Just For Kicks, a novel excerpt by Racheal McGillivary

Young Adult Fiction: Novel excerpt
Title: Just For Kicks
Author: Racheal McGillivary
Twitter: @RachealMcG
Word Count: 65,000

1

I set the fridge down on its back, as quietly as I can. Angus, the school janitor, is still lurking in the school somewhere cleaning up. The water bubbles in the industrial coffee maker that serves the groggy teachers each morning; only tonight, it serves as my hot water boiler.

I mix as fast as I can: hot water, stir, stir, stir, cold water, stir, stir, stir, fill. I had already glued all the contents of the fridge down to the racks so they keep immobile. I try to move a bottle of water experimentally but it doesn’t budge. One slip of a jar of pickles and my whole plan fails.

I hear the buffer outside the teachers’ lounge door. I shut the door to the fridge and slip into one of the lockers provided for personal items for the teachers. A minute passes as I listen to the machine’s whir grow quieter and my heart beat slow with it. I slip out into the room and sit down at the table, propping my feet on the top. Now, all I do is wait.

***

I sit outside the office carving my initials into the hard, wooden bench, its luster gone from years of wear, with a pen I stole from Mr. Harris. M.E.B. How long will this take? I mean, what’s there to ‘discuss’? I screwed up again. Got it. Let’s administer the punishment and move on. I have things to do. But I can still hear their voices, murmuring back and forth, and every now and then a shout.

I stand up as the office door opens and Mrs. Cartwright steps out, along with Principal Higgins. Great. Why’d he come out? Why can’t he just stay in his office, where he belongs? He’s sweating as usual and his suit looks stretched to the max today. A button quivers at the bulge of his enormous belly, wanting to break free of the torment. I’m not sure why he doesn’t just buy new suits. How much do principals get paid anyway?

“You are not getting out of this one, Meri. There’s no simple grounding for this. You’ve gone too far,” Mrs. Cartwright says.

I know.

One of my best pranks so far – better than when I filled Hillary’s blow dryer with baby powder after Gym. This time, I filled the teachers’ lounge fridge with Jell-O. When they opened it the next morning, everything was stuck fast in a block of red gelatin dessert. At least Angus thought it was clever and asked me how I was able to get all that Jell-O in there without it just running out. I told him it was tricky, plain and simple.

“O-kay,” I say slowly, my eyes darting between them. Mrs. Cartwright looks serious and I’m not getting the best vibe right now.

“So what then? Do I have to do community service? Pick up trash like a convict? Or maybe scrub a homeless man?” I try to contain my snicker, but when Mrs. Cartwright’s eyes fill with tears, I know I shouldn’t have joked.

“Meri, do you remember the letter I received from the state awhile back giving you a final warning? Since you are now expelled, you will be relocated to a new home- and you will no longer live with me.”

The shock of the news hits me like a cold wave and I fall back against the bench. I feel bile start to rise in my throat and run to the bathroom, tears catching in my eyes. I try not to cry, to not let any wandering students see the pain. But, unfortunately, I run right into Hillary coming out of the girls’ bathroom. She looks at me with a sneer, which turns into a smug grin as she sees the hurt on my face.

“Aw, is poor little Meri crying?” she asks with faked sincerity. I want to yell at her, tell her to back off, but I’m afraid I’d burst into tears if I tried to speak.

“Serves you right, you dirty orphan,” she lashes. The words sting and she shoves me aside as she leaves, a few girls giggling as they follow her out. I rub my shoulder and escape into the first stall. The tears come full force and I can’t stop them.

I’ve done it. I have successfully pushed away Mrs. Cartwright, the one person I thought would never leave me. There are other schools in the district I could go to so I could stay with her, yet she’d rather have me gone all together. I am so pathetic.

I cry for what seems like hours, but is really more like ten minutes, until a knock at the stall door alerts me. I dry my tears quickly and sniffle one last time.

“Who is it?” I demand, angry at whoever interrupted me. I don’t care how loud I was crying, they can all shove off.

“I’m sorry, but- would you like a tissue?” a small voice asks.

A pink-finger-nailed hand appears under the stall, Kleenex in her grasp. I hesitate for a moment looking over at the toilet paper to my right. The stuff is cheap and feels like sandpaper- probably not the best thing to blow a nose into. I grab the tissue from the hand and it disappears, but I can still see her pink converse on the other side. I look down at my own once-white, worn Chuck’s and smile.

“Thanks,” I give in, not sure what else to say. She’s being kind to me. No one is ever kind to me. I frown slightly and blow my nose into the soft tissue. It’s the kind with lotion. I sigh gratefully, and reluctantly unlock the door. The pink converse back up as I exit the stall.

The girl is small, a head smaller than me. She looks about twelve and is wearing bedazzled jeans and a pink cheerleading top to accompany her kicks. I don’t really care for cheerleading. I try to hide my grimace, but luckily she doesn’t notice and looks at me with pity. I’m not up to telling her why I’m crying, so I pray she doesn’t ask. But, she just stands there, looking as awkward as I feel.

“Thank you,” I say, holding up the snot covered tissue, “for this.” She smiles, and after a brief pause, pushes a pig tail behind her shoulder and walks out the door. I stare after the door for some time, before making my way out and back to the Principal’s office.

Principal Higgins has vanished and Mrs. Cartwright is sitting on the bench. She looks at me sadly, but doesn’t say anything, which is fine by me. I’d rather have silence right now more than anything else. She stands and escorts me out of the now empty school. Gym was my last period, so I didn’t miss anything. Too bad.

***

The little purple house, with its paint peeling and crooked mailbox is a sight I will miss.

When I was first placed here a year ago, I thought I’d be gone in a month. I wanted to be gone in a month. There was no way I was going to stay here. With the flower beds bursting from hydrangeas and soft, flowing things everywhere, I was sure to go mad. But, instead, I fell in love with it, all of it, even the constant rain of the valley.

We walk through the door and I am instantly tackled by Joanie. Her blonde curls spring around her head and her little chubby arms grasp my legs. I pick her up and spin her around fast, causing a burst of giggles to erupt from her.  I set her down and she falls straight on her butt, still laughing. Mrs. Cartwright gives me the look, so I straighten up and tell Joanie to go wait up stairs for me. Joanie sticks her plump bottom lip out, pouting, but retreats upstairs anyway.

Mrs. Cartwright is old. Not keel-over-any-minute old, but she’s kind of ancient. She has gray streaks in her strawberry-blonde hair and wrinkles framing her eyes and mouth. I once asked her her age and she just gave me “”the look””. I guess her to be in her sixties.

Apparently, Mrs. Cartwright had a husband, but he died in one of those wars. If I paid more attention in history, I could probably tell you which one. Anyway, he died, which left her a widow. And worse yet, they never got to have children. Deciding that she’d never want to marry again, Mrs. Cartwright became a foster parent.

My case worker, Betty, told me she was the best. She could transform any child from a misfit, ill-mannered brat to a charming, poised child, worthy of adoption. Though, she noted, I may be an exception. What was my reply?

“Well, damn, guess I’m S.O.L. huh Bets? You should give up now, since I’m such a lost cause. Good thing too, you may yet be able to get your money back for that Craig Sager suit.”

Let’s just say, she didn’t find that comment rather amusing.

Craig Sager is known for his hideous suits which look like something you would pull off of a picnic table in July: bright, gaudy, and  should never be seen in public.

Mrs. Cartwright leads me into the kitchen and tells me to sit down. I know I’m in for a long talk, because she puts on the hot water for her tea.

“Meri,” she sighs “I’m sorry I couldn’t do anything more for you. There are some things even I can’t save you from.”

I don’t speak. I don’t want to talk about this. She has given up on me, just like the rest of them. And I hate her for that.

“But, I’m sure your new home will be just as nice,” she continues. “Maybe more so. After all, this house is so old.”

The kettle rumbles as the water starts to heat up and I keep my eyes on it, not wanting to look at her. When I still don’t respond, she asks, “Is there anything you would like to ask, or say?”

“Like what? You’re giving up on me. You can stop pretending like you care now.”

Mrs. Cartwright shakes her head and looks puzzled. But, she also looks at me with the same pity every other Foster has before her. I hate those pitied looks, they’re the worst thing. It merely serves as a reminder of how much better off they are. I frown and kick at one foot with the other.

“I have and will always care – you know that. But, there’s nothing I can do, Meri,” she sighs.

I’m not buying it. I’ve heard all the excuses before.

I get up, without another word, ignoring Mrs. Cartwright when she tells me to sit back down. She’s not my foster parent anymore.

9 thoughts on “Just For Kicks, a novel excerpt by Racheal McGillivary

  1. Good setup. I can really feel the desperation and the desire for love competing with anger. I am already rooting for Meri. I like that your descriptions are very detailed, something often lacking in first person narratives. I also really liked the bathroom scene and the small girl who showed compassion with a piece of tissue and busted the stereotype.

  2. This has a great voice and wonderful imagery. I was so sad when I got to the end; I wanted to read more and more and more. Great start. Definitely pulled me right in.

  3. High school isn’t the easiest time for a well-adjusted person and sure it must be hell for a foster child. The opening scene here was a bit confusing. It took a couple of readings before it made sense. I expect the fridge inside a teacher’s lounge would be full sized, not the small dorm sized units. So I wondered how a single person–a young girl I later discover–can turn a refrigerator on its back without making noise or crashing it. After getting past that, I found Meri’s situation believable and sympathetic.

    Watch for over-use of sentences beginning with “I.” The first five paragraphs begin this way. When writing first person, play with your sentences to create more diversity in how they sound. For instance:

    Original: I hear the buffer outside the teachers’ lounge door. I shut the door to the fridge and slip into one of the lockers provided for personal items for the teachers.

    Example: The janitor’s buffer whirls up the hall, nearing the teachers’ lounge door. Shutting the fridge door, I slip into one of the lockers provided for personal items for the teachers.

    There are a couple of tiny typos and run-on sentences, but nothing major stands out in your grammar that would throw me out of the narrative.

  4. There’s lots to like in this excerpt. The characters are well drawn, although the mean girl is rather stereotypical. I did like the smaller girl in pink sneakers and hope she reappears somewhere. As Carolyn pointed out, the narrative will be better for changing the paragraphs and sentences that begin with “I”, adding some balance and more rhythm to the prose. Perfect type of heroine – you want to hug her and shake her all at the same time.

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