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SMTF: First Scene

The new job is awesome, but I’ve been a bit too busy to keep up with the blog. I’ve decided to post my newly edited (again) first scene of Something More Than Fine.  It’s 1133 words. Let me know what you think! I’d love some additional feedback.

UPDATE 6/2/2015: Obviously, now that I’ve posted the first scene, I suddenly hate almost everything about it, but I’m making myself leave it up.

Chapter 1/Scene 1: 

I am dead but not fully buried, so despite my hopes to the contrary, my eyes open on the first day of my senior year of high school. My lungs draw air, and my traitorous heart thumps inside my chest, solid and strong.

Stupid heart

After silencing the sixth alarm, I crawl out of bed and prepare to breach enemy territory. I yank a black hoodie over my head to cover the fresh scars on my right arm. Since only an idiot would wear flip-flops, I cram my feet into running shoes and double knot the laces.

All summer long, I ignored the self-involved tribe that is my generation, but Kevin pulled some shrink-mind-voodoo crap to remind me they’re my people. Ugh. We’re appalling in reality and exhausting in novels. I guess every century has a few throw-away years.

As I leave my sanctuary of the past six weeks, my faded backpack catches on the knob of my bedroom door, no doubt a sign to turn back. It jerks me sideways, and I stumble, throwing my arms out to catch myself before up becomes down again. Then I trudge to school and confront my own personal hell, where every obnoxious bell, every asbestos filled floor tile, and every Teacher of the Year plaque reminds me how far I’ve fallen.

I don’t look up from my feet or interact with my peers. I don’t speak at all until the office buzzes me down last period, disrupting my denial.

“Etta, I’m concerned,” Ms. Chang says in a nasal whine.

I blink and wait.

She stares at me for a long moment before glancing down at my file and continuing. “You dropped all your college credit and AP courses while I was on vacation. . .”

While she shuffles paper and rambles, I stare at the office TV through the glass side panel that lines Ms. Chang’s door. Words like drought, heat stroke, and crop failure filter across the closed captioning for the local news, and reporters don their catastrophe expressions. It wouldn’t be a true Madison summer without some irrational weather and suffering farmers, but nobody here can fathom a beloved community member hiding dark, newsworthy secrets. So they prattle on about our weather, day after day after day.

“Etta?” Ms. Chang asks.

I flinch and glance over.

“Were you listening?” she asks.

I lie. “Of course.”

A smile stretches her thin lips to their breaking point. “So?”

“So. . .” I stall and pretend to consider a response.

When long seconds progress towards a minute, she prompts me. “So can I re-enroll you in two of the four college credit courses you dropped?”

Shit! I close my eyes to collect my emotions, because blurting out that I’m not going to college would bury me. So I pull out the Dysfunctional Home Life card. I blink extra fast and unclench my lower lip from my teeth to let it tremble.

“I’m sorry, Ms. Chang.” I fold my fingers together and stare down at my hands. “I hate to disappoint you, but it was a difficult summer. . .”

I pause and let out a gasp, somewhere between a sigh and a hiccup.

“Oh, Etta!” she says. Then Ms. Chang does her own version of the counselor mind-voodoo trick and sits back and waits for me to continue.

“I don’t want to take on more than I can handle emotionally,” I say, barely above a whisper. “Mental health ranks higher on the priority list than high school.”

I learned that bullshit from my third shrink, who didn’t even last a whole session. Something about me throwing a large vase of pathetic hospital flowers at her head (twice) sat wrong with her. It surprised me too.

Ms. Chang tilts her head and studies me. “I understand it’s been difficult, but I don’t want you to have regrets.”

When she wrinkles her pointy nose to push her thick-framed glasses up, something in the gesture reminds me of Before. I immediately want to curl up in a fetal position, so I focus on how wrong Ms. Chang’s face is to distract myself. Counselors shouldn’t have pointy features. They should be soft and round and save all the sharpness for their messed up clients.

I’ve known Ms. Chang my whole life. If I argue, she’ll press back, and I don’t want mandatory weekly counseling. Historically, she’s known for winning battles, even with the toughest cases. She fronts as a sweet, caring counselor, but she gets what she wants or makes people’s lives hell.

And while history typically repeats itself, I know it can be stopped. I have stopped it dead in its tracks. So I think back to Luvia’s tragic death on Obsidian Void, my favorite show. Luvia saved the whole crew from a fiery crash landing. As she hung, crushed between the gear shafts, Ryban screamed and sobbed. His anguish fills my mind, and my eyes well up. I blink hard to force the moisture to spill over. When the first drop rolls down my cheek, Ms. Chang’s hands tighten around my file.

“I. . . I just need ss. . . someone to c. . . cut me a bbb. . break,” I say, dropping words strategically.

“Oh, sweetie!”

She hands me a tissue, and I mop it all over my face. I let my shoulders cave in before blowing my nose with a loud honk. My act feels see through, but I fully commit. Before Girl was chickeny, but I’m After Girl now. I snuffle and keep my face turned down, because my eyes would convict me.

“Keep your current schedule,” Ms. Chang says, closing my file and leaning back. “We can reconsider after winter break.”

I raise my eyes and force my mouth into something that’s half-smile, half-grimace. “Is there any chance I could switch to study hall last period? I want to get as much done as possible. Before. . .”

“Of course, sweetie!”

Somehow, not specifying what it’s before has a greater impact on Ms. Chang than anything I could’ve said. I’d like to say that’s why I trailed off, but really, my BS-ing skills failed me. I went blank and won gold.

“Thank you, Ms. Chang. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

Laying it on thick is only effective with counselors. That crap never works on teachers. But with a few well-placed words and pauses my slacker schedule is set.

I walk straight out of her office and head home, assuming nobody will miss me in the chaotic last fifteen minutes of the day. Before Girl never would’ve left school early or broken any rule for that matter. She didn’t black out the world around her, manipulate adults, or defy history. But she’s gone now, and After Girl does whatever the hell she wants.


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