PBW Stories

Paperback Writer's Fiction Blog

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

An excerpt from Dark of Heart ~
Tales from the Lost Ledger
by Lynn Viehl

“Why on earth are you wearing black on the first day of school, Karise Carson?”

“I figured you’d have pretty and pink covered, Mrs. H.” Kari turned around to face her favorite teacher, who wore a pale rose-colored twinset and a double-stranded pearl necklace. “Well, get out of town. I’m psychic.”

Mrs. Hopkins’ lips pressed together as she glanced at the cup in Kari’s hand. “Is that coffee?”

“Nope. Tequila.” Kari watched a freshman boy run past them, the seat of his new jeans sopping wet, before she held out the drink. “Want some?”

“No, thank you.” The sound of laughter drew the teacher’s attention. “Report to my office after school tomorrow.”

“A detention, already?” Kari glanced at the chunky man’s watch strapped to her left wrist. “It’s not even seven-thirty yet. That has to be a new personal record.”

“It’s for the first meeting of the newsletter staff,” Mrs. Hopkins corrected. “Two-thirty sharp. Don’t forget.” She started walking toward a group gathered at the far end of the hall away before she looked back over her shoulder. “And Kari, whatever that is, get rid of it.”

Kari chugged a bit more of the coffee she’d lifted from the Welcome Parents! hospitality table in the cafeteria before she tossed the cup in the trash and headed for homeroom. Along the way she collected a dozen startled looks, twenty or so contemptuous stares, and three finger-pointings, complete with giggly whispers. After four years of similar treatment she hardly noticed anymore; it was just another price she paid while being forced to live in Lost Lake, the smallest, dullest and definitely the creepiest town in Central Florida.

Mr. Gordon, Tanglewood High’s football coach and Kari’s homeroom teacher for sophomore year, looked up as soon as she came in. “No. Not you.”

“Yes. Me.” She pulled an apple from her pocket and made a show of placing it on one corner of his blotter. As the kids behind her snickered, she learned over the desk to say in a stage whisper, “Don’t worry, Coach. I promise not to join cheerleading, or booster club, or key club. Then again, if you’re going to sponsor something really interesting, like say a club for slasher flick fans, or Future Bikers of America—”

He silenced her with a stop-hand, and then turned it to point at a front row seat directly in front of his desk. “Park it right there, Ms. Carson.”

“Aw, so close? See, you did miss me.” Before Kari could sit down, the girls sitting around her seat abandoned theirs. A minute later the snotty comments commenced behind her, and she amused herself by pegging the voices.

“Look at how short her hair is. Euw.”

That came from Tammy Walters, who thought growing her thin, oily hair down to her waist completely disguised the forty extra pounds she had acquired since freshman year.

“Did she shave her head over the summer?”

That would be Tammy’s BFF, Suzie Broderman. She suffered from a moderately serious acne problem, which actually did distract most people from noticing how much Suze resembled a weasel.

“She got her nose pierced last year during spring break,” someone said in between rapid chews. “That’s just so gross.”

So ruled Janet Phillips, whose gum addiction was only slightly less repulsive than the purging she did in the girls’ restroom immediately before homeroom and after lunch.

Kari didn’t particularly care for being discussed as if she were invisible, but she’d set herself on fire before she even acknowledged it.

“I heard she has one, you know.” Suze lowered her voice to a hissy whisper. “Down there.”

Now and then Kari still felt a little twinge from her third and latest piercing, which was not as far south as Ferret Face seemed to think. She considered flashing it, but she hadn’t yet told her mother about her navel ring. Any girl at school who saw it would tell their mother, who would then make a point of mentioning it to Gloria Carson the next time they went to the grocery store where she worked during the day. Kari had gotten plenty of grief for her other piercings, and after what had happened over the summer, she wouldn’t tell her mother she had gotten pierced again even if someone had impaled her with a two-by-four.

As the last bell rang and Mr. Gordon got up to shut the classroom door, one last student slipped inside. Although the boy was not in his seat, and therefore technically late, the teacher said only “Morning, Devlin.”

“Coach.” The tall, muscular boy nodded to him before he scanned the room, his bright blue eyes passing over Kari as if she were invisible.

To Connor Devlin, Kari thought, she probably was.

A glance back confirmed all the desks in the room were occupied now except the one to the right of Kari’s. As Connor hung his backpack over one corner of the chair back, she shifted slightly so she wouldn’t have her retinas burned by the blinding whiteness of his immaculate, fitted polo shirt (she was tempted to put on her shades, but Gordon would view that as a personal insult and confiscate them.)

Golden Boy almost had it all. Good looks ran in his family; his Dad’s handsome face smiled out from billboards all over the county, and his mother had been a famous beauty pageant winner who went all the way to runner-up for Miss Florida before she decided to turn in her tiara to teach special ed kids. Connor couldn’t have purchased better parents.

No doubt AwesomeMom and Dad had inspired Connor to become WonderSon, because he played on both the football and baseball teams, and had been captain of the swim team since sixth grade. Add to that the pretty face and killer body, and it wasn't hard to see why Connor had become a card-carry member of the Universally Admired. He made straight A’s, scored off the grid on aptitude tests and never, ever forgot to do his homework. Teachers loved him like an undemanded pay raise.

He wasn’t the most popular boy at school – Aaron Boone had held onto that title since fifth grade – but he was definitely first runner up and would happily serve if anything happened to Boone. Connor had been elected as class vice-president every year since sixth grade (without trying; no one dared run against him.) When he wasn’t neck-deep in some project to infect other kids with school spirit, he volunteered as a batting coach for Little League.

The only problem Connor Devlin supposedly had was girl shyness. He’d only ever dated one; a softball pitcher named Jackie Faber. She’d been two years older than him and graduated last year, at which point she had promptly dumped Connor before moving to the other side of the country for college. From the way everyone had reacted to the news, Kari had wondered if Jackie had carved out one of Golden Boy’s kidneys to take with her.

Kari noted the sun streaks in his brown hair, and his always-flawless tan, that had somehow grown deeper and more golden. He’d probably spent the entire summer sunning himself on some exotic Caribbean island while getting over Jackie.

Connor caught her watching him and gave her a nod. He wasn’t particularly friendly or social, but he never got into trouble and in alignment with his teacher ass-kissing he had a rep for being polite to everyone, no matter where they landed on the social importance scale.

In return Kari gave him the shoulder. Golden boy probably didn’t know her mother worked for his father cleaning houses before they went on the market, but even if he did, he shouldn’t be shoving his dazzling niceness in her face. Hadn’t his saintly mother taught him how to pretend trailer park trash like Kari Carson didn’t exist?

Technically I’m not trailer park trash anymore, she corrected herself. Now mom and I are low-income apartment housing refuse.

“I’m Mr. Gordon, and this is Homeroom 7A,” the coach said, silencing the students in the process. He scooped up a stack of forms and handed smaller piles to the first student in each row. “These are your emergency contact forms and other papers you and your parents have to fill out for the front office. They’re due back to me on Friday morning, so get them done, people.”

While Mr. Gordon went to turn up the PA speaker for morning announcements, Kari opened her backpack to retrieve a pen and start filling in the forms. Inside was a crumpled, rolled-up paper bag that had a mustard stain on one side; it smelled suspiciously of bologna. Gloria was trying to play Good Mommy again by making her lunch.

Too bad she never remembers how much I despise processed meat.

As soon as the bell for first period rang Kari balled up Gloria’s lunch and with an expert throw tossed it in the garbage can beside the door.

“Two points,” Connor said as he got up from his desk and shouldered his backpack. He didn’t walk out, but hovered between their desks. “You should try out for girls’ basketball.”

Kari frowned. Golden Boy was talking to her. Actually speaking to her. Like she existed in his world. Which she never would, and they both knew it.

She got a small amount of satisfaction from walking past him without a word. He didn’t have to exist in her world, either.

Kari’s next three classes were as boring as she’d expected, and since she’d been slotted for second lunch she skipped it to lurk outside Visual Arts until Mrs. Skyler came back from the cafeteria to prepare for class.

“I would applaud you for being so early, Ms. Carson,” the art teacher said as she unlocked the door, “but you’re not scheduled for any of my classes.”

“A great personal loss for me, frankly,” Kari said as she followed her inside. “It’s nice that you looked for my name on your rosters.”

“Oh, we all look for it, dearie.” Mrs. Skyler began unloading from her tote bag jars of primary-colored poster paint, which she placed in a neat row in her supply cabinet. “Now what can I do for you that won’t violate the terms of your parole?”

Kari put on her best woeful face. “Well, since I didn’t get Visual Arts this semester, it’s going to be a complete void for me. I’m really worried that my art will suffer.” She picked up a watercolor from a nearby desk that depicted a turkey-size, googly-eyed swallow that appeared to be dropping like a stone from a cartoon sky. “And I’ll end up painting things like this. Wow. Was this Picasso sitting a little too near the glue tubes, or what?”

As she turned to get more paint, the art teacher neatly removed the watercolor from her hands and returned it to the desk. “Let’s stick to whatever you’re suffering from, shall we?”

“Sure, absolutely. And you do know how important my art is to me.” She leaned against the side of the supply cabinet. “Being unable to express myself could inflict a huge amount of emotional damage. I may even need counseling or something.”

Mrs. Skyler closed the cabinet doors. “All of my classes are full, and I can’t transfer a student out to make room for you or your tortured muse.”

“I’m not asking you to do that,” Kari said quickly. “But if I could borrow one of the classroom cameras, just for a couple months until I save up to buy my own, it would solve my problem and let me continue to explore my artist boundaries.”

“Dearie, you have no boundaries whatsoever. That is your problem.” The teacher faced her. “What happened to the one you used to take all those candid portraits of the faculty last year?”

Kari looked down at her boots. “I, ah, lost it over the summer.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.” Her voice became brisk. “But the current policy prohibits teachers from lending school property to students for personal use.”

“I’ll be using it to take photos for the school newsletter,” Kari assured her. “That’s not personal. Please, I really need this.” Maybe a little honesty would help. “Without a camera, I feel . . . blind.”

Mrs. Skyler sighed. “I wish could help, Karise. However, even if I could get approval from the front office, I don’t have any cameras to lend out.”

That didn’t make sense; Kari knew the art teacher had at least four. “Who got here before me?”

“Thieves,” the art teacher said. “Two were stolen over the summer and have yet to be recovered. The other two were signed out for the yearbook staff this morning before I got to school. They’ll be using them until at least February or March.”

“Principal Deaver is going to buy replacements for the two that were stolen, won’t he?” When the art teacher shook her head, Kari felt her stomach knot. “Right, I forgot. He’s a cheapskate.”

“Don’t go blaming Mr. Deaver now,” Mrs. Skyler chided. “The school board cut our funding again this year, and he has more important things to buy, like textbooks for the classrooms, and food for the lunch programs.” She hesitated before she added, “Talk to Mrs. Hopkins. I’m sure she’ll be happy to put a notice in the newsletter asking for the donation of a camera.”

It wasn’t a bad suggestion, but Kari knew that Mrs. Hopkins wouldn’t believe she’d lost her camera over the summer. “It’s okay. I’ll figure out something else.” She managed a wan smile, genuine this time. “Thanks.”

On her way out, she nearly blundered into someone walking in, and muttered an apology as she swerved to one side, banging into the door. A slim hand touched the underside of her forearm as she righted herself and looked up into heavenly blue eyes.

Connor Devlin. Again. And this time he was touching her. Holding onto her. Looking at her with concern.

“Are you all right?”

Golden Boy probably had fifteen cameras at home, Kari thought. Expensive ones. All gathering dust on the shelves next to his thousands of trophies. Resentment boiled over inside her as she yanked her arm free. “Get away from me.”

He lifted his hands, palms-out, and started to say something. “I need to—”

The bell rang, drowning him out, and Kari turned her back on him to head to her next class. Whatever Connor Devlin needed, he’d have to get it from someone else.



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