I am pleased to present to you all, an excerpt of “Road to Grimpaitra”. The debut novel from author, Tiffany C. Carlton. A wonderful artist, fantastic writer, and a dope friend. Here is chapter 1, guys. Enjoy!
Chapter 1: A Normal Life
Danica flipped back to page one of her twelve page exam for the fifth time. She read through all the letter choices and each question twice before she moved on to the next. Everyone next to her racked their brains and scribbled on their exams.
The small egg timer on Ms. Sekibo’s desk rang, and everyone else slammed down their pencils. One girl put her head down and started crying. Ms. Sekibo stood and straightened out her navy blue blazer. “Time’s up, students. Please hand in your exams. You are all dismissed.”
Danica flipped through her exam pages one last time before she followed everyone else.
“You’re going to get an A. You always do.” Corey scooted past her and down to Ms. Sekibo. He handed her his test and left the classroom.
Danica was the last one out per the norm. She often double, triple, and quadruple checked her work.
“Ms. Kroan.” Mrs. Sekibo straightened out the papers and placed them on her desk before she took Danica’s. “Last again.”
“I needed to double-check my answers.”
Ms. Sekibo raised her brow. “I saw you going through the exam more than just a second time, Ms. Kroan.”
“I don’t want to fail, that’s all.”
“You have never failed in my class, Ms. Kroan. I’m sure you won’t this time.”
“That’s because I double, triple, and quadruple check my work.”
Ms. Sekibo chuckled. “Whatever gets you through four years of undergrad.” She glanced at Danica over the top of her glasses and set her exam on the stack. “Have a wonderful spring break. Relax.”
“Thank you. You too.” Danica dipped her head and left the room, letting the door click behind her. With a triumphant smile, she meandered through the large hall of the Biological Sciences building toward the exit. She stepped out of the large double doors and into the mid-afternoon light—the sun warming her skin. She checked her phone—one message from Ethan:
Good luck with your test. Not that you need it.
Danica’s heart fluttered, and a loving sigh escaped her lips. Ethan had a knack for making her day. Perhaps today she would confess her feelings to him. She tried multiple times over the past year to talk to him about it, but she could never get the words out.
She stopped in her tracks as Ethan walked out of the gym with headphones in his ears and his eyes glued to his phone. Her heart hammered against her chest, and time slowed as he wiped the sweat from his forehead with a hand towel. He tossed it over his broad shoulders. Today was not the day.
Danica hoisted her turquoise backpack up and ran over to Ethan, snatching one of his earbuds from his ear. His brown eyes widened, but he had a smile on his lips once he noticed who interrupted his jam.
“Hey.” He took out his other earbud. “How was your exam?” He dabbed the towel in his hair; it was blond and short, spiky in the front, which made his cheeks look high. He tossed the towel back over his shoulder.
She walked alongside Ethan, her hands fiddling with the straps of her bag. “Good. I stayed for the entire class period to finish it. Gotta make sure my answers are correct.”
Ethan smiled, slipping his phone into his shoulder bag. “Headed to the football field to see Harper and Dion?”
“Yeah.” Danica checked her watch. “We agreed yesterday to get frozen yogurt.”
“Danica! Hey, Danica!”
She turned around as her classmate, Corey, ran up to her. His skin was a golden brown, his haircut clean, a brilliant smile, and muscles bulging from the gray V-neck.
“Hey,” she said.
“Can I talk to you for a second? It’s about the exam.”
“I’m gonna go ahead to the field, okay? Catch up after you’re done here.” Ethan put his hand on her shoulder and gave it a tap.
“Oh, okay.” Danica dropped her chin down and frowned as Ethan walked away. She looked at Corey. What could they have to talk about concerning the exam? It was over.
“I wanted to thank you for tutoring me.”
“You’re welcome. Is that all? I had something to do.”
“You’re headed to the football field, right? We can walk and talk.” Corey started toward the field with her. “Anyway, you’re close to Dion, right? Do you mind putting in a good word for me? You can tell her about my dazzling good looks or my sense of humor. You know I always have people cracking up in bio class. Just make me sound appealing. I know you can. You’re a smart girl.”
Danica kept her eyes focused on the sidewalk. “Have you tried talking to her?”
“All the time. Sometimes I see her after practice, but she always says no.”
“There’s your answer. Why do you think I can change her mind?”
“It would mean a lot coming from you. You’re her baby sister and all. You can pull on her heartstrings in ways I can’t… just yet, anyway. A date with her would make my whole year worth it.”
“Why isn’t getting a quality education enough?” Danica mumbled.
“I’m sorry, what did you say? I didn’t hear you.”
“Nothing.” Danica forced a smile. “I’ll help you out. I’ll put in a good word for you when I see her.”
“You’re the best, Danica.” Corey grabbed his phone from his pocket and stared at the screen for a second. “I have to go. My mom is calling. Oh! You can tell her I love my mom. Girls love that.” He answered his phone and walked off in the opposite direction.
Danica rolled her eyes and crossed the street to the chain-link fence of the football field where Ethan stood. She peered through down at the entire dance squad practicing their routine.
“Everything okay?” Ethan asked. “What did that guy want?”
“Nothing really. He just wanted me to talk to Dion.”
“He likes her and really wants a date with her.”
Ethan gripped the gate and exhaled through his nose. “Oh, that all?”
“Yeah.” Danica bit her lip. “Ethan.” She turned around and leaned on the fence. Her heart jumped into her throat. She cleared her throat and picked at her cuticles. Her mind raced with all the ways she could confess how she felt to him. “Ethan, I…”
“What is it?” Ethan asked.
Danica exhaled. She stood up straight and locked eyes with Ethan. What if he didn’t feel the same way about her? What if he laughed in her face?
She turned back to the gate and watched the girls dance. “How was your workout?” Danica asked. “Did you get to use the weight machine you wanted?”
“That was a little unorthodox to ask me a question about my workout.” He chuckled. “I did. No one was really there today. I chalk it up to spring break and midterms. Crowds disrupt my natural order,” Ethan said. “But check out my guns. Locked and loaded.” He flexed his bicep, encouraging her to touch, which she did.
“Rock hard.” She blushed. “It looks nice.”
“Thanks. I work for what I want, and right now, it’s biceps and abs,” Ethan said. “And a great education.”
“Anything you want, you can have,” Danica said. Including me, she thought.
“My dad tells me that a lot.”
“Five, six, seven, eight!” Coach Barnes watched the Westdon University Lionettes swing their hips and their hair on the lush green grass just outside of the football field. “Keep your form!” she yelled over her megaphone, pacing back and forth.
“Is she crazy? We have been at this since 11 am,” Dion huffed to Harper. She checked her watch. “It’s been three and a half hours.”
“Right! A sista just wanna eat.” Harper swung her hair, keeping her eyes on Coach Barnes.
“Kroan! Rowan! Less talk, more hip rolling and hair swinging!” Coach Barnes barked.
“She’s a perfectionist like someone else in this dance group,” Harper said.
“I’m not that bad,” Dion said.
“I didn’t say you.”
“You are. It’s obvious.”
Coach Barnes stopped the music and rubbed her temples. “Stop. Everyone take a seat.”
The girls collapsed on the ground, groaning and breathing heavily.
“That’s enough practice for today. Please practice these moves over the break. The Eastern Majorette dance competition is in three weeks, and we want to make it to nationals. So, rest up tonight and remember, I need you all to be in tip-top shape for your return.” Coach Barnes walked off the field with her assistant scurrying behind her.
“That woman is insane.” Harper pulled her hair into a high ponytail.
Dion lay back in the grass and closed her eyes. “I’m not sure I can move.”
“How else are we going to eat, Di?” Harper said. “Whoever said eating a muffin for breakfast is enough, is a liar.”
“No one says that.”
“Bethany said she eats muffins for breakfast every day before practice and it keeps her full until lunchtime. I wanted to try it and save some money.”
“Bethany is a stick,” Dion said, opening her eyes.
Bethany danced across the field, swinging her bleach blonde hair around, all the while kicking her legs and swinging her arms. She looked like she was having a medical emergency, but her friends applauded and cheered for her.
“I’m not sure why I listened to her.” Harper scrunched her face. “And I really don’t know how she made the team, or why Coach lets her stay.”
“You get everything when your family has money,” Dion said. “Her mom is an alumna. She didn’t even audition.”
“Speaking of loaded parents, there’s Ethan and Dani.” Harper waved as they made their way across the field.
“Hey. Coach Barnes worked you hard, huh?” Ethan smirked and kicked Dion’s shoe as she lay sprawled out on the grass.
“Ethan, if you think I won’t kill you, you are wrong.”
“I’m only messing with you, Di.”
“You guys looked great.” Danica smiled.
“If only Coach Barnes thought the same,” Harper grunted as she stood before she helped Dion up.
“Ready for frozen yogurt? On me?” Ethan said.
“I haven’t eaten a real meal since last night.” Harper laid the back of her hand on her forehead dramatically. “I’m famished.”
Dion smacked the grass from her butt and dusted off her hands. “I’m hungry too, and I need a burger from Charley’s.”
“Cool. To celebrate surviving our midterms, Charley’s on me!” Ethan said.
“I’m not done yet. I still have one more, but sure, I’ll claim it.” Harper shrugged
“I still have one too. It’s my Intro to Animal Science class, so I should really look over my notes a few more times,” Danica said.
Dion adjusted her ponytail and stretched her arms. “I’m done, but if midterms were this hard, then finals will be murder.”
Ethan put his arm around Dion. “Then we will have fun without you.”
Danica clutched the straps on her book bag. Harper put her arm around her waist. “Dani and I will have our own fun, passing our classes.” She stuck out her tongue and blew a raspberry.
“Fun for everyone. Can we go eat now?” Dion walked off the football field, her friends behind her.
“Yes, Master Dion.” Ethan chuckled.
The four of them sat outside at Charley’s, a quaint little burger spot many of their peers enjoyed. They sat around the iron patio table, enjoying the cool breeze of spring and the R&B music that was pouring out of Charley’s open door. The waitress dropped off two more waters at the table and moved back inside through a small group exiting the restaurant.
Dion leaned back in her chair and exhaled loudly. “This burger is everything.”
“It makes me want to cry,” Harper said with a mouth full of food.
“I don’t think it’s tear-worthy.” Ethan dipped his fry in ketchup, raising a skeptical brow.
Harper’s eyes narrowed. She wiped her mouth with her napkin and planted her elbows on the table. “No one asked you, Ethan.”
“I was just saying. That hibachi place we had last night was tear-worthy according to you two.” He pushed his plate to the side and pulled out his laptop.
“Whatever, Ethan. Here’s your problem: you don’t know what’s good,” Harper scoffed.
“I know what’s best,” he said, signing into his laptop.
“Hunger is the best spice,” Danica giggled, eating a fry and watching the people pass by their table.
“I’m just saying. It must be one hell of a spice. You two give everything great reviews.” Ethan clicked around on his laptop and looked up from his screen. “Anyone else interested in checking their grades?”
Dion popped the final bite of her burger into her mouth and leaned over towards Ethan. He stared at her from the side of his eye and logged into Westdon U Gradelink. Danica’s heart sank into her belly, swirling her fry in the pool of ketchup on her plate, her teeth clenched, and her shoulders tensed. Harper touched her arm and offered a gentle smile. Her stiff shoulders loosened as she took a bite.
“The only grades posted are Intro to Law and Algebra. I have an A in both,” Ethan said
“I’m proud of you.” Dion patted him on the back.
Ethan’s ears turned red, and he cleared his throat. “Thanks. I work hard, and I play hard.”
Danica glanced between them. “I’m proud of you too.”
“Thank you.” Ethan gave Danica a smile and looked back at Dion. Danica shrunk in her chair a little and bit the inside of her lip.
“Mind if I check mine? My grade for stats class should be there,” Dion asked.
Ethan logged out and turned the laptop to her. She swept stray strands behind her ear. Her fingers glided across the keyboard with her gaze fixed on the LCD screen. Her face fell, and her body froze for a second before she slammed the laptop shut.
“C! This isn’t fair!” Dion slammed her fist on the table. The salt and pepper shakers stalled in the air for a moment then clattered against the table.
“What was that?” Danica blinked, focused on the shakers. “Did anyone see that?”
Harper stroked Dion’s arm. “See what?”
Danica picked up the salt and pepper shakers and examined them for a moment before placing them upright on the table.
“The salt and pepper.” Danica’s voice shrank, Harper and Ethan focused on her sister. “Maybe it was nothing.” She rubbed the skin between her thumb and index finger. “Nothing.” She huffed and looked at her phone, sitting back.
“Di, it’s only midterm. You can always pull your grade up to a B.” Ethan caressed her hand.
“All you need is a little tutoring,” Harper said.
“I just felt confident about this test, and I failed.” Dion frowned.
“Look who it is. Everyone’s favorite Lionettes.” Corey walked up to the table, wrapping his arms around Dion and Harper. “Well, well, hello, ladies—Danica, Harper, this guy, Dion.”
Dion wrinkled her nose, shrugging his arm off her shoulder, and Harper swiped his hand off hers. “What do you want? Can’t you see that we are trying to eat?” she said.
“You look done,” Corey said as he shook her empty basket.
Ethan kept his eyes on Corey, his foot tapping the pavement. Danica bit the inside of her lip, ripping her napkin into pieces.
“I ask again. What do you want?” Dion sighed, resting her head on her hand.
“I just want to ask you out on a date tonight, baby,” Corey said.
“I don’t know why you think this time will be any different from any other time, but the answer is still a resounding no.” Dion huffed.
Corey looked at Danica and raised his eyebrows. “You didn’t talk to her? You said you would.”
Danica tucked her hair behind her ear avoiding everyone’s stare. “I didn’t have time to… talk to her.”
“Are you trying to get my baby sister to put in a good word for you?” Dion growled. “The answer is absolutely no now. Leave my sister out of it.”
“You messed up now,” Harper said.
His mouth fell open, his tongue pushing forward. “Dion—”
She put up a finger to stop him. “Look at me in my eyes. I’m going to make this very clear to you. You and I will never go out.”
“Are you sure?” He bent his neck forward, hands resting on the table. “Do you know how many people say that and end up getting married?”
“This is the stare of a woman who means it,” Harper said. “So, just skedaddle with your remaining dignity.”
Corey opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. He looked over at Danica and stood up. “Whatever.” He slid his chair back to the other table and left the patio.
Ethan leaned back in his chair, melting into his seat. He exhaled through pouted lips, his eyes roaming heavenward as he ran his fingers through his hair.
“Good riddance.” Harper grabbed her bag. “I have an exam in like fifteen minutes. I’ll see you guys later.”
Danica stood and pushed in her chair. “Me too.”
“Good luck on your exams,” Dion said.
“Thanks.” Danica took one last sip of her soda and left with Harper.
Ethan tossed two twenty-dollar bills on the table, then tucked his wallet back into his pocket. “Want me to walk you to your room?”
“Sure. Both of us need a shower, though.” Dion grabbed Danica’s unfinished soda and stuck in her straw. “I smell like grass and sweat.”
“What’s an extra ten minutes?” Ethan chuckled.
“Suit yourself,” Dion said, standing and pulling her yoga pants up on her hips.
He placed his hand on her arm, and her eyes looked up at him. “You going to be okay?” His tone was gentle.
She watched the ice shift in the half-finished cup of soda, her eyebrows knitted together. “I worked hard and I still failed. How could I fail?”
“I heard he has it out for his students. That’s what happens when you have tenure.” His thumb caressed her arm. “I’m always here to help.”
“I’ll take you up on that once the break is over. If I don’t pull this grade up, I won’t be able to be on the softball team or the dance team.”
“We can study after our morning runs.” Ethan stammered. “After lunch too?”
“Sounds like a plan. I’ll take all the help I can get, and thanks again for treating us to lunch.” She punched him in the arm, a smirk on her face.
He offered her a soft smile. “Any time, Di.”
She went to grab her bag, but Ethan beat her to it.
“Yeah. Lemme get that for you. I’m sure you’re tired since you were practicing so hard.”
“Anything to help a friend.”
Read the next two chapters here.
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Tiffany C. Carlton
Learn more about Tiffany on her wordpress page.