When the earthquake hits Tucson, the ground only shakes for 30 seconds. For Melanie, a hard-to-know and harder-to-like champion swimmer and Jared, a laid-back buddy-to-all, that half-minute is long enough to break apart their school, their town, and their families.
In the aftermath of the disaster, racial tension leads to violence, and the national media are there to broadcast the collapse. Melanie and Jared become unlikely media darlings as they standup against ugly hate and create their own spin.
|Publisher:||Black Rose Writing|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.44(d)|
|Age Range:||13 - 18 Years|
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My heartbeat, my breath, and the splash of my body are the music in my head as I warm up in the lane. The water erases everything else, even the weight of my body. I move through space without resistance.
Angie and Hannah are standing at the side of the pool when I start my warmup, their eyes hidden behind the darkly tinted goggles we all wear. They're my captains, and we're a team, but only one swimmer can be State Champion next week.
I block them out of my bubble and try to think in movement instead of words as I work myself through the water, swimming slowly during my first four laps. When I pick up the speed, words come back to me. Well, just two words. Not lift your elbows or straight legs or any of things I used to tell myself in the water when I was a kid. Now, it's just two words: go faster.
Breathe. Burn. Go faster. Go faster. My movement is clean. My mind is clear.
I swim until I'm warm. I don't bother counting laps. I can feel when I'm ready to race. I climb out of the pool and stand, dripping, while Angie swims her warm-up laps in the center lane. She's fast, but she's sloppy. Her times have been all over the place this week. I shake my arms and legs and circle my shoulders to keep warm as I wait for Coach to signal for sprints.
I look over to the stands as I run through all of the stuff that could affect my sprints today. Have I had enough protein today to keep pushing? Am I hydrated? Did I get enough sleep? Am I loose enough?
Coach blows the whistle, and it's time.
"Melanie, you're next to me and Hannah." Angie arranges us in the center lanes as the swimmers to beat. We step onto the blocks.
Even though this is only practice, this is always my worst swimmer's moment, out of the water, hoping I'm warm enough, nerves pulsing, keeping my breath under control. Don't think, don't think, I think.
I never hear the shot, but my body does. I fly off the block, skimming the top of the water, and then, I'm in my stroke. Angie is just behind me, Hannah, one body length in front. Breathe. Push. Faster.
I go into the flip, but when I push off the side, I catch the edge of my foot on the tiled wall. Hannah and Angie are both in front of me now. Go faster, go faster! I push my pace, moving like a machine. Motion, breath, speed. I do what I've trained to do. I act and react. I pass both of them and push myself through the burn. My muscles are red-hot.
I touch first and surface. Coach yells out my time, a pro finish, breaking my own state record, a full second faster than last week. I want to yell into the air and shake my fist at the sky, but instead, I spin my goggles around my neck. Blood rushes in my ears, blocking out the sounds from my team. I take a deep breath and duck back underwater, smiling in the chlorine for a second before I come back up to the top.
I pull myself out of the water. When my eyes focus on the crowd, there he is, sitting in the stands with a group of his friends. He doesn't wave, but he looks me up and down over the top of his RayBans. His gaze makes me feel bare. His tilted smile breaks my rhythm.
I don't look back at the stands for the rest of practice.
We do three more sprints, and I win each one easily even as my times slow down each time. I'm wasted by cooldown and take it easy in the practice pool, keeping it slow and loose.
Alec was in the stands. Why?
And why did I botch that flip turn? I still killed the time, but what if that happens at State? Or if I get a cramp? Anything can happen.
I play back each sprint in my head. Every lap has its own story to tell. Behind the moving pictures in my brain, I hear Alec's whispered words during Chem Lab yesterday.
Your shoulders have freckles.
Why do you care so much about school?
You don't carry a purse like other girls.
You're a hot shit swimmer, right?
I'm gonna come see you at practice.CHAPTER 2
"Hey, Jared, you got any Icy Hot?" Chris whispers over at me. It's dark and boring in the film room. The team is watching last week's defense, and both Chris and I play offense. Coach'll make me do push-ups if he sees me look away from the screen, though, so I try to shake Robbins off for now. I feel his pain, though. Everything hurts from tough practices this week, Coach's punishment for last week's loss, as if the sting of 42-12 isn't bad enough. It's hard to concentrate on anything but the pain, both body and pride. I try to focus on the game film, but it's bye-week. Next week's game feels like a long way away, and I've got all this film in my phone anyway.
"Did you see the Frosh cheerleaders practicing on the track during sprints?" Robbins whispers. "Varsity privilege. Take your pick."
I saw them, but I shake my head anyway. I don't feel like running more stadiums, and that's exactly what will happen if coach sees us talking during film.
Varsity privilege. That's Robbins, not me. He lives to be King of the Locker Room, and he pimps around making sure everyone knows it. For me, it's all about what happens on the field, running until I puke, hitting hard.
I wait until Coach turns the lights on before I start digging around in my gym bag for Icy Hot and all of its miracle-working glory. Robbins nods a thanks when I hand him the plastic jar.
"Maybe if the rest of the douches on our team would hit harder, we wouldn't get pummeled on the field every Friday," he says as Alec Newton walks past.
Newton stops in front of Robbins's chair. Oh shit. Here we go.
"What'd you say?" Newton asks, leaning over to Robbins. There's never been any love between these boys.
"I said 'douches' and yeah, I was talking about your girlfriend," Robbins says, squaring off.
I'm on my feet before Newton can step up to Robbins. "Guys, Coach is in the room. We're a team. Mute the egos."
"Fuck off, Portillo," Newton says. "You're the douche. Why don't you hit your mark next game, lazy chalupa." He hisses the insult in my direction. "Or do I need to ask en espanol?"
I don't say a word, but my stomach tightens, and I can feel my face flame up. I've been listening to his simple-minded words since grade school. There's no point to reacting to the hateful shit he pukes out every chance he gets, but he still makes me sick.
White-boy Robbins doesn't mind giving Newton the reaction he wants though. Chris loves to defend my brown honor. He steps forward, chest to chest with Newton, his tight fist lifted.
That's when it starts.
I feel the ground move, a vibration. The papers on the table in front of the room jump around. There's a crazy-loud sound, a sort of groan, lower than the roar of the Air Force jets that fly over every day, and also way louder.
And then it stops.
"What the hell was that?" yells Newton.
"It felt like a friggin' earthquake," Robbins answers.
All the guys start yelling and laughing at the same time until Coach blows his whistle to shut us up. Whatever it was, it's over now, he shouts.
Robbins and Newton stand away from each other, the ugly moment past them, for now. I'm glad. I hate fighting, and I hate it more when Robbins tries to draw me in. What's the point? Newton's going to think what he thinks. You can't change stupid, even with a punch to the jaw.
That earthquake shit was wild. I've never felt anything like that, but Coach is right. Whatever it was, it ended as fast as it started.CHAPTER 3
Fish Out of Water
"Hey, congrats on your record, Mel. Great swim," Angie says as she opens her locker near mine. "You've really stepped up your times. No one else can touch you."
"Yeah. You too." Then I remember that I beat her in every sprint. "I mean, you've been doing better. Just not today." Shit! I never say the right things. I collapse onto the concrete bench, leaning against the cold metal of the lockers. My legs are rubber, for now, but soon, the familiar pain will settle in.
Angie looks away from me and shakes her head. The rest of the girls on my team nod when they walk by to acknowledge my new record, but no one else, thankfully, tries to really talk to me.
I always mess it up. It's painful to be ignored, but it's better than kicking myself forever for the dumb things I say when I'm out of the water. When I surface, everything always blasts up like an ugly siren.
Outside of the locker room, the chilly autumn air surprises me as the setting sun turns the desert mountains red. I'm glad I put on my thicker sweats for the walk home.
The heavy metal door of the boys' varsity locker room swings open and hits the cinder block wall behind it with a bang, shaking me out of my head for a second, and then, out walks Alec. His light hair is wet from the shower, and he throws his head back and shakes his curls out of his eyes. He walks next to me towards the parking lot.
"Hey Gold Medal," he says. "I saw your sprint. You're pretty amazing."
"Thanks. Why were you at my practice?"
He smiles and shrugs. "Mine was over. I told you I'd stop by."
His face glows from the setting sun, and he's so perfect, I can't look at him. I keep walking, and for unknown reasons, he walks next to me. My legs are starting to get heavy, but the walk home will keep me loose until I can stretch again before dinner. I shake my shoulders, circle my arms.
"Sore?" he asks.
"Not yet. But soon," I say.
"Are you going to the game next Friday?" he asks.
"Yeah," he laughs.
"Do you play?" And I looked down at his shirt. Northside Football in huge red letters.
He smiles his tilted smile, and my face gets hot.
I pick up the pace, but he walks faster along with me. I just want to get away from him and the stupid things that I'm sure I'm about to say.
"Hey, hold up for a second," he says, reaching out for my hand.
His touch freaks me out, and I pull my hand away before I think about it. He turns to face me in the gold light of the low sun.
"Are you walking home?" he asks.
"Do you want a ride?"
"No, I like walking."
He frowns and looks down.
"Are you sure?" he asks again.
"Yeah, I'm sure," I answer again.
He shakes his head, a small tremor, like he's trying to cue the right answers, but I'm not getting the hint. "Well, I'm beat from practice."
I nod. I don't know what to say. Boys are a mystery.
"That Friday game is going to be a good one."
I nod again, even though I know I'll be at practice or sleeping during the game.
"We got our asses handed to us last week, so Coach is hungry for a win."
"Sure," I say, flinching from the visual of his comment.
"Do you want me to get that?" he asks, pointing to my gym bag.
"Why?" I ask.
This is the dumbest conversation I've ever had and that's saying a lot, but I can't get myself to walk away and put an end to the pain.
Alec yawns, stretching his arms up over his head, his own gym bag in one of them. His shoulders are rolled forward, his weight shifted over to one of his feet. Strong hands. I wonder if he can wrap that hand around the whole football.
"How wide is a football?" I ask.
He squints his eyes a little. "Why?"
"You have big hands."
He grins. "Yeah?"
"And I wondered if you could fit a whole football inside your hands," I finish. "They're really big."
He smiles more deeply as his eyes squint more from the sun, but he doesn't answer me. Oh god, does he think I'm flirting with him? This is what happens when I let words come out of my mouth. He yawns and arches his back and stretches out the cords of muscle down his neck and into his shoulders.
"Okay, well, good talking to you, Alec." I turn to go.
"Wait," he calls out again. "Sorry, I always yawn when I'm nervous."
"Nervous?" For a second, he doesn't say anything. "Melanie, are you going to Homecoming?"
"No," I answer warily. Say what?
"Do you want to go with me?" he asks. But before I can answer, he reaches for my gym bag and sets both his and mine on the ground. Then, he reaches for my hand again, leans down, and kisses me. He pulls me a little closer, and I'm holding my breath. His strong hand is warm on my back, and then, while his lips are still on mine ...
... I laugh, loud, obnoxious, and full of spit, like a freakish, awkward quacking duck.
He jumps back and wipes his hand across his face, and my face burns hot. He looks at me, his head tilted, like I'm a strange curiosity. A fish out of water.
"Sorry," I sputter, "But why'd you do that?"
He laughs, deep and cool. "Because I like you, Melanie."
"Well, that's because you don't know me."
"We've been going to school together since second grade," he says, lifting his chin.
"I just spit on you."
"Yeah. That was ... weird," he says, and he grins. "Wanna try again?"
"I've got to go," meaning it very much this time.
He picks up my bag and his and walks with me in the direction of the parking lot. "Are you coming to Homecoming with me?"
I don't really even know what Homecoming is. I've never had time for stuff like that, especially during the fall swim season. My head is still spinning from our kiss. "Sure. Why not?"
He smiles the squinty-eye-smile again. "Let me give you a ride home, okay? It's getting dark. Plus, there was that tremor during practice. That was weird."
It barely slowed me down. The water sloshed inside the pool for a second. I didn't know until I finished the set that it had been an earthquake.
"No, really, I want to walk."
He doesn't argue anymore, but he squeezes my hand before he lets it go and walks over to his Jeep, throwing his bag in the back with a big arch before he grabs onto a metal bar and pulls himself inside.
As I walk away from school, my stomach feels shakier than my legs. I'm going to a dance with Alec Newton?CHAPTER 4
At the end of practice, we huddle and chant, and then, it's time to hit the showers. I take a soak in the hot tub to try to loosen up my shoulders. By the time I get back to the locker room, only a few guys are still around.
"Hey, Portillo, no practice tomorrow. You going out?" Robbins asks. "People are going to Carter's."
It's a rare Friday night without a game, so of course, there's a party at Ryan Carter's place. The acres of desert behind his house are party-central. His parents either don't know or don't care, so there are crowds, kegs, and pick-up trucks circled up around bonfires in the back of the Carter's property most weekends. Those parties are a lot more fun off-season when I can actually have a beer or two.
"I'll be there. I promised Stina," I say.
"Hot Stina," he whistles. "If you can't make it, I'll take care of that for you."
"Shut the fuck up," I say, but I don't really care. The guys give me shit all the time about her. Hot Stina, Sex-On-Feet, and a whole list of more disgusting names for my girl. They make a big thing about how she's so blond, and I'm so brown. Just more words I let roll off. People just want to stir shit up.
"I'll be at Roberts's later tonight, but I'm going down to campus to see Will after lunch."
"Sounds like fun. Say hey from me," Chris says, rubbing his side. "Tell him I wish he were still blocking for me."
We walk out of the locker room into the evening air. At the edge of the parking lot, the saguaros cast long shadows across the asphalt, and in the distance, the mountains are purple with shadows and red from the setting sun. The days are getting shorter.
"Hey, isn't that your neighbor?" Chris asks, nodding over his shoulder before glancing down at his phone.
Across the parking lot, I see Melanie walking away from Alec Newton and his Jeep. "Yeah, that's Mel."
"I've never seen her talking to a guy before," Chris says. "Why start with him?"
"She doesn't really talk to anyone." That's the truth, and I should know. I've lived next to her my whole life. We played together a lot when we were kids, but since she got hardcore about swimming, I barely see her except coming and going from practice.
"Well, she's talking to Newton."
Yards away, Alec shakes his head as he watches Mel walk away. He jumps in his Jeep and blasts his stupid music as soon as he hits the ignition. What a dickhead.
"Chris, will you cool it out with Newton? If you want to fight him, fight your own fight. Don't make it about me," I say.
"Hey, I'm a lover, not a fighter," he says, holding up his hands. "Newton pisses me off, though. He's lazy, and then he blames it on you?"
"Whatever. He's always saying something ignorant. Always has."
Alec Newton used to follow me around recess calling me his landscaper and dumb stuff like that. In sixth grade, I got sick of it and slammed my fist into his nose. I got suspended. Dad was so mad. I thought he would get even madder when I told him all the shit Newton had been saying to me, but that wasn't how it went. He calmed down and shook his head.
Alec Newton is going to end up an asshole like his crazy dad, he said. Don't give him the satisfaction of seeing you get angry. It was the first time I ever heard my dad use a swear word, so those words stuck with me. Now, when Newton or anyone else gives me shit about being brown, I try to blow it off. So what if my grandparents were born in Sonora? I don't get what the difference is between there and here except a stupid wall that doesn't keep anyone out or in?(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Natural Disasters"
Copyright © 2018 J.K. Wise.
Excerpted by permission of Black Rose Writing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter One - Don't Think,
Chapter Two - Over Now,
Chapter Three - Fish Out of Water,
Chapter Four - Warnings,
Chapter Five - Surfacing,
Chapter Six - Things Shift,
Chapter Seven - Out of the Blue,
Chapter Eight - Definitely Not Good,
Chapter Nine - Things Disappear,
Chapter Ten - Days After,
Chapter Eleven - Digging Out and Falling In,
Chapter Twelve - Safeway,
Chapter Thirteen - Walking Home,
Chapter Fourteen - Setting Things Back,
Chapter Fifteen - Party at Roberts's,
Chapter Sixteen - Fallout and Fall Down,
Chapter Seventeen - In the Basement,
Chapter Eighteen - Waking Up,
Chapter Nineteen - Borders,
Chapter Twenty - Standoff,
Chapter 21 - The Spin,
Chapter 22 - Downtown,
Chapter 23 - Shelter,
Chapter 24 - Return to the Scene,
Chapter 25 - Didn't See It Coming,
Chapter 26 - Toxic-landia,
Chapter 27 - Stand Together,
Chapter 28 - Half Submerged,
Chapter 29 - Romeo and Juliet,
Chapter 30 - To the Light,
Chapter 31 - Three Quick Steps,
Chapter 32 - Side by Side,
Chapter 33 - Don't Think,