The Pause That Refreshes

After publishing my second Nia D’Amato detective mystery this past January, I decided to take a break and try something completely different: a YA fantasy novel. I also wanted to tackle writing a story from a first person point of view. This past summer I finished a first draft of the story. It was fun to write since I loosely based the setting and characters on where I grew up but writing in the first person was more difficult than I anticipated. There are narrative limitations when you write everything through the eyes of your protagonist (in my case, Theo). I found myself slipping into a third person point of view which members of my writing group were quick to point out when they read some of my drafts. Since everything got filtered through Theo’s eyes, he must interpret the words, gestures, and actions of everyone he encounters. As a young teenager, it’s often incorrect! I found by mid-novel, I had mostly adjusted to this different point of view and came to enjoy the challenge.

I am attaching the opening scenes from the book tentatively titled It’s Theo, not Theodore.

Chapter 1

There was a kid on each arm holding me tight against the rough bark of the tree. My voice came out sounding whiney and scared. “Come on guys. Stop it. Let me go.”

“Time for your wedgie, The-o-dore.” There was laughter all around me. I twisted and squirmed, trying to delay the inevitable. “Hold still, you little shit.”

Jeff Flaherty. Oh, I really hated him. I could feel his grubby fingers trying to grab the top of my underwear. I pleaded, “No. Stop. Don’t. Leave me alone.” More chuckles.

Sister Ann Michelle’s voice rang out loud and menacing. “What in the world are you boys up to over there?”

My arms were suddenly free, and I fell to the ground. Jeff turned and stood in front of me. His voice sounded innocent, almost hurt by the accusation. “We’re not doing anything, Sister. We were just fooling around.”

I could hear her rosary beads swaying like a long-beaded chain as she left the broken asphalt coming to an abrupt stop on a strip of gravel and broken glass. She stood with chalk-coated hands planted on her hips and pushed him out of the way. I looked up into her puzzled hooded face. She planted her fists on her hips. “Theodore Raymond. Why in the world are you sitting on the ground?”

Now I know I could have said they were giving me a wedgie and that would have gotten them in trouble. First, I would have been wicked embarrassed saying that to her. Second, she didn’t have to go home with these idiots every day and worry about something much worse happening. “I was doing anything wrong. I was just sitting here watching them all fooling around.”

Her eyes narrowed. Was she was reading some truth meter hidden under her black nun’s habit that was hovering over the word lie? “Well, you should use the sense that God gave you. Now get up off the ground.” She spun around. “As for the rest of you,” she turned and gave each of them a wicked stare, “behave yourselves or I’ll have your parents down here and you’ll lose recess for a month.” Nobody spoke. She glared at each of them as they tried to avoid the evil eye, then she spun in place like a black twister and hurried away.

Jackie Peterson, one of the kids holding me, walked over. “Saved by the penguin.” He frowned as he looked at me, like a new idea had somehow survived to make it all the way to his brain. “Well, at least you’re not a squealer.” He turned and joined the other members of the torture committee. They kicked at the dirt and cursed their rotten luck.

I knew why Jackie said that. There was a time last fall that he thought I squealed on a bunch of kids for leaving the playground and running on to the lush green rectory grounds next to the school. They got in a lot of trouble. The whole time the teacher yelled at them, they turned and gave me threatening looks while they hissed death threats. I tried gesturing to them that it wasn’t me, but it didn’t matter. On my way home after school, a bunch of them pushed me down and started punching and kicking me. By the time it was over, I lay curled up on the ground, crying, wanting to just shrivel up and die. I think what hurt more than the beating was that I was no longer just a loser; I was a hated loser. Jackie found out a few days later it was another kid who squealed on them. He never apologized to me or anything. He just looked away with narrowed eyes and said they found out who really did it. Lucky me. I moved up to being just a plain old loser again.

I managed to make it through the rest of that day with Jeff only trying to trip me once as I walked back to my seat from the blackboard. I hoped Abby hadn’t seen what they tried to do to me earlier. She was the one girl that made my heart beat faster every time I saw her, but it didn’t really matter. She didn’t even know I existed. Every year since about fourth grade things had kind of gone downhill for me. I only had a few friends. Well, they weren’t really friends. Sometimes I’d hang out with them when their other friends were busy. Eighth grade was quickly turning into one of the worst years of my life.

Dinner took place religiously every night at 6:00. Our dining room was small, and the wallpaper looked like my Dad got leftover rolls from a bad Chinese restaurant remodeling job. It was gray and had a pattern of grapefruit-size light red pagodas across it. Meals were always noisy affairs with the sounds of five kids all trying to talk at the same time, competing with the clatter of food being scooped onto plates.

At dinnertime, my mother would ask everyone how their day went at school. Tonight, I played with my baked cod, mashed potatoes, and little orange carrot hockey pucks as I listened to another one of my older sister’s perfect days at St. Gregory’s High School. A forkful of carrots was halfway to my mouth when Mom looked over at me. “So what did you learn at school today, Theo?”

Now I was never really tempted to tell my parents about what actually happened ‘at school today’. I knew from painful experience that if I did, my father would react like an erupting volcano, slamming down his fork, and threatening to call the convent and complain about those damn kids. My mother would be very concerned about me, asking if I was okay, then in a cooler voice, she’d go over exactly what they would do about it after supper.

So, I mentioned nothing about the attempted wedgie and tried to think up some bit of useless information that the teacher talked about. “Well, we learned about diagramming sentences with participle phrases, then I had to do one on the blackboard.”

I hadn’t planned to continue, but my father was a bottom-line kind of guy. “So how did you do, Theo?”

“Ah. I did it right.”

He nodded. “Good and I’m sure we’ll see some improvement on your next report card.”

I had learned never to give them any cause to think I wasn’t doing well. “Sure. I guess so, Dad.”

I took a stab at trying to get some homework done after supper, but I could be distracted by the littlest things, like a spider that attempted to swing from one side of the window to the other. After a couple of hours at the dining room table pretending to do my schoolwork, I was barely half finished. “All done, Mom. I think I’ll go upstairs and read for a bit, then turn in.” Reading was always a safe excuse to escape from my mother’s watchful eyes.

I had been lying in bed for a while, trying to count the squashed mosquito bodies on the ceiling by the dim light coming in from the hall. But what I was really trying to do was to forget my humiliating day at school.

The phone rang. I could only hear the hushed voice of my mother talking, then my Dad’s voice a little louder. Everything suddenly fell silent. That was never a good sign. My father’s footsteps grew louder and louder, then stopped. His gravelly voice rolled up the stairs like a cannon blast. “Theo, come down here, we need to talk to you.” I slid off the bed and, for a minute, didn’t move. My father only used that voice when something really bad was going on. What had I done now? I took my time going down the stairs, trying to delay the bad news, or whatever this was, as long as possible. When I got to the kitchen doorway, I froze. I could see Mom’s back. She was sitting, shaking a little. Was she crying?

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