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First pages

Chapter One

I need a ride to school. Can you pick me up?

I texted my boyfriend Brian—again. This had to have been the seventh time this morning.

I tossed my cell phone on the bed.

You would think with it being my sixteenth birthday and the first day of school he would have answered. This was it. We were over, which was why I wanted him to pick me up.

I glanced over at my silent phone.

Brian and I had grown apart since I had been away this summer, and I had just returned late last night, and since he wasn’t answering my text messages I wasn’t feeling as guilty about the impending break-up.

This year I wanted to be free to come and go as I pleased, not hang around and do things according to Brian’s schedule. Today, I, Jessica Belladonna Fairchilde would be getting my driver’s license.

I needed a car, but I had that covered. I knew Dad would have a restored Candy Apple Red Mustang convertible with a 200 horsepower V-8 engine for me because I’d left enough hints, notes, and pictures plastered to the refrigerator over the past six months for him to know I wanted a Mustang. Nothing else would do. This was the car of my heart. I’d even told him one day when we were in the garage installing the hood to a hot rod.

Glancing over at my digital clock, I needed to hurry because it was already 7:25 a.m. If Brian didn’t give me a ride, I was stuck riding the school bus. I searched through my clothes and most of them were dirty and smelled like skanky sweat socks because I had tossed wet towels on top of them when I had hurriedly packed yesterday. Oh well! I could do laundry tonight.

I found one clean tee-shirt with a round, pointed ear gremlin driving a hot rod with Tailgunner Automotive written in big balloon letters—not what I wanted to wear on the first day of my junior year in high school, but at least it was clean and didn’t smell like a mildewed shower curtain.

“Die. Evil Dog of Doom.” I heard a trio of voices yell out in the hall, and I rolled my eyes. They would soon be unleashed onto the Everville City Public School system.

Yes, getting my license was a good thing.

My Mustang would allow me to escape from The Wolves, who were my five-year old hyperactive triplet brothers, and I was really tired of babysitting them. Yep, my parents didn’t have one kid —they had a litter.

I stuck my head out my bedroom door and looked up the hall. The coast was clear. They were in their room. Whew!

As I walked past the laundry area, the washing machine clonked loudly as it hit the rinse cycle, and it didn’t sound like it would be in this world for long. Dang it! I hope I would have a chance to wash a load of underwear before it gave up on life; I was down to my last clean pair of panties. Looking down at my shirt, I realized I had to do something about my clothes like a new look other than Car Girl. I glanced down at my shirt.

The gremlin was the image my great-granddad had designed when he started the automotive business sixty years ago upon his return from World War Two. I hated the gremlin imagery and all the trouble it created for me and my family. For a split second, I could’ve sworn the gremlin waved at me. I shook my head in an attempt to clear my mind.

I’d been up all night, and we’d only arrived at the house around 1:00 a. m., and that was why my imagination was on overdrive, Mom had driven straight through from Orlando, Florida to Everville, Georgia. She had waited to the very last minute to leave. My Grandmother Belladonna has leukemia. This summer, while Mom took Grandmother to the hospital for chemo, I had babysat The Wolves.

Dad had been busy working on his television show in Los Angeles. My father is John Fairchilde of Tailgunner Automotive on The Wheels Channel. He’d been featured in books and magazines. He was a genius in car engine restoration and fabrication. Most of my friends think it's cool Dad is on television. Not me. I’d hardly seen him this year because of filming the show.

It had been a sucky summer. This school year had to be better. I was shifting gears and going to take charge my life.

I tiptoed up the hallway outside the Wolf sanctuary (the boys’ bedroom). I heard them giggling. Not a good sign. Mom could take care of them. Not me.

I checked my cell phone. No messages. If Brian didn’t text me soon, I would be forced to ride the bus. I glanced down at the floor.

My brothers’ Zoom-Mobile toy cars were scattered underneath my feet like a miniature five o’clock traffic jam. I reached down and picked one up. It was a 1955 Pontiac. I liked the hood ornament, but the car wasn’t my style, too much like a tank. It would cost a fortune to fill it up with gas. If I had a car like this, I’d be staying home a lot. That was why I wanted a Mustang, better gas mileage, but still keeping the retro style I liked.

I stuck my head around the wall from the hallway and peered into the kitchen. Mom was working on the toaster. “

Tell Dad, not to forget to pick me up at school at 3 o’clock sharp. He’s taking me to get my license.”

Mom mumbled something in reply. Obviously, somebody hadn’t had her coffee.

Independence would be so sweet.

In the dining room, I draped my messenger bag on the chair. My brother, Aiden ran through screaming at the top of his lungs followed by Ozzie the Siberian husky.

Usually, the dog slept in the garage, where he had his own recliner in Dad’s office. The foam stuck out of the seat cushion, and Mom had threatened to throw it away and buy Ozzie a proper dog bed, but Dad had said let the dog have his man-chair.

Last night, Ozzie had refused to go in the garage, instead he whined piteously until Mom agreed to let him come inside the house. He’d bunked with me, hogging most of the bed.

Kevin and Ozzie circled around me in the dining room. “Hey, no dog hair or sticky wolf prints on my clothes,” I yelled.

I had to get away from my brothers before I lost my mind.

Mom entered the dining room, coffee cup in one hand, while Logan clung to her pants leg like a monkey at the zoo with separation anxiety. Aiden in his underwear skulked behind them.

“Both of you get dressed. I don’t want you late for your first day of kindergarten.” Mom pointed down the hall. They took off, feet pounding on the carpet.

Why didn’t they listen to me?

Toaster and boys momentarily forgotten, Mom stopped to hug me. “Happy Birthday. How does it feel to be sixteen?”

Surprised, she remembered my age, I smiled at her. “It’s going to be great as soon as I get my license.” Just wanted to add that little reminder.

“Jessie?”

I sniffed. “What is that?”

The smell of burnt Eggo waffle wafted in the kitchen. “The toaster must be stuck, again.” I pointed in the direction of the kitchen.

“I thought I’d fixed that,” Mom sighed.

“Mommy, Aiden is wearing my underwear on his head,” Logan yodeled from his bedroom.

Dazed, Mom shook her head as if she was regaining consciousness after letting her brain take a momentary vacation. “Everything is breaking down. The boys are wilder than usual. I wonder your father has been leaving out the oil?” She glanced at the gremlin on my tee-shirt. Mom’s expression said she thought it was the gremlins causing all of the problems in the house.

The washing machine creaked with a mournful moan as if it sensed my thoughts and agreed.

Gremlins. Good grief, not that. I had some concerns about my parents. Whenever

something went wrong in our house, my parents blamed it on the gremlins. When I was little, I believed they existed. I was over the whole make-believe, imagination thing, except when I could it to my advantage—wolf control.

“On your way out, can you leave out a pan of oil down at the garage? “ Mom asked.

This was what I hated about the gremlins. “What? Me? Why do I have to do it?”

My great-grandfather brought back the gremlin superstition with him when he was a tail gunner in England during World War Two. It was a stupid family tradition to leave out a pan of oil, which supposedly would keep the gremlins happy. He said when the airplane mechanics left out a pan of oil during the war things didn’t happen to the engines and endanger the pilots.

Great-Grandfather Joe said the gremlins followed him to America and took up residence with him. Must have liked it here. They stayed with the next generation and the one after that. They could move back to England or wherever they came from as far as I was concerned.

“Honey, you know strange things happen when we don’t.” Mom’s forehead crinkled with worry lines.

“Mom, I’m dressed, ready for school. I have to go. “

She frowned when she gave me the once over. “You’re wearing that?”

“I’m out of clean clothes.”

“Oh yeah,” Mom scratched her head.

The washing machine made a crunchy metallic noise which sounded like it might be losing a major organ.

Mom and I both exchanged worried glances.

“I guess that will have to do,” she said with a sigh. “I’ll leave the oil out when I return from the taking the boys to school.”

Ozzie barked as Aiden made ‘bang-bang’ noises from the living room. There would be a wolf war soon.

I had to get out of the house.

Mom had that faraway look she got when she was overwhelmed, but she shook it off, her gaze narrowing as she sniffed. “It smells like burnt motor oil to me. Do you smell it?”

I shrugged. There was a funky odor. “Maybe it’s a gremlin decomposing in the refrigerator.” I couldn’t stop a snort from escaping.

“Don’t say that,’ Mom’s eyes widened in fear.

I thought it was funny.

She studied me for a moment like she might need to book a ticket on the crazy train for me. “Have you had breakfast?”

“Not yet.” I resented it when my parents asked me if I was hungry.

“Jessie! You know what happens when you don’t eat.”

“Yes.” I rolled my eyes. According to Dad, I became so grouchy I’d make a rabid raccoon tuck its tail in between its legs and take off running and wouldn’t stop until it hit the Canadian border, a long way to travel considering my family lived in the mountains of North Georgia in the small town of Everville, eighty miles north of Atlanta.

I was funny. Dad’s jokes were not. I checked my text messages while Mom sipped her coffee.

Nothing.

“Mommy, Aiden touched his butt. Then he ate a cookie and gave part of it to Ozzie. Kevin said as he ran through. He wore an “I’m Going to School” tee-shirt.

“Where are your pants?” Mom asked. “We have to be ready to go in fifteen minutes.

Aiden and Logan zoomed into the kitchen, both wearing Klaus the Kangaroo capes over their “I’m Going to School” tee-shirts. Aiden pointed a toy sword at Kevin. “Did not! Tattle tale. Tattle.”

I sighed. Little brothers are so gross. Aidan had chocolate chip goo outlining his mouth. Ozzie licked his red tongue around his furry muzzle, trying to catch every cookie crumb on his snoot. Dogs are gross, too.

“Mom you dressed them in identical clothes again. They look like matching puppies.”

“Yes, Jessie, I know.”

With an agonizing keen, the washing machine began the spin cycle with a loud whirr-hadi-clonk-hadi-clink. The likelihood of it surviving this cycle was slim to none.

“Whatever. I’m going to school.”

“Take a granola bar. You still haven’t eaten breakfast.”

“I will. You don’t have to remind me. I’m six-teen, not six.”

Kevin watched me with a smarmy little smile. He was the quiet triplet, and the brains behind my brothers’ antics. This brother worried me. He didn’t make friends like Logan and Aiden, whereas the other two could go to the playground and join in with the other kids. Kevin just hung back and observed. He stood there with hands in the pockets of his cargo shorts. “The Gremmies are mad at you, Jessie, “he said.

Chapter Two

“Who cares? The gremlins can get mad,” I shot back at him.

Logan, Aiden and Ozzie bolted through the living room, circling Mom.

“Where are your pants? Both of you go put them on now” Mom said, her voice an octave higher. She pointed her finger back down the hall.

The hooligans ran. Kevin stood there and glared at me.

“Mom, I need you. I can’t get my pants on,” Logan shouted from down the hall.

“I’ll be right back. I need to talk to you about something,” Mom said.

“Hurry, I have to catch the bus,” I said. Accepting the fact Brian wasn’t going to answer my texts; I had no choice but to take advantage of Everville’s Public School Transportation System.

“Mom,” Aiden yelled.

Kevin walked up to me, his face serious. “Got your phone.”

I waited until Mom was out of hearing range. She didn’t know about my keep-the-wolves-under-control plan.

I narrowed my eyes. Here was where I worked the imagination angle and Wolf Control. “Yeah, I got my phone.” I held it out for him, so he could see the reindeer on the display. My brothers believed I worked for Santa Claus. All I had to do was dial 1-800-REINDEER to reach the big man, himself. They thought I was a North Pole spy. I told them I reported on bad boys and girls. I had a Santa Claus is Coming to Town ringtone along with several other holiday classics. I’m so good at this big sister thing.

“Santa Claus isn’t watching me.” Kevin looked back down the hall toward my bedroom, then at me with a defiant glint. I sensed trouble. He had recently challenged me about there being too many digits in 1-800-REINDEER for it to work like the other 1-800 numbers he’d seen on television. I told him the North Pole used a different rate exchange.

Kevin was getting too smart for his own britches.

“Yes he is, and I’m going to tell him you don’t think he’s watching you.” Panic flashed over his face. “But, I’ll give you another chance, so watch it. I don’t want to have to use the snow globe.”

I told them I had a secret portal to the North Pole under my bed, and I could whoosh there like Dr. Who did in the Tardis. I had a porcelain Christmas village along with blinking fiber optic Christmas lights that I’d bought last year at the Wal-Mart after Christmas sale. I even had fake snow to complete the illusion. I kept a snow globe on my bedside table as extra protection. My brothers believed I could shake the snow globe, and it activated the portal, and I would be whisked to the North Pole.

Mom rushed back into the kitchen and kissed me on the forehead. “You’d better scoot, or you’re going to miss the bus, or you’ll have to ride with me and your brothers in the van.”

“No. Never.” I’d rather throw myself in front of the bus like a rabid opossum than ride with the Wolves and Mom. I checked my cell phone last time for Brian’s text saying he would pick me up and possibly redeem himself and stay in my good graces.

Nothing from him and nothing from my best friend, Indigo.

I shouldered my messenger bag, heavy with my text books. Thank God it was my last day on the cheese wagon. I envisioned my Mustang. Candy Apple red would go well with my light brown hair.

Deep inside of me, there was a part, the very small fearful part of myself, maybe if I was honest, I was deathly afraid Dad wouldn’t come through with my car. After his busy schedule, broken promises to do something with me, and other obligations which were canceled because of the business— receiving my car would prove where I stood in his life. In a way, it was a test.

I had drawn picture after picture of my dream car and posted them on the refrigerator and in his office. I’d even emailed pictures to my Dad with the subject header—this is the car I want. Short of stapling a picture of Mustang to his forehead, Dad had to know I wanted one.

“Jessie, you know your Dad is going to be exhausted after flying in from Los Angeles. Your driver’s license? Would it be possible . . . ?” Mom looked hopefully at me.

Spinning around on my heel, I glared. Mom was asking me to do it again. Put off something that was important to me because it would be convenient for the family.

“It’s my sixteenth birthday.”

Mom sighed. “You’re right, Jessie. One way or another, you’ll get your license this afternoon.”

Dad wouldn’t disappoint me. He couldn’t. Not again.

My stomach rumbled. Maybe I should have grabbed granola bar.

I heard the bus horn honking. There wasn’t time for breakfast now. I scooted out the door. If I didn’t move it, the bus would leave me.

I ran down the driveway with my heavy messenger bag banging against my back. The garage was quiet. Tail Gunner Automotive Garage was on the road front, facing Highway Twenty. Woods separated the house from the garage, creating a space between home and business.

The bus door creaked open, and there sitting on her bus driving throne was Myrtle Gilstrap. Her red bouffant hair was starched two feet high with Aquanet hairspray. She wore her usual blue button up shirt, khaki pants pressed with a sharp crease, and white tennis shoes. She looked the same as she did the first day that I started riding the bus in kindergarten.

Myrtle coughed into a tissue. She had a permanent hack from a lifetime of smoking cigarettes. Gross! Just hearing her horka up a lung made a person never want to smoke.

I grabbed the metal handrail and stepped aboard.

“I thought you said last year you wasn’t going to be riding the bus after you got your license” Myrtle said in her gravelly voice. “Then I gets my list and there you are.”

“Today’s my birthday. I get my license this afternoon, and tomorrow I ascend to the lofty pinnacle of becoming a driver.”

Myrtle would have to get a dictionary to know what pinnacle meant.

“Ah, so you gotta ride with the peasants one more day.”

“Yeah, something like that.”

As the bus door closed, I looked fondly at the poor peasants, and I imagined myself wearing a tiara and waving at the little people. I really wasn’t the tiara type, but there were moments which warranted one. Three freshman girls sat in the back. A nerdy middle school boy sat in the middle, playing some portable game.

A trill of happiness fluttered in my stomach. Tomorrow, I’d be driving my Mustang the guys in school and auto shop would envy me. I sat down in an empty green seat with a ripped seam that had been repaired with duct tape. Running my hand along the sticky vinyl, I envisioned the seats in my new car would be black leather, custom made by Dad’s friend, Eddie in New York.

A few yards down the dirt road, the bus stopped at Mrs. Rivers’ house, or rather it used to be Mrs. Rivers’ house. She died earlier this year, and her nephew had taken over the old Victorian house and moved into it with his family over the summer while we were away in Orlando and Dad in L.A.

Supposedly the Rivers’ family was from Las Vegas. Cool! Las Vegas. Who wanted to come live in Everville? I couldn’t wait to get away.

A tall kid in a leather bomber jacket, studded with silver cones down the sleeves boarded the bus. I liked how he pulled his hair into a ponytail. Dark glasses covered his eyes. I wondered what color his eyes were. I imagined blue. Behind him a middle school boy followed, it was obvious they were brothers because of the resemblance. The older brother walked past me. His hands brushed along the edge of the seats as he cruised down the aisle. He sat down in the seat behind me. Cute, but he had a dangerous and very bad boy air to him. I couldn’t think about another boy until I broke up with Brian and had the keys to my Mustang. Priorities Jessie.

I pulled out my notebook and examined my class schedule. My stomach growled very loudly making me think of Aiden when he pretended he was a caged lion at the zoo. I really should’ve grabbed a granola bar. I’d get a snack at school. Right now, I’d focus on my classes. I had six class periods. Art History was first.

I looked forward to Art History. I knew I would do well with Geometry, but I wasn’t looking forward to British Literature because of my spelling problem. Give me a blueprint and I can figure it out, but ask me to tell you the difference between there, they’re, or their. Forget about it. Spell like it sounds Dad finally told me one day, and I do with some creative results which look like a mixture of Organic German and Ye Olde English. I had psychology, physics, and drawing in the afternoon.

Indigo would be in Art History. At least she had texted me that much information this summer. I hadn’t heard from her, but in little bits and pieces, but she’d been busy because she’d gotten a job at the Coffee Grounds in downtown Everville.

I checked my cell phone. Nothing from Brian.

Come to think of it, the only time I heard from him was when he had car questions. Simon had kept me updated on what was going on with him. He’d even asked about my grandmother.

Guess my life had been too boring for the rest of my friends, who’d gotten jobs, went to band camp, or just generally hung out and went swimming at the community pool in town. Brian had gotten a job to pay for his car, a Honda, now a really cool tuner with a spoiler I’d installed before I left for Orlando. I’d airbrushed flames on the hood, and I’d pinstriped the sides, along with doing some repair work on the rear quarter panel.

Now, he was working to save up for some awesome tires, and a new sound system. He said he was lucky to date a girl who can customize his car. Sometimes I had my suspicion that was the real reason he dated me.

My head began to pound. I really needed to find something to eat as soon as I got to school. A bunch of middle school boys sat in the back and made farting noises. The little nerdy guy hovered closer to his game.

Thank God! It was the last day I’d have to deal with immature brats.

School loomed ahead, and I shoved my notebook back into my messenger bag.

In the car rider lane, a Honda tuner with a spoiler rode up alongside the bus. The car needed an alignment; its front wheels were running low on their tread, and the Honda swayed more to the left than the right.

Wait a minute! The flames on the hood looked familiar. No wonder it looked familiar it was because I’d painted it with a cool blue tint in the undercoat. An image of a Tailgunner gremlin formed on door and waved at me. I blinked, but the gremlin had disappeared. Note to self: Don’t skip breakfast because you’ll see gremlins.

As the bus edged alongside it, my jaw almost became unhinged from my face. It was Brian! Why hadn’t he called to pick me up?

Scooched up next to him was a strange girl. What was the slut doing there? She was almost in his lap. My cheeks burned with anger, and I couldn’t breathe. How dare he go out someone other than me. The plan was for me to break up with him, and then he could date whomever he wanted.

I wanted to know who the girl was. Now. Pain clenched between my ribs. I placed my hand across my chest. It couldn’t be. I pressed my nose against the bus window and gasped.

It was. . .

It was Indigo.

Chapter Three

Someone with a strong grip pressed a cold cloth against my forehead, a stream of water trickled down my neck.

“We need to call her mother,” a feminine voice said hovering overhead.

“Are you sure she’s not on medication?” Someone asked in a deep baritone

“I don’t know. I only rode the bus with her this morning I’ve never seen her before today,” an unfamiliar male voice answered.

I opened my eyes and blinked as I focused on the school secretary, Mrs. Barbara Roosevelt, the assistant principal, Kurt Morley, and the guy in dark leather from the bus standing above me. They stared down at me with confused expressions. I rested on a faux leather sofa inside the doors of the school office. My stomach rumbled. Loudly.

Turning my head, I sighed with relief when I saw Mrs. Roosevelt’s familiar desk cluttered with piles of papers. Filing cabinets lined the wall, but next to the last one, I saw the shadowy outline of a round, pointed ear blob and then it faded away. I definitely needed to eat breakfast. I tried to sit up as I removed the soggy wash cloth from my head.

Then the memory of seeing Indigo almost in Brian’s lap rushed back to me, and my cheeks burned hot as another shock wave rolled through my body. I slapped the washcloth on my forehead and lay back down on the uncomfortable sofa. Indigo and Brian. How? When?

The guy from the bus looked down at me and asked. “Are you okay?”

“I will be in a minute,” I replied.

Lifting the corner of the washcloth, I noticed Roosevelt and Morley had walked over to a corner of the room and were having a faculty Pow-Wow.

Humiliation flooded me. Indigo and Brian. Together. Indigo had betrayed me. Brian had betrayed me.

No wonder Brian hadn’t called or text-messaged me because he’d had been with Indigo.

My humbled pride changed to fury. I clenched my fists. Just wait until Indigo, Brian and I had a private conversation. Heads were going to roll and butts were going to be kicked. Theirs.

I slowly sat up and removed the cloth from my forehead. “What time is it?”

“It’s eight thirty, dear,” Mrs. Roosevelt answered.

“Are you on medication for any medical conditions, or taking drugs for recreational purposes?” Assistant Principal Morley asked as he narrowed his eyebrows and scrutinized me as if I were a juvenile delinquent. He sounded like a bad John Wayne imitation.

“No,” I said. I had been cured of ever wanting to experiment with drugs or drinking. All it took was me sneaking three of my Dad’s Samuel Adams ales, and the next day I puked my guts out for hours. No thank you.

The guy from the bus held out his hand. “Hi, I’m Tolkien Rivers.”

“Rivers! You live in the house down the road,”

He nodded.

“Tolkien? That’s got to be tough.” Mom says I need to learn to think before I speak what’s on my mind, but I never do. I blurt stuff out, and today was no exception even in the midst of my boyfriend-best friend crisis.

“Yep. My brother’s name is Merlin, and my sister’s name is Zelazny. He smiled at me.

“If it’s any consolation, my middle name is Belladonna.” I looked up at him, and tried to smile, hoping I wasn’t grimacing. I liked Tolkien’s dark curly hair, and he was very cute without his sunglasses. His blue eyes sparkled merrily. I knew he had blue eyes.

I accepted his outstretched hand. “Thanks.”

Standing up, I introduced myself, “I’m Jessie Fairchilde.” I tightened my grip on his hand because he was so calming and soothing. I needed that after having my world turned upside down by my lying, cheating, no-good boyfriend and by my lying, cheating, no-good best friend.

“Nice to meet, you, Jessie. You can let go of my hand, if you want to. You’ve got quite a grip.”

“Oh, sorry.”

“Jessie, are you sure you’re okay? Maybe, we should call your father or mother,” Mrs. Roosevelt said. She had a file folder in her hand.

“I’m fine.” Today had to be the suckiest day of my life, and it was my sixteenth birthday on top of that. This wasn’t how I’d planned it. Images of Brian kissing me blurred into the image of Indigo and Brian lap-locked in his Honda (the same car I’d fixed up for him). The thought of them together made my stomach want to go heave-ho.

Mrs. Roosevelt read my file out loud. “Nothing here about any medical conditions.”

Tolkien moved closer. “Are you sure you’re okay?” Concern etched his voice.

I nodded.

Morley watched me with predatory eyes, probably looking for signs of recreational drug use. He’d have to search the losers of our small rural school such as the drama geeks and the art creeps, especially Stewart Dyer. Head Geek Freak.

“I’m fine, really. I didn’t eat breakfast. Too excited about school.”

“Well, why don’t you have this,” Assistant Principal Morley walked around his desk, opened a drawer and removed a protein bar that looked like the kind I’d seen in Wal-Mart. He handed it to me. “Normally, I don’t want kids eating in the halls on their way to class, but I’ll make an exception for you.”

What an honor! I could snack in the halls.

Mrs. Roosevelt said, “Since Mr. Morley has things under control I need to go and check on the chemistry lab it seems they’re running short of supplies, and it’s causing a crisis because they want to make some dangerous substitutions. Make sure you eat lunch, Jessie.”

I accepted the protein bar. “Thank you.” It did look good.

“Mr. Morley turned to Tolkien, “Where’s your first class? I need to write you a pass.”

“Art history.”

I pulled the protein bar open. “Me, too.”

“Good.” Morley said. “You can make sure she gets there okay. And make sure she eats lunch. I’m making her your responsibility.”

“What?” This time my face burned with embarrassment. I didn’t know this guy, Tolkien, who lived up the hill behind my house. I mean he was cute—but. Just wait until the Gang heard about him. And here I was going to be stuck having him ask me if I’d eaten like I always asked my brothers.

I thought about Brian, Indigo, Adam, Frog, and Simon. What did I say to them when I encountered them in the hall? In class? I knew one thing—I didn’t want Brian’s sorry cheating butt around me ever again. I hoped the fenders rusted off his Honda, or his engine exploded and was sucked into a black hole at the junk yard. Indigo. That was what hurt the most, and we’d been best friends since kindergarten.

This wasn’t the time or place to blow a gasket. It was my birthday. I was going to be getting my license and then I was going to receive the world’s coolest car. That was what was going to get me through this day. Think: Mustang. Mustang. Mustang.

I’d break down later. Right now, I had to find a way out of having Tolkien as my nutritionist on guard.

“That’s not necessary. . .” I began.

“No arguments. You two go to class.” Assistant Principal Morley plopped down in his chair and motioned for us to leave.

That was the end of that.

“I’m sorry that happened,” I said as we walked down the hall.

Tolkien shrugged, “Are you sure this wasn’t more than not eating? You had a total freaked out look on your face when you screamed on the bus. It was like you’d seen a ghost or something.”

“No, just two people I didn’t expect to see together.”

I stopped beside my locker and stared at Tolkien. The image of Brian and Indigo had been burned in my retinas.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

A resident of the North Georgia mountains, Michele Roper loves to hike the woodland trails, where she ponders the latest adventures of her characters. Michele lives with her husband and four demanding cats.

Q. What draws you to this genre?
A.
Writing fantasy allows me to tap into my imagination. I love creating stories where the impossible is possible. It's so exciting to take a character on a journey to a world where magic exists, dragons are real, and around the next corner is an enchanted forest.
Q. What books have influenced your life the most?
A.
As a teenager, I read Mary Stewart's Arthurian Saga. Her characters and powerful writing transported me to the days of King Arthur and Merlin. After I finished the series, I had to have more, and I discovered The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
Q. Which writers inspire you?
A.
I love anything by Neil Gaiman, and at the top of my list is J.R.R. Tolkien. Of course, Agatha Christie, Mary Stewart, and Elizabeth Peters are among my favorites, too.

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