Annie's head is spinning. She wants to change her high school, but she isn't popular, and she doesn't know how. She wants to help her friend J.D. find his family, but she doesn't know where to look. She watches her friends and classmates go through major heartbreak, but she doesn't know how to help.
How do you look forward to a bright future when you don't know if you'll survive high school?
Welcome to Lincoln High.
The scene: Shadows. That’s all I really remember now; I think that’s most of what I saw then. Blurry shadows and my bare feet, spotted with blood. That’s all I could see through the rag over my eyes. I think we were in the basement, but I couldn’t tell you for sure. All I could see was shadows and my bloody feet…
Why is he doing this again? I tried to be good. I don’t know what I did. I didn’t break anything. I did everything he told me to. What did I do? Why are they hurting me again?
“What’s the big deal?” she says. Who is she, anyway?
“I can only explain away so many bruises they can see,” he says.
With this on, I can’t even see what’s coming next. Where it will hurt next.
She says, “Tell them he fell down the stairs.”
He says, “He’s ‘fallen down the stairs’ dozens of times in the past four years. They finally made me promise to keep the door locked.”
“You know, probably no one would miss him if”
“We could just tell them he ran away. He’s done that. And who’d expect a nine-year-old kid to survive on his own very long?”
“When they found him, they’d be able to tell he was beaten up. You’d be the first suspect; the guardians always are. Even if they didn’t figure it out, they’d probably charge you with negligence.”
“Then I would never get another kid… See All The Trouble YOU’VE STUCK Me With, STUPID KID!! You Better Run! Tuck, Duck, And Roll, Moron!”
Owww… My stomach. Can’t breathe. Not gonna cry, though. He’ll stop. I’m not gonna cry. Oh, air… If only I knew where I was for sure, I could go sit on the stairs or something and just watch…watch them beat up the blond kid with the speech impediment.
“Nobody would miss this kid,” he says. “I’m telling you, he’s worthless. His own parents didn’t even want him.”
“Yeah, but he belongs to the State now. You gotta be careful with State property.”
“They don’t care. He costs them money.”
“Some people get that job because they care about trash like him.”
“But he’s worthless!”
“Maybe Mrs. Jones could come and sit with me. She could sit with me and watch them hurt the blond-haired, blue-eyed boy with the speech impediment, who she thinks fell down the stairs dozens of times. Then she’d know.”
“Yeah, but-” she starts.
“No one cares,” he interrupts.
That wasn’t fair. Mrs. Jones cared about the little boy. Well, she cared about him as much as anyone could care about any number.
“But they still have to act like they do.”
“All over a WORTHLESS KID!”
OWW!!! Mrs. Jones disappears, and the stairs. The shadows and bloody feet are back. So is the pain. But I’m not gonna cry. That would only make him angrier… make it… worse. But… Then there are no shadows or bloody feet. Just darkness.
“…going to be okay?”
I was waking up, slowly.
“You got to him in time. He should be okay physically. Emotionally… probably not so much. Though you’ve been a social worker so long, I probably don’t have to tell you that.”
“I’ve seen enough of this over the years, but we’re usually taking them from those homes. After four years with that monster, this one will not be in good condition.”
Mrs. Jones… Where am I?
“Even after all your experience, it must be difficult to see.”
“He was a sweet kid when I met him, scared and alone, but sweet. Not after this. I wouldn’t be surprised if he turned into a similar type of monster himself.” She sighs. “It’s probably about time for me to retire. Anyway, thanks for your help, doctor.”
I open my eyes, but the light is sharp, so I close them again.
“It’s my job. I’d rather have mine than yours. But he’s waking, so I’ll leave you alone with him now.”
Chapter one –
Ever hear people tell stories about how much they loved High School? You won’t hear me telling stories like that. Ever read one of those books about how great High School is? This isn’t one of those books. High school wasn’t exactly a great time for me. There were good things; I mean, I had my family, my friends, and I saw some beautiful things happen. But I lived through my share of nightmares too. It’s an interesting story, but when I decided to write it, it wasn’t easy to tell where to start. I didn’t want to bore you with too many details, but I didn’t want to skip something you needed to know. I finally supposed this was as good a time as any…
“So I can come over tonight?” Mark Ross, my longtime best friend and life-long neighbor asked me. He closed his locker door and shifted his feet, scuffing the toes of his blue Chuck Taylors on the linoleum.
“Sure, but you’ll have to get the movies. I have to take Shannon to her piano lesson after I pick her and Andy up from school. I won’t get home until after five. Then I’ll have to eat dinner, clean up the dishes, clean my room-”
“Okay, Annie Eire. I get the point. I’ll have the movies.”
“Can you pay for them this time? I have an interview at the mall toy store on Monday, but my current life’s work of babysitting Shannon and Boyne Andrew doesn’t pay.” I wrinkled my nose. “Though it should.”
“Shannon and Andy gave you a lot of trouble last weekend, huh, Aine?”
“I already told you about last weekend.”
“I was suppressing.”
“And you didn’t even have to live it.”
“What can I say? I’m a sensitive guy.”
I know that’s a line a lot of guys use on girls without it having any basis in reality whatsoever. In Mark’s case, even though he jokes about it, it’s true. He is sensitive and sweet and a perfect gentleman. He’s also a computer genius, though he dresses slightly more skate-punk than preppie-nerd. Also, like me, Mark Ross is a member of “The Lincoln High School Outcast Club.” Yeah, we’re not popular, but it’s not an easy thing to tell just by looking at us. You have to know Lincoln High to be able to figure out who’s on the in and who’s on the out. So let me teach you about Lincoln High.
It’s not our looks. Mark and I aren’t drop-dead gorgeous or anything, but we’re not hideous, either. Mark’s a little skinny, and I have a few freckles on my nose. Some members of the in-group are less attractive than us.
It’s not about money. My father’s a surgeon, and Mark’s Dad is a businessman, and our families do well. But we’re not too well off to be popular, because Lincoln serves a smaller and richer area than Port Morgan’s other three high schools. I suspect a sort of gerrymandering was happening when the district drew the lines many decades ago, but in Lincoln High terms, our upper middle class families are pretty average financially.
It’s not about intelligence either. Mark and I are smart, but not too smart. Lincoln’s clientele tends to run just on the low side of what educators call Agifted”; that puts me right on the peak of the bell curve, and Mark a bit off to the smart side. Popular kids sit on every area of that curve.
With Mark, it’s not about skin color. That’s one thing that’s never mattered a hill of beans here. And with me, it’s not that I’m first generation American, with parents who lived in Ireland until they were about six. Most people have never met my parents, let alone viewed their birth certificates, but I don’t think it would matter to my classmates if they did know.
I mean, sure, all of the above has its own weight in the matter, but just a bit. They’re not the Deciding Factor. The Deciding Factor is-
“Do you wanna invite Ben and Juliana?” Mark asked me, breaking into my thoughts.
“Yeah. Can you call them?”
He smiled, rubbing a hand quickly over his short, curly black hair. “Sure.” Our friends, Ben Wilson and his girlfriend Juliana Huntington are average in every area, even the Deciding Factor. Except in friendship. With Mark, Ben, and Juliana, I couldn’t have picked better friends if I’d held open auditions.
“So, I’ll see you later?” Mark asked me.
“Yeah. Tonight. My house.”
By the way, The Deciding Factor, the test of all things popular at Lincoln High School, is athletic ability. Beating Ford High is very important here.
I was about to head out to the parking lot when a high-pitched, squeaky, yetY popular voice pierced the din of the crowded hallway. “Hey, Ae-nee!”
I looked back at Mark. “Please tell me there’s someone here whose name is actually pronounced like that.”
He frowned and shook his head. “No, sorry.”
“Then it’s one of their secret nicknames for someone?”
“Hey!” the screech shattered the air again. “Aee-nee O’Brien!”
“Sorry, kid. She’s talking to you.”
“You know, if we were in Ireland, she’d shout that surname in a crowded hallway; and I’d bet, fifty kids would turn around.”
Mark shrugged. “We’re in Michigan, and I’m getting out of here. Vanessa Montgomery isn’t my idea of a pleasant conversation.”
“So you think I’m excited about that exact prospect?” I returned with an incredulous tone.
He gave me his palms up, lower lip drooped, eyebrows raised, sorry-it’s-just-not-my-problem look.
“Please, Mark, take me with you.”
He snorted a laugh. “No can do, but, I’ll tell you what. I’ll drive T.J. up the street from the middle school, thus enabling a quick escape.”
“Thanks a lot. Some friend you’ve turned out to be.”
He grinned at me, and I couldn’t help smiling back.
“Aeee-neeee Ooooh’ Briiii-ennnn!” My smile turned into a teeth-baring cringe.
“Bye!” He hollered at me as he disappeared around the corner.
“Hey, Ae-nee!” Vanessa greeted me as she approached.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “It took me awhile to figure out you were talking to me.”
Vanessa gave me a puzzled look. “Why?”
“Because my name is pronounced Än'- yuh.”
“Right. Anyway, I need to talk with you for just a moment, Ae-nee!”
“What’s the big deal?”
“‘Ae-nee’ isn’t my name. My name is Aine. You wouldn’t like it if I started calling you ‘Bob’ or something.”
“Whatever. Geez.” Her long, shiny blond hair tossed, and her pale blue eyes rolled.
I glanced away from her because I couldn’t stand her face; it’s too perfect. “What was it that you wanted to tell me?” I asked. “I need to get going, so…“
“Right. Well, the committee for motivational speaking at the Junior Retreat wants you to do one of the talks!”
I groaned inwardly. Explanation? Like I said, Lincoln High is in a rich area. Well, several years ago said area decided that while the seniors got the two weeks in Hawaii for a Senior Trip, the juniors should get something too. So they came up with the Junior Retreat, “eight days and eight nights of relaxing, class bonding, and motivational speaking in beautiful, sunny Orlando, Florida.” Yes, it sounds great, but I wasn’t excited. This thing chokes down our entire Spring Break, which I usually would spend going someplace really cool with my family, like New York City or the Bahamas. Now, I was being asked to give one of the talks for the already-established program. Gag. Choke. Fidget. Cough.
“Which one?” I quizzed Vanessa.
“The fears and dreams one!” Cough. Cough. Fidget. Gag. Choke.
“The one where they make you write your fears on the black paper and your dreams on the white paper and put them in those boxes?” I heard about that one. Big slice of Gouda.
“That’s the one!” Her perpetually excited tone was making me sick. As if the talk wasn’t bad enough, she had to act like it was All So Exciting.
“May I think about it?” I asked. If I had to give a talk, I would want to give the one on “respect for all classmates.” But my school has never been brave enough to ask for an outcast’s opinion on that.
“The thing is I need to know now. Mr. Grenier, the lit teacher - he’s the staff advisor for the talks - wants it that way so you can write the talk over the long Thanksgiving break!”
Right. My school was giving us a whole week off for Thanksgiving so they would have time to take the asbestos insulation out of the performing arts building (How they were allowed to keep it in thus far, I’ve no idea, but they “suddenly” needed to get it out).
“But I could decide during the Thanksgiving break and write it over Christmas, if I decided to do it,” I told Vanessa.
“Well, Mr. Grenier wanted the Junior Retreat board to be able to review it during Christmas break. That way they can approve it, and you can make any necessary revisions in time for the retreat.”
I felt totally put-on-the-spot, and I hate feeling put-on-the-spot. Also, happy tone aside, Vanessa didn’t seem incredibly excited about asking me. I figured that even though I’m good at speeches, she’d already dismissed the idea of me doing a talk, because she doesn’t like me. When someone had bailed on her at the last minute, she was in a crunch to get her part of the retreat organized by Thanksgiving. I was a last resort. I sighed. “Fine. I’ll do it.
“Great!” She looked like she was about to hug me for saving her life like I did, so I backed away quickly, muttering that I had to go. I’m not at all against being hugged, see; but I didn’t want her to pretend even for a minute that I was one of her popular friends. I’m not at all athletic… “Bye, Ae-nee!”
…And my name hasn’t helped either. “Bye, Bob,” I muttered, under my breath because my Dad always told me to keep tight control of the volume of certain remarks. “Alannah, your annoyance will fade faster than the memory of your voice,” he’d always said. “And certain words spoken too loudly may cause it to be difficult to make amends.” He knows me well, my father does.
My father is Dr. Sean O’Brien, and my Mom is his wife Kathleen. I’m almost seventeen, and my full name is Aine Erin O’Brien. I am the proud big sister of baby sister aged seven and brothers aged ten and thirteen (almost fourteen). The older of my brothers is named Tierney Jay. The “Jay” is in his name simply because my parents decided to be merciful with him and paved the way to the nickname T.J. With my youngest brother and my sister, they got on an Irish river kick. Boyne Andrew and Shannon Delaney. I missed bellbottoms by a decade, and the river thing is one more trend I’m glad I didn’t get in on. Some of the other rivers in Ireland are called Liffey, Corrib, and Bride; and, quite frankly, I have enough trouble trying to explain Aine.
Don’t get me wrong. My name’s fine. It’s just that… well, I want to be able to have a positive influence on my school; you know, help people here. Lincoln High is not an easy place to “shine”; and sometimes it seems my name is just one more thing that gets in the way of my…project, if you will. It frustrates me, and that frustration is enough to keep me repeatedly asking my mother, “Why on earth couldn’t you have just called me ‘Anna’?”
Her answer’s always the same, though. “Aine, alannah,” she says with this little wistful smile on her face (By the way, “alannah” is Gaelic for “my child.”). “We Irish are a proud people.”
Sure’n we love our heritage.
About The Author
Raelee May Carpenter is an ordinary person, a Christian, and an author of contemporary fiction, inspirational essays, and urban mythology. Raelee's work is passionate, descriptive and just a little edgy. Her three lifelong passions are faith, people, and words. She's a tone-deaf music fan and "Mumma" to a young-at-heart, rescued Beagle mix. Her favorite thing to write about is Grace.
Her debut novel The Lincoln High Project is available in trade paperback and Kindle formats from Amazon.com.
Purchase The Lincoln High Project at:
Raylee May Carpenter is giving away a copy of The Lincoln High Project. To be entered in the giveaway, leave a comment along with your email address. You can enter the book giveaway twice—once on each Spotlight post for the author. Please note: The giveaway is for U.S. addresses only.