I just heard from Candlewick Press that my next book, Just as Good: How Larry Doby Changed America's Game, will be released on January 24, 2012. This is my first children's book, and it's illustrated by Mike Benny, an award-winning artist with the perfect touch to illustrate a baseball story.
Larry Doby was the first African American player in the American League; he joined the Cleveland Indians in 1947, just a few weeks after Jackie Robinson started the season with the Brooklyn Dodgers in the National League. Doby endured all the same abuse as Robinson, but his story is known only by a handful of fans. His rookie season was a disappointment, but in 1948, he had a great year and led the Indians to the most recent World Series title. My book focuses on a single game in the World Series.
Anyway, it's nice to have another book on its way. I can't wait to finish the revisions on my next novel.
Mora Novey Somonauk High School Somonauk, Illinois
Naomi’s Story Chapter One
R.C.’s face full of fury floated in my head, and then his body morphed together like a gooey monster.His nose was all bloody, and his arms were full of scratches from the whipping.Pa emerged next to him, looking like the Devil himself with red eyes, a whip in his hand and his countenance spelling out rage. Then R.C. took eight years of hatred, deepest loathing, rejection, and anger out.He lunged at Pa, just punching, hitting, and kicking anywhere he could.I screamed, cryin’, so confused and hurt.I tried pulling R.C. off him, but he pushed me away, and relentlessly attacked him.Blood oozed down Pa’s face as he fell to the floor, but R.C. kept beating him… I screamed and screamed, sobbing hysterically, thinking my brother was a murderer… My sobs echoed throughout our shack, ringing in my ears… “Naomi… Naomi…” Jesse’s voice intertwined with my screaming.She shook me, or was it R.C. pushing me out of the way?“Wake up Naomi.”She pushed me so violently that I fell on the floor, waking up, still screaming, my face drenched in tears. Abruptly, I stopped screaming, and Jesse rushed over to me, giving me a huge bear hug.Tears ran down her cheeks.“I heard you screamin’ from my room,” she whispered.“And I got scared.”Her bottom lip trembled. “Oh, Jesse,” I murmured, stroking her.“It’s okay.I was just havin’ a bad dream.” Her glassy blue-green eyes stared at mine.“You sure?” she asked me. “I’m sure,” I falsely cheerily replied, wiping a tear from her cheek.My eyes lingered to my floor-to-ceiling windows, where, outside, the sun began to peep from underneath the rolling hills.“C’mon, Jesse, let’s go surprise your Mama and make pancakes for everyone,” I decided, getting up. “Yeah!” she agreed enthusiastically like a six-year old would be, following me like a little sheep. For about a month now, my life adjusted to this new house.Mr. and Mrs. Smithers took me in after my Pa’s last rage, where R.C. nearly killed him.R.C. fled from Greenwood after informing Sheriff Smith what he’d done, and moved to start his life over in Jackson.Pa is still either in Greenwood Leflore hospital, or at East Mississippi State Hospital where he’ll stay there for alcohol treatment.Sheriff Smith told me about the plans for Pa, because Pa was in no state to talk to anyone, and he probably still isn’t.Honestly, I don’t want to see Pa until he’s better, so I told Sheriff Smith to not tell me anything until my Pa is back to his normal self. Jesse is the youngest of Mr. and Mrs. Smithers’ children, with curly dark brown hair that bounces with every step, and a smile that warms everybody’s heart.Her identical twin ten-year old brothers, Josh and John, have black hair with brown eyes, and will only shut up if some sort of food is shoved into their mouths.Both of them are spitting images of their father, who has the same black hair, and brown eyes, yet towers over everybody in the house.His wife is tall too, with shoulder-length brown hair, and green eyes. Mr. Smithers owns a jewelry store in Greenwood, so I didn’t move to a different town, just a different house, on East Claiborne Avenue, the Yazoo about a quarter of a mile south of us.Speaking of it, their house is a two story mansion, with a huge wrap-around porch with Roman-style pillars to support it.Early in the morning, when the sun strikes it, the house glows and sparkles like a slab of gold, and the floor-to-ceiling windows flood the whole house with light. “Is this the right pan?” Jesse asked, holding up a cast iron skillet.I squinted to look at it, then replied, “That’ll be fine.” A half-hour later, the scent of homemade pancakes woke everyone else up, the kitchen abuzz and lit up from the sun’s rays.Around the kitchen table, pancakes were passed around, syrup was fought over, and blueberries were stacked high on top of it all. “Mmmmm, Jesse,” Mrs. Smithers told her daughter, taking a bite of one.“They’re delicious.” “Naomi helped too, Mama,” Jesse replied, squirting syrup all over her pancake. “Well thank you, then, Naomi,” Mrs. Smithers said, winking at me. I blushed, and smiled, saying “You’re welcome.” “Uuuuggghhh… these taste burnt!” Josh remarked. “It’s worse than Pa’s cooking, Jesse!” John added. It was normal Josh and John behavior, but after seeing the look on their mother’s face, they said quickly, in unison, “We’re just joking Jesse, they’re great.” “Good, ‘cause you’re doing the dishes,” she retorted, pouting a bit. The Smithers didn’t own a maid, like I thought they would, because I knew people from their class had them.After a few days here, I concluded that they just wanted to input responsibility into their children. “They were very good, my little angel,” Mr. Smithers said to his daughter, reaching over to ruffle her hair. “Stop it, Daddy!” she laughed. “I’m off to work now, dear,” he said before getting up, putting his plate into the sink, and kissing his wife on the cheek. “See you Dad!” Josh and John shouted together, waving from the table, while Jesse ran over and hugged him.After pulling her off, he looked at me, like he was expecting me to do the same thing, but I got this look everyday, and it always ended the same way. “I’ll see you when you get home today, right?” he asked, almost sternly. “Yes, sir,” I answered, emphasizing sir a little more than I should have, but still wearing my fake smile mask. He tipped his head towards all of us, saying, “Have a good day!” then stepped out the front door. Greenwood High greeted me an hour later, after dropping off Jesse, Josh, and John at their elementary school.As I walked up to it, its immense building looked down upon me.Other teenagers littered the front lawn, laughing in loud voices, trying to drown out the boycotters’ voices across the street, who were there everyday, trying to boycott school integration.They yelled the same hateful jeers or held up picket signs, with mottos like, “Race Mixing is Communism,” “Close Mixed Schools” “Keep City Schools White” and “We Want Equal but Segregation”.Brown verses Board of Education was old news, but white folks refused to accept the decision. “Hey, Naomi,” a girl name Krista said, stopping me as I tried to go inside.“You probably didn’t, but did you hear about the group of Negros who thought they could walk into our schools down in Jackson?” “Oh,” I said, stunned by her word choice.“No, I didn’t.” I added bluntly. “Yeah, that’s why that riot is even bigger today,” she explained, jerking her head across the street. “I suppose,” I said dully.“See you in chemistry.” I knew for a fact that Krista’s family was filthy rich farmers, who expected their daughter to be the Valedictorian her senior year, and go off to college in her brother’s footsteps.Krista looked and acted like a pug, so naturally, some days I wanted to kick her extremely hard. And yet, she took nearly all the same classes as me, though I was lucky to only see her once a day in chemistry after lunch.The girl had a brain, that was undeniable, but she also carried the attitude that she was superior to everybody and everything else. I finally decided to put forth effort in my classes when I was thirteen, still living in my shack.One day at school, we had an assembly put on by some of the faculty of Ole Miss, explaining how everybody sitting there, women included, could have an opportunity there to have an education.I was stunned, yet motivated from that point on.I wanted to do something in my life, and achieve something that R.C. never had. Despite everything happening at home my freshman, sophomore, and a bit of my junior year, I focused on schoolwork.Everyday I’d stay after school in the library, working until they kicked me out.When that happened, I walked to the public one, where I finished my work, then walked home to my torture chamber. Now days, I can walk home and finish all my homework in the comfort of my peaceful room. As I whirled my combination of my school locker, a crazy, insane thought crossed me.What if I was the Valedictorian?I shock my head as the locker clicked open.There could be no way, despite my high average grades… Krista definitely had better grades then me… But still… BRRRIINGGG!I jumped as the first bell rang, snapping me out of my trance.And yet, as I headed to English, the thought of being the best, loved by all, enthralled me even more. After school, while I waited for Jesse, Josh, and John, my thoughts lingered to Hiram Hillburn, the one person who actually understood half of me.Did he ever think of me when he was alone, and lonely?Was he ever lonely?Somehow, I doubted it.I should’ve said more, done more, or something at our last meeting before he headed off to Arizona.Tears stung at my eyes as Jesse spotted me.“Naomi!” she cried, running over to hug me.Quickly I wiped away the tears as I embraced her, John and Josh sulking behind her. “What’re you guys hidin’ from us?” I asked them, beginning to walk as Jesse slipped her hand into mine. Both of them cast guilty looks at each other from beside me.Finally, Josh spoke up.“We got ourselves in detention tomorrow.” “For fightin’,” John added, kicking a pebble. “Why?” I asked wearily, as Jesse giggled.I glared at her. “Well…” Josh started, looking hopefully at John, who wore a complete poker face.“’Cause of you, Naomi,” he muttered, his head downcast. “Why?” Jesse asked in an excited tone before I could stop her. “David Stonebrecker kept teasin’ us that you… live with us,” John said flatly.“’Bet’cha guys have fun with her’ and all sorts of crap like that.” “Then,” interjected Josh, “he has the nerve to ask us if you are single, and if you are, try and get both of you together.” I snorted, unable to contain myself, as Jesse laughed hysterically and Josh and John exchanged grins.“So you two beat him up all ‘cause of that?” I asked, both amused and mad at their foolishness. “No,” Josh said sheepishly, a shadow crossing his face.“He then… umm… said nasty things about you.” “Like ‘I’m surprised she didn’t turn out like her father’ and ‘How does she use the bottle?’” John said full of anger. I froze momentarily, locked in fear; I was twelve, when Pa slammed the beer down on the table so hard it shattered, and then throttling my throat… “Why would he say those things?” Jesse asked. Not wanting to scare them in any way, I just said calmly, “’Cause some kids are just plain mean.” “So then we beat him up,” Josh said bitterly.“He ain’t gonna mess with us again.” Inwardly, I groaned, ready to see the house.Finally, we got on the block, and I told them, “I’ve got homework to do when we get there.” When we arrived, I fled to my room, locking my door, and allowing my breathing to become more normal.I stared out at the hills, angry at myself.I was the cause of John and Josh’s detentions; if I hadn’t been living here then… Mr. and Mrs. Smithers knew about my shadowy past, but we agreed to keep it quiet from the kids.Mr. Smithers, especially, was very touchy about it.What did he expect though?Nothing is buried in a small town! “Damn them!” I whispered, as Hiram’s face came into focus.“Damn them all!” Chapter Two As the weeks dragged on, the Mississippi heat cooled to a steady breeze, and talk of Thanksgiving plans were in the air. “Last year,” Jesse explained, “Our house was so full of people it was hard to just walk around!Oooohhh… and Mama made the best strawberry cheesecake, Naomi; you’ll have to try it!” “I will,” I told her, with my fake grin on.She hugged me, and then ran off.My heart fluttered with discomfort because as much real love that girl gave out, I rejected it, with my heart of stone.What I truly wanted was to be invisible, away from the Smithers, everyday, not just Thanksgiving.I didn’t belong here; Mr. Smithers implied just that the night Josh and John told him about their detentions.“You didn’t tell them the truth, did you?” he asked me, his voice low and panicky. “No,” I responded, embarrassed.“I shut everything up.” “Good girl,” he whispered.“I don’t want my children to see you as a negative influence.” “I understand,” I lied, underneath my boiling anger.Why Mr. Smithers wanted to stay so hush-hush about everything always crossed my mind, but knowing the truth made me feel sick.He only wanted me here to help his kids, in exchange for a roof over my head.There was no reason to ever think he wanted me to be part of his family, but he didn’t try to love me.Cold rejection built up on my heart, and I just began to ignore Mr. Smithers. Besides my flat out rejection, I didn’t want to hang around for Thanksgiving because I hadn’t celebrated it since I was eight.It was no big deal to me, but I didn’t want to create awkward situations for anyone, and stir up old rumors. The Monday before Thanksgiving, I walked into school with a sense of anticipation; everybody gossiped about their plans, and the teachers themselves were more excited, getting off-subject much more easily.In chemistry, Krista described in vivid detail her plans on going to California to visit her whole family.“Unfortunately,” she said in a loud, carrying whisper, “I’m going to have to leave Greenwood tomorrow, as my train will take a few days to get there… No doubt we’ll be in first class…” Mr. Breech, our chemistry teacher, turned at her and barked, “If you’d like to talk Krista, which I’m so sure you love to do, how about you just stand up and announce whatever important fact you have on your mind whenever you want.Now shut up or I’ll send you to the dean!” I choked back a laugh as other people snickered. “Silence!” Mr. Breech boomed and his command was put into effect immediately.It was too bad that Krista had been shut up when she had, ‘cause if she had uttered one more word, I was gonna chuck half my lunch at her hair in its perfect perm. Tuesday and Wednesday flew by too, and Krista’s absence may have contributed to the weather lapsing into an Indian summer, bringing back the Mississippi humidity for a few days. I woke up Thursday to the smell of turkey roasting in the oven, and naturally, followed the scent to the source.“Hello, Mrs. Smithers,” I said politely.“Can I help you with anything?” She shook her head, smiling at me.“Naomi,” she said soothingly, “you do enough around here as it is.You’re supposed to be like… like my own daughter.” Her words chipped off a bit of the stone on my heart, and that chunk allowed something to sting me, because I sure wasn’t actin’ like her daughter.But I wasn’t her daughter.I was my Mama’s daughter.Besides, her husband had different thoughts of me. “Well, I like helpin’ out,” I replied with a smile.“Besides, you know I love to cook. She rolled her eyes and thrust me Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking at me.“I was just about to begin making the green-bean casserole.Let’s make the cream of mushroom.” The rest of the morning was a blur of cooking and cleaning, with help from Jesse, John, and Josh.Around eleven o’clock, Mr. Smither’s parents arrived, knocking on the door.“I’ll get it!” Mr. Smithers said harshly.He arrived in the kitchen a minute later, smiling, as Jesse ran over and gave her grandparents hugs.Instinctively, I stayed busy doing some dishes while everyone greeted each other. “Now who is this?” Jesse’s grandfather asked, shaking my shoulder. Wanting to melt away into a puddle on the floor, I squeaked, “My name is Naomi.” “She’ll be staying with us for a while,” Mr. Smithers said matter-of-factly, leading him away from me. “Learning how to take care of the house?Yes, that’s good,” Mr. Smithers’ father commented as he shook off Mr. Smithers. “No, sir,” I said politely, though I wanted to scream at him.“I need a place to stay and finish up at Greenwood High.” “Well, Ron, I never saw you takin’ in street people,” Jesse’s grandfather said, as I dropped a dish in the sink with a huge CLANK!I resisted the urge to glare at him, but I continued with the dishes as he addressed Jesse, “How have you been little girl?” “Good,” Jesse replied.“C’mon upstairs, Grampa, I’ll show you my new-“ “No,” her dad replied curtly.“You’ll stay down here.” “Fine,” she retorted.“Watch this Grampa!” Jesse spun around in circles, nearly knocking over her mother. “Out,” she said sternly.Mrs. Smithers looked at her husband.“Take them into the dining room.” As more of the Smithers’ relatives filled in, I told everyone the same alibi: The Smithers are allowing me to stay here to finish high school, and yes, I help out with the housework because they are giving me this opportunity.There was no need to mention my murky past, or surname, as “I’m Naomi,” satisfied them. Around one o’clock, about forty people smashed into three tables the Smithers had set up: one in the dining room, one in the living room, and one in the kitchen.All the prepared food was scattered across all the tables.“Attention, everyone!” Mr. Smithers half-yelled throughout the three rooms. “Let’s say grace.”We all bowed our heads and followed his lead.When Mr. Smithers finished, he yelled, “Halleluiah! Let’s eat!” Between all three tables, all the food eventually got passed around.I stacked turkey on top of steaming mashed potatoes and drenched it in gravy.By the time the green bean casserole had circulated to me, only about a quarter of it was left. The atmosphere was light and jovial with all the rooms buzzing with conversation.Somehow, I ended at the table with Mr. Smithers and his father, along with other relatives that I didn’t know.I kept my mouth shut as I listened to other snippets of conversations.Though I was surrounded by forty other people, I felt lonesome, like a foreign alien. “Can you pass me the wine, Alice?” a man asked across from me.I twitched and felt sick to my stomach as a bottle waved in front of me. “You’re such a dirty scum bag, prostitute!” he roared, the beer shaking in his fist.“Runnin’ off in the middle of the night, seein’ some man.I’m tellin’ you right now, if that son of a bitch brings his face down here, I’m gonna blow his brains out.You hear me?” he bellowed, smashing the bottle over my head, falling into darkness… Yet there was light… And about a dozen faces staring at me.I was still shaking violently, an endless earthquake, and my breathing came in sharp, quick puffs.“I’m… sorry,” I whispered, bending over to retrieve my fork and knife that hit the floor. Slowly, everybody started talking again, but cast quizzical looks at me every few minutes.“Are you okay?” asked an old lady next to me. “I’m fine, thank you,” I said weakly.Why did I have to expose that side of me?The Smithers know I’m already… like that, but the rest of them… I was pulled out of my trance as I heard Mr. Smithers say, “No.” “Please pass it, Viktor,” Mr. Smither’s father pleaded, staring longingly at the wine that was down on our end. “No!” Mr. Smithers said harshly, and, noticing the commotion he was causing, said quickly, “Just keep it down there, everything’s okay.”He looked mad, perhaps the angriest I had already seen him.“We can talk about it later,” he told his father, who didn’t say another thing.I guess I wasn’t the only person keeping secrets. Following dinner, dessert was served.Abiding to Jesse’s wish, I took a piece of strawberry cheesecake, and agreed that it was delicious. Too lazy to do anything afterwards, everybody just sat back, enjoying the day.Eventually Jesse and her cousins spotted me.“Did you have some cheesecake?” she asked brightly. As I answered, “Yes,” her face lit up. “Ain’t it the best?” she asked. “Of course!” I replied. “We’re gonna play with my dolls now, Naomi,” she told me, running off giggling, her cousins trailing her. Later in the evening, the relatives slowly left, with heartily, “Goodbyes,” and “See you laters.”By nine o’clock, everyone had left; I was helping Mr. and Mrs. Smithers cleaning up, while Josh, John, and Jesse fought over the remaining desserts.By nine thirty, all of us were sent to bed, and I only went because Mrs. Smithers demanded that I did.I lay down to sleep, and though I was exhausted, I couldn’t sleep, because thoughts of beer and broken glass kept littering my thoughts.Restless, I decided to go downstairs to make a cup of warm milk.When I was halfway down the stairs, though, I heard Mr. And Mrs. Smithers arguing from the kitchen. “… he’s not stable,” Mr. Smithers was saying. “You couldn’t have let him just have one?” his wife asked wearily. “No, because… it just gets into his blood… And anyway, look what happened today with her.It was an embarrassment!” “We just need to tell them the truth then,” she snapped.“She’s a fine girl; I don’t see why you can’t get over her past.” “No!We’d get even more awkward questions, unearthing more…” “Why, then, did you take her in the first place?” Mrs. Smithers cried, exasperated. “I didn’t,” he muttered gruffly.“You did.” I tiptoed back to my room, more stone building up on my heart.I flopped down on my bed, and cried silently into my pillow, knowing that I was the one thing that nobody, not even Hiram Hillburn would want.
Chapter Three For the rest of the weekend, I avoided all the Smithers, Jesse included.I did “homework” both during the day and the night, when in reality, I just sat in my room, rotting away.Sunday night, I was sick of being cooped up, so I snuck out of the house and visited the bridge.Quieter than the softest mouse, I made it out of the house and ran as fast as I could to the bridge.When I arrived, the colorless Yazoo swirled beneath me, receiving my tears that fell like pouring rain.Mama’s face etched itself into my mind, bringing the reminder of her love for me along with it.All of my anger, all my unhappiness, it vanished in eventually, and everything was okay for a moment, although it could’ve been days, weeks, or even months, because I knew my Mama was in Heaven, and she loved me. I left the bridge before the sun began to come up, and snuck back inside, unnoticed and fell asleep.Less than two hours later, I awoke like a zombie and headed for school with Jesse, Josh, and John, completely exhausted.I had a feeling that today was gonna be a hard one. When I arrived at school, the protestors were louder than ever, and the students were in a state of chaos tellin’ their friends what they did and ate over the weekend.“I ate myself a whole turkey, Gibbons!” one boy shouted across the lawn.At my locker, I heard Krista explaining in full detail to her friends her trip.“The coast was gorgeous, though it was a bit too cold to swim.Obviously, the food was delicious, but I didn’t eat too much, you know, ‘cause I must keep my figure.” I slammed my locker, causing some people to jump, and headed to English. “As you know,” Mrs. Kale began after the second bell rang, “Your finals will be on the Thursday before you get off for break, and the results will be in the next day, Friday.” Our classroom sounded like a herd of noisy cows, as I kept my mouth shut, but silently agreed with my classmates.As much as I loved my education, finals were not on my list of “likes”. “Silence!” she barked.“I would’ve thought that you all would’ve given this more thought.But since you had absolutely no idea, I’m just giving you all a heads up of what is to come.Now, please turn in your literary analysis!” Every other teacher began their class in a similar way.By the time chemistry rolled around, nobody wanted to hear another word about finals, though we all knew we still had more lectures to come.“Your finals will be on the Thursday before your break,” Mr. Breech recited dully.“I’m sure you all are tired of hearing this.So, I’m trying to enthuse all of you to do well, because the person who scores the highest on the final will get a tour of Ole Miss, and attend a science lecture.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing!Someone would get to shadow Ole Miss for a day!Mr. Breech had to have connections there, because I doubted they let anyone do that.The experience would be unforgettable, sitting in a room full of collaege kids, listening to a professor, a professional, explain something.Plus, I’d probably be in the paper, known as the smart chemistry girl who survived a brutal childhood.I’d be accepted as I was, not judged by anyone and loved by all.I had to win. Even though the finals were still three weeks away, I went home that night and studied every subject, isolating myself from everyone else, something not entirely new.I still helped make, and clean up dinner, and did other miscellaneous chores, but when I wasn’t working, I was studying.For those next three weeks, the pattern remained constant: eat, sleep, study, eat, sleep, and study.I focused on chemistry a lot though, because I wanted that prize more than almost anything I’d wanted before.It kept me motivated, dedicated, and full of zeal about chemistry. During the rare “family time” I had, I found myself slipping away from them, yearning to go on the bridge or study some more.Some nights I still snuck out to the bridge, though it started to become a little chilly out. I talked to Jesse, John, and Josh everyday, on the way to and from school, so I stayed in touch with them, and all of them really wanted for me to win too.When the Thursday before break arrived, silently and quickly, I tried to act normal.As I dropped Jesse, John, and Josh off at school, Jesse said, “Good luck, Naomi!” and hugged me. “You’ll be the best,” Josh said, punching my arm. “Don’t worry about it,” John added, punching my arm also. “See you!” they said in unison, dragging Jesse off me. “Thanks, guys,” I called after them. By the time I reached Greenwood High, my stomach had tons of butterflies and I kept biting my nails.For once, the lawn outside wasn’t full of loud groups of people; in fact, it was like a graveyard, almost eerie.Across the street, the protesters shouted the loudest they had ever, and could be heard from inside our school, adding to the tangible stress that could be felt inside.Before our first exam, our principal, Mr. Simmons, marched outside and yelled at the boycotters to come a different day.“We have students about to take finals!” he bellowed, so they grudgingly left. Nobody tried to talk to anyone inside; even Krista was shut up, her nose in a book.I dragged myself to English, dreading the second bell.Eventually, the first bell rang throughout the school… and then… the second bell signaled the beginning of all exams.Feeling sick, I began my English one. All morning long, I took exams, my nerves calmed down by the middle of each one.Finally, a bell rang, releasing everybody for a half-hour lunch break.The cafeteria wasn’t meant to support all of us, so I just sat down by my locker, and tried to stuff food down my throat while I reviewed my chemistry notes. The bell rang again, my food almost heaving out of my stomach.My pulse quickened, and my palms began to sweat as I walked to chemistry. Feeling like I was in a dream, I somehow found my way to my seat, awaiting the inevitable.The awful bell rang, and Mr. Breech began his discourse while handing out the exams.The only word I heard him say was, “Go.”In a swift motion, I flipped the paper over and began to answer the questions… Feeling semi-confident after chemistry, I completed my last two exams, so by the time I got home, it was pretty late. “How’d you do?” Jesse asked, running over and hugging me. “Pretty good,” I replied, following her to the kitchen table.As I sat down, I realized how ravenously hungry I was, so I grabbed a huge plate of spaghetti.“I missed some in U.S. History, I know that,” I told everyone.“I missed at least one in English and… I’ll just have to wait for the results of chemistry and all m other classes tomorrow.” “I’m sure you did great,” Josh piped up. “’Cause you only spent how much time studyin’?” John asked. Everybody, Mr. Smithers included, laughed. After dinner, I fell asleep fairly quickly, dreaming of graded papers, beer bottles, and my mothers face weaving in and out of everything. The next day, every teacher handed back our finals, and explained certain questions that multiple people got wrong.I only missed some questions here and there, but all together, it didn’t really affect my overall semester grade. Anybody in chemistry was excited to find out the winner, and by the afternoon, the anticipation was even greater, because the best scorer hadn’t had class yet, and there were only two chemistry classes in the afternoon.Our chemistry class was so energized, talking loudly in high, fast voices.When the bell rang, a few girls, Krista included, screamed softly.Mr. Breech took roll call slowly, and I began to shake uncontrollably, both giddy and anxious.Across the room, Krista looked like her normal smug self, yet there was fear in her eyes. “The moment you’ve all been waiting for,” Mr. Breech announced, grabbing our attention without even the snap of his fingers.“I’m pleased to announce the highest scorer on our final is in this class.And the winner is…” Me.I thought.Naomi Rydell. “Krista Burnham!” he said, as she screamed and jumped up and down.All my giddiness deflated and shriveled up like an old balloon.All my breath temporarily left my body.I was dumbstruck: Krista, winning?I was supposed to win.Fury gained me my breath back.I needed to see my exam, to see how much worse I had done than Krista. When Mr. Breech handed my paper back, he smiled, saying, “Well done.” Resisting the urge to slap him, I glanced at my score: a ninety-nine percent.Appalled, I leafed through it until I found my mistake: I wrote down uranium’s atomic number rather than its mass number.Krista, on the other hand, danced around the room, bragging about her perfect score, while her admirers congratulated her.I threw her my dirtiest look, and tangled myself into a well of self-loathing. I did all right on my other exams, but they hardly mattered; the blow of not getting that opportunity really hit me hard. On the way home, I wasn’t the only person shut up.John and Josh kept quiet, a miracle within itself.Jesse was the only one excited about break.“We’re gonna put up a Christmas tree tonight!Mama and Daddy promised me!” I nodded, giving her a warm smile, grateful that she wasn’t asking me about my results.When we got home, the twins headed up to their rooms, while Jesse followed me into mine, continuously talking. Dinner was a quiet affair, the Smithers noticing my ugly mood.In the middle of dinner, John spoke up.He looked extremely pale, and looked really sick to his stomach.“Naomi, is it true that your Pa was-is- an alcoholic?” “Johnathan!” Mr. Smithers snapped.“We don’t speak like that at the table!” He glared at me, but John was persistent.“I don’t care if he was Naomi; I only want the truth.”Josh gave me the most pitiful face while their father’s face turned bright red.He moved his head slightly back and forth as to tell me to tell them no. “Yes,” I said calmly, and for some odd reason, it felt good to lift the burden off my chest.“Why?” I asked, looking right at him. “Well…” he began, looking uncomfortable.“You know David Stonebrecker?He only knew that stuff he said about you ‘cause his mother’s a nurse at Greenwood Leflore hospital, and…” “That’s enough!” Mr. Smithers shouted, as a loud knock echoed on the door. “I’ll get it!” I shouted, sprinting to the door before anyone could object.I flung the front door open to see R.C. standing there with a cigarette in his mouth.My mouth dropped open and he tried to walk inside. “Spit it out before you come inside,” I ordered him.He obligated, and I let him in.“Why are you here?” I demanded, hearing the Smithers filing in behind me. His expression didn’t change at all as he said flatly, “The bottle killed him.” “No,” I whispered, my eyes tearing up. “Who is this?” Mr. Smithers cried, pointing at R.C. “My brother,” I choked out, tears streaming down my face. “Oh,” Mr. Smithers said, “I thought you were supposed to be in Jackson?” he asked R.C. “’Supposed to,” R.C. grunted.“Now I gotta come up here and arrange Pa’s funeral.” With those words, I ran off to my room sobbing, nobody there to hold me.
Chapter Four I went downstairs a half hour later, because R.C. was refusing to stay here.“I can find me my own place to stay.‘Sides, I won’t be up here long.”He walked out, waving goodbye to me. Feeling miserable, I went and laid in bed, allowing memories of Pa to wash over me.He thoroughly abused me over and over, but underneath those scars, he was still my Pa, and I loved him, even if it was a tiny fraction of love.R.C. said he wanted the funeral to be on Sunday, with Pa being buried next to Ma.“I want you to come out tomorrow and help organize this too,” he told me.“I’ll probably be in the sheriff’s office.Come around eleven.” To my surprise, Jesse never came to my room in once.I heard her, though, arguing with her parents downstairs, wanting to see me.Part of me wanted to see her, but the other part of me wanted to be alone.The one person I wanted to see, more than anyone in the world was… Mama. I waited until I heard no movement in our house to sneak our.I ran like a free spirit to the bridge, the harsh wind stinging my skin, and I broke down when I arrived there.My sobs echoed off the full moon, which acted like my spotlight.The spotlight… I could be in it.Tonight I could make it happen. One tragedy after another.The Yazoo was pretty deep, especially in the middle…But then Emmett Till’s body seemed to be floating out from the Tallahatchie, and fear jerked me back into reality: The reality that my Pa was dead. “Mama,” I whispered, the tears on my cheeks glistening in the dark.“He’s gone…” I completely lost it again, my heart of stone chipping away bit by bit.I cried endlessly, the pain of losing him stabbing me hard, and I sobbed until a hand pulled me away from the edge of the bridge. “Aaaaahhhh!” I screamed. “Naomi,” R.C. said roughly.“Shut up.You’ll wake the remaining sleeping people in Greenwood.” “What are you doing here?” I asked, fresh tears pouring out of my eyes. “I was about to ask you the same thing,” he asked coolly, dragging me off the bridge. “Well, I was there, thinkin’ about Mama and Pa and my life as it is,” I said defensively.“What made you go out and protect me, somthin’ you haven’t done recently?”I asked him in my anger. He stared at me with loathing, then something else, that looked like remorse.After a deep breath, he began, “After I left your home-“ “House,” I interjected fiercely. “Ain’t no difference.” “There’s a huge difference, R.C., but continue anyway.” “After I left you at your house, I brought myself down to Sheriff Smith’s office to catch up with him, and we talked ‘bout Pa for a while.He didn’t know until I told him.While I was there, he got a phone call from Mrs. Smithers, sayin’ that you had disappeared. “I went out searchin’ with them, and though I had an idea where you was, I didn’t tell them that. “I found you, now I’m gonna take you to the sheriff’s office, then take you to your house.” R.C. finished. We walked in silence until he pulled me inside the office, just to show them he found me. “It’s okay,” he told them, when they saw us.“I’ll take her to her house.” I was shivering uncontrollably by the time I saw the house.“Do you still want me to help out tomorrow?” I chattered as we made our way to the front door. “Yeah,” he replied. “Did you tell Hiram?” I asked as he knocked. R.C. starred intently at me, sighed, and said, “I’ll call the sisibaby tonight from the sheriff’s office.” “Invite him,” I whispered stubbornly, as footsteps could be heard from inside. “I’ll do what I can,” he snapped as Mrs. Smithers opened the door, hugging me, and thanking R.C., sobbing.She gripped me tightly as she pulled me inside, thanking R.C. one more time and shutting the door.“We didn’t want to lose you,” she whispered, leading me to the couch. Guilt and shame pulsed through my veins, and I began to sob over and over again.“I’m sorry,” I choked, allowing her to embrace me.“I didn’t want to cause all this trouble.” “You’re safe now, that’s what matters,” she assured me.I wasn’t in any danger in the first place, but I decided not to put it past her.“Jesse was cryin’ so hard, wanting to know where her sister had gone.” The rest of the stones fell off my heart.Jesse thought of me as her sister. “John and Josh were both very worried too, though they said you probably went on a midnight stroll,” she went on.I smiled weakly, knowing that those twins were half-right.“And Ron… well, he noticed you were gone.” We sat there in our embrace as my tears eventually ceased.I gently broke away from her, and asked, “Mrs. Smithers, why is your husband so…” “Against you?” she finished for me.I nodded, unable to speak.She sighed, glancing up at the ceiling.“He’s asleep right now,” she said quietly.“But… it’s time you knew the truth.Ron’s father abused the bottle like yours did, and took his anger out on his own son, similarly to your story.Unlike you, Ron became a very angry teenager, but he took pity on you and took you in.I believe he was afraid of what you could morph into, like he was, so he tried to keep your past quiet.You probably noticed that at Thanksgiving, his father wanted some wine.Ron flat-out refused, because his father is still not stable, even with one glass of wine.Everyday, Ron’s father is tempted with the bottle, just as Ron is with his temper,” she finished softly. “I’m sorry,” I whispered sincerely. “I’m sorry for you,” she whispered back. The next morning, Jesse was ecstatic to see me.“I was afraid you had left forever,” she said softly as she cried.“I thought you didn’t like me anymore.” “I would never do that,” I promised her.“Jesse, you light up my life, you know that?” “No,” she said, filled with awe. “I shouldn’t have left you,” I told her. “It’s okay,” she whispered, hugging me. At eleven o’clock, I met R.C. at the sheriff’s office, and made Pa’s funeral plans.We agreed that the ceremony would be short and private, at the same church that Mama’s was at.“I’ll talk to the priest today about music,” R.C. said.“Is that okay?” “I’ll come with you,” I told him. “Fine,” he replied, and as we went to the church, I was dying to ask him who was invited.Finally I couldn’t contain it any longer. “Who’s invited?” I asked him eagerly. Unenthusiastically, he said, “Us, the Smithers, and Hiram and his family.” “He’s comin’?” I asked brightly, a smile crawling on my face. “Yes, they’re all comin’ out and spendin’ Christmas at their Grampa’s.They wouldn’t have been comin’ had they not had other plans.”He looked sternly at me.“Remember that-” “I know it’s still Pa’s funeral,” I said quietly. “Good,” he replied as we walked into the church. The next morning, I made my way downstairs, where Mrs. Smithers was already preparing lunch for later today.“Hey Naomi,” she said quietly.I smiled weakly at her, going over to help her.“I don’t need your help,” she told me.“Go upstairs and get ready or something.”I followed her command, and sat in my room, waiting to go to the funeral, to see Hiram, and say my final goodbye to my Pa.Finally, the hour came, and we all walked over to the church, Jesse holding her father’s hand and mine. When we arrived, at the church, I spotted R.C., who cleaned himself up, and was wearing a suit.“Where’d you get that?” I asked him curiously. “I have connections,” he replied gruffly.“Your Romeo is here,” he added in a sick tone. I spun around and saw Hiram leading his Grampa, parents and four other brothers and sisters over here.“Hiram!” I shouted, running over to him. “Naomi!” he said, opening his arms to embrace me.“I’m so sorry,” he whispered as we hugged. “It’s okay,” I said, unlocking from our hug and squeezing his hand.“Get your family over here, and I’ll introduce everyone before the services get underway.” Quickly, we brought our families together, and I introduced the Hillburns to the Smithers and R.C.As they began to mingle, R.C. muttered to Hiram, “Ain’t seen you in a while.What’ve you been up to sisibaby?” Before Hiram could respond, the church bells rang, and he grabbed my hand.“Can I hold your other hand?” Jesse asked innocently. “Of course you can, sister,” I replied, smiling. Everybody filed in the church, the Smithers in front looking awkward, followed Jesse, Hiram, and me, with R.C., who was scowling next to Hiram, and the rest of the Hillburns sat behind us.The service, like R.C. promised, was short, with the priest preachin’ about eternal life in Heaven, and the re-birth of our souls.Tears glistened on my cheeks, but both Jesse and Hiram squeezed my hand tighter when fresh tears fell.The funeral concluded in the cemetery, where Pa was placed into the ground next to Mama.Seeing them next to each other caused me to ponder on their connection they made to one another, and remember that they are together now.At least I hoped my Pa was in Heaven.He was sorely tempted, and gave in every time. Slowly, we made our way to my home, where everybody ate lunch.Jesse befriended Hiram’s brothers and sisters fairly quickly, and after lunch, all five of them were running around outside, with the twins chasing them.Hiram’s mother chatted with Mrs. Smithers, who was curious about the desert in Arizona.To my surprise, R.C., Mr. Smithers, Hiram’s grandfather, and father were all laughing hysterically at something R.C. had said. “Come on,” Hiram said gently as he helped me up. “We’ll be outside,” I told everybody, though I doubted anyone but R.C. heard me.I grasped his hand and led him outside, past all the screaming kids to the rolling hills in the backyard, where we walked in silence for quite a ways. “How are things with your Dad and Grampa?” I asked him quietly. “Better,” he said, gazing at me.“I mean, Dad and I are pretty tight now.I don’t think Dad and Grampa are ever gonna be like they were when Dad was a kid.Not since... this summer.” I didn’t need to remember Emmett’s horrid lynching at the moment. “Not to be rude then, but why’d you come down here?” I asked, not wanting to hurt him. He didn’t look offended at all, and I was relieved.“Many reasons,” he explained.“Grampa has been pretty mellow since the summer, and he wanted to see his other grandchildren.Dad and him fought a bit, but Dad gave in eventually only on certain concessions, but they’re really not important for our purpose.And… I really wanted to see you.”
Before I could say anymore, he pulled me tighter, and my body tingled with excitement.There would be plenty of time to catch up with him.Right now, this moment was enough, and all my previous worries disappeared; everything turned out all right. I smiled faintly as his lips found mine…
Shelby Wayment Mapleton Junior High School Mapleton, Utah
Term Four Book Project
Mississippi Trial, 1955
But barely an hour later they came back in. When the judge asked them if they had a verdict for Bryant and Milam, the foreman stood up. “Yes, sir.” He cleared his throat and read from a paper he held. “We find the defendants guilty.” A cheer erupted from the back of the courtroom, drowning out J. J. Breland’ s cries. “Silence in the court!” the judge cried out. “The sentence is to be a lifetime in prison, case closed.” The foreman read from the paper. “But that’s unfair! You can’t do that! You have no evidence!” J. J. Breland shouted at the judge as the deputy’s dragged him from the courtroom. I felt unbelievably relieved. For the last few minutes of the trial, I was almost sure Bryant and Milam would not be charged with the murder. I glanced over at Grampa who was deathly pale. “Grampa, what’s wrong?” I asked him, giving him a gentle shake. He didn’t acknowledge me, so I shook him a little harder. “Grampa, it’s okay. The trial’s over now, we can go home.” I grunted as I helped Grampa up and out of the courtroom; which was overfull with people. I happened to glance at Bryant and Milam on my way out and saw them glaring at the crowd of Negroes in the back of the courtroom. Ruthanne was late coming home from the trial, and I was bracing myself for Grampa to get in a rage and yell and curse at her, but he barely even glanced at her as she walked in the door. “Sorry Mr. Hillburn, but just ya’ll sit a bit while I fix ya somethin’.” I stayed in my room while delicious smells wafted up from the kitchen. “Hiram Hillburn! Ya come on down here, I got cha a nice meal fixed up. Ya come on down now, ya hear?” Ruthanne called to me as I sat up slowly on the bed. Normally I would have come running down the stairs like I had when I was a little kid, but something held me back. I walked down the stairs, dreading every step closer to the dining room. “Now ya’ll eat up now. I’ll be on back tomorrow, so don’t ya fret.” Ruthanne called to us Grampa and me as from the kitchen. I sat down next to Grampa at the table, whose face was still as pale as he had been in the courtroom. “Grampa, are you okay?” I asked him, ignoring the delicious food Ruthanne had made. He just ignored me as he picked up his fork, and slowly stabbed a piece of fried chicken. I turned to my own plate, which looked delicious. Something still was bothering me after dinner, so I took a little walk outside to the bridge, hoping to catch Naomi. Instead I saw Ronnie Remington, just passing over the bridge. “Why Harlan Hillburn! Nice to see ya again! I haven’t seen ya in such a long time. Where ya been?” Ronnie called to me. “I’m not Harlan, I’m Hiram, Harlan’s sun!” I shouted back. “Well, how are ya Harlan?” Ronnie asked me. “It’s Hiram.” I reminded him. “Well now Hiram, how old are you now?” Ronnie questioned. “I’m sixteen.” I told him. “Well, sixteen, that’s a fine age. Why let’s see, sixteen would be half of thirty-six. No, thirty-two, that’s it. Why thirty-two, that’s a fine age. That’s when you become a man who knows what to enjoy in life, and has been around long enough to enjoy the right things. But Harlan, you don’t look at all thirty-two. I’d said you look about sixteen. How old did you say you were again? Now don’t you go saying you’re older than you really are. It just isn’t polite you know. Thirty-two! You only look half of thirty-two, Harlan!” “I’m sixteen.” “Well now, sixteen. Well you’re old enough to drive I figure. See now, oh well Ralph made me promise not to tell.” “Tell what?” “Well Ralph did promise, and he can be awfully strict sometimes.” “Tell me Ronnie.” “Well see, the other night, late, I was already in bed, but Ralph is a night owl you see, he saw your Grandpa in his blue pickup, with two other men, late one night. Your Grandpa came over, he asked us if we saw anything. I said no, but Ralph told him what he had seen and your Grandpa made us promise not to tell anyone anything.” “What?” “That’s all I know, honest, Harlan,” I didn’t even bother correcting him as I ran off, back to the house, not knowing what I was supposed to do. I was almost to the front yard when I saw Naomi run out of her house. “Naomi?” I called. “Hiram!” she shouted back, running to me. “Naomi, what’s wrong?” I asked. “Oh, it’s just Pa. He was in one of his moods, him and R.C. they’re at each other terribly now. Oh, Hiram, I’m frightened!” she told me, crying into my shoulder. “Naomi girl! You get back in here right now!” her pa called from the house as R.C. stormed past him. Even in the faint moonlight you could see the blood all over R.C.’s face. I glanced at Naomi’s pa who looked no better and was just as bloody. His or R.C.’s, I didn’t know. Naomi ran to the house, crying. I felt bad for her, after all she went through it was no wonder she was crying. I didn’t want to stick around after that, so I took off. I was coming around the back of the house when I heard the voices. “And you’re sure the pickup’s sold?” I heard my Grampa ask. “Yeah, no one will know now. It’s far away from here,” a voice replied, I wasn’t sure who. I waited until I heard the door shut and a car drive away, then I stepped into view. I raced up the porch and into the living room where I saw Grampa crying. “What is it Grampa? Who were those men?” I asked him. “They told me he was still alive when I left,” he whispered almost so quiet I couldn’t hear. I didn’t want to know what he meant, but in my heart I did. I raced up the stairs where I threw myself on the bed. Then I glanced at the phone. Without knowing what I was doing, I picked it up and dialed my home. “Dad?” I asked. “Yeah?” he answered, groggily once he picked up the phone. “It’s me, Hiram. I want to come home.” I waited for his answer, but none came. “I don’t want to stay here any longer.” “Well, buy yourself a ticket, and come on home, we’ve been missing you Hiram.” Before I had always argued with my Dad, but now I truly understood why my Dad had left.
On the beach where the massacre of the Port au Prince took place.
The path through the jungle to the Port au Prince Memorial site.
Back from Tonga and still jetlagged. Our flight left Tongatapu at 9:00pm on Tuesday night, flew for 90 minutes and landed in Apia, Samoa at 10:00pm MONDAY night. From Samoa, we flew to Los Angeles and landed there at 4:00pm Tuesday afternoon, 5 hours earlier than we left Tonga. Crossing the International Date Line really messed up my internal clock.
The trip to Tonga was well worth it. I've posted some photos from there. More than anything, it helped me learn about the place, the language, and the culture. Of course, it was a thrill to see the places where William Mariner had been about 200 years ago.
Still in Tonga . . . I'm staying in a 12 x 12 Tongan hut called a "fale" (fall-A). It has walls of woven coconut palms and sits on raised legs about 3 feet off the sand. Right now in Tonga, it's fall, but the temperatures are still around 80 degrees. The island is small, and I've walked or biked most of it, trying to imagine what it was like when William Mariner arrived in 1806.
I'm on the second half of my novel, and I'm wondering about trying something different with the point of view/narration. Doing something is a little unusual, but it would solve a probelm with how to deal with most of the characters speaking Tongan before Will learned the language himself. Still figuring.
I'm on Foa Island in the Ha'apai island chain in Tonga, now. I arrived Saturday afternoon, after a short flight from the main island of Tongatapu. We're staying in a Tongan fale (hut) about 50 yards from the beach. Trade winds blow pretty steadily from the easter side of the island and keep us comfortable, but definitely not cool.
After a long bicycle ride, we found the Port au Prince memorial; it's located just north of the tiny Lifuka Airport, about 300 meters off the road (and there's only one road, and it runs north-south through the center of Lifua and Foa islands. The memorial is overgrown by jungle plants but not so much to hide it completely. It's set at the edge of a small Tongan graveyard, 6 or so graves (mounds of sand, most of them) from the last 50 years or so. I have to admit that it was pretty exciting standing on the beach when William Mariner's ship was looted and burned, and picking up coral that may have been in the bay when his slaughtered crew mates were thrown overboard. After 204 years, there's no trace, of course, of Mariner or the Port au Prince wreck, but still, to stand on the beach where his grand adventure began, well, it was something.
OK, the first blog comes from New Zealand. Rotorua, New Zealand. I'm sitting at a worn old desk in a 4th floor room overlooking a geyser and mudpot field. Never planned to go to New Zealand, but it's on the way to Tonga, which I have planned to go to, obviously.
I'm headed to Tonga tomorrow night so I can finish up the field research for the historical novel I've been working on for several years. Actually, it was a nonfiction book to begin with, but my editors have encouraged me to recast it as a historical novel. I resisted their suggetions for too long, and when I finally started working on the fictional version, I enjoyed it much more than I thought I did.
The working title for this novel is ENGLISH PIRATE TONGAN PRINCE, and I'm going to Tonga so I can finish the second part of the novel. Tonga, if you didn't know, is in the South Pacific, about 1000 miles north of New Zealand. Captain James Cook landed there in the 1770s and named the island chain "The Friendly Isles" because of the kind treatment he had received there. He had no way of knowing that the islands would be anything but friendly to the people who followed Cook there. Including the person on whom my book is based.
Anyway, I'm excited to see Tonga. I'll be on a couple islands in the central chain, the Ha'apai Group: Lifuka and Foa. More on that later.