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CHAPTER ONE

“OH my, God!” I looked down at my shirt now covered in gravy and various sauces. I shook some off of my hands and looked back to the short redhead in front of me. “What the hell?” I was aware of my hands shaking and then someone grabbing my shoulder. I was still shocked that she had dumped her tray of lunch on me but then I turned and Wren was there, pulling on my arm.

“Come on,” she said. “Walk away.” I shook her hand off as I stepped forward and grabbed the little leprechaun freak by the collar of her shirt.

“What the hell is your problem?” I demanded. “Huh?” she smiled and I stared at her confused. Then to much surprise, she started laughing. I shook her. “Is this funny to you?” She just laughed harder. My blood boiled. It wasn’t like I was wearing one of my three hundred dollar Ginchuei tops. It was just a tee- shirt but I couldn’t believe she had walked right up to me and dumped her lunch on me. And then she had the audacity to laugh in my face.

I dropped her when I recognized her face. She was in my chemistry class. She stopped laughing but just stared at me with that angering smirk. I wanted to fight her so bad. But Wren was still in my ear. “Just walk away. Security is coming. You can’t get in anymore trouble.” I turned around to look at her.

“Yeah. Listen to your friend.” The redhead piped up. I recalled her name; Rosie. I clenched my jaw.

“Ignore her,” Wren coaxed. But I just couldn’t. I wasn’t going to stand there and be disrespected in my school. I turned to her, giving her one last chance.

“Listen, broad, you had better stop while you’re ahead.” By now half the cafeteria had crowded around s. some even had their phones out, videotaping the whole thing.

“You should quit while you’re ahead. You don’t know me.” She countered. She stepped closer until our chests were almost touching. I put my right arm up between us. “Don’t do it.” She warned. She leaned in even closer and lowered her voice. “I’m a black belt.”

“And I’m black.” I said raising my voice. Wren had given up and was watching me closely. I pushed her back in case Rosie swung and I had to fight her. I didn’t want Wren’s delicate 5’1” self near it. As I pushed Wren back, she stumbled a little and I reached out so she wouldn’t fall. That’s when I felt it. I saw it coming, her hand. But by the time I looked up, she had already jabbed me in my chest. I clutched where Rosie had hit me. She was actually pretty strong for someone so small. But I was up fast and I caught her hand before she could do it again. I stepped back.

Security showed up just as I was putting my guard up. There were three of them. One grabbed Rosie and two stood in front of me. “What’s going on?” the short bald one in front of me demanded kids starting scattering.

I stared at him and then back at Rosie before lunging. I dint think. I just let my left hand come up and connect with her temple as all the security guards grabbed me. There were hoots and yells from the watching crowd and I felt someone gripping the tops of my arms. My vision blurred for a second and I was being pushed back towards the door. I was aware of my lips moving but I couldn’t really hear what came out of my mouth. It was like I blacked out or something.

Minutes later, I was being pushed down into a chair in front of a large cherry wood desk. “Miss Princeton; you do know this is your third fight in two months don’t you?” the principal was a short balding man with a really bad spitting problem. I scooted my chair back some.

“Sir- -” I started. He cut me off.

“This is unacceptable behavior.” He almost yelled. “I can’t have you affecting my other students. That disruption in the cafeteria…. I have had enough. Do you have no self-control?” he asked. I just stared at him. “That is a question, Miss Princeton.”

“Well, I didn’t know if I was supposed to answer. You cut me off earlier just a few seconds ago.” I sat up in my chair. “Anyway, maybe I wouldn’t get into so many fights if so many people dint piss me off.”

His eyes bulged. “You will not use that language in here.’ He slammed his hand down on the desk.

“What? I said, piss. You know anger, rage. Also means urine.” I was being a smart alec and I knew it but I didn’t care. He sat down at his desk and pulled a file out.

“This is your record,’ he told me. It was a manila folder. It looked a little old. But it was piled to the highest extent. It could barely stay closed. I shrugged and couldn’t help the smirk that crept over my lips. I could only imagine what kind of write-ups were in there. “You think this is funny? You know what?” he sighed. ‘I don’t have time for this. I’ll just cut straight to the point. You screwed up, Princeton. You’re out. Expelled, you’re done.”

I bolted out of my chair. “What do you mean expelled? You can’t expel me. I’m a senior for Christ’s sake!” he wiped his brow.

“That’s the way it has to be, okay? Now… if you would be so kind as to go with these nice security guards, the police would like a word with you.”

“The police?” my heart started hammering. “Why me? Why don’t they want to talk to Rosie?”

“You knocked her out, Miss Princeton. That’s aggravated assault. Your mother is already outside waiting.”

“Oh, my God.” I dropped my head and turned away. I was scared. I didn’t want to go to jail. I had been in the back of a cop car once and it scared the hell out of me. Knowing I was probably about to get in another one made me quiver.
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“Ma’am, do you know that the other student had to be taken to the hospital?” the officer asked. I nodded. “Your principal has informed us that you are not allowed back on school property.”

“I know,” I said. I looked over his shoulder. My mom was outside speaking with another officer. She was pissed when she first saw me. I thought it looked like she was crying now. I frowned and looked back at the officer in front of me. He wrote something on a little yellow pad and then shoved it in his pocket as he looked back up at me.

“Okay,” he started. “I’m going to need you to go outside and talk to that officer for a minute. He’s going to take you down to the station.”

“The station? I’m getting arrested?”I asked. He nodded and then sighed. He was a tall officer, tall enough to create his own shade. I had to look up to see his face but there was no mistaking the look in his eyes. He looked sad almost. He actually felt bad for me. Maybe he had a daughter, I thought.

“Listen, I’m just going to be completely truthful. You knocked that girl out. I mean, she was sleep on the ground. That’s… that’s aggravated assault. I don’t really know what’s going to happen because you’re a minor.” He explained and I got more frightened with every word. Aggravated assault. “If she doesn’t press charges, you might get away with probation or something. But it’s also up to the principal because it was on school property.

“If I were you, I’d be really nice to Mr. Berkeley. He might go easy on you.”

“Doubt it,” I muttered as he took my arm and escorted me outside.”
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“No, listen to me, Alaqua.” I pleaded over the phone.

“I can’t believe you got arrested for that. I can’t deal with this right now.” She replied. I sighed and leaned my head against the cool concrete wall. “Is mom really going to leave you there?”

“I think so. She just left. Listen to me, Alaqua. I need you to go home and go in my room. I- -”

“Jayme, I want to help you, but I can’t bail you out. I don’t have time or that money right now. A thousand is a lot but you got off easy with that.”

“Shut up, Alaqua. Listen for a minute. I have the money in my room. I just need you to go get it and then come get me. Please. You live twenty minutes away for Christ’s sake.” I heard silence on her end of the phone. “Alaqua?”

“So, they did the whole process, huh? I mean, fingerprints and mug shots, and- -”

“Yes. Now please, will you hurry up? I don’t want to stay here much longer. And don’t tell mom you’re coming.”

“Okay. Give me an hour.” She said before hanging up. I turned back to the officer and he hung up the phone. He told me to go sit in the other room. Today was a slow day, he had said. But there were a lot of people in here, and some of them had been telling their stories about why they were here. It wasn’t prison. They didn’t lock us in a cell or anything like you see on TV. But some people had to be handcuffed to their chairs. I steered clear of them.

When I sat down in my chair, a dark haired girl came up to me. She had her eyebrow pierced, and her tongue. I noticed when she smiled and then opened her mouth to say, “Hi.” I nodded and turned my head. “I’m Kelsey. What’s your name?”

“Jayme.” My tone was a little rude because even though I normally liked meeting people, this was not a time when I wanted to socialize.

“Well, It’s good to meet you,” she said all too cheerfully. I nodded.

I couldn’t help it. My mind took over. “Is this how you meet all your friends?” I gestured with my hand to the room around us.

“Mostly,” she admitted stared at her and laughed once with disbelief. “Are those your real eyes?” she asked suddenly. I shook my head.

“No,” I said heavily sarcastic. “I got implants a few years back.” She laughed and punched me in the arm. For someone so small, she was surprisingly strong. I rubbed my arm and held back the urge to throw her.

‘You’re silly. I meant that- -”

“Yes the green is my real eye color.” I told her as I brushed dark curls from my face.

“That is sooo cool.” She piped. “I always wanted green eyes but I’m stuck with this boring color.” As much as I thought she was annoying, I had to disagree with her. Her eyes looked blue with specks of gray. But when you look real close, there is gold, too. I told her she had pretty eyes. She beamed. “Really?” I nodded.

“can I ask you something?” I asked as some old man walked past me. I wanted to ask him why he was here, kind of like what I was about to ask her. “Kelsey, you’re a real pretty girl. And you seem nice. What on Earth did you do to get arrested?”

“Oh, that’s easy. I was smoking weed on school property.” She explained. She leaned in real close. “But this is the first time they caught me in four years.”

“How old are you?”

“I’m eighteen. Well, almost nineteen. My birthday is tomorrow.” She said proudly and I couldn’t help but notice how perky she was. I suddenly wondered who she was. Who she really was. She looked so sweet and innocent. I couldn’t imagine what kind of family she came from or what her parents would do when they got here. I hoped they wouldn’t leave her here like my mom did to me. I didn’t think she would last an hour in a cell.

Then again, it was girls like her that did survive. Because she acted like a people pleaser.

“What about you?” she asked. “Why are you here?” what could I say? What would she think about me after she knew why I got arrested? Wait…why do I care? I thought. I didn’t know her. But for some reason, I thought she would hate me if she found out I was here for aggravated assault.

“I, uh…got into a little fight at school. It was nothing bad.” It was partly the truth. She shook her head saying how that wasn’t good. She told me fighting never gets you anywhere. Don’t I know it?
?

I flopped down on my bed and buried my face in my pillow. I sighed, I was so tired. Just as I was getting all comfortable, my phone rang. I groaned. Already in a bad mood from the day’s events, I answered with a growl. “What?”

“Geez! What did I do to you?” a very familiar voice said. I smiled involuntarily.

“Oh, my God. You don’t know how good it is to hear your voice, Justin.” Justin was my older brother. We were separated by five years and miles and miles and miles. He had gone off to join the military three years before and it was rare that we ever heard from him. But on special occasions, he might get to come home. And that day, I was so happy to hear from him. He was the only brother I had and he seemed to know when I needed him. His calls always came at tough times.

“It’s good to hear your voice, too, little sis.” He said. “How are you?” he was talking a little low and then I heard someone in the background calling him. It was more than one voice. He must be out.

“Fine,” I lied.

“Every time you say that, it means you’re not fine. So…you wanna tell me what’s wrong?”

“It’s a long story.” I said. “Today just isn’t going so well.”

“I have some time actually. Go ahead and tell me everything.”

“Okay.” I took a deep breath and began recounting my day from my argument at school to the fight with Rosie and finally getting arrested and expelled. When I finished, he was silent for a long moment. And then he spoke in a monotone voice.

“You need to really think about things before you do it.”

“I’m starting to realize that,” I sighed.

“Jayme, I’m serious.” He said coldly.

“So am I. Believe me, if I could go back and do it again, I never would have hit her.” Then I wondered if what I had just said was true. “It was like I blacked out or something for a second.”

“It was longer than a second if you knocked her out.” He argued.

I laughed a little despite myself. “You never know. I’ve of tone of the fastest lefts around.”

“This isn’t a joke, Jayme! You know what?” he said and I thought he sounded angry. “I don’t have time to deal with this right now. I gotta go.”

“No, Justin, wait!” but he line was already dead. I slumped against my pillow. What had I done? Was it really that bad that my older brother wouldn’t want to talk to me? I knew it was because he valued what little conversations he had with his family more than anything. And he’d never hung up on me before.
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Court was the next month. The fourth of January. That morning, everyone was in a gloomy mood. My sister had come home from college just to go to court with my mom and me. She hugged me for a long time at the door of the courtroom before we went in. we sat across from Rosie and her dad in the front of the courtroom. I read the nametag on the edge of the judge’s stand. Then the bailiff said in a booming voice, “All rise for the honorable Judge Lynn Cartel.” The entire room stood, me following suit more slowly.

She was a tall woman in a long…cloak? Her hair hung loosely over her shoulders, its light color contrasting her pale skin. Once she sat down at her large chair, she told us we could sit. She read through a file on her desk and then looked over at me before turning to Rosie and asking her questions. She then asked me the same questions. And it was probably the fastest case ever. She cut straight to the point and handed out my sentence. It wasn’t too harsh. It was exactly what the cop had told me I might get.
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CHAPTER TWO

“I hope you understand now why I was so strict on you before. You go out and you hang around the wrong people and this is what happens.” My mother ranted back at home.

“I was at school…with Larynzeh.” I countered.

“And her,” she started up. “She is such an innocent girl. You could drag anyone into your mess but you chose that sweet girl of all people.”

“She jumped in on her own. I didn’t ask for her help. In fact, I had t push her out of the way because she would not let go of my shoulder.” I stretched my arms out across the table and let my head fall onto my forearm.

“Sit up,”she snapped at me and my head shot up. I was so pissed at what happened still and yet a part of me was a little elated. The principal hadn’t pressed charges and for some reason, Rosie and her dad had decided against it, too. Mr. Britton also had to offer me a course of classes to finish up my junior year because Rosie was okay and she admitted that she had pushed me first. What I still couldn’t figure out was why she had dumped her tray on me in the first place. I’d never had a problem with her. We never even talked to each other. “You are just finding all kinds of ways to get into trouble this year and it’s ridiculous. You broke that window at the beginning of the year. Then you keyed that teacher’s car, and- -”

“No, you know I didn’t do that, mom. I would never have done that.”

“Well, it doesn’t matter what I want to believe because they have you on camera keying your history teacher’s car.”

“No,” I said again, angry now. “They have someone that they think is me keying his car. The video was blurry and that camera was way too far away to see their face even if it was some high-tech security camera.”

“Whatever. This is till at least your third fight in the past four months. School only started in September. You had a fight the first day of school, Jayme!”

“That’s because we fought over he summer and she snuck me in class. What did you expect me to do? I wasn’t going to just sit there and take it. My dad didn’t raise a punk.”

“You’re right. He raised a fighter. All his kids, he raised them to fight. But he taught you to stand up for yourselves. He didn’t want you to grow up and be bullies. All of you…he wanted all of you to grow up and make your parents proud. But you, you don’t get it.” My eyes burned and an ache started deep in my chest. My hands clenched into fists.

“Are you saying that if he were here, he wouldn’t be proud of me?” I demanded. I stood up. “You think I’m disappointing him while he’s in his grave, mama?” I didn’t give her a chance to answer. “How dare you say that? You’re nothing, okay? In fact it’s your fault he’s gone. If it weren’t for you, he’d still be alive. Me and my siblings would have a father instead of you here doing nothing.”

Her hand came hard against my cheek and I felt the sting immediately. “Don’t you ever talk o me that way,” she yelled. But it only fired me up more.

“What? The truth hurts doesn’t it?” I asked quietly. Then I raised my voice once more. “All you do is nag. You complain that something isn’t clean or something needs to be fixed. And you’re always asking Justin or Alaqua for something. You are such a hypocrite. All you do is sit on your ass and act like some depressed widow.” I spat. I had these words building in me and as they came out I knew they were wrong, heartbreaking and disrespectful but I couldn’t hold it back anymore. “You might as well admit it. The only one in this family that actually cares is Justin. He pays for all this.” I gestured around with my hand. “You don’t d anything but nag. Just shut up for five minutes and leave me alone!”

With that, I turned and ran up the stairs to my room and slammed the door. I didn’t know what to do. Sure, what I had said felt true in the moment. But my life had never been bad. I always had a good life and until this year, I’d hardly ever gotten into trouble. I didn’t want to be here right now, I knew that. I didn’t know where I wanted to be but I could think of one place where I was actually wanted.
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“I didn’t even see the fight. I wasn’t at lunch today,” Bryant said. “I asked Wren where you were and she just shrugged. But I could tell something was wrong because you two are always together.”

“Not anymore,” I said. Wren was Larynzeh. Most of her friends called her “Wren” because of her dark hair. “She’s mad because I keep getting into trouble. I swear she acts like my mother.” I turned to set my empty glass down on the coffee table that sat in front of us in his Queen Hallow home living room. It was probably the biggest room in his house but it had the least stuff. There were white walls and red couches. A plasma hung on the west wall and shined a little even in the dim sunlight coming from the window. The carpet was so soft and Bryant had always laughed at me when I lay on it.

Honestly, it was almost softer than the couch. I looked back to him. “Well, somebody has to act like your parent. You don’t listen to your real mom. I can’t believe you said that to her. You know you were wrong.”

“Come on. Not you too, okay?” I said, annoyed. Of course I knew. “I know I shouldn’t have said it. But it had building up in me for so long and I couldn’t take it. Just don’t hold it over me. I only came here- -”

“Okay, I’m not nagging.” He wrapped his arm around me and pulled me closer. I sighed. “I just want you to do the right thing. If I had a mom… I’d treat her like a queen. But I can’t bring her back. You still have yours and I want it to stay that way for you.”

“I know. Thank you,” I said quietly. I snuggled closer as if that were even possible. “I don’t want to talk about it though.”

“So, what about your mom? She’s pretty pissed I would assume…?” Geez. Didn’t I say I didn’t want to talk about it? Even so, I inhaled.

“Yeah. She isn’t talking to me much. But I can tell she’s upset. She did say all this crap about me being better than this. “

“You are. I don’t know what made you do it.”

“Bryant, if somebody hit you, you would hit them back. And you know you would.” I said, pulling back a little.

“That’s different. I’m a guy and I would have known to handle it outside of school.” He shrugged. I pulled away and he tipped my head back with his palm. “I don’t want my pretty girl fighting anyway. Who knows what I’d have to do if someone scratched your cute little face.” I smacked his hand away and he laughed.

“I was serious.”

“Whatever. I meant what I said,”




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