Arlene is on the SCENE

Arlene, the Rebel Queen Excerpt

I didn’t have the chance to talk to Lauren through math, reading and spelling. Finally, at lunch, I thought the tightness in my chest was going to explode through my ribcage. I couldn’t take it any more. I went right over to Lauren and sat across from her.

I looked at her. She looked at me. “Why are you still mad at me?” I asked.

She chewed her sandwich slowly and then sighed, which made crumbs fly out of her mouth.  This was normally something we would crack up about, but we just stared at the tiny pieces of bread.

“Arlene, you should know.”

“Okay, fine. Sorry I called you a TAB. And an old lady. And feeble. Sorry.”

I waited, but even after a long minute, there was nothing but silence. Finally, Lauren said one word: “Fine.”

That just wasn’t going to cut it. “It doesn’t sound like it’s fine,” I said. “It sounds like you’re still mad.”

Lauren picked at her sandwich again and stared at it, like there were other one-word answers hidden in her ham slices. She took a deep breath and started to say what was on her mind–to her sandwich. “Well, I knew you’d be upset if I didn’t want to go to horseback riding with you. I just knew it. I mean, it’s like I don’t ever have a choice, like I’m always supposed to do everything with you. I want to help, of course, but sometimes…I mean, sometimes…it’s like…it’s like…it feels like I’m trapped into doing everything with you.” Lauren looked up at me quickly, almost a little scared, like she just dropped a watermelon off the side of a building and was waiting for it to hit the ground and explode.

I felt like a watermelon just landed on my head. Trapped? Trapped?! There I go, apologizing to this girl, and she whacks me with trapped?

“Arlene, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say that. That’s not what I meant. I mean…I just–”

“What?!”

Lauren shook her head quickly back and forth. “Nothing. Never mind.”

Talk about trapped! I felt like I’d just been slammed into a corner, no way out. What was I supposed to do here? Should I stay in this yucky place with Lauren and be miserable and lonely? Should I try to figure out how to do the whole “let’s make up” thing and get rid of this tightness in my chest that was about to suffocate me? Maybe she wanted to do things with other people sometimes. I guess that was okay. But trapped? Really? My brain whirred like a smoothie-maker, but I couldn’t figure out what to do, couldn’t find any words to say.

“Hey, Arlene! Lauren! What’s up? What’re you guys talking about? Where were you this weekend, Arlene? You gonna eat these chips, Lauren?”

Byron. Thank goodness! “Hey, Byron,” I said. “I went to New York to see my new cousin Zoe on Sunday. She’s cute and boring all at the same time.”

“Huh. Is she all red and wrinkled? Can she talk yet? Did she smell like dirty diapers?”

Like always, you had to just pick one of Byron’s many questions to answer. “Byron. She’s like, a month old. No, she can’t talk yet.”

“Huh. Does sound boring. You missed Sunday school. They showed a video, and we got popcorn and lemonade. It was all about forgiveness. Really good show. Hey, Lauren. Lauren, how ’bout those chips?”

I looked up and saw Lauren looking at me, smirking about Byron and his chatterbox mouth. I smiled too. Good ol’ Byron to lighten things up. And maybe I should have seen that movie about forgiveness. Maybe that big dark cloud that dropped on us a few minutes ago would just move along outta here. Or maybe Lauren and I could escape and leave it behind.

Lauren caught my smile, and hers grew too. She threw her plastic baggie of chips toward Byron. “Enjoy.”

“Thanks!” Byron ate one chip at a time, feeding them through his chomping teeth like a cartoon beaver on a log.

I enjoyed another round of smiles with Lauren, but then the bell rang to let us know lunch was officially over. We all got up to throw our stuff away and head out to recess. Byron tossed his Styrofoam tray, spork (that plastic fork/spoon combination thingie), and Lauren’s plastic bag into the trash can, except that the trash can was so full that it all wobbled on top for a minute before sliding to the floor. Byron shrugged and kept walking.

I used my two hands to balance my brown bag carefully on the garbage pyramid, as if I was building a house of cards. Sheila walked toward us carrying her apple core. She stopped suddenly about ten feet away, faked right, spun left, and then with two hands over her head tossed the apple in a perfect arc dead center onto my teetering bag. The crash of the apple sent even more garbage to the floor. Sheila walked away.

“Trash goes in the trash can, Arlene, not on the floor.” Oh, double happy day. It was Jessie.

“Duh. I know that, Jessie. But there’s too  much trash and not enough can here.”

“And that’s the reason you’re throwing it on the floor?” Jessie’s voice and eyebrows both went way up.

“I didn’t throw anything on the floor. And if you’re so concerned, you can help clean it up.”

“Nah. Not really my problem,” and with that, she swished her hair to the side and walked away from us.

Lauren shook her head and grinned. “Same old Jessie.”

I smiled wide. “Yep. Nothing ever changes, does it?”

I wanted to believe that. I really did. I felt that horrible, horrible word “trapped” begin to sink slowly into the deep bottom of my memory, and I let it, hoping it would seep far enough away to drown.

Lauren and I bent to pick up the trash that had fallen after Sheila’s jump shot. Where did Sheila run off to? She was the one who should have been cleaning up the mess.

“Why doesn’t Greenwood recycle anyway?” asked Lauren. “Look at this. Half of what’s in this pile of garbage could be taken to the recycling center.”

“Good point. Maybe the SGA should do something about it.”

“Too bad you’re not still president!” Lauren said.

“Yeah, but Carlos is, and he can solve any problem. He’ll figure out how to fix this. We should bring it up at the next town hall meeting.”

1 Response to "Arlene, the Rebel Queen Excerpt"

[…] out an excerpt from the book here. And don’t forget to keep us in mind for an author visit and presentation about disability […]

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