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Authors: Trish Cook

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BOOK: A Really Awesome Mess
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Somewhere along the way, Chip and Justin had start beating the crap out of each other, too. Only Mohammed, whom I’d pegged as the biggest brawler of them all, stayed out of the fray.

Tina’s calm request for us to stop fighting went ignored. Then she yelled at us to “Cut it out!” Still nothing. She tried pulling us off of each other. It was a total losing battle.

“Jenny stopped talking because the piglet she raised from birth won the 4-H fair, you asshole!” Chip screamed at me, even though he was using Justin as his punching bag. “Don’t make fun of her and don’t say the goddamn word
bacon
!”

“She’s mute because her pig won? That’s crazy!” I screamed back.

“No, because then they sell the winning pig. And slaughter it,” Chip spat. “Her stepfather thought it was funny to tell her the next day the bacon she was eating was actually from her pig. She freaked out, stopped talking, and the rest is Heartland history.”

“I’m sorry, Jenny. That’s awful. I wish you’d told me before … or, I guess I mean, wrote me one of your notes about that before.” I let go of her ponytail and dragged myself out of the catfight. Diana quit throwing jabs. Even Justin and Chip untangled themselves from each other and went back to their seats.

“Wilbur was the coolest pig ever,” Jenny whispered, shaking and crying.

Tina started applauding. “Great group! We’re really getting somewhere now.”

She had to be kidding. I’d expected a million demerit points, demands for apologies, and kids getting a level drop—if they had any levels to go down to, which I didn’t—but apparently not.

“I love the way you all communicated, despite the fight. Those are the first words Jenny has said in group since she came to Heartland eight months ago,” Tina said, smiling. “So here’s your assignment to keep this kind of great progress going: You are all responsible for each other’s actions for the rest of the week. For our two new members, that means for the time being, your mentors and chaperones will now be the people in this room.”

“Yes!” I whispered under my breath. That would get Alisha off my back, thankthefreakinglord.

Tina beamed at me. “Glad you’re so excited about it, Emmy. As a group, you will make sure everyone does their chores, their homework, gets the proper nutrition, and makes it to class on time. If you succeed, you may all have your iPod for one hour this weekend and get an extra ten minutes in the required weekly call to your parents or guardians.”

“And if we don’t?” Justin asked.

“You’ll keep on working as a team until you get it right,” Tina told him.

BACK IN THE ROOM, I WAS EXAMINING MY BRUISES IN THE
mirror, and Mohammed was smiling. “I liked the man-whore line,” he said.

“Yeah. Thanks for having my back with the Chipster there,” I said sarcastically as I looked at my arm where the Chipster’s watch, or possibly fingernail, had left a long, slightly bloody scrape.

“Listen. You get yourself into something stupid, you get yourself out. I’m not here to clean up your mess. And I’m not going down a level for anybody. This place is like prison, you know? Do your own time.”

I plopped down on my bed and found that my ass really hurt. No idea how that happened. “Well, according to Tina, we’re all
supposed to support each other and hold each other accountable so we can earn ten more minutes talking to our parents. Which, I mean, wow. Big deal.”

Just like that, Mohammed was up off his bed and standing over me. “It is a big deal. And if you’re the one who screws it up, I’m gonna hurt you in ways you can’t even imagine.”

Normally I’d back down from something like this, but having just mixed it up with Chip, I was feeling all full of testosterone. “What the hell is your problem?” I said, standing up. “You think I’m scared of you ‘cause you’re black or something? You’ve been a total dick ever since I got here, and just when I think we’re having a normal conversation, you go all gangsta on me! What the hell’s your issue?”

Mohammed stared at me for a minute with murder in his eyes. Then he started to smile and laugh. “That was racist in about five different ways,” he said, and sat down on his bed. The crisis had apparently passed, but I wasn’t sure why. Heartland Academy was like the inverse of the real world. Here, you said something racist to a black guy and it
stopped
a fight.

“Do you know anything about Sierra Leone?” he asked.

“Is that in Africa?”

Mohammed smiled. “Yes. It’s in Africa.”

“Okay, well, I guess I know a little more about it now, then,” I said, smiling back a little though I didn’t know exactly where we were going here.

“My mother and I escaped the civil war there. I watched my father die screaming.”

“Oh. Oh shit, man, I …”

“With a burning tire around his neck, begging the rebels to let him live so he could raise his son. I was four years old.”

“Oh my God. I … I mean—”

“So yes, ten minutes of talking to my only living relative on earth means a lot to me. More than you can ever imagine.”

“Oh,” I said quietly. I really wished I had something to do so I didn’t have to focus on feeling like an asshole. This kid had reasons to be angry, reasons to be sad, probably reasons to kill himself. I was just a spoiled white kid with daddy issues.

We sat in silence for a minute. “Also,” he said, “Chip knows how to hack the staff Wi-Fi and download porn onto an iPod. That might make an hour with the iPod more appealing.”

I smiled. “Dude. I won’t need more than fifteen seconds.” And then he was smiling.

The next morning, I got woken up by a hand on my shoulder before the PA woke us up.

“What the hell?” I said.

“Get up,” Mohammed told me.

“Why?”

“Because we’ve got to be on time all week for you to get your porn and me to get my phone call. We can’t depend on any of
these other people to take the lead, so it’s up to you and me.”

It was a real testament to how freaking tired I was that the prospect of access to forbidden porn wasn’t enough to make me spring out of bed. It took Mohammed pouring water in my ear for that to happen. “Ah, what the hell?” I said, jumping out of bed.

“Get showered. We’ll hit Chip’s room before breakfast.”

We wound up knocking on Chip’s door only thirty seconds after the PA told all of Heartland to get out of bed.

Chip answered the door in his boxers with visible morning wood. Man, I hated this place. “What the hell do you guys want,” he said, rubbing his eyes with one hand and trying to adjust the tentpole in his boxers with the other.

“We want to get a reward this week,” Mohammed said. “It’s important to us.”

Chip looked at me, then Mohammed. “You told him about the porn, didn’t you?” he said to Mohammed.

“It’s not like you make it a secret,” Mohammed said.

“Alright. I could use an hour with Xtube myself,” Chip said. “Might make it easier to get through the week.”

“Hey,” I said. “I’m, uh, sorry about yesterday. I’m still pissed about being here, and—”

“Don’t even worry about it, dude. You get a bunch of hotheads together, there’s gonna be a scrap sooner or later. Just glad we got it out of the way early.” He held out a fist. It wasn’t the
same hand that he just had on his junk, so I bumped it. And it was over.

This, sadly, was not the way girls rolled. Mohammed, Chip, and I were the first ones in the cafeteria, and Mohammed signaled to everybody from hothead group that we had to sit together. Diana, Emmy, and Jenny still weren’t speaking to each other. No bacon on the menu today, but Diana was making a big deal out of eating her breakfast sausage and scrambled eggs, and Jenny looked like she was seriously considering hurting her.

I watched as Emmy took a single piece of honeydew melon and sliced it into twenty-five bite-sized pieces. She popped one in her mouth, chewed for ten seconds, swallowed, took a big gulp of water, and started on the next one.

“Really packing it away there, huh?” I said to her.

She looked up, hurt flashing across her eyes. “Be nice! It’s just too much food for me all at once.”

“Sorry. Reflex. You know, you get in the habit of being a dick, it’s kind of hard to break it.”

“Now that I wouldn’t know about,” Emmy said. Jenny snorted.

Emmy looked like she was about to say something back when Mohammed tapped a spoon on his plastic tumbler of orange juice. It made a dull clunking sound, and everybody stared at him. “Listen,” he said. “I need my reward this week. My mom has been in Africa for the last three weeks, and I haven’t spoken to
her at all. I need to know what happened to my family. And we need to work together so we can—”

“Oh geez,” Diana said. “The African guy has
problems
. Let’s all do what the guards say so the guy with the
real
problems can get what he wants. Because
we’re
not important.”

I was thinking the same thing, but my desire for porn kept my mouth shut. “Diana. I have a thirty-two gig iPod. I’ve got
Goblet of Fire
on there. Daniel Radcliffe in the bathtub with his shirt off.”

Diana looked at me. “Liar,” she said.

“It’s true,” I said. “Sure would be nice to have an hour of iPod time, right?”

Diana stared at me, her little beady eyes boring into my skull. Finally she said, “Okay. I’m in.”

I looked triumphantly at Chip and Mohammed. I’d successfully brought one of the toughest cases on board. So why were they looking at me like I was an idiot?

“Uh,” Chip said. “Dude. If she’s got your iPod, how are you going to—”

“Crap,” I said, and Chip started laughing. “You can borrow mine. For ten minutes.”

“And that’s at least nine and a half more minutes than you’re going to need,” Mohammed whispered in my ear.

I laughed, and for a brief moment, things didn’t seem so bad.

And then it was off to Aesthetics of Classic Film, which I thought might be okay, but today’s class was just a lecture
about silent movies. The teacher kept talking about
chiaroscuro
, which I thought was a sausage, though that didn’t really make any sense in this context.

At least in Culinary Science we got to bake things, since that was about the only thing you could do in a kitchen without sharp knives, though we were told before the cookies came out of the oven that we could be proud that our classmates would get to enjoy them at dinner tonight.

“So we get to smell cookies baking and we don’t get to eat them? The hell with that!” I yelled. I scooped up the pathetic remains of the batter with a rubber spatula from the bowl I was using and licked it. This would probably stop me from moving up a level, but it tasted great.

And then I had to have an emergency session with Max during which I explained that I really just wanted some cookies, and I wasn’t trying to kill myself with salmonella from the uncooked eggs in the batter.

Which made me miss Fitness, which was fine with me. The terrors of the locker room could wait.

Then it was on to directed study time. I didn’t have any homework to do, so I was instructed to write home.

Hey guys
, I wrote.
Bars on the windows, bullshit classes, and rules about everything, including which way to wipe your butt. Front to back, in case you’re wondering. Wish you were here. Instead of me
.

IN THE CAF THE NEXT MORNING, MOHAMMED TRIED ONCE AGAIN
to keep us on track with the “all for one and one for all” setup Tina had instituted after the brawl by using a combo platter of intimidation and guilt. Everyone but me was totally fired up about the lame rewards, so they were perfectly happy to comply. Especially Justin, who seemed way more excited about watching gross actors have sex on a tiny little iPod screen than he was about having a real girl who might actually like him sitting right next to him.

As for me, I was so over it already. An hour of music or more talk time with my family just wasn’t that motivating. If I could speak to Joss, sure, I would’ve been thrilled about the extension. But I wasn’t allowed to chat with anyone other than my mom
and dad until I got to level two, at which time I would have supposedly learned to “trust” again and started moving into the “realization” of how I had gotten myself into this predicament.

BOOK: A Really Awesome Mess
5.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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