Growing up in an upper-middle-class suburb of the Minneapolis/Saint Paul metro area, I had led a moderately sheltered life. Our class didn’t know what diversity was until a Hispanic girl moved in at the end of the sixth grade, and two colored boys in eighth grade. Even then, everyone was Christian. We learned about other religions through Cable-In-The-Classroom programs and a couple of speakers from the local churches, but there were only a few of us who had ever met anyone who wasn’t Christian.
That was until the first day after Christmas vacation in tenth grade. It was just after first hour that I saw her. It was all I could do to avoid staring at her. Her skin was olive and her eyes were intense. She was about as tall as I was, and I was nearing five feet eight inches. But what caught my attention wasn’t her skin or her eyes, no, it was the way she was dressed.
She wore a long black robe-like thing that was accented with little gold flowers at the wrists and the bottom hem. When she lifted her arms to reach into her locker, I could see that she was wearing a dark purple long-sleeved shirt under it. What struck me dumb was the silky, purple cloth she had wrapped around her head and neck. At once, it was both mesmerizing and terrifying. Wasn’t that what the terrorists wore? The ones that crashed the planes into the towers? My thoughts raced, my heart pounded. A quick glance around proved that I was not the only one who felt this way. Even the Hispanic girl was whispering and pointing at this new girl. I wanted nothing more than to walk over and yank that scarf of the girl’s head.
I was still working up my nerve to go over and tell this new girl, this terrorist wannabe, off when the bell rang, and I had to bolt down the hall to class. I would have to deal with this threat later. Maybe at lunch.
I slid into my seat at the back of my math class just as the teacher, Mr. Warden, walked in. I sighed, relieved that I had avoided being marked tardy. The sigh was cut short, however, when I caught sight of the person walking in just behind him.
“Great,” I growled under my breath. My best friend, Shelly Johnson, shot me a clueless look, and I quickly scribbled a note on the back of an old worksheet and shoved it into her hand.
“Look at her. She’s a terrorist; we have to do something. How could they possibly expect us to accept her?” said the note. I watched her eyes widen in horror. I nodded when she met my gaze again, and then motioned for her to hand it to our other best friend, Kiki Newman. She read the note, looked up at me with an eyebrow raised, and then re-read the note.
“Everyone,” Mr. Warden said, interrupting our little meeting, “This is Fatima Sarraf. Her family’s just moved here from New York.”
“Looking for a new target? Didn’t give your God enough of a thrill when you trashed the twin towers?” Shelly catcalled. I tried hard to stifle a giggle. Mr. Warden shot us both a harsh look, but the girl didn’t waver. Her confidence infuriated me, so I added, “She’s probably here as a spy for the Taliban! I wonder when her beard will come in?” Shelly and Kiki both jerked forward, roaring with laughter. A few others laughed as well, but stopped abruptly as Mr. W spoke next.
“That’s it, you three, down to Mr. LeMay’s office. Now. Fatima, I apologize for their behavior. We aren’t all like that.”
As I gathered my books, a task made much more difficult by the fact that I was laughing uncontrollably, the girl spoke. “It’s all right, Mr. Warden.” Her voice was soft, and I had to look up at her. It was impossible not to see that her confident façade had slipped. I could see tears welling in her eyes. I grinned fiendishly. This is gonna be easy.
Mr. LeMay, the Principal of Cedarcrest Senior High (our school), was a pushover. We weren’t too concerned as we walked from Mr. Warden’s class to the front office.
“Oh my god, Nikki, I seriously thought I was gonna have, like, a heart attack or something when you shouted that!” Kiki said when her giggling finally subsided. I high fived her and laughed.
“I thought she was gonna lose it! Did you see her? I bet if Mr. W hadn’t been such a little girl about it, we could’ve got her to leave the school,” I replied with a smirk. “We’ll get her.”
We stopped just before turning down the hall that led to the main office and huddled together. “So, we go in there and we play it cool. We say that the terrorist was totally buggin’ out on Kiki before class so Shelly and I had to do something. Okay?” I said in a stage whisper. The others nodded in agreement, as we made a pact to back each other up on this.
Fatima Sarraf was going down.
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And now, the other excerpt.
“Bye Mom, Dad!” Jessie called over her shoulder as she slipped her shoes on. She was out the door in a flash, skipping happily down the street toward the bus stop. Up ahead she could see a few of her classmates also approaching the stop, and she wondered if they would talk to her that day. She slowed down so she wouldn’t pass the others, and held her messenger bag tight against her side. Would she finally make a friend?
At the bus stop, Jessie held her distance. She had always been awkward around other kids her own age. In the last two grades, there had been certain people who’d teased her about her shyness. But since those people no longer attended Cedarcrest High, Jessie thought she might stand a chance. After all, it was her senior year, and things were bound to be different. At least that’s what she told herself.
She glanced around, trying her best to look “normal.” The boy closest to her was bouncing a basketball while talking on a cell phone. A group of girls a few feet from her was gossiping about something the cheerleading captain did over summer vacation. Sitting on the curb, furthest from Jessie, was a boy she’d never seen before.
For reasons she didn’t quite understand, the new boy made Jessie nervous. She decided right then and there that she would avoid him as much as possible. She played with her hair, letting it fall in thick brown waves on either side of her face. Nobody seemed to notice her. She couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed. A cold wind stirred up the few red and yellow leaves that had already fallen, whisking them quickly through the small group of high school students. Jessie twitched at the sensation of one of the cold, slightly damp leaves smacking her in the side of the head.
Her hands flew to her face, fingers working frantically to get the leaf out of her hair. It was a few moments before she threw the leaf to the ground, shaking her head in an effort to clear her brain of the sensation. She looked down the street to see if she could spot the bus, and that was when she realized the silence that had fallen over the other teens. She froze, heart pounding, as she heard a junior girl, Natasha Hart, ask, “Your name’s Jessie, right?”
Jessie nodded once, trying to determine her course of action. It had been years since anyone had actively sought her out in a crowd for any reason other than to tease her. She was ready to bolt at the first sign of hostility. But when she looked at the other girl’s face, all she saw was sincerity and innocence.
“My name’s Natasha, but everyone calls me Nat. Um, you took gymnastics in middle school, didn’t you?” The girl was enthusiastic, that Jessie could never deny. She stood just shy of five feet tall, appearing almost childlike next to Jessie, who was pushing six feet. Natasha was blonde with beautifully tanned skin, whereas Jessie had a thick tangle of brown-black waves that fell to the middle of her back and her skin was too sensitive to tan.
“Um, yeah,” Jessie said, her voice barely above a whisper. Nat’s smile only seemed to grow wider, showing more of her perfectly white teeth. If Jessie’s memory served her, Natasha came from a rather wealthy family with a large house on the river. Why is she talking to me? I’m not anywhere near her league. Give me a 15 foot ladder and two yardsticks taped to each other and I might be able to prod the bottom of her league, Jessie thought rather bitterly.
“Well, um,” Nat paused, biting her lip and looking back to her friends, most of which were still gossiping about summer vacation. She cleared her throat and continued, “We, uh, the cheer squad that is, were wondering if you would be interested in trying out this year? We’re down a couple girls after that whole pregnancy thing last year, and since you already took gymnastics you’re like way overqualified, so you should totally try out.”
“What?” Jessie blurted, almost cutting Natasha off. She cringed immediately, knowing she just likely blew her chance at whatever the other girl was talking about.
“Try out for cheerleading. Please? We really need more girls, and I really think you’d be a good addition to the team.” Natalia looked over to her friends and motioned for them to come over. “I mean, you’re totally tall, you’ve got that great hair, and your legs go on for miles.”
“You’re gonna try out for the squad?” another blond girl, Felicia, asked as she approached. She held her hand out to shake Jessie’s. “I’m Felicia. You’re Jessie, right? I think we had math together last year.”
Jessie will be out before the end of 2012. It is going to be YA/Horror.
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