A Boy Like You (Like Us Book 1)By: Ginger Scott
I’m not sure which one of us invented the races—Taryn or me. But we run them together. They are ours. When the bell sounds at 3:20 every afternoon, there’s a sprint to the wooden gate in the alley leading to my back yard.
My house is the perfect place for them. I live on the last street, in the last neighborhood, before the rows of corn and cotton begin. My yard is at least twice the size of most of the others in south Bakersfield. It also slopes up maybe eight feet at the end. Daddy says they built the berm to keep the dirt from the farms out of our neighborhood.
I think they built it for racing.
It’s hot outside, but I know that won’t slow anyone down. I bet we’ll have more kids at my house today than we’ve had all year; maybe even the entire third grade will come. It’s the final week of school—only two days left. Everyone in Bakersfield is ready for summer. The pools don’t open until next week, though, which is why our races have become so popular.
“Are you going to run home? Or did you bring your bike today?” Taryn whispers behind me. Her desk touches the back of my chair.
“Brought my bike. I’ll beat everyone there and get the coffee can and tickets ready,” I whisper over my shoulder, ignoring the suspicious glare from Mrs. Grandel. I raise my book on my desk, propping it on its spine so I can watch our teacher and look like I’m reading. “Do you have the trophies ready for tomorrow?”
“Yeah. They’re drying in the garage,” Taryn says, a little too loudly.
“Ladies? Something wrong? Or do you think you can manage to give me five minutes of learning before you completely shut those brains off?” Mrs. Grandel doesn’t have to stand; her voice is loud enough from her chair to make her point, even when her back is to us.
“Yes, ma’am,” Taryn answers for us. I cough out a short laugh at my best friend’s formal response. Ma’am—ha!
“Josselyn Winters, you could stand to learn a thing or two about respect from Taryn. I wouldn’t think her proper answer is as funny as you seem to,” she says, bothering to put her own reading down on her desk and turn her body to point her eyes right at me. I don’t like being embarrassed in class. Everyone is looking at me, including Christopher, the weird kid. My cheeks feel hot as I cross my legs and slide them underneath my seat, shrinking a little. I lean my head to the side, just enough to catch Christopher peeking at me over his book. I scrunch my lips up at him, squinting my eyes, and he looks away quickly.
Luckily, the bell sounds just as my eyes fall to my desk, and I jerk back to life, springing to my feet, shoving my book in the small cubby under my desktop. Backpack slung over one shoulder, I sprint through the classroom door, down the hall and around the gated fence where the bikes are stored. I didn’t even bother to lock mine this morning, instead just twisting the chain around my wheel to make it look like I had. I wanted to make sure I had time before the others showed up, and my padlock is old—the combination part is really rusty, and it usually takes me four or five tries to pull it loose.
With two hands, I push my bike forward, kicking with one foot as I do, the other planted on the outside pedal. I scooter my way through the main entrance of the school, and as soon as my tire hits the road, I sling my other leg over and begin to pedal fast, not sitting once. I cut through the alley, slowing slightly to make sure I can twist and turn my tires through the bits of glass people throw out here. I flick open the clasp on the gate, pushing my bike through with me, then dumping it on its side in the corner of my yard.
I rush through the sliding door, yelling a quick “Hello” to my mom as I run through the kitchen to my room. I exchange my school bag for the can and tickets then sprint again to the backyard, this time smiling at my mom and stopping for a quick hug and a kiss. She laughs at me and tells me to have fun, shutting the sliding glass door behind me.
I pull the small plastic bag from the can, opening one end a little to let the powdered chalk I’d spent the night grinding up from my box spill out in an even line. Then I walk slowly around my yard, beginning at the gate, curving up along the hill, then back down the other side until I connect the oval. There’s enough left for me to be able to touch up the track tomorrow.