Sunday, January 9, 2011

Wishing on a Star

Tonya shivered and pulled her jacket close around her. She loved the warm, sunny days in Twinbrook, but the nights could be cool, especially with the mists coming off the swamps. It was the first Friday after the start of the New Year, and as usual, she was alone. She envied the popular girls at Twinbrook High, girls who had dates every weekend, girls who went to all the school dances, girls who were chosen for the pep squad and cheerleading teams.

She'd never been popular, and for years she'd told herself it didn't matter. What she lacked in beauty, she made up for with brains. She made straight A's in all her classes, had never once missed being on the Honor Roll, and unless something drastic happened before she graduated in 2012, she'd earn the title of Valedictorian. Instead of going to football and basketball games and taking part in pep rallies, Tonya's place was among the geeks and nerds. Science Club. The Astronomer's Club. Mathematics Club. While those subjects were fascinating to her, they were dull and boring to just about everybody else. At least, to everybody who really mattered at Twinbrook High.

Now she sat before a long table with dozens of stars cut from white posterboard scattered across the top. A large sign proclaimed "Twinbrook High Astronomers Club - Come Wish Upon a Star". Tonya herself had come up with the idea for the fund-raiser. Anyone who wanted to donate a dollar to the club could take a star, write a wish upon it, decorate it with glitter and stickers, and hang their special wish on a nearby tree.

If only our wishes would come true, she thought as she stared out through the darkness toward the tree. She knew what she would wish for, but --

"About ready to wrap it up for the night?" Mr. Lansford, the science teacher stood at the table with his wife beside him. He picked up a star and dangled it from its string. "Looks like the club did all right. You did a great job with this, Tonya."

She appreciated the compliments, and she was pleased that the fund-raiser had turned out so well. Hundreds of glittering stars hung from the branches of the tree, shimmering in the moonlight as they danced and swayed in the breeze.

"Thanks, and yeah, I think I'll start packing things away. It doesn't look like we'll have too many more people coming by." She got up and slowly began gathering up the stars on the table, reluctant for the night to end. She had nowhere to go but home and nothing to do once she got there other than feed the cats, curl up on the couch and read a good book -- and ignore her annoying little brother. Her parents would be in the den watching television. They'd exchange a few words and a few smiles, and that would be the extent of their family interactions.

I wish I could go somewhere, maybe do something exciting ...

She stopped and stared down at the star she held in her hand. Maybe she should make a wish.

Glancing around, she saw Mr. and Mrs. Lansford busy taking down the telescopes the club had set up around the site. Good. She still had a little time.

Tonya reached for her purse, fumbled around searching for coins, then sighed. She didn't even have a dollar to donate to the club! But she had given of her time, hadn't she? Spending the last several hours of her life sitting on that cold, metal folding chair should be worth at least a dollar. Besides, she could bring a dollar to school on Monday to add to the club treasury.

Determined now to make a wish, she picked up one of the ink pens and began to write. At least, she tried. The pen wasn't working.

Oh, this is just great. Maybe I'm not meant to ever have a wish come true.

She tried another pen, then another. Finally she found one that worked. Quickly, before she lost her nerve, she scribbled down the words.

I wish someone cared about me.

Her parents cared, of course. They just didn't take the time to show it. Even Arnie, her little brother, actually liked her, but being 10 years old, he had to pretend otherwise. Besides, family members had to care about each other. That was just the way life worked.

What Tonya really wanted was someone special who would care.

She closed her eyes, and for a moment, she dared to dream.

I wish there were a special guy who would care about me. Somebody cute and funny who could make me laugh, somebody who wouldn't think I'm weird because I like algebra and biology. And I wish he'd like to take long walks along the riverbank, and --

Hearing laughter, Tonya opened her eyes. Standing beneath the tree, hand-in-hand were Merit and Buddy. They'd been steady dating for weeks. Tonya was happy for both of them. Other couples from school had come by throughout the evening. Jethro and Donna. Larry and Starr, his newest girlfriend. Raylene and Jeff. Everyone seemed to have somebody special.

Everybody except her.

This year it's going to be different. I'm going to find someone special.

Tonya didn't have time to decorate her star. Would the fates deny her wish because it wasn't covered in gold and silver glitter? She hoped not.

With a sigh, she hurried off toward the tree.

"Hey, Merit! Hi, Buddy." She smiled.

"We've been wishing for world peace," Buddy said.

"And for an end to poverty and homelessness throughout the world," added Merit.

Tonya smiled again, feeling a little selfish about her wish. Leave it to Buddy and Merit to think of others before themselves. Of course, they had each other. Tonya had nobody special to call her own.

Buddy and Merit waved and hurried off, still holding hands.

Tonya stood on tiptoes as she tried to reach a low-hanging branch of the tree. She struggled with the task, and only ended up dropping her star. A wind rose up, and her star went floating off on the air.

"Hey, wait!" she cried out, running after it. Carried on the breeze, the star sailed through the night. Tonya chased after it. "Oh, dear!"

Tonya watched as the cardboard star soared on -- directly toward a tall young man coming down the hill. At first she couldn't tell who it was, but as he drew closer, she recognized Amos Owens. Tonya cringed when the star blew right into his hands.

"That's my star," she called out, rushing to claim it. Her cheeks heated. If Amos read her wish, she'd absolutely die of embarrassment right then and there. "I need to hang it on the tree." She snatched it from his hands as quickly as she could.

"Yeah, I was thinking about making a wish, too." Amos smiled at her. "Looks like I got here a little too late, though. I didn't get off work until nine," he explained. Amos worked part-time at the bookstore in town.

"There's still time," Tonya told him. "I haven't finished packing everything up." She looked back to the table, saw the Lansfords walking toward it, then impulsively grabbed Amos by the hand. "Come on. We'll have to hurry."

Moments later, Amos stood at the table, hastily scribbing down a wish while Tonya put things away. No sooner had he finished than Mr. Lansford folded up the table. He and his wife loaded everything into the back of their van.

"It was a great fund-raiser," Mrs. Lansford assured Tonya. "We might have to make this an annual tradition." She held up the cashbox. "The club made a lot of money."

Tonya nodded. "Yeah. I hope maybe some of those wishes come true, at least." She gestured toward the tree. "We'd be in sad shape if we had to offer money-back guarantees."

Mrs. Lansford gave her a quizzical look. "Why so pessimistic, Tonya? Wishes do come true. You just have to believe, you know."

"Yeah, right." Tonya smiled. She wished it were true.

"Do you need a ride anywhere?" Mr. Lansford asked. "We'll be glad to take you home."

"Thanks, but I'll be fine," Tonya replied. "I don't live far from here."

"All right. See you on Monday." Mr. Lansford waved, helped his wife into the car, and they drove off.

Tonya picked up her purse, then realized Amos was still standing beside her.

"Did you need something else?" she asked.

"Well, I was going to hang my wish. What about you? Your wish?"

She stared down at the ragged star she still clutched in her hand. "It's a little worse for wear, but I suppose --" Tonya shrugged.

Together they walked to the tree. Amos grabbed hold of the branch and held it while Tonya hung her wish.

"World peace," she whispered. "That's what I'm wishing for." She hoped and prayed Amos couldn't read what was actually written upon her star. "What about you?"

"World peace." Amos tied his star beside Tonya's. "And a passing grade in World History."

"Mrs. Townsend's class? That's a tough one," she added when Amos nodded. "Would you want me to help you study for the exam?" She blushed and wondered why she'd been so bold as to suggest such a thing. "I mean, well, I just thought --"

"I'd like that." Amos smiled at her. "Hey, do you have to get home right away? Maybe we could head over to the diner and grab a bite to eat. I'd enjoy the company." His face reddened. "I mean, well, I just thought maybe --"

"I'd love to." Tonya beamed with excitement, then her hopes fell. "I'm sorry, Amos. I can't. I just remembered I don't have any money with me."

"That's fine. This is my treat." He stared down at the ground and shifted awkwardly from one foot to the other. "I've always liked you, Tonya. You're so smart, and you're always so good at organizing things, like this event tonight. But you're always so busy, and I'm busy a lot, too." He actually began to stammer. "I- I've wanted to get to know you better, but -- but, I didn't know how to make you notice me."

Tonya blinked in surprise. How could any girl not notice Amos Owens? He was tall, cute, and always doing something off-the-wall. Like the time he dressed in cowboy duds and rode his horse to school, or the time he painted his old car with polka dots, or the time ...

"Well, how about it, Tonya?"

His voice drew her from her thoughts. "Sure, Amos! I'd really enjoy having a bite to eat with you. And getting to know you better." She smiled, and when he reached for her arm, she smiled even more.

They strolled along the riverbank on the way to the diner. The stars above reflected in the rippling current of the water.

"Just look at all those stars," Amos said, stopping and pointing heavenward. "Maybe each one is somebody's wish."

"Too bad wishes don't really come true." Tonya took another step, but Amos held her back.

"Of course they do." He gazed at her with gentle blue eyes. "Mine's already come true. I have a confession to make. I didn't really wish for world peace. I wished I'd find someone who understood me, or at least, somebody willing to try." He shrugged. "People think I'm different, and I guess I am."

"You march to your own drummer," Tonya told him. "That's what people say about you."

"It gets lonely."

"I feel lonely sometimes, too," she admitted. "I guess people don't really understand me, either."

"Maybe we can learn to understand each other," Amos suggested, pulling her close. He bent his head close to hers and lightly kissed her lips. "Maybe we can make all our wishes come true."

"Maybe so." Tonya smiled, her lips still tingling from his sweet kiss. "Right now, I'm wishing for a cheesburger and fries. Think we can make that happen?"

"With a chocolate malted to go along with it?" Amos grinned. "Sure thing." Holding hands, he and Tonya strolled on through the night.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Coming Soon: Episode 3

Be watching for "Wishing on a Star", starring Tonya Hickman and Amos Owens.

Will a New Year mean new love for two lonely teens?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Speak Up!

Please share your thoughts, your comments, and your personal stories.

Have you been a victim of harrassment? How do you think schools should handle bullies?
What's YOUR school doing?

A Message from Mr. Kincaid

From the desk of Russell Kincaid, Principal

Bullies are found in every school throughout the country. Too often, bullying is the way young people interact today. Every school must recognize this inappropriate behavior and take steps to stop it. Twinbrook High School is no exception.

If bullying behavior is ignored or downplayed, students will suffer. Bullying and harrassment can cause lifelong damage to its victims. When a school fails to deal with bullies, the well-being of all its students is jeopardized. Allowing this improper behavior to continue creates a hostile environment which interferes with learning.

Bullying will NOT be tolerated at Twinbrook High.


Bullying behavior is any form of deliberate, hurtful behavior or harrassment. This includes physical acts, such as hitting, kicking, or damaging another student's personal property. It also includes verbal abuse, such as name-calling and insults. Bullying can also be emotional or social. This includes spreading rumors, deliberately slighting others or subjecting other students to ridicule.


An unfortunate incident recently occurred involving students from this school. Although I regret that the incident happened, I am relieved that the issue is now out in the open and the extent of bullying behavior at Twinbrook High can be addressed. I am now asking that all students pledge to prevent bullying behavior at our school. Do not support those who harrass others; do not give approval to inappropriate behavior. If you see any student subjected to harrassment, speak up! Do not remain silent; do not look the other way. Take a stand, step forward, and offer any assistance possible to students who are being harrassed.


Beginning Monday, January 3, when we return from holidays, Room 24 will be designated as a "Safe Haven" area. Any student who feels threatened, abused, bullied, or harrassed may go to the Safe Haven at any time. Students who are interested in becoming Safe Haven volunteers should stop by my office for additional information.


A meeting for all school staff and parents of Twinbrook High School students will be held on Tuesday evening, January 4, at 7:00 PM. Additional counseling and special programs will be put into place if deemed necessary.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Jethro - A Troubled Teen

Jethro Wilson ignored the whispers as he walked into homeroom. Kids in school were always whispering about him, always pointing fingers, always laughing at him. They'd been doing it since way back in first or second grade. He'd gotten used to it.


Not that he liked it. To tell the truth, he hated it, but what could he do about it? Nothing. Just ignore them. That was what his dad always said. Don't stoop to their level, Jethro. That was his mom's advice, although he didn't really understand what she meant.

But the whispers today ... well, there was something different about them. There was something different, too, in the way the kids looked at him.

This was Jethro's first year at Twinbrook High. Over the summer, he'd hoped that maybe things would be different now. Maybe the other kids would stop laughing at him when he tripped or lost his balance. It was because of his lazy eye, that's all. He'd hoped, too, that maybe they'd stop calling him names. Retard. Idiot.

That's what hurt the most.

But names were just words, right?

He could ignore them if he just tried a little harder.

Jethro tensed when he saw Larry Gee. Big, tall, star basketball player -- Larry and his friends were always harrassing him, always pushing him around, always trying to start trouble.


"Hey, Jethro, how's it going?" Larry asked, stepping in front of him to block his way.

"OK. I gotta get to class now."

Larry moved in front of him as he tried to walk past. "Been on the Internet lately?"

"Nah, not lately." Jethro frowned, not understanding why Larry would ask about the Internet. "Look, I don't want to be late for class." Once more, he tried to walk around, but Larry was quicker.

"Yeah, right. Everybody knows what you've been doing, I heard about that message you sent Georgia."

Jethro didn't remember sending any message to Georgia. Why would he send her a message? What would he say to a pretty, popular girl like her?

Just then Georgia came up to Larry. The two of them laughed together, and they forgot all about Jethro.


He headed on to his class, but the bell rang before he got there. Great. Another tardy mark on his record. It's not like he was late on purpose, it was just because of --


"Jethro Wilson! Get your books and come with me. Now. Mr. Shoemaker wants to see you."

He froze. He knew Mr. Carpenter was upset about him being late again, but why was he yelling? Jethro didn't understand what was happening. Why was he being sent to the assistant principal's office for one tardy mark?


June Wilson stirred up another serving of pancakes. She'd be glad when the breakfast rush was over at the diner. She'd worked every morning for the last two weeks straight.


"Phone call for you, June," said her boss, gesturing for her to come to his office. "It's the school."

June's shoulders sagged. Jethro was in trouble. Again.

Fourteen years before, when her little boy was born, June Wilson had been the happiest woman on earth. She and George had been married for such a long time, and even though they'd both wanted a big family, they'd all but given up hope of ever having a child. And then, Jethro came along. The day he was born was the happiest day of June Wilson's life. They were a real family, at last.


Even from the start, Jethro seemed a little slow to learn new things, but his parents loved him all the same. Children progress at different rates, their doctor explained. In time, Jethro learned to walk and talk. He fell down a lot, but he always laughed, got back up, and went on.


As Jethro got older, George and June were sure he'd do well in school. When he turned six and went off to Twinbrook Elementary, everything seemed fine.


At first.

Then, the problems began.


Miss Victoria, the principal at Twinbrook Elementary, minced no words when reporting Jethro's behavioral problems.

"Your son is extremely uncoordinated. He has poor motor skills, doesn't relate well to the other children in class, and refuses to pay attention to his teachers." She barely paused long enough to take a breath. "He's disruptive in class and is always starting trouble. If he doesn't learn how to behave, I'll have to have him removed from this school."

Removed? From first grade? Surely, she had to be joking.

June soon realized how serious the situation was. The other kids, she found out, were making fun of Jethro, teasing him, and ridiculing him. Of course he acted out! Who wouldn't?


But it really wasn't Jethro's fault. An eye examination showed that he had a "lazy eye", and a visit to an orthopedist revealed that one of Jethro's legs was a little longer than the other. No wonder he had problems running and catching a ball!


George and June talked to their son. "Don't let them upset you," they advised. "Just leave the other kids alone, and they'll leave you alone, too." Too bad it didn't work that way.

"Jethro's a sissy!"

That's when the name-calling began. If Jethro fought back, he was called a trouble-maker. If he refused to fight, he was called a sissy. Poor kid. He couldn't win no matter what he did.

June shook off the memories and fought to hold back tears. "I've got to go," she told her boss, rushing out of the diner. She didn't even have time to take off her apron. Jethro was in trouble. Big trouble.


She stopped just long enough to call her husband. "Meet me at Twinbrook High right away."

By the time she reached the school, she was shaking like a leaf. Never in her life had she been so angry -- or so afraid.


George and June met at the school. "Don't worry, we'll get through this," he assured her. "Things will be all right."


But June had a feeling that things would never be all right again. She was so upset, nothing George said could calm her down.



"I hope you have a good lawyer," warned Mr. Shoemaker, the assistant principal.

"Where's Mr. Kincaid?" George asked. He knew the principal was open-minded and willing to listen to reason. His hopes plummeted when Shoemaker explained that Kincaid was out of town attending a conference all week.

"I'm in charge here," the assistant principal said with a smirk.

"Tell us what happened, please," begged June.

"Your son brought a gun to school. He sent a message to one of the girls warning her that he was going to come in and start shooting. Fortunately she reported Jethro, so I was able to prevent it from happening."


"A gun? An internet message?" June and her husband exchanged glances then turned toward Mr. Shoemaker. "We don't have any guns in our home," June insisted. "And Jethro rarely uses the internet. He hasn't been online in over a week."

"Maybe you need to watch your son a little better." Mr. Shoemaker's eyes narrowed. "It's bad parents who make for bad kids. If you paid more attention to Jethro --"


George flew out of his chair, ready to throw a few punches at Shoemaker's smirky face. His wife restrained him.

"Don't lose your temper, George," she counseled. "That will only make things worse."

She struggled to remain calm. "Where is our son?" she demanded to know. "Did you find a gun in his possession? And have you seen the message he allegedly sent?" She leaned forward with her hands on Shoemaker's desk. "Who is this girl? Have you questioned her story?"

"Georgia Tessler is the student who reported Jethro." Shoemaker straightened his tie and resumed his seat. "I had no reason to doubt what she said. She comes from a good family. Mr. Tessler is on the City Council, you know." His eyes surveyed the Wilsons with a look of disapproval. George was a mechanic, and June worked at the diner. Obviously, in Shoemaker's eyes, they weren't quite acceptable. "Besides," he continued, "I had to act immediately. The lives of the students were at risk. I couldn't take any chances."

George nodded. "We understand your zeal to protect the kids. We worry about Jethro's safety every time he gets on the bus. But he's not the one causing the problems. Our son has been bullied and pushed around for years."

Shoemaker smirked. "And now, he's bringing a gun to school and planning to get even."


"Show me the gun, Mr. Shoemaker. And show me a copy of the message Jethro sent to Georgia Tessler. Until you can produce some evidence, I refuse to believe my son has done anything wrong."

"I didn't find a gun," Shoemaker admitted. "And Georgia says she deleted the message as soon as she'd read it. She said she was scared, so I can understand why she got rid of it." He picked up a file on his desk and handed it to Mrs. Wilson. "Here's the statement she gave me, if you want to read it yourself. She says she worried about the message all night. After she got to school this morning, she knew she had to speak up."

June studied the report and looked at the picture of Georgia paper-clipped to it. She recognized her, at once.


"She's been dating Larry Gee," June said. "The two of them have come into the diner together a few times. Along with some of their other friends." She turned to her husband. "Larry and his basketball buddies are the same boys who've tormented Jethro all these years." She looked back at Mr. Shoemaker and handed him his report. "For some reason, the school refuses to do anything about those bullies. It's easier to blame Jethro than to admit there's a problem." She got to her feet. "We're taking Jethro home now. He won't be coming back to this school."


"No, he won't," agreed Mr. Shoemaker. "I've expelled him. He's not allowed on school property, so you'd better make sure he stays far away."


None of it was true, of course. Jethro had no gun, he'd never sent any message to Georgia Tessler, and why would he want to hurt anybody? Yeah, the kids made fun of him, but he'd learned to ignore them. Once in a while, he did get angry or upset, but doesn't everybody?


At home over the next few days, things grew worse for Jethro. His parents believed him, of course, but he knew no one else did. He sat around the house while his mother and father worked all day, and he felt more and more alone. It was hard to get through life without friends. He'd never been happy, Jethro realized. Even worse, he knew he never would find any real happiness. He had no future. What was the point in living?



On Tuesday, June worked the late afternoon shift. George was working late at the garage. She was exhausted when she got home from work. When she reached the house, it was eerily quiet -- and dark.


Her heart lurched. Had Jethro gone out? She'd asked him to stay at home, and he was always an obedient boy. She hoped he hadn't gone back to the school and gotten into trouble with Shoemaker again.

She stepped inside and turned on the light, then screamed in terror! Jethro was hanging from a noose, his feet kicking wildly, his face turning a sickening shade of blue. Thank goodness, she'd come home when she did! Jethro was still alive! She raced across the room to help the son she loved so dearly, then with trembling hands she called 911.


She called her husband, too, and told him to go directly to Twinbrook Medical Center.


For several days, Mrs. Wilson sat at her son's bedside at the hospital. How close she had come to losing him! All because of those awful bullies at the school. Mr. Shoemaker stopped by the hospital one afternoon and made a feeble apology. His investigation had turned up no evidence that Jethro had done anything wrong. Still, the assistant principal defended his own actions. His first thought had been protecting the students. Mrs. Wilson understood that, but why didn't the school officials worry about protecting Jethro?


"May I come in, Mrs. Wilson?"

She heard a light tapping at the door of Jethro's hospital room. When she looked up and saw Georgia Tessler standing in the doorway, she stiffened.

"What do you want, Georgia?" she asked, her voice cold.

"I have to apologize. I'm really sorry I lied about Jethro! It was just supposed to be a harmless little joke, that's all." Georgia looked truly contrite. "It was Larry's idea. He thought it would be funny. I never thought --"


"That's right," June snapped. "You didn't think! You didn't think about Jethro. You didn't think about the pain you were causing his father and me. You didn't once think about the consequences of your little prank. Jethro nearly died because of what you did."


"You're right. I've gone to Mr. Shoemaker, and I've told him everything. Larry and I are both being suspended for two weeks, and some of our other friends are facing disciplinary action, too. We're all really sorry, Mrs. Wilson. We never meant for this to happen. Jethro can come back to Twinbrook High now, and there won't be any more problems."



Jethro went home from the hospital a couple days later, and the next morning, he got up, got dressed, and grabbed his books.

"Yeah, Mom, I want to go back to school." He grabbed his jacket.

"You know there will be trouble. I don't want to worry about something happening --"

"Nothing's going to happen to me," he assured her, putting his arms around her and giving her a hug. "I don't think those kids at school will be playing any more pranks. At least, not for a while. I think maybe they've learned a lesson."


Jethro had learned a few lessons, too, he thought as he boarded the school bus that morning and headed back to Twinbrook High.


He knew there would always be kids who picked on him, but he also knew he had people who cared about him. His mother and father loved him. He thought about how upset his mother had been over all that had happened, and Jethro was really glad to be alive. Things looked bleak at times, but every day was a new day, and he could be strong enough to get through life, strong enough to keep smiling, and strong enough to reach out to others.


A lot of kids -- and the teachers, too -- were surprised to see Jethro back. They figured he'd be too afraid to come to school again. But they were wrong. Jethro wasn't going to let them hurt him anymore. He'd hold his head high, go to his classes, and he'd even talk to the students around him. He'd speak up more often in class, and if he made mistakes or said something stupid ... well, it wouldn't be the first time. Maybe he could even learn to laugh at himself a little.

Jethro knows he'll never be one of the popular kids at school, but he's glad that he came back to Twinbrook High after that awful incident. He's accepted Georgia Tessler's apology for the part she played, and he's starting to make a few real friends. He especially likes being friends with Donna.


She's been picked on before, too, so she really understands how Jethro feels. He's thinking about asking Donna if she'll go to the Sweetheart's Dance with him. It's coming up in February. He's got a lot to look forward to in his future now.

~ The End ~

Coming Soon: Episode 2

Episode 2 of The Teens of Twinbrook High is in the final wrap-up stages and will be posted soon. Be watching for it!