Talk Derby to Me
((The sneak peek has not been professionally edited))
Walking onto campus, a couple of people glance in my direction. I’m used to the stares. It’s probably because of the green and pink and blue in my hair. I re-dyed my hair last night, so it’s popping slightly brighter than it has in the last month. David’s eyes linger on me longer than the others. That’s another thing I’m used to.
“Got a problem, David?” I ask, stopping in front of my locker.
“Me? No, but I think your troll hair has got split ends.” He starts laughing.
Rolling my eyes, I spin the lock on my locker, opening it up. Putting my books inside, I turn to him. “Oh, that’s so thoughtful. Hey, do you mind if I borrow your troll dolls for show and tell?”
“I mean, if you don’t want to, that’s okay. I’ll settle for your Barbies.”
“Shut up, Derby Girl. I don’t have Barbies. Or trolls.”
He says it loud it enough that we get a couple of other people looking over at us, this time their eyes linger on him instead of me. He notices and shuffles uncomfortably.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I just figured since you knew what troll hair looks like you must have a collection of them. It’s totally cool, David.”
He scowls, looking around again, I’m sure hoping no one heard me even if it is untrue. “Freak,” he hisses under his breath, walking away.
Alberta, my best friend, walks over to me, opening her locker next to mine. She hates her name, and everyone calls her Albie. She made sure to correct me the first day we met in fourth grade. “What was it today? A hair, bruise, or sex joke.” She starts giggling, shaking her head. “Or did you get the trifecta today?”
“Hair,” I answer. I don’t have any bruises right now. Well, not any obvious ones. Roller derby will do that. Her comment gives me pause, though. “Do you think he likes me, Albie?”
She starts laughing. “Sorry, no.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence.”
“No, it’s not that,” she says through more laughter. “If he liked you, he’d tease you about your boobs. Or butt.” Her giggling halts, and she grabs my arm. “Oh my God, why’d you ask? Please don’t tell me you like him.”
“Ew, no way. I just thought he’d have some new material after how long we’ve gone to school together.”
She giggles, and we both close our lockers, then head to our first class of the day.
It’s true about the joke thing. As a matter of fact, David isn’t the only one that needs some new material, he’s just the one that annoys me the most. Our entire senior class could use some originality. Occasionally I’ll show up with a scuff here or there, and it’s all anyone will ever talk about. The worst days, or best depending on your sense of humor, are when I have bruises on my knees. I wear kneepads during derby games and practice, but sometimes those landings are hard.
When it comes to the hair, I’ve heard it all. From funny colored troll hair, tie-dye, My Little Pony, and Rainbow Brite jokes. The Rainbow Brite one actually took me a minute to figure it out. I had to google it.
No stupid jokes will get me down today, though. Nope, not today. Today’s my eighteenth birthday, and that’s not even the reason I’m happy today. It’s not that I’m legally an adult, although I can’t buy beer or rent a car by myself, go figure those things out. I digress. It’s because after school I’m going to the second day of derby tryouts. I’ve been looking forward to it for years.
Yes, you heard me right. Years. I started the junior varsity, as the team calls it when I was fourteen. My mom told me to get out of the house more, and I didn’t really want to be there after …
Anyway, I went downtown with Albie, and we were just about to eat in the mall food court when these girls came buzzing by us on roller skates. They stopped by this old music and memorabilia store and left some flyers on the counter. Picking up one of the leaflets, I stared at it mesmerized and then watched them zoom off. The roller skates, the short shorts, not caring who was watching them, the tattoos, the different streaks of color in their hair. Everything. I loved everything about them.
We got Albie’s mom to drive us to the game they were promoting, and that was it. I was hooked. The speed of the girls skating around the track. The yelling and the pushing. It looked violent, and I’ve learned since that it is, but not in the crazy way some people think. You don’t get slammed to the ground or punched in the face. Usually. It’s a perfect mix of chaos and orchestra.
I forged my mom’s signature, something she got really pissed off about when she found out and signed up for the junior league. It took me a while to learn to balance on the skates, but I got the hang of it. And I’ve been hooked ever since.
Getting to the small courtyard where I eat my lunch with Albie, I drop my backpack to the ground and drop to my knees.
“That’s a natural position for ya, Mari!” David returns, yelling across the courtyard. It earns a laugh from everyone around us, heading to their lunch tables.
“You jealous, David?” I yell back. “I bet I’d need a magnifier glass for you, but I’ll give it a try if you want.”
More people laugh at my joke than his, except for David, who scowls and then stomps away.
“For the record, my cousin’s seen him in the shower after baseball practice. I don’t think you’re far off.”
At first, I want to laugh at the joke, but then a line crosses my brow. “Is your cousin gay?”
“Then … why is your cousin checking out David in the shower?”
“I’ve learned to never ask too many questions,” she says then takes a drink of her soda.
Pulling out my brown paper lunch bag from my backpack, I reach inside for the food I packed this morning. All it is is an apple, but the paper bag makes me feel like I brought an actual lunch to school. I feel Albie’s eyes on me, but I’ve learned to avoid them.
“Here,” she says, pulling out a half-wrapped sandwich.
I take it, looking it over once. “Ham and cheese?”
“You’re the best, Albie.”
I take a bite of the sandwich with a wide smile. Nope, no lack of lunch or even dumb jerks mocking me with slut-shaming jokes can knock me down. Today’s the day. Chewing on my sandwich, I glance over at Albie, who’s eating her own lunch while scrolling through her phone.
“You’re gonna be there tonight, right?” I ask her.
I giggle, bumping her elbow with mine. I can’t help the giddiness. “You know?”
She looks up from her phone, staring at me like she’s clueless. “I don’t know what you’re talking about?”
“Oh, you’re birthday? I thought you didn’t want to do any parties. I mean, your mom—”
“You know my mom doesn’t have a clue what’s going on.”
“We could have it my house. My little brother keeps staring at your chest. I think his little sixth grade friends keep coming over just hoping for a glimpse of you.”
“Ew, no! Albie, did you seriously forget?”
We both sit quietly, her seeming to try and remember what I’m talking about, and me trying not to strangle her right now. Another silent moment passes, and my shoulders drop. I can’t believe my best friend in the entire world forgot about possibly the single most important appointment I’ve ever had.
“I’m just messing’ with ya!” she shouts, laughing. “Of course I’ll be there. You’re gonna kill it.”
My smile returns, and I take another bite of my sandwich, er, her sandwich. But she’s right. I’m gonna kill it at the tryout. Then I’ll be a fully-fledged member of the Spitfires, one of the five teams of the Victorville Roller Derby League.
“That’s a natural position for ya, Mari!” David shouts across the courtyard as lunch begins.
I gaze past Vince’s shoulder, and he twists around to see what’s going on. “That guy is such a douche,” I say to myself.
“You jealous, David?” Mari yells back. “I bet I’ll need a magnifying glass for you, but I’ll give it a try if you want.”
I accidentally spit out my Mountain Dew soda over the lunch table, spraying Vince’s arm and backpack in front of him. “Dude!”
I wipe my mouth, still laughing. “Sorry. That was pretty funny.”
He rolls his eyes, wiping off his arm. “For a freak.”
He says it so matter-of-factly. I guess everyone in the school thinks of Marisol, also known by the student body as Derby Girl, as a freak. I don’t think she is. Not like I know her terribly well. We had French 101 sophomore year, and last year we had homeroom together. I don’t have any of my senior classes with her this year, but from everything I remember, she seems normal. Well, semi-normal.
Sure, she has multi-colored hair and seems to always have bruises, though I assume those are from roller derby. I think that’s the thing everyone trips out the most over; that she’s into roller derby. I mean … who does that? I guess the sport started making a comeback a few years back, but it’s not like basketball, volleyball, or softball. Some of the most popular sports for girls to play. Roller derby? I guess it is kind of weird.
“Are you checking her out?”
My stare breaks away from her, looking back at my soda. “What? No.”
“You were.” He laughs. “You were totally checking our Derby Girl.” He glances over his shoulder. Mari and her friend don’t pay any attention to us, talking about whatever’s going on in their life. He chuckles again, then looks back at me, lifting his shoulders. “She’s got a pretty nice rack. Which is weird because of how skinny she is. You’d think they’d be a little smaller.”
I wrinkle my nose for a second, but then nod in agreement and look over his shoulder. Suddenly, I realize I am indeed checking her out. “Whatever,” I hiss out, unwrapping the plain hamburger I got from the cafeteria. Pushing my glasses up my nose, I take a bite. “Anyway, what are you doing after school?” I ask with a mouthful of burger.
“Just basketball practice, as usual. You?”
“I’m going down to the Riverside Tribune.”
“Oh, yeah. The intern thing?”
I nod and take another bite of my burger. The Riverside Tribune is one of the most prominent news sites in the state. Their news coverage rivals that of established juggernauts Los Angeles Times of the San Francisco Chronicle. And I have an intern position waiting for me from the Tribune. It’ll only be until the end of the school year. Still, I not only get work experience credit for it, but I’ll also be getting a letter of recommendation from the editor I’m working under. Plus, I’ll get to cover local political topics, news items, and everything else. It’s the perfect next step to take before college. I’m already the editor-in-chief for the school newspaper, and this will pad my college applications even more.
I know most people my age aren’t even thinking about what they want to do for the rest of their lives. Or if they are, they’re probably dreaming of being teachers or chefs or architects. All great professions, but journalism is where my sights are set. I’ll be majoring in it when I attend college next fall. I’ve already filled out all the necessary information on my applications. I really want to attach a letter of recommendation from the editor. I really think that’ll make me stand out above the rest.
Finishing lunch, the bell is about to ring for our next class. Vince and I part ways, and as I walk across the courtyard, I see Mari and Albie still sitting down talking. I know Albie, too. Mostly because she’s in my journalism class this year. She’s not in it because she likes the news or wanted to write about it, but because she thought it’d be an easy elective for her. I rolled my eyes on the first day of school when she told me that.
“Yeah, Chief?” Albie calls out to me with the nickname she’s donned on me this year.
“What?” I reply, my eyes darting back and forth between her and Mari. Then I look away, realizing I’m staring at Mari again. “Oh, nothing.”
“All right then,” she says with a wide smile. Then her voice changes into a nineteen twenties, New Yorker accent. She holds her fingers out in front as if she’s holding an invisible cigar. “I’ll see ya in the funny pages this afternoon, Chief.”
I roll my eyes. As a matter of fact, I think that’s the only expression I ever give Albie; an eye roll. It is kind of funny, but not enough to get a laugh out of me. Mari quirks an unamused eyebrow at me, and I worry she might’ve caught me checking her out. I hope not. I’d hate to get lumped into the same category as douchebags like David.
“Yeah,” I tell Albie. “See you in class.”
Our journalism class is the last one of the day. I’ll be seeing her then and figuring out what minor article I can assign her for our upcoming issue. I try to keep it easy for her. For our first issue, I asked if she’d cover the upcoming student elections. All she did was talk about what the candidates had for lunch on election week. I can’t wait to get this internship started and get my hands dirty in some actual news items.
The Riverside Tribune is a bustle of noise and chaos and people yelling. It’s glorious. I’m waiting outside the office of one of the associate editors. I was hoping to speak with Michael Callipero, the business section editor of the paper, but I get that he’s probably busy. Besides, I have all my files stapled and collated, so I’ll be able to hand off my work and hopefully prove I’m a great fit.
The door outside of where I’m waiting swings open and an older man with bushy eyebrows steps out. “Evan Maldonado?” he yells.
I stand straight, offering him my hand. “Yes, sir.”
He eyes my hand for a moment, then looks me up and down. I came straight from school, so I’m still in my Converse shoes and jeans, but in a black polo. I hope I didn’t come to casual.
“Okay, then,” he says, ignoring my hand, and takes my folder I have with all my credentials and resume. Waving me to come in, he walks back into the office. “Take a seat.”
“Thank you,” I say, still unsure what to call him.
His office has a copier, fax machines, and several filing cabinets. His desk is filled with papers, a laptop, and a desktop computer, along with what looks like three different mugs of coffee. I finally see a nameplate that’s crooked.
“Mr. Janson,” I say. The plate says his first name is Kevin, but I want to keep this as professional as possible.
“Yeah, that’s fine,” he says aimlessly, flipping through my folder. “Editor-in-chief of your school paper?”
“Only this year?”
I cringe, but he doesn’t notice since he’s still reading my info. “Yes.”
He shakes his head almost in disappointment. “A lot of our interns have been EIC for two years in high school. The best ones got the job when they were a sophomore.”
All the confidence I had begins to drain. “I was an assistant editor since freshman year,” I hurry to hopefully help my case. “And I was asked to review some the school district proceedings for our local paper, the Victorville Gazette.” I’m sure it’s not that impressive since our local paper only has a circulation of 20,000. But it’s something, right?
He lifts his brows in a slight expression of approval. Very slight. “You do have some good references here. Mrs. Pollard has been teaching journalism at Victorville High for the past thirty years. She has a good eye for talent.”
“Okay,” he says, finally taking a seat behind his desk. “You’ll be reporting directly to me. Mr. Howard is extremely busy this time of year, so I’ll be taking in your work.”
My excitement shoots through my brain. He’s not even going to interview me like I thought he was. I already got the gig, and he’s telling me I’ll be reporting all of my stuff to him. It’s enough to feel like a million dollars. But he said Mr. Howard. I’m just about to ask who he’s talking about, in case something happened to Mr. Callipero, but he keeps going.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have many openings right now. We’ve got three interns from the local community college, but Howard said you can cover one of the smaller subjects. It’s nothing crazy, but enough to get your seat wet.”
“Um, I’m sorry.” I hold up a finger, getting more confused. “Who’s Mr. Howard? I thought the business section editor was Michael Callipero?”
“He is,” he replies, looking at me like he doesn’t know what I’m talking about him.
“Oh. Well, um, wasn’t I going to be interning under him? Believe me, I’m more than willing to take any of the crumbs I can, but I’m just … confused.”
His eyes narrow. “Didn’t you receive an email over the weekend?”
He shrugs, then hands me back my folder. “I see, that’s where the mix up is coming in. You’re not interning for Callipero anymore. You’ll be interning under Paul Howard, our entertainment section editor.”
My jaw drops. “Entertainment?” He nods as if there’s nothing wrong, except there’s everything wrong. Entertainment? Entertainment? I don’t want to be a gossip blogger, I want to be a news journalist. “I’m sorry there has to be some mistake.”
“As in?” He stares at me like I’m crazy.
“As in, I’ll be enrolling in college next year, majoring in journalism with a minor in political science. I’m going to be a news journalist, Mr. Janson. I was expecting to write about the business and political dealings that are happening locally. Not the latest fads.”
He lets out an apathetic chuckle. “Kid, we got a rotating door of reporters, and that number keeps getting smaller. You’ll get digital recognition on the website, and even that’s tough to come by. The Riverside Tribune might be large, but we know the industry. Why do you think we go digital first instead of print? These intern jobs are hard to come by, so I’m sorry if this isn’t up your alley, but you telling me about becoming a news journalist when print is already dying is enough to make me laugh. We got a list of twenty other students who’d like nothing more than to report on the status of a pet rock if we give them a shot. You want this spot or not?”
His words are enough to shake me from my momentary psychotic break. “Yes. I absolutely want it.”
Okay, so what if I have to report on movies or pop culture stuff. I can do that. He’s right, this is an absolutely coveted position and will undoubtedly look great on my college applications. I can report on entertainment stuff.
“Okay, then. He rifles through a stack of papers, then pulls out a sheet, handing it to me. “We’ve got the main topics covered, but we were able to find something for you to cover. It’s not much, but turn in some good work, and Howard will undoubtedly have a great letter of recommendation for you.”
“Great. What’s the topic?” I ask, trying to sound as optimistic as I can.
“You’re covering the derby league?”