Freaks of Greenfield High
Book 1 of the Freaks series by Maree Anderson
Jay’s a cyborg who looks just like a normal teenage girl. She’s super-strong, super-smart, and she can even appear to age like a human. When a covert organization intent on using Jay as a weapon comes after her, she needs to find a place where she can blend in. Greenfield High seems perfect… except that the boys all think she’s totally hot and keep hitting on her, and she has no clue how to handle the attention. Who knew high school could be so perilous?
To add to her confusion Jay’s evolving — experiencing human emotions for the first time — and her encounters with ex-jock-turned-outcast Tyler send her logical brain into a spin. She’s just starting to get the hang of this girlfriend/boyfriend thing when her pursuers track her down. Now’s sooo not the time for a cyborg to fall in love and get all emotional!
- Optioned for TV by Cream Drama, Inc.
- Winner, YA category: Gulf Coast RWA’s Silken Sands “Self-Published Star” contest
- Winner, YA category: Maryland Romance Writers “Reveal Your Inner Vixen” contest
- First Round Nominee, Best YA category: eFestival of Words Book Fair “Best of the Independent eBook Awards”
- Over 2.2 million reads on Wattpad
Other books in the Freaks series:
- Freaks in the City (Freaks 2)
- Freaks Under Fire (Freaks 3)
- Freaks Series eBook Bundle (Books 1, 2 & 3)
|Length:||Novel, approx 68,000 words/276 pages|
|Trade Paper RRP:||US $12.99/ GBP 7.99/ EUR 9.99|
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Order FREAKS series library editions from Wheelers:
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- Freaks in the City eBook/ Trade paperback
- Freaks Under Fire eBook / Trade paperback
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Reviews for Freaks of Greenfield High:
“I wasn’t too sure what this book would be about when I first approached it, but I thought I would give it a go. I can honestly say that I am glad that I read this book. […] Overall, I really enjoyed this. Jay is a likable character and you can’t help but be drawn in by her struggle between what she was programmed to be and the unlogical responses that are corrupting her programming. After all, can a machine really feel anything? Definitely give this a read.” ~ Thisgirllovesbooks, Amazon UK
“This book was AMAZING! […] Not the geeky, nerds unite book I was expecting. Instead the main character Jay was so great – a funny, smart, humble, super strong female cyborg. The relationship between Jay and Tyler was fabulous. I do hope there are more books in this series. What a great find!” ~ Henderson, Amazon
“[…] a perfect blend of action and gut-wrenching humanity. I LOVED Freaks of Greenfield High. […] I cannot think of a more perfect book to appeal to guys and girls. Truly Amazing!” ~ Juli Alexander , Amazon
“I loved this book! Definitely one of my favorites, I thought all of the characters were awesome, though Jay, of course, was my favorite. My favorite part was when Jay kicked Shawn’s a**, and threw him in a dumpster (Note from Lemon: This is true, she mentioned it at least 5 times during lunch period.), I also thought it was funny the way Jay studied people like textbooks. […] The only thing left to say is that even if you’re a cyborg, in a place as complicated as high school, knowing everything just isn’t enough.” ~ Read the full review by Nerd at A Nerd And A Lemon
“This story grabbed me right away and I enjoyed Maree Anderson’s easy style and her spot on teen-speak. The characters were believable and I was impressed with Anderson’s ability to create such a loveable and meaningful character such as Jay, a cyborg on the run from a secret agency bent on capturing her and using her for their own means. Anderson gave this cyborg some interesting dilemmas and a kick butt approach that made her endearing and real. She also nailed the teen boy experience and voice, and I totally forgot I was reading something a woman wrote.” ~ P.J. Sharon, Amazon
“[…] You really find yourself falling in love with this cyborg who tried hard to run away and ended up discovering the greatest thing of all, raw human emotion. I just fell in love with Tyler and his sister who are the perfect brother sister example. They fight, argue, but at the end of the day, love each other unconditionally. As for the cyborg, Jay, she’s just awesome. Make sure to have some long sleeves because you’ll secretly be wiping tears during the last few chapters.” ~ Erica Stanciu, Amazon
“[…] It was an amazing mix of sci-fi and romance. I stayed up until 2am reading this and I’m pregnant! Needless to say I slept all day but it was totally worth it. […] I’m in love with this book and really hope there’s a sequel.” ~ EastCoastJessie, Amazon
“[…] a great YA cross between the Terminator movies and the Sarah Connor TV show. I devoured this book in two nights. It totally played out like a movie in my head. Anderson’s descriptions of cyborg Jay were amazing. I especially loved that Jay was a girl, trying to learn how to cope with new situations while learning more about humanity. […] It was fast paced, riveting, real teen language that I loved and I didn’t want it to end.” Read the full review by Renee Pace, Nitty Gritty YA Writings
“[…] Jay and Tyler are both “different,” misfits that are struggling to find their way through the hierarchy of teen society. Jay, being a hunted cyborg, has been fighting in the adult world for awhile. Tyler has been hiding. Their personal growth as well as their relationship issues are true to life–both heartbreaking and heart warming. This author has become a must read for me. Although this book is a YA, I found I couldn’t put it down and read into the early morning hours.” ~ L.J. Charles, Amazon
“This book has one of the best heroines ever. Jay, the cyborg heroine, was so much fun, and the author wrote her really well. When I started the book, I was just going to read a little before going to bed. I ended up finally shutting off my Kindle at 2am. I finished the book the next night. A really enjoyable story. The teen hero had more growing up to do, which made him realistic. The YA language, doubts and attitudes were perfect, as were the cliques and the popular kids vs. the picked-on. It moved fast, and I think adults will like this as well as teens.” ~ E.S. Rose, Amazon
“My New Favorite Heroine. There are three things I’d like to see more of in fiction: ninja, bionics, and cyborgs. Maree Anderson has provided us with the latter, enclosing it in a YA tale of…well, coming to terms with feelings, but the author takes that sap and executes it superbly so it’s no way near as cheesy as it sounds. Needless to say, the cyborg is my favourite character.” ~ Read the full review by Tez at Tez Says
“Major Kudos for Originality: Take The Terminator and throw in teenage angst, bullying, and a machine that discovers it/she can feel and you’ve got the wonderfully original FREAKS OF GREENFIELD HIGH. […] The author did a brilliant job of showing Jay’s confusion as she evolves, becoming more human as she interacts with others. […] Then when Tyler discovers the girl he’s falling for is a cyborg, the scene is utterly heartbreaking. I felt his pain and understood his anger and hurt. Wow, emotion on every page there. […]What a page turner. Again, my heart broke for Tyler and what he had to go through, but it was worth it in the end. […] I think this book is more suitable for the older, high-school teen crowd. But if you like YA with a bit of romance and Sci-Fi thrown in, this is definitely the book for you.” ~ Read the full review by Lori Dillon at The Otherworld Diner
“So, I kept seeing this pop up whenever I was looking for a read and I’d skip over it because I really wasn’t interested in a story with a cyborg in it, but finally, because it kept nagging at me, I gave it a shot and wow, probably one of my favorites! I absolutely loved the characters and the storyline, it was amazing! I spent half my break from college laying on my couch and reading it. Good grief. Thank you for the great story.” ~ indigofish (reprinted with permission)
“Oh my gosh. This was so unbelievable! I loved it! The story was fantastic and totally original. I love that you incorporated the normal teenage drama with a totally out of this world twist. The characters were amazing with incredible depth to them. I love Jay and her development throughout the story from abnormal computer to semi-normal teen girl. I love that the ending was so unpredictable and original. I really hope you do write more, even if it is not a continuation of this story. Your originality is refreshing.” ~ jakecole2 (reprinted with permission)
“Freaks of Greenfield High is a young adult book that I strongly recommend. Not only does it mix romance with action but it has characters that you will love as the story progresses. […] will leave you excited and raring for more, as well as an ending that will make you want another book.” ~ Charlotte (reprinted with permission)
Cover design by Rob Anderson
(Click on the image to see the full-size cover.)
The Freaks Series
Excerpt from Freaks of Greenfield High
By Maree Anderson
Dr. Alexander Jay Durham squinted through a gap in the blinds at the convoy snaking up the dirt road. The dying light painted the black Hummers with crimson-hued menace, making them appear as though they’d been dipped in blood. Foolish, greedy men. Alex could not find it in him to regret their fate.
The shadows haunting the study resolved into a teenage girl. She glided over to take his arm. “Come away from the window, Father. It is not safe.”
Bah. He was dying. Worrying about his safety was futile. Nevertheless, he allowed her to help him to his favorite armchair and settle him into its comforting cushions.
His gaze skittered about, finally coming to rest on a framed photo atop the mantelpiece. It captured a young woman wearing a cheerful sun-colored dress, her lips curved in a wide, unrestrained smile. Time rewound and Alex saw himself with her, pulling all manner of ridiculous faces to make her laugh. His hand fisted on his chest, pressing atop his heart to keep the memories safely imprisoned. Now was not the time to become lost in the past.
His gaze cut to the girl, now seated at the computer desk. And, as it always did when he looked at her, the pain of his loss faded to a dull, comforting ache.
She was his legacy. From the facial structure and skin-tone, to the tousled mane of raven hair that resisted all efforts to tame it, she was a younger replica of his dead wife. She had but one unique physical characteristic, something that was hers and only hers. Alex’s brows knit into a frown. Perhaps he’d been foolish to experiment. Perhaps the startling cobalt hue of her eyes would make her too remarkable, too memorable. Perhaps he’d endangered her by—
He reined in his fears. She was skilled at subterfuge. She would cope admirably without him. He had to believe that. “We haven’t got much time,” he said. “Do you know what to do?”
The girl glanced up from the computer. She slanted her brilliantly clear gaze at him, head cocked to one side in a perfect imitation of thoughtfulness as her fingertips flew over the keyboard. “We have seven minutes fifty-one seconds before the attack force reaches the outskirts of the property. They will secure the area before they begin the assault.” She tapped out one last combination of keys and her hands stilled. “And yes, Father, I know what to do.”
“Of course you do. Please forgive a foolish old man.”
She abandoned her chair to take her place at his side. “There is nothing to forgive,” she said. “I have enabled the virus. Phase one is now complete.” Phase one being the program she had designed to corrupt the network servers and delete all secured off-site backup data, thus destroying decades of meticulous research. Irretrievably.
Alex nodded his approval. “Good.”
She tapped pursed lips with her forefinger, the gesture so humanlike Alex’s heart twisted with regret. His beloved Mary would have been able to love the girl unreservedly, nurtured her, given her everything she needed to reach her full potential. Mary would have succeeded where he had failed.
“I have scanned the vehicles and the weaponry,” the girl reported. “The attack force comprises twenty-five men. I can delete them. No incriminating evidence will be found.”
“Of that I have no doubt. But we must proceed as planned. I am your one weakness, and this is the only way you will be safe.” He reached out to pat her hand, momentarily forgetting that she needed no comforting from him. Or indeed, anyone.
She sank to her knees, her head bowed. “Why must I do this, Father?”
“You know why,” he whispered, stroking the bent head, marveling at the softness of the hair, the physical perfection of his creation. “My knowledge must never fall into their hands. Please believe me, this is the only way.”
He sat back in his chair, squared his shoulders and placed his hands on the armrests, waiting.
The girl did not move.
“Must I order you to do this?”
She raised her head.
Her gaze bored into Alex’s, stripping him bare of his delusions. The fine hairs on his nape stood to attention. As God was his witness, he felt as though she was peering into the deepest darkest recesses of his soul. He wondered what she would see there. And, coward that he was, found himself grateful that she was incapable of passing judgment on him.
She waited, sitting back on her heels with her hands clasped neatly in her lap, her features a smooth emotionless mask. “Yes, Father,” she said. “You must give the order. Please believe me, this is the only way.”
Alex pinched the bridge of his nose with his fingers and heaved a shaky sigh. It served him right, he supposed. He’d poured his heart and soul into her, done his utmost to make her as humanlike as possible. And he had been the one to insist she call him “Father”. He could hardly blame her for mustering what they both knew was a token resistance to this final solution.
“So be it,” Alex said. “Initiating sequence Revelations 13-colon-17, 6-6-6. Cyborg Unit Gamma-Dash-One, this is Alexander Jay Durham. Confirm.”
“Running voiceprint analysis. Identity confirmed.” Her voice was now flat, machine-like…. Inhuman. Alex’s command had shunted her artificial consciousness aside, allowing him to access her core programming. Forcing her to obey.
“Cyborg Unit Gamma-Dash-One, prepare to initiate sequence J-O-H-N-3-colon-16.”
“Commence sequence J-O-H-N-3-colon-16.”
The girl stood and placed her cool hands on his shoulders. Alex closed his eyes. He was tired, so very tired. He harbored no fear for what was to come, merely profound relief. God willing, Mary would be waiting for him.
“I. Do. Not. Want… to do this… Father.”
Alex’s eyelids flew open and he choked on a gasp. Real tears glistened in her eyes. It should have been impossible for her to fight the command, impossible for her to produce tears.
A malfunction or a miracle? Only time would tell. And Alex had run out of time.
He snatched a deep breath and clasped his hands, settling them into his lap. His eyelids drifted closed. “Cyborg Unit Gamma-Dash-One, commence sequence J-O-H-N-3-colon-16.”
“Commencing sequence J-O-H-N-3-colon-16,” the cyborg repeated. “I love you, Father.” And in one swift, efficient movement, she broke the old man’s neck.
As humans often liked to do in such circumstances, she closed her eyes, honoring her creator and his contribution to this world with a minute of silence and utter stillness. She would have preferred to bury him but that was not part of the plan. However, there was another way for her to honor his memory.
The man she called “Father” had always balked at choosing a suitable name for her. The significance of a name, choosing the right one, had been too overwhelming for him. She now appropriated his middle name. Henceforth she would be known as “Jay”.
Jay’s sensors registered that the grumbling purr of Hummer engines had ceased. Leaving Father’s body slumped in the armchair, she took a replica Gamma unit from a cabinet and placed it in the chair behind the computer desk. As she arranged the thing in a lifelike pose, positioning its hands on the keyboard, a droplet of moisture plopped onto the Enter key.
Jay swiped at her cheeks and examined the wetness on her fingertips. Her tongue darted out to taste and identify.
Impossible. A malfunction.
She blotted her face with her sleeve and filed the phenomenon away in her databanks to be analyzed at a more opportune time. Her immediate priority was to increase her core body temperature until it exactly matched the ambient temperature of the room. Once that task had been achieved, she would automatically make adjustments as she passed through each area of the house so that she would not register as an anomaly on their heat sensors.
Jay activated the replica, and as it began to tap away at the keyboard, Jay accessed what appeared to be a standard household alarm set into the wall beside the door. She input an eleven-digit code. A flashing red light indicated the two-minute countdown had commenced.
She exited the study, locked the door behind her, and headed down the corridor. Once inside her bedroom, she stood atop the huge bed she’d never used, reached up to pop open the concealed ceiling hatch, and levered herself upward into the roof cavity. She replaced the hatch cover and jiggled it back into place. The opening would be almost invisible when viewed from the interior of the room—not that it mattered, but she had been programmed to be meticulous.
Two near-simultaneous booms destroyed the unnatural tranquility—frame charges, explosive panels the attack force had used to blow the front and rear doors. They’d opted for the element of surprise, relying on speed rather than subterfuge to achieve their goal.
Jay slid aside a cleverly designed portion of the roof and, moving so quickly that to human eyes she would be nothing but a blur, she climbed outside, flattened herself against the pitched roofline and froze. From her vantage point, her sensory enhancements allowed her to hear footsteps, measured and quick, as the attack force ascended the stairs and headed for the study. The men were military-trained professionals, maintaining radio silence and communicating via hand signals. Her replica had thoroughly fooled their sensors, leading them to believe they knew exactly where their quarry would be found.
The men were now battering the door into the study with a portable ramming device. Jay had insured it would be no easy task to break through the reinforced door. In their place, however, she would have saved considerable time by barging straight through the wall.
They achieved their objective and burst into the study.
Jay blinked and switched to infrared vision. A near soundless whine, audible only to her, indicated that the final countdown was now in progress. Behind its covering panel, the study alarm’s indicator light would now have escalated to a distorted crimson line.
Ten. Nine. Eight….
Using electronics to cover her tracks had been a carefully calculated risk. EMP weapons could render even her sophisticated timing device useless. But an EMP weapon could destroy all electronic devices within range, including computer hard drives. Jay had based her primary plan on the assumption that obtaining Father’s research was their main priority. They would not dare risk destroying that research, for then, if Alexander Durham’s creation escaped their grasp, they would be left with nothing.
She observed the fiery silhouettes of the men raising their weapons as they spotted Father’s body and what they believed was their target. Their leader signaled two of his men to approach.
Four. Three. Two—
The instant the first of three precisely timed blasts ripped through the stately old country house, Jay launched herself from the rooftop.
The man seated in the armored car parked behind the Hummers shielded his eyes. He yelled into his comms device, far too distracted by this surprising turn of events to notice Jay surfing the outer limits of the first blast wave.
She landed in a flat-footed crouch, thirty feet nine inches beyond the two-story house. It was not her best jump. In calmer wind conditions she had achieved thirty-one feet.
She took off at a run, simultaneously scanning the vicinity for evidence of pursuit. The probability that the covert organization pursuing her would include a chopper in the retrieval attempt had been high, but aside from tersely shouted orders she heard nothing of note.
For whatever reason, they had underestimated her capabilities, leaving her with nothing to challenge her. Nothing to help ease the painful tightness twisting of what Father had insisted was her heart.
Jay entered a heavily wooded area bordering the property, and all trace of her passing was swallowed by the night.
Jay closed the front door of her apartment and engaged the security system she’d personally designed and installed. She’d also installed a new door, as well as reinforcing the strength of the wall. She didn’t fear intruders. For her, increasing the security of each new residence was simply a logical course of action.
The apartment took up the entire topmost floor of an old but well-preserved building. The first floor was little more than a large hall, sporadically rented out to community groups. The ground floor housed a number of eclectic stores. The scarcity of regular customers to the stores, and the lack of foot-traffic, were her chief reasons for choosing this particular apartment.
Leasing it had been ridiculously easy despite her apparent youth. She’d deepened her voice to a masculine timbre while conducting the initial transaction by phone, and then finalized the lease arrangements via email and internet transactions. Child’s play to then uplift the keys from the leasing agency in person on behalf of her “uncle”, who was “away on business”.
No one had queried the absence of Jay’s fictional guardian in the week since she’d moved in. Her cover story would hold provided no one pried too deeply into her affairs.
At this early hour, the only sounds were the mouse-like squeaks of Jay’s sneakers on the treads of the worn stairs. She slapped the exit button, pushed through the doors, and set off at a measured jog.
The town she had selected this time was unremarkable—as were its white-collar middle class inhabitants. According to a newspaper article written around the time the current mayor had been elected, Snapperton’s only claim to fame was its well-established history of mediocrity.
It would be difficult for operatives to infiltrate the town without being noticed. In Snapperton she could hide in plain sight. For now.
Her internal timepiece told her it was 01:00 hours, early enough to provide an excellent opportunity to map wireless hotspots and detect any signal leakages from Wi-Fi networks that she could exploit if required. She would take special note of unexpected power surges or electronic anomalies that might indicate the area had been targeted and was being monitored.
Forty-six minutes into her run, Jay picked up a tail.
She allowed him to shadow her for five minutes before she pulled up and knelt on the sidewalk to fuss with her perfectly tied shoelaces.
The man ran past her, his chest heaving like a bellows, droplets of sweat flicking from his person and his clothing. She scanned him for hidden weapons and electronic surveillance equipment. Nothing.
As if sensing her scrutiny, he slowed and turned back to her, jogging on the spot. “You… ’kay… hon?” he puffed.
“I am fine. Thank you.” She stood, and considered her options given the available data. His expression revealed only concern for her wellbeing. His breathing had been labored and his running technique far too inefficient for him to be a regular runner. He had neither the appearance nor the demeanor of a physically fit, trained operative.
He gave up jogging and stood, feet apart, rolling his shoulders and stretching his neck from side to side. “Yanno, a young girl like you shouldn’t be out alone at this hour.”
Jay cocked her head and considered his statement carefully. “Why? Are you planning on attacking me?”
He blew out a laugh that turned into a wheezing cough. When he’d caught his breath again he said, “Funny girl. This is Snapperton, fergodsakes—safe as houses. ’Sides, I get the feeling you could outrun me with both hands tied behind your back.”
“You are correct in that last assumption.”
“You oughta head back home before your folks figure out you’re AWOL,” he said. “If I found my daughter missing at this hour, I’d be frantic. And when I found her, she’d be grounded for the term of her natural life.”
“May I ask you a question?”
“Why are you out alone at this hour?”
“Couldn’t sleep,” he said. “Thought going for a run might tire me out.”
She nodded. “Me, too.” And to alleviate any further concerns he might have, she added, “I’m heading home now.”
He waved at her as he headed off again. And, after reviewing the conversation, Jay concluded it would be prudent to do as he had suggested and return home before she attracted any more attention. In future, she would limit her “exercise” to more acceptable daylight hours.
At what she deemed an appropriate hour of the morning, Jay exited her apartment again, this time heading in the direction of the school she’d chosen. Not that she’d truly had a choice of high schools because Snapperton boasted only the one: Greenfield High. She adjusted the straps of her backpack and began pumping her arms as she walked, copying the movements of a group of elderly females on the opposite side of the road.
As Jay powered past two girls who were slightly younger than Jay appeared to be, she heard them giggling. They were talking about her—what a “dork” she was, and how “uncool” it was to be seen power-walking, “’Cause, like, my grandma does that!”
Jay replayed the girls’ conversation, analyzing intonation, sentence construction and slang usage, along with facial expressions and body language. The speed she was walking, and the manner in which she was swinging her arms, was apparently not acceptable.
She slowed her pace, let her arms hang loosely at her sides, and instructed her body to move in a way that would not attract further comment. Humans were such complex creatures. And the only human she’d extensively interacted with had been Alexander Durham, the man she’d called Father. Instant access to myriad tracts of information was no substitute when it came to blending in with modern-day teens. He should have provided her with suitable subjects to observe and mimic. It was unconscionably careless of him to have put her at risk by neglecting such a crucial part of her education.
An insistent, high-pitched noise intruded on her thought processes, yanking her into the present… and the realization she was standing in the middle of the sidewalk, jaws clamped together, fists tightly clenched at her sides, her entire body tensed, and her skin flushed with heat.
She performed an internal diagnostic and concluded everything was in order. However there had been no imminent danger, not even the vaguest hint of a potential threat. There was no valid reason for her to have reacted in such a way. Odd.
The duration of the anomaly had been one minute thirty-eight seconds—long enough for her behavior to be deemed strange, and perhaps even noteworthy, had she been observed.
She scanned the street and surrounds. The two girls were nowhere to be seen. The probability they’d passed her by, and turned the corner up ahead, was high enough that Jay dismissed them from her mind. Her immediate concern was the elderly man approaching her at a shuffle.
Attached to a lead the man clutched in his hand was a small, scruffy, extremely voluble creature that Jay identified as canine, primarily terrier, intermixed with at least five other breeds.
Humans seemed to find these creatures useful. Jay could understand the value of the larger breeds. She could even appreciate those canines bred primarily for their unique physical characteristics. But this one possessed no pleasing physical characteristics that she could discern. Its primary function seemed to be housing fleas and making an awful lot of noise.
“Are you all right, young lady?” The old man’s voice quavered. “Seeing you standing there like some fierce statue gave me a bit of a turn.”
“Yes. Thank you for asking, though. I was deep in thought and standing very still helps me to think.” She smiled at the man until the frown lines creasing his face eased.
“Penny for them,” he cackled.
Jay searched her databases for quotations and sayings. Ah. He referred to her thoughts. She snorted—a useful response in some awkward social situations. “I do not believe my thoughts are worth that much.”
Now the normal thing to do would be to pat the canine. This action might also serve to deflect the man’s curiosity about her thoughts—and her apparently unusual manner in thinking them. “May I pat your dog?”
“Sure. Fifi don’t much like strangers, though. She might nip you.”
Jay squatted and held out her left hand. As she’d observed humans do, she clicked her fingers to invite the dog to approach and sniff her scent. “Here, girl,” she said, keeping her tone gentle and encouraging. “Here, Fifi.”
The little canine inched forward, its entire body wriggling with indecision. Then it whined and leaned back, sticking its rear in the air and waggling its stubby tail. Its antics were so comical Jay found it ridiculously easy to remember to smile.
The dog’s acute sense of smell had detected Jay’s otherness. Little wonder it was reluctant to approach. Jay tweaked the chemical mix of her pheromones until her pores secreted an odor more appealing to canine creatures.
The dog gave a series of high-pitched yaps. It bounded forward with an enthusiastic bark and buried its nose in her hand. Then it sat on its haunches to scratch behind one ear.
Poor little creature. The fleas must be driving it to distraction.
Jay concocted a specific mix from her body’s available chemical compounds. She ruffled the fur on the dog’s back and the flea repellent oozed from the pores of her fingertips, transferring onto its skin. “Who’s a brave girl?” she crooned.
“Well, I never!” the old man said. “You must be something quite special, young lady.”
Jay made her left eyelid droop in a wink. “Oh,” she said, “I am.”
He cackled again, appreciating her attempt at wit.
Excellent. She was gaining more proficiency at this nebulous skill humans called humor. She gave the dog one last rub, insuring its freedom from fleas for the next four to six weeks. “I have to go or I’ll be late for school. See you, Fifi. You be a good girl, now.”
The old man grinned back at her, his nut-brown eyes all but disappearing in a sea of wrinkles. “Goodbye, young lady.” He and the dog meandered off down the path.
Jay reviewed the interaction and concluded she’d acquitted herself adequately, and done nothing further to raise the old man’s suspicions. From what she understood about social interactions at high school, though, any hint of out of the ordinary behavior would not be so easily forgiven. It was imperative she closely mimic the behavior of her peers so she didn’t stand out in any way. Still, it should not be beyond her capabilities to seamlessly integrate into high school life. She did not believe attending high school could be anything close to “hell on earth”, as was so frequently claimed in the numerous accounts she’d read.
A tight lump settled in her stomach. For a moment she was confused by the sensation, and then she dismissed it as hunger pangs—merely her body’s way of reminding her to re-fuel if she wished to maintain her optimum physical condition.
Humans were lamentably prone to exaggeration. How bad could high school possibly be?
Tyler’s gel-slimed fingers paused mid-sweep through his shaggy hair. His gaze zeroed in on a reddened blotch. He thrust his chin closer to the mirror to examine the emerging zit. Great. Just freaking great. As if today wasn’t gonna suck enough already.
A rattle of the bathroom door was followed by a muffled curse and loud thumping.
“Hurry up, Tyler!” His twin sister’s voice was a banshee-worthy screech.
Tyler rinsed his hands, wrapped his towel more securely around his hips, and unlocked the door.
Caro squeezed her eyes shut, counted to five, and then opened them again to gaze at him like she hoped she’d been imagining things. Her gasp reeked of unmitigated horror. “Omigod!”
The lump on Tyler’s chin gave an answering throb. His hand crept to his face.
“What have you done to your hair?”
She advanced toward him with hands outstretched, a determined expression in her eyes. He grit his teeth and resigned himself to the coming torture, smothering yelps and blinking furiously watering eyes as she combed her fingers through his hair and roughly tugged it into submission.
Caro had gotten one hundred percent of their allocated personal style gene. She shopped at thrift stores and camped out at the mall when the sales were on, but the truth was, no matter what she wore, the popular girls forgave her. And the jocks wanted into her panties.
Tyler knew this because many of his former so-called friends had made a point of telling him so, hoping to provoke him into losing his cool. But Tyler had given up getting pissed about what they said, and how they said it. Apart from the major downside of risking getting pummeled for mouthing off, he’d finally realized his sister loved the attention—thrived on it, even.
Mind you, if any girl could keep a bunch of guys with sewers for brains in line, it was his sister. When Caro got seriously riled, she put every evil twin ever portrayed in a horror flick to shame.
Tyler wished she’d turn some of that evil twin mojo on her current boyfriend and quit giving him second chances. Shawn was a douche—among other things.
“There.” Caro backed off and eyed him, head tilted to one side, lips pursed. “Yep. You’ll do. You know, as much as it kills me to say this, the whole tortured-emo-look suits you. Those dark smudges under your eyes really give it authenticity.”
She said it in an admiring way, like he’d deliberately chosen to emulate the living dead.
Tyler’s “look” was a long overdue trip to the barber and plain old insomnia. He’d spent most of the night either pacing the floor and humming to himself, or hunched over his desk scribbling down lyrics. When the muse got vocal, he had no choice but to surrender.
“Go find some clothes before my eyes start bleeding,” Caro said. “Unless of course you’re planning on going to school wearing that towel?” She threw him a wicked grin. “If nothing else, it would make one heckuva fashion statement.”
Tyler glanced at his watch. His stomach somersaulted. “Jeez! Would it have killed you to mention how late it was?”
“You can catch a ride with me and Nessa if you want,” she said.
“Thanks, but no thanks.” Last thing he needed was being cooped up in a confined space with his sister’s BFF, Vanessa. Who also happened to be his ex. And treated him like something she’d scraped off her shoe despite everything he’d done for her.
His sister heaved a long-suffering sigh and shrugged. “Whatever.”
Tyler raced into his bedroom. He yanked clothes from drawers, discovered his jeans in the pile on the floor, and threw himself into them. He located one sneaker in the corner by the wardrobe. The other had mysteriously ended up so far beneath his bed, he had to crawl under it to fish it out. He raked his hair out of his eyes. So much for his styling-by-Caro look.
He grabbed his backpack and clomped downstairs. No time for breakfast—not that he could stomach cereal. Not today.
His mother glanced up from her mag. She sucked down a huge gulp of black coffee before giving him a smile that oozed sympathy. “Morning, kiddo. First period, right?” She paused for his nod. “At least the torture will be over and done with first-up.”
“Yeah.” Provided he didn’t disgrace himself and end up the butt of the entire school. At least when he’d been a jock-god, the fallout from the last embarrassing incident had died down pretty quickly. If he succumbed again, this time the fallout would be real bad.
“Gotta go or I’ll miss the bus,” he mumbled.
“Don’t forget your lunch.” His mom jerked her chin at the brown paper bags sitting on the kitchen counter. “And you really should eat something, sweetie. Breakfast is—”
“I know, I know. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” He kissed his mom’s cheek, grabbed the bag with the “T” scrawled on it, and snagged an apple from the fruit bowl. “Happy, now?” he managed around a mouthful of apple.
“Ecstatic.” His mother rolled her eyes ceiling-ward in eerie imitation of her daughter. Tyler shuddered. Definitely genetic.
“I know better than to say ‘Have a good day’,” she said. “Just try to get through it without a trip to the nurse, okay?”
“Thanks for reminding me,” he muttered, reaching for the door handle.
“Oh, almost forgot,” his mom said, raising her voice as he slid through the doorway. “I’ve got to finish up a proposal for the boss so I’ll be late. Probably around half-six. Does your team have practice tonight?”
“No, Mom. Caro’s squad practices Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, because Bettina’s a total slave-driver. My team practices on Tuesdays. Remember?”
“Oh. Right. I knew that. Then don’t forget it’s your turn to cook dinner.”
“I know!” he yelled as the door slammed behind him. Outstanding. He’d have the house to himself for a bit. Might even have a chance to get the song fermenting inside his head down on paper.
He sauntered down the path, pretending to be oblivious to the annoying yarping of their elderly neighbor’s fleabag dog.
Ah, to hell with it. He halted and turned on his heel to confront Fifi, or Fufu, or whatever the mangy little beast was called, and hit it with his fiercest scowl. “Grrrr!”
Fufu yawned, and then squatted to pee on the grass.
Tyler groaned. Pathetic. If he couldn’t even face down an upholstered rat of a dog, what chance did he have?
The coughing of an ancient engine caught his attention.
The bus? Crap!
Tyler ditched his apple core and sprinted down the street, skidding to a halt just as the bus doors jerked to a close behind the lone student who’d been waiting at the stop.
“Hey!” He whacked a door with the flat of his hand.
The driver favored him with a sneer that spread all over his fat face.
Crap. Looked like he’d be walking to school. Again. And he’d be late. Again.
“Hold the bus,” someone yelled.
Tyler recognized one of his former teammates. “Yeah. Would if I could, dude.” He spread his arms palms outward to indicate helplessness in the face of asshole bus drivers who had it in for him.
The guy rushed up to the bus, and as he pushed past to smack both hands on the doors, his pack swung and clouted Tyler in the face. Nice.
“Hey! Open up!” the guy yelled at the driver.
The doors hissed reluctantly open.
“Thanks, dude,” Tyler said, rubbing his cheek.
The guy ignored him and boarded the bus.
Huh. Why was he even surprised to be so thoroughly ignored? It was just more of the same old, same old.
He clambered aboard. “Thanks for stopping to let me on, sir,” he said to the driver, his voice throbbing with over-the-top politeness, just to really rub it in.
The driver muttered something uncomplimentary and his piggy little eyes flicked to the rearview mirror.
Tyler knew the man was watching his progress, waiting ’til he was just about to take his seat. But Tyler was wise to his nasty-ass tricks. Hell, he was an old hand at this now. It’d taken a humiliating face-plant in a girl’s lap, and a butt-sprawl on the bus floor that had scattered the contents of his bag all over the place, but he’d learned. So when the driver shoved the bus in gear and floored the accelerator, Tyler swung into the nearest empty seat and plunked his butt safely down.
Tyler: one. Assholes: nil.
He leaned his cheek against the window and closed his eyes. The song lurking inside him broke free and his fingers tapped out the notes on his denim-clad thigh.
“Freak!” someone in the seat across from him called out, provoking a spate of taunts and insults from a sheeplike bunch of other kids.
Epic fail on the originality of the insults. Was that the best they could come up with? Yawn.
Tyler absorbed their insults and used them, braiding them into lyrics, lancing the spite of their original intent and twisting them into something powerful of his own making. He cranked the volume in his headspace to the max and nodded his head, now wholly oblivious to the snickers and catcalls. Oh yeah. This one was going to be good—real good. The music crashed through him, spiriting him away from the shithole that was his life… at least until the bus ground to a lurching halt, forcing him to open his eyes to reality again.
He couldn’t face elbowing his way through the horde of kids, but he made the mistake of hanging back so long he was the last one to scramble from his seat.
The driver drummed his fingers on the steering wheel and fixed Tyler with a black scowl. Dude sure got pissed when he didn’t get to snigger over someone’s misfortune.
Tyler heeded the warning signs and launched himself from the top step before the driver could close the doors and take a chunk out of his heels. The man graunched the gears as he drove off, and Tyler pictured him grinding his teeth in frustration.
Tyler: two. Assholes: nil. His day was looking up. But as he wandered through the front gates of Greenfield High, his high spirits oozed from his pores and plopped onto the cracked sidewalk.
He had no clue why the school was called Greenfield High when the town was called Snapperton, after its founder. And it wasn’t like the school had been built in some lushly grassed field, and then finished off with landscaped grounds and a bunch of twittering birds. The school was a concrete jungle. Oh, except for the trampled, yellowing stretch of grass either side of the path, and a few scraggly, tired-looking trees planted by some poor deluded soul in the fond hopes they’d eventually provide some shade for the kids.
He glowered at the uninspiring three-level building and its dull gray entranceway. Pity his other talent leaned toward portraiture and not architecture. How hard could it be to design something better than this heap?
Tyler was halfway through his junior year, and though an end to this torture was in sight, it couldn’t come quickly enough. The actual education part of school was semi-bearable but the rest royally sucked. He longed to leave it all behind him—start afresh in a place where no one knew him. Reinvent himself.
Chances of that happening any time soon? Sub-zero. He was stuck here until he graduated. He’d foolishly believed things might get better this year but he couldn’t have been more wrong. He had no choice but to suck it up and make the best of it.
He trudged through the entrance, steeling himself for another day of torment.
As he neared the office, he slowed. Whoa. Hot-chick alert.
He mentally compared the girl waiting by the admin desk to Vanessa, the first girl he’d ever been serious about—and who, despite all that’d gone down, still topped his private scale of female hotness.
At least, up until about five seconds ago she had.
Vanessa was your ultimate cheerleader chick, polished to perfection and ultra-conscious of her status. This chick was Vanessa’s opposite in every way. She was slender—all legs, and hardly any curves. And her mane of dark hair looked like she’d just crawled out of bed—a real statement in a school where ultra-straightened blonde reigned supreme. She wore faded and worn jeans, a black midriff-baring t-shirt, and sneakers that were more holes than sneaker. The vibes she gave off screamed that she didn’t much care what she threw on so long as they were clothes. And she sure made the “I couldn’t care less what you think of me” look work for her.
Tyler’s fingers itched to sketch her, to try and capture on paper what he could only describe as her presence, some indefinable thing that made her stand out from the other girls he knew.
She glanced his way, paused, and full-on eyeballed him from head to toe.
His stomach flip-flopped. Vanessa’s carefully selected blue contacts had nothing on this girl’s eyes. They were the most shockingly intense shade of blue he’d ever seen. They weren’t just blue, they were deepest sapphire. Or maybe azure. No, cobalt. Or—
Her somewhat hesitant answering smile turned Tyler’s brain to mush. He tried to look away, act all nonchalant like he hadn’t been checking her out, but he couldn’t move. She burned through his brain. And the song took him.
I walk into the room,
And you’re there.
I tremble like a lunatic,
But you only smile.
Half of what I am is yours.
And I’m lost within you—
Someone jostled Tyler as they passed, jolting him back to the present. But rather than hightail it to his homeroom he stood there, absorbing the girl, etching her into his brain until she turned away to answer a question from one of the admin staff, and released him from her spell.
He blinked like a shortsighted owl and shook himself. Then his lips curved and self-satisfied warmth pooled in his belly. She’d smiled at him. And checked him out—definitely checked him out.
A bunch of guys sauntered past. Among them, Tyler spotted his sister’s boyfriend, Shawn.
The warmth drained away. Crap. He knew exactly how this was gonna play out.
Sure enough, Shawn spotted the new chick and did a classic check out the hot babe head-to-toe-er. The other guys looked equally impressed but they hung back, waiting for their cues, unwilling to risk getting smacked down by the guy who called the shots.
Shawn sidled up to the admin counter and leaned against the wall to strike a pose. Shoulders back, arms crossed over outthrust chest, high-top-sneakered feet crossed at the ankles, he waited for her to notice him.
Tyler snickered. Dude!
Then reality smacked him like a stinky wet fish. Typical. This girl had been here all of five minutes and Shawn already had her in his sights.
Tyler skulked off down the corridor. The new chick was a lost cause. And when Caro learned her boyfriend was hitting on someone else? No way did Tyler want to be anywhere near the disaster zone when his sister lost it.
Freaks of Greenfield High by Maree Anderson
© Copyright 2011, Maree Anderson