Paperback, Ebook | 2015
Scrambling Trilogy Book 1 - a young adult novel
Into how much trouble can you get in a small town high school?
Not any, thinks sixteen-year-old Nick Trevelyan after getting stranded in the small town of Heartland. He soon learns different. Unaccustomed to a steady life, due to his restless mother, he finds life in a small town a challenge but slowly starts to warm up to the idea of finally having a home. But his newfound life threatens to crash around his ears when he ends up on his high school football team against his will. On the team he not only has to compete with his worst enemy for the starting position as quarterback but also for the same girl.
That's when life turns dangerous. And not just for him. Now, life in a small town means fighting to stay alive and out of jail. And to save the girl he loves. But will he be able to do so? The odds are stacked against him. And he's running out of time.
“Don’t you dare get into trouble again. I mean it, Nick. Promise, and keep that promise.” That’s what Angela had said to me.
“Yeah, sure, I promise,” I had said. That would be easy. Into how much trouble can you get in a small town high school in the middle of nowhere?
And now this.
They looked like trouble, the kind of trouble I knew. About seven of them, mostly built like tanks. Brush cut tanks with square faces and thick necks, who could squash a guy like me without even breaking a sweat. The one with the reddish bristle top and overripe complexion swivelled his eyes in my direction, then grinned at his mates. Now seven pairs of eyes were on me.
The way I saw it, I had three options.
My first option was to stay here, just where I was, in the parking lot of the Heartland High School and wait until they disappeared. Which would take about ten minutes. They had to be inside in ten minutes at the latest. So had I. Which meant I’d be late. Again. Which also meant, they’d mark me as a coward and an easy victim.
My second option was to start walking and pass them, ignoring their stares and possible comments and hope for the best. I’d be on time, but the likelihood of getting by them with just a few comments were slim. So were the chances of staying out of trouble. Which left one more option.
My third option was to pass them, give them a look that would freeze them in their place, and then run. The drawback was they’d likely refuse to be frozen and instead be triggered into action, and I wasn’t too confident I’d make it to the door before all of them.
I checked my watch. Nine minutes to go.
Objectively, what could they do? We were on school property. Fights on school property were
strictly forbidden. That much I knew about school. If I wanted to keep that promise to Angela, I’d have to avoid a fight. But so did they. Unless they didn’t care if they got into trouble. Normally, I wouldn’t have cared. It was just that lately everything was different.
I had to chance it. Pass them, ignore them, and hope for the best.
Reluctantly, I opened the gate between the parking lot and the front yard of the school. It creaked. Why the heck had I agreed to go to school at all? I knew it wouldn’t work. I was sixteen. I’d never been to school, not regularly anyway. At sixteen you dropped out of school not start it. It had very definitely not been my idea.
I started walking across the yard. Every step pumped more adrenaline through my body. My heart rate accelerated, my breathing became shallow. What was I afraid of? This wasn’t my first encounter of this kind. I had plenty of experience.
encounter of this kind. I had plenty of experience. But here, in this school yard, I wasn’t allowed to fight. Well, it wouldn’t be the first time I ran either. I was ready for both. One more yard and I’d draw level with the first one.
And here we go.
Ignore them, whatever they say, ignore them.
From the corner of my eye I recognised Mathis Parker. Of course he’d be one of them. Mathis Parker, captain of the Heartland High School football team and all-American golden boy. Got even the golden hair to match. He had that ridiculous clean-scrubbed American country boy look. I bet the sun glinted off his impossibly white teeth when he grinned. And I bet it glinted out of the other end as well.
For some reason Parker had been on my case from day one, and I was itching for an opportunity to clear the air. Somewhere where we would be alone and could have a true heart-to-heart the old fashioned way, one on one. But in the three months I had known him, I had never met him even once without one of his bodyguards. Especially his sidekick, the red bristle top Jeff Carlson, seemed to follow him around like a guard dog.
I kept on walking, intently studying the grey asphalt under my feet. About ten yards on was the first of the steps leading up to the school entrance. I had to gain ten more yards to a trouble-free morning.
A mountain blocked my way. The sun, which had peeked around the corner of the science wing and had me squinting, was extinguished and I found myself in deep shadow. I raised my eyes to the top shirt button of the mountain and then tilted my head back to look at its top. The top was enveloped by a copper halo, created by the sun behind it. Jeff Carlson.
The first word that popped into my head was towering. The second was run. I should have thought of run first, because now Parker drew level with his guard dog and was also blocking my way. I took a tentative step to my left, and Carlson shifted his bulk into the same direction. Getting around him was not an option. He had the wing span of a Lear jet. I was stuck.
I sneaked a glance at my watch. Six minutes to go.
Defuse the situation. Talk your way out of it. I had done nothing so far to antagonise them. But that wasn’t the point, was it? They wanted somebody to play with and had settled on me. Carlson shifted his head and the sun stung my eyes. If I got into a fight and broke my promise, Angela would have a fit and string me up by my … I refused to think about the specifics.
“Look, I don’t want any trouble.”
Parker grinned. The sun didn’t glint off his teeth because it was behind him.
“If you don’t want any trouble, go back to your shitty little island.” Parker leant forward and poked me in the rips. “How about right now.”
“Yeah, we don’t want any Micks here.” That was a rumble from the mountain above us.
Micks? That was rich coming from a carrot top like Carlson. I had never been to Ireland and had no Irish ancestry as far as I knew. Granted, Angela was the only family member I knew. But she was definitely not Irish.
“Limey, I think, is the word you want. Denoting a person coming from England. Given that you likely have no conception of the geography of the world outside of the limited scope of your frigging small town, you wouldn’t, of course, know the difference.” I delivered this in my best upper class Oxbridge accent, which I reserved for people I wanted to annoy. I had learnt and practised that accent for exactly that reason. For good measure I added, “You should get out more and travel. It broadens the mind, if you have one.”
Yep, that was sure to defuse the situation.
Carlson stared down at me, unblinking. The little cogs and wheels inside his head churned to process that speech, leaving no faculties for other action. Parker was quicker.
“Talking about shovelling your own grave.” He tried to poke me again, but I swatted his hand away. He laughed. Then he shoved me backwards into one of his mates. Who shoved me back and into Carlson. Carlson, who had finished thinking, grabbed me by the front of my T-shirt. The look in his eyes left me in no doubt I’d get at least a bloody nose. I balled my hands into fists.
Parker smirked. “Ooh, he wants to fight.”
“If I have to.”
A shout came from the back of the pack. “Teachers!”
Carlson let go of my T-shirt, Parker shot forward, draped one arm across my chest, put a foot behind my heel, and pushed. I hit the ground, landing flat on my back.
"We'll settle this another time.” Parker turned to split, but then looked back again and hissed, “Traveller.”
I sat up and rubbing my smarting elbow watched them scamper towards the entrance.
"Everything all right? Need help?"
I squinted against the sun. A black-haired teacher stood above me. His blue eyes looked friendly enough, though he wasn’t smiling. I had seen him around, but couldn’t recall his name.
"No, everything's perfect, just perfect."
“Better get a move on.” He looked at his watch. “One minute to go.”
I sped along the hallway to make it to the first period on time for once. Hayward, right, the teacher who had prevented carnage outside, was called Hayward. Or Coach Hayward, as he was called by most, the football coach. With this useless information in mind, I caught a glimpse of Mr Manzini, my maths teacher, closing the door from the inside. I checked my watch. I had fifteen seconds left, he was early.
Gritting my teeth, I opened the door. Mr Manzini was still on his way to the teacher’s desk. I stepped inside and closed the door as quietly as possible. When the door snicked shut, he executed a slow, squeaking half-turn on his heel. He crossed his arms and his mouth tightened into a narrow line of disapproval.
I murmured an excuse and slunk over to my seat. Mr Manzini’s eyes followed me in silence. When I had sat, he kept staring at me for a few more seconds, until he finally spoke.
“Are you ready now, Mr Trevelyan?”
“Quite ready, I’m all attention ... Sir.”
A girl behind me snickered. Mr Manzini’s eyes narrowed, but he let it go. He went over to his desk and picked up a sheet of paper. This was his normal procedure. He always started with a list of unlucky students who had to present their homework for marking. He never collected all. Would have been too much work, I guessed. Instead, he seemed to have a random system. There was only one constant to this. My name. It was always on the list.
While the chosen ones tramped reluctantly to his desk to deliver, I kept my seat. Mr Manzini homed in on me again.
“I forgot to bring it. I’m sorry.” This time I dispensed with the Sir. Not a good idea to fuel the flames.
Technically, forgotten wasn’t true. I had slaved over his assignment for almost two hours yesterday and I had brought it today. In a way. I was sorry, though, that it wasn’t fit to be shown any longer. Right now, my homework was resting in the back of my car together with my schoolbooks and an assortment of odds and ends, doused in motor oil. Mr Manzini would never believe me unless I lugged everything in here, dripping oil all over the place.
How did I get my stuff well oiled? Simple. My car, an old — or I’d prefer vintage — Land Rover, quaffed oil like a Viking would ale. It needed topping up every other day, which had already cost me a fortune in oil, and this morning I’d done just that. As usual I’d been in a hurry, and half of the bottle was enough this time. I had screwed the lid back on and stashed it among the other bric-a-brac in the back of my car. Which included my school bag. When I had arrived, I found I hadn’t screwed the lid on tightly enough. The oil was neatly spread all over my school stuff. All I had been able to rescue was one lousy pen, meticulously wiped clean on an oily rag, and a scrap of paper. Now, how could I explain that to Mr Manzini?
I noticed the absence of noise. The only sound was the breathing of my neighbour. And even that was hushed. I bit the inside of my lip. Whatever Mr Manzini was going to say next, I had to keep a lid on it. No snide remarks.
Mr Manzini’s otherwise narrow chest expanded when he gathered steam.
“Why am I not surprised, Mr Trevelyan? Why do I even bother to ask you?”
I decided it wasn’t a rhetoric question. “It’s only the second time I forgot. And I have done the work. I do want to learn, Mr Manzini, I really do.”
“Learn?” Mr Manzini’s voice was so high pitched it cracked. He cleared his throat. “Your work isn’t worth looking at even if you bother to bring it with you. You’ll never learn mathematics. Intelligence is required for that, Mr Trevelyan, intelligence.”
“How come, you’re teaching it then?”
It was out before I could stop it, loud and clear.
Mr Manzini choked, his face went crimson. My neighbour stopped breathing. Outside a bird chirped then abruptly stopped. Mr Manzini opened and closed his mouth a few times without uttering a sound. Maybe he was trying to take in air. Finally, he regained enough breath to give me two hours detention. Plenty of time to do my next homework in. When I had to tell him I didn’t bring my math book either, I got another one. This was getting to be a habit. I was already due for two hours today for being late last week.
I had the rest of the time to myself. Mr Manzini didn’t bother with me again.
I heaved a sigh when the bell ended the lesson. Next up was English. I was less hopeless at English and judging by how my day had gone so far, it could only go up.
On the way to the next classroom, I passed a few of my fellow maths students who stared at me. I ignored them. I was getting good at ignoring the odd stares I got from a lot of students and some teachers.
Around the corner in the east wing, a group of freshmen blocked the way, and I squeezed past them. Then I looked back to see what had caused them to cluster.
The scrawny point of interest was backed against a row of lockers. His oversized glasses perched perilously on his snub nose. The kid looked like his interests lay in bits and bytes. The other kid holding him in place, however, looked like he was only interested in gyms and weights. Maybe Jeff Carlson had a kid brother.
I empathised with the little nerd, especially after my morning encounter with Parker and his Merry Men. I should have left it at empathising. Instead, I decided to meddle.
I pushed through the protesting gawpers and grabbed the ring leader by the scruff of his neck. A quick glance at me told him I wasn’t a teacher, so he started to flail his arms. I flattened him against the lockers next to his victim, who remained frozen in place. The kid, though a few years younger, was eye to eye. As I couldn’t impress him by towering over him, I opted for a mean squint. I knew I had to frighten him somehow, because as soon as I opened my mouth, he’d grin. My English accent had that unfortunate effect on the majority of the people I had met here.
“D’you feel big in front of your mates when you push others around? Huh?” Sure enough, he grinned. The others had retreated a few steps and watched. The computer-wizard-in-the-making next to us made a fair attempt at fading into one of the lockers.
“Pick on somebody your own size.”
The kid looked like he might take me up on that one. But before we got any further, I heard feet scrambling away behind me, and the three of us were alone. Almost.
I let Carlson’s stand-in go and he scampered. The other kid remained glued to the locker door.
The voice behind me hadn’t sounded as if I’d get a commendation for a good deed. I turned around to face Mr Manzini.
“You seem to have progressed to bullying younger students. Why am I not surprised?”
This time, I kept my mouth shut. I was in enough trouble with Manzini already.
“I will report this incident to the principal. There will be disciplinary action.” Manzini gave me a look of deep gratification and stalked off.
Brilliant, now I had earned a VIP trip to the principal’s office. I looked at the kid who was still clinging to the locker door. There had to be a lesson in this somewhere. This was school after all. And I knew just what it was.
“Kid, if you feel the need to help someone, resist it. It’ll only land you in the shit.”