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Some call Curtis a geek; but his smarts won't stop the inevitable. Treyshawn is coming fast and Curtis must do something or ...
Some call Curtis a geek; but his smarts won't stop the inevitable. Treyshawn is coming fast and Curtis must do something or face the worst beat-down of his life! With help from his family, his best friend Kelly, and others, he'll put a hi-tech plan into action that will do more than anyone thought possible. And in the process he'll learn that 'when you can't outrun your problems, you have to face them head on.'
The alarm clock goes off just before dawn ... It sits on a makeshift stand next to the bed-blaring its squawking drone-which is ignored for several minutes before a massive array of covers, comics, magazines, and textbooks begin moving. An arm lurches out from beneath the fabric mass and slams hard on the snooze button. Next to the clock, a calendar sits-the date circled with orange ink: Tuesday, September 9, 2008-the first day of school.
"Curtis! Wake up!" a woman's voice yells from down the short hallway. The form beneath the covers moves just enough to get his mouth out into the open.
"Five more minutes, Mom ...!" He pulls his face back underneath the covers as he hears the click-clack of his mother's shoes approaching. A moment later she forcefully uses the door like a shovel to push aside a large clump of clothes on the floor.
"Curtis, your room is a mess! When you come home today, I want it cleaned. Do you hear me?"
"Yes, Mom ..." he moans from beneath the sheets.
"And you don't have five minutes. You need to get up right now! I don't want you to be late on your first day."
"Ok. Two minutes ... please!"
"I made your favorite breakfast ..."she says cheerily, "but if you're not in the kitchen in two minutes, I'll find something else to do with it."
"All right, I'm up!" He throws back the covers with a grunt, and sits up, causing some of his books to slide off the bed-hitting the floor with a thud. His mom can't help but smile as she sees his hair-matted and disheveled.
"Two minutes or your food is gone," she says. "I'm serious! I've got to finish getting ready for work; and don't forget I've got class tonight-so I'll be home late."
He turns and looks at his mother. "I can't wait till you finish your degree, Mom."
"Me too," she says while turning to walk out of his room and back down the hall. "Me too."
Curtis' stomach growls as he thinks about breakfast. He may be sleepy, but that doesn't matter when his favorite meal is waiting for him. He inhales deeply, as the slight aroma whiffs past his nose, and says with a smile, "Yep! I can smell it from here!"
The phone rings.
"That could be your brother," mom yells from down the hall, "he said he'd try to call this morning!"
Curtis jumps up and runs down the hall, barely missing a collision with his mother. "Try not to kill yourself!"
He gets to the kitchen, checks the caller ID and quickly picks up the phone.
"Omar!" Curtis smiles from ear to ear.
"Hey, little brother! How are things going?"
"Good! Mom's being pushy though," he says sarcastically.
"Nothing new there," Omar laughs, "you know she's just anxious about your first day."
"Yeah, I know." Curtis moves his mother's textbook to the table and settles into the chair next to the phone.
"You ready?" his older brother probes.
"I guess so. I wish dad was here."
"Yeah ... me too. Things would be a lot easier if he was. But listen, you're the man of the house while I'm away. Don't worry about the new school. You got this."
"I hope so."
"Trust me, little bro. Would I lead you wrong?"
Curtis laughs. "Well ..."
Omar laughs as well. "Let me rephrase that. Would I intentionally lead you wrong?"
"That's a better way of saying it. No. You wouldn't."
"All right, then."
"So how's the navy today?" he asks excitedly, "are you doing anything new?"
"Now you know I'm always doing something exciting. I just finished working on a Harrier's jet engine yesterday."
"A Harrier jet! You got to email me a picture!"
"I'll see what I can do."
"You ever see one take off?"
"A bunch of times; take off and landing."
"Wow ... I've only seen one on TV."
"Yeah, it's pretty amazing to see it up close. The thrust from the engine is crazy! If you stand too close it'll knock you on your backside."
They both laugh before Omar continues.
"But listen, you gotta get going. I don't want you to be late for school. My ship is pulling out of port later today, so I'll call you in a few days."
Curtis' eyes tear up. "I ... miss you."
"I miss you too, bro. Can you put Mom on the phone?"
"You got it." Curtis cranes his head out into the hallway. "Ma! Omar's on the phone for you!"
"I got it," she calls from her bedroom. "And don't forget to eat your food! It's in the oven!"
Curtis listens as his mother starts talking; then hangs up the phone and quickly makes his way to the oven. As he opens the door, the warm aroma intensifies around his nose.
"Mmm ... I love mom's pancakes." He puts on a protective glove, pulls the warm plate out of the oven and sits it on the table. The butter has already melted as he pours a hefty serving of maple syrup. In his hurry, he forgot his journal and runs back to his room to get it. Once back at the table, he says a quick prayer and downs a fork-full of pancakes as he opens up the book to the last entry. As he swallows, he wastes no time taking a few gulps from the large glass of milk.
He pauses as he looks down at the page and recalls his first time writing in a journal. It was three years earlier.
* * *
"Curtis, you've always loved to write. I think you should start keeping a journal about your thoughts and feelings. It will help you handle your father's death better," said the psychologist.
He reached into his desk drawer, pulled out a notebook and pen and gave them to Curtis. Days passed as the book and pen laid unused on his messy desk. Eventually, Curtis made his way over and stared at them for a long moment before opening the notebook to the first page. He slowly reached for the pen, clicked the tip, and began to write as a tear dropped from his cheek to the page ...
June 25, 2005. Entry number one.
"My dad is dead ... and I don't know what to do."
* * *
A ray of sunlight pierces the kitchen window, momentarily blinding Curtis-snapping him back to the present. He thinks about the dusty cardboard box sitting underneath his desk. Inside are seven worn notebooks, each with a year on the cover.
"Wow ..." Curtis says to himself as he thinks back over the past three years. "Writing has helped keep me from going crazy." He smiles to himself as he begins to write a new entry:
Entry number 1,102. Tuesday September 9, 2008.
"Maybe today won't be a bad day after all. But I won't know if I don't hurry up and get out of here." He closes the journal, quickly eats the rest of his food, and gets ready for the new day.
* * *
As Curtis headed for the train, he thought back to when he, his brother, and his mother first moved into the neighborhood. It was a far cry from their dream home in the suburbs of Teaneck, New Jersey: a five bedroom, three-story house-four if you counted the basement-with a large front yard and an above-ground pool and trampoline in the backyard. Dad had designed it with rooms for everyone and even had his own study.
But that changed after he died. The money bled away-like blood hemorrhaging from a deep wound that wouldn't heal. Mom couldn't keep up with the mortgage payments and there was a problem with dad's life insurance policy. One by one the cable, phone and electricity were cut off, until the house was lost and they had to move out.
They had nowhere to go. Mom was an only child and her parents lived in the mid-west. She couldn't see moving Curtis and Omar out there. They just needed someplace to stay temporarily until the family could get back on their feet.
Help came from Aunt Ophelia, one of dad's sisters. She wanted to move back down South; and would be willing to sublease her apartment. It was a small three-bedroom place, but it was better than nothing. There was only one catch ... it was in one of the worst areas in the South Bronx.
Loud music played at all times of the day. The sidewalks were overrun with trash and the playgrounds were covered with graffiti. Drug dealers stood on corners and gang members walked boldly on the blocks. Building stairwells and elevators smelled like urine most of the time, and people argued in nearby apartments. And when the police showed up, they arrived in force, not knowing what to expect.
Talk about culture shock! But, it was all the three of them had. Aunt Ophelia made things better by introducing them to other families who lived in the same building and nearby-people who chose to make the most out of their situation. They watched out for the Powers family and over time became close friends.
There was a lot to learn and get used to when the family moved into the neighborhood. Mom took many precautions to ensure her boys' safety. Curtis couldn't go outside by himself; Omar would always have to accompany him and even then they couldn't be out once it got dark. But, that was almost two years ago. Now the family was more at ease-not laid back-just more at ease.
A passing train, in the distance, catches his attention as he walks faster. He often 'lived in his head', but the sounds of the city have a way of snapping his thoughts back to the present. He passes a nearby corner, where two guys stand, wearing the usual urban gear: baggy jeans, fitted hats, name-brand shirts, thick watches and rugged-style boots. He notices them looking at his corduroy pants, faded shirt, jacket and no-name-brand sneakers. They nod in his direction as he approaches.
"What up, Curtis?" one guy says.
He stops for a moment, "How's it going guys?"
They exchange handshakes.
"How's your brother doin'?" the first guy asks.
"Good. I just spoke to him this morning."
"You tell him we said, what's up. Aiight?"
"I will." Curtis looks towards the train station.
"You goin' to school?" the other guy asks.
"First day," Curtis says, while pushing his slightly oversized glasses up on the bridge of his nose. He wished they didn't keep sliding down his face, but money's too tight to get a new pair.
"You're a smart kid. Keep your head in them books and do somethin' with your life. If you got any problems, you let us know."
"Thanks," Curtis says. "Be safe out here."
"Keep your head up, lil' Curt," the first guy says.
Curtis remembers when his brother hung out with those guys; but his thoughts don't stay long as he starts running towards the station. The train is coming in the distance and he hopes he's fast enough.
* * *
"Please stand clear of the closing doors!" blares through the muffled speakers as Curtis narrowly clears the doors, presses through the crowd and finds a lone, empty seat between two large women. He'd rather stand, than sit between them, but his heaving chest dictates otherwise.
A full speed run, for a block and a half felt good, but now he's paying the price. He awkwardly forces his way between them and closes his eyes while trying to breathe deeply. The woman to his left is reading a book, while the other talks on her cell phone. Spanish class sure comes in handy, he thinks to himself, as he listens to her loud conversation.
The train's brakes release, with a burst of compressed air, and starts pulling out of the station. Curtis winces in pain as he pulls a folded piece of paper from his back pocket, while trying not to disturb the two women. He reads the directions again and scans the station map on the wall. It was just a few days ago when he and his mother took this route, but he still felt nervous-and this nervousness made it difficult to calm his breathing on his own. He needed his inhaler.
"Phssshh ..." He breathes in deeply as he brings the pump cylinder from his mouth, replaces the cap and puts it back into his jacket pocket.
"Are you alright?" asks the woman who's reading the book. Curtis notices the textured leather cover and thin, gold lined pages of her book. He nods his head with a slight smile and pushes the rims of his glasses back up on his nose.
"It's just asthma."
"As long as you're alright. I'll be sure to say a prayer for you," she says with a warm smile.
"Thank you, ma'am."
She raises her eyebrows in surprise-it seems to be a lost art among many youth these days ... to show basic respect to their elders.
The train goes through the tunnel and rides on the elevated tracks. Buildings blur as Curtis turns and looks out the window. The two women change their positions slightly, to accommodate him.
"Sorry ..." he says.
Now on his knees, staring down at the track, Curtis whispers familiar thoughts to himself-like a self-defeating mantra:
* * *
All I've ever wanted to do in life was run. Even in my dreams, I hear the sound of sneakers hitting pavement-rhythmic steps like mini explosions propelling me forward-but asthma won't release its grip! Maybe some dreams aren't meant to come true.
* * *
The train screeches to a halt, jarring Curtis' thoughts back to the present. He rises from his seat and exits with the crowd of people, walks down a few flights of stairs and passes through the revolving gates. Once on the street, he heads down the block towards the school. He can't help but notice the other students; many wearing the latest styles of clothing, while he looks ordinary. Some look at him and laugh at the way he's dressed.
Curtis tries not to think about them as he focuses his thoughts on his second love: science.
"I wish dad were here," he says to himself. Just as the words leave his mouth, he finds himself suddenly standing in his father's study, back in their New Jersey home. The smell of old and new books fill the air as bookshelves line the wall of the octagonal-shaped room; illuminated by the natural light from four massive skylights in the ceiling.
Curtis scans numerous shelves, which hold several thousand books, magazines and journals on a variety of topics: string theory; particle physics; philosophy; the law of aerodynamics; architecture of ancient civilizations; and so much more ... One column of custom shelves, with glass partitions, house detailed replicas of actual buildings designed by his dad. Next to these shelves sits a well-used drafting table, chair and lamp.
Curtis can see everything in his mind, as if he was actually there. In a flash, he and Omar are sitting with their father in front of his drafting table at work.
"Dad!" he exclaims, but no one hears him. He just stands nearby and watches them, looking at schematic drawings of 3D model buildings. He can smell the large format blueprint paper, the ink toner and even the pencil lead. As he draws closer to his father, he smiles when his father begins to speak.
"Boys, don't let anyone steal your dreams from you. If you can dream it, then you can build it. You just have to use your imagination to see all the parts and how they relate to each other."
In another flash, Curtis finds himself standing in his parents' bedroom-in a suit and tie. The only thing he didn't like about going to work with dad was that he and Omar had to wear suits-like he did. It's amazing how clear these memories were and how Curtis could remember the conversation, word for word:
"Dad, why do we have to wear suits?"
"People take you seriously when you are well dressed. They respect you more."
"I don't care what other people think."
"You don't care about what your mother thinks?"
"Dad, you know what I mean!"
"Really? Tell me what you mean. Don't just assume someone knows what you're talking about. Now, do you care about what your mother thinks?"
"What about your brother? I know you care about what he thinks. You always want to do what he's doing."
"Yeah," Curtis says in a softer tone.
"What about me? Do you care about what I think?"
"Well, there you go. What about your friends at school? You care about what they think?"
"Dad, I get the point."
"You do? What is my point, Son?"
"I care about what people think."
Excerpted from Speedsuit Powers by Allen Paul Weaver III Copyright © 2009 by Allen Paul Weaver III. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Speedsuit Powers is a novel that addresses many themes that are relevant to the lives of adolescent readers. My 7th and 8th grade students are already anxiously awaiting Book Two. In the meantime, the main characters have become the focus of several of their writing activities.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 27, 2010
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