Middle-Grade Maddness


Hi.

Being that I'm in the middle of revising a YA Fantasy, I'm a little frustrated that an old plotbunny crept its way into my brain the other night and insisted on being written. I had this idea for a superhero story three years ago, and couldn't write it because the voice wasn't coming to me.

Well, it came.

Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to introduce you to Tyce Campbell. Chilean-American lover of Ramen noodles and jazz music, he's got a superpower just waiting to explode out of him. I can't wait to see where this goes.

Here's first draft chapter one, I'd love to hear what you think!

***

1


Soup is my comfort food, but Ramen is where it all started. I don’t mean real Ramen, like traditional Asian restaurants make, though that stuff’s good, I’ll tell you what. I mean the cheap Ramen you get for like, ten-cents-a-piece at the local grocery. I was raised on that stuff, man.

So, obviously, I needed some Ramen this morning.

I sat on my bed looking over the plans. Kaden would stop her, Tristen would stop everyone else, and I’d come out from behind the door of my locker holding a single rose. Red, obviously. I’d give it to her, with the card, and not say a word. I don’t want to ask right there in front of everyone, in case she said no right away. But I do want everyone to see me make the move. That’ll be enough. Hopefully.

My chest pounded and the cup of noodles in my hands shook. What if she didn’t take the rose and card? What if she looked at me like I’m some kind of creeper? What if, even after all that, she said no anyway?

No, don’t think about that. She’ll say yes, she’s gotta say yes.

I slurped up the last dregs of my Ramen, and set the cup on my nightstand. Deep breaths. My phone buzzed against my leg. Scared me so bad I leapt away from it and fell to the floor, head first. Ow…

“Tyce? Are you okay?” Mom.

“Ya, Ma, I’m fine. Just… fell…”

Silence. “Okay, hijo. We need to leave in ten minutes, please be ready.”

Ten minutes. Then fifteen to school, twenty ‘til first hour, fifty minutes of Mr. Warren’s boring dates and history events, then –

Then I ask Melena Ajihad to the Seventh Grade Hello Dance.

My spine prickled.

Deep breaths, Tyce.

I scrambled back up onto the bed and swiped my phone to view the text that had knocked me off the bed. It was from Tristen.


So
So…
You ready for this


I stared at the text for a full minute before I remembered I was out of time to be staring at texts.


man I hope so


I gathered the plan, the rose, and the card and carefully put them in my bag. Hopefully they’d be safe until I got them in my locker in twenty minutes.

“Tyce! Ya po, al tiro! Andate ya!

I grabbed my coat, making sure my inhaler was in the pocket, and ran downstairs. Mom already had the car running, waiting for me. I jumped in the front seat and switched the radio to jazz. Ella Fizgerald crooned It’s Only a Paper Moon from the speakers.

Deep breaths.


***


As usual, the halls of Brimhall Junior High were crowded with groups of students, blocking the hallway like clogs in a pipe. And of course they would never move out of the way for a tiny seventh grader like me. I zig-zagged from one side of the hallway to the other, avoiding the gatherings.

At my locker, I shoved all my crap inside except my history book, and made sure to set the rose and card on top of everything so they wouldn’t get squashed. Then, History time.

Mr. Warren was old, but big. And when I say big, I mean this guy had to have been in the armed forces at some point and he looked like he probably still was. Most old guys get all crotchety and shaky, but not Mr. Warren. He had huge muscles I’ll probably never get no matter how hard I try. That plus his thick English accent and a head and beard of white hair that made him look like an albino lion, and you had the most intimidating teacher in school.

I slipped into my seat just before the final bell rang. Mr. Warren was writing something on the whiteboard and he stopped, turned to the class and said, “Pop Quiz!”

We all groaned. Thing is, he ran his history class like a boot camp. Harsh conditions, pressure, and if you didn’t succeed it wasn’t his fault. In his mind, anyway.

“Campbell,” Mr. Warren said.

I stood next to my desk. “Yes sir?”

“The Preamble to the Constitution. Go.”

Crap. Crap crap crap… I tapped my leg, thinking. What was the… was that the School House Rock one? It was worth a shot. As the song played through my head, I said the words I remembered: “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States of America.”

My face split into a grin when I finished. I totally got it right.

He scratched something onto a clipboard. “You missed one word. Sit down.”

My mouth fell open. One freaking word? I wanted to ask if I at least got an ‘A’ for remembering most of it, but you never questioned Mr. Warren. I’d only been in Junior High for three weeks, and I knew that much.

He questioned the rest of the class, a different question for each person. We all answered pretty well. That was his way, though. We all took the quiz together, and we all got the same grade. At least he only did this with pop quizzes, not like… real tests.

After forty minutes he had questioned everyone in the class on Revolutionary American History. I stared at the clock, reminding myself what I was about to do next. A wave of heat ran up my spine as I imagined Melena, me handing her the rose, her perfect teeth making a perfect smile against her perfect dark skin.

“Campbell!”

My head popped up. “Yes, sir?”

“Bell’s gone.”

I looked around. Everyone was gone.

“Crap, crap, crap,” I mumbled. I grabbed my book and folder and ran. Mr. Warren chuckled behind me as I shoved open the classroom door and bolted into the hall. I looked at my watch – 9:51. No, no, no, I had to get there. This was my only chance. If I didn’t do it today I’d chicken out and never have the guts again. I made it to my locker at 9:53. In less than a minute she’d come around the corner on her way to choir.

Locker. Combination. I spun the dial, and heard Kaden’s voice stopping people on one side of the hall.

Crap!

Then Tristen’s voice came to me from my right. “Hey Melena! What’d you do this weekend?”

Locker open. Grab the rose.

“Not much, just family stuff, you know.”

Shut the locker. Turn right.

There she was. Her thinly-braided black hair was half held back by a clip, her smile so bright I thought I might faint. I’m not sure what brightness had to do with fainting, and maybe it was other stuff making me want to faint, but whatever. She had the prettiest smile, laughing at whatever it was Tristen had said.

I stepped next to Tristen and nodded. He grinned and backed away. I was suddenly aware of how quiet the hall was, Kaden having blocked the traffic, everyone staring at me, holding a rose, in front of the prettiest girl in seventh grade.

Someone sniggered.

I blinked. How long had I been standing staring? Before I lost my nerve, I shoved the rose and card into Melena’s free hand, then stepped back.

She looked around, obviously uncomfortable. Why, why, why had I decided it was a good thing to make everyone stop and watch? I chewed on my lip while she read my note, and I ran over it in my mind… Dear Melena, I know I’m not the most popular guy, I’m probably a bit of a geek. But I think you’re awesome, and you’ve been really nice to me, and I was wondering if you’d like to go to the Hello Dance with me? You don’t have to answer right now. I’ll be happy if you just smile at me after you read this. Thanks, Tyce.

Her face as she read went from confused, with her eyebrows pulled together, to fondness, her mouth forming an “aww,” to sad. Crap. She was going to say no.

I never should’ve done this.

Then she looked up and smiled. Bright. Sincere. Even, it looked like to me, flattered. It made my heart melt and burst and race all at once. I couldn’t move. Part of my mind registered that the people around us had started walking again, but a lot were still watching. Melena stepped toward me, leaned forward – we’re about the same height – and kissed me on the cheek. My face went super warm, hot, like boiling water hot. My spine tingled.

She whispered in my ear, “I’d love to, but someone already asked me and I told him yes. I’m sorry.” She gripped my arm as if to apologize again, gave me a sad smile, and went on her way.

My heart pounded against my ribs. Melena Ajihad just kissed me on the cheek.

***

-DC

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