by Sharon Frayne
2019 YA Winner Excerpt
Chapter One: The Girl Who Wouldn’t Cry
Mama’s voice trails off as I stare at a crack in the sidewalk and imagine myself fall and smash my face on the concrete.
“You need to read his letter,” she says and hands me a sealed white envelope with my name in Papa’s handwriting. I grab it, shake my head and stuff it down into my leather bag with my epi-pen and sketchbook.
“I hate him. He’s dead to me.”
Mama’s dark eyes fill up with tears. She brushes back her black hair and I see strands of white that I never noticed before. “Never say that, Amihan. He’s innocent. You don’t know what he’s going through. We have so little time together… you must remember…”
“I remember everything. There’s nothing more I want to hear from you.”
Mama wipes at her eyes with the back of her sleeve. I know she has to leave in a few minutes for her job at Deer Run. Her cleaning job. My mom’s a servant, and my dad’s in jail for theft. I’m ashamed of them both, and I’m ashamed that I think that. We used to be special before… we used to be a family.
I have a sensation that she’s saying more, but the words come from far away, like in a tunnel, like she’s somewhere else. A ragged black hole grows around me and the concrete looks so tempting.
Mama reaches out for me but I turn away and walk down the sidewalk. My leather bag is heavy, but at least, I don’t have to drag my suitcase for the class trip all the way to school. That would be totally humiliating. From a distance, I hear Mama’s voice, but I don’t answer. I hear the front door close.
The sun is rising and it will be a hot day, there’s humidity, maybe a storm will come. I check my watch to see how long I have to walk to school. If I wait at the corner of the street, the bus will come later, but it’s better to walk. I like to be alone. Imagine things. One day, my imagination will take me a long way… that’s what we planned. Imagination and talent. To be a world class cartoonist, I need both.
I like the smell of my leather bag hanging over my shoulder. It has a lingering odour of garlic from the sausage I had for breakfast. I like the smell of the half-opened lilacs that bloom on the side of the roadway and the fresh smell of the wet grass. Last night’s thunderstorm left huge puddles on the sidewalk and roads. I remind myself to keep an eye out for bears, because you never know when one is prowling in the garbage people have left outside.
When I cross the bridge over the river, the sun is bright in my eyes. A black car drives by and a wave of water rises up its wheels and splashes me.
“Look out! Loser!” The car’s window is down and someone leans out, waving. It’s Bree. And she’s laughing at me. But her dad doesn’t stop. He’s in a hurry to drop her off at school and get to his big job managing the Deer Run Resort.
I brush my pants and shake off my bag. On Main Street the shop windows are jammed with outdoor gear and discounted fashions. Canoes, kayaks, bicycles, t-shirts and hats dangle from the racks. I weave and dodge my way around them and stop in front of a mural of an autumn scene painted on the brick walls of an alley.
The town of Algonquin Heights is famous for many things: beautiful lakes and trees, outdoor sports, boats, and artists. That’s one reason we moved here, so Papa could find work. I can make out his brush strokes on this copy of a Group of Seven painting. I close my eyes and press my lips together so hard it hurts. Don’t think of him! Never think of him!
“Hey, Ami… isn’t this the day of your big year-end school trip to Niagara?” Mr. McAllister suddenly steps around the corner and squints at me.
“Where’s your suitcase, kiddo? I’ve already dropped Sally off. She took enough stuff to last a month! Do you need a lift?”
“No thanks, Mr. Mac. Ethan took my bags over last night and left them with the custodian so I didn’t have to carry them. Got my special stuff right with me.” I lift up my bag to show him.
“You best be on your way, young lady.” He pauses and looks over his shoulder, then turns back to face me. “Ever hear anything from your dad?”
I take a breath and blow it out… slowly… and count to ten. I make my biggest grin and wave at him. “Gotta get going, Mr. Mac. See you later.” And then I run.
The regular yellow buses have already left the school when I arrive, and the mini special-needs bus is unloading at the front door. Two teacher’s aides help the kids navigate the ramps and steps and safely manoeuvre them into the building.
Across the front of the school the sidewalk is crowded with suitcases, pillows, bags of chips and pretzels, dogs strain on the end of their leashes, kids huddle in groups and parents cry and hug their kids. More parents are in the parking lot, and pull bags out of trunks. Kids in my class organize themselves into groups.
It’s easy to pick them out; Jocks wear t-shirts and baseball hats, Geeks play video games, Enviros have Save the Earth slogans on the shirts, Nerds discuss science facts, the Hoodies look tough and the Mean Girls are beautiful. The handful of Misfits who wander around just don’t belong anywhere. The Jocks throw a football back and forth over top of the heads of the parents.
“Look out, Ami!” A football whizzes over my head and a tall skinny boy jumps in the air to snag it. He stumbles and bangs up against me, it hurts, I lose my balance and fall onto the sidewalk.
“Boys! Hang onto that ball.” Ms. Rae hustles down the sidewalk and shakes her finger. “Say goodbye to your parents and get your suitcases lined up for the bus.” She comes up close to me, helps me to my feet and leans into my face. “Are you okay, Ami?”
“Sure.” I rub my arms and nod and she heads off through another mob of Grade 8s and their parents. But I’m not okay. My head pounds. I try to catch my breath and blink to clear my blurred vision.
“What’s with her?” It’s Bree’s voice. “Do you see how her eyes flutter and she looks at us?”
Then I hear giggles. It’s the Mean girls, with their perfect hair, perfect bodies, perfect jeans and shorts, and cropped tops, huddled in a circle. Bree stands in the middle and points at me.
“She’s staring at me! I think she’s got the hots for me.” Bree pouts her lips and puts her hands on her hips and wiggles her butt. “Ammmiiii…. do you like what you seeeee?”
I blink harder and take a deep breath. Out on the playground behind the school, there’s a wooden bench—the friendship bench. Go there, I tell myself. You’ll be safe there. Put your head down and walk. Don’t look at them, don’t let them see that their words are like arrows into your heart.
In reality, the friendship bench is a bad joke. Some parents who worried about bullying at school built it. They figured it would be a safe place for a kid who was bullied or lonely to go, and then the nice kids would find them and sit with them. Then they’d be friends!
In reality, that’s not how it works. At night it gets used by the drug dealers who cut swear words and symbols into the wood. So the little kids don’t like it. But for now, at this moment, when I want to hide from the world, it’s a place for me.
Except someone else is already there.
About this Story
My first novel, ‘Caught Between the Walls’ is the true story of British ‘orphans’ transported from the streets and Workhouses of Great Britain to Canada between 1864 – 1917 . Young boys and girls suffered incredible hardships, and were sold as indentured servants. The former site of ‘Our Western Home’, a former courthouse and jail used as a training home in Canada, is behind my home in Niagara. I researched the story of these young people and want to help modern students experience this troubling period of Canadian History.Ami Lee, the troubled protagonist in ‘A Chain of Broken Hearts ‘ is a modern girl, living in Huntsville, who is transported back in time to 1864. Along with other teens, she experiences the challenges of early immigration and indentured servitude. Will she survive her difficult life in the 19th and 21st centuries?