we dug a hole and lined it with stones where we imagined we would build a fire pit.  Tommy ran to his old fort and grabbed a large piece of plywood they hadn’t used and we leaned it against one of the trees as a sort of barricade against we didn’t know what.  Finally, we found three large rocks big enough to sit on or lean against and together we carried them to what we imagined would be our new top secret meeting place.  Our fort sat at the top of the embankment to the stream that ran through the woods and we all agreed that being close to the water was important to our survival if it ever came to that.

I was surprised at how much I got into building the fort, because playing in the woods was something I didn’t have in common with Tommy.  Jackie was different.  She threw herself into everything she did and today her enthusiasm for the fort spilled over to me.  We felt great as we worked and as our place started to take shape it looked like it would be just right for hanging out and drinking sodas and listening to the radio.  Although it was only a short distance from our house, it was hidden away and already it had an air of secrecy about it.  We were conspirators and without saying, we knew we would not tell anyone where our fort was.

When we finally finished, we ran back to the house to grab our sodas, a blanket and the radio and ran back to the woods.  I laid down the blanket and Tommy handed out the Cokes while Jackie fiddled with the radio to get a good station.

Once Jackie tuned into a station we sat on the blanket and sipped our sodas, looking around us and admiring our work.  It had been hard work and I was glad for the rest.  Jackie lifted up her Coke and said, “Here’s to one cool fort!” and Tommy and I lifted our cans and said, “Cheers!”  Jackie stood up and walked over to a tree and leaned against it.

“So,” she said.  “A secret fort like this needs just one more thing.  It needs something to seal its secrecy from everyone else.  Something to tie the three of us together.  This is the kind of place where secrets are told and kept.  Right guys?”

I looked at Tommy and he was looking down.  I knew Tommy was into building the fort and hanging out there, but I could already tell that he wasn’t interested in this part.  He picked up some stones and starting tossing them at another nearby tree.

“Right, Emily?” she persisted.

“Uh, I guess so,” I answered.  I didn’t know where she was going with this, but I started to feel uncomfortable.  I wondered if there was more to Jackie’s big plan than just building a fort and hanging out.  Tommy said nothing.

“Why don’t we play Truth or Dare?  How about it?”

I was starting to recognize this about Jackie.  Whenever she started talking like this, I knew I wouldn’t like what came next.  We were both the same age, but there was something in Jackie that always wanted to spring forward into her life, to experience what lay ahead before it was time. I couldn’t understand this part of Jackie, why she couldn’t just enjoy a perfectly comfortable situation.  All I wanted to do was figure out how to be myself right then and there.  I did not want to play.  “Gee, Jackie, I don’t think so.  I’d rather not.” I answered.

“What about you, Tommy?” she pressed.  “You’re always up for a good dare.  How about we mix some truths in there and have a good game?”

“No way!  Not interested,” said Tommy.  I could tell he was uncomfortable as he threw a handful of stones at his target.  Right then, I felt both a little bit afraid of Jackie and what she was doing and protective of Tommy.

“You guys are no fun,” lamented Jackie.  “This is a secret fort.  We have to do something here to break it in.”

Since both Tommy and I said no to her idea, I thought that was the end of it.  But Jackie kept on.

“So, Emily.  We never did finish talking about first kisses.”

I froze.  Kissing was not something I wanted to talk about, especially in front of Tommy.  I didn’t know what she wanted from me.  She already got me to admit I hadn’t kissed a boy yet.

“Uh, I think we did, Jackie.  Besides, I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Why not?  With Tommy here, we could get a boy’s point of view.  Right, Tommy?”

Tommy looked down and didn’t answer.

“Okay, so I know you haven’t had your first kiss, but if you had the chance, who would you kiss?”

I didn’t understand why Jackie kept pushing me, but she was laughing as she looked at me.  “I don’t want to talk about this, Jackie, okay?  Let’s change the subject.”

“Okay, Emily.  I’m sorry.  We won’t talk about it anymore.”  Then she turned to Tommy.  “But how about you Tommy?” she asked.  “Have you had your first kiss yet?”

I couldn’t believe that Jackie was asking Tommy such a question.  I never would have asked him something that private.  I wanted to tell Jackie to stop and stood up just to do so.  Before I had the chance, Tommy jumped up and shouted “Shut up Jackie!  It’s none of your business!”  And with that he kicked a rotten piece of wood into the trees.  Jackie grinned.  “Well, I guess that means you haven’t.  Maybe you should get some practice now.”

And with that, Jackie walked up to Tommy so that their faces were inches apart.  Tommy froze.  Jackie grinned.  She put her hands on Tommy’s shoulders and pushed her mouth against his lips.  Tommy pushed her away with such force that she fell down on the blanket.  He wiped his mouth with his sleeve.

“What the hell, Jackie?  What did you do that for?”

Jackie laughed.  “Well now you don’t have to tell anyone to shut up when they ask you if you’ve kissed a girl yet.  Because you have!”

I looked at Tommy and I don’t think I had ever seen him so angry and embarrassed at the same time.  I didn’t know what to do, so I just froze and watched as Tommy picked up one of the heavy rocks we had carried to our fort and hurled it down the hill into the stream behind us.  We watched as it landed with a thud.

“I hate you Jackie!” he yelled and then my little brother ran out of the woods and headed home.  I watched Tommy run away and I felt the same kind of anger toward Jackie, for pushing Tommy too far, not just this time, but other times and for pushing me into telling her things I didn’t want her to know.  I started to think that maybe I didn’t want to be just like Jackie.

Jackie grabbed her Coke and moved over to one of the other rocks and sat on down.  “Oh well,” she said.  “I guess it’s just us girls now.”

“God, Jackie,” I said.  “Why did you do that to Tommy?  He’s just a kid.”

Jackie laughed at me and said, “Loosen up, Emily.  Everyone has to have a first kiss and it’s better to get it over with.”

“Well, maybe he didn’t want you to be his first kiss.  Did you ever think of that?”

Jackie defended herself.  “Hey, I’m just as good as the next girl for a first kiss.  Maybe even better.  I was doing him a favor.”

I didn’t think about it.  I just knew I had to defend Tommy.  “You’re wrong, Jackie.  And you need to tell him you’re sorry.”

“No way!” she yelled.  “I’m not sorry, Emily.  Boys need to have a first kiss.  They need to practice on someone.  I did him a favor and I’m not going to apologize for that.”

For the first time that summer, I didn’t back down with Jackie.  “What do you know about boys and practicing kissed anyway?  God, Jackie, we’re only twelve years old!  You keep asking me if I’ve done things you know I haven’t done.  I wish you’d just shut up sometimes!”

Jackie stood up.  “Okay, okay!  Relax, Emily.  I was just having some fun and I thought Tommy could handle it.  I should have known better.  He really is such a baby.”

“Shut up, Jackie!  He’s not a baby.  He’s ten years old and one of the toughest kids out there.  Plus he’s my brother and I’m telling you to leave him alone.”

Thank you for reading.

Just jumping in?  Click below to read previous chapters:

Chapter 1 – “Meeting Jackie”
Chapter 2 – “Mrs. Conroy”
Chapter 3 – “Downtown”
Chapter 4 – “Capture the Flag”
Chapter 5 – “The Fight”
Chapter 6 – “Lemonade”

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