Free writing workshop for aspiring authors of young adult and middle grade fiction. The first five pages may be all that agents, editors, and readers read, so get them right with the help of three authors over the course of three weeks. During the third week, an agent will also critique your pages and your pitch and pick a workshop winner - the prize is a partial request!
Name: Chelsea Billings Title: LOST IN TRANSITION Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Chapter 1 June- Summer after Freshman Year Waiting for Bus to Camp
So here I sit, in a Safeway parking lot early in the morning, waiting to board a bus to a leadership camp 4 ½ hours away in the middle of a forest. I won’t know anyone there and will be the only student from my high school, Baytown, which doesn’t feel like it’s really even my school.
The weather is typical for a northwest Washington morning, even in the summertime. A low, thin layer of fog hangs overhead, and the air is misty. It’s not particularly cold outside, but I still can’t help but shiver. That’s one of the side effects of being underweight: I’m constantly cold. I take a deep breath and run my hand through my long blonde hair that reaches almost to my waist. About a dozen other kids have gathered in the parking lot. I smile and wave at a few of them, but stay sitting on the bench alone. This is the part where they will begin to group up, and I would rather stay by myself than risk being rejected. I’ll wait for someone to come to me.
The bus pulls in just a few feet away from the Starbucks across the parking lot. I momentarily daydream about a Starbucks scone, but I don’t consider getting one. It’s safer that way. That probably sounds crazy- how could a scone be unsafe? But it’s not the scone itself that would make me uncomfortable. It’s the fact that eating one would be out of my routine, and my routine is what gives me a sense of security, what makes me feel grounded. When I use the word “unsafe”, I don’t mean I actually think I would be in danger, but it would leave me with a nagging feeling and make me feel “off” for the next several hours, maybe even the rest of the day. I’d rather not deal with that.
I know it’s weird. But controlling what I eat makes me feel in control. Some days I feel the need to be stricter with it than others. Today is one of those days.
We put our duffel bags under the bus and get nametags before we get on. They’re the stick-on kind that say “Hello, my name is…” I write my name, Vanessa, and draw a small butterfly underneath it. I thought my relationship with Dean was going to be like a butterfly: it started as a friendship, and I thought it would grow into something more, just like a butterfly starts as a caterpillar and morphs into a butterfly. All the signs were there. How could I have been so wrong?
A girl with shoulder-length brown hair who looks to be about my age boards the bus, looking around for an empty seat. Just as I’m feeling like a loser for sitting here alone, she interrupts my thoughts. “Is this seat taken?” she asks.
I smile and shake my head. “No, go ahead.” I am overwhelmed with a feeling of relief.
I wasn’t always like this. I used to have someone to sit with, a place where I belonged. I never used to over-analyze these kinds of situations, like some kind of pathetic social outcast. It’s interesting how when you have someone to sit with, or stand with, or eat lunch with, you don’t give it a second’s thought, but when you don’t have anyone to do those things with, it’s all you can think about. It also feels like everyone in whatever situation you are in is watching you, and knows you don’t have anyone to hang out with, and is thinking about what a loser you are and wondering what might possibly be wrong with you.
The girl breaks my thoughts again. “Thanks,” she says, setting her purse down on the floor. “I’m Rochelle.” She puts out her hand.
I am struck by this gesture. I probably extended my hand to a dozen people during my first few weeks at Green Valley, only to be met with stares, the kind that read, we don’t shake hands in high school. That’s for, like, making business deals or something. At Green Valley I always got the feeling that you were already supposed to know who people were before you actually met them. Then when you had a conversation with them, you were supposed to know the right things to talk about, and you were supposed to talk about them using some kind of secret language. I was apparently absent the day they taught this language. I don’t care about that anymore, though. But Rochelle shaking my hand and introducing herself is still a refreshing change.
People have told me that, considering everything that happened last year- the covered area before school, the lunch table, homecoming- God, homecoming- and especially that last day in the principal’s office- they can’t believe I haven’t cried a single tear. They’ve said things like “It’s okay to cry” and “It’s okay to feel it”. What they don’t understand is that I’m not going to cry, because there’s nothing to cry about, and there’s nothing to feel. I’m fine. It’s fine. Everything is fine. I have told so many people that over the course of the past year (even Rene- as if she has any idea what I went through last year), and I don’t know why no one believes me. It’s like everyone is waiting for me to crack or something. Which isn’t going to happen, because I’m fine. I transferred schools. So what? People change schools all the time. Sure, it’s usually because their family moves or something, not because they want to leave, but who cares? It’s the same outcome, and it doesn’t matter. None of it matters. I’ve moved on. I had moved on before I even left, and I’m not looking back, because I don’t need to. I’m fine.
“I’m Vanessa,” I say, shaking her hand.
“Nice to meet you,” she says. Another noteworthy pleasantry.
“Nice to meet you, too,” I respond.
Why am I going on this trip, you may ask? Old Me (that’s me Before Transferring Schools) would have thrived on this kind of adventure. Old Me was the class president, and loved to be in front of crowds and give speeches and plan dances and do random things without caring what anyone else thought. Old Me also seized any opportunity to make new friends, and came away from any summer camp situation with a list of phone numbers and screen names of people to keep in touch with throughout the school year. That’s who I used to be, and I want to be that person again. That’s why in the spring, I signed up to take leadership in the fall. And when I was selected as a candidate to go on this trip over the summer, I decided to go, despite the fact that every other camp I’ve ever gone to, I had at least one friend with me. Going on this trip also means missing swimming for a week, which, up until last week, would have been hard for me to wrap my mind around, but I can’t imagine facing Dean now. And to think that just last week, we had planned to talk on the phone while I was away at camp… yeah, that definitely won’t be happening now.