Saturday, February 13, 2016

Killed Darlings

Over on Facebook, I've been participating in Author Life Month. And I shared the Day 12 challenge - Killed Darlings - over there. Rather than let it be buried in Facebook fairly quickly, I thought I'd share it here as well in case anyone wants to come back and read it.
Through the Fire had a lot of darlings killed during writing and then again the editing process. There were so many parts my publisher and I agreed to cut in order to speed up the pace and lessen the backstory.
I gave one of my street team girls a pick of original YA-style start of the very first draft of Through the Fire or some of the cut high school scenes. She picked the high school scenes...
Now remember, this is pretty raw and unedited (but don't worry if you haven't read Through the Fire yet, it won't spoil anything too much for you). Despite that, it's still completely in cannon with the rest of the story.
“Evelyn Meyers?”
Here we go again.
Arranging my face into a forced smile, I headed to stand near the teacher’s desk. I’d endured the process of a new school often enough in the last two years that I knew the etiquette and expectations involved. As I walked, Dad’s voice rang in my ears with each step.
‘Give them enough that they won’t ask questions, but not so much that they can catch you in a lie.’
It wasn’t worth reminding him that I didn’t know enough to lie.
“Evelyn, it’s lovely to have you in our school,” the generic teacher—tall, brunette, thick-rimmed glasses, pleasant-enough nature—said warmly. “Why don’t you tell the class a little about yourself?”
Trying to ensure my smile wasn’t a grimace, I turned to the other students. With the number of times I’d had to introduce myself in the past, it should have been the simplest thing in the world. The same worn-out speech should have fallen easily from my lips, but somehow the words became stuck on my tongue.
Although I wanted to say, ‘My name is Evelyn, but you can call me Evie. I just moved here from New Jersey and I’m looking forward to finishing the school year here.’
All I managed to say was, “It’s uh…just Evie and umm…I just moved from…ah…”
My mind drew a blank as I thought of the many towns we’d been in over the years—twenty-six at last count. I stared out at the other students, hoping to see the words I needed printed on someone’s forehead.
“Is she stupid or something?” a girl sitting at the desk across the aisle, diagonally behind mine, stage-whispered to her neighbor. I glanced toward the teacher, who appeared oblivious to the comment.
Obviously her hearing isn’t as good as mine.
A titter ran through the class.
Glancing toward the person who spoke, I spotted a girl with a rounded face, pink lips and dirty blonde hair pulled into two tight braids, one on either side of her head. Both the girl and her neighbor each gave me an overly sweet smile when they noticed me looking in their direction. Another of Dad’s often repeated statements echoed in my mind.
‘Don’t make enemies. It only gains unwanted attention.’
But he’d never faced the first day at a new high school over and over.
“Louise!” a dark-haired boy, sitting in front of the girl with the braids, hissed at her.
She glared at the back of his head and then stared at me with narrowed eyes.
As if the words were written in her icy gaze, my mind chose that moment to offer up the information it had hidden from me earlier.
“From New Jersey,” I finished off lamely, before slinking back to my seat as the teacher thanked me.
Heading back to my desk, I wished the whole way that a chasm would open beneath my feet and swallow me whole. Once I was back in my seat, the boy beside me leaned over conspiratorially. As he did, a gold chain swung loose from beneath his shirt.
“Don’t worry, I’ve moved around a lot too,” he whispered.
Dark eyes appeared to appraise me carefully as he tucked the chain away.
Just as I was about to ask him how he knew that I’d moved a lot, he beat me to the punch.
“I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve forgotten where I’d just come from,” he explained. He seemed friendly enough as he watched my reaction with a small, knowing smirk on his lips.
My mouth curled into an easy smile, my first genuine one in almost two weeks.
“I’m Clay,” he said, dragging his hand through his shaggy hair. As his gaze focused on me again, I saw that his eyes, which had appeared almost black at first, were actually a very dark brown. “Consider me your welcoming committee into this madhouse.”
“Is it really that bad?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.
He shook his head and laughed. “Nah, not really. No worse than anywhere else I’ve been. I went to this one school where the principal would shout at everyone through the PA for ten minutes at the start of every day.”
He laughed again and I felt myself smiling wider in response. There was something about Clay that simultaneously put me at ease and piqued my curiosity.
I wanted to ask why he’d moved around so much, but it would risk having him ask me the same question in return. There was no way I could explain things to him when I didn’t even understand them myself.
“Mr. Jacobs,” the teacher called to Clay. “If you’ve finished your conversation, perhaps we can get back to leaning Math?” She stared at him with an eyebrow raised.
After winking in my direction, Clay turned his attention to the board. My gaze, however, remained glued to the side of his face. He was extremely striking in profile, with his chin jutting out proudly and his lips curled into a tiny smirk. I guessed that he was probably quite popular with the girls, and maybe even a few of the guys.
“I can feel your eyes on me,” he chuckled quietly without looking in my direction.
“Sorry,” I murmured, reluctantly turning my attention to the front of the class as well.
“Don’t be,” he whispered, leaning into the space between us. “I kinda like it.”
~ 0 ~
“Show me your class schedule,” Clay said while I was packing up my math books after the bell had rung.
I handed it over without a second thought, trying to be polite because I figured he was going to be chivalrous and point me in the direction of my next class. In truth, I was experienced enough in memorizing maps and working out routes that I didn’t really need his help, but I didn’t want to dent his fragile male ego either—I’d learned how difficult and pouty men could be after dealing with my father’s shifts in mood.
While I waited for him to read through it and point me on my way, I watched as everyone else left the room. Louise—the girl who’d made the snide comment during class—brushed by my seat roughly, banging my head with her bag as she went.
Just as I was about to stand up and say something, regardless of Dad’s advice to not make waves, Clay handed my schedule back to me. Without another word, but with a wide grin on his face, he stood and left, leaving me dumbfounded and staring after him. I glanced down at the sheet of paper in my hand. He’d highlighted the border of our shared classes and jotted down his cell number.
I chuckled as I read his note.
‘For when you need a friend.’
Two can play at that game.
My next class was another one I shared with him, so I pulled out my cell and programmed his number in before firing off a quick text as I walked toward the door.
‘How does now work for you?’
He was waiting for me outside the classroom door and swept quickly to my side just as his phone beeped. He pulled out his cell and smiled as he read the message.
I turned away, embarrassed that he was reading my text in front of me. While I was deliberating looking in another direction he grabbed my books, drawing my attention back to him.
“Consider it a one-time welcoming gesture,” he said, his tone suggesting that he expected me to wave him off and reach for my books again.
I laughed. “Well, as long as it’s only a one-time thing, I might as well take full advantage.”
He nudged me gently, and offered me a disarming smile when I glanced at him. “Come on, let’s go,” he said.
As I walked in companionable silence beside Clay, I began to consider the various almost-friends I’d had over the years. I’d never been so instantly at ease with any of them. Even though we’d barely spent an hour together, it already felt like I’d known Clay for years. It occurred to me that maybe it didn’t matter how much time I’d spent with other people, maybe it came down to chemistry.
“What’s got you so deep in thought?” he asked as we stopped at our next classroom.
There was no way I was telling him what I’d just been thinking. I might have been comfortable with him, but not that comfortable. Instead, I just shrugged.
“Just, you know, new school, new friends, new life.”
He nodded knowingly. “I used to hate my Dad because his, um, job forces us to move around so much, but now…I don’t know, I guess I’m glad to have seen so many places and met so many people, you know?”
Smiling in response to his honesty, I considered his words. I’d never really stopped and thought about the benefits of moving, beyond the relief that I’d felt whenever we finally settled in one place again.
“Come on, let’s get to class,” he said, knocking my shoulder lightly with his own.
~ 0 ~
After two hours shared with Clay on my first day at my newest school, I had my first class where I had to get by without my newfound friend. I’d found the classroom relatively easily and picked a desk somewhere near the middle of the room. Some of the faces of my classmates were already starting to look a little familiar, so I smiled politely at anyone who looked in my direction. Somehow, I already felt more comfortable than I had at any other school. I suspected Clay’s smile and his infectiously optimistic personality had a lot to do with that.
As I pulled out my books, I noticed that Louise took a seat behind me.
“They’ll let any old trash into this school, won’t they?” she bemoaned loudly to her friend.
Rolling my eyes at her lame attempt to rattle me, I twisted in my seat to face her.
“I didn’t get a chance to properly introduce myself before. I’m Evelyn,” I said, giving her the falsest smile I could muster.
Her mouth twisted into a slight sneer. “Louise.”
“I gathered.” I infused my voice with as much disdain as I could. I wanted her to know that I saw through her tactics and she didn’t intimidate me. Despite Dad’s warnings to not draw unnecessary attention to myself, I wasn’t the type to just shy away in a corner when confronted. “It’s lovely to meet you.”
She gave me her best bitch brow. I had no idea what I’d done to earn her hatred so quickly, but I’d started enough new schools to realize that was the nature of high school. I also suspected that my fledgling friendship with Clay had aggravated the situation, especially if the glare she’d given me after he’d scolded her was any indication. I wondered whether she had her own plans for him. It was almost too easy to decide to test the waters and see if her reaction was mostly jealousy.
“Everyone’s just so nice here,” I said, my voice dripping with insincerity. “I’ve even got a lunch date with Clay.”
“Is that so?” she asked.
“Yeah, he’s been super welcoming,” I said before turning back toward the front of the room.
“That’s what’s so sweet about my brother,” she said loudly to her friend, although I was certain the words were meant for me instead. “He takes care of all the strays.”
Brother?
The shock I felt at her revelation rattled me and I was unable to even pretend to be unaffected as I swiveled in my seat again. “Clay’s your brother?”
Louise gave me a self-satisfied smirk. “Of course silly, he’s my twin.”
“Twins?” My mouth popped open in surprise. Even though I’d only known them both for a few hours, I could easily tell that Clay and Louise were complete opposites in every way—both in looks and personality. I couldn’t wrap my head around the concept of them not only being related, but that they’d shared a womb. “What, were you swapped at birth or something?”
Her eyes widened for just a fraction of a second before narrowing fiercely. Although I wasn’t sure what, I sensed I’d said something terrible. I ran through the conversation in my head and decided she was mentally unstable.
The rest of English was spent watching the clock tick over minute by minute. I was desperate to meet with Clay to find out whether Louise was just a snarling cow, or if she was a lying one as well. I wasn’t entirely sure how to approach the issue with him, but thought that I would try for a subtle approach. After all, I didn’t want to ruin my friendship with him before it had really begun—especially over someone like Louise.
As soon as the bell rang, I raced to pack up my books and leave the room, only to be surprised by Clay waiting outside the classroom for me.
“I thought I’d wait for you here,” he said. “It’s on my way back to the cafeteria.”
I made a mental note to check the truth of his statement later.
“How was class?” he asked as we walked.
“Good. I met your sister, officially.”
So much for subtle.
“Oh.” He scrubbed the back of his neck with his palm. “Louise is real pleasant, right?”
“So, twins, huh?”
“Yeah, sorry I didn’t mention it.” His cheeks pinked a little. “I wanted you to have a chance to get to know me before the she-devil scared you off.”
“She-devil?” I asked. “You don’t get along?”