A Scripted Life.
Written by: Little Miss Aki
©2006 AMJ All Rights Reserved
A woman of faith is one thing, but as a woman who had heard no sermon since she’d turned seven and had her first holy communion, she didn’t consider herself a woman of faith. Sure, baptized a catholic, raised with a ruler or wooden spoon, depending on which was close to hand, but not that true , God Fearing type of Catholic. Regrettably for her, Sarah Elizabeth Nelson, she had been brought up in a free-thinking, experience-is-everything mentality. Expelled early in her life from third grade, Sarah had made it a point to always be on the side of good, decent, respectable justice.
When Kelsey Miller had brought her Aztec Project, a 36” tall version of one of the temples built from popsicle sticks that had been beautifully painted with glitter and glue, Sarah had viewed it as an abomination. It was fine for Kelsey to have a great project, obviously constructed by the parents, but it was unfair she’d been allowed to enjoy all those popsicles.
As a result, our young protagonist, Sarah, borrowed her fathers lighter fluid and telescoping lighter and headed for school. This violation of Kelsey’s project, sitting on a desk against the wall of the class room, next to Sarah’s own now diminished poster board, had to be eradicated for the sake of public good. Lunch time rolled around gruelingly slow, but as the bell rang and the sweet faced, red haired Missus Parker lined everyone up for the march to the cafeteria, Sarah put her plan into action.
Dropping her plastic tub of markers, colored pencils and crayons across the floor, she slowly picked them up. Missus Parker, the sweet old gel, trustingly told Sarah:
“When your done picking them up just come down, make sure to turn off the light.” And the class marched out of the room.
It was time.
Drawing out the bottle of lighter fluid from a small Hello Kitty backpack, she proceeded with the utmost care to turn off the light so that the class room looked vacant. Kelsey project loomed in the shade of that cloudy afternoon, and with the diligence and calm that far surpassed her age, she approached the helpless temple.
Taking the little white bottle in her even smaller hands, she managed to drench a corner of the project. Wiping the lighter fluid from the countertop so that the fire might not spread, she took out the telescoping lighter and fought with it’s child-proof switch. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, the flame clicked on and she raised it to the project.
A rush of flame up the side and the acrid smell of burning wood and rubber cement rushed through the room. Tossing lighter-fluid and lighter into her bag, she took off out of the classroom at a dead run to the bathroom where she scrubbed her hands of the fuel scent. The smoke was creeping through the door of the classroom and all of a sudden she realized…
“I’ll be the first person they question.” She ran over to the pull down fire handle and tore on it with both hands. The bells rang and classroom doors burst open with the simple fire-drill speed…until they saw the smoke.
Panic ensued and she vanished into the crowd of students.
“I was walking down to the lunchroom when the alarm was pulled and just left with the crowd.” Sarah explained to herself. Still, she had been the last one in the classroom, projects don’t just burst into flames…the evidence had to disappear.
As they began lining up outside, she ran for the dumpster, ducking through crowd of chittering students happy they were missing class and praying the school would burn down.
The red-brick building loomed over the little girl, her black shoes clacking, the white lace on her socks bobbing along with her pigtails and blue jumper…
She slipped through the small gate and threw the lighter and fluid into the dumpster.
Rushing back to join her own class coming up from the cafeteria, she saw Missus Parker wave to her.
“And exactly how did Kelsey Miller’s project become lit on fire? Half the classroom is burned!” Sarah sat there with a dumb look on her face, hoping that they’d realize the insanity. Accusing this young child of Arson? Surely not. Principle Myers, a short round man of 53, took off his toupee and wiped the sweat from his forehead before putting his hair back on. Sarah glanced at the clock, it was past schools end, Mother would be coming to get her…
A bad sign.
“Sarah, do you know what happened?” Missus Parker asked again.
“No Ma’m. I was on my way to the cafeteria when I heard the alarm.” The same answer, perfectly rehearsed.
“Fires don’t just start!” Myers roared and Sarah jumped a little. A voice in her head told her not to crack, not to break, the pressure was being applied, she had to be the perfect actress.
Suddenly, Kelsey Miller, in her pink overalls and braided brown hair, walked by the office door, holding her mothers hand as she cried.
“Yes, cry…cry over a project you didn’t do. I hope those popsicles give you those bugs in your mouth so that you go to the dentist every week.” Sarah silently cursed, feeling a lump in her throat rise for Kelsey.
“Is Kelsey all right?” Sarah asked, looking at Missus Parker with such sell-able sincerity that even Myers paused.
“It’s her parents I’m worried about.”
“Kelsey’s just upset. I saw her this weekend at Hobby Lobby buying bags and bags of the sticks she used to build that project. She worked on it all weekend by herself because her parents were out of town. If I saw that much of my work go up in flames, it would make me ill.”
Sarah felt her hands go ice cold, her face freezing into a mask of indifference as she managed a response.
“I wish I could do something for her…” Missus Parker looked up as the door opened and Mrs. Nelson entered, still in the black dress pants and jacket of her real-estate job.
“Sarah, are you all right?” Sarah looked up at her Mother who instantly saw in the deep brown peepers of her daughter that everything was far from all right.
“Is it okay if I take her home now?” Mrs. Nelson asked, but the way her voice sounded it was a command that said simply “I am Taking Her.”
Sarah was on her feet and followed her mother out of the office to the small red Cutlass Sierra outside. She fastened her seatbelt in the front seat and looked back to see her younger sister strapped in, her red curls bouncing around her giggling face as she played with a set of measuring spoons. Vanessa was eighteen months younger, yet more like an infant than ever.
“So, what really happened with that fire?” Sarah’s Mom asked, putting on her sunglass, a tool of intimidation.
Sarah hated sunglasses, they inhibited her ability to read other peoples expressions. Her mother knew this well and Sarah stared at the dash board.
“Spontaneous Combustion?” she asked, shrugging. Glancing at her third grade daughter, Mrs. Nelson gave a click of her tongue.
“Oh? And what do you know about Spontaneous Combustion?”
It was a term Sarah had heard but never defined so she shrugged.
“It’s the misguided and just use of lighter fluid and a telescoping lighter to bring fairness back into the world.” Her stomach turned at these words that flew from her mouth. Kelsey had done all of that by herself without any sweet popsicle to assist her…justice had been switched with jealousy…
“I see. And what did you do with these useful items?” asked Mom.
“They’re in the dumpster, it gets emptied every day at three. They’re long gone.”
“Apparently God is an accomplice of yours, because Dad and I were planning on pulling you out of school with your sister. We closed on the new house in Parker today.”
“So I’m switching schools?”
“In the nick of time.”
"What was going to happen if we'd stayed?"
"You were going to be expelled..."
"No I wasn't."
"You don't really think you could get away with burning the school, do you?" The sunglasses were turned on her then and she shriveled.
"Expelled from third grade, there's something to have on your record."
Living a Scripted Life.
Everyone has friends and enemies in life. People they’d die for, people they’d fight for, people they’d like to see torn limb from limb by a pack of hyenas…or politicians. Sarah Nelson was a girl who, simply put, had no need or desire of friendship. Being a “loner” had its own advantages being that you never owed anyone anything.
Sitting in the office of Principle Dennis for the fifth time in three days, Sarah stared at her muddy hands, dirt clothes, and mud coated sneakers wondering how it all went so wrong.
Isabel Castillo, Morgan Smith, Ashley Rodgers and Dana Nixon had been sitting on the swing set alongside her at recess. The group of sixth graders had a mutual understanding that they were not really friends, just people who sometimes needed others in order to accomplish a goal. Sometimes that goal was cheating on a vocab test, today, that goal had been saving a complete stranger from being bullied.
Swinging along in the cool fall, the group had been chit chatting about silly things and Nsync songs. Ashley with her rainbow-colored hair and black jnco’s, Dana with her too-tight pants and too-small sweater, Isabel still trying to learn English, and Morgan, her eyes different shades, dressed like a boy…all complimented each other in their strangeness.
Bullying starts simply. Someone wants to pick a fight, to get whatever youthful edginess out of their system. It starts by accidentally running into the victim. Pushing the target from the monkey bars, or ridiculing them ruthlessly so that everyone will stop to look. Bullying is the easiest and most practiced task from second grade to death.
Such a victim had been carefully chosen, Trevor Miller. Trevor was good looking, tall for his age, and dressed like some football player on an off day. His attitude however was a weak one, he was always willing to laugh off insults rather than throw one back. One such a day as this, Trevor was chicken-fighting on top of the monkey bars with his friend Lester. Lester Fester, Future Toilet Tester was the chant of many onlookers. Les, as Sarah and her gang called him, was like Trevor except he wore the red-neck, hippy-type starched shirts and cowboy boots. If he was not being ridiculed, he was being badmouthed as a fairy, shit kicker, or otherwise.
On such a fine fall day, Sarah watched the chicken fight as she kicked higher and higher off the ground. Les had the advantage, but Trevor had a sense of balance. For the first person to fall from the monkey bars, there was a murky end. The fall had brought early, wet snows that had melted in the warmth of Colorado’s moody weather, and now that area was a pool of brown mud and gravel, treacherous to any tennis shoe.
There it was, Sarah watched as Lester lost his balance and toppled towards the ground. A splash of water later and he was off on the sidelines. Trevor raised his fists in the air, triumphant. Then it happened, Sarah saw Brian Withers climb up onto the top of the monkey bars in his white t-shirt and torn up blue jeans. Brian was bad news, his red hair tucked under a red bandanna, his skin tense against young muscle from throwing hay bales. Trevor turned to this challenger with what Sarah would’ve named dismal confusion.
Brian waved him forward, the challenge was easy, Trevor made a smile, knowing that this would not end well. Sarah glanced about for sign of a teacher, but whomever was on Recess Duty had vanished back into the building. Trevor was on his own.
Brian was a well known bully, a bad news kind of guy that had rolled one of the giant rubber tires up a hill and then sent it flying at Sarah a few years earlier during another recess. Sarah had narrowly avoided being crushed. You didn’t mess with him or his friends without getting a black eye.
Sarah kicked hard and jumped from the swing, landing on the gravel and shoving hands in jean pockets. She walked away from her companions who were dismounting behind her to view the fight…and it would be a fight.
Brown hair braided with pink ribbon, eyes forward, Sarah looked like just another curious classmate. She stood almost five feet seven, and being a girl this was impressive. Even Brian couldn’t match her in height.
“Why get off and let me fight someone worth it, Miller. Go play with your fairy friend.” Brian had thrown the first blow, Trevor said nothing.
“Nothing to say?” Brian asked, Trevor shrugged. Sarah glanced at Lester who looked red in the face.
“Finish him quickly, Trev!” Lester shouted.
“Would the cheerleading section please shut up?!” Brian shouted, Sarah saw Lester grabbed by two of Brian’s large companions and thrown bodily back into the mud.
“CUT IT OUT BRIAN!” Dana shouted, Sarah glanced at her friend whose pudgy midriff was rolling over her jeans.
“Shut up fatty!” shouted one of the boys who had tossed Les. Trevor suddenly charged, almost lunged, at Brian who caught his wrists and threw him down into the bars. Trevor’s leg went through and he caught his crotch brutally on the metal.
There was laughter at this, all except Trevor who was red and barely breathing for the pain. Sarah smiled, he didn’t scream.
Climbing up onto the top of the monkey bars, Sarah smiled beningnly at Brian before touching Trevor’s shoulder.
“I’m here to relieve you…” She nodded to Les who hurried forward as Trevor lowered himself between the bars.
“A girl? I ain’t fighting with no girl.” Brian told her. Sarah glanced at him as he began climbing down.
“I’m surprised Trevor didn’t tell you that when you climbed up here. I didn’t think he’d try to hit a girl like yourself. Figured I’d even things up coming up here.”
The insult was plain, simple, easy to understand, and a hush fell over the crowd of onlookers as Brian climbed back up.
“You callin’ me a girl?”
“Would Moron of the First Order be better?” She asked, looking thoughtful, “Or Full Time Juvenile Delinquent?” He was grinding his teeth.
“Maybe I should keep it in the five-letter variety, Pussy.”
The sound of skin hitting skin rang throughout the silent playground. Sarah felt her cheek burning from the smack delivered by Brian’s hand. It hadn’t been powerful, just an attention getter. She took it in stride.
“Wow…you even hit like a girl.” Her hands caught his as he tried pushing her off either side of the bars. She let her feet roll on the bar before kicking out one foot. His foot slipped as she struck his shin and went down between the bars. A clang rang out as his crotch connected and he gave a whimper, rolling.
A second clang as his head connected with the next bar over. Sarah leaned down to look at him with sympathetic, caring eyes, well practiced.
“Wow…are you okay?” She asked, he groaned at her, his eyes tear and hatred filled. She nodded and grabbed him by the arm, pulling him roughly forward and off the bars, his ankles connecting with the steel before he fell face first towards the ground. Grabbing out he caught her hair and yanked her down beside him. Sarah gave a cry of surprise as they both landed in the mud. She swung out at him to get him to release her hair and a fist struck her in the side with such force it knocked the wind from her. Trevor and Les were in the fray instantly but so were Brian’s compadrés. The fist fight that ensued was swiftly broken up by the teachers monitoring the recess.
Now, Sarah was sitting alone, denied the nurses office, awaiting judgement. Principle Dennis had no soft spot for fighters, it was time to look sweet, a victim, an innocent bystander…
The tall wood door of his office opened and Trevor and Les came out, equally muddy, both appearing miserable. Dennis, a thin-lipped, middle aged man peered over his glasses at Sarah who stood.
“Give me a minute, Miss Nelson. I need to finish calling these two’s parents.” Sarah gave a nod, a grip of fear on her heart. If her Mom found out she was in trouble again…she shuddered.
“Hey Sarah…” Trevor greeted, she smiled at him.
“How’re the jewels?” He grinned at her from a bloody nose and glanced at his crotch.
“Better than Brians.” She grinned, he grinned back.
“What’s the verdict?” she asked him. Les was picking mud off his yellow shirt.
“Detention for a month and a referral.” Les replied sadly.
“The bastard started it.” Trevor growled.
“I bet Dennis knows, he ain’t stupid. Brian’ll have the hammer drop too.” Sarah replied, nodding thoughtfully.
“You really showed him…being beat by girl, he’ll never live it down.” Trevor laughed.
“He’ll just be out for blood next time.” Les replied, the group went quiet.
“Hey, Sarah…” Trevor held out his hand to her.
“If you ever need anything, or whatever, let us know. We owe you one.” She smiled at his outstretched hand and then stepped forward and hugged him.
“No handshakes amidst friends.” The door to the office opened and Dennis cleared his throat. Sarah smiled at both boys before heading into the office. Dennis shut the door and motioned to one of the awful vinyl chairs before his desk. She sat, he sat, she met his eyes, he looked at a piece of blue paper on his desk.
“You know what this is?”
“A referral?” she asked, nodding. A nod back.
“I’ve all ready called your Mother.” He told her, she nodded. Dennis removed his glasses and massaged his nose.
“She asked about the circumstances of the brawl…I have what Trevor and Lester told me, and I have Brian with a concussion.” Sarah was careful not to smile.
“I shouldn’t have let it get so far sir, it won’t happen again. I was emotional.” Dennis blinked, nothing more and Sarah looked at the referral with her name. There were three more, one for Brian and his two friends, and then another two behind him, most likely Lester and Trevor.
“There were complaints about bullying going on…I can understand the want to take things into your own hands…”he looked at her muddy hands, “but next time, come get a teacher?” He turned, taking Trevor and Lester’s referrals, and her own, and put them in the shredder.
“No referral then?” she asked, he looked at her and saw a smile in her betraying eyes.
“Detention for a month and cafeteria duty.” She gave a nod, it wasn’t heaven, but it wasn’t bad.
“Go get cleaned up.” She stood and left to find Trevor and Lester waiting for her. She smiled, a real smile.
“No referrals.” She told them. Trevor grinned and Lester let out a laugh, “couldn’t get us out of detention or cafeteria duty, but I think we can live with getting out of class a half hour early for food.” She added.
“Better get back to class then.” Lester replied, winking at Trevor who slung an arm around Sarah’s shoulders.
“I have a feeling we’re going to make quite the team.”
Sarah smiled, feeling strangely comforted by his arm there. Everyone has friends and enemies…people they’d die for, people they’d fight for…
And people they’d watch crunch-crotch themselves on a pair of monkey bars before clonking skull for a concussion.
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