Sunday, June 2, 2019

1st 5 Pages June Workshop - Larkindale

Name: Kate Larkindale
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Title: Standing too Close


The bell rings as I’m emptying my locker. After so many years, I’m conditioned, and I jump, ready to slam the door closed and run to class. All around me people move, rushing in all directions, voices raised to be heard over the clang of locker doors slamming shut. I should be among them, hurrying to get to bio, on the second floor.

 But I don’t hurry. Because I don’t need to worry about being late to bio or to French or English or any of my other classes anymore. As of ten minutes ago, I’m no longer a student of Milton High.

The thought makes my knees weak and I let my body sag against the lockers for a second. Something swims through my midsection but I can’t tell if it’s nerves, excitement or terror. Probably a mixture of all three.

 “You coming, Blue?”

 I turn and find Sacha McLeod standing near me, her violin slung over one shoulder as always.

“I’ll catch up with you,” I tell her, diving back into my locker.

“Well, okay,” she says. “But hurry. You know how mad Mr. Farnsworth gets if you’re late.”

She runs off and I watch as she catches up with a group of other kids at the base of the staircase. My head feels light, my throat thick. I am not going to get emotional about this. It’s school and it’s my choice to quit.

Well, that’s what I have to keep telling myself. If I don’t, I’ll rip up the piece of paper the principal just signed for me and take the detention Mr. Farnsworth will no doubt give me for being late again.

I shove the last of my things into my backpack and sling it over my shoulder. It’s surprisingly light. But why wouldn’t it be?  I’ve returned all my textbooks. All I had to clear out of my locker were a handful of probably dead pens, some stinky gym clothes and a binder full of papers I’ll probably never look at again. Papers I sweated over and stayed up all night writing in some cases. And for what?

The halls are nearly empty now and eerily silent. I slam the empty locker closed, enjoying the way its clang echoes up and down the corridor. I picture teachers frozen in front of the their classes, heads cocked at the noise, kids, straightening up in their chairs, eager for whatever is going on outside the door to take them away from the boredom of conjugating verbs or solving quadratic equations.

“Sorry, peeps,” I mutter as I march down the center of the hallway toward the double doors at the far end. “Nothing to see here.”

I push through the doors and squint in the bright, morning sunlight. Despite the sun, it’s cold and I zip my jacket up to my chin, turning my collar up in the hope it might do something to keep my ears warm. The bus stop is outside the school grounds. I just have to make it across the parking lot and I’m out.

I glance back at the hulking brick building. Sage is in there somewhere. Not in a classroom on this side of the building, I hope. Or if he is, not looking out the window. Telling my brothers I’ve dropped out isn’t going to be easy. I’d rather tell both of them together, rather than having to go through the torture twice.

I cringe as I step off the grass verge and onto the parking lot. Wiley won’t be so bad. He’s too young to really understand the seriousness of what I’ve done. Sage though…  Well, Sage will know. And he’ll know why. I only hope I can keep him from blaming himself for it.

A car barrels into the parking lot, going way too fast.

“Hey!”  I leap out of the way, back onto the verge that is damp and slippery from the morning’s frost, now melted. My heel hits a bald spot and skids across slick mud. I stumble, falling to one knee as the car pulls up and stops a little past me.

The click, clack of heels hurries toward me. “Are you okay?” 

I get up, brushing at the mud and grass-stains streaking the right leg of my jeans. Great. A meeting with the boss at noon and now I look like I’ve been playing football or something. I sigh. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

“Blue?”  The woman’s voice is hoarse, but familiar. I look up from my ruined jeans and find myself looking at my English teacher. She hasn’t been in school the last few weeks and she looks thinner and paler than I remember. Something happened. Something terrible. I just can’t remember exactly what it was. People were whispering about it in the hallways, but like so much school gossip, it’s drifted over me without sticking.

“Hi, Mrs. Applegarth,” I say. “No classes this period?”

“I could ask the same thing of you.”

I shake my head. “No. I don’t have a class. I won’t ever have a class again.”

Saying the words aloud makes them real.

Fuck. I don’t ever have to suffer through a boring lecture again. I don’t have to do homework again. I don’t have to deal with Coach Gary constantly trying to recruit me for his football team.

My throat thickens again. Not having to homework or dodge overzealous football coaches sounds good, but I know as well as anyone that doing this will limit my future.

“Blue?”  Mrs. Applegarth looks curiously at me. “Is everything all right?  What do you mean?”

I like Mrs. Applegarth. Her class was fun. She never asked us to dissect books or asked dumb questions about why certain characters do the things they do. People do stupid things. It’s a fact of life. The same way people hurt the ones they’re supposed to care about the most.

“I gotta go,” I say. “See you around, Mrs. A.”

“Blue.”  She grabs my arm as I step off the grass and back onto the slick driveway. “What’s wrong? Please tell me.”

I shake loose. “Nothing’s wrong. I dropped out this morning. Now I have to go get the bus.”

Mrs. Applegarth gasps. “You dropped out?  You?  Oh, Blue, why?”

I bite at my lower lip, scraping my teeth across the just-healing split in it. It’s not visible because the worst of the cut was on the inside, but I can feel the scab, scraping beneath my teeth.

“Talk to me, Blue.” She sounds tired. I look at her and realize she looks tired too. Exhausted. She’s put make-up on, but it isn’t enough to hide the dark rings beneath her swollen, bloodshot eyes.

“Are you okay, Mrs. A?”  I ask. She looks like she’s been crying all night. “You look…Well…”

I trail off. Probably not a good idea to tell your teacher, even a former teacher, she looks like shit. Especially a teacher like Mrs. Applegarth who always seemed so pulled together. Not all my teachers bothered with skirts or heels or make-up; I’d never seen Mrs. A in anything else.

She gives a bitter, humorless laugh. “Am I okay?  No. I’m not. But we’re not talking about me. Why would a smart boy like you drop out?”

Way to deflect the question lady. She’s smooth. I’ll give her that. But if she’s not answering me, and I’m not answering her, I guess we’re at an impasse.


  1. Great voice Kate, Blue really sings off the page. I will admit I wasn't sure until the second last paragraph if Blue identified as male or female (the line about the heel slipping threw me, I thought it might be like a high heel).
    I started wondering if Blue was his real name when his brother's name turned out to be Sage (maybe a hippy family) but hey, wondering makes people want to read more (which I do) so job accomplished!

    1. Thank you! I just realized I hadn't indicated anywhere that Blue is a guy until pretty late in the piece. I will need to get that information closer to the start of the chapter.

  2. Interesting set up for the story. I am left with lots of questions regarding Blue and the events which precede this. Enough hints and little leads to get the reader interested to read on.

    You manage to convey the mixture of feelings Blue feels about leaving school well and the characters have depth and interact well.

    The relationship between Blue and Mrs Applegarth seems close and almost personal- is this intentional? Is this where the story is leading?

    1. Glad you want to read on. And very perceptive about Blue and his teacher. Later on things get surprisingly complicated with these two.

  3. I agree with KD. I think maybe a few more details about Blue's appearance could help the reader picture him or her... I really like the descriptions though. They pull you into the scene. I am curious about Mrs. Applegarth. I can't wait to hear more and see where this story is going.

    1. Thank you! Yes, I agree that we need more detail about Blue and who he is earlier on. I will see if I can find somewhere to slot that in.

  4. Hi Kate! I’m excited to be in this workshop with you.

    I like how you set up this scene. You did a great job at describing the nuances of high school without using too many words. There’s great reflection in how the narrator views these little details, which are now irrelevant to him since he’s no longer a student there. Overall, great execution.

    I have a small concern regarding Sage. I’m not sure who he is. He’s introduced as someone Blue cares about (or, at least enough to hope he’s not looking through the windows). I initially thought he was Blue’s brother, but as a reader, I’m not entirely sure. He could be a friend, a fellow student or athlete, etc. I’d love a little clarity on this.

    I’m surprised by how well-connected Blue and his teacher are. Blue is obviously a very perceptive person, but I wonder if he’s noticing too much in this exchange. If he’s truly upset about dropping out of school, would he notice the small things about his teacher—I.E: no make-up, no skirt, etc—or would he simply stay in his own head, and worry about his own problems? Of course, I say this without knowing why he’s leaving the school.

    Also, in this day and age, I’m concerned about the teacher grabbing Blue’s arm. I respect what she’s trying to do, but readers might view this as too violent. You could go for a softer approach, like laying a hand on his shoulder, which he callously shrugs off. Or use a word other than "grab".

    Nice start. Very solid so far. ��

    1. Good points. I will make it clearer that Sage is Blue's brother. And maybe 'grab' isn't the right word there. I will see if I can find a gentler action.

  5. Thanks for sharing your work with us! As someone who works in a high school, I applaud you for the authenticity of setting and emotion here. Blue's voice is spot on.

    I feel like the first half or so could be tightened up a bit. I'm curious about the mention of family members--was there no build up to this decision they would've known about before? I'm also curious about the teacher. That seems to be related to the stakes, so it wouldn't hurt to get to that part more quickly. You could even start with that and flash back to the anxiety and relief of leaving during that conversation.

    Can't wait to read the next round!

    1. Thank you. Glad you think Blue's voice is authentic. He's someone I like very much! And glad you are curious about the teacher. She's worth being curious about!

  6. Kate,
    Thanks for submitting! Like the other commenters, I was confused if Blue identified with male or female until the end of the piece, and it actually became a focus of mine to figure it out - which was distracting from the reading! I feel his voice got a little edgier toward the end of the piece too - maybe spice up a few of the lines in the beginning if you can to carry throughout. Otherwise I really liked it and am curious why he dropped out and am looking forward to seeing where his journey goes from here!

  7. I'm a little late to the game, but I wanted to drop a few notes for you. I love the voice, although for some reason, I didn't catch that this character was a boy until the teacher says something about "a boy like you." Not sure if this is a big deal or not, but that might get fixed with my next comment.

    You definitely got mood going thick in here. I love the sensory that you put in: slamming doors (although it is mentioned three times), the brisk weather, the slick mud. There's a lot foreshadowing happening here. The slam of lockers seeming to signify the end of childhood. The cold weather, almost either a death or perhaps a time a quiet chapter before a new beginning. The slick mud right before work maybe representing the icky situation Blue find himself in. I love it all. That being said, it's a little drawn out and "poor me" feeling. While you want your reader to feel sympathy, you don't want to pour it on so thick that your reader is like "suck it up buttercup, let's get to the juicy part." Trim, trim, trim. I think cutting back on some of this with give you the gut punch you're hoping your readers feel.

    Great start! Can't wait to see next week's.