Authors: Jeanne Skartsiaris
Copyright © 2014 Jeanne Skartsiaris
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States of America.
Live your dreams
“Face it. She’s not worth our time.”
The halls outside the principal’s office echoed with the last few after-school stragglers. Aja could hear the muffled conversation of her teachers, principal, and counselor through the closed door.
“I disagree. Aja’s IQ is higher than most of the students here,” Mrs. Burnett, her counselor, said. She seemed the only one willing to bat for Aja.
“Damn lot of good it’s done her.” Principal Carlisle’s voice boomed through the thin door.
They know I’m sitting here, Aja thought, fiddling with the clasp of her worn patchwork book bag.
Is he being loud to make sure I hear him? Just to piss me off?
“She’s had more absences than any other student this year and she is certainly the most disrespectful kid on campus—when she bothers to show up,” Carlisle went on. “And look at this school history. She’s changed schools almost every year. I vote for suspension, let her get her GED. She’s obviously a troublemaker.”
“Mike, where is your sense of compassion?” Mrs. Burnett asked. “She’s had a…well, an interesting home life. Give her a chance. School’s almost out. Let her graduate with her class.”
“She’s lacking credits and her absentee rate is off the charts. And she has a record; look at this charge. She’s a juvenile delinquent,” Carlisle snapped.
“I’ll work with her,” Mrs. Burnett pleaded. “She’s taken more AP and college courses than most of the students here. The only credits she lacks are from missing assignments.”
“Barbara, we can’t save everybody. She’s had too many chances.”
Aja recognized the voice of her English teacher, Mrs. Dempsey. A hag of a woman who wouldn’t let the kids read any books with the “F” word in them or the Harry Potter series because of the evils of witchcraft. It just wasn’t Christian.
These people are so clueless
They have no idea about the real world.
She wanted to smash into the office and tell them all to “F” off. It would be so worth it to see Dumpster Dempsey fall out of her chair and onto her fat ass.
our job to save everybody. We’re teachers,
counselors. Hello!” Mrs. Burnett pleaded. “This poor child needs us. We have the power to help.”
Aja felt bad that Mrs. Burnett was pitching so hard for her, especially since Aja had dissed her too. But that woman was so nosy, asking a million questions about her home life, her future life, her
It was the same wherever she went. She squeezed her eyes shut, fighting tears. All she wanted was to fly under the radar and be normal.
Just let me live the way I want to, Aja thought, glaring at the closed door, willing them to get her telepathic message.
You guys have no idea what I need.
Aja looked around the office and considered getting up and walking out. If only she wasn’t on a first name relationship with the school’s truant officer, Rocky. No doubt because she was the new kid. Quiet, easy to blame.
“Well, if she’s so damned smart, then why is she failing?” Mr. Carlisle asked.
“She’s misguided; she needs direction. Those marks are assignments not turned in yet,” Mrs. Burnett said. “Aja is a free spirit and doesn’t like to be told what to do.”
. What kind of name is that? Why would anyone name their child after a continent, then misspell it? She’s a misfit,” Dumpster Dempsey said. “I have my hands full enough with students who are willing to help themselves. Why spend energy on someone who couldn’t care less?”
Aja gritted her teeth. She was used to people messing up her name—A-jay, A-Ja. Very few knew it was pronounced
. Now she was a misfit too?
“The child understands the work,” Mrs. Burnett said. “She’s probably bored. We have two months until graduation; I’m sure I can talk her into buckling down.”
Carlisle barked out a laugh. “It says here her mother is a palm reader! Is she that psycho lady who has a waving palm reading sign in her front yard? I wonder what else she sells out of her home,” he said sarcastically. “If she’s psychic, why don’t we just ask her about her daughter’s future? No wonder the kid’s a nutcase.”
Aja cringed. She hated when people found out about her mother. And now it was in her school record. Her mom called it “her gift” and, although Aja also possessed the same intuitive power, she fought it down hard. It scared her. It was another mark against her being normal.
“Shhh…” Mrs. Burnett hushed him. “You know she’s sitting in the office.”
“Not for long, suckers,” Aja whispered. She waited a beat, then stood to leave. As she tiptoed out, she noticed a purse under a desk, opened wide. Two twenty-dollar bills stuck out over the top. She’d never stolen anything before, but the bills were beckoning to her.
You’re a bad kid, Aja
, echoed in her head. Isn’t that what all the teachers thought? What they always thought? She looked at the bills and justified her decision by proving them right. If they thought she was a hopeless case, then, yeah, maybe she was. Maybe being bad would feel better, Aja reasoned as she quickly stuffed the bills in her bag. You guys are so stupid, she thought as she escaped out of the office.
Aja ran to her car, ducking so the teachers wouldn’t see her. Forty bucks wasn’t going to pay for much, but she’d add it to her California money. As soon as she could ditch Dallas, a hot airbag of a city, she’d be on her way to sun and surf. She’d been working at Abercrombie in the mall for two months, but too much of her paycheck went to the merchandise instead of adding to her sun-fund. Aja knew better than to spend her money on cute outfits, but she hated all the thrift store clothes her mom found for her. Aja wanted to look normal, cool, like the other kids, even if the rest of the world thought she was nuts.
Her 1981 Tercel’s engine bucked and choked out a wad of smoke when she started it. She gave a finger flip at the school as she drove by, hoping the group of teachers would see her from Principal Carlisle’s office window.
When she got home, a bunch of cars were parked in front of her house. Now what? Aja thought. Her mom’s palm reading sign, which looked too much like the Hamburger Helper hand, practically drooped from the heat. When the wind kicked up, it waved back and forth, reminiscent of a bobble-head toy. Aja was embarrassed whenever anyone figured out that her mom was the town psychic—even though a lot of those same people came for readings. In all the places Aja had lived, and there were many, people swore her mom was the “real deal,” generating spirits of loved ones and reading past and future events in her customer’s lives.
Aja loved her mom but wished there was a little more normal and less freak. Her mom also painted and sold art, and sang in a folk band, like the true hippie she was. She fought for every cause possible: peace, equal-rights, save the wildlife, LGBT support, help the disabled, fight for the underdog, climate change. She and Aja got along well, but Aja longed for things she’d never had, like a stable home life. And a bedroom she didn’t have to pack up and move every year. The free spirit, live-off-the-land attitude stunk and it was one of the main reasons Aja tried to fight down her own psychic abilities. Another reason was that sometimes the visions scared her.
She pulled into the driveway next to her mom’s dusty Nissan pickup. Her car hissed and coughed after she turned it off, then let out a final sigh of exhaust. There was never enough money to fix it right.
Aja went around back and let herself in through the kitchen screen door of their run-down small frame home. The door, like the rest of the house, was in bad need of paint and repair. The rental agent who showed them the house said it had good bones, but to Aja it sagged and bore the scars of life. Often, in some of the homes they’d moved to, Aja could feel the spirits of previous tenants. Not this place though. It was just old and smelled funny when it rained. She tried to keep the squeak of the old rusty door quiet as she slipped inside.
Peeling her shoes off and leaving them on the worn linoleum, Aja started to call out to her mom but stopped in case those cars out front belonged to people here for readings. Her mom begged her to be quiet whenever she had a customer in the tiny bedroom at the front of the house. The room was dark with a card table in the middle draped with a shroud of purple silk. The table sat under a vaulted pyramid of gold-painted PVC pipe. Crystals of all sizes were placed on tables in the small space. Instead of a crystal ball in the center of the table, her mom had a snow globe that rained sparkly glitter on a tiny angel inside. Her mom had a thing for angels and gave small guardian angel coins to her friends. She insisted Aja carry hers with her always.
Considering all the cars out front, Aja expected to see a waiting room full of people in her living room. Instead when she peeked, she was shocked to see a stark-naked man standing on a sheet-draped pedestal. He looked close to Aja’s age, about eighteen or nineteen, which surprised her. Four or five people sat with sketchpads in their laps or on easels, drawing.
“Oh, hi, honey.” Her mom looked up from her charcoal drawing. “Mrs. Wells brought her delicious coffee cake. It’s on the counter. Help yourself.”
“Um, Mom?” Aja nodded at the naked man, who turned his head and smiled. Not bad looking, Aja thought, then blushed.
managed to blush crimson all the way to his butt cheeks.
“It was my turn to host the art class.” Her mom looked over her reading glasses at Aja. “Care to join us, or are you working tonight?”
“I’m working.” Aja shook her head, smiling as she turned to go to her room. “Can’t you guys draw fruit bowls or something?”
“The human body is a beautiful thing,” her mom called out. “Think of Michelangelo’s David.”
“Oh, the agony and ecstasy,” Aja muttered. “Think of still life with flowers,” she yelled back. Didn’t most mothers have cookies and milk when their kids came home?
“Make sure you eat something before you go to work. There’s a nice tuna salad in the fridge,” her mom said. “I made it with dill and capers, your favorite.” Her mom scrimped on everything but food. They only ate wholesome, nutritious, organic fare, but if Aja wanted to burn a wad on cool jeans, her mom wouldn’t offer a nickel.
“And take an extra big piece of my coffee cake,” Mrs. Wells called to her.
Aja turned back to the fridge and slapped together a tuna sandwich before she went to her room to change for work. Clara Wells’s sour cream and buttery coffee cake was legendary. Aja was tempted to eat that first.
She’d just opened her closet when she heard a car door slam out front. Chewing her tuna sandwich, she debated on the red tank top with her orange bra or denim mini skirt and blue embroidered shirt. It had to be from Abercrombie when she was working. She grabbed the strappy gold sandals her mom hated so much. She encouraged Aja to wear Birkenstocks, “not those cheap shoes that will ruin your feet.”
Aja heard heavy footsteps on the walk, and she peeked out her front window. Rocky, the school’s truant officer, and another uniformed policeman approached her porch. The police officer was a lanky creepy guy with evil eyes. He gave her the willies. Kind of like Freddy Kruger with a badge.
“Oh, crap,” she whispered, as she backed away from the window, remembering the money she’d taken.
There was a hard knock on the door and loud voices when the door opened. Aja heard a lot of shocked exclamations about a nude man in the living room.
“Hey, what’s going on here?” Aja recognized Rocky’s voice. “Is this some kind of sex ring?”
“I thought you read palms.” The other officer sneered. “This is a family neighborhood.”
Clara Wells spoke up. “It’s an art class.”
“Can I help you, officers?” her mother asked.
That was about all Aja heard before she dashed to her mother’s room in the back of the house and snuck out the window, almost yanking off her mom’s crystal light catcher hanging from the window frame. Barefoot, holding her sandals, she ran down the alley, careful to stay out of sight, and wondered how she would be able to go back to her car to get to work on time.