Returning an overdue library book may not sound strenuous to you.
Well, I’m a particularly unique person in a diverse scenario.
So, yeah, your answer is erroneous if you tell me I should just return the book.
It’s been at my house for an unnecessarily long time—I think three weeks. I don’t recall.
All I do conjure:
- Those horrid nightmares plague my dreams!
- Bullying memories infest my mind.
- The bullies punch but expect no punches back. Aiming hard at my thin face during gym. Upending my lunch tray and cackling while my awesome food piles right onto rotten bananas and moldy bread. Aiming dodgeballs right at my chest, scoring touchdowns, as they say, as my painful cries echo the gymnasium. Oh, and the gaping trashcan makes me feel it too is laughing at me.
I’m calling half-siblings Kale and Fries every other day. I get home really late from editing lengthy drafts of the school’s science newspaper and journal. When they do pick up the phone, I order them to home-school me or send me to a private school five minutes down the road.
Visit me while you’re not shooting or acting. I’m not proving myself at least on paper for nothing.
We’re family, no? What does it take to belong!
I’ve tried calling Dad—Christmas, Fourth of July and Father’s Day—all of which he worked late-night shifts. Mom’s been living somewhere in Europe because stepmom Toni’s married Dad since I started middle school.
Mr. West—my next-door neighbor—has been my guardian since kindergarten.
But he’s not the only invitee to my high school graduation next June. I want my family.
However, Dad’s returning from his business trip that Fall. Mom’s out of the picture. Kale and Fries?
Just look at them—they’re so ugly with those stupid dresses and ties on which I’m ready to upchuck. Every single time they send me those despicable Pinterest photos, I deliberately print and shred them, returning pictures of these torn ones.
Besides, they’re already staring in two big-budget movies, set to release next June. Maybe I’ll trash the DVDs, too, when I buy them off Amazon.
Ever since elementary school, I have shoved back my lunch table chair, ordered the bullies to grow up and relocated to another group of boys. They’re humiliated the next day. And the next. But weeks go by before they stop because they haven’t broken me. I’m tired of defending myself.
That librarian’s repeated reminders to return that overdue library book never quits, either.
Anyway, my cowardly teachers waste too much time huddling in their swivel chairs, sweat on their foreheads, thumbs twiddling. When they do knock on the door of courage, and the person of help—me—rescues them, they whine about their lack of self-confidence to build report with the students. I have cachinnated at their jocular answers more than once, but they only wish my high school graduation would poof away.
Returning that library book is so easy, yet so difficult.
When I tried mailing it, it got returned. I’ve told a student who lives within a stone’s throw away from the library to give it to her. He says she says I need to return it myself. I’ve tried dropping it off at the library—Dad and Toni were rushing to work that day.
What do I do, crawl into my nightmares and battle the bullies to get to the library? Hurtle myself through my memories to deliver the story? I know, I know. I’m lazy—but I’m angry.
Someday, my family will feel my pain. Even if it costs me my integrity.
I also create stories, not just improve them.
Maybe my characters can return the book for me! While they’re delivering it to the Wilkes County Public Library, I’m serving up some tasty revenge to finally achieve the respect I deserve.
Last Sunday, I was so engaged in my writing I didn’t answer the phone. Soon, Kale and Fries knocked on my door!
Oh—it was Mr. West. He told me my half-siblings have been trying to reach me. I replied should they ever call again, he can tell them revisiting me is the only way to go. Otherwise, whatever.
I’ve always wanted to do a paid internship as a bilingual tour guide or interpreter in South America or Europe. Any mention of their stupid parties and strivings to become the next big stars in Hollywood and Broadway, and my head is over the trashcan.
Crunching my self-made dinner of Broccoli Tortellini Salad with garlic bread dipped in oil saves me from such a feat. I haven’t pretended to vomit since middle school.
Let’s return to my writing.
“So,” I tell my characters, “could you return an overdue library book?”
One character’s hand pops out of the page, beckoning me.
I’ll tell the teachers, I promised myself. They’ll fall off their chairs!
I took a shaking step and then thrust myself into the story.
The characters, all teenagers—some with funky hair, others with Gap clothing decorating their bodies— tilted their heads, inquiring about the book.
Oops! Cheeks hot, I scrambled away and returned with it.
“Here it is!”
The characters frowned at it. One dude pointed out it’s overdue. Another character punched him in the arm. “We can read!” She hollered.
“You don’t need to yell.” I displayed the book, telling them they need to return it by—I flip it over—December 20—or I’ll be fined. Big money. I snigger. Maybe Kale and Fries can offer me some dough. After all, they can go without a couple of hundred bucks, right?
One character waves his hands in front of him, begging me not to steal.
“You guys. How many people have—”
“Been a thief?” One of the characters explained he can read me just by looking at me. “How do you even know?”
I looked at the smiles squeezed on to tan faces, arms held tightly together, eyes glowing with worry and sadness. I glanced down at the book.
“No one cares except my neighbor. Without Mr. West, I’ve would have had to raise myself—”
“That’s not an excuse.” The tough, muscled man stares at me, but I jam my hands in my pockets. “Make peace with Kale and Fries, your parents, stepmother and whoever else in your life.” He cracked his knuckles and stretched.
My jaw dropped. “Make peace?” I blinked. “How…?”
“Talk to them.”
“You’re our author. You can do it.”
I can’t, I explained. Everyone—they all forgot me.
“So you want a real family. Forgetting others in return for their negligence is not the way to go.”
“The library’s just down the road. If I go with Kale and Fries, maybe we’ll have a heart-to-heart talk.” I smiled.
The characters all looked at each other, some shrugging and half-grinning. Others glared at them, shoving demanding fingers in their faces. The amused characters started bickering with the obstinate ones.
“Look!” I jammed a finger. “If you guys aren’t helping—”
“We are!” The hollering character shouted.
The strong one silenced everyone. “You’re too frustrated to bring them together. I want you to talk to them.”
“Yeah. We’ll be waiting.”
I nodded and climbed back into my room. I phoned Kale and Fries, apologizing for my rudeness. They accepted, but I had imagined them nodding and smiling warmly. And putting their arms around me after I opened the front door.
“Comrade, you can always come see us. Come see one of our shows. This summer, maybe?”
Any bribing—if you return the book, we’ll be a part of your life—and I’m punching the green cellphone icon. In fact, I jerked my iPhone away and hit it.
The rest of my junior year strived to toughen me. I did go out of my way to befriend the new kid. I learned she was entering—don’t ask—halfway through the year. When someone with a superior attitude ripped my library book away, I yanked it back. She told me to just ignore him.
A huge scowl on his face, and then he rolled his eyes. One nasty comment later, he returned to his scornful friends. They all howled at hearing her introduce herself. I rolled my eyes, and Raquelle laughed.
I spent lunch teaching the teachers self-confidence is the way to go. Everyone’s eyes bugged after I told them my character’s hand popped out of my story. I walked to History with one of them, my lunch tray surprisingly safe in hand—this teacher had yelled at a bully to return to the cafeteria.
I guess the awesome incident really did something.
My writing’s obviously perking the teachers up. If I could lead these people, I could do anything.
I returned inside my book that night.
“I’ve been helping my teachers’ self-confidence!” I grinned.
“Great—what about that overdue book?”
The last time I saw Kale and Fries was when toddler me waved them good-bye, Mr. West holding my other small hand at the bus stop.
“Let’s think about the nonexistent heart-to-heart moment. Besides, it’s only 10 cents a day for a late book. Kale and Fries could cough up, mm, maybe $60?”
“You can do it!”
I shrugged. One character responded sarcastically. I just turned and left.
We ran the classroom scene again the next afternoon.
“Give me a paper on your feelings for Kale and Fries.” Mr. Chews said as I downed my hot dog. “Maybe this assignment will help you prove them right when they claim you’re chewed up by separation anxiety!”
After checking in with Mr. West, I threw myself into this assignment, expressing myself as scientifically as possible.
The next day, I rocked back and forth before his desk, biting my lip.
He finally slapped down the paper. “Now send it to Kale and Fries!”
Afterwards, I spent the night writing him another paper.
“You’ve got writing talent, kid. But I hope you know you’re more than a high school columnist.”
I bobbed my head, but he shot up a hand. “And I don’t want any negativity or despair in this note. Remember our motto: ‘Buzz with Affirmative Action’!”
“Yes, sir.” I droned, wondering why we were proud to nickname ourselves insects. “We are the Flies of the Future.”
“Thank you. Give it to me to review. Do it tonight. I don’t care if you have to spend all night again.”
I spent some minutes venting to myself about his attitude before attacking the assignment. It wasn’t fair. He still counterattacked the bullies instead of demanding they see the principal… like the other teachers at W. Wright High School. My history teacher just yelled once. A start, but not much.
Using some very descriptive words, I took a deep breath and then clicked Send. He replied (a little Chemistry bottle emoji next to his name) with a happy face.
I pushed up the red flag on my mailbox and then hiked out towards it days later.
They wrote back!
“See?” One of my characters congratulated me, mug of hot chocolate steaming in his hand. A roaring fire crackled behind our sofas.
I laughed. “You guys remind me of my teachers—only smarter.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because you care about me.”
My smile slipped into a frown.
“What?” The character hollered while another waved him into silence.
“You guys should be my family.”
The first character didn’t let me go until I recanted. I nodded and then ran. Behind me, he sighed.
I blinked back tears that night. I didn’t want to write to Kale or Fries. I wanted them! Mom, Dad, Kale, Fries, Toni and me—all together.
I heard my conscience warning me to do the right thing.
I flew to Los Angeles that weekend. Dodging fancily dressed performers, I sent some cameramen scrambling to steady their precious equipment. I barged into the dressing room.
“Hey, Com!” Kale lay a pair of creased pants on a counter piled with other designer clothes. “How’s it going?”
“Good!” My gritted teeth started hurting my mouth, and I loosened. “How’s the filming going? Bet you got the part. Oh—maybe the lead role.”
“Oh!” He held a tuxedo like it was his son. “Good.”
“I’m graduating, you know. Next year. Bet you’re too busy to show up. Because you'll be at the awards ceremony, remember?”
“Yes, but you coming this summer to see the show—”
Kale traveled over to me after setting the suit down. He threw a plaid arm around my thin shoulders. “Don’t be hating. When is it again?”
“Look at the calendar!”
I ratted Fries out and then spent Saturday and Sunday morning watching TV while stuffing my face with free continental breakfast.
A brilliant idea came to mind as I flew home the next day.
I phoned Kale, lamenting I was too poor to graduate. I needed some money to pay for my cap, gown and diploma. I insisted, saying I didn’t have much income save my editing salary.
I sniggered while he bemoaned my atrocity. Then he promised to write me a huge check!
I couldn’t stop cackling my way through the flight as I stared gleefully at Kale’s picture of twelve hundred dollars. Hours after finally touching down in North Carolina, I told my characters I could finally relieve the librarian as well as throw the best graduation party ever. Back at school, I boasted to the teachers and the bullies I was hosting the graduation party of the year!
“Yeah,” one of the characters snapped at me later that evening, “with stolen money you lied about?”
Those blazing eyes told me he wasn’t messing around.
“Get the book back where it belongs.”
I nodded, but a library email told me they were expecting a $100 fine for that lost library book. I grimaced. Yeah, that fine.
I withdrew $1100 after depositing the check, stuffing a hundred dollar bill in the librarian’s hand that Saturday. She looked at me with piercing eyes and arched eyebrows.
“See, ma’am, my half-siblings, Kale and Fries—”
“Are going to find out.”
“Yeah!” The yelling continued.
I balled my hands, standing my ground. When nothing came to mind, I fumed.
I sunk into a deep sleep that night.
Suddenly, I jerked awake, screaming.
Breathing shakily, I tried willing myself back to sleep. But I tossed and turned, bullying memories abusing my mind. I climbed down the bunk bed and went to my phone.
Admitting the truth to Kale and Fries took guts. They branded me a thief and a liar. I apologized insincerely. I got another library email.
I revisited them that summer, convincing the mailman to send more of my stolen money to the Wilkes County Public Library. Shaking his capped head, the man agreed. Tomorrow, he gave me a letter—the librarian returned my money in the form of a check! Their note said Kale and Fries said I stole my sent money. I had to pay with my own money.
I pulled the director aside, telling her I wanted a moment with Kale and Fries. She bobbed her head, pointing in a certain direction.
First, I reminded him I was the editor of our school’s science newspaper and journal—so I wasn’t just a worthless half-sibling. But I grew impatient with her and stormed away. Her excuses were worse than his!
I spent my senior year still helping my teachers face their fears. I edited my story. But I never answered Kale’s calls. Stopped writing Fries back. Quit using Facetime. Neglected their show last summer.
I told Mr. West I wanted to just get married. Maybe my stolen money could cover the wedding. Mr. West said to look at it another way.
“Forgive them. And return every penny!”
I argued they were the ones excusing themselves from my life.
“What’s that that just came out of your mouth?” He raised his eyebrows. “You’re a champion at school, yet you swindle money?”
Hands were on hips. I hung my head.
“Did you return your book?” His wrinkly hand tapped mine. “No library book goes unforgotten.”
I nodded. Then went to my characters that night. But a sign said, Grow up, author! We’re fed up with your negligence.
I blew a sigh of loneliness. I called Kale, saying how he had the time to shake some costumes free of dust and mildew but couldn’t even sit—
“Com, that note and our talk you stormed away from have woken us up. In fact, I directed a short about our lives. You should watch it.”
I invited Raquelle over, and we watched it, me staying throughout the whole thing. We cringed at some tacky acting. Later that day, I called Kale, blinking back tears as I said the characters’ love for each other reminded me of Kale’s warm hugs and Fries’ gentle kisses given me when I was a baby. These people may be busy, but I started thinking they really wanted me.
I watched their show. Told them I hated it.
That Christmas, I hung our whole family photo below my tree’s angel.
I mailed Kale and Fries two huge checks, going beyond the stolen one’s amount. And declared my library book’s return—along with my own money paying in full.
They cheered. I laughed when I heard the producers clap. The director exclaimed, “Yes!”
After hearing that Toni, Mom, Dad, Mr. West, Mr. Chews, Kale, Fries and I all watched the short together at my house, my characters threw me a party.
As Raquelle and I sat around a bonfire with them, fizzy Root Beer and juicy hamburgers being devoured, I recounted how we had all enjoyed it together amidst cake and presents.
At my graduation party.