on April 29, 2019
Genres: Young Adult
Welcome to Ecrivain Academy.
Here in these storied halls you will be trained to become one of the greatest writers the world has ever known.
There are poetry battles.
Is your story a romance?
Or is it something darker?
Explore all Ecrivain has to offer.That is, if you can survive until graduation.
Just hit send.
My finger hovered over the enter key, and I chewed on my lip in hesitation.
Come on, Calliope, my inner monologue quipped. Don’t be a coward.
Taking a deep breath, I squeezed my eyes shut and slammed my finger onto the enter button. My lungs emptied with a very loud sigh and I peeked one eye out to see if the confirmation screen was up yet.
There was no going back now. I’d officially sent my story away into the electronic wild blue yonder. As scared as I felt, a swirl of excitement was building in my stomach. I tried to tamper it down so my hopes wouldn’t build up.
A sip of tea helped quell some anxiety for now, and I let the warmth of it wash over me like a bath. My fingers smoothed over the china while my eyes danced from the computer screen to the paper I’d been putting off to the last minute. One more sip of tea. I closed the tab with the writing contest and put it from my head so I could focus on packing up my bag for school.
My phone popped with a text and I laid out my math book over my desk before tapping my phone screen to see the message.
Did you send it? The text was from my best friend, Kathryn. A rush of dread flew up my throat. How had she found out? Was she spying on me? Did the entire school know? I’d never be able to live this down. I fumbled, trying to think of a response, and ended up having a panic attack via text message.
Send what? Did someone say something? What do you know? Who told you?
Way to play it cool.
She responded within a few seconds and I could feel her raised eyebrow in the text. Calm down, spaztastic. I asked for a cookie recipe yesterday, remember? Although I’d be happy to discuss whatever that was all about.
Nothing, I responded, and quickly sent her a picture of the recipe.
Thanks, she replied. I’m not forgetting what you said, though, just in case you were hoping otherwise.
Crap. I groaned and sipped another mouthful of tea. It didn’t make things better, unfortunately. I was of the belief that tea could solve almost anything, but it couldn’t solve my big mouth. Kathryn would be relentless at school until I either told her or made something up. My eyes went back to my laptop screen where a sheep danced around on my screensaver.
What was I thinking, entering a writing contest? I wasn’t a writer. Nothing would change that, not even my stupid story about a dog and a squirrel being best friends. I’d almost deleted it seven times since I’d finished it, but something stopped me every time. When I found a writing contest online, I decided enough was enough, and I’d hear for real that my writing was garbage so I could stop this fantasy and get back to everything I was supposed to care about, like boys and makeup.
If I kept sitting there regretting my decision, I’d be late to school. One last sip emptied my cup, and I grabbed my bag and headed out the door. Mom drove my brother Penny to school every day while I took the bus. The sticky, smelly, pressed together bodies bus. The bus that had already stopped at my house, apparently.
Cursing under my breath, I slipped my black ankle boots on at the front door and ran to make sure the bus didn’t leave me behind. It stopped at the stop sign on the end of my block and opened for me when I kicked the side with my booted foot.
My house was one of the last on the route, meaning I always had to sit in the undesirable spots on the bus. Today that happened to be a seat that looked like someone had spilled a soda all over it. I picked the very edge of the brown leather bench to sit on and hoped the bus wouldn’t lurch and toss me into the aisle.
As the bus rolled away from my street, the kids on the bus laughed, chatted to themselves, and beat out tunes on top of the seats. I bobbed my head along with it, trying to not bring attention to myself. None of them liked me, a fact I was well aware of. They were under the impression that I had a superiority complex because my parents were rich. It wasn’t my fault my parents made me ride the bus. I begged them for a car next year when I turned sixteen, and they met it with a resounding no. No car for Calliope. Riding the bus builds character. Wouldn’t want me to be spoiled like Penny.
My little brother, Penny, was ten years old, and my parents let him do whatever he wanted with the excuse of ‘boys will be boys.’ I struggled daily trying to tell myself that I’m supposed to love my brother, not to mention my parents. What kind of person doesn’t love their family? The bad kind, that’s what. I was a horrible person for not loving them. My alternative was that I could at least care about them. Maybe if I did, I would become a better person. Until then, I deserved to ride the bus like a loser. I stared down at the dirty bus floor and moped about my lot in life until the bus lurched and tossed me, not in the aisle, but right into the sticky seat puddle. My blue jumper was covered in soda, not to mention my hair. I pulled at my red strands and came away with sticky sugar.
“Aww, is richy rich in a sticky situation?” someone taunted. The bus erupted in laughter and my face burned with mortification. I looked up to see a boy wearing a backwards cap, sipping a soda through a straw and smiling at me with an evil grin. His straw bubbled like there wasn’t anything left in the cup, because he’d emptied it all over my seat. Pulling the cup away from his mouth, he shook it at me with a smile full of sarcastic venom. His friend fist bumped him in victory.
The bus rocked again when the driver pulled on the breaks as we reached the school, and I fell into the aisle this time. The dirt from people’s shoes stuck to my sticky arm. Everyone had a good round of laughter again and left the bus, leaving me behind. Somehow, I got up off the floor and got my sticky self out onto the sidewalk.
Kathryn was waiting for me as always with her golden tan and pink haired perfection, but her perfect face turned sour when she saw me messed up and dirty. She flew to me and fussed over taking my sticky bag and helping me inside the building, as if I couldn’t on my own. She snuck me into the girl’s locker room and I took my boots off before I stood under the showerhead and let the warm water flow over me.
“Those beasts,” she spat, watching me by the sinks. I ran my fingers through my tangled red hair and shook the droplets off my face. “They put the soda there on purpose to screw with you. I should join you today after school and show them what happens when you mess with my friend.”
“Please don’t,” I pleaded half-heartedly. She was the only person who cared about me. I couldn’t bear it if she was bullied too. I used a towel to dry off myself and my clothes as best I could. The shower room had a washer and dryer, but if I didn’t get going fast, we would miss first period.
“B. T. Dubs,” she said, pointing a perfectly manicured finger at me. “We’re going to talk about that freak out you had via text earlier.”
If I hadn’t just been doused in soda, I might’ve actually told her the truth, but my mood was ruined. I grabbed my bag from her and used the towel to try and salvage it without using water. It worked well enough, so I slung it over my shoulder and walked out without saying another word to her.
My favorite part of school was free period. I spent that time every day inside the library, soaking in every book I could get my hands on. I’ll admit that I was guilty of only choosing what was new and popular, just so I could add to the conversations at school. I never read anything older than myself, unless it was a hot topic, like Handmaid’s Tale or Outlander. I never read classics or non-fiction. I know that’s practically reader taboo, but I cared more about being able to impress people than reading about antique people doing antique people things. It was a conundrum, wanting to stay under the radar and yet be noticed at the same time. I didn’t care that it was ridiculous.
My current read was about a virtual world used to escape the doldrums of everyday life. It had been adapted into a movie and everyone at school was buzzing about plans to go see it. I’d saved enough allowance to go with Kathryn, and I fully intended to read the book first so I could be prepared just in case anyone talked to me about it.
Like Blades Sherman.
He was on the football team and he always dated curvy blondes that actually needed a bra. I knew he’d never notice me, but my teenage heart didn’t care. I wanted him to suddenly realize that I was perfect for him. Preferably before prom so he could ask me and I wouldn’t have to go with Kathryn. I was totally fine bringing a girl, especially one as pretty as Kathryn, but I wanted Blades like I wanted air, and really nice shoes.
“Wake up.” Kathryn poked me with a pencil and looked back down at her book, something with art on the pages. She was convinced that there had to be at least one book in our library with boobs in it. It was her daily quest, mostly so she had something to do while I actually read the books. “Is it boring?” She pointed the pencil at the book in my hands.
“No. I was just…..” I scratched at my leg. My skin was becoming increasingly itchy with my still slightly damp clothes. I could’ve spent free period cleaning them in the girls’ locker room, but why do that when I could read books? “…daydreaming,” I finished.
“About Blaaaades?” she teased, batting her eyelashes at me.
“Sssshut up,” I whispered in warning. She giggled at me and leaned in secretively.
“Tell me, Cals. What’s the thing you freaked out about earlier? Did you do something rebellious?” Her face lit up in hope and she grabbed my hand to shake it repeatedly.
She squeaked loud enough for the librarian to shush us, then leaned in closer. “What’d’ja do? Tellmetellmetellme!”
Having to say it out loud to her made it real, and scary. I couldn’t tell her I’d written a dumb story. She wouldn’t tease me, but she’d make it a thing. She’d never let me rest until I kept writing, and I wasn’t ready for that. I didn’t even want that.
Before I could answer, Kathryn grabbed my hand and squeaked again, softer this time so we wouldn’t get in trouble. Blades had just entered the library with his newest fling, someone I didn’t know, but I wished I looked like her. Blonde hair. Big boobs. Actual booty. My envy of her almost distracted me from him, my Blades. My stomach flip-flopped at the sight of him and my lungs felt compressed inside my chest. I primped my hair a bit and straightened my sweater.
“Calliope and Blades, sittin’ in a tree,” Kathryn sang in a whisper. I batted her hands away. She brought her two pointer fingers together to mimic kissing. “Gonna F.K. with Blades, aww yiss.” Her abbreviation of ‘first kiss’ didn’t make her mashed together fingers look more appealing. It also sounded like she was saying a curse word.
I’d just hissed for her to stop when Blades and his girlfriend came closer. His eyes were busy taking in all the shelves while the girl approached me with a cynical stare. She adjusted her very large expensive purse and flipped her hand out in that ‘I want to talk to your manager’ kind of way.
“Hey, nerd,” she belted out in my direction. “Where’s the best corner in here to make out?” I was stunned into silence that she would even ask me anything, not to mention why did she want to know something like that? Ohh. Right. She scoffed at me when I didn’t answer. “Oh wait, I’m asking the wrong person, aren’t I? You only kiss your hand.” She sighed, as if teasing me was boring her. “Where’s the books on Napoleon?”
Kathryn leaned her arm over the back of her chair and scowled. “Do we look like librarians?”
The blonde girl’s look made it very clear she absolutely thought we did. “I need to write a stupid paper and I have no idea who Napoleon is.”
Kathryn shrugged. “French dude. Tried to take over Europe. Didn’t work out too well.” I found myself trying to catch Blades’ eyes, but he kept his gaze firmly towards the ceiling. If only he’d look down, he’d see how cute I looked in my navy blue jumper. It was almost completely dry now from the shower too.
My mind moved unbidden to thoughts of finding that quiet corner his girlfriend thought I knew about, only she wasn’t there, and it was just him and me. Maybe he’d laugh when he felt the dampness of the jumper and pull me close to him when I told him what had happened. It would be nice to have someone to save me from bullies. Maybe he’d become my champion and make sure no one hurt me ever again.
And maybe. He’d give me my first kiss. A stolen moment between the book stacks when our lips met.
His girlfriend snapped loudly in my face to wake me up from my daydreams. “Wake up, crazy face. Where’s the stupid history books, your friend doesn’t know.”
My cheeks flushed and I glanced at Blades again before looking down at my boots. “Over there,” I said meekly, pointing. She grabbed Blades’ arm and dragged him away from me.
Daydreaming was something I did every day. Yes, some of it was about Blades, as was to be expected of teenage girl hormones. The rest was about other things. How I’d fit in my favorite novels or tv shows, or what if this had happened in history instead of what actually happened.
Sometimes I daydreamed about things I made up and that was how I’d come up with the story about the dog and the squirrel. I saw someone walking their Labrador retriever across the street from my science class and watched as it tried desperately to catch a ground squirrel, even after the rodent had disappeared into its hole in the ground. Something sparked inside me, and I immediately flipped a few pages away from my science notes and wrote until the bell rang.
The dog and squirrel had lived in the same yard for all their lives, and the squirrel was convinced he and the dog were best friends. The dog had no such preconceptions and tolerated the squirrel’s antics until one day the squirrel didn’t come out of its tree, and the dog realized he missed his friend.
I knew the story wasn’t very good, but writing it made me feel alive, and as I sat in Algebra daydreaming about other things, I tried to convince myself that I was going to succeed at writing. My resolve was short-lived because I went home and remembered how life really was.
That was how I felt that day when I trudged up the stairs and dumped my bag onto my bed before changing out of the now dry jumper. My skin still had an edge of stick to it, so I walked to the bathroom to clean up. The large rectangle mirror showed a thin weed-like girl with freckles and red hair that was neither curly nor straight. I turned to the side and frowned at my lack of curves. I was still as skinny as I was before puberty. Shopping in the juniors section while everyone else had moved onto the women’s section was humiliating, not to mention I was the only fifteen year old who hadn’t grown proper breasts. A groan escaped my lips and I leaned forward to scowl at all the freckles that dotted every inch of my skin. I looked like a Dalmatian.
“If you stare harder, maybe you’ll stop looking like a turd face,” my little brother squeaked from behind the bathroom door. I caught his eye in the mirror and the sight of my angry face sent him off running down the hall. My feet flew out of the bathroom, through the hallway, down the stairs, and into the living room where he’d hidden behind something.
“Penny, you are so dead!” I shouted to him as I bent around looking for his hiding spot.
“Language!” I heard from the kitchen, right before my mother poked her head out from the archway that separated the two rooms. She looked at me with pursed lips and wrinkled disapproval. It took me a few seconds to realize that she was mad at me for saying the word ‘dead.’
I pointed to the couch where Penny was hiding. “Penny called me a turd face.”
Instead of coming to my defense, because she never did, Mom sighed heavily. “Calliope, act mature. This doesn’t become you.” She turned and went back into the kitchen. My mouth curled in anger at her retreating back. She was so mean sometimes. Why couldn’t she be fun like Kathryn’s mom? Kathryn’s mom let her do whatever she wanted, while my mom still insisted I hide my eyes when Aragorn decapitated the Uruk-hai in Lord of the Rings. Spoiler alert: I’ve seen blood before, Mom.
Seeing that I wasn’t paying attention, Penny crawled out from the couch and launched himself at my leg. “Alien attaaaaack!” he screamed. “I’m going to suck your brains out your butt hole!” I kicked at the leg he was attached to and looked hopefully at the kitchen to see if Mom would reprimand my brother for saying ‘butt hole,’ but she failed to appear. Typical.
“Penny,” I growled in annoyance. “Why are you being such a brat?”
“I’m not a brat! You’re a brat!” he retorted and stuck his tongue out at me.
“Don’t call your brother a brat,” Dad ordered from the front door. Him too? Of course, I forgot. It was pick on Calliope day. Every day was pick on Calliope day.
“Make him get off,” I whined, hoping one parent would have some sympathy on me.
“It’s time for dinner.”
Mom’s words made Penny fly off of me faster than a page load. He didn’t bother making sure I was okay, and his retreat almost knocked me over, slamming me into the edge of the coffee table. Pain sliced through my leg and I bent to checked the area. No blood. I limped over to the dining table where Mom had decorated the room like we were being filmed for HGTV. Flowers in vases, flowers in buckets, flowers in tiny wheelbarrows, and so. much. burlap.
I sat down in my country style ladderback chair with weathered paint and watched Penny kick his chair repeatedly as he swung his feet back and forth. My father, already sitting at the head of the table, ignored the noise and damage to the chair. I smiled when Mom came into the room and placed a large dish of roast beef stew on the table. She didn’t smile back, but that was okay.
“How was work, Dad?” I asked brightly, picking up my napkin to place in my lap. Yes. Mom made us use actual cloth napkins, like we were at a restaurant. It’s an understatement to say she tried my patience sometimes.
My father helped himself to some stew and diverted my question with one of his own. “Have you finished your paper that’s due tomorrow?” He was always on top of what I had to do at school.
I sunk into my chair and stared at the flowers in front of me. “No.”
“Then what, pray tell, was so much more important than your homework?” he asked me, his tone growing agitated. He passed the serving spoon to Penny next.
I watched my brother get a very large serving of the stew and thought about the story contest. Obviously, I couldn’t tell them about it. What would they even say?
Stop neglecting your studies for frivolous activities. Probably. Not that I wasn’t a straight A student, because I was. That didn’t matter to them, though.
When my brother stuck his tongue out at me and passed the serving spoon to Mom, something snapped inside me. I grasped at the receding tethers to stop the oncoming flood, but it was too late.
My mouth had a mind of its own and blurted out the sentence that changed my life.
“I entered a writing contest.”
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