Life happens, or to quote words from the Forest Gump movie: “__it” happens. That’s where I have been all these months out of circulation: life. Most was part of the good life, some was “__it”, but it all happened, and all got in the way of finishing a task that I had started a long time ago: this book. It was so long ago that I had forgotten how far along it was. Answer: not very. I was dismayed when I opened the document and was reminded that I had only finished rough drafts of about four chapters. I have serious episodes of CRS and this was one.
I ended up making changes to it, including age appropriateness. It began as a very loose tribute to a little group of friends my son and daughter had when they were about 8 and 10 years old. They called themselves “The Dynamite Kids”, a mostly social group, but they did collect food for the local food pantry once, so they left a good mark on their timelines.
Initially the kids were just starting middle school but as the story progressed, it got a little edgier, and I decided to make them older and make the reader’s ages 12-16. It’s not horribly edgy but its about as much “edge” as this old fashioned grandmother could muster up for a middle reader book. It’s art imitating life with nothing gruesome or sexually suggestive, just thought provoking. All my books have life lessons to learn in their content.
There is no major plot, but more like one minor plot surrounding each individual that gets resolved with the help of one or more of the other characters. The first few chapters start out slowly as I’m creating settings and building my characters, but it progresses quickly from there. I tried to set up the storyline so that I could write a series if I so choose. I even wrote an epilogue that introduces The Dynamite Kids’ next adventure. (Does that mean I actually have to do it now?!)
I have now finished the entire rough draft, or might I say the 40 grit sandpaper draft, and I am posting the first chapter. I hope you enjoy it. Constructive criticism welcome!
Chapter 1: Nothing to Do
“I’m so bored”, moaned Bo.
“Me, too”, said CeCe.
The twins sat dejectedly in their living room, surrounded by their tightknit group of friends, all pouting because they had “nothing to do”. CeCe sat on the living room chair with half of her body hanging over its arm, her long auburn hair tickling Phoenix, the cat, who was lounging lazily on the floor by the chair. Quite content right where he was, he expressed his annoyance with a swipe at her hair and an indignant “Mrowr” and promptly relocated himself to a more peaceful location on the windowsill. His bliss, however, was short-lived. Chirping! Birds! His tail swished menacingly as he watched them fight over the seed in the feeders outside, longing to go out and make short work of them.
Leo was a stray that showed up at The Rosetti’s door one day. They fed him and attempted to find his owner. They had no intention of ever getting a cat, but with his sad amber eyes, his tiger-colored fur, and his soft purring, he wormed his way into Bo’s and CeCe’s hearts. Every day he would show up at their door requesting his meal with a soulful “Meow”, and every day they accommodated his request, being rewarded by a loving purr and the cat rubbing against their legs, essentially “claiming” them as his own. Their parents knew him, too, by now, and neither one of them could resist getting a few furtive pets in on his soft fur, all while pretending to their children that they didn’t care a thing about this daily visitor. One day CeCe and Bo finally summoned enough courage to approach their parents.
“Please, please, please!”, they both begged. “We called the vets and the animal shelters, and hung flyers everywhere, but no one has claimed him. He loves us and we love him! We’ll take care of him, we promise!”
Looking at their children’s pleading faces and succumbing to their own reluctant affection for this cat, it was impossible for Faith and Christopher Rosetti to ignore their fervent request to keep it. Despite their own waning objections, they had to admit that they loved him, too, and they didn’t want him meeting an early or terrible demise living in peril in the wild as an outdoor cat. They had seen more cats than they ever cared to on the shoulders of the highways and couldn’t bear the thought of this one meeting that same fate. Almost before they had the word “Okay” out of their mouths, CeCe and Bo had thrown open the front door and their feline friend made himself at home, immediately claiming the sunny windowsill as his personal turf. They had given him a second chance at life, hence the name Phoenix.
CeCe, especially, loved animals and dreamed of being a veterinarian one day, but dogs were her favorite. She and Bo repeatedly begged their parents for a dog, but Faith and Chris had repeatedly denied their requests.
“But Mom!” (Or Dad, whoever was there at that moment.) “We can take care of a dog!”, pleaded CeCe, defending herself and Bo. “We take care of Phoenix and he’s OK.”
“Taking care of a cat is very different than taking care of a dog”, Faith retorted. “They clean themselves, do their business in a litter box, and they don’t pester us constantly to play with them. Dogs need to go for walks, they want to play all the time, they need baths, they need to be fed, and then what comes out after that needs to be cleaned up from the yard. And dogs cost a lot of money. Be satisfied with the pet you have.”
CeCe glanced over at Phoenix sunning himself on the windowsill. He had wearied of fruitlessly trying to attack the birds from the inside of the house, but he loved the warmth of the sun on his body that the windowsill allowed.
“Come here, Phoenix!”, CeCe called, patting her lap and pondering how much she loved him. A warm, still-sleepy Phoenix relinquished his place on the windowsill to jump onto CeCe’s lap and curl up, loudly purring, as if to tell her how much he loved her, too. CeCe and Bo both loved Phoenix, but he was independent and so fickle! He accepted attention on his own terms, and they never knew when he would decide to sit purring contentedly on a lap, or swipe at them and nibble on their toes.
“How about if we do some volunteering at the animal shelter”, said CeCe, returning to the matter of deciding what the group should do for the day. “They can always use the help.” But no one appeared to be in a volunteering mood that day.
While CeCe petted Phoenix and tried to keep thinking of ideas, Bo occupied himself by tossing a baseball in the air, but not high enough to break anything. It was impossible for him to have a baseball in his hands and not put it in motion. Leah, Mickey, Jeremy, and Maria, their BFF’s, were sprawled out in various positions on the furniture and floor, yawning and vaguely discussing what they could do on this long summer day. The six friends had met in kindergarten and formed a strong bond that made them almost inseparable, even though they were all quite different. It was their differences, however, that seemed to make them so strong together. Their personalities complemented each other, and they shared a closeness that one doesn’t always see with so many close friends.
“I think we should play with remote control cars!”, suggested Bo, smirking. “I have enough for everyone! Even better, I think there is a race at the Wake County Speedway! Maybe we can get some of our parents to take us!”
He didn’t really think his ideas would appeal to everyone, but he figured it was worth a shot. He loved car races, anywhere and any kind and vowed to be a racecar driver one day, much to his mother’s chagrin.
“Yeah, you do have plenty of cars”, agreed CeCe, but how many of them work? You’ve taken them all apart!”
CeCe loved her brother and as twins, they had a special bond, but, as brothers will do, he could annoy her at times, especially when she stepped on car parts that were scattered all over the house. Bo was proficient at taking them apart to see how they worked, but he was less proficient at putting them back together. He was working on that. Disassembled toy cars made everyone unhappy, except for maybe Phoenix. He loved to push them all over the floor and off tables.
“Then wear shoes!”, Bo would say, as CeCe rolled her eyes.
“Geez”, said CeCe. “Just a couple of weeks ago we were celebrating the end of school and look at us already. Sad”
“Pitiful”, agreed Leah.
The rest nodded in agreement, sulking, and holding their droopy heads up like they were about to fall off if not supported by their hands. Games, movies, and other recreational devices surrounded them as they falsely repeated that there was “nothing to do”. They had all survived their first two years of Raleigh Middle School and were looking forward to their last year there before high school, but right now the excitement of summer vacation had begun to wear off.
“Why don’t you go outside and play?” suggested Faith. I’m making lasagna and you are all welcome to stay for dinner if you want.”
Jeremy was the first to respond, shooting his hand up and gleefully accepting Faith’s invitation.
“Yes, please!” he said smiling. “Your lasagna is the BEST! I can help if you need me!”, Jeremy excitedly offered. He loved to cook.
“I’ll let you know if I can use you.” Faith said, smiling knowingly.
The Rosetti’s were Italian, and they were proud of their heritage. None of them grew up in Italy, but Faith loved to make recipes that had been handed down by her grandparents, and probably farther back than that. Freshly grown tomatoes, fresh Italian herbs, and from-scratch pasta sauce were staples in their home. No store-bought cans or jars for them. She canned the home-made sauce, herself, to use when tomatoes were out of season. Sometimes, when she was feeling particularly ambitious, she even made her own pasta.
“There’s nothing to do outside either”, claimed Mickey, continuing the discussion of their current plight.
Bo fidgeted around on the floor, still tossing the ball up in the air, higher and higher each time, and then with a sideways glance, he tossed it over to Jeremy, who not was quite ready for the pitch and missed the catch. Hearing something break, an angry Faith made an appearance.
“My gravy boat!”, she yelled. “I knew I should have put that right away after I washed it!”, she bemoaned, more to herself than anyone else.
Somehow, the ball intended for Jeremy had made its way past him into the other room, striking the gravy boat and smashing it into a gazillion pieces. It wasn’t the first fragile object to succumb to Bo’s “practicing” in the house.
“Bo!”, What have I told you about throwing balls in the house!” Faith said after the initial shock of seeing her fractured gravy boat on the floor wore off. “You have to clean that up immediately so Phoenix or someone with bare feet doesn’t step on it.”
“That would be CeCe”, Bo said under his breath. “
Then louder, and sounding sincerely contrite, he added: “I’m so sorry, Mom”. I should have waited until Jeremy was ready for me to throw it to him. He would have caught it then.”
“Dude, I’m a football player!” Jeremy indignantly shot at Bo, a remark that sparked a few giggles from the rest.
Ignoring Jeremy’s remark, Faith continued her lecture.
“Did you say you should have waited to throw it until Jeremy was ‘ready’?!”. Faith said, exasperated. “What about do NOT throw balls in the house do you misunderstand?! This will come out of your allowance, young man. You’re lucky it wasn’t expensive”.
Their mom didn’t get mad often, but when she did, they knew it, and when she said: “young man” or “young lady”, or called them by their full names, they knew it was real.
Bo hung his head and nodded. Remorsefully, he got up to find the broom and dusting pan to clean up the shards of glass on the kitchen floor, while the rest continued trying to figure out a game plan for the day.
“We could fly kites”, suggested Leah hopefully, glancing through the bay window, hoping to see some evidence of a nice wind. Leah wasn’t much interested in sporty games, but flying kites was fun. Alas, the leaves on the trees were still, birds sat still on the telephone wires and the American Flag and Philadelphia Eagles flag lay on top of each other against the flagpole. Even the weathervane that CeCe and Bo’s grandfather had made was completely motionless.
“There’s no wind”, said CeCe, frowning.
Leah nodded in agreement and sighed. Sometimes it seemed like she just didn’t fit in. Despite how much she loved her friends, she felt like she was “outgrowing” them at times. She already had a social media account, wore make-up and was always trying something different with her hair. CeCe and Marie still liked to play with the boys and be friends, but Leah’s interest in boys as more than just friends was decidedly different than the other two girls, and they worried that she was growing up too fast and did everything they could to keep her involved with them. They knew it was just a matter of time before they went their separate ways, but it was surely not in their short-term visions.
“Maybe we could go hang by the lake”, Mickey offered as an alternative.
He really wanted to get out and wrestle with the boys or toss any kind of ball around, but the whole group was there, and that, of course, included the girls. As rough and tumble as Mickey could be, he was a thoughtful, sensitive boy and cared about everyone, so he thought just hanging out by the lake (and maybe getting in some fishing) might be something both the boys and the girls could enjoy. He snickered to himself at the thought of Leah putting a worm on a fishing hook, though! It didn’t matter, though, because his idea was nixed.
“Nope”, said Maria, shaking her head assertively at the notion of going to the lake. “There’s a bacterial warning down there so we won’t be able to go swimming.” Then, as if a light bulb went off over her head, she excitedly added: “But maybe we can stop by the lake for just a few minutes and get some of the water to look at under my microscope. We might be able to see the bacteria and even figure out what it is! We can wear gloves and be very careful!”
Maria’s slight Columbian accent came through when she was excited. (Which really was quite often!) and this was one of those times! She loved science, and particularly microbiology. She was too young to take it in school yet but clamored to get her older brother’s textbooks to read and learned everything she could from reliable sources on the internet.
“Absolutely not!”, yelled Leah. “I don’t want to take any chances on what might be out there around the lake. I mean, what if we fall and get some gross, untreatable germs in our bodies?”
Trying to hide her annoyance at Leah’s tone, Maria defended her idea.
“Leah, you can get germs in your skin through a scratch anywhere. Bacteria is all around us. But I guess a bacteria-laden lake would be a higher risk than other places”, she begrudgingly conceded.
“Hey! Maybe Mickey’s mom will make us milkshakes!”, Jeremy almost suggested, but then caught himself. Even though it had been a year, it was still hard to imagine that Mrs. O’Rourke was not around to make them, anymore, and he was so relieved that he caught himself before he said it. She had succumbed to cancer a year prior to that day and neither Mickey nor his dad have been the same since then.
“Cancer is a horrible, unfair disease”, he thought sadly to himself. “She did not deserve to die like that; no one does”.
That brief image of one of her mystery milkshakes topped with whipped cream and a cherry made him smile to think of her, but also made his mouth water, or as his mom says: “it made his salivary glands overwork”. The rest were envious of the sheer volume of food he could pack away while not gaining a pound and still sporting a great body. As a football player Jeremy consumed quite a few more calories than the others but he also expended a whole lot more energy through his workouts. The girls were especially jealous. Boys could always eat more than girls without gaining as much weight in proportion. They thought it just wasn’t fair at all. Energy equals calories. He even started learning how to cook, and to his surprise, he really enjoyed it. Quickly dismissing the milkshake from his mind, he had another idea.
“Why don’t we go to the Y? It has something for everyone there’, he suggested.
“Leah and I don’t have memberships there”, Maria said.
None of the others had any guest passes left, and the group was running out of ideas, so they were about to give up when Mickey piped up.
“I know what we can do!” he said excitedly, breaking an awkward silence. “Why didn’t I think of this before?! We can play baseball!”
“That’s a great idea!” CeCe said. “We can fly kites on a windier day. We can race cars when Bo puts them back together, and we can stay inside and play games while we listen to music on a rainy day. But today is perfect baseball weather! All in favor of a baseball game raise your hands!”, CeCe said.
CeCe and the boys loved baseball. Leah would have preferred to stay in and listen to music while she experimented with a different hair color, but the group had run out of ideas, and she hated to be left out. Maria was happy doing pretty much anything. Her positive, upbeat personality and sharp wit made her a lot of fun to be around. When she and CeCe started to match wits with each other, it was hilarious.
The group used the “majority rules” method to settle differences and CeCe was always so logical in her thinking when it came to helping them make decisions. Immediately four hands shot in the air. Leah grimaced and faltered for a few seconds but then finally managed to get hers up there, too.
“It’s unanimous! Baseball it is!” declared Bo.
With that, they asked Bo and CeCe’s mom to take them to Friendship Park; checked with their parents; grabbed some water bottles, snacks, sunscreen, bug spray, baseballs, bats, and gloves; piled into her blue SUV; and off they went.