Copyright © 2020 by Alyssa Ratliff
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A Pack of Our Own
Operation: Fix It
Agreeing was something people usually did with me, but not this time. This time, people disagreed when I said he was cute. I mean, he wasn’t like Chris, who was hot as hell. But I thought Andrew was cute. He didn’t have a lot of friends, but after a few days of him being here, he got a few, his little click. It took me a while to figure out the dynamics of the school, and when I did, I was horrified. How could I have been so damn blind? Every school is similar in one way, the clicks. You’ve got the Populars, the Jocks, which sometimes run together… Then there’s the Band Geeks and the Computer Nerds… The Skater Boys… The Dopies… Every school is the same. I was in the Popular group, and Andrew was in the Loud and Annoyings. So I figured out my click and at first, I was proud of that fact. Until I realized that being a bitch was a requirement for being popular. I wasn’t raised that way and was ashamed to realize what I had become. Humiliated? Yes, I was very. Arrogant? Also yes. I was determined with a blazing passion to change. I had to fix it. I was the kind of person to write down everything. So when I figured out this fact about myself and the clicks, I wrote it down and made some points on how to fix it. Then I named it, Operation: Fix It. But where, oh where, to begin? First, I talked to the Band Geek, which wasn’t nearly as difficult as I prophesied. I made close friends with Nathalie. I told her about Operation: Fix-It and she hopped on board, showing that she wasn’t really as geeky as she looked with her appearance and social static. Next, I spoke with Computer Nerds. Odd, they were, but also smart as hell. From that group, I discovered Bree; who I would never fully unravel the mental awareness or personality of, as she changed too often and was too complicated to completely keep up with. The Wannabe Cools followed in my work. They really weren’t’ at all what I expected. They could be cool, except for the obvious fact that they were bitches and assholes, and that was a requirement. Evan was who I made a connection with from there. But then one night while I was doing homework, my phone rang. It was Kyle, one of the Populars. I missed him, so I answered casually. I had never experienced crying from Kyle, but crying he was.
“I’m fucking done with them!’ He screamed, and when I asked what was wrong, I realized what was happening, was only a crack in his dam. He really broke then; for three hours he went on about how Chris had accused him of being gay and Kyle’s best friend didn’t stand up for him. The thing was, Kyle was gay, and I was the only one who knew. I explained my situation to him, and about the pack I accidentally created, and from that point on, Kyle was with us. The thing was, everyone in our pack didn’t belong anywhere else. Sure, we had our groups and clicks, but truly, we never really belonged. Nathalie, the first addiction was extremely anti-social and had a stutter so bad, she didn’t talk for two years straight. She got heavily bullied for it, and one time, got shoved off a swing so bad, she broke both her arms. Bree called herself a “Little”, which meant when things got too hard or too stressful; her mind reverted to a child-like state-of-mind. The innocence made things easier to handle with her anxiety. Evan dealt with severe depression. People nicknamed him “Hoodie” because he always wore hoodies, even in ninety-degree weather. Truth be told though, was that he was just trying to cover up the cut marks on his arm, also the reason he never wore shorts. Four times, he’d tried committing suicide, and that was only the times he told me about… Kyle, of course, was gay; which in their opinion, lowered his status. The only click I hadn’t talked to in my mission of proving I wasn’t a bitch, was Andrew’s. I was scared. Talking to his pack meant talking to him and talking to him meant facing my fears, and facing my fears was the one thing I could never do. Andrew was cute though. Brown with tents of red, his curly hair was. Light, but not pale, was his skin. Pimples dotted his face heavily, almost covering just a few odd in freckles. His nose was big, his lips were small. Grey and brown blanketed the irises of his average eyes, of which would have to look down quite a way to see me. As he was five-foot, eight-inches, and I was five-foot-even. He was a normal weight, not much muscle, and had big feet. He didn’t look like any of my friends. Kyle had blonde, thin curls, and was tall, skinny, and had big lips to cover his crooked teeth beneath his long, skinny nose, and brown eyes. Nathalie was very pale, with thin lips over her braces, lying below her classes to aid her baby blue eyes. Long, stringy, pale brown hair leaked from her head to her lower back area, of which she was constantly messing with. Bree was “chubby” with green eyes behind her glasses, beneath her thick, chocolate brown bangs. She was a good height of five-foot-five, with big cheeks and small lips.
Evan was mixed with Hawaiian and was gorgeous. He had bright green and blue eyes—his left was blue, his right was green—and black, shaggy hair over his golden skin. He was tall, with a tad bit of muscle. Since I’m telling description of everyone else, I might as well to me too. I’m short, pale, freckles, and have big lips, curly red hair, and curves for days. My eyes are hazel and my nose is biggest, but not huge. I’m pretty, I guess, but there is prettier. At lunch one day, while gazing over at Andrew, he casually turned and I ducked my head quickly, blushing, of course. As I could blush at just about anything, anywhere, and anyhow. You name it, I could blush to it. “You like em’?” I looked up to see a tiny girl with black hair, big glasses, and a cute nose. “Maybe,” I answered. I recognized the small girl, everyone called her Meanie Minnie. Weighing one hundred and sixteen pounds, only five-foot-one, she was a firecracker of muscle, cusswords, tattoos, and cigarettes. “He’s nice. You should talk to him.” She sat next to me. “Imma sit kay?” And from that moment, Tiny was a big play in our pack. Maybe, with this many people helping, Operation: Fix It, would be a success.
It seems I forgot to tell you my name. I’m Kyra, I’m fifteen, and I live in Erlanger, Kentucky. It’s not a huge place, I admit, there’s a lot of highways. But it’s home to me and the good folks here. I wasn’t born here but moved here at the age of four. Erlanger is the only home I’ve ever known. When Andrew moved here, of course, I was too scared to speak with him. So I eavesdropped a lot. I know, I know, it's rude. But I was curious about him, so I asked around, and listened in on conversations until I had a basic knowledge of him and where he was from. Andrew was from Dayton, Ohio. He was fifteen and had one older brother, whose name I was uniformed. Andrew was funny, amazing to be around, liked cats, and was highly inappropriate (one of the things that made him funny). “You should invite Andrew,” Bree pushed as I mixed the ingredients for my well-known cookies. We were having a small get together, movie night, sleepover at my house since my parents were out of town. There was no alcohol, just scary movies, my basement, pizzas, and my cookies. But there were boys staying, and that’s why we had to wait until my parents were gone. I know most kids wouldn’t think this was a huge deal, but it was to my parents. “I’ve never talked to him.” “Don’t worry, I have.” Tiny chimed as she texted on the basement couch. “And I already invited him. He’s on his way.” I spun around. “You what?!” My heart began to race as she repeated her sentence. I hadn’t showered, my hair was a mess, I was in fucking pajamas! And Andrew was coming to MY house! My house was a mess, and the movies we got were cheapos, and I ordered the craziest pizza in town, and there was no alcohol, and he was going to think I was a loser!
Kyle grabbed my shoulders, noticing the sudden panic in my eyes. “Hey, Kyra, you got this!” I looked around at the destroyed basement quickly and he followed. “Look, if this guy can’t see how completely awesome and baller you are, with or without the mess of your life, then you shouldn’t waste your time on him. If he’s going to like you, he’s going to have to like the good and the bad. The crappy pizza, homebaked cookies, smelly basement, and a flat ass. He should like you for you.” Though he called my ass flat, I smiled.
“Thanks, Kyle.” Just then the doorbell rang. I looked at Tiny. “You’re the only one who’s talked to him, I think you should bring him down.” She rose, still texting and not paying much attention.
She came back down the stairs with Andrew while I was bent over the DVD player trying to get the dumb thing to work. Kyle came to help and I stood, throwing my hands in defeat. Then I saw Andrew and my stomach knotted with butterflies.
He grinned, “It not working?”
“No, it’s really old—I mean, I dropped it.” My cheeks filled with blush and he walked passed me, going to the DVD player to examine it. Then it suddenly whirred up and began working.
He peeked over his shoulder at me, “It wasn’t plugged in.” I wanted to curl into a ball and die. How could I have been so stupid?
“Oh.” Was all I managed to say. He looked around the basement. ‘It’s not much—“’ I began to say, but he held up a hand.
“Looks nice compared to mine. I have no basement.” He sat on one of the couches and smiled. “I’m Andrew, you’re Bree?” I froze and he smiled wider. “I’m kiddin’, you’re Kyra.”
“Yeah.” As I replied, the oven of the basement kitchen dinged and I ran over to pull out the chocolate chips.
“Cookies?” Andrew asked, and I gulped.
“Uh yeah… I have this really good recipe, and as cheesy as it is, everyone loves them and—“
“I love cookies, what kind?” I played with my hair.
“Do you have milk? I can’t have cookies without milk.”
“Yes, it’s in the fridge.” I pointed but then turned to get it for him, realizing it was rude to make him get it himself. He was already there, pouring himself a cup.
“I would have got that for you.” I blurted out, and he smiled.
“It’s okay, you’ve got your hands full. Need any help?” He took a drink of milk and then set it on the counter.
"Umm," I grinned. “You could make popcorn?” I motioned to the unpopped packets in front of the microwave.
“Aye-aye captain.” He soluted and I giggled, blushing. He smiled and turned towards the microwave.
Spin the Closet
Why had I agreed to play spin the closet? Spin the closet was like spin the bottle, but you had to go into the closet to kiss, and usually, it intitled other things happening in that closet. It had yet to land on me, though there had been close calls, and now it was my turn, no way to avoid the closet. I closed my eyes, spun the bottle, took a breath, and opened my eyes, before freezing.
Andrew smiled widely, “Lucky me.” He whispered, and I felt the heat rush up my arms, to my neck and face and ears. I’d never been more embarrassed. My stomach twisted as he both stood and everyone laughed. Once in the dark closet, I assume he turned to me.
“We don’t actually have to kiss or anything, we can just say we did.” He offered, and I gulped, reaching out and trying to find where he was. I found his hands and glided my own up his arms, finally finding his face.
“It’s okay,” I whispered, beginning to breathe heavy, the closet so small.
“Really, you looked terrified, if you don’t want—“ I ripped his lips into mine, and he sighed heavily, kissing me back. His hand slid into my hair and mine slid into his. Andrew was an incredible kisser, his lips moving against mine like waves, pulling my bottom lip into his, and then pushing it out again, before starting the rotation over. He gently shoved me up against the closet door and I sighed, kissing his harder.
He drew back first, breathing heavily. I felt his eyes burning into mine. “You are an amazing kisser.” He murmured, and then kissed me again, twice, and finally, we pulled apart. Standing there, trying to unscramble my racing thoughts, I blushed. He called me a good kisser, he kissed me very hard, seeming to want me as much as I wanted him… Did this mean I could really have a chance with Andrew? Maybe… Maybe not.
I went to fix my hair, and he did the same. “Are you wearing lip gloss?” He asked.
“No.” He opened the door and everyone looked at us.
“So?” Kyle pressed, arching a brow.
“So we continue the game.” I declared.
That night, sleeping in various places on the floor of the basement, I rose to get a glass of water. When I turned, Andrew was there. I jumped and he smiled, “Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you.”
“It’s okay.” I leaned back against the counter and he got a glass of water also. Then he looked at me. He said nothing.
“What?” I finally asked, embarrassed.
He smiled. “Go out with me.” I froze.
“Will you go out with me?”
“Like… on a date, or like dating?” He thought for a moment.
“Both? I guess?”
“We don’t even know each other.” He came over, setting his hands on the counter on both sides of me.
“Let's get to know each other.” He hovered over me, and I had to grin.
“Okay to dating or…?”
“Okay to everything.” He smiled and kissed me. I sighed, kissing him back. Then we returned to the living room, laid down, and talked till everyone woke up. In the morning, everyone helped make breakfast, and looking around, I could see, I didn't need to be popular, or fit into one click, I could make my own. And sitting there, with Andrew's arm over my shoulders, and Bree's feet in my lap, eating pancakes, eggs, and bacon, I could tell that's what had done.
We had made a pack of our own.
“We’re lost.” Jimmy Reid announced with a declaring voice as he planted his fist on his hips.
“Definitely lost.” Conner Leland tacked on, examining the surrounding forest as it lurked closer to nightfall. The crickets were already beginning to chirp and there was an owl nearby, he was sure. Was it just him, or were the trees suddenly closer together and closer to them, starting to form a tightly wound cage around the friends.
“We are not lost you bozos.” Kathy Retz snapped sharply, rolling her eyes high to the sky, of which was darkening dangerously fast.
“Then what are we, Katherine? Turtles?” Jaden Retz growled to her.
“We’re not turtles, and we’re not lost. Jimmy! Do you have the flashlight?”
“Yes ma’am.” He pulled the small, yet heavy, black metal flashlight from his belt. He handed it to her and she flipped it on, before pointing it to the map her and Cameron Pays were pinning to a large oak tree.
“Look, we stuck to the trail until about here, I think, and then I’d say we’ve hiked maybe half a mile in what I believe is eastward. We should be about right here…” She pointed to a place on the map, of which had nothing around it for miles.
“Great. Thanks Kath, you had to lead us to the most deserted part of the forest in the darkest time of night. Great goin’ Sis!” Jaden yelled, throwing his hands into the air. Kathy was forced to take a deep breath, otherwise she was serious danger of losing all touch with reality and snapping.
You’re probably confused, let me help you out some. Katherine Retz, fourteen, was supposed to be hiking with her twin brother Jaden, and his friends, Jimmy Reid, thirteen, Conner Leland, twelve, Cameron Pays, fourteen, and Diego Martinez, thirteen years of age. They had gone to a simple trail in Kentucky, one that Kathy had been on hundreds of times in her youth with her father, and then she decided to scare the boys by going off the trail some and acting lost. But now, they were really lost. Would she ever admit that? No, probably not.
Take the boys hiking, Dad said, Kathy thought, mockingly. It’ll be fun, he said. What a load. This trip had been everything but fun.
“Why don’t we just head back the way we came?” Diego suggested. “We can get back to the trail and then finish it out.” Kathy took a deep breath, hoping to inhale some braveness before turning to face the pack of boys looking at her expectantly.
“That’s a good idea.” Kathy said. “If we tried to go any other way, it’d be two miles before we hit the highway. It’d be short and easier to head back towards the trail.” She tried to sound smart and sure on herself.
As they turned back the way they thought they came, Conner stated, “I’m hungry.”
“Don’t even start.” Kathy growled.
“Don’t you have food in that big bag of yours?”
“Does Kathy have food in that bag?” Jaden rolled his eyes. “Kathy has enough to feed and army and do field surgery. How ‘bout you feed us, Kath?”
She groaned and dropped the large blue bag to the leaves, crunching a multitude of twigs as she did so. She opened the smallest, front pocket and drew out trail mix.
“I only have four bags; can one of you guys share?”
“Not it.” Every boy cried at once, touching their noses. Kathy closed her eyes, pinched the bridge of her nose, and forced what had to be the fifty millionth deep breath of the night.
“Okay fine, I’m going to close my eyes, point my finger and spin. Whoever my finger lands on, has to share with the person next to them, deal?” Her voice was strained.
Jaden didn’t think it was a coincidence that his sister’s finger had landed on him and Conner. But what could he do about it?
They began hiking through the forest once more, stepping on twigs, jumping over logs, and once running into three trees, pulling out the flashlight. Kathy stayed in the back of the group, and begrudgingly allowed her brother hold the flashlight in the front. But she only did this, because she was scared if she led the group, she’d turn around and one of the boys would be missing.
They weren’t ten minutes into hacking through the woods back towards the trail, when Cameron said, “I hate to be the party pooper, but I need a bathroom break. Ha, party pooper, bathroom break, get it?” Kathy rolled her eyes.
“You’re not funny.” But the boys still howled with laughter nonetheless.
“Okay whatever Kathy, I gotta go.”
“Fine, I’ll turn off the flashlight. Go ten paces that way,” She pointed to their left. “No further.” He nodded and she turned out the flashlight so that no one could see him. It was eerily quiet for a few seconds.
“Creepy, right?” Conner whispered in Kathy’s ear. She jumped and they all cackled like hyenas once more.
Minutes passed and Cameron didn’t return. Finally, Kathy yelled out, “Cameron, come on, I’d like to get back by tomorrow!” No reply. “Cameron! Let’s go!”
“Cam?” Jaden hollered, his voice less annoyed though and more worried. Kathy sighed and handed her brother the flashlight.
“Okay, Cameron, I’m coming over there!” She pulled the smaller, dimmer flashlight form her bag and started hiking in the direction he went, counting her steps as she did so. Once she reached ten, she stopped and looked around but there was no trace of him.
“He’s bigger than me,” She muttered to herself. “He takes bigger steps.” With that, she took three more large steps. But then she stepped on something that snapped. If it hadn’t been for the odd sound it made, she would have thought it was a twig. She bent down and then her face dropped. Cameron never took off his glasses, so what were they doing lying on the ground?
“Cameron?!” Her voice was worried then. “Cameron Lays I swear to God, if this is some sick joke when I find you, you are in so much trouble!” But there was still no reply.
“Kath?” Jaden and the boys came through the brush then. “Kathy what’s—“ He quit talking when he saw the glasses.
“Ooh crap.” Jimmy croaked. “Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap. This is bad, this is really bad.” He ran a hand through his head and crouched down, beginning to breath heavy. Diego spun in the circles and Conner was starting to scream for Cameron.
“Okay, okay calm down!” Kathy yelled, breathing heavy. “It’s okay, it’s gonna be okay. Umm,” She licked her lips. “We can’t go looking for him, not with it being dark and I didn’t like the look of the clouds before it go dark. We need to get back to the trail and then back to the camp. We can report him missing at the Ranger’s Station. They’ll send teams out, they’ll find him. He’s just… heard something and wondered off.”
They nodded. “Yeah. Or, he’s been eaten by a bear.” Jimmy snarled angrily.
“He has not been eaten by a bear, if that happened, there would be blood.”
“Like that?” Jaden pointed his flashlight to a red handprint on a thin tree. Kathy gulped so hard she could hear it.
“No, that’s just paint. Kids do it all the time out here.” But she saw the tears of fear in her brother’s eyes, shaking.
“Cameron and I have the same size hands, we always shared gloves.” He sniffled and went to the tree, slowly pressing his hand over the print. An exact match. Then he gasped and stepped back crying, “It’s still wet!” He fell and then slowly raised his red hand to his nose.
He met his sister dead in the eye and her stomach twisted in fear while he murmured, “That’s not paint.”
Right as he said it, one single howl pierced through the night.
Henry the Hippo and Gerry the Giraffe
A Kid's Story
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there lived a hippo. The hippo’s name was Henry. Henry loved living with the other hippos by the pond. But this changed when his Mom told him the news: they were moving, because the grass they ate had run out! They had no more food! And they had to do something or they would starve! So, Henry went up to his room in the rock, and packed his suitcase.
After his suitcase was packed, his mom told him he could go outside and place one more time. But when Henry got outside, he ran into a giraffe! That giraffe’s name was Gerry.
“Hello.” Gerry said from wayyyyy up high.
“Hi,” Henry said, but Henry was sad.
“Are you okay?” Gerry asked, and Henry told him about them moving because they were all out of the grass. Then Gerry reached wayyyyy up high in the trees, bit on a branch, and pulled it down!
Gerry set it down and said, “You can eat this.” And Henry did.
So Henry ran back to his parents and told them about his new friend Gerry and how Gerry could get them food and they wouldn’t have to move! But Henry’s mom and dad were angry about him talking to a giraffe. They told Henry he couldn’t talk to Gerry anymore!
Henry was once more, sad.
But then, a few days later when Henry woke up and went downstairs to get breakfast, there was Gerry in his living room! Gerry had to sit and lay his neck low or he would bump his heady-head on the ceiling!
“Gerry!” Henry cried happily and hugged him.
“Hi, Henry.” Henry looked to his mom and dad, who were smiling and talking to Gerry’s parents. Garry told Henry that Henry’s mom and dad had changed their minds and were staying and that the giraffes were going to help them get food!
And then they lived happily ever after in that land far, far away!
Not a Boyfriend
It had been the longest day of my life and sadly it was coming to an end. Jesse Henderson, my not-a-boyfriend, and I, Teagan Gordan, had spent all day at the beach together, building sandcastles, sun-bathing, swimming races, everything. And not to mention telling nine strangers that we weren’t dating.
The sun was starting to set, and another set of teenagers came to the beach, coming for the party that Jesse and I wouldn’t be coming too, and he started packing up our stuff. I slid on a cover up over my blue one piece and said, “This was fun.” He giggled.
“Yeah, we’ll do it again when the weather gets nice again.”
“Hey, I know you!” A half-drunk boy cried coming to me. I backed up some and gulped. “Teagan! Baby!” He tried to put his arm around my waist, but I stepped away form him.
“Brad quit. We’re over. We’ve been over, for a year.” He forgot this minor detail every time he was drunk. He kissed my cheek and I ducked out from under his touch, and then Jesse stepped closer and his lanky body seemed a lot bigger in that moment than I remembered, he flexed a little and his abs became more profound. It’d be a lot easier to be just his friend if he weren’t so dang good lookin’, I basically had a list of things he needed to stop doing if we
were going to stay just friends.
Like he needed to stop being hot, being funny, being protective, holding me, introducing me to friends like I was already his and then making me feel like I was. He needed to stop laughing when I told jokes that were actually really bad, he needed to stop telling jokes that only I would laugh at so hard I was crying, he needed to stop making me feel special, and the list went on and on, but most of all, he needed to stop making me smile, because at the end of the day, that’s what made me fall for him like he was more than a friend.
“Woah man.” Brad said. “You takin’ my girl? Back it up.” Jesse shoved him.
“You back it up, she quit bein’ your girl when you broke her heart. Lay off.” Everyone on the beach was staring and I knew the whispers weren’t good, the rumors that we were together, the friends with benefits rumor had just died down, I didn’t need it staring up again.
I pulled at his arm, “I wanna go home.” He pulled away from me, stepping towards Brad, his arms flexing.
Tears filled my eyes and I stomped, crying, “I wanna go home.” He peeked over his shoulder as a tear slid down my cheek. Then he turned fully to me, his face sad.
“I’m sorry.” He whispered. I took his hand and dragged him towards the car. He was silent as he drove me home. When we pulled into my driveway, he turned to me.
“I am sorry, I… He just makes me so mad, the way he treats you.”
“Its fine.” He brushed a hair behind my ear.
“We’re cool?” I nodded and hugged him. “Alright, I’ll see you tomorrow, bright and early.” I groaned.
“Why in the world is school so early?” He smirked and I left the car.
I stared down at the screen as I laid in bed, frozen at the words. He’d been my best friend for two years and that entire two years we’d been telling people we’re, “Just friends.” And he’s “Not a boyfriend.” Or she’s. “Just my best
But then staring down at that screen, I wondered how true those statements really were.
What was I supposed to do now? Pretty boys stun your thoughts and make you feel stupid for being so dazed by them, hot boys make you giggle so you look cuter to them, but what kind of boy was he? A funny boy? The kind of boy you can fall in love with, and not even know it?
I was still staring at the text and tried to pull myself together enough to reply to it, but I couldn’t stop reading it, over and over again.
What would you do if I showed up at your door with roses and said, I’m in love with
My fingers trembled as I managed to text back.
And then, my doorbell rang.