Authors: Charles Sheehan-Miles
The Thompson Sisters
A Song for Julia
Falling Stars: A Thompson Sisters
A View From Forever
Just Remember to Breathe
The Last Hour
The Thompson Sisters / Rachel's Peril
Girl of Lies
Girl of Rage
Girl of Vengeance
Nocturne (with Andrea Randall)
Republic: A Novel of America's Future
Insurgent: Book 2 of America's Future
Prayer at Rumayla: A Novel of the Gulf War
Saving the World On $30 A Day: An Activists Guide to Starting, Organizing and Running a Non-Profit Organization
Become a Full-Time Author: Practical tips, skills and strategies to turn your writing hobby into a career (with Andrea Randall)
The woman behind the counter has hair cut about to her chin, longer at the front and shorter in the back. It’s dyed a bronze color, and I can't tell her age or even her general appearance because the makeup she wears is thick as wood-grain veneer on cheap particleboard. Her eyelids, thick with glittery blue eyeshadow, flutter as she talks to a man behind the counter who isn’t wearing an airline uniform. Actually, he doesn’t appear to be there for any other purpose than to flirt with the woman.
“Excuse me,” I say.
She ignores me and continues to smack her gum.
I like to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. But if this is how everyone is going to behave in New York, I’d just as soon go back to the South.
Excuse me, Miss?”
I try my best to contain my irritation. I can't go as far as Ma’am, though my Mom wouldn’t approve. Mamma always told me to keep up my best manners even if the world was coming to an end.
” The look she gives me is anything but accommodating. Is it the Southern accent? Or because I’m a teenager? Or is she just normally rude? Who knows? Impossible to tell. What I do know is that she’s making me
“I was on Flight 658, along with my friends.”
I gesture to the others from the Atlanta delegation. “None of our luggage has shown up at the baggage claim.”
She gives me a briefly scornful look, then picks up a phone and dials. “Yeah, Gary? This is Bethany, in Terminal 4. Yeah, that’s me. I got some teenagers here, they say their luggage didn’t come off Flight 658.”
She pauses and tilts her head. “Uh huh… uh huh …. Yeah? Well, that’s a bummer. All right.”
None of that sounds good. She hangs up the phone. It’s clear she’d rather be flirting with the guy, or doing a crossword puzzle, or just about anything else other than talking with me.
“Sorry, but security diverted one load of luggage at Hartsfield.” She doesn’t pronounce the -R- in Hartsfield, instead saying it like
. She continues. “It should catch up with you in the next day or so. You gotta fill out some paperwork, and give it to the TSA supervisor. I’ll call him over.” She’s already taking out the paperwork. A lot of it.
Forty minutes later—without luggage—we join up with the students from the other groups. Except for Tameka, I haven’t had a chance to get to know any of the others in my group. Tameka lives in Virginia Highlands, a neighborhood in northeast Atlanta, and goes to Grady High School. She’s a junior and heavily involved in sports and academics. They all are. The five of us had to attend a dinner where we gave short introductions a couple of weeks ago—these four girls are all high achievers at their schools. It makes me feel like I’m not up to scratch—a year ago I was a high school dropout and I still don’t understand why they let
on this trip.
As we approach the ground transportation area, next to the baggage claim, I see a woman holding a large sign: Council of Great City Schools Foreign Exchange Program. She is medium height with blonde hair, cut in a relatively short style with bangs. I’d guess she’s around thirty-five years old. She waves as she sees us approach. I wrinkle my nose—this part of the airport smells vaguely like piss and old-stale cigarette smoke.
A group of twelve or so teenagers stands in a loose semicircle around the woman. Harried and tired passengers stream by
on their way to wherever they are going. One girl stands to the left of the group and a few feet away as she talks on what looks like an iPhone. I’ve never
one before—they just came out a few months ago and no one in my circle can afford toys like that. Her bags are on the floor and she has a pained expression on her face. What catches my eyes is her long, luscious-looking brown hair, slightly olive skin, and how her sweater hugs her upper body
“No, Mom. We haven’t even left the airport yet.” Silence, then the girl rolls her eyes, giving me a look at her deep green irises. “Of course. Yes. Yes. I will. Okay.”
A crease forms in the center of her forehead as her eyebrows draw together. “No, I don’t think I’ll have a chance to see Carrie, we’ve got a pretty full schedule before we leave for Tel Aviv. But I’ll call her if I get some free time.”
When her eyes swing toward me, I quickly look away. Then I nearly jump when someone speaks almost in my ear. “
, she’s hot, isn’t she?”
I jerk back. The speaker is a guy with brown curly hair. He looks like a caricature of a teenager. B
asketball-player tall, but with arms and legs more like a stick figure than a human, all elbows and knees. I’m not really up on the latest fashion, though a lot of my classmates back home are—homelessness, even for a brief period, gives you an appreciation of having any clothes at all. But this kid clearly hasn’t ever missed a meal, and he’s decked out in an array of corporate logos and brand names.
I instantly dislike him—then I back that off. I’m here to learn, not to judge the other kids. I know better than to judge people just by their appearance.
“Yeah,” I murmur. The girl is
the hell out of my league.
“I’m Mike,” he says. “From Chicago.”
“Dylan. I’m from Atlanta.”
“Oh, yeah? Southern boy, huh?”
“Through and through,” I reply. Is he serious?
He looks at me and asks, “What’s your politics?”
“You know. Democrat? Republican?”
I snort. “I don’t talk politics on the first date.”
“Okay,” says the woman, raising her voice in an effort to be heard over the other travellers, announcements and random noises in the terminal. “I’m Marie Simpson; I’ll be one of your chaperones for the next several weeks. Please let me get everybody’s names. We’ve got the Chicago and San Francisco and Atlanta groups here?”
She begins to read out names, starting with the students from Atlanta. Tameka is first, then two of the other girls, then me. A few minutes later, after she gets the names of the five students from Chicago, she moves on to the San Francisco group—five of them.
The San Francisco group has four girls—including the one I’ve been trying to not obviously stare at. The fifth kid in the group is a
vaguely Asian or Pacific Island looking guy. Then
responds to her name, which I hear for the very first time.
You would think that telling my mother we had a busy schedule in New York, and that I didn’t think I’d have the opportunity to get in town to see Carrie, would have been enough to end the discussion. Maybe you would think that my mother would actually
to me. Or consider that I have things I’m supposed to be doing on this trip other than running off to see Carrie. You would
that it would be good enough that I’m going to visit Carrie for three days when this trip is over.
If you thought any of that, you would be wrong.
My mother always,
, calls at the wrong time. Or says the wrong thing. Or just gets too involved in a way I don’t understand. Today is no different. I’m standing, listening as she talks (
it’s not a conversation—she speaks, I listen
). On and on. How to behave while in New York, and further, how to be behave when I arrive in Tel Aviv. Dress conservatively. Everything I do will reflect on my fathe
r. Things to watch out for.
Blah blah blah.
The whole time she talks, I keep seeing this boy out of the corner of my eye. He is medium height and has hair a bit on the long side, messy muddy brown, not the sculpted, highly-cut-and-cared-for haircuts of most of the boys I know
. He doesn’t appear to care the least about fashion—unlike the stupidly manicured boy who stands next to him with his
unbuttoned Hollister shirt. Instead,
boy wears a grey t-shirt, blue jeans and a pair of what looked like well-worn work boots. He has a canvas backpack and carries a guitar case in his right hand.
I try not to let him see I’m looking at him, at the same time my mother’s voice gets higher and higher pitched.
I finally say. “I gotta go. I’ll call you tomorrow, okay?”
“Young lady, you call me when you get settled in your room tonight. I need to know you are safe.”
I’m safe. What could go wrong?”
She doesn’t answer that, of course. Let’s face it—my mother could conjure a thousand reasons I should stay home, a thousand things that could go wrong. It’s a wonder she let me go on this trip at all. Ever since Julia and Crank got married, and Carrie announced she was going to major in
of all things, Mom and Dad have become that much more controlling. I don’t even need to bother looking at a selection of schools. I’m going to Harvard (like Julia, like my Dad), then the Fletcher School (like Dad) and then into the Foreign Service, whether I like it or not.
Except, that isn’t what I want to do at all.
Sometimes I envy my older sisters, both of whom found the strength to defy our parents. J
ulia even went beyond the personal and into the political—she publicly backed Barack Obama’s campaign for President, an action which made minor news since our father is an advisor to John McCain. When Julia came through town a few weeks ago and visited for dinner, she and my father maintained a stiff and hostile silence for the entire meal, an experience which nearly gave my mother a nervous breakdown. It was irritating—I love my sisters, but sometimes Julia sucks all of the oxygen out of the room.
I miss Julia and Carrie and Andrea.
It’s just me and the twins at home most of the time, and sometimes it’s oppressive.
Not much later, I’m sitting alone, staring out the window as the bus leaves the airport and heads on toward Hunter College, where we’ll be staying the next three days. The fall weather outside doesn’t have the glorious, colorful look you might see in the mountains of Northern California—instead, it just looks dreary and grey. The sky threatens more rain and that suits my mood perfectly.
All the time, I’m fully aware of the boy in the grey t-shirt and jeans who took a seat at the front of the bus across the aisle across from me. I heard his name earlier, when they were taking the roll.
It’s an intriguing name, but names tell me nothing really. And he looks different than the others… somehow older. I want to find out
who he is
, but there’s no way to ask without being very, very awkward.
Instead, I stare out the window, and think about how weird my mother has been the last few days, and how relieved I am to be getting away from home for a while. A truck roars by, its diesel thrum vibrating the heavy traffic around it. I can smell exhaust fumes and the tendrils of cigarette smoke from desperate smokers huddled under the awnings, trying to stay out of the rain.