Read an Excerpt
“ALL EYES ON THE BOARD!” Mr. Shawnly shouted from the back of the classroom. Students immediately buried their cell phones, turned their eyes and bodies forward and ceased all conversation.
Amidst the quietness, however, one sound remained. With head face down, buried beneath a waterfall of strawberry blonde curls, a 12 year old girl muttered through a flurry of snorts and indiscernible babbling. Hanging onto her desk as if her life depended upon it, the unsuspecting 6th grader awakened to an explosion of laughter. Mortified, her eyes darted to the safety of a near-by window.
Jazzi attended a private middle school located just north of San Diego, California. Perched high on a cliff, surrounded by a forest of windblown Torrey pines, it had an incredible view of the dazzling Pacific Ocean. It was a magical spot…a place where sky, land and water joined together like old friends. But that afternoon Jazzi’s thoughts weren’t focused on the scenery outside her classroom window.
It was the Friday before spring vacation and all that day she had had just one thing on her mind: freedom. One last blast from that obnoxious 3:00 o’clock bell and her dreams would come true. But now, fantasies of lazy sun-drenched afternoons came to a screeching halt.
A homework assignment on peace…and over spring break? Jazzi stared at the board in mute horror! What teacher could be so cruel to assign homework over that most holy of all weeks? And what do I know about peace? Ever since Dad left home my life’s been anything but peaceful!
“Listen up!” The tone in Mr. Shawnly’s voice was unusually serious. He paced nervously back and forth across the room; his fists clenched tightly behind his back. “A rare fever has invaded our campus.” Everyone gasped. “All teachers are on high alert and ready to take action.” He pulled a wadded-up handkerchief from his back pocket and wiped the beads of sweat threatening to roll down his cheeks and stain his favorite Hawaiian-print shirt.
Clouds of uneasiness hung in the air as students prepared for the worst. “Oh,” a mischievous grin spread smugly across his face, “did I forget to mention it’s vacation fever?” His blue eyes twinkled.
The students groaned and collectively rolled their eyes. Whatever else you might think about him their teacher certainly wasn’t dull.
“Mr. Shawnly, MR. SHAWNLY…!” Jazzi frantically waved her hands in the air.
“Question?” Mr. Shawnly sauntered over to Jazzi’s desk.
“Yup!” She crossed her arms and flopped back in her seat perturbed. “What’s an assignment on peace got to do with anything?”
“Well that’s what you’ve got to figure out.” He looked at her amused.
She stared back blankly.
“C’mon Jazzi, you mean to tell me you never think about peace?”
“No,” she huffed, “why would I? I have more important things to think about.”
“Aww,” he tapped his finger feverishly on his chin, “I see.”
Jazzi let out a disgusted sigh.
Mr. Shawnly chuckled to himself. “Perhaps you’ll reconsider thinking about it over spring vacation,” he lightly thumped his pencil on top of her head, “since its 50% of your final grade.”
“WHAT?” Jazzi’s eyes nearly popped out of her head. “That’s not fair!”
“I’m sorry, what’s not fair?”
“The PEACE ASSIGNMENT! It could take up the whole entire Spring Break!”
“Yes,” her teacher agreed, “so be wise with your time…I’ll be watching you.” He stuck his pencil behind his ear and did a quick shuffle step kick towards his desk, all the while singing over and over, “I've got the fever…you’ve got the fever…” Jazzi found his off key performance quite annoying.
Suddenly the bell let out a high-pitched shrill that echoed throughout the halls. Students sprang from their desks: free at last! Only Jazzi remained sitting, dismayed by the task in front of her.
“I’ll be watching you.” She mimicked him sarcastically. “Right, how am I supposed to figure peace out in nine days? Peace smeach.”
Jazzi glared one last time at the homework assignment scrolled across the board, grabbed her belongings and pouted all the way out the classroom door. With elbows bent upwards and her thumbs trapped under the respective straps of her backpack, she lowered her head and reluctantly plopped one foot in front of the other, moping her way westward across the school yard in the direction of the only peace she knew; the shore of the Pacific.
She was only a few minutes into her walk when she heard the faint sounds of kids yelling, laughing, taunting and moving about in tight twisting fits. As the sounds grew louder she looked up from the awkwardly long fix of her downward gaze and realized she had happened upon a confrontation of the worst kind; one that only defines peace through defying it so bluntly: a FIGHT!
Jazzi rubbed her eyes and inched closer in to get a better view. She couldn’t believe what she saw. A gawky knock-kneed kid with a pounce of messed up red-hair and limbs resembling that of a baby tree flailed almost gracefully through the air. She stared horrified as the pale freckled-faced boy was tossed to and fro by an unwelcomed barrage of over powering bullies. He yelped and squealed and struck back with his stick-like arms, refusing to give up his self-respect without a fight.
Other than the fact he looked different than the self-proclaimed cool guys, Jazzi saw no reason for them to be bullying the poor kid. She scanned the grounds for signs of help but there wasn’t a soul in sight. It was up to her.
“HEY!” Jazzi screamed at the top of her lungs.
“Huh?” the leader turned around and looked at her. “Got a problem?!”
“Actually I do!” Jazzi mustered up what little courage she had, took a deep breath and threw down her backpack. With tightly clenched fists she pushed her way through the circle of bullies and marched straight over to the hurt boy lying on the ground. She carefully stepped over his limp body with one foot and, with the other, assumed a straddling position. With both hands planted firmly on her hips she looked directly into the leader’s eyes, “You’re going to have to go through ME if you want HIM!”
“OH NO,” the leader pretended to shudder, “somebody HELP me…PLEEEZE…I’m SO scared!” He glanced around smirking. He figured his partners in crime had his back. But, instead of supporting him, they threw up their arms and started backing away.
“C’mon, let him go dude,” one of the boys yelled, “He’s messed up enough!”
“Yeah,” another one chimed in, “I say we get out of here before a teacher finds us. Besides,” he winked at Jazzi, “I don’t want any rumors getting out that I beat up girls.”
“Wise call,” Jazzi stared back defiantly.
“Hey, aren’t you the chick that stroked out at your desk today?”
Jazzi’s face turned instantly red. “This isn’t about me!” she snapped.
The leader begrudgingly scooped up his gear. “To be continued.” He shook his finger at Jazzi with an angry vengeance.
She continued to stand her ground as the bullies bolted off in different directions. Not a trace of evidence was left behind other than a kid curled up in the fetal position with a bloody nose and an assortment of cuts and bruises.
Jazzi knelt down beside the boy and pulled out a waded up napkin she had stuffed in her side pocket. “Here…use this.”
He gratefully took the napkin, recognizing a familiar smell as he blotted his bloody nose. “Taco’s?”
“Lunch.” She stretched out her hand to help him to his feet. “You good to go?”
Embarrassed and a bit wobbly he leaned over and picked up his glasses. “I’ll live.”
“Nice. I’m Jazzi, you are…?” But before he could answer she asked, “Need me to call someone?”
“Nope, I’m good.” He looked around to make sure it was safe then wiped his eyes on his ripped shirt sleeve.