The Wrong Side of the River
Wisely and slow; they stumble that run fast

The first day back at school after summer was the most important of the year. There were friends to catch up with, slumber parties and mall trips to plan. But instead of all that, the halls were buzzing about the council meeting. That never happened before, and as the only kid from Jefferson who was actually at the meeting, I saw no good reason for it to start now.
“I don’t want to hear about it,” I said, when Bethany started a rant about the new park going Southside.
“But Romy, have you even heard about the plans for the park? Mom says that it’s going to change everything for Southside and turn Northside into a slum. A slum, Romy!”
That sounded like way too much power for one park to have over an entire neighborhood to me. I laid my lunch tray carefully on our table and took my seat. “So much drama,” I said.
“But there is going to be a lake with actual fish in it. You can ride paddle boats in there too. There will even be a skate park. All the boys will be there, all the time,” said Charlotte.
We all flipped open our plastic sushi trays together, as if we had practiced all summer long. That sort of thing takes years of friendship to achieve, so I smiled at them both. “Why on earth should skateboards matter to me?” I asked.
“Parry has a board,” Bethany said.
Then, as if he heard our conversation, Parry arrived in the cafeteria. As always, his teeth flashed in a big smile as he stomped on the end of his skateboard to flip it up into his hands. “He’s going to be in so much trouble if he gets caught riding that board inside,” Charlotte breathed.
I shrugged. “ He never actually rides it inside, he just likes to make an entrance.” I understood, I too knew the importance of making an impact.
Parry lifted a hand to wave to me. As he moved off toward the food counter, another face appeared in the place where he had been standing. A face swollen and puffy with a pair of glasses balancing on a lump of what could have once been a nose. I didn’t realize who it was until our eyes met and he smiled a metal smile right at me.
It was the boy my mother absolutely forbid me to have anything to do with.
“Ow, is that Julian Griffin?” Charlotte asked, lowering her chopsticks from her mouth. “What on earth happened to his face?”
“Maybe someone punched him for the whole park thing,” Bethany muttered.
“Violence is never the answer,” I said, with a sigh, thinking of the council meeting and my mother’s orders. All she did anymore was give orders. To me and Sage, to Dad, to all the people on the fashion team at her magazine. Someone needed to start saying no. Blinking, I arranged my face into my warmest smile, and waved a little wave at Julian Griffin.
He froze. People bumped into him so he was jostled left and right, but he didn’t move. He stood there with his hand lifted up in a return wave, his face frozen into a painful shape that was probably a smile.
Then, he slipped.
Not elegantly, either. He keeled over backward like a very spindly tree after a collision with a chainsaw.
Teachers and lunch ladies ran over. The smile faded from my face as I lowered my hand.
Charlotte dissolved into a fit of giggles, while Bethany stared at the spot where Julian used to be before gravity got hold of him.
“Romy,” Charlotte giggle-snorted at me. “Your wave killed him.”
I wanted to wince but my wince-face is ugly.
“Way to go. Our first strike in the war against Southside,” Bethany said.
Being friends with Julian Griffin might be trickier than I thought.
After all the war talk, Drama was a gigantic relief. I loved everything about school, but Drama was my absolute favorite. Mrs. Kempf threw down her script onto her chair and stood up when she saw me arrive.
“Rosemary, my dear! How lovely to see you again. How was your summer? Did you go to drama camp this year? Oh, I am so glad you chose to join us again.” Her glasses slipped off her nose to dangle from the chain around her neck. “I have the perfect role for you, too. Juliet! Yes, you must be my Juliet!”
Romeo and Juliet? My insides sank a little at the thought of kissing some boy who only chose to join Drama on a dare or because his mom forced him to. Alice in Wonderland had been amazing last year. Loads of lines, all about me, and no boys to kiss. But, at least Romeo and Juliet was Shakespeare and any good actor had to be excited to do Shakespeare. Still, it dampened my excitement a bit. And it got wetter still when a scuffle broke out in front of the stage.
Jimmy Watson and Blair Manning rolled around on the floor, yelling insults at each other.
“—ruining everything!”
“No! It’s only fair!”
I didn’t need to hear any more than that to know they meant the park. Everything was about that stupid park.
Sighing, I took the script Mrs. Kempf handed me as she ran down to break up the fight. Someone beat her to it, though. Someone I did not expect.
“Enough!” a small, but determined voice bellowed. A figure hurried up and yanked Blair off Jimmy with a quick tug. “Drama is no place for—drama.” The commanding voice wasn’t familiar, but the skinny body and swollen face was.
Well, well. Julian Griffin.
Somehow, it worked. The boys shuffled away from each other and muttered apologies. Julian shoved the boys to opposite sides of the theater and ordered them to stop and check their attitudes.
I stood and applauded as if Julian had just sorted out world peace for the U.N.. He turned in my direction, looked up at me . . .
And vomited.

Keep Reading

Chapter 5

One Pain is Cured by Another Julian

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