Monday, May 6, 2013

First 5 Pages May Workshop - McTavish

Dayna McTavish

YA Urban Fantasy


I just don’t want to die. Of humiliation. Besides getting straight A’s, that’s pretty much my only goal this year.

Coach Marshall, evil fiend in tiny man shorts, is out to thwart my plans. When he divides us up for volleyball, he puts me with the people voted “Most Likely to Be Having More Fun Than You.” This is not where I belong.

Marshall busts me sneaking onto my usual court—the one with my asthmatic friend Jane, Weird Cape Billy and the kid wearing a back brace. My people. He waves me over to the last court. “Talis, I told you, you’re over there today.”

“Coach—” I say, but he’s already moved on, yelling at two freshmen beating each other with the soft baseball bats.

I hate PE. Obviously whoever made it mandatory isn’t an easy bleeder with little to no physical coordination. I put it off until sophomore year, hoping I’d get breasts before having to engage in the horror of group showers. Unfortunately, puberty is eluding me.

I take my time walking over. Standing on the edge of the group, I try to look busy, pretending to read the safety guidelines listed on the wall. I firmly knot my shoes. I pull up my gym shorts, which are always sliding down, even with the top rolled.

When I look up the Trifecta are only a few feet away. I try not to stare but it’s hard; it’s like being able to study exotic animals in their natural habitat. Shawna, Sloane and Staci are like some mythic, flawlessly manicured three-headed creature. Even though they’re all different—a variety of hair colors, differing skin tones, various sizes—there’s a sameness about them, as if popularity has homogenized them. Maybe it’s the matching, perfectly made-up mouths or how all their clothes look expensive, even in gym, or their shared expressions, a mixture of boredom and superiority.

Shawna turns around. For a second I seize up in fear. Her gaze briefly drifts over me before landing on Gina. Gina was a minor celebrity last year when she did some local modeling and a few of the stock photos she took were used in magazines. One of her pics wound up in a teen mag above the headline “My Boyfriend Gave Me an STD.” People stuffed condoms in her locker and everyone started calling her Gina Gonorrhea. That’s what happens around here. One wrong move and you end up being nicknamed a venereal disease until graduation.

“Gina.” Shawna has a smile on her face that only the mentally challenged would mistake for nice. “Are you sure you’re allowed to touch the balls in this class? I don’t want to catch anything.”

I edge back, trying to hide behind a tall guy I recognize from the marching band. Gina just stares straight ahead like she doesn’t hear.

Apparently bored with Gina’s shaming, Sloane tunes out Shawna and studies her nails. Tall and beautiful, like some strange, corporal alien, Sloane’s skinny, with thin wrists and a long neck but in a way that seems graceful, unlike my awkward skinniness, which makes me look like an underfed fifth grader. With her angular cut hair and dead eyes, she looks like a French model or a lounge singer. The definition of cutting edge for Milbank, Wisconsin.

“Are you ignoring me?” Shawna stares Gina down with naked aggression. “How rude is that?” Shawna is the only person I know who can be completely horrible to someone and accuse them of being rude. She looks around for confirmation, and Staci is right beside her, nodding vigorously in agreement.

Staci is the oddity, the anomaly. Lumped with the others she almost fits, with her expanse of whitened teeth and perfectly streaked blond highlights. But under her orangish tan and heavy eyeliner, her face is a little rat-like, her teeth slightly bucktoothed. Despite her push-up bras, her baby fat belly is still noticeable. Sometimes her desperation is obvious, her laugh shrieky, her eagerness to share gossip, the way she jumps to do whatever Shawna says. Staci yelps in fake surprise when a volleyball narrowly misses hitting her, landing at her feet.

“Fore!” Jake Buchanan shouts, running in to retrieve the ball. He’s like a puppy, one that might pee all over everything when your back is turned.

“Jesus, Jake.” Shawna is irritated, but he ignores her.

Cole comes up behind Jake, and Shawna immediately realigns herself. I’m sure most of the girls and a few of the guys in drama club have allowed some Cole fantasies to play out in their heads. It’s not just that he’s Abercrombie and Fitch pretty, but he also has a confident ease, like there isn’t anything in life he can’t have or conquer.

Jake is also a feast for the eyes, but once he opens his mouth all previous goodwill gained by his abs is lost. “Sorry, ladies. Didn’t mean to startle you with my balls,” he says. “Although I can certainly arrange a private showing for you, Sloaner.”

Without looking up from her nails, Sloane extends her other hand, raising her middle finger in response. Jake puts his arms around her, trying to give her a sloppy kiss. Laughing, she ducks her head, pushing him away. They make it seem so easy to be one of them. So sure they belong.

“Okay, people.” Marshall blows his whistle and motions us onto our volleyball courts.

For the first few rounds I try to stay alert, pretend like I’m involved in the game. I relax a little when it becomes obvious that Jake, whose testosterone levels are spiking, is more than happy to field all balls hit into our section. Shawna’s up to serve and when she hits the ball into my territory, Jake steps back to take it. I get out of his way, veering sideways and accidentally knocking into Cole. He grabs my waist to steady me.

“Dude, watch out,” he says to Jake. “You’re forcing ladies to run me over.” He leans in, his breath tickling my ear. “Nice work, Skee Mee. Way to get in the mix there.” With a pat on the hip, he lets me go.

I stumble away, unsure what’s worse, that Cole Howard is talking to me or that he’s using a nickname I hoped died in elementary school. I concentrate on staring ahead, like my life depends on paying attention to volleyball.

“Skee Mee,” Cole says. Ugh, there it is again, that nickname. Cole has been my neighbor since elementary school, when his dad gave me the nickname “Skinny Minny.” Cole adapted it, calling me a lot of things—Skinny, Skin Min, Skins, Skee, Skeezy Breezy, until finally settling on Skee Mee as the winner. “Skee,” he singsongs. Even though I don’t look at him, I can hear it in his voice, like he thinks he’s doing me a favor by talking to me. Giving me something to write about in my diary when I go home tonight. Dear Diary, after ignoring me for years, Cole Howard honored me by talking to me today. “Oh, silly Skee.”

I can’t hear you.

“Come on, Skins.” He stretches his arm out, halfheartedly trying to reach my shoulder. “We’re about two feet from each other. I know you can hear me.”

I freeze in place, like if I don’t move he’ll go away.

“Talis.” He drops the teasing tone.

“What—” I’ve just turned to look at him when the volleyball smacks me in the face.


  1. First again!

    Okay, I absolutely loved this! Partly because it was so funny, partly because I remember HS PE all too well. Hated every minute of it.

    I have no recommendations. Like it the way it is. Really drew me into the character and setting.

    And now I want to see the query!

  2. "evil fiend in tiny man shorts" - love it! Top-notch writing throughout.

    This feels very authentic, both in dialog and the detailed social hierarchy of high-school. I can see the Trifecta, both as a three-headed unit and also as three distinct individuals. The description of Staci nicely blends insight into her character with physical description.

    A small point of confusion - Talis says Cole has been her neighbor since elementary, but hasn't talked to her in years. Yet he seems friendly enough.

  3. Homogenized by it! I thought this was nicely done and very relatable for all of us who have been in Talis' sneakers. The characters, while many, were distinct and interesting, and you really did a nice job communicating their various levels of discomfiture in the situation.

    Not sure what I'd change, really. Nice piece.

  4. fun reading, fast and easy to picture. It is easy to relate to the group dynamics. Tell me more about the stakes within the story.

  5. Hi Dayna,

    I love the voice in this and the details you picked out are judicious and give it a fresh perspective on something that most kids are experiencing. I have two suggestions. The first is that I'd love a bit more context sooner to qualify why she doesn't want to die of humiliation "this year" in particular. Ground us in time and place faster. The second is that you speed this up just a wee bit by changing the ratio of action to interior monologue.

    Looking forward to reading more!