I’m sitting at my desk in Mrs. Milton’s room, the middle desk in the triad near the window on the junior high cottage’s south side. It’s sixth hour, the time in the day where the lethargy of morning and the fatigue of early afternoon meet to create a thick fog of exhaustion around the mind. So, of course, it’s only natural that the class with the drowsiest and most relaxing activity is scheduled during this time. Before we disperse to our cozy corners and secluded nooks, Mrs. Milton announces we are to complete a book report by the end of the month. A collection of disinterested sighs echo across the room. “So what book do we have to do it on?” Taryn asks with open disdain.
“Oh, I’m not choosing anything,” Mrs. Milton retorts with a smirk. “This is on you guys. Choose any book from the library or book shelf and create a report of your choice. There will be a rubric and presentation, but you all get to decide what kind of report you want to do. Diorama, acting a scene from the book out, a traditional report, you name it. Get at it!”
Though I didn’t mind the traditional assign-read-report method I had become accustomed to, this piques my interest. We had never had this much freedom in reading class, and I see this as a prime opportunity to choose True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, a book I had been eyeing for a week on the fiction shelf of Mrs. Milton’s room library. Before anyone can beat me, I rush from my seat to the shelf and hurriedly scan the contents of the appropriate shelf before resting my eyes on the prized novel. I quickly grab it from its place and return to my seat, looking over the cover before diving into an hour of pure, unadulterated reading.
I flip to page one and begin.
“Dude, you wouldn’t believe what the library has now,” Jenny blurts as she seats herself next to me at the tables by our lockers. She sets her bag down and pulls out Dead is a State of Mind, the anticipated second book in Marlene Perez’s Dead is the New Black series.
“NO WAY,” I excitedly shout over the morning pre-class buzz filling the hallways. Luckily for me, my best friend is as much of a bookworm as I am, and we take turns supplying each other with favorites from our collections or new additions. “I thought Ms. Richie said we weren’t supposed to get it for another two weeks?”
“Yeah, me too. But I checked shipments yesterday and saw this at the top of the pile. I grabbed it before anyone else could, and here we are,” she grins. Perks of being the library aide. I make an internal note to see if I can squeeze that into my schedule for next semester.
“I’ve already read the first three chapters last night,” Jenny says. “I’ll probably be done with it by the end of the day. You get first dibs because you’re my twin.” Perks of being the library aide’s twin.
The bell rings, signifying the start of English I. “Tell me NOTHING,” I demand.
“Aye aye, captain!” Jenny salutes as we march into the beginning of our day.
I rustle myself further into my blanket-nest as I flip another page of Reunion of The Mediator series. My body is tired but somehow my eyes aren’t. It’s a school night, and I really should be getting to bed. Just a few more pages….
I am dead to the world around me and consumed in the world in front of me. My eyes are beginning to catch up to the rest of my body and I can feel the strain and fatigue, but I can’t stop myself. I wonder if this is how drug addiction feels. If it is, I sympathize.
My alarm is set for 7:15, but I’m questioning whether I can get up for it. It takes all my will power to place my bookmark in its temporary spot and set aside the book. On the positive side, I know I will fall asleep fast. My last thought lingers on the balmy nights of Carmel, California before sleep takes me away.
“You mind if I go in?”
“Fine, but ten minutes tops,” Mom asserts. “Your appointment’s at 1:30. Meet me at Auntie Dee’s by 1:20.”
“Okay, I won’t be long. I know what I’m looking for” I say as I wander into Plains Trading Bookstore. It kind of feels like going into that closet leading to Narnia when you walk in. Like there’s a world apart from the world, but it’s tailor-made for me. Conveniently enough, the YA section is directly to the left of the door, so it doesn’t take long for me to find what I’m looking for. Not that it would be a problem if it was somewhere else in the store. I know it’s contents in great detail, section by section.
Any other time I would linger for a bit and thumb through a few selections I haven’t read, but on this particular day I had a mission. The third and final book in Lauren DeStefano’s Chemical Garden Trilogy was out, and because I had ordered it in advance I knew it would be here.
Lo and behold, once I get to the counter, Darlene has it ready for me. “Today’s the day!” I eagerly say as I hand over the cash in exchange for the coveted item. “Hope it’s all you want and more,” Darlene laughs as I rush out of the door to meet my 1:20 PM deadline.
It’s a February Friday, and all my friends are either playing or watching the away game in Crawford. Henry is in his room playing Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, and Mom and Dad are tucked away for the night. I’m not athletic and never was, and it’s never really bothered me. Tonight, though, I feel and somehow other, a familiar feeling that isn’t just due to my friends being absent.
One thing about me? I work in distractions.
Feelings can be replaced by distractions. Feel a bad feel? Distract yourself. Busy yourself. Now, I’m not talking about snort-or-smoke-your-feelings-away distractions, but put-your-mind-to-work distractions. My favorite is homework, which turns out favorably for everyone involved. I get it done, I get good grades, parents and teachers are happy. Win-win for all.
Tonight, the homework’s done. TV won’t do, and I’m not about to disturb Henry in his Axe-infested gaming den.
To my right is The Hobbit, a book I’ve read a dozen and one times. Its edges are worn and there’s a bit of grape Fanta spilled on a page around a third of the way in, but it serves its purpose.
I pick it up and thumb through some of the pages, noting the Fanta page and all the dog-eared pages that substituted as a bookmark. It smells like old paper, binding glue, and of course grape Fanta, and it makes me smile. It feels like I’m holding an old friend. Without thinking, I open to Chapter One.
In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit…