Sunday, June 9, 2019

1st 5 Pages Workshop - Larkindale Rev 1

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


The bell rings as I empty my locker. After so many years, I’m conditioned, and jump, ready to close it and run to class. All around me people rush in every direction, voices raised to be heard over the chatter and banging of locker doors. 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 at Milton High.

The thought makes my knees weak and I let my body sag against the lockers. 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 looking up at me, her violin slung over one shoulder as always.

“I’ll catch up,” I tell her, diving back into my locker.  I bump my head on the shelf inside, the same way I have at least once a day since school started.  Whoever designed these things didn’t have guys my size in mind.

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

She runs off and I rub the sore spot above my eye while I watch her join a group of other kids at the base of the staircase. My head feels light and not from banging it my throat thick. I am not going to get emotional. 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 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 empty now and eerily silent. I slam the empty locker closed, enjoying the way its clang echoes through 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 to my chin, turning the collar up in the hope it might 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. Hopefully not in a classroom on this side of the building.  Or if he is, not looking out the window.  I didn’t tell him where I was going when we got to school this morning. Telling my brothers I’ve dropped out isn’t going to be easy. I’d rather tell them both together, rather than having to go through that 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.

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. The heel of my work-boot 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 whispered about it in the hallways, but like most school gossip, it 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 do 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 touches 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..

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, 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. I like this. I didn't notice a huge change, but then again, I liked it a lot before too. I did like the addition of the girl with the violin. I think the little details really help to hint that Blue is dropping out as a sacrifice. I really want to know why. I also am dying to know what happened with his teacher and if there is a connection. This may sound silly, but what is a verge? I'm not familiar with this term.

  2. Hi Kate,

    I like the way that you have included little bits to give Blue's gender identity clearer. As before, nice hints as to what has happened, cut lip, Sage blaming himself etc.

    It is almost identical to the original draft (and as Susan said the first was really good) and so hard to know where to go with what to suggest. For me, it is what is unique/ distinctive about this world/ story to set it apart from other stories out there? Is there something unique about this story which other YA contemporary stories don't have which which you really want to set out in these first 5 pages.

    As before, a really well written piece and good to read.

  3. Hi Kate, I liked the little touch about Blue knocking his head on the locker so we know his gender straight up.
    Did you choose to specify he wears work-boots because he's from a poorer family so wouldn't have a branded work boot? I'm not familiar with American brands, but you could have something like "the heel of my Blundstone slipped" and that would give us a lot of clues about his family's social status as well as what the shoe was like.
    Still absolutely love this story and I want to read more to find out what's going on.

  4. Hi Kate!

    This is a very solid piece of work. I’m definitely intrigued! I REALLY want to know why he’s quitting school.

    I appreciate you clearing up the gender mess. I will say, I nearly missed it in my first read. I had to go back and see the line: “Whoever designed these things didn’t have guys my size in mind.” I’m wondering if you could incorporate it in what the teacher says to him, just so weird people like me don’t miss it lol. Something to the effect of, “You dropped out? You? Oh, Blue, why? You’re such a smart young man.” But if you feel that’s too cluttered, feel free to disregard.

    The tone in this revision reads almost lighter to me. Not a bad thing! I guess compared to the first submission, Blue doesn’t come off as bleak or depressive. His sadness is relatable to me, despite not knowing why he’s leaving the school.

    I had a small question: Do Blue’s parents know he’s dropping out? Because from my understanding (and forgive me if I’m wrong), minors attempting to quit school must have signed permission from at least one parent. And if that’s the case, wouldn’t Sage know his brother’s dropping out? If this is answered in the novel, feel free to disregard. But if not, it’s something you might want to consider.

    Looking forward to next week!

  5. I echo the comments above - the revisions are subtle but clear up a lot of the questions I had from the previous piece. I would still go bigger with the emotions. Teens feel everything so acutely and this is such a huge sacrifice. Tease me more for the reason with the emotional reaction.

  6. Kate, I loved reading this again and I liked that we now know Blue is a boy pretty quickly.

    I only have a couple (very) nitpicky comments and please take them with a grain of salt.

    * I felt like him getting "weak knees" sounded feminine for some reason. I don't know many athletic boys who feel that? I thought the other physical reations of throat tightening and stomach fluttering worked and may be enough.

    * Several of your paragraphs start with "I" in a row ... maybe vary one of them?

    * This is more of a comment ... when he says something horrible happened to Mrs. Applegarth, but he doesn't remember, I immediately wondered if he had something to do with it. If he did - I'm glad I caught it! If he didn't, it may be something you want to consider.